A virtual private network (VPN) enhances your online security and privacy. But at what cost?
Since it reroutes your internet traffic through a VPN server, it adds an additional stop to your network. Does that make a difference to your connection? Does a VPN slow down your internet speed, and if so, by how much?
Let’s dive into it.
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How much does a VPN slow down the internet?
With proper server infrastructure and configurations, you shouldn’t feel a difference. What does that mean?
Let’s say you have a 100Mbps download speed, and connecting to a VPN brings it down to 80Mbps.
For regular browsing – you wouldn’t even feel the difference. It would also allow you to stream comfortably. For downloading – you might notice a change, but not by a lot (the speed may even improve, but we’ll explain that later).
That’s not always the case though. If you connect to a VPN server close by, you might see an even smaller change in your VPN speed.
So, your internet speed and VPN server proximity matter a lot. Here’s a quick tip: try a wired connection as well as connecting to the closest server to you.
Can a VPN increase your internet speed?
Yes. There are cases when a VPN can give your internet connection an extra kick and a speed boost.
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) might stunt (i.e., throttle) your internet speed if you’re using too much bandwidth. This often happens when you download files or stream content online. As much as we don’t like to admit it, ISPs want to make money off of us. So someone using extra bandwidth will be a thing they want to stop.
There is a solution, though. With a VPN, your activity becomes invisible to your ISP. Instead of knowing when you’re using more bandwidth than usual, they cannot see your traffic at all. In turn, they no longer know when to throttle you! And you may experience a VPN speed boost to your connection.
How to see if a VPN is slowing down your internet
Running a test on how a VPN impacts your internet speed is as easy (or easier) as pie and takes less time.
- First of all, you should get on an internet speed test website. Everybody uses Ookla, and so can you. Run the first test without a VPN. This is your baseline speed, and it’s unlikely to get any faster.
Speed test before the VPN connection
- Now, connect to a VPN server. If you have an app like Surfshark, let it automatically connect to the closest server. Unsurprisingly, this will likely be the nearest server to you geographically.
- Now rerun the test. You should notice some loss of speed, though it should be barely noticeable.
Speed test after connecting to a VPN closest server
- You can now run a few more experiments. Connect to VPN servers that are further and further away. You should notice a pattern where the remoteness of a server causes more speed drops.
You can now try to see if your ISP is throttling your internet.
- First off, try using Netflix’s Fast.com test without a VPN. Then switch the VPN on and see if there’s a difference.
- Want to see if your ISP is blocking other services? Download the free Wehe speed test app, which can run a variety of tests. Wehe is a university-sponsored project. This app helps them with their research into net neutrality violations.
Why do internet connection speeds differ with a VPN?
The most common reason is the basic function of the VPN itself. To provide encryption, a VPN needs to add an extra step to the journey of your traffic. Sure, with a premium VPN like Surfshark, you’re unlikely to even notice the change, but it’s likely to be there.
Let me explain encryption and other reasons for speed drops in more detail:
To make your connection really private, VPNs use encryption protocols. The encryption takes up a bit of bandwidth. The fancier the encryption protocol, the more bandwidth is needed. Premium VPNs like Surfshark use AES 256-bit encryption – the standard in the VPN industry.
Let’s imagine you’re flying somewhere. Your travel time would be cut down by a lot if airports didn’t have such strict security protocols. However, this would also put you at risk. So a VPN might slow down your internet connection much like a TSA agent might make your journey longer. Still, in the end, it’s worth it.
VPN server location
Aside from these security measures, a lot is riding on the servers themselves. First, there’s the distance. The further away your chosen VPN server is, the lower your VPN speed will be. That’s why Surfshark automatically connects you to the fastest server, which most often turns out to be the closest one as well (either in your country or the closest one geographically).
Let’s stick with the travel metaphor (though this one’s pretty intuitive). Flying to a destination 2000 miles away will take less time than flying to a destination 5000 miles away.
VPN server capacity and load
Another thing to consider is the server capacity. If you’re connecting to a popular VPN server (like New York or Los Angeles), the server load is higher, which slows down your connection.
We’re still traveling here. You’ve reached your destination, great! Now all you need to do is to get to your hotel from the airport. You may know the exact way to go, but with so many people flying in, you’re suddenly stuck in traffic. So your drive to the hotel will take much longer than it usually would. Annoying, yes, but just one of the truths of traveling – traffic is inevitable.
9 tips to avoid VPN internet slowdowns
There are some ways to avoid VPN slowing down your internet too much. Try them out for the best user experience.
Switch server location
This one is the easiest way to do it. Try connecting to a server closest to you or any other nearby server.
Try a different protocol
Most VPN apps can operate on different encryption protocols, which use different approaches to encryption. For example, OpenVPN is very willing to sacrifice resources to increase security. You can switch to IKEv2 or WireGuard to increase speed without compromising security.
Mess with OpenVPN
If you’re using the OpenVPN protocol, your VPN app can allow you to switch between TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) or UDP (User Datagram Protocol). Surfshark allows you to do that, so try it out and see which one allows for faster internet speed.
Not all VPN clients support this feature, but it allows you to connect via TWO VPN servers. And even though they are located in two different countries, it may, in some cases, increase your VPN connection speeds. How? The MultiHop might redirect your traffic through a server that’s less loaded or has a better infrastructure. In turn, MultiHop can give you a faster connection.
Reboot your device
Your PC/phone/tablet or whatever other device you use a VPN on may have a software issue. Try restarting it.
Restart your router
The good ol’ “try turning it off and on again” still works wonders and probably will for a long time. Try doing that with your router.
Ditch some software
Some software may be using your bandwidth. If it isn’t anything crucial, see if switching a few programs off will help.
Wi-Fi is convenient. You can take your device wherever you want, and you’ll still get an online connection. However, a Wi-Fi connection has to share multiple channels, which makes it slower. In fact, your internet would be faster if you used a wire. So if it’s an option, think about taking it.
Clean up your browser
Sometimes it’s not the internet but the browser slowing you down. You can check if that’s the case in our browser clean-up guide: Why is my browser so slow?
For a more in-depth look into these methods, we recommend reading the Surfshark guide on how to boost VPN speed.
How a free VPN service can slow you down
Free VPN providers have fewer servers than any paid service and are always overcrowded. In turn, their users very often see a decrease in internet connection speed.
This is because servers cost money to maintain, and a free VPN provider cannot afford that.
If they can, they are getting cash from somewhere else, usually via invasive ads or by collecting and selling your data.
VPNs and internet speed: a summary
An internet speed drop when using a VPN shouldn’t be significant – in some cases, you may even experience a boost.
If you want to speed up a VPN connection, there are several things you can do. Premium VPN clients offer many options. For those who want to experiment with servers, switch protocols, and experience MultiHop, we recommend Surfshark.
With a 30-day money-back guaranteeGet Surfshark
Why is my work VPN slow at home?
The settings. The internet settings at work are most likely optimized to function with your work VPN. If it’s slow at home, feel free to change the settings or contact your IT department to find out the best settings.
Which VPN does not slow down your internet connection?
Such a VPN doesn’t exist. A speed drop is pretty much inevitable with a VPN. However, investing in a premium VPN like Surfshark will ensure the speed drop isn’t noticeable.
Does a VPN slow down your internet on your iPhone?
Yes. A VPN will slow down the internet speed on any device. Some more than others, depending on the capabilities of the device, but even your iPhone is vulnerable.