The best VPN, or virtual private network, is one of the most essential buys of modern times with us relying on the use of our mobile phones and computers for so much. Not only does it protect your privacy, online freedom, and anonymity but it's a great way to appear to be somewhere you're not, meaning it's ideal for getting around geo-restrictions on video content like Netflix.
A VPN works by giving your devices (laptop, PC, phone, tablet, Fire Sticks etc) an IP address on a server run by the service. This means you appear to be someone else and also somewhere else too if you choose, keeping you separate, secret, and secure.
So if you're away from the UK on holiday, where the BBC iPlayer is blocked, you'll still be able to catch your latest show episode by appearing to be in the UK. Likewise, if you want to catch up on all your favorite Hulu or US-only shows and movies on Netflix from outside the US.
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The best VPN apps and programs are also a great protection buffer if you're connecting to public Wi-Fi, like at coffee shops, bars, airports or hotels – where you'd otherwise be open to potential snooping and attacks. The VPN sends all your data encrypted, usually through privately owned servers without collecting any of your personal information. All that should leave you totally anonymous and secure.
A VPN is also great for P2P torrenting. Of course, we don't condone illegal torrenting but for legally shared content this is great as it keeps you secure just in case you download something you weren't aware wasn't legal, for example.
So whatever your use, there is a perfect VPN out there waiting for you and we've narrowed down the best tried and tested providers to make it easy for you to pick your best VPN app service.
Best VPN for 2022: apps and software compared
Express VPN is the best VPN service out there right now with a great combination of fast servers, located worldwide, enterprise-level encryption, lots of device compatibility, and one of the best live chat customer service offerings we've seen.
The 3,000 ExpressVPN servers are spread across 160 locations in 94 countries meaning you can get online virtually anywhere, appearing wherever you need to, without compromising on speed. The encryption offers lots of security and is backed by a clear no logs policy as well as servers that use RAM rather than hard drives meaning data is never physically saved – reducing the chance of being compromised by hackers.
The customer support is superb and can be accessed 24/7 via live chat. This means you can get help finding the fastest or most secure connection to do whatever you're doing, be it watching US Netflix in the UK or checking your banking while in China. It gives you peace of mind that this will always work which makes it worth paying a little more than the average.
That said, there is a 30-day money-back guarantee so if you don't enjoy the service you can always change, without spending a penny.
NordVPN is the most secure VPN service out there, on paper at least. That said, it has suffered a hack in the past so that's worth keeping in mind. Presuming that means it's now even more cautious, it could be the most secure VPN thanks to a double encryption, multiple kill switches, strong DNS leak protection and the option to pay by Bitcoin, PayPal or credit cards.
The SmartPlay feature is a nice addition that allows you to easily get around geo-restrictions, making it ideal for watching Netflix, for example. Speed performance is excellent which also helps with streaming service use. With six devices supported at once, over 5,500 servers and a 30-day money-back guarantee, there's a lot to like about this long-loved VPN provider.
Surfshark is one of the fastest VPN services you can use while still offering you lots of layers of security. Not only is the connection speed fast but also it's quick to set up with super simple user interfaces that let you get online in just two taps. Once up and running, you're safely behind an AES-256 encryption, kill switch, OpenVPN UDP and TCP plus IKEv2 security protocols. You even get access to as many devices in use at once as you like, making this a top option for families or groups that want to share the cost of the account.
Despite offering all that, pricing remains relatively low too. Plus there's a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can effectively try before you buy.
IPVanish is a real all-rounder that also manages to offer a stand-out VPN app when it comes to features that make the experience really customizable. There are lots of them, for the likes of Mac, Windows, Android, iOS and even Fire TV. Since you get 10 simultaneous connections at once you can have this running across your devices all at the same time - each device appearing in a different place, for example. You also get P2P support for torrenting and superb privacy and anonymity thanks to an AES-256 encryption, OpenVPN and IKEv2 protocols plus a clear no-logging policy.
CyberGhost is a great VPN service not only for a huge number of servers, at over 5,700, but also for superb app options. The VPN app runs fast with great download speeds worldwide but it's the extras we love. Rare features include a service that can also block ads while you browse while at the same time blocking trackers and malicious websites to keep you more secure. Or, when connecting to services like Netflix or BBC iPlayer, CyberGhost will automatically select the best servers to get you around geo-restrictions and still enjoy a fast streaming connection speed. A 45-day money-back guarantee is a really nice bonus feature that makes this VPN stand out from the rest of the crowd.
What is a VPN?
A VPN (or virtual private network) is a piece of software that enables you to hide your internet traffic. It works by routing your activity through different servers, so that your identity, IP address, and online data is protected from third parties.
How do you use a VPN?
A VPN is installed onto your machine, and then simply switched on and off either through the program itself or through your web browser. You can also select different server locations to run your traffic through, enabling you to consume content as if you were at home while abroad, for example.
Can you use a VPN on your phone?
The best VPN services often also offer apps which can be used to protect your data while you browse on your phone as well. You'll simply need to download the service's app and register your account to continue.
If you're looking to add some new kit to go with to your new protected home internet setup then be sure to take a look at our picks for the best gaming PC. And if you're in the UK, now's a great time to give your home internet a boost by checking out our guide to the best cheap broadband deals.