Virtual private networks (VPNs) are essential tools for online privacy and security. With so many VPN services out there, it can be tricky to figure out which one is right for you. I tested and compared over 15 top VPNs based on important criteria like speed, streaming capabilities, security, pricing, and more to determine the best VPNs.
Based on my extensive research and hands-on testing, here are my top recommendations for the best VPN services of 2023:
Top 5 VPNs of 2023
- NordVPN – Best overall VPN
- Surfshark – Best value
- ExpressVPN – Fastest VPN speeds
- Private Internet Access – Most affordable
- ProtonVPN – Best free plan
Below I‘ll go into more detail on each of these top 5 VPN services, including an overview of their key features, pros and cons, and my experience using each one. I‘ll also cover some honorable mentions that didn‘t quite make the top 5 but are still excellent options.
If you‘re not sure what a VPN is or how to choose one, I‘ve also included a VPN basics section at the end to cover the key things to look for.
The 5 Best VPN Services of 2023
1. NordVPN – Best Overall VPN
NordVPN is my top recommendation for most people because of its excellent balance of speed, security, reliability, and ease of use.
Speed: In my tests, NordVPN provided consistently fast connection speeds across servers in the US and Europe, with minimal impact on bandwidth-intensive tasks like streaming and torrenting.
Security: NordVPN uses strong 256-bit AES encryption by default and offers advanced security features like a kill switch, DNS leak protection, and double VPN. The company has a strict no-logs policy that has been independently audited.
Streaming: Unblocks Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, and other major streaming sites with no buffering issues. Dedicated streaming servers provide optimized performance.
Ease of use: User-friendly apps for all major platforms make it simple to get connected. Servers are clearly labeled by country and purpose (streaming, P2P, etc).
Pricing: Quite affordable considering the quality of the service, with plans starting at $3.29/month.
The only downside is that NordVPN limits devices to 6 connections simultaneously. But for an all-around excellent VPN, NordVPN is hard to beat.
2. Surfshark – Best Value VPN
If you‘re looking to get the most bang for your buck, Surfshark is the best budget-friendly option with really fast speeds.
Speed: In my performance tests, Surfshark maintained quick connection speeds that were comparable and often better than more expensive competitors.
Security: Strong AES-256 encryption, a no-logs policy, kill switch, and other standard security protocols.
Streaming: Successfully unblocked Netflix and other sites in my testing. Provides dedicated streaming servers.
Simultaneous connections: The best part is that Surfshark allows unlimited devices to connect, making it a great value for households.
Pricing: Extremely affordable at just $2.49/month for a 2-year plan.
Surfshark is not quite as intuitive to use as NordVPN and has fewer servers, but it‘s an excellent VPN service considering the low monthly cost. If you need to cover lots of devices on a budget, I highly recommend Surfshark.
3. ExpressVPN – Fastest VPN Speeds
ExpressVPN is one of the fastest VPNs I tested, making it a great choice if speed is your priority.
Speed: In my tests, ExpressVPN provided low latency connections and the fastest download speeds out of all the VPNs, with minimal impact even on distant servers. The speeds were blazing fast across the board.
Reliability: Very reliable connections and top-notch apps that are stable and easy to use. Server network uptime is impressive.
Security: Uses trusted protocols like OpenVPN and AES-256 encryption. No-logs policy has been audited.
Streaming: Unblocks Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, and more streaming services without buffering or lag.
Pricing: More expensive than other options at $8.32/month for 12 months. But you get what you pay for in terms of speed and reliability.
The only real drawback is the higher monthly cost. But if you want the fastest VPN money can buy, ExpressVPN is hard to beat.
4. Private Internet Access (PIA) – Most Affordable
If you‘re looking for rock-bottom pricing without sacrificing quality and security, Private Internet Access (PIA) is the best budget VPN available.
Pricing: At just $2.03/month for 36 months, PIA offers the lowest monthly cost of any decent VPN I found.
Speed: Connection speeds were quick and stable across different servers. Performance was solid for streaming and browsing.
Security: PIA uses modern protocols like WireGuard and provides standard VPN security features. Has a firm no-logs policy.
Reliability: The apps are straightforward to use. I never had connection drops or reliability issues.
Streaming: Unblocks popular streaming sites like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and BBC iPlayer.
PIA lacks some of the advanced features like split tunneling offered by NordVPN and ExpressVPN. But for an ultra-affordable and capable VPN, you can‘t go wrong with PIA.
5. ProtonVPN – Best Free VPN
ProtonVPN stands out by offering a free VPN plan with unlimited data usage. This makes it the best free VPN with no catches.
Free plan: ProtonVPN‘s free plan has no data limits. The only caveat is slower speeds and access to servers in just 3 countries.
Paid plans: For full speeds and all server locations, ProtonVPN‘s paid plans offer excellent performance and security starting at $5/month.
Privacy: ProtonVPN is based in Switzerland and has a strict no-logs policy. Perfect for privacy-focused users.
Security: Uses modern protocols like IKEv2/IPSec and industry-standard encryption. Apps are very user-friendly.
Speed: Fast connection speeds with the paid plans. No buffering or lag when streaming.
While the free plan is somewhat limited, ProtonVPN‘s paid plans compete with top premium VPNs while offering unmatched privacy. Try the free plan to see if you like it.
These VPNs I tested narrowly missed making the top 5, but are solid options worth considering:
CyberGhost – Over 7,000 servers worldwide. Excellent streaming capabilities. Based in Romania which has strong privacy laws. Priced competitively starting at $2.25/month. Lacks advanced features offered by my top picks.
IPVanish – Superfast server network. Allows unlimited device connections. Based in the U.S. which has weaker privacy laws compared to my top choices. Pricing starts at $3.99/month.
TunnelBear – Very user-friendly apps. Fun branding. Only offers servers in 23 countries. Max speed capped at 500 Mbps which could impact streaming and torrenting. Pricing starts at $3.33/month.
VyprVPN – Fast Swiss-based VPN focused on security and privacy. Smaller server network compared to competitors. Pricing starts at $2.50/month.
VPN Basics – How to Choose a VPN
If you‘re new to virtual private networks, here are some key factors to consider when choosing a VPN service:
Encryption & Security Protocols – Make sure the VPN provider uses modern security protocols like OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPSec, or WireGuard. Strong encryption like 256-bit AES is also essential. These protect your data from interception and surveillance.
Server Network – Look for a large global server network spread across different countries and regions. More servers generally means faster speeds and ability to unblock more streaming content.
Speed – VPN encryption can slow your internet connection. Quality paid VPNs minimize the impact. Try free trials to test speeds. Faster options include ExpressVPN, NordVPN, Surfshark, IPVanish, VyprVPN.
Pricing – VPN services range from $2-$10/month for plans billed monthly or annually. Look for discounts on longer 12, 24 or 36 month plans. Watch for limited-time deals.
Streaming Support – If you want to unblock Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer etc, test streaming capabilities during a free trial. Some VPNs offer streaming-optimized servers.
Simultaneous Connections – If you need to cover lots of devices, look for VPNs that allow 5+ or unlimited simultaneous connections on one account.
Apps – There should be user-friendly apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, routers, and other devices you want to run the VPN on.
A quality VPN is essential to protect your privacy and security online. After extensively comparing over 15 top VPN services, I‘m confident recommending NordVPN as the best VPN overall thanks to its great balance of speed, streaming capabilities, security, and affordable pricing.
For covering many devices on a budget, Surfshark offers amazing value. If you want blazing fast speeds, ExpressVPN is a premium top-tier option. Private Internet Access is the cheapest high-quality VPN available. And ProtonVPN has the best free VPN plan.
No matter your specific needs and budget, this guide should help you find the right virtual private network to keep you safe and secure online.