The time has come. You want to start using a VPN (or switch VPN providers) and you’ve landed here with a deceptively simple question - how do I pick a good VPN? You may have done a quick search for “Best VPN”, landed on a review site or two and quickly realized something was amiss - you’re not wrong. Review sites (mostly) can’t be trusted. So roll up your sleeves kiddos, and get ready to do your own research. Start with the simple things, consider your technical requirements then move on to the important stuff.
The Simple Things
Locations, free trials, speeds, device compatibility and connections.
When looking for a new VPN, there are a few basics you will want to consider - let’s start here:
- Locations - Are you looking for a specific location to connect to? Does the provider offer servers in that location? Yes? Good. No? Pass. Some VPNs will be sneaky and offer virtual locations - servers that are advertised in one country but are physically located in another. Avoid these types of servers and the VPNs that offer them.
- Free trials - The easiest way to find out if a VPN is right for you is to actually try it out. Most VPN providers should offer some type of free trial to allow you to test the waters. So take the leap, set up an account, connect, speed test, vibe out and see what you think. (Not to brag, but Windscribe offers free accounts with 10 GB monthly bandwidth and access to servers in 10 countries. If you prefer not to sign up at all, you can test the Windscribe without even creating an account - just install and click “Get Started” in our mobile apps or browser extensions.)
- Speeds - Once you’ve set up a free account, time to test your speeds. You’ll want to make sure that you can achieve good upload/download speeds when connected to a VPN server. Usually, the best speeds are achieved when connected to a server location that's nearest to you. We recommend www.speedtest.net or the Ookla Speedtest app to run these tests
- Device compatibility and connections - You’ve got an iPhone, a PC and maybe a SmartTV and you want to use your VPN on all of them, all at the same time. Great! Just make sure that your VPN provider supports those devices, as well as multiple simultaneous connections, so that you can stream / game / scroll simultaneously.
Connection protocols, custom configurations, additional features.
Maybe you just need a VPN to change locations for some reason (I won’t ask why), or perhaps you have some technical requirements and use cases that your VPN MUST address.
Here are just a few technical specifications to consider before choosing a VPN:
- Connection protocols - If you live in a country with high-censorship or a particularly nosey ISP, you want to ensure you have some options when it comes to connecting. Look for IKEv2, OpenVPN (TCP and UDP), WireGuard and Stunnel (or other SSL encrypted tunnel options). Steer clear of PPTP and L2TP/IPSec, as these protocols are outdated and less secure.
- Custom configuration files - Need to export OpenVPN configurations for router setup or use WireGuard configs in the native app? Make sure to double-check that these options are available with your potential provider.
- Additional features - Do you want to be able to set up port-forwarding with a Static IP? File sharing capabilities? Block ads/porn/malware? Split tunneling so you can exclude some apps/sites from your VPN? Linux compatibility? Not all providers offer these features, so make sure you know exactly what you need and double-check that your VPN of choice offers it.
The Important Stuff
Alright, full disclosure: server locations, connection protocols and everything touched on so far are just the basics. The bare minimum, if you will. Honestly, most major VPN providers should be able to meet these needs. So let’s get down to the important stuff.
You want to sleep easy knowing that your data is safe and anonymized and that you aren’t being secretly tracked by your own VPN provider. So here’s what you should be paying attention to:
- No log policy - Pretty much all VPNs will claim they don’t log your data. But how can you be sure? Take a look at their privacy policies and terms of service in detail to understand exactly what is being logged. You can also go the extra mile to read news articles about a VPN to see if they sell or log your data. You can check out Windscribe’s No Identifying Log policy here and a deep dive into how we use the little data we collect
- No tracking - A wise man once said, “One simple way to choose a VPN: If you see ads for it, or someone shilling it for profit, don't use that VPN. Claiming to protect against tracking, while doing it to gain market share is dishonest”.
Okay, to be clear, the wise man is my boss, Yegor. But still, excellent point. If a VPN is purporting to protect your identity, while tracking you online and serving you ads to boost their business, that is NOT the VPN for you.
- Trust and ownership - When choosing a VPN, you are putting a huge amount of trust in a company to protect your data, so you want to be completely sure you know who you are trusting. But with the increased consolidation of the VPN industry, you may (or may not) be surprised to learn that many VPN providers (and VPN review sites) share the same parent company. In fact, that parent company may have at one point specialized in adware and browser hijacking. So do your research and figure out who owns your VPN.
Look, it would have been a lot easier for me to write this if I had simply done a nice soft sell on why Windscribe is the VPN for you. I could have mentioned all kinds of features that are absolute must-haves that just happen to coincide with Windscribe’s offerings. I might have even ended this post with a promo code for new users, to entice you to SIGN UP NOW FOR A SPECIAL PRICE. But that’s not how we do things here.
We also know we aren’t the only game in town. It’s a wide world of VPNs out there, but here are the top three most trustworthy options we would choose if Windscribe didn’t exist:
- IVPN - They have a whole “ethics” section on their site - a very good sign.
- Mullvad - Their policies are clearly laid out and ownership immediately disclosed.
- AirVPN - Take look at their mission, with a mandate towards net neutrality, privacy and against censorship.
You are now informed and ready to make your own decision, to forge your own future and to pick your own (good) VPN*.
Rebecca, Customer Support Specialist
*But TBH, Windscribe is a good VPN. You should pick it.