Most people end up buying a VPN service using a credit card, debit card, or PayPal. By doing so, however, you leave a footprint – you give your VPN of choice access to your billing details, and your payment provider knows you just got a VPN (and which one).
Many of us don’t mind or don’t care about giving away those details. But, if it’s maximum privacy you’re after, there are better ways – ways that will make tracing your VPN account back to you next to impossible.
In this guide, I’ll show how to pay for a VPN anonymously, the advantages and disadvantages of doing so, and touch on if it’s worth doing at all. Let’s dig in.
Why Pay for VPNs Anonymously?
Payments are one of the weakest links when it comes to VPN privacy.
Buying a service with a credit card means giving away your name, phone number, and billing address. While that is data is technically collected only for fraud prevention, and it’s the payment processing company, not the VPN, that stores it, you are disclosing an awful lot about yourself.
It’s the same story when you use PayPal. At the very least, you need to provide your PayPal email address. That information is more than enough to identify you.
In both cases, the VPN provider doesn’t necessarily store your payment details directly. But, they will maintain some form of a link to it, if for no other reason, to allow automatic re-billing once your subscription expires.
The bottom line is that anytime you use credit card payment or PayPal to purchase a VPN, your account can always be traced back to you. That is the main reason for skipping more traditional methods of payment and going anonymous.
Should I Buy a VPN Anonymously?
So, we know that your VPN account can be traced to you if you pay with more conventional methods like credit cards, debit cards, or PayPal. Do you need to worry about it? Honestly, probably not.
Short of the government or a spy agency chasing you, the odds are slim to none that someone will try to get your VPN payment information.
Even assuming someone does, when you use a no-log VPN – which I strongly suggest you do – there is no record of your online activities. Even if someone can identify a VPN account as belonging to you, they still can’t tell what you do with it.
You are, of course, relying on the VPN provider’s honesty when they claim a zero-logging policy. But chances are, they’re truthful.
Getting caught lying about logging would be severely detrimental, if not catastrophic, to a VPN provider’s business prospects – especially when their business is, in fact, privacy.
Most VPN services that do privacy right also operate out of jurisdictions where they can’t be legally forced to collect or hand over data – places like Panama, Cyprus, or the British Virgin Islands.
That all said, if you prefer to leave nothing to chance, there’s little harm in paying anonymously (though there are a couple of disadvantages that we’ll get to shortly).
Who Should Pay Anonymously?
For some of us, buying a VPN anonymously is a must – or as close to it as it gets. If your safety, security, or reputation depends on hiding your identity, you fall into that group.
Here are some examples:
- Residents of or workers (journalists, etc.) in countries with oppressive or dangerous governments
- Residents of or workers in countries with widespread online surveillance or internet freedoms abuse
- Controversial issues (abortion, human rights, corruption, politics, etc.) advocates, activists, or commentators
- Whistleblowers or journalistic sources
The vast majority of us, however, don’t need to go out of our way to pay anonymously.
Ultimately, only a tiny fraction of us should worry about anonymous payment. For the rest, it’s just an extra layer of privacy that servers more as peace of mind than anything else (though I suppose that’s not necessarily a bad thing).
Cons of Buying VPNs Anonymously
There are several downsides to using anonymous payment methods when buying a VPN.
- There is no way to set up recurring payments, so you’ll have to manually renew your subscription when it expires (though some of us could consider that a positive).
- Most VPN providers don’t offer refunds for anonymous payments.
- Plenty of VPN providers only accept traditional forms of payment and don’t offer anonymous options limiting your choice.
- Paying anonymously is never as fast and convenient as simply filling in your credit card information.
- VPN discounts are not always available for anonymous payments, and you may sometimes have to pay a surcharge.
While some of the above disadvantages may be annoying, I don’t consider any of them deal-breakers. And if you must maintain your privacy on the internet, they’re all a small price to pay.
Anonymous VPN Payment Methods
To keep your VPN purchase anonymous, no link can exist between you and your payment method. There are two forms of payment that can ensure that – cryptocurrencies and gift cards.
Paying With Bitcoin (Or Other Cryptocurrencies)
Unless you already use cryptocurrencies, paying for a VPN with one may seem like a tall order. If that’s you, know that you have nothing to fear. The process is straight forward – just take it one step at a time.
The biggest advantage of using cryptocurrencies is that most (though, surprisingly, not all) VPN services accept them.
Buying a VPN with Bitcoin – or any other popular cryptocurrency – boils down to the following four steps:
- Set up a Bitcoin Wallet.
- Buy and add Bitcoin to your wallet using an exchange.
- Sign up with a VPN provider that takes cryptocurrencies.
- Pay for your subscription with a Bitcoin transfer.
An excellent resource to help you pick a wallet is Bitcoin.org’s interactive Choose Your Wallet tool.
Once your wallet is set up, you’ll need to fund it by buying cryptocurrencies on an exchange. I like to use Coinmama or Coinbase – both are large, trusted international exchanges that take multiple payment options. Both also have clear step-by-step instructions on what to do.
For steps 3 and 4, I have created a detailed page on how to buy a VPN with Bitcoin that will guide you through the VPN signup and payment process – pictures, and all.
Paying With Gift Cards
Some VPN providers will let you use a major store gift card as a payment option. They’ll accept cards from places like BestBuy, Walmart, Target, Starbucks, and dozens of other popular retailers.
Using a gift card is as close to paying for a VPN with cash as it gets. It’s also an excellent way to get rid of those old cards you have lying around and have no idea what to do with.
Here is an overview of the steps:
- Buy a gift card.
- Start the signup process with a VPN that takes them.
- At checkout, select gift card as your method of payment.
- Select the retailer whose card you’re using.
- Enter the gift card ID number printed on the back.
As you can see, there’s not much to it.
For maximum anonymity, when buying a card, do it at a brick-and-mortar store, gas station, or newspaper stand (or anywhere else they’re sold) and pay for it with cash.
Though gift cards give you excellent anonymity, there are two big downsides to using with them.
You will typically end up paying a premium over advertised VPN prices. The exchange rate’s surcharge amount can be significant, too – sometimes as high as 30%.
Also, only a handful of VPNs let you use gift cards as a form of payment, so your choices are quite limited. If you don’t already have a provider in mind, please have a look at my page on buying a VPN with a gift card for a list of services that accept them.
How Do I Set up a Vpn Anonymously
Besides using cryptocurrency or gift cards, there are a couple of other things you should do to make sure your VPN purchase is truly anonymous: hide your IP address and use a burner email.
Hiding Your IP Address
In the name of fraud prevention, VPN providers usually log purchase-related activity on their website. They’ll do this even if you’re not using credit cards or PayPal.
Part of what they log is the IP address from which the purchase takes place. If you’re buying a VPN while connected to your home network, your home IP will be logged, and you’ll be leaving behind a pretty big footprint.
There are four good ways to hide your IP address and prevent it from being logged as part of the buy transaction.
Use a Public WiFi Network
Perhaps the easiest way to hide your IP is to use public WiFi. A coffee shop, library, hotel lobby, airport, etc. – any will do as long as you don’t have to give away personal information to use it.
Ideally, use a hotspot that’s not right next door to where you live – the further, the better.
And, for yet another layer of anonymity, don’t sign up for the VPN using a device you own.
Use Another VPN
You can use another VPN to conceal your IP during the signup process. Maybe you have a friend who has one and is willing to lend a helping hand, or perhaps you’re just switching services.
Of course, make sure whatever provider you use is zero-log to avoid leaving a potential footprint.
One caveat (and irony) is that many VPNs don’t let you sign up for their service from another VPN’s IP address under the guise of fraud prevention.
If that happens, turn on obfuscation mode if it’s available on the VPN you’re using – it should hide the fact you’re using one.
The Tor anonymity network works like a VPN in that it hides your real location and IP address. It is, however, slower than using a VPN, which is why most of us lean towards the latter.
To use Tor, simply download the Tor browser.
If Tor is blocked where you are, or you fear repercussions for using it, you can join the network by using one of its bridge relays – they’re not listed in the main Tor directory which makes them much harder to block or detect.
Use the Tails Operating System
Tails is a stand-alone operating system designed to help us avoid internet censorship and protect our online privacy. You can use it by downloading it to and booting it from an external source like a DVD or USB drive.
Tails comes-preloaded with the Tor browser and automatically sends all internet traffic, both outbound and inbound, through the Tor network. You can use it to safely buy a VPN subscription without ever revealing your real location or IP address.
Using an Anonymous Email
Just about every VPN service asks you for an email address at signup, though not for nefarious reasons. Your email is mainly used to manage your subscription and for customer support. Of course, you should also expect the odd marketing message.
Be that as it may, when you’re trying to stay anonymous, revealing your email is a bit counterproductive (i.e., a lot).
The answer is to create an anonymous email address you will only use to manage the VPN subscription. And for this purpose, I recommend using ProtonMail.
ProtonMail is as private and anonymous of an email service as they come.
Proton is Switzerland based and protected by that country’s strict privacy laws. The company keeps your emails encrypted at all times, and not even they can decrypt them. And the service does not keep any IP logs.
You also need zero personal information to sign up for a ProtonMail email – not even a first name.
With your email address set up, you’re now ready to anonymously subscribe to a VPN.
When you pay for a VPN anonymously, you eliminate a footprint which may tie your online activities to you.
Yes, there are potential drawbacks and some hoops you have to jump through to do it. When you pay with Bitcoin or a gift card, you’re limiting your choice of VPN providers. You have to hide your real IP address at signup time and use a separate email account.
Don’t forget to renew your subscription manually, too.
For most of us, taking anonymity to that level may be overkill – though that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it. But, if whatever you do online could put your security, safety, or reputation at risk, the extra layer of protection is a must.