How to Choose the Best VPN Service for Your Needs

Service If you’re looking for the best VPN for torrenting, privacy, bypassing censorship, staying anonymous online, getting around geographic restrictions, or just location shifting, you’ve got a lot of confusing choices. Keep reading as we help you pick the right VPN for you.

Services

VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, are a quick and easy solution to making your computer appear to be coming from a different location. They accomplish this by creating a virtual network that routes all of your PC or smartphone’s network traffic through an encrypted tunnel and out the other side, making it seem to the world that you’re actually in whatever location the VPN server is located. This can help you bypass geographic restrictions, avoid censors, or keep you (relatively) anonymous online.

The problem is that there are scores of different VPN providers out there, and a ton of different reasons to use one — so which one do you choose?

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Don’t Feel Like Reading Everything? Here’s the TL;DR Version

This article has a lot of information, and you probably just want to install a VPN so you can try to watch your favorite TV show or movie on a streaming service on the other side of the world that’s unfairly been geographically restricted, or you’re looking for something that can protect you while you’re torrenting.

So here are our top choices and why we picked them:

  • ExpressVPN is our top choice if you’re looking for simple, easy-to-use clients for every Windows, Mac, Android, iPhone, or Linux, blazing fast speeds that can handle torrenting or bypassing geographic restrictions, and just a generally pleasant experience. They have a 30 day money-back guarantee as well.
  • StrongVPN is a great choice if you’re looking for blazing fast speeds, and a VPN that can handle torrenting and bypassing geographic restrictions. The clients are a little outdated in comparison, but since it’s a lesser known service it sometimes is less likely to be blocked. They have a 30-day money-back guarantee.
  • TunnelBear is a solid choice if you’re looking for a quick VPN connection to use at the coffee shop — they have a limited free trial tier and cheap prices, and while they aren’t quite as powerful or fast, they have a really nice service.

Again, if you’re looking for a VPN to bypass restrictions, try out one of the services above. They’ve all got cheap prices and a 30 day money-back guarantee, so you’ve got nothing to lose. (Update: TunnelBear no longer offers a 30 day money-back guarantee, but you can still try it for free before you pay.)

What Is Virtual Private Networking, and Why Do People Use It?

Through the use of software (and sometimes, at the corporate and governmental level, hardware) a VPN creates a virtualized network between two physically separate networks.

VPN use, for example, allows an IBM employee to work from home in a Chicago suburb while accessing the company intranet located in a building in New York City, as if he was right there on the New York office’s network. The same technology can be used by consumers to bridge their phones and laptops to their home network so, while on the road, they can securely access files from their home computers.

VPNs have other uses cases, though. Because they encrypt your connection, VPNs allow users to prevent others from seeing the data they’re transferring. This keeps data secure, particularly on public Wi-Fi networks in places like coffee shops and airports, ensuring no one can snoop your traffic and steal your passwords or credit card numbers.

Since VPNs route your traffic through another network, you can also make it appear as if it’s coming from another location. That means if you’re in Sydney, Australia, you can make your traffic appear to come from New York City. This is useful for certain sites that block content based on your location (like Netflix). It also allows some people (we’re looking at you, Australians) have to deal with insanely high import taxes on software that see them paying twice (or more) what US consumers pay for the same products.

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Assessing Your VPN Needs

Every user is going to have slightly different VPN needs, and the best way to pick the ideal VPN service is to take careful stock of what your needs are before you go shopping. You may even find you don’t need to go shopping because home-grown or router-based solutions you already have are a perfect fit. Let’s run through a series of questions you should ask yourself and highlight how different VPN features meet the needs highlighted by those questions.

To be clear, many of the following questions can be satisfied on multiple levels by a single provider, but the questions are framed to get you thinking about what is most important for your personal use.

Do You Need Secure Access to Your Home Network?

If the only use case you care about is securely accessing your home network to, then you absolutely do not need to invest in a VPN service provider. This isn’t even a case of the tool being overkill for the job; it’s a case of the tool being wrong for the job. A remote VPN service provider gives you secure access to a remote network (like an exit node in Amsterdam), not access to your own network.