Surfshark VPN Review 2023: One of the Best VPNs Available, at a Budget-Friendly Price

Surfshark's privacy features continue to impress, and its speeds once again rank among the fastest.

Updated Nov. 30, 2023 12:00 p.m. PT

attila-tomaschek.png
Written by  Attila Tomaschek
Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
attila-tomaschek.png
Attila Tomaschek
Attila is a Staff Writer for CNET, covering software, apps and services with a focus on virtual private networks. He is an advocate for digital privacy and has been quoted in online publications like Computer Weekly, The Guardian, BBC News, HuffPost, Wired and TechRepublic. When not tapping away on his laptop, Attila enjoys spending time with his family, reading and collecting guitars.
Expertise Attila has nearly a decade's worth of experience with VPNs and has been covering them for CNET since 2021. As CNET's VPN expert, Attila rigorously tests VPNs and offers readers advice on how they can use the technology to protect their privacy online and
CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET
1600170018001900200021002200230024002500
Speed Tests
11121314151617181920
Eval. Points
01020304050607080910
VPNs Tested

We intensively test each VPN, making sure it meets our standards for privacy, speed and usability. How we test VPNs

Surfshark
8.7/10 CNET Score
$2.49/mo + 2 months free at Surfshark
surfshark-banner.png
8.7/ 10
SCORE

Surfshark

$2.49/mo + 2 months free at Surfshark
Price $11 per month, $48 for the first year (or $59.54 for 2yrs)
Latest Tests No leaks detected, 17% speed loss in 2023 tests
Network 3,200-plus servers in 100 countries
Jurisdiction Netherlands

Pros

  • Budget-friendly (for longer-term subscribers)
  • Unlimited simultaneous connections
  • RAM-only server infrastructure
  • Lots of unique features

Cons

  • 14-Eyes jurisdiction (Netherlands)
  • No transparency reports
  • Expensive monthly plan

If you want a well-rounded VPN solution that ranks as one of the best VPNs on the market but you don't want to pay a premium, consider Surfshark. Surfshark offers tremendous value if you're willing to lock in for a year at a time, with its longer-term plans being considerably cheaper than other top players like ExpressVPN and NordVPN. Surfshark is easy to use, boasts tons of features and is excellent for streaming. It also made impressive strides in terms of privacy and speed since my last review.

I evaluated Surfshark's VPN offering through extensive hands-on testing, research and conversations with Surfshark's team via email and video conference. With the help of CNET's lab testing team in Kentucky, we ran hundreds of speed tests on Surfshark's worldwide servers to benchmark its performance. I tried Surfshark on various platforms, including MacOS, Windows, iOS, Android and Amazon Fire TV Stick. I tested for leaks and assessed Surfshark's streaming capabilities across platforms and various streaming services. I combed through Surfshark's Privacy Policy and analyzed its recent no-logs audit report

I found that Surfshark isn't just one of the best providers available, but it's continuously improving. Sure, there are still opportunities to grow and get better -- for example, I'd like to see a more concerted and deliberate push toward increased transparency from Surfshark. Because of Surfshark's overall progress, I recommend it as a solid, budget-friendly alternative to NordVPN and ExpressVPN.   

Surfshark logo on a phone

Surfshark is an excellent budget-friendly VPN

Sarah Tew/CNET

Speed: A massive improvement over earlier speeds

  • 17% speed loss in autumn 2023 tests
  • Number of servers: 3,200-plus
  • Number of countries: 100

I'm thoroughly impressed with Surfshark's speed improvements over the past year. Surfshark rebounded tremendously from our previous speed tests, where it underwhelmed as an inconsistent slowpoke, sputtering along like a boxy 1989 minivan attempting to merge onto the highway. In our latest speed tests, Surfshark was reminiscent of a Formula One racer, keeping pace with other speedsters like NordVPN and ExpressVPN. 

In November 2023, we tested Surfshark's speeds from Ohio and Kentucky to servers in New York, the UK, Australia, Germany, France and Singapore, connecting through OpenVPN and WireGuard on Mac and Windows devices. We ran 600 individual speed tests on Surfshark's global VPN servers to calculate a 17% average speed loss across servers, devices and protocols.

The 17% average speed loss we calculated in our latest tests of Surfshark's speeds is a monumental improvement over the 40% speed loss we calculated in February 2023. Browsing and streaming were noticeably smoother on my Windows laptop than they were previously. The overall quality of the streams from certain regions like Australia was sporadic, with titles taking forever to load and constantly buffering. During my recent tests, I ran into no such issues.   

In our previous tests, Surfshark's speeds were frustratingly inconsistent and slow, especially when using the OpenVPN protocol on Windows, where I lost 77% of my regular internet speeds. I brought the issue up to Surfshark then, and a company representative promised that engineers would investigate and address it. I'm happy to report that our latest tests registered a much more acceptable 28% speed loss on Windows through OpenVPN. On MacOS through OpenVPN, we calculated a 19% speed loss. As expected, speeds through the lighter-weight WireGuard protocol were faster than OpenVPN on Windows and MacOS, at 13% and 9%, respectively.

I was also impressed with the overall consistency of Surfshark's speed performance. Speeds didn't spike or dip from one test to the next like they were prone to do previously. Overall, the speed readings from our testing locations were as expected and consistent across the board. Speeds to New York and the UK were generally the fastest, independent of what protocol or device we were using. Speeds to France and Germany were also fast, but not quite as quick as New York or the UK. As expected, speeds to Australia and Singapore -- the farthest distance from our testing locations -- were generally the slowest. 

Although speeds to Australia and Singapore were generally fast, the lone outlier was with MacOS through OpenVPN to Australia, where download speeds hovered between 50 and 60 Mbps on a 140 Mbps internet connection in Kentucky. Otherwise, speeds to Australia were on other platforms, and protocols were fine -- usually around 120 to 130 Mbps.

Nevertheless, Surfshark's 17% average speed loss solidifies it as one of the fastest VPNs on the planet, alongside NordVPN (an average 10% speed loss) and ExpressVPN (18% speed loss).             

Cost: Expensive monthly rate, but significant savings with longer-term subscriptions

  • $14 per month, $48 for the first year (then $60 annually) or $54 for the first two years combined (then $60 annually)
  • Money-back guarantee: 30 days
  • Payment options: Credit card, PayPal, Google Pay, Amazon Pay, cryptocurrency
  • Apps available for MacOS, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android, Fire TV

Surfshark's monthly subscription plan is the most expensive monthly rate among CNET's list of the best VPNs, at $14 per month. How can Surfshark maintain its standing as one of the best cheap VPNs? Because it's more affordable than rivals when you purchase a lengthier subscription plan. 

The yearly plan costs $48 for the first year but jumps to $60 annually for any additional years. If you opt for the two-year plan, you'll pay $54 for the first two years combined, then $60 annually after the initial two-year term. CNET doesn't recommend signing on with any VPN for more than a year at a time because of how quickly things can shift in the VPN industry. While your VPN provider may initially be affordable, fast and secure, it could get entangled in a security incident, get acquired by a shady company or experience speed loss after a year. Even after the introductory pricing lapse on either the one- or two-year plan, Surfshark's standard $60 annual rate is significantly cheaper than the yearly prices from  ExpressVPN ($100), NordVPN ($100), IPVanish ($90) or Proton VPN ($72). 

Like its competitors, including Proton and Nord, Surfshark is continually expanding its offering into a comprehensive online privacy/security suite. Surfshark's Starter tier includes the VPN, ad-blocker and cookie pop-up blocker. The prices listed above correspond to the Starter tier, but bundles are available at an additional cost that includes tools like antivirus, private search, data removal, breach alerts and alternate ID generator.

You can try the service commitment-free because a 30-day money-back guarantee backs all of Surfshark's subscription plans. There's even a 7-day free trial if you sign up through Apple's App Store or the Google Play Store. You can pay for your Surfshark subscription via credit card, PayPal, Google Pay, Amazon Pay or various cryptocurrencies. 

You can also purchase a dedicated IP address for an additional $3.75 per month. If you buy a dedicated IP from Surfshark, you'll get a personal IP address, rather than sharing the same IP address with other users. This is helpful if you want to access your bank account online from abroad. It can also help you avoid running into IP blacklists and reduce the number of CAPTCHAs you have to navigate. Surfshark's dedicated IPs are currently available in 10 countries, including the US, UK, Germany, France and Australia. 

Be aware that using a shared IP address is usually the better move from a privacy standpoint; with so many people using the same IP address, it becomes much more difficult to pinpoint any activity to a single individual. With a dedicated IP address, that IP address is used only by you, so you run the risk of someone tracing the activity associated with that IP address back to you. To combat this risk, Surfshark offers an anonymous dedicated IP option, where the IP address is completely separated from the user's email address and cannot be traced back to any specific individual. I asked Surfshark in an interview why anyone would choose the non-anonymous dedicated IP option. Justas Pukys, Surfshark's VPN Product Lead, told me that besides being a much easier setup, the non-anonymous dedicated IP option is refundable, whereas the anonymous option is much harder to refund because the IP address is not tied to a user in Surfshark's database. My advice for anyone considering Surfshark's dedicated IP is to choose the anonymous option, in spite of the more difficult setup process. Just know that you're essentially waiving your opportunity for a refund -- so be sure you need it before purchasing the add-on.    

Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android, iOS and Amazon Fire TV. In my experience, Surfshark's apps worked well and delivered a consistent experience across the board. 

The company recently released a graphical user interface (GUI) for Linux -- which is similarly easy to use as Surfshark's apps on other platforms but is not yet quite as feature-rich. Surfshark's Linux app includes some basic privacy features, along with Dynamic Multihop, but doesn't include features like its CleanWeb ad and malware blocker, NoBorders mode, split-tunneling or a kill switch like its other apps do. Pukys told CNET in an interview that there are plans to potentially make the dedicated IP feature available to Linux users, but additional features are not in the works at this time. Although Surfshark's Linux app is still rather barebones, it's a step above many other VPN providers who only offer Linux users the option to connect via a command line interface (CLI) which isn't as user-friendly for beginners.

If you want to use a VPN to stream content online, Surfshark is a solid choice -- especially if you want to get the most out of your Netflix subscription. During my tests, I was able to access content from various Netflix libraries from around the world, including the US, UK, Germany, Belgium, Japan, Denmark and Hungary. I effortlessly streamed Disney-plus content through Surfshark as well, an improvement considering I ran into issues with it previously. I was delighted to be able to stream episode after episode of The Simpsons on Disney Plus in 4K without any issues. Streaming on Amazon Prime Video was also seamless on all platforms I tested. I encountered a few issues using Surfshark to stream content on Hulu. It worked well through Surfshark's Fire TV Stick app but not via iOS. When I tried streaming Hulu on my Mac, I was able to access the site, but the titles refused to load until I disconnected from the VPN.

Customer support is available around the clock via live chat if you have questions or run into issues. Surfshark's Help Center is filled with helpful articles, troubleshooting guides and tutorials for folks who prefer to investigate problems on their own. 

All things considered, Surfshark offers tons of value wrapped up in a package that's cheaper than many other top-tier VPN options -- as long as you sign up for the annual subscription plan.            

Privacy and security: Consistent privacy improvements, but transparency could use a boost

  • Jurisdiction: Netherlands
  • Encryption: AES-256-GCM, ChaCha20
  • RAM-only server infrastructure
  • Protocols available: OpenVPN, WireGuard, IKEv2

I'm encouraged by Surfshark's burgeoning commitment to user privacy. It's still not quite on the level of ExpressVPN, Private Internet Access or Proton VPN in terms of transparency -- ExpressVPN has an extensive trust center and is unmatched in terms of its third-party audit count, and PIA and Proton are both fully open-source and regularly publish transparency reports. I've seen consistent progress from Surfshark recently in its efforts to enhance user privacy. 

Perhaps the most noteworthy privacy initiative Surfshark continued developing over the past year is its proprietary Nexus network. With its Nexus technology, Surfshark can connect its entire network of servers together and deploy a few innovative VPN privacy features in the process. Essentially, Surfshark's Nexus technology helps route users' VPN connection through multiple servers throughout the network instead of just one. Surfshark was able to leverage Nexus to roll out features like its IP Rotator and Dynamic Multihop features, adding additional layers of privacy. Pukys also said that the technology boosted the stability of the network, resulting in fewer dropped connections. 

Surfshark's IP Rotator and Dynamic Multihop features soup up your privacy 

The IP Rotator feature changes your IP address every few minutes while staying connected to the same location and without breaking the connection. This can provide additional privacy by making it harder for anyone to track you or pinpoint you to a single IP address. Rotator worked well during my testing, and I maintained a stable connection throughout several IP changes. I experienced no noticeable disruption in my connection or internet activity as one IP address was swapped out for another.  

Surfshark's Dynamic Multihop is another easy way to boost your privacy while using the VPN. While multi-hop VPN connections aren't new or exclusive to Surfshark, Dynamic Multihop takes the idea of double-VPN and enhances it. Traditionally, VPN providers -- like NordVPN, for example -- who offer multihop connections limit users' choices to a handful of preset double-VPN connections. This is great and provides an extra layer of privacy, but the available preset selections may not be ideal for all users. Surfshark's Dynamic Multihop lets you choose any two servers you want to route your connection through. Therefore, you shouldn't have any issues choosing two servers close by to optimize your speeds while doubling the protection you get from the VPN. That's advantageous because a multi-hop connection generally slows your speeds even more than a standard VPN connection. If you have critical privacy needs, Dynamic Multihop is an easy way to boost your privacy with Surfshark. 

Surfshark has been teasing a newer Nexus feature it calls IP Randomizer. As the name suggests, IP Randomizer randomizes your IP address -- not every few minutes like the IP Rotator, but every time you connect to a different website -- without disconnecting you from the VPN server. Surfshark's website lists the feature as "coming soon," but Pukys told us in an interview that the company is putting it on hold for the time being to focus more on "speeds and content accessibility." Currently, there isn't a timetable for IP Randomizer's release. 

Like other top VPNs, Surfshark offers the full lineup of industry-standard privacy protections like a kill switch, DNS leak protection and a no-logs policy. Its kill switch worked as expected during my testing and I detected no leaks. 

Surfshark passes first external no-logs audit, but transparency can still use some work

In its Privacy Policy, Surfshark claims that it doesn't collect "any information about what you do online (your visited IP addresses, browsing history, session information, used bandwidth, connection time stamps, network traffic or any other similar information)." A no-logs policy is vital for any trustworthy VPN provider to declare, but these assertions are impossible to verify with 100% certainty. Surfshark passed its first-ever independent no-logs audit in late 2022. Although the independent auditing party can only verify its findings throughout its audit, this serves as a major trust signal to the public that the VPN provider is true to its word when it says it doesn't log user activity. Surfshark's no-logs audit is a promising step in the right direction for transparency, but it's still not in the same ballpark as ExpressVPN, which completed an impressive 12 audits in 2022. When asked about audit cadence going forward, Pukys wasn't able to commit to a timeline but mentioned that future audits would be forthcoming, not greater than every two years.      

Another important trust signal for a VPN is an annual or bi-annual transparency report that discloses how many court orders, subpoenas and government requests the provider has been served with and what, if any, information the VPN provided. Surfshark currently does not publish a transparency report. Surfshark representatives told us that the company is "exploring the possibilities" of publishing transparency reports in the future and is moving in that direction but cannot commit to an ETA now. They did note that the company has "not received any subpoenas that would have required [it] to disclose any data." That said, the company has a Trust Center on its website and has published an Annual Wrap-Up for 2022 that offers additional insight into Surfshark's stance on privacy and security. Still, I would have liked to have seen more of an explicit commitment from Surfshark to publishing a transparency report, especially when other VPN providers like Private Internet Access post them regularly.   

Surfshark's Netherlands jurisdiction may also be a concern for some users. If you have heightened online privacy needs, you may be leery of signing on with a VPN provider headquartered in a country that is part of the so-called 14 Eyes data-sharing alliance

Additional privacy features include obfuscated servers, a RAM-only server infrastructure and an ad and malware blocker. Also, Surfshark recently released its CleanWeb 2.0 adblocker functionality for its browser extensions.

"CleanWeb 2.0 was specifically introduced for the app for our browser extension. Now, our browser extension not only acts as a VPN, but it also works as a full-fledged ad-blocking tool," Pukys told us in an interview. "We also implemented such features as malware detection where we give alerts for the users if some specific website that the user is visiting has some potential malware on it, or it had some specific data breaches."

Surfshark uses industry-standard AES 256-bit encryption for OpenVPN and IKEv2 connections, with ChaCha20 encryption for the WireGuard protocol.

A design flaw could temporarily expose your true IP address -- but Surfshark is working on it

One point of concern that I feel is important to note with Surfshark's app has to do with the disconnection that occurs if the user jumps from one server directly to another. While running DNS leak tests, I jumped from one server to another. During the hop, the DNS leak testing tool I used displayed my home IP address before showing the IP address of the VPN server I switched to. 

Though displaying my unmasked IP address does not technically constitute a DNS leak, it can be just as dangerous if you're unaware of the risks of exposing your true IP address and unencrypted traffic for even a split second. Neither is it a bug, per se. In fact, it's typical behavior for many VPNs, but it does uncover a potentially dangerous design flaw in Surfshark's VPN app. When you jump from one server to another, a dialogue pop-up indicates that the VPN is disconnecting before the client establishes the next connection. The problem is that the warning appears after you've already initiated the change, and you can't stop the disconnection. It's already too late, and you may have already leaked your true IP address, internet activity, location and identity. 

While a seasoned VPN user may anticipate this behavior and close out of anything sensitive before making the jump, some users may not -- and may inadvertently put their online privacy at serious risk. To combat this issue, some VPNs briefly kill the internet connection while establishing a new VPN connection. NordVPN can reconfigure the existing tunnel instead of opening a new one, eliminating the disconnect altogether. ExpressVPN does neither, but it issues a pop-up warning prior to initiating the jump, altering the user that their traffic may not be secure during the server switch.

After I brought the matter up to the Surfshark team during our interview, they acknowledged the issue and pledged to deploy a solution as a priority. A representative from Surfshark later confirmed via email that the company is launching a notification in the next release of its MacOS and iOS apps alerting users that the VPN will disconnect during the location change. The latest MacOS version is now available and includes the new alert, but the iOS update is not yet available. The notification pop-up on Surfshark's MacOS app confirms with the user if they want to proceed, at which point they can continue or cancel the server switch. The representative said that Surfshark is now working on a long-term solution to the issue, which will require additional time for development and testing. 

While there is currently no timetable for the release of the long-term solution, the representative assured me that the team is working on it as a top priority. In the meantime, MacOS users should update to the latest version right away, iOS users once the latest update is available and users on other platforms should be careful to close out of anything potentially sensitive prior to initiating a jump from one server location to another.              

Surfshark is a wallet-friendly, reasonably fast and well-rounded VPN

I'm happy with Surfshark's improvements regarding transparency and user privacy overall. I'm also impressed with how responsive the team was to my concerns and how quickly they acted to begin addressing them to make their VPN product safer. There's still some work to be done on that front, but I think Surfshark is headed in the right direction. In any case, Surfshark is an excellent option for budget-conscious VPN users who enjoy streaming content and want an affordable VPN that's innovative when it comes to privacy.