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Whether you live in the United Kingdom, are a British citizen spending time abroad or just enjoy British culture and television, you have good reason to use a UK VPN.
The biggest stumbling block for most of us is knowing which provider will give us what we want and need. There is a lot of choice. And it's my hope this post will help make your decision a little easier. I will explain why and how you'll get more benefit from using certain UK services over others. Towards the end, I will also touch on what, in my humble opinion, are the best VPNs for the UK (if that list is all you care about, clicking on the link will take you straight to it).
For Those in the UK
Let's begin with those of us who live in the United Kingdom or plan on traveling there. If that's the group you fall into, you definitely have some good reasons to be considering a VPN.
Privacy and Anonymity
You may or may not be aware that the United Kingdom is one of the worst electronic surveillance states in the western world. This can be (and likely should be) a big deal for anyone who spends time in the country.
Thanks to the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (nicknamed the Snoopers' Charter), law enforcement and intelligence agencies are legally able to obtain and analyze all forms of communications and communications data, including, of course, your internet activities.
One of the act's provisions states that internet service providers must keep internet connection records, including which websites you have visited, for an entire year. All that information is accessible and reviewable by the authorities at any time without a warrant.
I don't have anything hide (at least I don't think I do), but this whole idea certainly doesn't sit well with me. So whenever I'm in the UK, I resort to one of my favorite tools, the VPN.
When you use a VPN, you are effectively hiding from your ISP all websites you visit and online services you use. However, your ISP can still tell you're using a VPN, knows the times at which you use the Internet and how much data you send and receive.
Depending on what information the VPN provider keeps, if it's cross-referenced with the details your ISP is aware of, you and what you do online may be identifiable. This is the reason you want a VPN which keeps logging to a minimum.
Ideally, your VPN provider of choice will do no logging at all, and a few do that. However, most VPNs keep connection timestamps and bandwidth usage. That said, as long as they log nothing else and collect information anonymously, you should be fine.
Somewhat related to this, it's also a good idea to stay away from VPNs which operate out of the UK. They too fall under and have to comply with the Snoopers' Charter.
Through mandates to the Internet Service Providers, the UK blocks access to several websites. Probably the best-known case of this is the file-sharing site The Pirate Bay, though there are many others.
I agree that file sharing can sometimes be a problem, but I don't believe Internet censorship is the answer. If having true online freedom is important to you, invest in a VPN with servers in the Netherlands (a good place to connect to from the UK due to physical proximity) or any other country with no Internet censorship of which to speak.
Accessing Geo-Restricted Content
If you're in the UK, you may want to, for one reason or another, access an online service in another country. Maybe it's the streaming player for a foreign channel or the US version of Netflix.
That content will most likely be geo-blocked, meaning not accessible unless you're physically located where the service is offered. Fortunately, you can get around this restriction by using a VPN and simply connecting to a server inside that country. If this is something you plan on doing, be sure to pick a provider with as many servers as possible at the location (or locations) you're interested in.
For Those Outside the UK
If you don't live in the United Kingdom (the category I fall into) or you spend significant time outside of it, there is still at least one very good reason to invest in a top UK VPN: getting around geo-blocking.
Accessing Geo-Restricted Content
Viewing geo-blocked content works both ways. And arguably the number one motivation for most individuals outside the UK to want to VPN into the country is to access streaming services like the BBC's iPlayer, Channel 4's All 4 or the ITV Hub.
If watching UK TV is indeed your goal, be aware that companies who offer streaming (especially the BBC) are trying hard to stop you in your tracks and prevent access to their service from outside the country. If you're interested, I do go into more details about this in another post, explaining why a BBC VPN stops working and what to do about it. But it boils down to a tug of war between content providers banning VPN IPs and VPN providers replacing those bad IPs with fresh working ones.
This situation means just one thing: you will need a VPN which actively replaces banned IPs. Many will do this and do it quickly. Those are the providers to go after. Other VPNs either don't swap IPs at all or do it at a much slower pace, putting your British TV watching habits to rest for weeks at a time, if not longer.
A Few More Important Details
There are two more noteworthy things to consider when picking a VPN service for the UK. These are relevant regardless of where you are located and what you plan on using a VPN for.
The first thing is the number of available UK servers a VPN provider offers. The bigger that number and the more physically spread out across the country the servers are, the better.
A large number of servers balances user load, making sure little if any hardware is being pushed to its limits and performing poorly as a result. Besides, more choice is never a bad thing. And if you are in the UK, having the servers spread out increases your odds of having one physically close to you. Proximity is an important factor if you want to keep high internet speeds.
And on the subject of speed, the second thing to keep in mind is any VPN worth considering needs to be able to give you a fast connection. Using a service that does not will not make you a happy customer, especially when streaming video or transferring larger files. If a VPN is so slow you don't want to use it, what's the point of having it.
And now, without further ado, here are what I believe to be the best UK VPN providers for the United Kingdom.
The Best VPNs for the UK
- Anonymous provider with zero logging
- Over 1100 servers (and growing) in 61 countries
- Great server performance across the board
- Purpose optimized servers, including streaming and P2P
- Clean, easy to use client
- Industry leading six simultaneous connections
- Can't pick specific cities to connect to
- A few nice-to-haves missing from the macOS client
With little hesitation, NordVPN is my pick as the best VPN for the UK. They check all the right boxes and regardless of whether you're in or outside the United Kingdom, offer every feature you need.
NordVPN has the largest number of British servers of all providers (currently 103 and going up regularly) spread across six locations. Beyond the UK, NordVPN's server list includes 1188 machines in 60 countries. That's an impressive number which covers every major location most would want to connect to, and then some. Server speeds are top notch.
In my experience, NordVPN is also one of the best providers for consistent access to the BBC iPlayer and the many other UK streaming services. Their IPs are rarely blacklisted, and when it does happen, NordVPN replaces them quickly. And thanks to their sheer number of UK servers, even with some IPs banned, I can always very easily find one that works.
- Fast speeds
- Top notch geographical server diversity (141 countries)
- Compatible with over 50 platforms and devices
- Innovative split tunneling feature
- Dedicated IP option
- No quick start option
- Some potential security issues with DNS leaks
- Select servers can have intermittent connection problems
A close second place, you can't go wrong PureVPN as your UK VPN of choice. They don't score quite as well as NordVPN on the privacy front (though still do more than enough to keep you anonymous and safe) but get high marks everywhere else.
PureVPN offers 62 UK servers in 5 locations. And when it comes to access the rest of the world, most providers would be hardpressed to match PureVPN's server list which includes 750+ boxes in 140 countries. Unless you're looking to connect to a small island in the South Pacific (and even then you might be in luck), they have you covered. And my speed tests have shown their servers can more than hold their own.
As mentioned, privacy-wise PureVPN is not as great as NordVPN simply because they keep connection timestamps and bandwidth usage. However, they do so anonymously and only for service quality reasons. PureVPN does not in any way keep track of which sites you visit, what you download, which apps you use or any other online activity.
When it comes to rotating out IPs blacklisted by the BBC and other services, PureVPN is very much on the ball. Their IPs don't go down that often, and when they do, the longest I ever recall having to wait was about four days. And usually, things go much quicker.
- Excellent data encryption options
- A very complete and intuitive client
- Fast servers with consistent speeds
- Plenty of servers and server locations
- Strong back-end technology
- Top notch customer service
- Low number of concurrent connections
- Some aggregated connection logging
Perhaps one of the better known and popular VPN providers in the market, ExpressVPN also makes an excellent choice as a UK VPN.
ExpressVPN does not provide an exact server list. They do say they run 1,500+ servers in 145 VPN locations and 94 countries. Seven of those locations are in the United Kingdom, and the UK is often allocated a disproportionally large amount of hardware compared to other countries. From that I estimate the UK server count to be in the 80 to 90 range. Based on my tests, Express VPN's server speeds are consistently fast.
Privacy-wise, ExpressVPN slots in between NordVPN and PureVPN. The only information they keep is connection dates (not times) and consolidated daily data transfers. Everything is collected anonymously and used only to help maintain overall system performance.
ExpressVPN does operate out of the British Virgin Islands. But even though BVI are British territories, they do not have any data retention laws and the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 does not apply.
As far as working with UK streaming services, ExpressVPN has a solid track record. While I don't personally use them for these purposes (NordVPN or PureVPN are my weapons of choice), whenever I do a spot check, I pretty much always find a server which works.
There are many reasons to use a good UK VPN, both in the country and abroad. Some of us want improved online privacy and an uncensored Internet, others look to satisfy their British TV cravings. Whatever your goals are, any of the above three providers will make an excellent choice and give you what you're looking for.