What is the best VPN in 2020?

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By: Stacy Garrels | November 12th, 2020

If you’re trying to figure out which VPN to get (or even what’s a VPN), check out this helpful overview.  We’ve put together some common FAQs on VPNs. Learn about VPNs in easy-to-read, plain English. And if you’re already ahead of the curve, just go straight to the list of our top 10 best VPN recommendations.

What is a VPN?

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a way to make your Internet activity more private and more secure. It connects your Internet device (smartphones, tablets, laptops, smart TVs) to another computer (server) on the Internet. Then, when you search the web you’re doing so with the server’s connection. This protects your privacy (blocks your true geographic location) and blocks out untrustworthy Wi-Fi connections trying to snoop on your activity and your data.

You can think about it like this. Instead of connecting 100 different computers to the internet, all of these 100 computers only connect to one computer. This one computer takes on all of the risk for you and for the 99 other computers. This one computer then protects all of your data. And before that computer even sees your Internet footprint (all of the data you share while using the web), it encrypts your data. Encryption just means that it changes your information into a special form of code that outsiders (hackers) can’t read. 

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How do VPNs work?

When you turn on your VPN (usually as simple as clicking a menu dropdown option), it encrypts all of your Internet browsing activity through a secure channel or encrypted tunnel controlled by the VPN company. You may be thinking, wait! Isn’t my Internet activity already private and secure? Why do I need this?

Here’s a different way to think about it. When you leave your house to go for a walk, anyone can follow you. They can see where you go, how long you’re gone, how far you walk, and who you meet with. Sounds creepy, right? But if you could switch on a VPN before leaving for your walk, it would mean that when you stepped out the front door you were going for a walk in a secure tunnel. No one would know where you went or what you did. 

That’s how VPN protocols work. A VPN protocol is used to move your data through the tunnel (your walk)  and then another VPN protocol is used to secure that data. 

PPTP, L2TP/IPSec, OpenVPN, SSTP, and IKEv2 are five of the most common VPN protocols. You can read more on them if you’re interested, but you don’t need deeper info to have a general understanding of how VPNs work. 

Different VPN protocols have different functionality. Some do certain things better, like speed, mobile friendliness, open source options, data encryption, or network compatibility. 

Don’t Fall Prey to Hackers! 

When you think about it, VPN is the opposite of public WiFi. Logging onto a free, open network like “caribou_coffee_shop” is free and convenient, right? It will save your data and often give you a faster connection speed. But, how do you  know that “caribou_coffee_shop” is the coffee shop’s courtesy public WiFi? Any hacker could be setting up that network, and using it to trick users into using that connection and providing sensitive information as they search the web. In fact, free public WiFi networks are a common scam for hackers. 

Why do I need a VPN?

Re-read the above section on not falling prey to hackers. 

But seriously, there are plenty of other benefits. You can’t be tracked online when you use a VPN. The VPN will hide your IP address. (Your IP address has information about  how you connect to the Internet. Think about it as your home address for the network.) When you’re on a VPN, the VPN will hide your IP address. 

In addition to blocking your IP address, there are many reasons to consider VPN use. Use a VPN for:

  • Protecting personal data. Your online privacy is important. Many of us make online purchases with a credit card, do online banking, use Venmo, log onto social media accounts and dating apps, share photos of our kids, and plenty of other personal data we’d like to keep hidden from prying eyes. 
  • Changing your geographic settings. With many VPN’s, you can select the location settings to a different part of the globe like Australia or Canada. Say you have an online store with lots of international traffic. Some visitors will see the page in English language and prices in USD. Other visitors may see the page in the French language with prices in Euros. The IP address will detect the visitor’s location and which version of the website to show. But if you’re based in the United States, how do you view the other International pages to make sure they look OK? You would need to use a VPN to bypass geo-restrictions and view those international pages. 
  • Avoid being tracked while torrenting certain videos, photos, or other files. (Although we do not condone using a torrenting VPN to download copyrighted or otherwise protected materials.) 
  • Work access. With more and more of us working remotely, your employer may require you to access your business’ network through a VPN. Common business resources you may access via VPN can include Sharepoint, Intranet, Jira, WordPress, Salesforce, business databases, and productivity tools.
  • Connect to your home network while traveling. When you’re away from home, you can set up a VPN to have access to your home network and its resources. (A VPN allows you to remotely access your desktop over the Internet. Like when someone takes over and controls your computer to troubleshoot an issue.) Being able to connect to your home computer while traveling is convenient. You’ll have access to your photos, files, games, music, and video.   
  • Bypassing censorship. In some countries, people use the VPN for unblocking their favorite content and evading government censors. (China is a good example. People will use VPNs to unblock government censored sites, which can range from news outlets critical of the government to social sharing sites like Facebook.)

What’s the difference between a VPN vs a proxy? 

Both a VPN and a proxy server will shield or mask your IP address, but a VPN also encrypts (hides) the data you send and receive. A proxy will not do this. A proxy just pushes your data through a different server, but doesn’t usually offer any extra data protection. If you already have a proxy, a VPN would be a security upgrade. But if you have a VPN right now, you don’t need to go through a proxy server. But some users will go through both a VPN server and a proxy for an extra layer of online anonymity. 

A proxy is less sophisticated than a VPN and will use less bandwidth (although many VPNs will not slow down your Internet speed). A proxy is commonly used for privacy protection (since it blocks your IP address) or to access geo-blocked content. With a proxy, you could change your geographic location settings to “tell” a website that you are a site visitor from a different country. 

Basically, a Proxy is similar to a VPN but less secure. It blocks your location, but not your activity. A VPN will encrypt your data.  

Are VPNs legal? Can I use a VPN for Netflix? 

Yes, in the United States it’s completely legal to use a VPN. (Government agencies at every level use a VPN.) But different countries will have different rules around VPNs and the legality of VPN use itself.

Within the United States, there are different rules and regulations when it comes to the usage of a VPN. You can’t use a VPN, for example, to cover up illegal activity. And while it is not illegal to use a VPN for streaming services like Netflix or Hulu, there are rules and restrictions in place to prohibit you from watching content that is only available in certain geographic locations. Violating your streaming service’s terms and conditions could get you in hot water. 

Are there any disadvantages to using a VPN? 

Advantages always come with disadvantages, right? VPN’s aren’t 100% foolproof; there are always some security loopholes that the bad guys will find. While you’re definitely safer with a VPN than without, keep in mind that data can still fall through the cracks. In addition to using a VPN, it’s a good idea to set secure passwords (that you change frequently), use privacy-focused browsers like Firefox, monitor your credit report, and you can use tracker blockers like Privacy Badger, a secure browser extension. 

And with VPN data encryption (protection) there comes a trade-off: speed. Using a VPN service could potentially slow down your Internet connection speed or download speeds because it needs to also encrypt all of your data. Many users don’t notice the slightly slower speed (it may take a couple seconds or less for something to load). And with a good VPN service, you won’t lose any connectivity speed when surfing the web and downloading or uploading data.  

If you’re concerned about speed, you can run speed tests on fast.com or speedtest.net. It’s quick, easy, and free! It lets you know how fast (or slow) your Internet speed is. 

How can I make sure it’s a legit VPN? 

Using a legit VPN service is absolutely a great idea, make sure to avoid VPN scams. When you sign up for a VPN service, free or paid, you’re putting a lot of trust into that company to handle your privacy and security. Just like fraud anti-virus companies, there are click-bait companies creating fake VPNs to get your personal data. 

Some legit VPN services out there include TunnelBear, ProtonVPN, Windscribe, Hotspot Shield, SurfShark, ExpressVPN, and IPVanish.

Keep in mind, there are scam companies that will create bogus websites to get to you to download a fakeVPN product. They are stealing a reputable company’s name to get your trust. They can also install malware on your machine when you install the VPN software.

To make sure you’re signing up for a legit VPN, check out the top 10 best, legit VPN’s we’ve shared in this article. Or you can also look at VPN reviews and resources on sites like Reddit or TorrentFreak to see what other consumers have to say about the best VPN services. 

Should I pay for a VPN?

While there are plenty of good, free VPNs, paying for a VPN is worth it in the long run. You’ll get faster speeds, more bandwidth, better customer support, and no annoying ads. (Many free VPNs also come bundled with unwanted toolbars and applications on your machine.) In fact, with a paid VPN you can expect unlimited bandwidth (confirm first) and support for unlimited devices. A free VPN may only support one device or two.

Most VPNs offer a free version for you to try out the service and security features. After that, pricing is cheap. You can typically get monthly pricing for around $5 a month. And most (if not all) VPN providers will offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. 

Personally, I say yes. Pay for a VPN because it’s cheap, faster, has unlimited bandwidth and unlimited device support options, and a more user-friendly experience. I use it for our Fire TV, phones, laptops, Kindle Fire, iPad, and Surface Tablet.  Also, if you want to go to the trouble of getting a VPN, a paid version will ensure faster speeds and customer support. 

And while you can pay for many VPN services with Bitcoin or other cryptocurrency, a major credit card, PayPal, or other less obscure payment options work just fine. 

How do I get a VPN?

  • First select the VPN service you want to use. Do you want to sign up for a freemium VPN app service, monthly subscription, or year plan? (Many enterprise packages are year plans.) What is their privacy logs policy? Some VPNs will store your data for up to 30 days, others will discard it completely because they have a no-logs or no-logging policy. Is there chat support? How much customer support would you require? What sort of computers and mobile devices would you be connecting?  
  • Make sure that it will work with the OS (operating systems) of your desktop and mobile devices. (Most VPN apps will work across Windows, Mac, tablets and iPads, and iPhone and Android smartphones, but it’s always smart to confirm in advance.) Install the VPN app or software.
  • Download the VPN. Download the VPN app software on the company’s website or from the app store. Again, make sure you’re getting the VPN software from the VPN’s actual, legitimate website. 
  • Install the VPN software on your machine. 
    • On a Mac, you’ll be asked to drag a specific file into your Applications folder. You may be asked to provide your password before launching the application. 
    • On a PC or Windows machine, you’ll be asked to “run” the .exe file and follow the installation prompts (in the grey pop-out boxes).  Afterwards, launch or open the app from your Start menu. You may need to restart your machine. 
    • On an Android or iOS mobile device, you can start running the app from your home screen. The same way you run or open any other app on your phone that you’ve downloaded from the iOS or Google Play stores. You will be asked to create an account (setting up a login and password), or log into an existing account. 

After it’s on a machine or mobile device, it’s easy to open a VPN connection. Just tap or click on the VPN app (icon) on your home screen, desktop, or in your files.

10 VPNs of 2020

Surfeasy

Price: $28.99/year or $2.49/month

Features: Supports up to 5 devices with no data limits. |Ad-tracker blocking. | Torrent compatibility. | Dedicated customer support including a toll free number and chat support. | Region selection with ultra fast servers and server locations in 31 countries. | One-click IP masking. | Bank-grade data encryption. | No-logs policy. 

Special Offer: Swagbucks members earn: *$25 cash back bonus for signing up for Surfeasy. New members that sign up for Swagbucks and earn $25 cash for offer + an additional free *$10 signup bonus for joining Swagbucks. 

ZenMate

Price: $2.22/month or 6-month or 12-month+ plans.

Feature: 30-day money back guarantee. | Unblock websites and apps blocked in your geo-location. Connect to ZenMate’s special streaming services to access new content libraries on Netflix, HBO GO, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, and more. | International server locations in 73 countries around the world. | VPN apps for all your devices: Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android, iPhone, iPad, Chrome, Firefox, Opera | Unlimited Devices. | Military-grade encryption.

Special Offer: Swagbucks members earn: *$20 cash back rewards for signing up for ZenMate. New members: join Swagbucks free and earn for $20 cash back for offer + additional free *$10 cash bonus for signing up for Swagbucks. 

VyprVPN

Price: $2.50/month with 24-month plan or $3.75 month with year plan or $12.95 for 1-month plan

Feature: 30-day money back guarantee | Hide your VPN with Chameleon(TM) technology. | No-logs VPN. | 600+ server locations in 70+ countries around the globe. | Supports all devices and OS types. | Supports up to 5 connections at once. | Lighting-fast speeds. | Personalized Kill Switch kicks in to safeguard your data in case VPN connection ever drops. | Uses WireGuard VPN protocol. | All protocols use strong AES 256-bit encryption and provide DNS protection, including IPSec, OpenVPN, and Chameleon. | Faster streaming on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, HBO Go, Sky Go, YouTube, ESPN+, Vudu, NFL Gamepass, ITV, Eurosport, BBC iPlayer, MLB.tv, and other streaming services. 

Special Offer: Swagbucks members earn: *$22.50 cash back for signing up for VyprVPN. New members: sign up free for Swagbucks and earn $22.50 cash back for offer + an additional free *$10 new member bonus for joining Swagbucks.  

CyberGhost

Price: $2.25/month for 3-year plan, $3.99/month for 1 year plan, or $12.99 for 1-month plan

Feature: 45-day money-back guarantee. | 15+ years experience. | Fast and secure torrenting. | Unrivaled anonymity. | Optimized for streaming sports, movies, and top streaming services. | No-logs policy. | Wi-Fi protection. | Up to 7 simultaneous connections. | 6,600+ server locations around the globe. | Unblock streaming services with location spoofing. | Protects all your devices: Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Linux. Apps for Amazon FireSticks and Android TVs.  

Special Offer: Swagbucks members earn: 4,000 SB or *$4.00 cash back bonus for signing up for CyberGhost. New members: sign up for Swagbucks free and earn for $4.00 cash back for offer + additional  free *$10 new member bonus for joining Swagbucks. 

NordVPN

Price: $3.71/month for 2-year plan, $4.92/month for 1-year plan, or $11.95 for a 1-month plan

Feature: 30-day money back guarantee. | Supports up to 6 devices | Very user-friendly and easy to set up. | Use VPN for all your gadgets: smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, smart TV, router, and more! | Unlimited bandwidth at “blazing” speeds. | Over 5,500 servers across 59 countries | |No-logging policy. Can purchase in physical box stores or online retailers like Amazon, Target, or Best Buy. 

Special Offer: Swagbucks members earn: an average *$21.04 cash bonus (35% cash back rebate on purchase) for signing up for NordVPN. New members: sign up for Swagbucks free and earn an average $21.04 cash back bonus for offer + an additional free *$10 sign up bonus for joining Swagbucks.

Surfshark

Price: $2.21/month for 24-month period (+3 months free for 27 months total for $59.76)

Feature: 24/7 support including email support, chat support, or phone support | Unlimited device access. | No ads with ad blocker. | Access to 15 Netflix librairies. | Whitelister enables you to allow specific apps or websites to bypass the VPN. | Strict no-logs policy. | Kill Switch in case your VPN connection drops so your sensitive personal data is never exposed. | Private DNS & leak protection with IPv4 stack. | MultiHop enables you to connect via multiple countries at once. | Personal data protected with AES-256-GCM encryption. | IKEv2/IPsec default protocol. 

Special Offer: Swagbucks members earn: an average *$17.01 average cash back bonus (60% cash rebate on purchase) for signing up for Surfshark. New members: sign up free for Swagbucks and earn an average $17.01 cash back for offer + an additional free *$10 sign up bonus for joining Swagbucks. 

PureVPN

Price: $1.65/month for 5-year plan, $5.00/month with 1-year plan, or $10.95 for a 1-month plan.

Feature: 31-day money back guarantee. | Enterprise-grade security.  10-multi-logins to support up to 10 devices. | 2,000+ secure servers in 140+ countries. | 24/7 customer support including chat support. | Unlimited bandwidth. | Large pool of over 300,000 IPs and 4,000 servers to ensure privacy. | Ultra-fast speed (1Gbit connection) for exploring the web, streaming content, or torrenting. | Universal unblocking – for Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, or any other service. | P2P Enabled. | DNS leak protection. | Split tunneling – split your Internet data between your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and VPN for maximum speed and performance. | Browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox. | PureVPN Apps for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, 16+ routers. | Other supported devices include Kodi, Roku, Amazon FireStick, Fire TV, Apple TV, Xbox, PS4, and more. | No-log policy. 

Special Offer: Swagbucks members earn: an average *$11.88 in cash back (12% cash back rebate) for signing up for PureVPN.  New members: sign up for Swagbucks today for free and earn an average $11.88 in cash back for the offer + an additional free *$10 sign up bonus for joining Swagbucks. 

ExpressVPN

Price: $6.67 per month for 12 months (+ 3 months free), $9.99 per month for 6 months, or $12.95 for 1-month plan.

Feature: High-speed servers in 160 server locations across 94 countries for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, and routers. | Ultra-secure AES-256 encryption. | 30-day money back guarantee. | Unlimited streaming. | Website unblocking. | Split tunneling to split your Internet usage between your ISP and VPN to maximize Internet speed. | Uses VPN protocols: Lightway, IKEv2, WireGuard, L2TP/IPSec, PPTP, and SSTP. | Automatic Network Lock Kill Switch to protect your data if VPN connection is disrupted. | Fastest VPN servers. | Advanced leak protection. 

Special Offer: Swagbucks members earn: *$10 in cash back for signing up for ExpressVPN. New members: sign up for Swagbucks for free and earn for $10 offer + an additional free *$10 signup bonus for joining Swagbucks. 

Private Internet Access  

Price: $2.69/month for 2-year plan, $3.33/month for 1-year plan, or $11.95 for 1-month plan.

Feature: 30-day money back guarantee. | Compatible with all popular desktop and mobile operating systems: Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android, iPhone/iOS, Chrome, FireFox, Opera. | Easy-to-use. | Connects up to 10 devices. | Ad-blocking. | Secure VPN Protocols like PPTP, OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, and WireGuard. | Free email breach monitoring. | 16,000+ servers in 74 countries. Super-fast connection speeds. | No-logs policy. | Unlimited bandwidth. | Multiple VPN gateways. | SOCKS5 Proxy included. 

Special Offer: Swagbucks members earn: *$59 cash back for purchasing 2-year plan. New members: join Swagbucks now for free and earn $59 for offer + an additional free *$10 signup bonus for joining Swagbucks. 

TunnelBear

Price: $3.33/month or $5.75 per month for business teams.

Feature: Canada based company offering VPN solutions for home consumers, businesses, and students. | Student discount of 70% with two-year plan | Try before you buy option to test 500MB of free monthly data. | Ability to review and delete your own data directly from TunnelBear website (most VPN companies do not offer) | Supports up to 5 devices. | Number of server locations in over 23 countries. | Strong, military grade AES 256-bit encryption. | Vigilant Mode to block all unsecured traffic if your connection gets interrupted. | Boast lightning fast Internet speeds. | GhostBear technology to defeat VPN blocking. | Fastest Tunnel setting feature: automatically always connects you to fastest connection from all available geo-listings. 

Special Offer: Swagbucks members earn: an average *$3.76 cash back (based on 20% cash back rebate bonus) for signing up for TunnelBear. New members: sign up free to Swagbucks and earn an average *$3.76 cash back for offer + an additional free *$10 cash bonus for joining Swagbucks free. 

*All VPN prices and Swagbucks promotional reward amounts are current at the time of article’s publication. VPN prices and promotional bonus amounts are subject to change or modification at any time. Please see fine print on offer pages for terms and conditions associated with offer and offer reward. $10 new member signup bonus is paid upon completion of $25+ purchase in a store featured on Swagbucks.com/Shop. All Swagbucks signup bonuses and cash back rewards are issued in SB or Swagbucks points with a conversion rate of 100 points to $1 or 1 USD. Balances of 300 SB ($3) or higher may be redeemed for gift card rewards. Available gift card redemption rewards on Swagbucks include Amazon, Target, Walmart, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Nike, iTunes, Google Play, PayPal, Visa (prepaid), Apple, and hundreds of other popular merchants. 

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