A VPN is a service that creates a secure connection between your device and the internet. It does this by changing your real IP and encrypting your internet traffic, thereby making it difficult for others to track your online activities or identify your location.
Additionally, a VPN allows you to bypass censorship and geo-restrictions by connecting to servers in different locations, giving you access to blocked content.
We recommend the industry-leading NordVPN as the best VPN for beginners and experienced users. It’s easy to use, offers cutting-edge encryption, it’s super fast, and bypasses restrictions on Netflix, and other popular streaming platforms.
A VPN is like a private tunnel that safeguards your online activities and keeps your sensitive data secure. Using a VPN encrypts your internet connection and hides your information from others who may try to snoop on you or track your online behavior.
In this article, you’ll learn more about what a VPN is, how to use it to protect your online activities, and how to bypass geo-restrictions enforced by online services when using a virtual private network.
What Is a VPN?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. When you’re using the internet, your device is constantly exchanging data with other parties on the web.
Without even realizing it, you’re often giving websites access to your real IP address (which gives away your true location), browsing history, operating system info, device identifiers, and plenty more.
A VPN service like NordVPN assigns you a new, anonymous IP address, reroutes your internet connection through a web server in its network, and encrypts your data.
VPNs create a secure tunnel between your device (like your smartphone or laptop) and the internet. They also mask your identity and online traffic from your internet service provider (ISP), government authorities, and hackers.
Here’s a video we put together as a visual explainer.
Why Use a VPN?
There are major advantages to using a VPN. While some VPNs are more security and privacy-geared, others are just generally useful and can help you pull off cool tricks like unblocking a streaming service’s entire international catalog or accessing discounts on international shopping sites.
Below, we’ve listed a few of the main benefits of using a VPN.
1. Have complete anonymity online
Without a VPN, your location and identity can be easily traced using your IP address. Your IP address is unique to your internet connection and can pinpoint your exact location. It’s like a digital address. So, websites, ISPs, trackers, and hackers can determine whether you’re at home or elsewhere. Your IP also connects your online behavior and activity back to you.
A VPN hides your IP address and, therefore, your real location. When you use a virtual private network, your internet traffic is rerouted through an encrypted virtual tunnel, and your online activities can only be traced back to the IP of the VPN server, but no longer to you and your real IP address.
Reliable VPN providers have strict no-log policies, meaning they don’t keep any record of your activity or browsing history, so it’s like your session never existed.
By using a good virtual private network like NordVPN, you ensure that websites, marketers, streaming services, governments, and cybercriminals can no longer identify you or know your real location. Connect to a VPN server in the Bahamas, and for all they know, that’s where you’d be.
2. Prevent companies from tracking you
Advertising networks are constantly gathering information about you through your online traffic. You might be shocked to find out what Facebook knows about you, not to mention Google and Twitter. With this data, they can show you tailored ads, but more importantly, they are free to sell this information to a third party.
By encrypting your data using a VPN, these networks will have a harder time collecting information on you. Which means they will also have less influence on what you see online.
3. Protect yourself against hackers and governments
A virtual private network scrambles your data traffic through strong encryption protocols, which make intercepting and reading your information almost impossible.
There are many different parties that are interested in your internet traffic. Among them are governments, advertisers, and cyber criminals.
The security offered by a virtual private network makes it a lot harder for them to look at your data. However, we must mention that a VPN isn’t the ultimate solution to all things cybercrime.
We always recommend combining a VPN with a good antivirus solution so that you’re covered on all bases. A VPN can’t protect your device against malware-injecting malicious links, for example.
4. Browse securely on public networks
Using a public Wi-Fi network, like at an airport, hotel, or cafe, can be risky. Other users on the same network (for example, those hackers and cyber criminals we mentioned) can easily tap into your data and personal information.
Since you don’t want others to have access to, for instance, your email login, images and files, or credit card information, it’s wise to use a VPN connection on these hotspots.
A virtual private network like NordVPN, our highest-ranked provider, encrypts all of your data while you use a public Wi-Fi network. A hacker will only see encrypted matter and won’t be able to see or use your personal information.
5. Get secure access to your company’s network
We’ve seen more and more companies giving people the opportunity to work from home or wherever they like. In such instances, a remote access virtual private network can be very beneficial, as it lets employees connect to a company’s internal network from anywhere, safely and efficiently.
There are many VPNs, especially for business use. While they might not serve to unblock streaming services abroad, they are certainly useful in protecting private and sensitive company data.
Of course, some people may work for smaller companies that don’t operate under strong cybersecurity protocols. Connecting to their company’s internal system with a VPN would offer the layer of protection needed to protect sensitive company data from malicious actors.
6. Overcome online censorship
Governments heavily censor the internet in many countries. For example, there is strict online censorship in China and Russia.
Countries that impose heavy censorship block access to certain internet services and websites. Examples of apps and websites that are often banned are WhatsApp, Google, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Skype, Spotify, and Facebook.
Moreover, news websites and journalist platforms are frequently blocked because they are seen as a threat to the sitting government. In these countries, this censorship heavily impacts the freedom of speech of their citizens.
NordVPN, a top VPN provider, can help you bypass censorship and restrictions by allowing you to connect to a server in a different country. By doing this, you can go online as if you were there. This way, you can gain access to websites, services, and apps that are not available in your own country.
7. Bypass geographical restrictions
It’s not just countries that impose restrictions on the internet. Some online services also restrict access to their content in certain regions. This happens with streaming services like Netflix or Peacock TV that have broadcasting or licensing rights in certain countries and not others.
If you are on holiday or you moved to a different country, you might be unable to view your usual streams. A VPN will enable you to connect to the internet via its servers in your home country, so you can watch your favorite show or access blocked websites like you never left.
It also works the other way around: if you want to gain access to websites or streaming services from a different country (for example, to watch a different version of Netflix), you can do so with a virtual private network.
8. Download torrents anonymously
Downloading torrents is illegal in some countries, and downloaders are tracked down and sometimes even prosecuted.
Of course, we are not advocating any illegal actions. However, we do understand people want online privacy and anonymity, not just when browsing the internet but also when uploading and downloading files.
You can use a virtual private network, such as NordVPN, to make sure nobody knows what you are downloading. Because of the encrypted traffic and the rerouted IP address, NordVPN will help you download the files you want to access anonymously.
How Does a VPN Work?
VPNs create a secure encrypted connection, also known as a VPN tunnel, between your device and the remote server that you connect to. This ensures the safe and secure transfer of data.
Once the VPN connection has been established, here’s how your data is transmitted through an encrypted tunnel:
- The VPN software on your computer encrypts your data traffic and sends it to the VPN server through a secure connection.
- The encrypted data from your computer is decrypted by the virtual private network server.
- Your data is then sent to the internet and receive a reply based on your query.
- This reply is encrypted again by the VPN server and sent back to you.
- The VPN software on your device will decrypt the data so you can actually understand and use it.
Which VPN Should You Choose?
We’ve already tested dozens of virtual private networks to find the best VPN providers for you. Below, we’ll give a brief summary of our top three picks.
1. NordVPN: Best overall VPN
- Super easy to use
- 5,000+ servers in 60+ countries
- Solid security features
- Unblocks Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, and more
- Compatible with Windows, MacOS, Linux, iPhone, Android, and more
NordVPN is our highest-ranked virtual private network. During our tests, we discovered that it offers great security and privacy without compromising on speed. It allows up to six simultaneous connections on a single subscription. This means you can protect up to six devices and also share the subscription with family and friends.
We found its apps are incredibly user-friendly; it only took us one click to connect to a server. We were also very pleased to see that NordVPN offers advanced options like dedicated IP addresses that are only used by you and obfuscated servers that hide the fact that you’re using a VPN. These features made it easier for us to circumvent geo-restrictions.
On top of that, NordVPN offers a free trial in the form of a 30-day money-back guarantee, which means you can try out the service and get a refund if you’re not satisfied.
NordVPN currently has a 56% discount on all subscriptions, so it is definitely worth trying it out.
- Fast and large worldwide network of VPN servers
- Perfect for privacy and streaming
- Trusted by many, with over 14 million users
If you’re interested, you can read our full NordVPN review to learn more about its many benefits.
2. Surfshark: An affordable VPN provider for an unlimited number of devices
- 3,200+ servers in 100 countries
- Protect unlimited devices with one subscription
- Browser extension that blocks ads and malware
- Accommodates Windows, MacOS, Linux, iPhone, Android, and more
Surfshark is the second-best virtual private network we’ve tested. It’s fast, secure, and offers 3,200+ servers in 100 countries. This provided us ample options for bypassing censorship and restrictions on streaming platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, and more.
This VPN provider is available on all major devices and is easy to use. Moreover, Surfshark allows you to connect unlimited devices under one subscription. We were able to use Surfshark on all our devices and share the subscription with others at no extra cost.
Furthermore, Surfshark has a browser extension that offers plenty of additional features like CleanWeb. In our tests, we enjoyed browsing the internet ad-free, and the extension automatically blocked malicious sites. Overall, it’s a great choice for beginners and experienced users alike.
The best part is that it is incredibly affordable. You can also give Surfshark’s free trial a try using their 30-day money-back guarantee.
- Very user-friendly and works with Netflix and torrents
- 30-day money-back guarantee. No questions asked!
- Cheap with many extra options
Check out our Surfshark review for a deep dive into this provider. We go into more detail about its privacy and security features, speed tests, and more.
3. ExpressVPN: A VPN service with dedicated firmware for routers
- 3,000+ servers in 94 countries
- Stream on any device with MediaStreamer
- Easy to install on routers
- Connect five devices with one subscription
- Accommodates Windows, MacOS, Linux, iPhone, Android, and more
Although pricier than NordVPN and Surfshark, ExpressVPN is one of the world’s largest and most popular VPN services. It offers almost everything you could want in a VPN provider, such as 3,000+ stable servers in 94 countries, great speeds, and top-notch security.
You can stream and torrent anonymously and use it on various devices and operating systems, including Android, Windows, iPhone, Mac, and Linux. Another major plus is that the app is available in over 10 languages. Moreover, ExpressVPN stood out in our tests for its dedicated firmware for routers. It was easy to install it on our router and protect all our devices at once!
To test ExpressVPN’s speeds, we installed it in a PS5 and played GTA 5 online without lags thanks to its incredible 5-11 ms ping. It’s also one of our best VPNs for Minecraft.
ExpressVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can test the service before committing to it, and if you want to cancel ExpressVPN, you can contact their live chat support. They are quick to respond, and the refund takes less than five days to hit your account.
- Very easy-to-use VPN
- Perfect for anonymous browsing, downloading, and streaming (i.e., Netflix)
- 3,000+ servers in 94 countries
To learn more about ExpressVPN, check out our in-depth ExpressVPN review.
What to look for in a VPN provider
When trying to find the best VPN for you, there are several factors you must consider like the security features it offers, whether it is fast, and if it keeps any logs. Here is what we pay attention to when considering the quality of a virtual private network:
- Server network: A global network of servers allows you to browse without restrictions.
- Privacy and security: VPN security features are important. A VPN should use secure AES 256-bit encryption to protect your data. Moreover, it should include features like a kill switch to prevent you from accessing the internet if the VPN malfunctions.
- Speeds: A good VPN should offer your top speeds even when you are trying to access distant servers to stream content from another country, for example.
- No-logs policy: Good virtual private networks are independently verified to ensure they don’t store your data.
- Jurisdiction: The virtual private network should be based in countries with strong privacy laws and away from the 5/9/14 eyes countries.
How to Set Up a VPN on Different Devices
Setting up a virtual private network is usually quite straightforward. All it requires is signing up for a VPN provider of your choice, installing its VPN apps on your devices, establishing a secure VPN connection, and then using the internet as usual.
Below we discuss how to install a virtual private network on the most common operating systems and devices.
How to use a VPN on Windows
Installing a VPN and privatizing your online activities on Windows is super easy. The majority of VPNs have an app for Windows since it’s the most popular operating system on the planet.
We recommend NordVPN for its ease of use, fast speeds that cater to all Windows users’ needs, and cutting-edge security features.
Here’s how to install NordVPN on Windows:
- Navigate to NordVPN’s website and get a subscription.
- Download the NordVPN app for Windows PC or laptop.
- Click the NordVPN installer for the installation to start.
- Use your login details from step 1 after launching the NordVPN app.
- Tap “Quick Connect” to connect to the optimal server for you. Otherwise, tap the drop-down arrow to pick a server of your choice.
- Surf the internet securely and anonymously.
If you’re interested in installing a virtual private network manually, our comprehensive guide on how to set up a VPN connection on Windows 10 will give you step-by-step instructions on how to do it.
How to use a VPN on a Mac
Mac computers are generally secure. However, Apple and other tech companies collect your data for marketing and other purposes. We recommend NordVPN for a Mac to keep your data private.
Here’s how to download and install NordVPN on a Mac:
- Go to NordVPN’s website and get a subscription.
- Download NordVPN for Mac.
- Run NordVPN after the installation is finished and tap “Quick Connect.” Or you can search for a server of your choice, as shown below.
- Browse the internet with peace of mind.
How to use a VPN on iPhone and iPad
You can find apps for the top-rated VPNs in the Apple App Store. We recommend ExpressVPN for its seamless compatibility with iOS, blazing-fast speeds, and security for your iOS device.
Here’s how to install ExpressVPN on iPhone and experience total internet freedom:
- Navigate to ExpressVPN’s website and get a subscription.
- Download ExpressVPN from the Apple App Store.
- Open ExpressVPN and sign in with the credentials from step 1, then tap the power button to activate ExpressVPN.
- Use your iPhone to surf the web fully protected.
You can also manually install a VPN on your iPhone or iPad using our detailed best VPNs for iPhone and iPad guide.
How to use a VPN on Android
Android is the most popular mobile phone operating system in the world. For this reason, Android devices are a prime target for hackers, advertisers, and big technology companies like Facebook and Google.
To protect your data, we recommend using an Android VPN. We tested dozens of VPNs to come up with the best in terms of privacy and security, high speeds, compatibility with Android, affordability, and user-friendliness.
Surfshark ticked all these boxes hence why we recommend it to Android users. Here’s how to install Surfshark on Android:
- Visit Surfshark’s website and get a subscription.
- Download Surfshark from the Google Play Store on your Android device.
- Open Surfshark and tap “Quick Connect” to connect to the optimal server for you.
- Continue your online activities, as you are now protected from prying eyes.
You can learn more about Android VPNs in our best VPNs for Android guide, which also includes free VPN options for Android users.
A virtual private network has a lot to offer when it comes to privacy and security. However, there are limitations on what a virtual private network can do to protect you.
Below, we’ve listed five possible limitations to consider when opting for a VPN.
1. Big tech profiling
Let’s say you’re logged into your Google account. You can be connected to a virtual private network on the other side of the world, and Google will still be able to create a profile of you as an internet user.
After all, they’ll simply correlate your search history with your account information, regardless of whether you change your IP address or not. The same is true for services like Facebook.
2. GPS tracking
There are more ways in which online entities can determine your identity, which a VPN doesn’t protect you from. When using Google Maps, for instance, you’re often required to turn on your GPS.
This means Google Maps can see exactly where you are. There are also more advanced ways that are used to identify internet users, such as browser fingerprinting. This method uses your browser’s and device’s settings to distinguish you from other internet users.
3. Slower internet speed
Your internet speed may decrease if you use a virtual private network. Your data has to be sent through the VPN server, which means it can take slightly longer to end up where it needs to be. However, there are several effective ways to increase internet speeds while connected to a VPN, like choosing a different server or closing background apps you don’t need.
4. VPN blockades
Sometimes VPN users are actively thwarted, especially in countries where virtual private networks are banned. For example, Iran was planning to restrict the sales of VPNs at the beginning of this year.
There are also websites, apps, and services that will deny you access if they detect you are using a virtual private network. However, a VPN with obfuscation technology might do the trick in this case and allow you to access the site you want.
5. Poor service providers
You should be especially cautious about free VPNs. These are notorious for compromising your security and selling your data to third parties, which can be even worse than not using a virtual private network at all.
You should always do your own research and never just pick a virtual private network at random. Our list of the top five best VPNs of the year is an excellent start.
6. Collection of your data
Some VPNs, like Hola VPN and Tuxler VPN, log your data and sell it to third parties. Also, steer clear of the majority of free VPNs and stick to the best free VPNs, as they have similar logging policies as top VPN providers.
Final Thoughts: Why Do You Need a VPN?
You need a VPN because it hides your identity and online activity from your internet service provider, governments, and the websites you visit. This ensures greater online privacy and security.
In addition, virtual private networks help to circumvent censorship and geographical blocks to ensure a world with more internet freedom, no matter where you are.
For the most part, VPN usage is safe and legal. However, sometimes certain websites and apps may not be accessible via VPN connections. Moreover, some countries ban virtual private network usage, and you may get in trouble if found to be using one.
At the same time, you should be cautious about choosing a VPN because there are many shady companies out there that compromise your privacy under the guise of providing you with their service. Therefore, it’s important to do your research before signing up for any virtual private network.
if you want all-around protection for your online activities, we recommend trying NordVPN. It has excellent security features, is very user-friendly, and unblocks popular streaming platforms. NordVPN will give you great speeds no matter your location and allow you to browse the internet anonymously.
Want to learn more about VPNs and why you should use one? Check out our other articles below:
- How to Download a VPN: A Complete Guide
- What Is a Cracked VPN and Is It Safe to Use?
- How to Buy a VPN Completely Anonymously
If you have a burning question about VPNs, we might be able to help you out. Simply click one of the queries below to see the answer.
There is a large price difference between the various VPN providers. This makes it difficult to give a a clear answer to this question. That said, premium VPNs will cost between $2 and $7 per month.
There are also free VPNs. You don’t pay for these, but limits on data or speed may apply.
We do not recommend using a free VPN. Some free apps don’t secure your connection very well, while others might even install malware onto your device. We have tested free VPNs to see which ones can be trusted. Take a look at out best free VPNs article.
A VPN is a secure connection between you and the internet. This connection is sent through an external VPN server, meaning your IP address, location, and data traffic remain hidden. Moreover, you’ll often be able to choose from different server locations, allowing you to access the web as if you were in a different country.
A VPN creates an encrypted VPN tunnel between your device and the internet. All your online traffic is sent through this tunnel, meaning no one on the outside will be able to see what you’re doing online. The VPN also alters your IP address by changing it into the IP of the VPN server you’re using.
Therefore, your location will no longer be visible to everyone on the internet. The encrypted VPN tunnel is able to keep your data secure because it uses high-level encryption protocols.
Yes, you can use a VPN to watch Netflix. The best VPN for Netflix will allow you to watch movies and series that may not be available in your country.