VPNs offer a great way to bypass geo-blocked content and let you browse an internet without borders. Here we round-up the best VPNs of 2021.
Why do I need a VPN?
Most of the Western world’s internet is relatively free and unrestricted. You can visit the vast majority of websites without fear of prosecution, and be served the same content as users in other countries – for no extra cost.
Unfortunately, your internet freedom does not travel with your passport (and laptop). Travel to South Korea for example, and you’re subject to South Korean internet laws meaning will only have access to restricted content.
Also, some services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video will be geo-blocked, meaning you’ll be served smaller libraries than you’re used to at home. The flipside is that if you travel to the US and connect to the web, your Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video libraries will swell.
A VPN offers you a way around location-based internet.
Best VPN of 2021
The fastest and MOST reliable VPN of 2022Number of servers: 3,000+ | Speed: >80% | Bandwidth: Unlimited | IP locations: 160 in 94 countries | Devices supported: 5 | Live chat: Yes | 30-day money-back guarantee: Yes ExpressVPN is still the best VPN. And importantly, it ALWAYS has servers that are open with major streaming sites such as Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video etc. ExpressVPN is usually very good at playing Cat and Mouse with online streaming sites (apart from BBC iPlayer). Meaning, whenever one of its servers is blacklisted it creates a new one – giving its users a constant stream of servers that aren’t blocked. Needless to say, this is a valuable attribute if you’re looking for a VPN to unblock streaming sites. Its app is easy-to-use and free to download on pretty much any device you can think of. Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, FireStick, Android TV, Roku, PS4, Xbox, Linux, even Apple TV (with a workaround). It’s got it all covered. The app is another main reason this VPN is so good at unblocking TV streaming sites (that claim they block VPNs) is that its software takes a pragmatic approach to user management. While other VPNs tempt customers by promising them access to hundreds/thousands of servers in multiple countries, ExpressVPN does things differently. With ExpressVPN you only have a handful of server locations to choose from. Once you select your location the app takes care of the rest. Assigning you to the fastest available server that’s not oversubscribed. This simple technique is so important, as it keeps ExpressVPN’s servers operating at lightning-fast speeds and prevent its IPs from getting blacklisted for “abnormal” usage in the first place.
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A very quick and trustworthy VPNNumber of servers: 5,000+ | Speeds: >80% | Bandwidth: Unlimited | IP locations: 62 countries | Devices supported: 6 | Live chat: Yes | 30-day money-back guarantee: Yes NordVPN is the most widely-used VPN in the world. And it’s easy to see why. It’s a polished app that delivers fast connections (more on this later) to a massive network of VPN servers. It’s the most reliable at unblocking popular streaming services too – US Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, BBC iPlayer, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, etc. This is because NordVPN hired a full-time technical team (that’s responsible for monitoring its servers’ connections with popular TV streaming services) and has been aggressively investing in its network of IP addresses in key locations. Another interesting thing to note is that NordVPN is an industry leader in its development of Nordlynx technology. Nordlynx is built using the WireGuard, a new VPN tunneling protocol designed to outperform current standards (OpenVPN and IPSec). The benefits, according to NordVPN, are dramatically faster transfer speeds while connected to a VPN. My tests – New Zealand to London – confirm that Nordlynx is currently the fastest VPN on the market. However, the difference isn’t dramatic, a few Mbps is all.
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The great budget VPN optionNumber of servers: 1,000+ | Speed: >65% | Bandwidth: Unlimited | IP locations: 275 in 100 countries | Devices supported: 5 | Live chat: Yes | 30-day money-back guarantee: Yes If you’re looking for an excellent VPN, with an even better price tag, Ivacy ($1.16/month) is a great option. This VPN has all the features you need to stream BBC iPlayer, in HD, from any country in the world. I’ve been testing the app recently on Mac, PC, Android, iOS and FireStick and the results have been impressive – unlocking BBC iPlayer, US Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, etc. with ease. The Ivacy app is a little different in regards to its UX (user experience). Instead of just selecting a UK server, you need to select the specific BBC iPlayer server. Don’t worry, this isn’t a bad thing – by connecting to a dedicated BBC iPlayer server, it simply means that you’re connecting to an IP address that Ivacy knows works with BBC iPlayer. For an extra $1.99/month (£1.74) you can add-on a dedicated IP. This will buy you sole access to an IP address in a country of your choice, meaning you won’t have to share your IP (and speeds) with any other use. I don’t recommend this though, using the regular Ivacy servers is enough 95 per cent of the time.
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5. CyberGhostNumber of servers: 6,000+ | Speeds: >65% | Bandwidth: Unlimited | IP locations: 200 in 90 countries | Devices supported: 7 | Live chat: Yes | 30-day money-back guarantee: Yes CyberGhost is one of the more established VPNs on the market. It has a well-established, and well-tested global network of servers that perform well. From my tests over the past several months, CyberGhost has no trouble at unblocking major streaming services – US Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max etc. This VPN performed well at maintaining download speeds, well above 65 per cent of my regular (non VPN) ISP speed. That said, there’s nothing really unique about the service. Which forces you to look at its price-point. And there’s nothing special here. Its short-term $12.99/month price tag puts is well above the industry average of $10.10/month. Similarly, its long-term $2.75/month for 3 years deal isn’t much of a “deal” either. Oddly, CyberGhost’s most unique feature is its a 1-day, no obligations, free trial. This is an appealing offer to customers who are new to VPNs. However, it’s important to remember that most reputable VPNs will offer customers a 30-day money-back guarantee, so try not to be too seduced by the offer.
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How do VPNs work?
VPNs rely on multiple server locations and encryption to spoof your location. They’re as simple as that.
When you sign up to a VPN you’ll usually download a piece of software that encrypts your data and sends it to a server location of your choice. See also: Best Mac Antivirus.
Here the server will decrypt your data and then forward it to the local ISP. The returned data is then encrypted again and sent back to your computer.
The end result is your computer accessing the same internet as the server location you choose.
Best VPN: Things to look out for
Choosing the right VPN can be confusing. Here are the four main features you need to look out for.
1. Server location
VPNs rely on their own network of servers. If you want to watch US Netflix for example, pick a VPN that has multiple servers in the US. Likewise, if you based in the UK and want to watch BBC iPlayer when you’re abroad, pick a VPN that has several servers based in the UK.
2. Is it in a ‘Five Eyes’ country?
If you’re employing a VPN for privacy reasons, this should be near the top of your priorities list.
The Five Eyes agreement is between the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and is designed for the free sharing of intelligence between these nations.
What this means is if your VPN provider is based in a Five Eyes nation, a government within could, in theory, demand to access data from your VPN provider. If this is something that concerns you, choose a VPN that’s not based in one of these countries. Better yet, choose a VPN that doesn’t keep logs of your activity as well.
3. How fast is the VPN
The performance of your VPN is also a huge factor as you will only be able to browse the web at the speed your VPN server allows – regardless of what connection speed you have at home. Of course, the speed of VPNs will vary from minute to minute, but the reputation of the VPN’s speed is definitely something you want to pay attention to.
4. Multiple OS support?
It’s hard to believe, but some of the major VPNs still don’t offer multi-platform support. Buffered, for example, doesn’t have an iOS app, instead, you have to download OpenVPN and battle through pages of settings to get started.
The best VPNs will have dedicated apps that run on Windows, macOS, iOS, Android and some even support Linux. Check the table above for more details.