Use a VPN to protect your online identity and stream TV while traveling

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A virtual private network, or VPN, is used for a lot of reasons, with some of those being kind of sketchy. Two legitimate reasons to use a VPN are to hide your online identity and to connect to your TV streaming accounts as you travel, particularly overseas. While a free VPN service is tempting, a paid service is more reliable, more secure, and is less likely to keep logs of your activity. ExpressVPN is one of the fastest and most secure VPN services out there with servers in nearly 100 countries. It’s compatible with most devices, including routers, game consoles, and smart TVs.

Best Overall: ExpressVPN

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ExpressVPN is one of the most popular services out there, with thousands of servers positioned in 160 locations and 94 countries. Because of the number of locations, servers, and thousands of unique IP addresses, ExpressVPN is also the best for using with TV streaming services. This VPN is easy to set up, but if you need help, ExpressVPN has 24-hour live support. Hosted in the British Virgin Islands, this VPN service is very secure, using AES 265-bit encryption and never keeping tabs about what you’re doing online.

This service has a VPN solution for just about every possible device or browser; it works with PCs, Macs, and Linux computers. There is both an Android and iOS option for mobile, and browser extensions for Firefox and Chrome if you’d prefer to go that route. ExpressVPN also has a router VPN option that hides every device connected to your internet through your router. Plus, ExpressVPN doesn’t cap how many devices can be connected at once, or your monthly bandwidth, so everyone and every device in your home can be cloaked at the same time and all the time. This VPN service has the fastest download speeds at around 100Mbps. This means all your devices can be protected at once without experiencing buffering or low picture quality.

Unfortunately, ExpressVPN isn’t the cheapest option, costing about $13 per month, though you can get that slashed in half with a 15-year contract and if you’re willing to pay for all those months upfront. You also get a 30-day money-back guarantee just in case you decide ExpressVPN isn’t the right choice for you.

Pros:

  • Servers in 94 countries
  • No logging
  • 100 Mbps download speed
  • Great customer support
  • Works with almost every device and browser

Cons:

  • Not cheap

Best Overall

ExpressVPN

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  • $100/yr. at ExpressVPN

Well hidden, well secured

Connect quickly to one of over 2,000 servers spread out in 160 locations in 94 countries with military-grade encryption.

Best Value: Private Internet Access

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Private Internet Access hides your online identity by assigning you another IP address when you connect and encrypt all your data, using AES 265-bit encryption, before it is sent out. You can connect 10 devices to the VPN through a single account, and Private Internet Access is compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux computers; Android and iOS mobile devices; and has browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.

Your bandwidth isn’t limited, meaning you won’t use up any predetermined time each month and your connection won’t ever slow down or stop because of how much you use this VPN service. The interface is easy to use — simply click a button and the program instantly sets up as it’s downloading. You don’t have to do much to start being protected.

Private Internet Access has over 3,300 servers in 29 countries, but its main host city is in the U.S. This isn’t as many as my top VPN pick, but it’s still enough to keep your online identity shielded and guarantee a secured connection in the location you desire. However, because it’s based in the U.S., Private Internet Access does keep some user information handy despite its no traffic log policy.

Pros:

  • Military-grade encryption
  • Multiple device connection
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Connect 10 devices
  • Easy setup

Cons:

  • Fewer locations than other services
  • Based in the U.S.

Best Value

Private Internet Access

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  • $40/yr. at Private Internet Access

No stopping or slowing

This VPN has unlimited bandwidth so you will never experience a slowdown, buffering, or stop service because you’ve reached a monthly limit.

Best Streaming VPN: PureVPN

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PureVPN is a top choice if you’re looking for a VPN for TV streaming. This service is compatible with streaming apps and devices like Android TV, Roku, and Kodi. It also has VPN options for game consoles like Xbox and PlayStation that protect your identity while playing, but also help you connect to streaming service through these devices. You can also use PureVPN through a web browser to hide your identity and watch programs online. There is also a router VPN option. This lets you use PureVPN on multiple devices so long as they are connected to your internet service through your router. You are limited to only five devices.

There are over 300,000 IP addresses available through PureVPN, and you can connect to one of its 1,000 servers. This isn’t as many servers as other VPN companies, but it has several locations in the U.S. for streaming purposes. Download speeds are good with an average of about 65 Mbps. This isn’t as fast as several other services I tested and reviewed, but this speed is good enough to support high-definition television streaming and multiple devices in use at a time.

PureVPN has an automatic kill switch that quickly disconnects you from the internet if the VPN shield drops. You can reconnect on your own or wait for PureVPN to reestablish your secured connection once the VPN is working again. This doesn’t happen often, but it is a good security feature to have to help keep your online activity and identity hidden.

Pros:

  • Compatible with streaming apps
  • Works with streaming devices
  • Compatible with game consoles
  • Router VPN option

Cons:

  • Cap on number of devices
  • Fewer servers and locations

Best Streaming VPN

PureVPN

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  • $70/yr. from PureVPN

Stream with any app or device

PureVPN lets you connect to tv streaming devices and apps while traveling so you can keep up to date with your favorite shows and sports teams.

Best Router VPN: HideMyAss (HMA)

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HideMyAss VPN (HMA) is the best solution if you want to extend your VPN protections to gaming consoles and other smart home devices (and it has the best name). This is done through the HMA router VPN package. This product is installed at the router level and automatically covers every device connected to your internet. HMA is compatible with some of the most popular routers, or you can purchase a HideMyAss exclusive router. The number of devices that can be actively using the VPN at once is determined by the router and VPN package you purchase. You do have to buy the HMA VPN in addition to the VPN-friendly router.

If you use this VPN without the router, your device is still assigned another IP address while you’re online so it’s more difficult to track your online activity. Your location, too, is hidden, so it’s more difficult to track where you are based on your web movements.

HMA does collect some information on all its users and discloses both what information is retained and how it is used on its website. HideMyAss VPN does promise to never keep tabs on the websites or services you tap into while online or keep a record of your full, true IP address. Another pitfall is while HMA shows you what your monthly subscription charge is, it doesn’t allow you to pay each month like most other VPN services do. Instead, you’re required to pay for a minimum of a full year upfront. You do get a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Pros:

  • VPN router
  • Unique IP addresses assigned
  • Compatible with multiple devices
  • Money-back guarantee

Cons:

  • Records kept on customers
  • The router determines number of devices
  • No month-to-month payment option

Best Router VPN

HideMyAss (HMA)

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  • $72/yr. from HMA

Route protection to smart devices

HMA provides VPN protection from your internet router so all your smart devices, gaming consoles, phones, and computers are always shielded.

Best Mobile VPN: Hotspot Shield

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For protecting yourself while on your cellphone, try the Hotspot Shield VPN app. This program is specifically designed for when you aren’t connected to your own home or business internet, but rather a public hotspot. Hotspot Shield works like all other VPNs by assigning a private IP address for your device that isn’t easily traced back to you, and by hiding your location by filtering your sent and received information through one of its 3,200 servers in 80 countries.

Hotspot Shield works fast with impressive average download speeds of 80 Mbps. It doesn’t interfere with gaming, social media, videos, or other fast-paced activities. Plus, it works with Windows and Mac computers, along with Android and iOS mobile devices. One advantage that Hotspot Shield has is its ability to automatically enable the VPN as you start your device. This takes away the need to always remember to connect to the VPN when you open a web browser.

There aren’t a lot of negatives about Hotspot Shield. Some users report that they have trouble connecting with customer service reps when help is needed, and then don’t have issues resolved quickly when they can get a hold of someone. The biggest drawback though is it doesn’t work with TV streaming apps. Instead, you will have to watch through a web browser once the VPN is connected.

Pros:

  • Secure public Wi-Fi
  • Automatic connection
  • Mobile friendly
  • Works with a lot of devices

Cons:

  • Poor customer assistance
  • No direct use with apps

Best Mobile VPN

Hotspot Shield

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  • $96/yr. at Hotspot Shield

On the go security

Public Wi-Fi is more securing using this VPN because it hides your device’s IP address and location making it harder for hackers to breakthrough.

Best Secured VPN: NordVPN

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NordVPN has a unique double VPN feature that encrypts your data twice before sending it out, and since it uses the same encryption process as the U.S. military, you can trust it’s very secure. This is done by passing your information through two of NordVPN’s servers. Based in Panama, NordVPN has over 5,600 servers in 54 countries and lets you decide to use a dedicated IP address each time you log in or be randomly assigned a new one. Using a random IP makes it harder for ad trackers and other snoops to figure out who and where you are, while a dedicated IP address is helpful for using some streaming services. You can connect multiple devices to your VPN account and have them all logged in and shielded at the same time.

Using NordVPN’s double VPN encryption may cause some slowdown since the information is sent through two servers. However, it shouldn’t affect you enough to really disrupt your online use, especially since NordVPN has an average download speed of 70Mbps. NordVPN does have an automatic kill switch so if for some reason your coverage is dropped, you won’t be able to access the web until service resumes, or you tell NordVPN that you’re comfortable accessing the web without being cloaked.

Pros:

  • Dual encryption process
  • Let’s you choose how to handle IP address
  • Automatic kill switch
  • Based in Panama

Cons:

  • Causes slowdown

Best Secured VPN

NordVPN

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  • $84/yr. at NordVPN

Encrypt then encrypt again

NordVPN encrypts your outgoing data then encrypts it again to ensure it is extra secure. It also provides a new IP address each time you log in.

Fast Connection: Surfshark

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Surfshark is one of the fastest VPN services out there with download speeds almost consistently between 68 and 70Mbps. Plus, as you enable this service, Surfshark automatically looks for an available server with the fastest speeds and connects you to it. Another great perk is Surfshark lets you connect an unlimited number of devices without requiring you to first disconnect another device, buying more device connection privileges, or compromising your connection speeds.

This VPN service doesn’t work with streaming apps, but using its Smart DNS feature, you can watch TV through devices like Fire TV and Apple TV or connect through your smart TV. Surfshark also works with gaming consoles and has a router VPN option. Using a VPN in this way lets you tap into streaming libraries more easily, even those that look for VPN programs, like Hulu and Netflix.

There are a few concerns with Surfshark. The biggest is that its privacy policy isn’t worded strong or clear enough to understand exactly what information this VPN collects on its users and how this information is used. Surfshark still maintains a no-log stance and promises it doesn’t keep user histories on any of its customers. I just wished it was made clearer in its official policy.

Pros:

  • Fast download speeds
  • Compatible with smart TVs and gaming consoles
  • Unlimited device connections

Cons:

  • Vague privacy policy
  • Doesn’t work with streaming apps

Fast Connection

Surfshark

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  • $72/yr. from Surfshark

Unlimited connections at lightning speed

Surfshark has impressive download speeds and automatically connects to the fastest available server. Also, connect unlimited devices at once.

Satisfaction Guarantee: CyberGhost

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CyberGhost is a secure VPN service that works with Android devices and Windows computers. You can use this service to hide both your DNS and IP information while connects, and since it’s located outside of the U.S., its no-log policy is one you can trust to keep your information out of reach. As you connect, CyberGhost encrypts both outgoing and incoming information using AES 256-bit encryption, the highest available. The best part of this service is CyberGhost gives you a 45-day money-back guarantee to ensure it is a good fit for you. This is the longest guarantee offered by the top VPN services I looked at.

You can use CyberGhost to connect to streaming services, though its apps are limited in this area. It does have VPN specific programs for Android TV and Amazon’s Fire Stick. Most other services, like Netflix and YouTube, you’ll need to access through a mobile app or browser after your VPN is deployed on your device.

CyberGhost has 3,000 servers located throughout the world, but you may experience some noticeable slowdown on your device. In fact, of all the popular VPN services I’ve tested, CyberGhost is the slowest. It takes a long time for this VPN to get started, and I noticed download speeds weren’t consistent once I was connected. They fluctuated enough for me to take note of it. Other users have mentioned that CyberGhost isn’t a good choice when using a VPN in China. Connections typically don’t go through and when they do it’s difficult to connect to the content needed.

Pros:

  • Longest money-back guarantee
  • Highest available encryption
  • DNS and IP protection
  • 3,000 servers worldwide

Cons:

  • Slow connection speeds
  • Fluctuating download speeds
  • Doesn’t work from China
  • Not compatible with all streaming apps

Satisfaction Guarantee

CyberGhost

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  • $72/yr. from CyberGhost

Love it or hate it?

CyberGhost gives you 45 days to decide if you like its VPN. It has over 3,000 servers worldwide and protects both DNS and IP info.

VPN with Antivirus: Avast Premium Security

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Avast Premium Security is one of the top antivirus software out there, and it comes with a VPN that’s easy to use and will shield your online activity as part of a whole computer protection package. This VPN stops adware from creating targeted ads and internet trackers from flowing what you do online. Your IP address and location are hidden, just like standalone VPN services, but you get the added benefit of knowing Avast will stop malware files before they have a chance to start downloading. Avast Premium Security also has a password manager to hide and store your login credentials that works alongside the VPN.

If you need a VPN service for streaming TV, this isn’t the solution for you. This is mainly because it doesn’t have a lot of servers — about 60. With several people accessing a server at once, it’s easy for streaming services to pick up on the IP address, trace it back to a VPN service, and block it. Without a lot of unique IP addresses to cycle through, it’s tough to find one that hasn’t been blocked.

This program takes up more of your computer resources because of the size of the program, and you will notice some slowdown. Also, while the price of using this VPN costs under $8 per month — cheaper than most VPN services — you do need to purchase a full year license, which may make the $90 price tag a bit much to hand over. However, the amount of protection you get with Avast Premium Security far exceeds what you get with a standalone VPN program.

Pros:

  • Shields digital identity
  • Includes antivirus
  • Password protection
  • Easy to setup

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Slows devices
  • Doesn’t allow TV streaming

VPN with Antivirus

Avast Premium Security

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  • $90/yr. at Avast

Snoops and malware snubbed

Avast’s VPN shields your online identity while also blocking malware from downloading and infecting your computer. It also secures passwords.

Here’s why ExpressVPN is my top pick

ExpressVPN is what is called a full-featured VPN. This means it includes several settings and services that go above and beyond simply shielding your online identity. ExpressVPN gives you access to streaming services, videos, websites, and games that are regionally blocked by assigning you an IP address from that region. It also has extra protections for when you are banking or shopping online to ensure your personal, as well as your digital, identity to safely guarded. With L2TP protection even cryptocurrency transactions are secure. ExpressVPN uses military-grade protection, or AES 265-bit encryption, to secure your online data. It has an automatic kill switch that detects if the VPN shield is ever dropped and immediately stops online access blocks your real IP address and location from being seen until you reconnect with the VPN.

There are two reasons why ExpressVPN beats out the competition to be our top pick. First, it has servers in more locations than any other VPN service we reviewed: 94. With this many locations, and with the ability to choose where you’d like your IP address to originate, you don’t have to worry about your online activity being traced back to you. This also makes ExpressVPN the best choice for streaming TV services. There are enough unique IP addresses that it’s highly unlikely you will be blocked by a viewing service, even though that use VPN tracking.

The second reason is ExpressVPN is one of the few services that offers router protection. This means you can have your VPN protections deployed from your internet router rather than just on the protected device. Router VPNs let you protect smart devices, like Alexa Echo and Google Home, and gaming consoles that otherwise might not be as secure. Plus, because ExpressVPN doesn’t place bandwidth restrictions on you, you don’t have to worry about hitting a data cap or your connection dropping or stopping at any time.

Using a VPN for TV streaming

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A lot of U.S.-based programming is available overseas, though it is often behind a few episodes and sports games typically air later after the final score is known. Using a VPN lets you tap into your TV streaming services to see current and live programming of your favorite shows. This is done by connecting to a U.S. based server through your VPN. This gives you a U.S. IP address. After connecting you can then log into your streaming account, including Netflix and AndroidTV to watch your shows. You do need an existing streaming account with a U.S. address and zip code for viewing content outside of the United States.

This isn’t a guarantee, however. Many streaming services, including Disney+ and Netflix, use anti-VPN detection tools that recognize when your device is using a VPN and will restrict access. Other services, like Hulu, are IP sensitive, which means it can tell if you are connecting with a device that isn’t connected to your home network and IP. But for the most part, I haven’t had any issues connecting to my streaming services using a U.S. server so long as I already have an established account, with a U.S. address and zip code connected to my profile and payment plan. It does help to have a VPN service in your corner, like ExpressVPN or NordVPN that has a lot of servers and unique IP addresses. It’s more likely you’ll tape into a location that hasn’t been blocked by the streaming service. Or you can use a service like PureVPN that has an option for a dedicated IP address. This gives you some of the protection of a VPN, mainly data encryption, but also an IP that is less likely to be blocked when watching TV. However, when you use a dedicated IP, you’re more likely to be tracked by some websites and see targeted ads.

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If you plan to use a VPN while streaming TV, make sure the download speeds will handle it, otherwise you will experience buffering or low picture quality. While most tv streaming services need a minimum speed of 3Mbps, it is recommended to have 25Mbps for high definition quality. If there will be more than one device connected to and using the VPN service at once, then look for a VPN service with download speeds that are faster than 25Mpbs. In my tests, the fastest services that also support TV streaming are ExpressVPN, NordVPN, Surfshark, and PureVPN. Hotspot Shield also has a decent download speed but has difficulty connecting to some streaming services through its mobile apps. You can watch through a browser, though.

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No Log Policy

Several VPN services claim a no-log policy. This means in addition to shielding your online activity, the company itself doesn’t keep logs of where you go or what you do online while connected to one of their servers. A lot of these services also keep your personal info well hidden. However, there is a caveat to this policy. For companies based in the U.S., some information is still kept, including user logs, for a certain amount of time, typically 30 days. This is because some laws require user data to be released to law enforcement during the investigation of certain crimes. For internet service providers and VPN services, these typically involved copyright laws and human trafficking issues. Because of this, most U.S. based VPN services can’t have a true no-log policy. For VPN services located outside of the U.S., these laws don’t affect them or their log-keeping policies.

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

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As a mom of 10 and grandma to five, Nicole Johnston pulls from her years of experience raising her family as she explores, tests and reviews a variety of consumer products from food processors to bed pillows to parental control programs. Nicole has over 13 years of research and writing experience in both the public and private sectors, with five devoted to internet security and privacy solutions.