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Article updated on February 26, 2024 at 5:45 AM PST

PIA VPN Review 2024: A Cheap VPN That’s Great for Casual Users

Private Internet Access isn’t the fastest VPN, but its feature set rivals that of its competitors, at a fraction of the annual cost.

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Written by 
Moe Long
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Moe Long Senior Editor
Moe enjoys making technical content digestible and fun. As a writer and editor for over a decade, he has bylines at MakeUseOf, WhistleOut, TechBeacon, DZone, Tech Up Your Life, and Electromaker. When he's not hammering away at the keyboard, Moe enjoys spending time with his partner and dog, listening to vinyl, and watching film.
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Private Internet Access

Latest Tests No leaks detected, 49% speed loss in 2024 tests
Network 35,000 servers in 91 countries
Jurisdiction United States
Price $40 per year or $12 per month (3-year plans available at $79 every three years)

Pros

  • Extremely cheap prices
  • Open-source apps
  • Linux GUI app
  • Solid privacy and transparency
  • Unlimited simultaneous connections
  • Great for streaming service unblocking

Cons

  • US jurisdiction
  • Middling connection speeds
  • Lacks more advanced features found in rival VPNs

Private Internet Access, or PIA, is one of the cheapest virtual private networks on the planet. Despite its low cost compared to rival VPNs, PIA boasts strong privacy, solid features and excellent streaming support. While it’s not the fastest VPN, I appreciate PIA’s commitment to privacy and transparency. Its apps are fully open-source, meaning you can publicly inspect its source code -- only a few other VPNs, including Proton VPN, feature open-source apps. 

In my hands-on assessment of PIA, I ran 252 internet speed tests. I also checked for DNS leaks, tried its apps on a bevy of devices and watched videos on streaming services like Netflix. Furthermore, I pored over its privacy policy and terms of service. Although PIA’s US jurisdiction and more notable internet speed loss will deter some privacy-focused consumers or power users, its relative affordability and many benefits make it a wallet-friendly VPN option. Like a buffet, PIA piles the benefits high while remaining easy on the pocketbook, so its shortcomings are forgivable.

Read more: How We Test VPNs

Speed: Middling speeds, but a generous server network

  • Average speed loss: 49% in January 2024 tests
  • Number of servers: 35,000
  • Number of countries: 91

All VPNs throttle your internet download and upload speeds somewhat because you’re routing your traffic through extra servers rather than directly from your internet service provider (ISP) to apps and websites. The fastest VPNs average 20% internet speed loss or less. In our 2023 testing, PIA clocked a decent 23% average download speed loss. Unfortunately, in our January 2024 tests, PIA averaged a 49.35% speed loss, which was more than double the 23% average loss we saw in 2023 testing. Considering its uneven performance, PIA isn’t ideal for more demanding applications like uploading large videos to YouTube or hardcore gaming, but it works for casual use like streaming videos and web browsing -- assuming you’ve got a fast internet connection.

As expected, the fastest speeds I clocked were from the US (New York) servers with a modest 20.39% speed loss. Typically, you’ll experience faster speeds when connected to physical VPN servers geographically located near you (virtual servers may deliver faster speeds than their physical counterparts). 

Curiously, PIA’s WireGuard performance left something to be desired. Usually, WireGuard ushers in faster, more stable internet speeds in comparison to OpenVPN, which is slightly slower but more secure. I found PIA’s OpenVPN performance snappier. Our best speeds came from Windows using the OpenVPN protocol, with an average 28.05% internet download speed loss on Windows and a 31.05% average download speed loss using MacOS -- not exceptional, but better than its nearly 50% overall average download speed reduction. The most egregious offender was Windows on the WireGuard protocol, with a 61.75% average download speed loss. 

My MacOS speed tests yielded interesting results, with faster upload speeds using a VPN. Based on the improved upload speeds with PIA enabled on MacOS, I suspect some sort of ISP throttling, which is a nice reminder about the benefits of using a VPN, like circumventing throttling restrictions. 

Still, it’s important to remember that most people won’t sit around running over 250 internet speed tests like I did. During everyday use, even while performing bandwidth-heavy tasks like streaming 4K videos, I didn’t notice any buffering or stutters. If you have a fast internet connection -- like my Google Fiber connection -- then even occasional internet speed dips shouldn’t interrupt your online activity, but slower starting speeds will be much more noticeable. Losing 50% of your internet speed on a 1Gbps connection is still a generous 500Mbps -- for reference, Netflix recommends a minimum 15Mbps internet connection for a single 4K video stream. For folks using satellite internet, which is anywhere from 12-250Mbps, a 50% reduction might be unusable. 

Key takeaway: PIA provides middling speeds with an average 49% internet download speed loss -- more than twice what we expect from the fastest VPNs. Its low subscription costs make it a great deal nonetheless.

Value: One of the cheapest VPNs on the market

  • $12 per month, $40 annually, or $79 for three years
  • Money-back guarantee: 30 days
  • Payment options: Credit card, PayPal, Amazon Pay, cryptocurrencies (BitPay, Bitcoin, Etherum, Litecoin)
  • Apps available for Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android/Android TV, iOS/iPadOS, Fire TV and browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Opera)

PIA remains one of the most wallet-friendly VPNs. You’ll pay just $12 monthly, $40 annually or $79 for three years (the three-year tier gives you an extra three months of service for a total of 15 months). Most VPN providers, including ExpressVPN, charge around $100 for a year-long subscription, more than twice the price of PIA’s annual tier and $20 more than the annual rate of PIA’s three-year plan. The value-packed Surfshark charges $48 annually, then $60 for each subsequent year, so PIA saves you anywhere from $12 to $8 on a one-year plan. PIA significantly undercuts even its budget-oriented rivals without skimping on privacy, making it one of the best cheap VPNs available.

I appreciate that, unlike most other VPNs, PIA’s pricing structure is pretty clear-cut. Your annual or three-year subscription renews at the same rate rather than the all-too-common price hikes you’ll see after sweet introductory prices with other VPNs. For instance, NordVPN initially charges $68 per year before jumping to $100 annually after your first 12 months. Although the three-year plan is by far the most cost-effective -- you can get 36 months of service for just twice what you would for the 12-month package -- we suggest sticking to the annual subscription. 

Generally, we don’t recommend shelling out for more than a year upfront with a VPN provider because of how quickly the landscape shifts. Your initially fast, private and great for streaming VPN might suffer greater speed loss, have a data breach or be acquired by a shady company after a year. Nevertheless, PIA’s three-year plan is remarkably lower than the annual pricing of most VPN competitors and may be the exception to our rule. For instance, NordVPN’s $96 two-year bundle is more expensive than PIA’s $79 three-year package. Because of its cost-effectiveness, PIA’s three-year bundle may be worth the risk.

Thankfully, PIA doesn’t cut corners on server offerings. PIA touts a generous server network of 35,000 servers blanketing 91 countries. PIA’s global reach of 91 countries beats out NordVPN (60), IPVanish (52) and ProtonVPN (69), while falling slightly short of Surfshark (100) and ExpressVPN (105). Considering its extensive web of available servers, PIA is one of the best VPNs for travel

Additionally, PIA offers unlimited simultaneous connections. While most VPN providers let you install VPN apps on as many devices as you like, you’re often limited in how many concurrent instances of a VPN you can run. ExpressVPN gives you eight and NordVPN provides six, but with PIA, you’ve got no threshold. 

While PIA is cheaper than Surfshark, it doesn't offer the same breadth of features, and its speeds are significantly slower. Surfshark’s 17% average download speed loss is meaningfully quicker than PIA’s 49%. Additionally, Surfshark maintains unlimited simultaneous connections, a large global server network, excellent privacy and great streaming support. Eventually, you’ll pay $20 per year more than PIA on an annual plan.

PIA app performance

With apps for various operating systems, PIA supports nearly every device you can think of, including Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android/Android TV, iOS/iPadOS, Fire TV, routers and browsers. I tested PIA on Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android, Android TV, iOS and Fire TV. You’ll find a host of features like split tunneling, obfuscation and multi-hop connections. PIA lacks some niche privacy amenities such as Tor Over VPN like Nord Sports, but the average person won’t mind. 

With split tunneling, you can route some traffic through your VPN while excluding other apps, which is helpful because it allows you to determine which apps really need the protection (and suffer the speed loss) of the VPN. For example, I used split tunneling to stream an episode of Murdoch Mysteries from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation website on a Canadian VPN server while installing Spider-Man Remastered from Steam without a VPN for faster download speeds. PIA even offers split tunneling on MacOS after a February 2024 update, a feature rendered effectively unusable for all VPN providers when Apple rolled out Big Sur in 2020. 

As a big Linux enthusiast, I appreciated PIA’s Linux graphical user interface app. On the whole, GUI Linux apps are easier for beginners and more feature-rich than command line interface applications. Unsurprisingly, PIA’s Linux app ran like a champ on my Kubuntu Focus M2 gaming laptop. 

There’s an Apple TV app, which is in beta at the time of writing. Especially because of its Linux GUI app and an Apple TV app coupled with unlimited simultaneous device support, PIA is one of the best multidevice VPNs available.

PIA is excellent for streaming

Aside from improving privacy, many folks use VPNs for entertainment purposes such as unblocking geographically protected content. A VPN lets you access foreign libraries on certain streaming services, like Netflix and Disney Plus. Alternatively, you can use a VPN to watch your home country’s Netflix while traveling internationally. Whereas many VPN providers including ExpressVPN let you stream on any server, PIA instead relies on “streaming optimized” servers, but thankfully there are plenty of choices. 

I had no issues streaming Disney Plus on US and UK servers, therefore letting me watch content like Class of ‘09 (normally only available in the US on Hulu). Netflix streaming worked well on a PC, Android TV and Fire TV using multiple servers. Amazon Prime Video streaming unfortunately didn’t work on Windows -- the app recognized that I was using a VPN. PIA’s Android TV and Fire TV apps worked flawlessly with Prime Video. Folks planning to stream Amazon Prime Video with a VPN using a computer may be disappointed, but other platforms work nicely. Although streaming services like Paramount Plus, Peacock and Max (formerly HBO Max) don’t allow you to watch outside of your home country, each platform worked wonderfully with PIA using US servers. If you’re traveling abroad in the UK and want to watch Barbie on Max, you can stream it using a US server.

Good customer support

The customer support representative I chatted with was friendly and knowledgeable, even about my in-depth technical questions. There’s no phone support, but I had no problem connecting to a customer service representative quickly (it was under a minute). Aside from its 24/7 chat, PIA maintains an extensive knowledge base with helpful information on billing, troubleshooting and platform-specific features. 

Key takeaway: With its user-friendly yet feature-filled apps, solid streaming support and excellent customer service, PIA is a good all-around VPN at an even better price.

Privacy and transparency

  • Jurisdiction: US
  • Encryption: 256-bit
  • Open-source apps
  • RAM-only server infrastructure
  • No DNS leaks detected
  • Independently audited
  • Protocols available: OpenVPN and WireGuard

PIA sports the usual slate of privacy features. It offers AES 256-bit encryption, a kill switch (which cuts off your internet connection if your VPN gets disconnected unexpectedly), obfuscation (making it harder for apps and services to realize you’re using a VPN) and multi-hop to route your traffic through another server for stronger encryption. During my tests, I didn’t discover any DNS leaks. Likewise, PIA’s kill switch worked as expected, keeping my actual IP address hidden even with an internet disruption.

I like that PIA’s apps are open-source, so anyone can scrutinize the source code. By open-sourcing its apps, PIA provides additional transparency. The company's Head of Product Himmat Bains, alongside Senior Engineers John Mair and Juan Docal, hosted a Reddit Ask Me Anything on Jan. 24, showing additional commitment to transparency with its users. Another nice touch is that PIA covers the cost of sales tax for cryptocurrency purchases, meaning it doesn’t even ask for location data. Accordingly, that’s one fewer piece of potentially identifying information collected by the company, something privacy-concerned buyers will appreciate. 

Privacy policy and third-party audits

PIA was independently audited by Deloitte to back up its no-logging claims. While you can -- and should --remain skeptical about the results of zero-log audits, it adds some peace of mind. That said, US jurisdiction might worry some seriously privacy-concerned folks. The US is in the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes and Fourteen Eyes intelligence-sharing communities. Countries within these alliances gather sensitive data on their citizens and may share that with other nations in that pact. Accordingly, if your VPN provider is headquartered in a Five, Nine or Fourteen Eyes nation like PIA is, you’re trusting that company to keep your data private. 

With that in mind, PIA’s privacy policy doesn’t trigger any red flags. While some legalese previously caused us to raise our eyebrows, PIA’s privacy policy offers helpful summary sections that translate otherwise confusing language. For instance, at PIA breaks down the Personal Information We Collect part: “We collect as little personal information as possible -- only what’s needed to activate your account and allow you to experience our world-class service. We need two things to sign you up for a subscription: 1) an email address, and 2) payment. That’s it. Once we get that, your account will be active and ready to use. We also collect as little anonymized data as possible – only what’s needed to gather overall usage metrics (not user metrics) so we can continue providing and improving our service. We DO NOT collect or store browsing history, connected content, user IPs, connection time stamps, bandwidth logs, DNS queries, or anything like that. We collect and retain zero user logs.”

I appreciated this clear explanation of what personal information is aggregated and why, a trend throughout the entire document. PIA’s privacy policy satisfied any otherwise unease I would have felt because it synthesizes complex language into user-friendly summary sections. Even with its US jurisdiction, I’d feel safe using PIA without fear of prying federal government eyes thanks to its transparent privacy policy and independently audited zero-log infrastructure. 

Key takeaway: Because of its easily digestible privacy policy, a strict no-log policy that’s been independently audited, open-source apps and transparency reports, PIA offers exceptional peace of mind. Its US jurisdiction may worry some super privacy-concerned users, but its verified zero-log infrastructure and user protections mitigate any would-be data-sharing risks.

PIA is a good cheap VPN

PIA delivers the benefits of far pricier VPNs at a fraction of the cost. You get unlimited simultaneous connections, a large international server network and strong privacy features. Additionally, PIA sports a Linux GUI app and in February launched a beta Apple TV app, supporting nearly every platform imaginable.  

Its high 49% average speed loss leaves a bit to be desired, that's significantly worse than the fastest VPNs like NordVPN and Surfshark, which deliver under 20% average speed loss. Although at $40 annually or a very cost-effective $79 for three years with no price hikes, it’s tough to beat PIA as a “set it and forget it” VPN subscription. Other VPNs might charge around the same price for your first year, like Surfshark’s $48 introductory annual cost, but price hikes will drive your bill up after a year. Because PIA lacks price hikes, you’ll renew at the same price year after year with the same low $40 (or $79 every three years if you opt for a multiyear subscription, which we generally don't recommend). 

PIA isn’t ideal for folks seeking the fastest-possible internet speeds such as hardcore gamers or users with slower internet connections (anything above 100Mbps should be fine even with greater internet speed reductions). Privacy-critical users may be wary of PIA’s US jurisdiction. While PIA offers decent features, advanced users looking for cutting-edge amenities like Tor Over VPN or personal VPN servers will be disappointed.  

Despite its inconsistent speed loss, PIA’s pros outweigh the cons. It’s more affordable than the competition, easy to use (there’s even a rare Linux GUI app) and provides an enormous server network. You’ll even enjoy unlimited simultaneous connections for multidevice use. If you don’t need blazing-fast speeds, PIA is a worthwhile VPN choice that won’t leave you searching for a cheaper VPN subscription when your renewal comes along.