The cheapest VPNs protect your privacy on a tight budget.
With inflation on everyone's minds, it's good to budget for all the essentials. For this reason, it can be tempting to use a free VPN since a lot of people don't think of it as a necessity. While that's technically true, you never should compromise on your online security and privacy. That's why we recommend steering clear of the vast majority of free virtual private networks, which are typically less safe. You can, however, still get a cheap VPN service that's high-quality, fast and affordable.
A number of cheap VPN services offer a strong security, speedy connection, and a wide array of privacy features -- all for less than half the cost of a premium VPN service. You can even hook up your phone or tablet for secure browsing on your mobile device. Each of these cheap VPN services offers monthly pricing options, or if you prefer, you can pay in one lump sum for an entire year. We've spent countless hours testing these cheap VPN providers and have put together a list of great budget-friendly choices.
Since the VPN market is constantly evolving and VPN services change rapidly, we advise against signing up for a subscription that lasts two years or longer. Instead, we recommend sticking with the plans that are cheapest based on their one-year or one-month rates and have the best money-back guarantees. While a lot of VPN providers offer better month-to-dollar value when you go for these long-term plans, you should avoid those kinds of lengthy VPN commitments. Check out our list of the best cheap VPN services of 2023.
Watch this: Top 5 Reasons to Use a VPN
Surfshark earned CNET's Editors' Choice for best value VPN in 2022. It offers solid privacy and security features, a polished interface, unlimited simultaneous connections, fast speeds and an impressive global network of VPN servers at a price that's considerably lower than many of its top competitors.
For $60 annually -- following an introductory $48 for the first year -- Surfshark offers ad and malware protection, camouflage mode, split tunneling and multihop connections along with industry-standard features like DNS leak protection, AES 256-bit encryption and a kill switch. Surfshark's apps have been independently audited by cybersecurity professionals and the provider says it doesn't keep any logs of its users' online activity. The company is also working on rolling out what it calls its 'Nexus Network' which promises to enhance user privacy even further with features like Dynamic MultiHop, IP Randomizer and IP Rotator.
Surfshark is a cost-effective option for people who want added layers of security and a variety of ways to bolster their online privacy with their VPN. And if Surfshark's Nexus Network proves as effective as promised, the VPN could be an excellent choice for users with critical privacy needs.
Surfshark also works well for users simply looking to unblock geographically restricted content around the world. With servers spanning 99 different countries, the company has a network that is fast enough to handle data-heavy activities like streaming video in HD. Surfshark can help you unblock multiple Netflix libraries and other streaming services like Amazon Prime Video and HBO Max. We had a little bit of trouble accessing Disney Plus, but after some trial and error on a few servers, we were able to access the streaming platform.
You can get a seven-day free trial on Android, iOS and MacOS if you sign up through Google's Play Store or Apple's App Store. But if you've purchased Surfshark and you're not satisfied with the service for any reason, the VPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Proton VPN is a VPN product developed by the Swiss-based company behind the popular secure email service Proton Mail. The VPN has built a reputation for top-notch security and maximum transparency. Proton VPN's apps fully open-source, and the software is also regularly audited to help affirm the security of the VPN for users without the time or know-how to inspect the code.
On top of security features like a kill switch and DNS leak protection, Proton VPN offers extras like a malware protection, Tor over VPN and a stealth protocol to help hide the fact that you're using a VPN. And if you connect to Proton VPN's Secure Core servers, you'll be able to route your traffic through secure data centers located in Switzerland, Sweden or Iceland before exiting through another location. This provides a critical extra layer of security if you're a user with heightened privacy needs.
Proton VPN is currently the third-fastest VPN we've tested, and does well to unblock content from various streaming providers, including Netflix.
And while it's not the cheapest in this list, Proton VPN is cheaper than IPVanish in the long run if you decide to stick with the provider for more than a year. For $72 per year or $10 per month, Proton VPN offers 10 simultaneous connections and 1,800-plus servers in 67 countries. You can get a full refund within 30 days of purchase if you're not satisfied.
Proton VPN also makes our list of best cheap VPNs thanks to its impressive free tier. Proton's free VPN doesn't include torrenting support or access to its Secure Core servers, but it doesn't limit speed, data or usage time. Free users are allotted one connection at a time and access to about 100 servers in three countries (US, NL, JP).
It's not the fastest VPN on the planet, but IPVanish is an excellent VPN for casual users that offers plenty of speed for activities like streaming and video conferencing. However, in our tests, we did experience issues with the Quick Connect feature, which didn't always connect us to the fastest server available. If you're looking for the fastest server, we recommend connecting manually based on the current server load readings displayed in the Locations section of the IPVanish app.
IPVanish's introductory annual rate matches Surfshark's $48 for the first year, but jumps to $90 after that. Unlike most other VPN providers, IPVanish also offers a quarterly subscription plan at $30 every three months. The provider's 30-day money-back guarantee only applies if you purchase a yearly plan, though, so you would be out of luck if you purchase a monthly or quarterly subscription and decide the service isn't right for you. Other providers have more lenient free trial offers.
IPVanish joins Surfshark as one of the only VPN providers that offers unlimited simultaneous connections, so it's a good option if you have a large family or a lot of devices you want to secure at once with a single VPN account. The VPN kill switch worked well during our tests and the newly redesigned apps were a breeze to use. With IPVanish, you'll get access to more than 2,000 servers in over 75 locations as well as 24/7 support via live chat, email or phone.
Along with Proton VPN, Mullvad is another open-source VPN provider that offers its services at a competitive rate. Mullvad's simple pricing structure is vastly different than most others. The service costs $5 per month, whether you use it for a month, a year, 10 years or longer. Mullvad doesn't offer any sales or discounts of any sort at any time of the year -- just a flat $5 fee for however many months you want to use it. That comes out to $60 for a year, which matches Surfshark for the cheapest annual price in this list when not taking introductory prices into consideration.
And because Mullvad says it strives to know as little about its customers as possible, it has completely done away with recurring subscriptions so it cannot hang onto payment data longer than absolutely necessary. You can even mail Mullvad an envelope with cash to pay for the service. Mullvad automatically generates a random 16-digit account number when you sign up and you can prepay for one, two, three, six or 12 months at a time. The company is so focused on security and privacy that you don't have to enter any personal data whatsoever at signup -- no email or username required.
DNS leak protection and the kill switch are enabled by default and cannot be disabled. Other security features include split tunneling (but only on Windows, Linux and Android devices), ad and tracker blocking and multi-hop connections. Mullvad also offers a Shadowsocks proxy to help users bypass firewalls and evade internet censorship.
On top of being secure, Mullvad is fast, dropping only 23% of our regular internet speed in our latest tests. However, it isn't optimized for streaming geo-restricted content internationally. We were able to access Netflix, but not Disney Plus when connected to Mullvad servers during our tests.
The apps are polished and user-friendly, though, so beginners and casual users shouldn't have any issues using the service even if it is geared a bit more toward the techie crowd. Mullvad is a well-established VPN provider that's been around since 2009, well before any other VPN that made this list. It's an excellent option for budget-conscious VPN users who value extra attention to privacy and appreciate simplicity and straightforwardness. Read our Mullvad VPN review.
For more, check out how to choose the right VPN provider for working from home, red flags to watch out for when choosing a VPN service, and seven Android VPN apps to avoid on your mobile device because of their privacy sins.