Our team of experts puts VPN providers through an identical, one-week program where we test services firsthand on varying criteria. Using the results from our tests, we then rate each VPN on a 5-point scale and develop an overall weighted score based on those criteria.
You can explore our entire testing process below to see which VPN features we deem most important and why you can trust our recommendations.
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Our VPN Rating Methodology
We believe in an independent, unbiased, and transparent testing process. That’s why we follow one rating methodology to ensure all VPNs are placed on the same playing field.
Our mission is to help you make the most informed decision about which provider is best suited for your needs. To do so, we provide two types of scores per VPN: categorical ratings and an overall rating.
Overall ratings are weighted scores that combine the six categorical ratings. Here’s what makes up a VPN’s overall rating:
- Privacy: 30% of score
- Availability & Ease of Use: 20% of score
- Security: 20% of score
- Entertainment: 15% of score
- Speed & Performance: 10% of score
- Pricing: 5% of score
Use cases aside, our overall ratings offer a comprehensive overview of how well a VPN performs. You’ll find a provider’s overall rating on their respective VPN review.
Categorical ratings include the six primary factors one considers before purchasing a VPN. We give each category a weighted score based on its importance to a user and assess whether or not they meet the minimum conditions required to perform well in that specific use case.
Below you’ll find what we assess, the minimum conditions needed for a VPN to pass, and our personal recommendation for each category.
In addition to our reviews, we go into much more detail about these unique ratings on our Best VPN pages.
Features We Assess: IP masking, logging, third-party audits, jurisdiction, censorship
Minimum Conditions: No personally identifiable information stored or tracked on VPN servers.
Our Recommendation: Strict zero-logs policy and servers with the inability to store any data outside maintenance requirements.
Providing online privacy is the primary function of a VPN and the factor most users identify as their main reason for purchasing a VPN. Therefore, we weighted this category the highest.
By masking your IP address, you can make your connection look like it’s coming from anywhere. This helps you maintain a level of anonymity online, bypass geo-restrictions, and avoid trackers or ads.
Logging practices go hand in hand with IP masking, as you want to ensure that your real location or web traffic is never monitored, stored, or sold. Most VPNs claim to have a no-logs policy, but very few actually adhere to these claims. So, we look for things like a third-party audit or a warrant canary for proof.
Things like jurisdiction (where the business is incorporated) and its ability to bypass censorship also play into the overall privacy performance of a VPN. After all, a VPN headquartered in a 5 Eyes country isn’t ideal if you’re worried about being linked to your account ever.
We take all of these factors into consideration when rating a VPN’s privacy score.
Availability & Ease of Use: 20%
Features We Assess: server network, number of devices, compatibility, customer support, user interface
Minimum Conditions: Wide network coverage, multiple connections, and intuitive apps.
Our Recommendation: All of the above, plus wide compatibility and 24/7 live-chat customer support.
A VPN does you little good if it’s clunky, incompatible, or limited to select locations. That’s why it’s important for many users that the provider they choose scores well on availability and ease of use.
First and foremost, we check providers’ server networks. How many countries do they host servers in? How many servers per country do they offer? Can you add a dedicated IP address to your plan or switch easily between connections? These are all things we test before rating a VPN. If a VPN has a limited network, you’ll find it hard to perform most tasks like bypassing censorship abroad, unblocking streaming sites, or torrenting undetected.
We also look at how easy it is to use a VPN app and what devices and platforms the VPN is compatible with. If the user interface is hard to navigate or outdated, it makes you wonder what else that provider might be skimping on investing in. Also, most premium VPNs offer apps for major operating systems like Android, iPhone, Windows, and Mac, but what about more obscure devices like routers, smart TVs, and gaming consoles? Do they provide helpful setup guides or 24/7 customer support? How many connections do you get with a single subscription?
We assess all of these questions and more when testing a provider’s availability and ease of use.
Features We Assess: encryption protocols, security features
Minimum Conditions: AES-256 encryption, a kill switch, and OpenVPN support.
Our Recommendation: All of the above, plus extra protocols and security features.
Security often gets conflated with privacy. And though they play off each other, security is a distinct function on its own. To assess a VPNs security performance, we look at their protocol selection and any security features and tools available.
At the bare minimum, a VPN should use an Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) to secure user connections. AES is a symmetric encryption protocol that uses the same key to both encrypt and decrypt data – either 128-bit, 192-bit, and 256-bit. AES 128-bit encryption is decent, but the best VPNs now offer AES 256-bit encryption which is nearly impenetrable and helps protect users from data leaks.
To be safe, we run each VPN through various leak tests including DNS, WebRTC, IPv4, and IPv6 to ensure there are no holes. Secure VPNs will offer to a kill switch for a failsafe on top of end-to-end encryption. In the event of a connection dropping, a kill switch will prevent data from passing through channels unencrypted. Other helpful security features that are bonuses include split-tunneling and multi-hop connections.
In addition, we assess the protocol selection a VPN has on offer. Depending on the device or platform, a provider may limit the VPN protocols available to just a handful. At the minimum, we expect a VPN to provide OpenVPN (TCP/UDP) support. Other trusted protocols include IKEv2 and WireGuard.
It’s evident right off the bat when a VPN prioritizes security, and we score providers accordingly based on the minimum requirements and recommendations listed above.
Features We Assess: P2P support, Netflix access, connection speeds, server locations, logging, security
Minimum Conditions: Minimal lag, no logging, 200+ servers, and optimized traffic.
Our Recommendation: The Minimum, plus unlimited data, proven unblocking capabilities, and P2P support on all server.
Using a VPN for entertainment is a secondary benefit of the software but one that comes in handy often. If you are solely interested in a VPN for either streaming or torrenting content, then this category is for you.
To rate this category, we put VPNs through extensive testing. We assess their server selection, speed performance, and unblocking capabilities on multiple connections and content sites. At the minimum, a VPN should not slow your connection by more than 30% on local servers or 50% on distant servers and offer a reasonable selection of server locations.
Decent coverage is essential if you’re wanting to access international content otherwise unavailable. We found that 200 servers is a good network to start with, as you’ll have ample options if you need to switch connections.
We also look to see if a VPN offers servers optimized for streaming or peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic. These servers will often be labeled within the app as such and are regularly tested by the provider to ensure their IP address isn’t flagged by streaming or torrenting sites.
Other bonuses we like to see for entertainment are unlimited data, multiple device connections, and P2P support on all servers.
Speed & Performance: 10%
Features We Assess: connection speeds, average speed loss, reliability, server locations
Minimum Conditions: 200+ servers and broadband speeds fast enough for streaming.
Our Recommendation: Less than 30% speed loss on local servers or 50% on ones abroad.
Speed and performance are critical to using a VPN. You can’t have a service that slows your connection to a crawl, but also have to be mindful that VPNs come with some speed loss due to the nature of the technology itself.
We run multiple speed tests on each VPN to check their connection performance for any issues with ping rate, service drops, and consistency. A good VPN will cause no more than 30% speed loss on local servers or 50% on ones abroad, but the faster the better of course.
Free VPNs struggle the most in this category, as they don’t offer the same server coverage as larger premium providers do and often overload apps with advertising or trackers.
At the bare minimum, we make sure VPNs provide a mid-size server network and broadband speeds fast enough for streaming or torrenting.
Features We Assess: pricing, plan variety, deals, payment methods
Minimum Conditions: Multiple subscriptions and payment methods to choose from.
Our Recommendation: All the above, plus anonymous payment method(s) and seasonal VPN deals
We gave this category the lowest weight as there isn’t a one-size-fits-all when it comes to budgeting. Pricing itself is very subjective – what’s expensive to one user might be cheap for another. So, while we review VPN pricing, we’re more interested in factors like plan variety, deals, and payment methods.
You want a VPN that offers flexibility. Decent VPNs will have three or four subscriptions to choose from – all varying in term length and price – with the cheapest plan usually coming with the longest term agreement. The best VPNs also provide assurances to their customers, offering money-back guarantees ranging from 30 to 60 days.
We also look at a VPN’s payment intake. Do they accept PayPal? What anonymous payment methods are available? Most trusted VPNs will offer multiple options such as major credit cards and PayPal. Though, we especially appreciate when a provider has anonymous payment options like cryptocurrency or gift cards. Giving users additional ways to remain anonymous online is always better in our opinion.
Find the Right VPN for You
The “Best VPN” is a misnomer really as each user has their own needs and preferences. Still, there are minimum conditions a VPN should meet before you decide to trust them with your data.
Our overall ratings offer the average user a great comprehensive overview of how a VPN performs. You can find a provider’s overall rating on their respective VPN review or widdle down even further into specialized ratings on our Best VPN pages.