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We all use VPNs for different reasons, and what’s important to you may be less so to someone else. That’s why there is no one perfect service everyone can subscribe to and be completely happy with. Sure, some are overall much better than others, but there is still wiggle room to make sure a VPN is the perfect one for you.
What to Consider When Choosing a VPN
So how to choose a VPN provider that’s perfect for you? The first step is to identify what your needs are. There are nine things you should consider, and they are listed below. Take a few minutes to look over them. This exercise should help you figure out what about a VPN is important to you and what you can compromise. It will make sure you end up with a product with which you’re happy.
Let’s start off with an easy one. You often get a VPN with the intent of connecting to a particular location or country. Is there one or more you have in mind? If so, make sure the VPN provider supports them.
Also, take note of how many servers and IPs there are at the location. The more of both, the better. A geographically diverse service like PureVPN should have you covered no matter where you want to connect.
How fast a VPN service is can make or break your experience. If the connection is painfully slow, you’ll be a lot less likely to use it and curse it every time you do. The first step is to ask yourself which speed metrics matter most. The three metrics of most concern are download and upload speeds and ping time.
The first two are exactly what they sound like: how quickly data is received and sent by your device when connected to a VPN. If you download large files or stream a lot of videos, you will want a high download speed. Upload speeds on the other hand matter if you send significant amounts of data. A good example is backing up your pictures to the cloud.
Ping time is how long it takes for a single unit of data (called a packet) to travel from your computer, through the VPN server to its ultimate destination, and then back. Ping time is specified in milliseconds. The lower this number, the better. A low ping is critical for real-time applications like Skype, voice over IP phones or playing online games.
Which metric or metrics matter to you will depend on your top reasons for using a VPN in the first place. I for example very much care about both upload and download speed, but ping time is less of consideration.
Once you identify your metric needs, look for a VPN service with the best numbers for the country to which you would like to connect. You can refer to my list of the fastest virtual private networks to figure that out. Remember that just because a VPN provider has blazingly fast servers in the US, it doesn’t guarantee the same will be true for other countries.
Privacy and Logging
For many, increased online privacy is the primary reason to use a VPN. If this is something important to you, the first thing to find out is if the provider you’re considering does not keep logs (also known as a zero log or logless service).
There are varying degrees of logging. Some providers will call themselves logless but may still keep anonymous information like connection times, bandwidth usage or visited IP addresses. On its own, that not enough information to uniquely identify any user. But throw into the mix your internet provider’s log of your activity, and you’d be surprised what’s possible.
Something else to pay attention to is the kind of personal information the provider keeps. Do they just need an email or are your full physical address and phone number necessary? The less they know, the better.
The country the VPN company is based out of can also be critical. It can affect both the data retention policies as well as what the provider needs to disclose when asked to do so. When possible, choose a country where no such laws exist, like Panama or Romania.
Many people don’t care about this, but some do have a preferred VPN protocol they want to use (OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP, etc…). Do you? And if so, does the provider you’re considering offer it?
If you don’t care either way, I recommend you at least check if OpenVPN is available. It is considered the most secure and, all things being equal, best VPN protocol around. Unless you have a reason to do otherwise, use it over any other option.
The same applies to encryption. If you feel you need an AES-256 cipher, a RSA-4096 handshake, and SHA-512 hash authentication, make sure it’s supported. But for most people, this will not be that relevant.
Beyond protocols, there are several other features you may (or may not care) about. If privacy is super important to you, double VPN functionality (sometimes also called multihop VPN) may be something to consider.
VPNs are not infallible. Are you okay with your internet connection happily humming along if the VPN suddenly drops, potentially exposing whatever it is that you’re doing? If not, you may want a provider that also offers an internet kill switch bundled with its client.
Not all VPN services are available on every device or operating system. And those that are do not necessarily offer the same features on each platform. An Android version of the VPN software may be a stripped down version of the Windows client. The same goes for an AppleTV or router implementation.
Whatever platforms you’re planning to use the VPN on, double check that features you care about are available on it.
Some VPN providers impose limitations on their service. A maximum number of simultaneous connection is a very common one. Take a mental note of how many connections you’re reasonably going to need. Certain services allow as few as two, though that number usually hovers around five. The currently undisputed concurrent connection champion is Surfshark with no limit.
If you intend on using file sharing, peer-to-peer or BitTorrent services, choose a VPN which allows them. Even though BitTorrent is often used for completely legal and legitimate reasons, some VPN providers choose to blanket disallow its usage. They do this to protect themselves from anyone using BitTorrent for more questionable purposes.
There are very few other limitations VPN providers impose these days. But, it’s always best to double check and avoid being disappointed later. Other restrictions you can run into may include limits on upload or download amounts or reduced connection speeds at certain times of the day.
The cost of VPN services can vary significantly. Your budget can eliminate some options right off the get go.
Committing to a six or twelve-month term instead of going month to month will bring the price down significantly, sometimes upward of 70%. If you’re comfortable that a provider is right for you, a long-term plan can save you a lot of money.
If on the other hand, you’re still a little on the fence, either go monthly or check the refund policy before committing for longer. With a few exceptions, you’re usually looking at between 7 and 30 days to get your money back fully. Many VPN providers also offer a free trial.
You may have a strong preference for certain payment methods over others. If privacy is a big concern, you will likely want to pay using Bitcoin. Or you may just not feel comfortable giving yet another company your credit card number and choose to use PayPal instead.
Whatever your payment preference, double check the VPN provider accepts it before spending any more time looking into them.
To a lesser or greater extent, good customer support should be on everyone’s list. Even if you are technically savvy and may not need tech support, something like a billing issue can come up anytime.
24/7 customer service is what I always aim for, and the more interactive the way of reaching support the better. For example, I much prefer live chat over email or a ticketing system. You can usually get an issue resolved in minutes compared to hours or even days (especially if there is some back and forth involved).
Active social media accounts are also always a positive and can be a good way to get support for more general issues.
And there you have it. Nine things to think about to help you choose a VPN service worthy of your investment. Don’t forget that you can always take a look at the handy dandy VPN provider table on the homepage. It will give you the information you need at a quick glance.