The best VPN services for 2024, tested and reviewed (2024)

Overview

Best premium VPN

NordVPN

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Go to NordVPN

Best VPN for beginners

TunnelBear

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Go to TunnelBear

The best VPN services for 2024, tested and reviewed (3)

Best VPN for streaming

ExpressVPN

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Best VPN for travel

CyberGhost VPN

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Go to CyberGhost VPN

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The spammers. The scammers. And you. Telemarketers and junk mail has evolved in the digital age to a behemoth of persistent trickery. In Scammed, we help you navigate a connected world that’s out for your money, your information, or just your attention.

UPDATE: Feb. 16, 2024, 5:00 a.m. EST We're in the process of overhauling our VPN coverage based on stricter criteria and additional hands-on testing. As such, this guide to the best VPNs will continue to evolve as we update our existing reviews and try more services.

Don't let it go to your head, but everybody wants you —more specifically, your browsing data. Personal information about the links you click on and the sites you visit is highly valuable to third parties, including your internet service provider (ISP) and Google, who may want to share or monetize it. Certain government and law enforcement agencies are also eager to peek at your activity online for their own surveillance purposes.

One way to reclaim some of your digital privacy is by getting a virtual private network (or VPN), a service that creates an encrypted connection between your device and one of the VPN provider's private, remote servers before spitting it out onto the open web. While the best VPNs won't make you totally anonymous — VPN providers can still see what you're doing while you're using their servers — they can secure your data and hide your true IP address from more concerning prying eyes on the outside.

SEE ALSO:

The best VPN deals in February 2024: Get a free Uber Eats voucher for NordVPN's birthday

While not its primary purpose, a VPN's ability to conceal your real IP address also makes it useful for spoofing your location. This will allow you to bypass geo-restrictions on content that's not available in your country or region. (If you're someone in the U.S. who wants access to streaming services like BBC iPlayer and ITVX, for example, a VPN can make it happen.)

Deciding which VPN to trust with your privacy and your money can be tough, especially if you're not familiar with the technology, which is why we're testing (and re-testing) a slew of popular VPN services. Keep reading for a rundown of the best VPNs we've tried so far.

  • What is a VPN?
  • Google rolls out phishing and malware detection for Android users
  • Apple approved an app masquerading as LastPass
  • New service from Mozilla wants to protect you from data brokers
  • Facebook, TikTok, X collect data when sending iPhone push notifications

Note: Prices for most VPN providers' long-term plans change frequently. The rates below were accurate at the time of publication.

Best VPN deals this week

  • ProtonVPN$3.99 Per Month (60% Off 24-Months Plan)
  • NordVPN$3.39 Per Month + $10 Uber Eats Voucher (Up to 67% Off 2-Year Plan)
  • Surfshark VPN$2.29 Per Month + 2-Months Free (79% Off 2-Year Plan)
  • ExpressVPN$6.67 Per Month 1-Year Plan + 3-Months Free + 1-Year Free Backblaze

MORE:

Best Vpns On RedditBest Antivirus SoftwareBest Vpns For GamingAll Best Products

Our Pick

The best VPN services for 2024, tested and reviewed (6)

NordVPN

Best premium VPN

Go to NordVPN

Read Mashable's full review of NordVPN.

Why we picked this:

NordVPN is a well-established premium VPN with an easy-to-use and highly customizable app packed with features, including multi-hop connections. Its VPN service comes bundled with security extras like an anti-malware/tracker tool and a dark web monitor, making itan excellent value if you opt for one of its lower-cost yearly plans.

Users should be aware of a transparency blunder in NordVPN's past, but may find peace of mind from the network upgrades, boosted security standards, and bug bounty program it launched in its wake. These all supplement its warranty canary and regular third-party audits of its no-logs policy.

Who it's for:

Most users would do well with NordVPN —its app is pretty intuitive— but power users who want the freedom to mess around with lots of settings will get the most out of their NordVPN subscription.

Buying Options

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The Good

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Details

The best VPN services for 2024, tested and reviewed (7)

TunnelBear

Best VPN for beginners

Go to TunnelBear

Read Mashable's full review of TunnelBear.

Why we picked it:

TunnelBear democratizes the VPN experience, eschewing fancy features, a large server network, and convoluted jargon in favor of a cute, basic app and a straightforward privacy policy. It'll underwhelm power users, but VPN beginners will find it refreshingly approachable.

TunnelBear also deserves props for its commitment to transparency, having been the first consumer VPN to publish a third-party audit of its infrastructure and technologies back in 2017. (It's done one every year since.) Notably, it gives users the option of signing up for a restricted but workable free tier with 2GB of data per month; a paid Unlimited plan unlocks unlimited bandwidth, unlimited simultaneous connections, and city-level server selection.

Who it's for:

TunnelBear is a no-brainer for those who didn't know what "VPN" stood for prior to reading this guide. Its free tier can also fit the bill if you only need a VPN for short-term, occasional use.

Buying Options

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The Good

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Details

The best VPN services for 2024, tested and reviewed (8)

ExpressVPN

Best VPN for streaming

Read Mashable's review of ExpressVPN.

Why we like it:

ExpressVPN takes a strong approach to user privacy via a bug bounty program and service-wide audits, which includes third-party scrutiny of its no-logs policy, server technology, Lightway protocol, Aircove router, mobile apps, and desktop apps. The app itself is stylish and user-friendly, and it comes with a built-in tracker blocker.

ExpressVPN also maintains a huge and globally diverse server network across 94 countries that makes it easy to spoof almost any location. (We had no trouble unblocking international streaming services in our testing.) Granted, all of this comes at a premium: ExpressVPN is expensive no matter the length of your plan.

Who it's for:

ExpressVPN is worth the cost of entry for users who need a safe VPN that can reliably skirt geo-restrictions to access content around the globe.

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The Good

The Bad

Details

The best VPN services for 2024, tested and reviewed (9)

CyberGhost VPN

Best VPN for travel

Go to CyberGhost VPN

Read Mashable's full review of CyberGhost VPN.

Why we like it:

The closer a VPN server is to your actual location, the faster your connection is going to be. With CyberGhost VPN, you're never going to find yourself stuck in a no man's land: It lays claim to the biggest and most globally diverse server network out of all the VPNs we've tested (including specialty servers that are optimized for streaming, torrenting, and gaming), boasting more than 11,500 locations in more than 100 countries worldwide. That includes dozens of servers in Africa, which is rare.

We don't love the fact that it only just started completing independent audits, but on the plus side, it's been issuing transparency reports longer than anyone else (since 2011) — and as of 2019, they come out quarterly.

Who it's for:

CyberGhost's main attraction is its gigantic server network, and frequent jetsetters will get the most value out of it.

Buying Options

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The Good

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TopicsCybersecurity

How we tested

We put every VPN we review through a series of hands-on stress tests for a few weeks at a time. We want to give potential users a general sense of how each VPN works as part of an everyday workflow, not in a lab.

That said, our overall scores also hinge heavily on guidance from cybersecurity experts about the things consumers should look for in VPNs. Much of what separates the good from the bad, they told us in interviews, can be gleaned before anything is installed. These experts include:

When you surf the internet freely without a VPN, you're being tracked online constantly by multiple third parties, including your Internet Service Provider (ISP), search engines like Google, and possibly even your employer or school. Connecting to a VPN means taking your traffic away from them and putting it in the hands of one lone entity instead, conceding exclusive, unfettered access to all of your browsing data. It's a privilege that needs to be earned, and the true caliber of a VPN ultimately comes down to whether you can wholly trust it to keep you safe.

The big issue is that the VPN industry is notorious for hyperbolic marketing, especially when it comes to privacy practices. This can "give VPN users a false sense of security if they don’t realize that the protections offered are not comprehensive," according to a Consumer Reports investigation into 16 providers. (Many popular VPNs shout about offering "military-grade" encryption, for example, which isn't a thing.) It's unwise to take a provider's claims at face value.

So how do you know for sure if a VPN is trustworthy? We encourage you to do your own research as well; a single Google search can be enlightening. A good provider won't have a long rap sheet for mishandling users' personal data or succumbing to server breaches, and bad headlines should raise a red flag — including those about a VPN's ownership or parent company. A swift, effective response to crises and a healthy dose of corporate accountability can offset these concerns in some cases, but we place a high value on a pristine reputation.

The best VPN services should also be willing to open themselves up to scrutiny. Bragging about a strong "no logs" privacy policy that specifies how user data gets protected is one thing, but subjecting that policy to independent audits — and making the results public — provides a much higher level of assurance.

The most trustworthy VPNs will also issue regular transparency reports disclosing any requests for data they've received from government or law enforcement agencies. (These requests won't yield anything if a provider's privacy policy holds up.) Some go the extra mile by offering in-house bug bounty programs to researchers who comb their software and servers for vulnerabilities.

After trustworthiness, we base our VPN reviews on the below factors (listed in no particular order):

DNS leak tests

A DNS (domain name service) leak test is basically a lookup of your active IP (internet protocol) address. That's the unique number identifying your general location and the name of your internet service provider that's assigned to your device when it's connected to the internet. By running several DNS tests with a VPN off and on, we can determine whether it's actually encrypting our IP address. Some VPN apps have built-in DNS leak tests; otherwise, you can perform them via DNSleaktest.com.

Included features

Most premium VPNs come with similar sets of privacy tools, so we don't encounter major provider-to-provider discrepancies in this regard. Still, it's worth noting some of the important ones we look out for:

  • A kill switch will immediately disconnect your device from the internet if your VPN drops. (This one's non-negotiable.)

  • Support for multi-hop connections that route your traffic through two or more of the VPN's servers. This adds an extra layer of protection.

  • Split tunneling, a tool that sends some of your traffic through the VPN and some outside it to conserve bandwidth, can be useful for streaming and gaming.

Oftentimes, providers will also bundle their VPN with additional security features like malware/adware blockers, data breach detectors, and cloud storage. These won't make the VPN itself any better, but they're good to have alongside your go-to antivirus software and password manager. (If you have to choose between a reputable VPN or one that comes with a bunch of add-ons, always go with the former.)

Protocol type

A VPN's protocol is the set of instructions that determines how data gets communicated between its servers and your devices. Many VPN providers have developed proprietary protocols within the past few years, but OpenVPN remains the most popular and widely respected option: It's stable, secure, and open-source, meaning anyone can inspect its code for vulnerabilities. WireGuard is another good pick that's newer than OpenVPN and supposedly faster.

Encryption type

A VPN protects your data by encrypting it, or scrambling it up into unreadable "ciphertext" that can only be decoded with a secret key or password. Virtually all premium VPNs use Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 256-bit encryption, which is pretty much uncrackable to third parties.

Different use cases

The No. 1 purpose of VPNs is to make it difficult for anyone other than the provider to identify and track your online activity, but they're also widely used as location-spoofing tools to skirt geo-restrictions on streaming services. (Platforms like Netflix limit their libraries abroad because of region-specific distribution rights.) While we don't put a ton of weight on their ability to succeed in this secondary use case, it's great if they do and we still test them for it.

Server network size and distribution

Picking a VPN with a large server network means there's a lower likelihood of you sharing one with a bunch of other users, which is especially valuable for streaming (since there's more bandwidth to go around).

Relatedly, a VPN with a geographically diverse network of servers in many different parts of the world will make it easier for you to spoof specific locations and find one close to you to optimize speeds. (More on that below.) Most premium VPNs maintain servers throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Australia; few have a big presence in Africa.

Number of simultaneous connections

Most VPNs can be used on five to 10 devices per account (depending on the provider), which should be plenty for individual users. A handful of them support unlimited simultaneous connections to better serve bigger households.

Supported platforms

Every premium provider we've encountered offers VPN clients for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS at minimum, though some restrict certain features to certain platforms. Some VPNs also work on Linux, Chrome, smart TVs, and even gaming consoles (via router or hotspot).

Speed

The speed of a VPN depends on a lot of different variables, but it will almost always be slower than your regular internet connection, so it's not a huge factor in our final ratings. That said, we try to get an idea of how well a VPN performs by using it for a lengthy period of time and running it through some quick Ookla Speedtests. If a VPN is noticeably sluggish to the point where it affects usability, we'll call it out.

A general rule of thumb for any given VPN is that your speeds will be fastest when you're connected to a server geographically close to your actual location.

Customer support options

Users should have access to some kind of help around the clock in case an issue arises with their VPN connection or account, whether it's by phone, email, or live chat. (Online help forums and tutorials are nice, but not enough on their own.) We also give preference to VPNs that offer some kind of money-back guarantee; in most cases, it's 30 days long.

Overall value

Premium VPN providers typically charge anywhere from $2 to $12 per month for access to their clients, depending on the subscription length. It's easier to justify the higher end of that spectrum if it gets you a reliable and responsible VPN with some useful extra security features.

Overall ease of use

Some VPNs are more intuitive and beginner-friendly than others.

It's important to note that many popular VPN providers posit their jurisdiction, or the location of their headquarters, as something that can have serious privacy implications based on local surveillance laws (such as the Five, Nine, and 14 Eyes alliances). Without getting too in the weeds, the experts we spoke to said the average consumer shouldn't put a big stake in these claims, and that authorities will get access to user data one way or another if the need is great enough. What's more concerning, they added —to bring things full circle — is whether any data is being retained by a VPN provider in the first place.

If anything, users might be better off choosing a VPN headquartered in a country with strong consumer protections against deceptive marketing (like the U.S. and many countries in the European Union). These could come in handy if a provider's privacy policy was ever questioned.

Note: Ookla is owned by Mashable's publisher, Ziff Davis.

Frequently Asked Questions

As previously mentioned, a VPN (which stands for "virtual private network") is a service that sends your traffic through an encrypted connection to a remote server maintained by the VPN provider before it's dispatched to the public internet. The encryption part makes it so your traffic is unreadable to third parties like your ISP and Google; routing that traffic through a remote server then gives you a different IP address, which makes it look like you're browsing from somewhere you aren't actually located IRL.

Using a VPN is often likened to driving around in a rental car with tinted windows and a license plate that doesn't match your home state, or arriving at a location via secret trapdoor and wearing a mask while you go about your day. In simplest terms, using a VPN lets you hide who you really are and where you really are from everyone except the VPN.

The answer is a little nuanced. VPNs that are completely free outright are generally not safe to use, as free VPN providers have been known to secretly log and sell user data, bundle their apps with malware, and/or maintain poor security practices. (You know the saying about free lunch.) However, we do stand by certain premium providers' free tiers or trials that are protected by the same vetted policies as their paid counterparts; these are safe to use. This includes TunnelBear Free and CyberGhost VPN's free trial of up to seven days.

It bears mentioning that free versions of premium VPNs tend to be limited in terms of their server selections, browsing data allotments, available features, and abilities to unblock streaming services, so they're best for situational or occasional use. Those who want a dependable, everyday VPN should opt for a paid subscription. (Pro tip: If you want a good deal on a paid subscription, bookmark our weekly roundup of the best VPN deals.)

VPNs maintain separate apps for separate platforms, so no —you'll need to install your VPN on every individual device you want secured. Most VPN providers offer support for at least five simultaneous connections, for what it's worth. (If you have a bunch of devices that need protecting or live in a larger household, look for a provider that offers unlimited simultaneous connections —TunnelBear, for instance.)

Your browser's Incognito/private mode only gets you so far —it'll clear your history, searches, cookies, and login deets, preventing other users of the same device from seeing what you've been up to, but it won't hide and secure your connection from your ISP and other prying eyes. Incognito mode is not a substitute for a VPN.

Aside from the few countries that have restricted or outright banned them (including Belarus, China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Oman, Russia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and the United Arab Emirates), VPNs are perfectly legal in most of the world. But keep in mind that illegal activities like torrenting copyrighted material, buying prohibited goods, and hacking are still illegal even with a VPN. Let's not get too brazen, here.

Along those same lines, using a VPN to unblock streaming services like Netflix from a country where it's not available isn't technically against the law, but it is a violation of the company's terms of use —i.e., you may get slapped with a warning, IP ban, or error message if caught.

The best VPN services for 2024, tested and reviewed (10)

Haley Henschel

Senior Shopping Reporter

Haley Henschel is a Chicago-based Senior Shopping Reporter at Mashable who reviews and finds deals on popular tech, from laptops to gaming consoles and VPNs. She has years of experience covering shopping holidays and can tell you what’s actually worth buying on Black Friday and Amazon Prime Day. Her work has also explored the driving forces behind digital trends within the shopping sphere, from dupes to 12-foot skeletons.

Haley received a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and honed her sifting and winnowing skills at The Daily Cardinal. She previously covered politics for The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, investigated exotic pet ownership for Wisconsin Watch, and blogged for some of your favorite reality stars.

In her free time, Haley enjoys playing video games, drawing, taking walks on Lake Michigan, and spending time with her parrot (Melon) and dog (Pierogi). She really, really wants to get back into horseback riding. You can follow her on X at@haleyhenschelor reach her via email at[emailprotected].

The best VPN services for 2024, tested and reviewed (2024)
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