Everyone is after your data. Fortunately, a Virtual Private Network (or VPN) is a simple tool that makes it much harder for your ISP, advertisers, and spies to snoop on your online activity. While there are a few excellent free VPNs, most will run you more than $10 per month. In this roundup, we look at the VPNs that don't come with the restrictions of a free VPN but won't break the bank either.
Who Needs a VPN?
When you switch on a VPN, it creates an encrypted connection between your machine and a server operated by the VPN company. All your data is safely piped to the server before exiting back out onto the internet.
This does two things. First, it prevents anyone snooping around the network you're using from seeing what you're up to online. That's especially handy when you're on public Wi-Fi. Even at home on your own network, a VPN prevents your ISP from seeing your activity. Second, a VPN makes it much harder for observers to trace online activity back to you.
This matters because your data is valuable. ISPs can sell your anonymized usage data, and advertisers are keen to gather information on your activity for targeted ads. But there are other reasons to use a VPN. Some people use them for watching Netflix in another country.
Whatever your concern, there's a VPN to meet your needs. While the services gathered here aren't always the absolute best or the fastest VPNs, they are all good purchases at reasonable prices.
What Makes a Good, Cheap VPN?
Among all the VPN services we've tested, the average monthly price is around $9.96 per month. We figured that about two dollars per month cheaper would qualify as "cheap," and set the cut-off for this list at $8.00 per month. We also looked to our previous reviews to inform our choices. To qualify for this list, a VPN service needs to have earned at least three stars within the last two years.
The only thing cheaper than cheap is free, and there are a great many free VPN services out there. Some of the services on this list also offer a free version, usually with limitations that are lifted when you pony up some cash. If you are looking for a free VPN, ProtonVPN is our top choice.
One more note about pricing: we only consider the monthly price. Most VPN services give you a discount for buying longer-term subscriptions, but this isn't a comparison of who gives the biggest discounts. It's the flat fee we're interested in. Also, some VPNs have different features at different pricing tiers. We don't see this too often, but if the service has a pricing tier that meets our requirements, it's eligible for consideration.
Once you've picked a service, you can get up and running with our feature on how to set up and use a VPN.
(Editors’ Note: While they may not all appear in this story, Buffered VPN, Encrypt.me, IPVanish, and StrongVPN are owned by J2 Global, the parent company of PCMag’s publisher, Ziff Davis.)