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What are the best VPNs available in the UK?

VPN key on a keyboardVirtual Private Networks (VPN) were once the domain of businesses which needed to enable secure access to confidential systems. But in the last few years, as we’ve become more conscious of online security and privacy (not to mention the US Netflix catalogue), their popularity among home users has exploded. As a result, there’s now a huge number of VPN providers to choose from. 

So how do you know which is right for you? To help you decide we’ve put together this list of our top five VPN providers.

If you're new to VPNs and not sure what exactly they are or whether you need one, you might like to first visit our beginner's guide to VPNs which will explain everything you need to know.

UK’s top five VPNs

Mullvad

Price: 1 month: €5

Supported platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, routers (via OpenVPN and WireGuard configs)

We like... We don't like...
  • Outstanding focus on privacy
  • Very secure
  • Quick and easy sign-up
  • Wide variety of payment methods
  • Not the quickest
  • No discount for long-term subscriptions
  • Not suitable for streaming

Lots of VPNs talk about privacy, but few go as far as Mullvad in practice. Signing up is as easy as generating an ID code, with no requirement (or even the option) to enter an email address or other identifying information. When it comes to paying, methods include Bitcoin and cash, so you don't even have to hand over identifying payment details. And Mullvad uses secure OpenVPN and WireGuard technology, and its software is open source so you can inspect their code if you wish.

On the downside, Mullvad wasn’t the quickest VPN we’ve tested. It may not be suitable for streaming either as Netflix and other US streaming services were not accessible. The software is fairly basic but does have all the essential features that most users will need. And be aware that it only offers one monthly subscription option, with no discount for long-term use.

Buy Mullvad

TorGuard

Price: 1 month: $9.99 | 3 months: $19.99 | 6 months: $29.99 | 12 months: $59.99 | 2 years: $99.99

Supported platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, Chrome, Firefox, routers (via OpenVPN configs)

We like... We don't like...
  • Get a dedicated streaming IP address
  • Loads of payment options
  • Powerful software
  • Not the most welcoming software for novices
  • Not the cheapest provider

TorGuard is one of the best options if you want a VPN for streaming US Netflix and other video services because it offers an optional streaming IP address. This provides a dedicated IP which is not shared with other users and is “hand-picked” for compatibility. So if you’ve found that other VPNs have let you down when it comes to Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other video sites then TorGuard could be the solution. 

But you’ll have to pay extra for this privilege, and TorGuard is already a little pricier than some others. And while its software is great for power users, with lots of settings to tweak, it could be a little daunting for VPN newbies. 

Buy TorGuard

Express VPN

Price: 1 month: £10.71 | 6 months: £50.17 | 12 months: £83.64

Supported platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, Chrome, Firefox, smart TVs, consoles, routers

We like... We don't like...
  • Fast
  • Great software and device support
  • Lots of servers with locations all over the world
  • Supports split tunnelling
  • Fairly pricey
  • Limited simultaneous connections

Express VPN offers access to an impressive 3,000+ servers located in 94 countries around the world. And it was fast, too. We also appreciate its clean and responsive user interface which is simple for beginners but also offers a few advanced features to tweak if you need more flexibility. Express VPN can also support split tunnelling, which allows specific applications to communicate outside the VPN. Also of note is its device support; as well as the usual Windows, Mac, and mobile platforms, Express VPN provides instructions for setting up a VPN on a wide variety of other devices including smart TVs and games consoles.

What didn’t we like? Cost is one big drawback, as Express VPN is more expensive than many competitors. Signing up for 12 months is the cheapest option, but not everyone wants that kind of commitment, and it’s still more expensive than some provider’s monthly fee. And despite the high cost, Express VPN only lets you have five simultaneous VPN connections, which restricts the number of devices you can have hooked up at once.

Buy Express VPN

AirVPN

Price: 3 days: €2 | 1 month: €7 | 3 months: €15 | 6 months: €29 | 12 months: €49 | 2 years: €79 | 3 years: €99

Supported platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, routers (via OpenVPN configs)

We like... We don't like...
  • Strong privacy protection
  • Powerful software, and config generator for other devices
  • Free trial
  • Flexible payment options
  • Mediocre speeds

AirVPN is - like Mullvad - another excellent choice for anyone primarily concerned about online privacy. While it asks for some details such as an email address when registering, AirVPN also states that you are under no obligation to enter a real email address or any other genuine information. There is also the option to pay with cryptocurrency - as well as a credit card or Paypal - though unfortunately, it does not offer alternatives such as cash or gift cards like some other providers.

The AirVPN software is flexible and powerful; it might be a little daunting to begin with, but it’s got all the basics you need plus the ability to delve into more advanced settings if required. AirVPN also provides a configuration generator for use with routers and other devices not supported by its software, a feature that not every VPN offers.

AirVPN wasn’t the fastest VPN we tested, and it has a smaller selection of servers than some. However, it offers up a great deal of information about its servers and their current status, so you can very easily swap to a different location to get the best performance. 

Buy AirVPN

SurfShark

Price: 1 month: £9.49 | 12 months: £57.48 |  24 months: £38.16

Supported platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, Chrome, Firefox, TVs, consoles

We like... We don't like...
  • Decent software
  • Unlimited connections
  • Works with Netflix
  • Great speeds
  • Have to sign up for the long term to get the best price

SurfShark is relatively new to the VPN market but stands out with a pretty tempting set of features. Netflix streaming is supported not just in the US but several other countries including Australia, Canada, and Germany. It provides unlimited connections, so you can secure multiple devices. And its software offers some useful advanced features such as split tunnelling (which allows you to bypass the VPN in specific applications), multi-hop connections (where the VPN is routed through several countries), and a feature which aims to bypass national firewalls in countries where the internet is heavily censored. 

However, the cost is higher than some of its competitors on a monthly basis. SurfShark is good value if you sign up for two years, where the £39.60 payment works out at £1.65 per month, but not everybody will want that kind of commitment. Given how quickly the VPN market can change we prefer the freedom of a monthly fee.

Buy SurfShark

How we chose our top five

When it came to selecting our top five, we picked a selection of popular VPN providers and evaluated them in various categories such as speed, privacy, software, and cost. 

For speed, we measured the difference in performance when using the VPN compared to the performance of our regular broadband connection. This was done with several speed tests at different times of the day using servers in the Netherlands (specifically Amsterdam, when possible), and the east coast of the USA (New York, if available). We also downloaded a Debian Linux package via Bittorrent and recorded the time it took to complete the transfer. 

The software for each VPN was installed on a clean Windows 10 system. We considered the performance of the software interface, its ease of use, and the features it offered. We also looked at the other platforms supported by the VPN provider, and what kind of help was given for using the VPN with other devices such as routers and smart TVs.

We also examined the privacy policies of each provider, and took into account factors such as the available payment methods, and what kind of information was required to register. 

Frequently Asked Questions about VPNs

  • What is a VPN?

    A Virtual Private Network provides a secure link to the internet by routing your broadband through an encrypted connection. When using a VPN, you connect via the VPN then out into the wider internet. The connection between your home broadband and the VPN is protected from eavesdropping, and once you emerge from the VPN it will hide your true IP address and make it look as though you are located in the same country as the VPN server.

  • Do I need a VPN?

    Some of the reasons to use a VPN include:

    Protecting your privacy online
    When using a VPN, the link between your home broadband and the VPN server is encrypted, so a VPN can help to hide your online activity from anyone who might be monitoring your broadband connection. It also obfuscates your true location to the rest of the internet. 

    Accessing blocked websites
    If you find that a site is blocked by your broadband provider, you can probably still access it by using a VPN. A VPN is also helpful if you are in a country with heavily censored internet, as you can browse as though you are located in just about any other part of the world.

    Streaming video from other countries
    Want to check out the US Netflix catalogue? Going abroad and still want to view iPlayer? A VPN can let you do this by routing your broadband through another country.

    Staying safe on public Wi-Fi hotspots
    Public Wi-Fi hotspots can be useful if you need free or cheap internet access on the move, but they’re also a popular target for hackers. A VPN makes public Wi-Fi worry-free by encrypting your connection to the internet.

  • Can I use a VPN on my smartphone?

    All the providers listed above have apps for Android and Apple iOS so you can connect to the VPN with your smartphone.

  • Are VPNs legal?

    VPNs are legal in the UK. But something that is illegal without a VPN remains illegal when connected to a VPN, and using a VPN doesn’t mean you can’t get in trouble if you break the law when using it.

  • What VPN should I get?

    Choosing the right VPN for you depends on what it is you want to do with the VPN. Is privacy your primary concern, or do you mainly want to use it for accessing Netflix and other video streaming services?

    One of the five VPNs listed above should suit most typical use cases. For example, Mullvad and AirVPN are great for privacy, while TorGuard is excellent for streaming. But if you have a very specific requirement you might need to search further afield, or contact the VPN first to confirm it is suitable.

  • How much do VPNs cost?

    Typically you can expect to pay between £4 and £10 per month. Many providers offer discounts if you sign up and pay for several months or years in one go, which can save a substantial amount over the normal monthly fee.

  • Should I get a free VPN?

    Free VPN services can be convenient if you only need to use one occasionally and can’t justify paying for it, though most have a fairly small data usage cap which means you can’t do much before being nagged for payment.

    But you should be wary when using free VPNs as they may be collecting data and might not actually offer much privacy.

    They can be handy if you need to circumvent a site block, but you should not trust a free service for much beyond that.

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