If you're concerned about online privacy, a virtual private network (VPN) will help put your mind at rest by keeping snoopers at bay. Here you'll find our pick of the 10 best VPN services available to hide your location online. VPNs can also allow you to access blocked content and region-blocked sites. Read on to find out more.

Best VPN 2017

If you're here for a quick recommendation, here's a summary of the VPN services we like the most and who we think they're best for. Following the summary, we share more information about each VPN and how a VPN could benefit you so read on to find out more.

What is a VPN and why do I need one?

Public awareness of VPNs is growing, but for many they're still a mystery. Traditionally, they were used by businesses to enable their employees to access a company's internal network securely. Nowadays people use them for two main things: privacy and watching TV.

Privacy

The story of activists such as Edward Snowden and Apple's battle with the US government to unlock an iPhone have raised the profile of the need for privacy. Your ISP will have records of all of the websites you visit and if so ordered by the government could be compelled to hand over that information. If you don't like the sound of that, using a VPN all the time makes sense.

Even if you're not too concerned about this, when you're using a laptop or mobile device on a public WiFi, you are exposing your browsing habits to anyone that is so inclined to snoop. And if you have ever conducted online banking over a public WiFi network, you are really asking for trouble if you're not going through a VPN.

In the US, this has become even more of a reason to use a VPN after the Senate voted to remove broadband privacy rules that prevented ISPs (Internet Service Providers) from selling or sharing web browsing data without permission.

Yes, you read that correctly: this vote means US ISPs can sell your web browsing data to advertisers without asking you first. NordVPN has more information on its website.

Streaming

Additionally, if you enjoy watching catch-up TV or subscribe to streaming services, you may have found that they are limited depending on your location. For example, BBC iPlayer and Sky Go are only meant to be viewed in the UK, and while Netflix is accessible around the globe, the content available varies across countries due to licensing restrictions.

A VPN can help (although it's important to note that in many cases doing so is breaking terms and conditions – you can find out more about that here).

P2P

Another use for a VPN is to bypass ISP restrictions such as line throttling when using peer-to-peer (P2P). By going via a VPN your ISP can't tell what you're doing and the throttling won't kick in.

How does a VPN work?

VPNs create a private tunnel over the internet to a server. This can be located in the same country as you or located somewhere else in the world. This means that, in theory, you can watch your favourite US show because that's where it thinks you are. Crucially, all data traffic sent over the VPN is encrypted, so it cannot be intercepted.

To get started you'll need to install some software on your PC, Mac or mobile device. Once you've logged in, you'll choose a server in the location where you'd like to 'virtually' appear. You then just carry on as normal, safe in the knowledge that your activities are protected.

Doing it this way – installing the software on one laptop, tablet or phone – means that only that device is using the VPN connection.  If you want your media streamer (say an Amazon Fire TV Stick) to use the VPN connection, you'll either need to try and install a VPN app on it, look for VPN settings where you can enter your account details (the Fire TV Stick doesn't have this option), or install an app for your router that'll cover all devices connected to it. Find out more in our article: How to use a VPN with a Fire TV Stick.

How to choose which VPN is best for you

If you're most concerned about privacy, it's important to know where your VPN is based. In recent years some countries have got together to exchange information freely, nominally in a bid to enhance everyone's security. However, many groups are critical of this behaviour, believing that mass surveillance impinges on our freedoms.

What is the '14 Eyes' collective?

The main group of countries that can share information freely is called the Five Eyes. They come from the UKUSA agreement that, although began back in 1941, was only made public knowledge in 2005. The agreement is between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, hence the name Five Eyes. Those countries have agreed to collect, analyse and share information between each other, and much of this intelligence is believed to be related to internet activity these days.

The Five Eyes has grown to include a total of 14 countries, which is why you'll hear a lot about '14-eyes' when reading about VPNs. Third party countries were added over time, and now additionally include Denmark, France, Holland, Norway, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Sweden and Spain.

If your VPN provider is based within a country that is part of the 14 Eyes, it can be asked to share data of its customers and will legally have to comply. If your provider promises that it doesn't log any information, you're probably safe within the 14 Eyes, but it is more of a risk if privacy is your main concern and you might want to consider looking for a VPN provider that is based elsewhere.

What information does a VPN keep?

VPN providers have different levels of logging. Some choose to log connection time stamps, IP addresses and bandwidth used, while others log nothing at all. Some will also store basic payment information such as your name and address. However, those looking for complete anonymity can seek a provider that accepts payment in the form of gift cards or Bitcoin, which makes it near-impossible to trace back to an individual.

What features should I look for in a VPN?

Most VPNs support all the major platforms but some offer more unusual platforms such as Kindle or Google Chrome. Also look out for restrictions on usage – some ban P2P while others are fine with it. Free- and trial versions normally have speed restrictions, while paid-for versions should have none.

Note that encryption can slow down connections. OpenVPN provides more protection, while PPTP is faster but less secure.

Also, if you're connecting to a server that's geographically far away, you are less likely to get the full speed that your ISP provides. Look out for server speed claims and make sure that you conduct tests to check whether you are happy early on, so you can get a refund within the time limit if you're not.

10 Best VPNs reviewed

1. PureVPN

PureVPN
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 18 April 17
  • RRP: From £2.30 per month, From US$2.95 per month

A fast, reliable VPN for home streamers, file sharers and those wishing to use VoIP, but being based in Hong Kong will set alarm bells ringing for those looking for untraceable online anonymity.

Read our PureVPN review.

2. CyberGhost

CyberGhost
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 18 April 17
  • RRP: Free version available; £3.74 per month, Free version available; US$5.83 per month

A low cost, newbie-friendly VPN with a simple interface. A wide range of pre-configured services are available, including common streaming destinations, but sadly not Netflix US.

Read our CyberGhost review.

3. Private Internet Access

Private Internet Access
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 18 April 17
  • RRP: From £2.60 per month, From US$3.33 per month

Easy Netflix US access and a low-cost subscription make PIA a priority for home users, but those with a need for privacy will be unimpressed with the unsigned installation package.

Read our Private Internet Access review.

4. NordVPN

NordVPN
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 19 April 17
  • RRP: From £5 per month, From US$5.75 per month

A simple-to-use VPN solution with a huge number of servers to choose from. Tor access makes this attractive to serious privacy nuts, but there can be problems streaming Netflix US.

Read our NordVPN review.

5. IPVanish

IPVanish
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 19 April 17
  • RRP: From £5 per month, From US$6.49 per month

A good looking VPN solution with ease-of-use built in. Netflix access will appeal to home users, but being based in the US will be a distinct turn-off for those worried about online privacy.

Read our IPVanish review.

6. ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 18 April 17
  • RRP: From £6.50 per month, From US$8.32 per month

A simple and reliable VPN that is ideal for lovers of streaming media who want to explore farther afield, and with a range of locations that should also keep privacy advocates happy.

Read our ExpressVPN review.

7. Hidden24

Hidden24
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 19 April 17
  • RRP: From £3.99 per month, US$5.99 per month

A serious VPN solution designed for people who need to communicate anonymously. Those looking to unblock streaming services such as Netflix US need to look elsewhere.

Read our Hidden24 review.

8. ZenMate

ZenMate
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 18 April 17
  • RRP: Free version available; £5.99 per month, US$4.99

It's slow, and there's a lack of control and transparency that will deter serious privacy advocates, but for home users who want to dip a low-cost toe into geolocked streaming it's a start.

Read our ZenMate review.

9. StrongVPN

StrongVPN
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 18 April 17
  • RRP: From £4.50 per month, US$5.83 per month

Fast and no-nonsense, with a superb Android interface, but confusing options and being based in the US will worry serious users.

Read our StrongVPN review.

10. Buffered

Buffered
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 18 April 17
  • RRP: From £6.30 per month, From US$8.25 per month

What should be a perfectly serviceable VPN solution is let down by a slow interface, very fiddly mobile setup, and an overall lack of performance, making it look overpriced.

Read our Buffered review.