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The best VPN service in 2021

Best VPN ExpressVPN on a range of devices
(Image credit: ExpressVPN)

We'll cut to the chase – we're here to help you pick the best VPN. There are tons of different services on the market so to help you pick the perfect one, we've chosen the providers that offer the most secure, user-friendly and reliable services and ranked them right here.

We know it can be tricky to figure out which VPN service best meets your needs, but it's worth the effort. So, to help you feel more clued-up, we'll take you through what you should be looking for in a VPN, and where the best VPN deals are found. 

Upgrading your computer software? Try our list of web design tools that'll help you work smarter this year.

We'll get straight on with our list in a second, but if you're confused about VPNs jump to the bottom of the page for an in-depth look at what a VPN is and why you might need one

What makes the best VPN?

Much like the best cloud storage solutions, VPNs have exploded in popularity in the past few years, and there are now an awful lot of services to choose between. This list of the best VPNs is geared specifically at the needs of creative professionals.

That means we've been considering security features, ease of use, how wide a network of servers is available to users, and, of course, how fast it is. 

However, it's also worth noting that many VPNs aren't just tools for work – by spoofing your location, they can trick sites like Netflix and BBC iPlayer into showing you content that would usually be unavailable in your region.

What's the best VPN service right now?

Best VPN ExpressVPN on a range of devices

(Image credit: ExpressVPN)

1. ExpressVPN

Great speed and support make this the best VPN around

Specifications
Number of servers: 3,000+
Server locations: 160
Maximum devices supported: 3
Reasons to buy
+Runs on almost any platform+Excellent customer service+Super secure+Fast servers in 94 countries
Reasons to avoid
-Only covers five devices at once

ExpressVPN is the best VPN service right now, thanks to impressive speed, enterprise-standard encryption and top-notch customer service. ExpressVPN also boasts perhaps the widest platform support you'll find from any VPN service. Alongside the native apps for Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android and BlackBerry (!), ExpressVPN offers custom firmware for some routers, and a MediaStreamer option for consoles and smart TVs including PlayStation, Xbox and Apple TV. Finally there are very capable VPN browser extensions for Firefox, Safari and Chrome.

In your downtime, ExpressVPN also has class-leading streaming performance, unblocking a huge range of Netflix libraries, as well as other sites like iPlayer, Peacock, and more. That means you can save money on streaming subs while still legally accessing content – win win!

What really sets this service apart from the others is its customer support. Although quite a few services on this list offer live chat, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, ExpressVPN agents also have a reputation for sorting problems efficiently and cheerfully. While that’s not often our main consideration when selecting a provider of any service, it certainly helps. 

Express used to offer only three simultaneous connections per user, but we're pleased to see it has upped that number to five, putting it more in line with competitor offerings (although rivals IPVanish and Surfshark offer unlimited simultaneous connections, but not quite as good a product).

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Best VPN service: NordVPN logo

2. NordVPN

Great value long-term subscription options

Specifications
Number of servers: 5,200+
Server locations: 60+
Maximum devices supported: 6
Reasons to buy
+Fast download speeds+Useful SmartPlay feature+Quality mobile and desktop clients
Reasons to avoid
-Mobile interface is problematic

In all the areas that count, NordVPN beats or matches what's offered by the competition, which is why it has snagged the second spot in our ranking of the best VPN services. The service has over 5,200 servers in over 60 countries, offers powerful encryption, secure DNS leak protection, and app-specific and system-wide kill switches. It supports up to six devices simultaneously and there are proxy extensions for Chrome and Firefox. 

NordVPN's SmartPlay feature is useful for getting round geo-restrictions and can be used to unblock a whole host of streaming services. NordVPN offers four different subscription choices: a monthly plan or one, two or three year plans (the final of which is really excellent value). There's also a 30-day money-back guarantee.

In our performance tests, download speeds were well above average on almost all connections, topping out at an incredible 800Mbps on a 1Gbps line. However, while it's very nippy, the map-based interface (on mobile especially) isn't quite as intuitive as a simple list. 

Overall, though, it certainly deserves its place as one of the most famous VPN providers around.

Sign up now on the NordVPN site

Best VPN surfshark on a range of devices

(Image credit: Surfshark)

3. Surfshark

This low-priced VPN has a lot going for it

Specifications
Number of servers: 800+
Server locations: 50+
Maximum devices supported: Unlimited
Reasons to buy
+Unlimited device support+Good performance+Clear, clean interface+Excellent value for money
Reasons to avoid
-Fewer features than others

Surfshark serves up a simple, good value VPN service. In fact, there's a lot going for this VPN. Unlike many of the services on this list, Surfshark supports an unlimited number of devices – and with apps for iOS, macOS, Android, Windows, Linux and Fire TV plus Chrome and Firefox extensions, you'll be able those connections, too. The pricing is very reasonable indeed, and there's a 30-day moneyback guarantee if you don't like what you see. 

There's OpenVPN UDP and TCP, IKEv2 security protocols, AES-256 encryption, a kill switch, a private DNS and a double VPN hop for extra security. Performance is good across the board, and it's also pretty useful for streaming 

The user interface clean and stripped back, and a recent update has taken the total server count over 3,000, which should give you plenty of options no matter where you are in the world. 

Sign up now on the Surfshark site

Best VPN Hotspot Shield logo

(Image credit: Hotspot Shield)

4. Hotspot Shield

Speedy and great value, with a few downsides

Specifications
Number of servers: 1,800+
Server locations: 80
Maximum devices supported: 5
Reasons to buy
+Excellent performance+Very easy to use +Good free option
Reasons to avoid
-Only works with official apps-Minor security issues

Hotspot Shield offers a couple of VPN services: a free VPN and a paid Premium version. What you're paying for is full access to over 1800 servers in 80+ countries, use on up to five devices, unlimited bandwidth, no ads, and 24/7 support. The free option is pretty good, but it's worth shelling out the (very reasonable) price for Premium. When we took it for a spin, we experienced impressively quick upload and download speeds when transferring big image files, even from the most distant locations.

Hotspot Shield Premium's high speeds and low prices have clear appeal, and the seven-day trial makes it easy to test the service for yourself. As you'd expect, the best value for money is the one-year subscription, unless you want to commit to the lifetime plan. 

So what are the downsides? Hotspot Shield is based in California, making it subject to US law enforcement. It uses its own proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol, which some people are suspicious of because it hasn’t been widely analysed externally. It no longer supports standards like OpenVPN, and the service can only be used on devices that are able to run its apps (Windows, Mac, Android or iOS). 

It also doesn’t let you pay for the service with Bitcoin and the apps are lacking in configuration options, but we still think it's one of the best VPNs out there, especially for those looking for speed and simplicity.

Sign up now on the Hotspot Shield site

best VPN service: IPVanish logo

5. IPVanish

This VPN service is a great choice for P2P and torrenting

Specifications
Number of servers: 1,900+
Server locations: 75+
Maximum devices supported: Unlimited
Reasons to buy
+Owns its own servers+Speedy downloads+Excellent, configurable apps+Unlimited connections
Reasons to avoid
-No free trial option

Our next entry is IPVanish. This VPN owns and manages its own servers, of which there are over 1,900 in more than 75 countries; and has a strict zero-logs policy to preserve your privacy. IPVanish also has unlimited simultaneous connections per user, which matches Surfshark and beats most other providers.

In our tests, IPVanish performed well. The servers connected quickly and were always up, download speeds were above average, torrents are supported on all servers, and we were able to unblock US Netflix (although other sites like iPlayer failed).

Where IPVanish really shines is with its apps. There are dedicated apps for Windows, Linux, macOS, iOS, Android, Fire TV, Windows Phone and Chromebook. Unlike some competitors' efforts, these are powerful and configurable, with plenty of different features and settings to explore. 

Be aware that there's a bit of a learning curve to get the best from the apps, and we found a few small usability issues. A few servers didn't appear to be in the advertised locations, and there are no kill switches on the mobile apps. 

Price-wise, IPVanish isn't too expensive, although there are some cheaper options - but you get an awful lot for your money. And while there are no free trials available, there is a 30-day money-back guarantee if it's not quite what you want.

Sign up now on the IPVanish site

Best VPN service: CyberGhost

6. CyberGhost

A powerful, easy to use VPN with lots of configuration options

Specifications
Number of servers: 3,700+
Server locations: 60+
Maximum devices supported: 7
Reasons to buy
+Huge number of configuration options+Excellent guides+Good performance+Helpful, task-based UI
Reasons to avoid
-Interface isn't perfect

CyberGhost is the best VPN for you if you're looking for a service you can configure to your liking, but has a helpful interface and avoids jargon. 

There are apps for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, the service allows torrents, and there's live chat support if you need it. Extras include the ability to block ads, trackers and malicious websites, and automated HTTPS redirection helps keep browsing as secure as possible. 

Something we really liked was the fact you can choose to filter servers depending on what you want to do. So, for example, if you want to torrent in the UK, there's a specialized server for that. The same goes for US Netflix, and more.

CyberGhost has a ton of easy-to-follow guides that explain everything in basic English that anyone can follow. These are handily divided up by device, so you don’t have to cross-reference all over the place. And they explain everything from how to surf anonymously and how to block ads to more advanced fare, such as how to configure a Raspberry Pi as a web proxy with OpenVPN, or how to share a VPN connection over Ethernet.

And it’s good that these guides exist, because CyberGhost does offer a large number of configuration options, such as setting it to automatically run on Windows startup, assigning specific actions for different Wi-Fi networks, and making CyberGhost automatically run when you use certain apps, such as Facebook. 

So what's wrong with it? Performance was patchy in our tests – while speeds in the US and Europe were good, some long-distance connections were poor. 

All in all though, CyberGhost is a great VPN service for anyone who’s not a total newbie and wants to push what their VPN is capable of, but doesn’t want to go wading too deep into the techie weeds. 

Sign up now on the CyberGhost site

Best VPN service: TunnelBear

7. TunnelBear

The best VPN for beginners who want something easy to use

Specifications
Number of servers: 3,000
Server locations: 40+
Maximum devices supported: 5
Reasons to buy
+Very easy to use+Wide range of client software
Reasons to avoid
-Incredibly basic-Speed loss over long-distance connections

Canadian VPN service TunnelBear is aimed squarely at non-techies and VPN newbies. It’s incredibly easy to use, and there are apps for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, as well as Chrome, Opera and Firefox extensions. Setting up the TunnelBear VPN takes a matter of minutes, via a much simpler process than other VPN services. Explanations are jargon-free and written in the kind of plain English everyone can understand. 

The flipside of that, of course, is that options are limited compared to other VPNs (you can't even change protocol, for example), so users looking for any level of configuration will be better off with a rival service. There are also only around 40 server locations, and the website is not terribly helpful at all.  

But that aside, what TunnelBear does, it does very well. It's easy to connect, and offers strong performance overall (although those speeds do drop a little over long-distance connections). It's also gone where few other services dare to go by getting a independent, public security audit on its servers, code and systems. 

Paid plans give you unlimited data and for a very reasonable per-month cost, and there's also free plan that limits you to just 500MB of traffic per month.

Sign up now on the TunnelBear site

Best VPN service: Windscribe

8. Windscribe

Useful free option plus reliable paid privacy

Specifications
Number of servers: 400+
Server locations: 60+
Maximum devices supported: Unlimited
Reasons to buy
+Unlimited device connections+Free plan with 10GB of monthly data+Clear privacy policy
Reasons to avoid
-Average speeds

Windscribe offers a decent VPN that has one main benefit over rivals: its commercial Pro plan allows for unlimited connections. That means you can use it on as many devices as you want simultaneously. The only other services in this list to currently offer that are Surfshark and IPVanish.

The network is a decent size (locations in 110 cities across over 60 countries). There are clients for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Linux, plus very useful Chrome, Firefox and Opera extensions. You'll also find guides if you want to manually set up the service on routers, Kodi and more.

Another plus point is the high level of privacy it offers. The company policy is clear and detailed, and you don’t have to use your real name or provide an email address to sign up. And if you want to stay totally anonymous you can (as with most VPNs) pay with Bitcoin. Plus, being based in Canada, it’s nicely out of reach of US law enforcement agents.

If those things aren't big selling points for you, though, then it probably shouldn’t be your first choice. The service as a whole is fairly average, and our tests threw up some issues. While performance was generally good, some long-distance severs were very slow. Connection times could also be slow, we couldn't view BBC iPlayer, and there's no 24/7 support.

It might be a good idea to start out with Windscribe's free VPN, which offers a very generous 10GB data per month.

Best VPN service: Private Internet Access

9. Private Internet Access

A surprisingly strong option for a very cheap price

Specifications
Number of servers: 3,300+
Server locations: 32
Maximum devices supported: 10
Reasons to buy
+Very cheap+Bitcoin support
Reasons to avoid
-No option to try for free-No live chat support

Private Internet Access offers slightly limited (although actually still pretty good) features for a super-cheap price. There are custom clients for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Linux, as well as open source extensions for the big browsers. There's also built-in blockers for ads, malicious sites and trackers, and torrents available on all servers. 

With over 10,000 servers spread over 78 countries, PIA has a massive network, and gives plenty of opportunity for globetrotting. In our tests, performance wasn't the best but definitely wasn't the worst, with PIA offering good speeds in the US and Europe, and slightly less reliable performance over long-distance connections. There isn't live chat support, but we got a helpful response to our email query within two hours, which is fair. 

If those low, low prices are raising some security concerns, fear not. While some companies sell user data to enable them to cut their prices, Private Internet Access's privacy policy does not allow any kind of session or activity logging. And you can pay via Bitcoin if you want to be really anonymous, too.

Sign up now on the PIA site

Best VPN service: VyprVPN

10. VyprVPN

Absolute baragin if you commit for a few years

Specifications
Number of servers: 700+
Server locations: 70+
Maximum devices supported: 5
Reasons to buy
+Super-fast in use+Good value longer plans+Powerful, configurable clients+Useful router offering
Reasons to avoid
-Rudimentary apps

VyprVPN is a very fast, highly secure service without third parties. If you’re looking for privacy, then a service based in Switzerland – known throughout history for obsessive levels of discretion within its banking system – has to be a good start. But while Vypr is keen to trumpet its service’s ability to provide privacy and security, it’s really the speed of the thing that’s the most impressive. 

VyprVPN is hardly alone in claiming to offer 'the world’s most powerful VPN'. However, it backs up this statement on the basis that, unlike many of its rivals, it owns its own hardware and runs its network. VyprVPN has its own zero-knowledge DNS service and its Chameleon protocol could get you online in countries that block VPN. 

Either way, it was pretty nifty when we took it for spin. Download speeds were mostly good. They slowed a little in a few of the most remote locations (although not beyond an acceptable level). Platform support is also wider than most, taking in Blackphone, QNAP and Anonabox as well as the usuals (Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, router).

So what are the downsides? Well, Vypr's apps are powerful but not the most attractive – compared to market leaders you'll feel like you're five years behind in terms of aesthetics. Also, its small server network means you won't have quite the same choice when picking where you want to virtually head, but for the price, it's all there, and works great.

Sign up now on the VyprVPN site

What is a VPN and why do I need it?

VPN stands for virtual private network. It's a service that encrypts your internet communications, enabling users to securely access a private network, and safely send and receive data. 

They have a number of different functions: they keep your internet browsing anonymous and secure, enable you to get around blocked websites, and can make you appear to be in another country. Installing a VPN has clear benefits for designers of all kinds. 

If you're a freelancer who regularly works from coffee shops or other public Wi-Fi spots, a VPN will ensure your work stays private. Using a VPN, you can remotely connect to an office network as though you were working in the building – which is handy if you're a freelancer, or working abroad. You can also securely send confidential material to a client, or do your banking from an unsecured public network.

A VPN can make you appear to be located in another country, too – which is helpful if you work with global clients that have IP-based restrictions on their sites. “I often have to fire up the VPN to make myself appear as if I’m in different EU territories,” says London-based web designer Robert Fenech. “A quick 'turn on and select country', and voila.” 

Sometimes it’s not the website protocols themselves that you have to get round, but government censorship. Just imagine you’re visiting Beijing and needed to download some Photoshop files from a service that the ‘Great Firewall of China’ has blocked. A VPN can help you get around that. They'll also enable you to access foreign Netflix catalogues and stream in safety (although that might be more of an out-of-work perk).

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Ruth Hamilton

Ruth spent a couple of years as Deputy Editor of Creative Bloq, and has also either worked on or written for almost all of the site's former and current print titles, from Computer Arts to ImagineFX. She now spends her days reviewing mattresses and hiking boots as the Outdoors and Wellness editor at T3.com, but continues to write about design on a freelance basis in her spare time.