What to Look for in a VPN?

Getting a VPN subscription is the best thing you can do for your digital privacy. However, it would be a mistake to go for the first VPN you find online. After all, VPN connections handle all your incoming and outgoing Web traffic, making it crucial to use a provider that truly deserves your trust. With that said, let’s talk about what to look for in a VPN.

Just below, you’ll find eight things to consider when choosing a VPN service, all of which are equally important. So, take a good look, as the following pointers will help you find a VPN that not only protects your privacy but also aligns with your budget, needs, and priorities.

1. Background, Location & Jurisdiction

Before you start to inspect any other aspect of a VPN, our strong recommendation is to check its background, location, and jurisdiction. That’s because even if a VPN promises the most user-friendly privacy policy - if it comes from a country that forces data processors to record data, nothing else will matter much. 

This is where we’d like to introduce you to the 5/9/14 Eyes Alliance, which is an ever-expanding group of countries with unfavorable (privacy-intruding) laws known for aggressive data logging. VPNs that come from any of those countries can be forced to collect information about you, sometimes even without your knowledge.

Of course, we’re sure you won’t use a VPN for any malicious purpose or for something that might put you on the radar of authorities in your country. Still, since there are so many VPNs out there, picking one that comes from a privacy-respecting country is always a good idea.

2. Privacy Policy

Just because a VPN says it collects no user data - doesn’t mean it actually doesn't log any personally identifiable data. That's why it's essential not to trust any marketing messages. Instead, you need to read VPNs' privacy policies.

This is where so-called no-logs VPNs come into play. Those VPNs don’t come with vague privacy policies, and they’re explicit in their intention to avoid having to log data. On top of that, many of those VPNs have been audited by cybersecurity companies to verify their privacy policies.

Among the audited VPNs, we have ExpressVPNNordVPNProtonVPNVyprVPNTunnelBear, and PureVPN. All of those are reputable VPN services that have been available for a very long time now, making them a great pick if you want a privacy-first VPN.

3. Technical Security

Each VPN comes with a set of VPN protocols paired with different encryption mechanisms. So, before you start reading about their technical security measures, make sure to read about VPN protocols and VPN encryption.

We have IKEv2, L2TP/IPsec, and OpenVPN when it comes to the widely used protocols today. Among those, your goal should be a VPN that features the OpenVPN protocol – providing a high level of security while bringing fast speeds. Some VPNs have also adopted the WireGuard protocol (SurfsharkTorGuardNordVPN, and Private Internet Access), which is still brand new but brings promising results.

Aside from checking which VPN protocols you'll get, don't forget to check their associated encryption mechanisms. The VPN industry's standard is AES-256, which should be enough to scramble your data in a highly secure way. If a VPN offers a lower tier (AES-128), that should also be enough for average home users.

4. Bandwidth, Performance & Speed

Talking about the speed or performance, you'll get out of a VPN is quite tricky. That's because there are many variables in that equation, so no one can tell you what to expect (in your specific case, that is). However, you can still do a lot to ensure that you pick a VPN with predispositions to bring you smooth and fast performance.

With that said, our guide to the fastest VPNs can help you get started (that’s where you’ll find 7 recommendations, based on our hands-on tests). Besides that, keep in mind that there’s plenty you can do to speed up a slow VPN.

When talking about bandwidth, you’ll want to make sure that a VPN brings unlimited bandwidth (which is the case with any respectable commercial-grade VPN). That’s also the main difference between paid and free VPNs, as free-of-charge ones come with limited bandwidth (making them unusable for any long-term online activity).

5. Number & Location of VPN Servers

One of the crucial things to consider when buying a VPN is the size of its server network. More precisely, you’ll want to know how many servers you’ll have at your disposal, as well as where those VPN servers are located.

VPNs that come with sizeable server networks usually provide better performance overall. That's because their servers can handle more users at once without any performance drops. And also, having an extensive server network will help you unblock the Web from more places, letting you change your IP address to a different country's IP in an instant.

For more information, here are the 10 VPNs with the biggest number of servers. Also, you’ll want to learn about the best countries to connect to using a VPN, as well as whether connecting to a VPN server in your country is a good idea.

6. Number of Connected/Supported Devices

Each VPN comes with a limited number of simultaneous connections. In other words, each VPN subscription will let you connect to servers from a limited number of devices. This typically ranges from 5 up to 10 connections, but some VPNs offer unmetered traffic as well.

With that said, try to think about all the devices you’ll use to connect to VPN servers. That could include your computer, smartphone, and tablet – as well as your smart TV or even a router. All of those devices are capable of running VPNs natively. To continue exploring this topic, check our guide to the best VPNs for multiple devices.

7. Customer Support

For the most part, today's VPNs are fully automated. That means that they require very little input. All you have to do is click a button, and your VPN will connect you to the chosen server. 

However, just like with any software/hardware technology, things can go wrong at times. When something like that happens, you’ll be thankful to have chosen a VPN with 24/7 customer support. Many of today’s VPNs offer live chat support, which is the quickest way to resolve your problem and continue using your VPN. 

Aside from having access to live chat, you’ll want a VPN that lets you send an email (or contact its customer support via an online form) or check a knowledgebase (if you want to fix an issue yourself). 

8. Pricing & Money-Back Guarantee

And lastly, all of the above said should be aligned with your budget. Keep in mind that VPNs are typically priced at $10-15 per month (if you decide to pay each month). However, VPNs also offer long-term plans, and these typically lower the monthly price significantly.

To help you review your options, we have several resources. You can start by checking the best cheap VPNs right now (affordable but worth your trust). Then, you can check for the best VPN deals (we make sure to update that article regularly). And lastly, check out the best VPN trials (letting you test drive their services without paying anything).

Tip

What are your best options right now? As you can see in our overview of the best VPN services, our top recommendation is ExpressVPN (followed by CyberGhost VPN and Surfshark VPN). With that said, we're sure that you won't regret your decision if you pick ExpressVPN.

However, if you’d like to check VPNs made for specific purposes, we got your back. Here are the best VPNs for streamingtorrentinggamingschool & college studentsaccessing public Wi-Fi networks, and accessing blocked sites.

Those would be the eight most important things to look for in a VPN. If you have any questions for us, make sure to post them via the comments section below. And lastly, thanks for reading!

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