A VPN is super important for anyone. Yup, that's the full sentence – it's that important. But specifically, why? For a start, online security. At the moment, without a Virtual Private Network, aka VPN, you're going online naked where anyone can access your data and even your location.
Alright that was a bit of a scare to start with but it's the reality of online browsing these days be it from apps, browsers on computers or even through smart speaker requests. A VPN is there to help you hide your details, including where you are. This means that your data can't simply be taken and sold, nor can you be hacked as easily. It keeps your online anonymity just that, anonymous.
But a VPN is also great for accessing geo-restricted content, like U.S. Netflix when out of the country where you would otherwise be denied access. So why should you get a VPN?
Why use a VPN for security?
When you go online your internet connection is assigned an IP address which is a number that corresponds to your connection. This can allow websites and other third parties to see where you're logging on from and in some cases even access personal information about you.
By using a VPN your IP is masked. You are logging into another server, somewhere else in the world, which effectively acts as a buffer between you and the content you're accessing. So if you log onto a website from the U.S., but use a VPN server in the UK, that website will think you're based in the UK. It won't be able to access your information, keeping you anonymous.
If nothing else this is a great way to avoid adverts popping up all the time after you've bought a gift for someone, having searched online, and don't want ads for that thing always jumping out at you in future.
How secure is a VPN?
Nearly all VPN services use encryption security. That means that any information about you — which is only location, usually — is kept in code form. There is a key used to write it in code and a key at the other end used to unravel the code. So even if that data were to be intercepted in between, it would be useless without the code key. Encryption is so strong that it's used by the military, banks and government organizations to keep data secure. So it's definitely something you can trust.
How can a VPN help me watch geo-restricted shows?
If you're abroad on a work trip or vacation, but you still want to watch your latest Hulu or Netflix shows, say, then you might struggle. The Netflix servers will see you're in another country and only give you access to content in that location – meaning you might not be allowed to watch US content.
By using a VPN you're able to appear as though you're based back in the U.S., allowing you to access all your favorite U.S. videos again. Of course this could also allow you to watch things like BBC iPlayer, which is restricted to the UK, when you're in the US. But this isn't something we're condoning, just clarifying it is something that can be done.
A great example is watching Studio Ghibli's collection on Netflix in the U.S., Canada, and Japan by accessing a server in a different country.
Is a VPN good for open Wi-Fi?
A VPN is a very good idea whenever you log on with a new Wi-Fi network. Unless you know it's secure — which is difficult to judge, even at a friend's house for example — a VPN is a good idea.
For airport and hotel Wi-Fi, that can potentially be breached, a VPN is a good way to keep yourself secure. That way your data and devices can't be compromised and any data on them, especially things like banking details, can't be accessed or intercepted like they could be if you were to log on without the layer of security a VPN offers.
Which is the best VPN for me?
The best VPN, in our tests, comes out as ExpressVPN which offers international server coverage, great 24/7 live chat support, fast connection speeds and lots of device connections.
If you want a free option then Hotspot Shield is a great way to try the service, although you're limited to 500MB of data per day. For the most secure option then Surfshark is a top choice as it offers a double hop VPN which helps mask your traffic even further by routing your requests through any two different locations that you pick.
How much does a VPN cost?
The average VPN cost is about $10 per month. But this drops drastically if you go for a 12 month commitment with prices around $5 but with some as little as $3.33 for longer commitment times.
Lots of VPNs offer free trials and money-back guarantees so it's worth giving one a try before you buy to see if it's the right fit for you.
We test and review VPN services in the context of legal recreational uses. For example:
1. Accessing a service from another country (subject to the terms and conditions of that service).
2. Protecting your online security and strengthening your online privacy when abroad.
We do not support or condone the illegal or malicious use of VPN services. Consuming pirated content that is paid-for is neither endorsed nor approved by Future Publishing.
We may earn a commission for purchases using our links. Learn more.