On a journey to improve your cybersecurity? Getting a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is the first thing most people do for their privacy and freedom online.
But not all VPNs are made the same. Some are better than others. And you don’t want to be paying premium for a sub-par service. By the end of this blog post, you will know how to choose a VPN provider and will be able to decide on the perfect fit for you.
Table of contents
Choosing the right VPN
Many factors should influence your choice. From speed and security to additional features and pricing, no stone should be left unturned. To make it easier for you, I have cut it down to 7 of the most important things to consider when choosing a VPN.
Free vs. paid VPNs
The promise of a free VPN sure does sound appealing. But at this point, you should know to be cautious of anything with a “free” label. A VPN infrastructure is not cheap to maintain, and they have to get that money from you one way or another.
A paid VPN covers those costs with the money you pay for the subscription. With a free VPN, the best-case scenario is that you will get many more ads. But it is not unusual for such service providers to sell your data and even have malware or malvertising within their apps.
On top of that, paid VPNs are much faster, safer, and have a lot more servers to connect to. All while offering unlimited data. The cost of a premium VPN is definitely one worth paying to avoid using a free VPN service.
Security and privacy features
The encryption process turns data and information into code. VPNs use it to encrypt all your traffic so that even if it gets leaked or intercepted, it is nearly impossible to decipher.
Look for AES-256, the industry-leading encryption standard. When bundled with the best protocols of the day — WireGuard, OpenVPN, IKEv2, etc. — it reliably makes your network traffic unreadable to thieves.
The protocols themselves are no less important as they determine everything about how your secure internet connection is established. The best are open source — anyone can check their code for errors or baked-in privacy-violating options.
Of course, you also want to know that the VPN itself isn’t stealing your data. For that, you’ll need to check the VPN provider’s history, no-logs policy, and whether they have had any independent audits.
If you want to learn more, Surfshark’s YouTube channel offers a vast video library on all things VPN. Here’s one about encryption:
In most cases, using a VPN will slow down your connection speed. Good VPN providers have found ways to minimize the impact on your regular internet speed by offering the fastest protocols and plenty of server locations.
Wireguard is the fastest VPN protocol currently available, so if speed is a priority, choose a provider that offers this protocol.
Server count and locations
There are two things you should look at when it comes to VPN servers — the number of available servers and the number of locations.
The more servers there are to choose from, the less likely they are to get crowded. Overcrowded servers result in lower connection speeds, so you should make sure that there are plenty of options to choose from.
The distance from you to the server also impacts connection speeds. Your chances of finding a server close to you increase if more locations are available. Having more countries to connect to also means you will have an easier time bypassing geo-restrictions.
Ease of use and set up
This one is pretty straightforward. A VPN app is something you want to use whenever you’re online. It can get pretty annoying if an app you use every day is a hassle to use.
Choose a VPN with intuitive, easy-to-use apps for all your devices. It has to be simple to set up and only take seconds to connect to a VPN server. It should also provide an app for any device capable of supporting PC, macOS, iOS, Android, smart TVs — anything. Having the option to install it on unlimited devices would also help.
You hope you won’t ever have to use customer support. But if you do, it’s nice to have a competent customer support team behind the product.
Look for providers that have an extensive knowledge base, 24/7 live chat support, and a ticketing system. There is no good time to take a break from security online, so having a customer support team that helps you in a timely manner is very important.
Nowadays, premium VPN services go above and beyond to provide you the best possible browsing experience. Long gone are the days when all a VPN did was encrypt your traffic and change your IP address.
Each VPN service provider is trying to offer things such as ad blockers, split tunneling, or double VPN. Surfshark even offers unlimited simultaneous connections, while many other providers limit the number of devices you can connect to at a single time.
You should check the list of VPN features that each provider has to offer. Some will suit you better than others and help you come closer to choosing a VPN provider.
Why do you need a VPN?
Now that you know how to choose a VPN provider, let’s take a closer look at the uses of a VPN. And yes, there are more use cases that demonstrate you do need a VPN for more than just keeping you private while you surf the web.
I know, I know. I just told you that privacy is not the only reason to use a VPN. But it is the most important one. All your personal data is hidden from everyone, even your internet service provider (ISP), so you can surf the web without worrying about targeted ads and with a lowered risk of phishing attacks. So yes, privacy is an important part of your overall online security.
Pro-tip: Keep in mind that a VPN will only help if there are no ways to track your previous activity within those websites. That’s why you need to log out of your accounts and clear your history, cookies, and cache.
There are quite a few benefits of using a VPN for streaming*. If you choose a provider with fast servers (ideally ones up to 10Gbps), you will enjoy streaming TV shows, movies, or sports events privately. It will also stop any bandwidth throttling from the ISP!
Disclaimer: Please note that using Surfshark services for any illegal activities is strictly forbidden and violates our Terms of Service. Make sure that any use of Surfshark services for your particular activities conforms to all relevant laws and regulations, including those of any service providers and websites you access using Surfshark.
Accessing restricted content
The endless world of the internet should be freely accessible to all comers. However, some authoritarian governments restrict the content you can access online. You can also come across local restrictions since schools and workplaces often restrict your access to certain websites on their Wi-Fi network.
Saving money on booking
It’s no secret that airlines and accommodation providers raise prices depending on how often you visit their website or perform specific searches. Here’s how you can bring those prices back down with the help of a VPN:
- Clear your history, cookies, and cache.
- Make sure to log out of your accounts.
- Connect to a VPN server.
- Use a VPN for cheaper flights and accommodation.
Time to take your pick
Before shopping for a VPN, it’s time for a little memory refresher.
- Free VPNs are not really free. In the long run, choosing a paid premium VPN will end up costing you less;
- Security is often the main reason for getting a VPN. AES-256 is the industry-leading encryption, don’t settle for a provider that offers anything less;
- If speed is a priority, make sure to choose a provider that offers connection through the WireGuard protocol;
- Look for a VPN that has many servers in a lot of different locations. That way, you will always find an uncrowded server close to you;
- Make sure the VPN has apps for all your devices and that they are easy to use;
- Good customer support is a must. 24/7 live chat, a ticketing system, and a vast knowledge base are all things that any premium VPN service provider should offer;
- Most VPN companies offer unique additional features. Check them out and find those that you will actually use.
Now that you know how to choose a good VPN, it is time to put your knowledge into action. What’s your pick?
Are free VPNs safe?
The short answer is no. Free VPNs will change your IP address, but they won’t do a good job when it comes to protecting your online privacy.
Why do I need a VPN?
There are plenty of reasons to use a VPN. First of all, a virtual private network protects your privacy online. But you can also use it for streaming privately, accessing restricted content, overcoming ISP throttling, or saving money on flights and accommodation.