August 12, 2020

What to Look for When Picking a VPN

Ready to get a VPN?

Good for you. Your privacy and taste in entertainment will definitely thank you for it.

But do you know how to pick a good VPN service? With so many of them on the market (easily over 100, even the top provider’s number around 30-40), that task can feel really daunting.

“Research” is the obvious answer, but that’s easier said than done – especially if you’re new to VPNs. So we’ll make things easier for you by giving you a list of things to check out when picking a VPN provider:

If They Offer a Free Trial

A free trial is the best way to get a feel for the VPN without having to use your credit card or PayPal. You’ll usually have plenty of time to see if the service is right for you or not. Most VPNs offer free trials that last for 24 hours, three days, or seven days. Some of them (like ProtonVPN) even offer unlimited trials.

Granted, some trials come with limitations – like only getting access to a few servers, or having to deal with bandwidth caps and slower speeds. But they’re still a great way to see:

  • How user-friendly and responsive the software is.
  • How stable the connections are.
  • Whether you can unblock the content you want (like Netflix).
  • If there are any leaks.

Finding a VPN with a free trial can be a bit tough since not many providers offer them. Luckily, ProPrivacy has an excellent guide (https://proprivacy.com/vpn/comparison/best-vpn-free-trial) where they list the best free trial VPNs on the market. So they already did all the difficult and annoying research for you!

If They Have a Refund Policy

A free trial is a nice start, but it’s not really enough. You also need a refund policy just in case something happens to go wrong during the first month.

For instance, maybe the VPN suddenly gets blocked by BBC iPlayer or Netflix even though it was able to unblock them during the trial period. And maybe the provider has a harder time bypassing those blocks this time.

In that scenario, you might want to get a quick refund, and quickly switch to a different provider that can unblock those sites.

That’s just one example out of many, but you get the idea. You’ll really feel like you buy with no risk if you know the provider has a generous money-back guarantee (usually, the refund period is 30 days).

Just make sure you check their ToS page. You might need to meet certain requirements (like not going over a certain data limit) to qualify for a refund, so it’s good to know that beforehand.

What Protocols They Offer

Protocols are how VPNs negotiate and establish their secure connections. There’s more to them than that, but we don’t need to go too in-depth into that right now.

Here’s what’s really important – a VPN needs to offer reliable protocols. Ideally, it should have a variety of protocols, but one or two is enough if they’re secure.

Here’s a quick list of currently available VPN protocols:

  • OpenVPN
  • SoftEther
  • WireGuard
  • SSTP
  • IKEv2/IPsec
  • L2TP/IPsec
  • IPsec
  • PPTP

If a provider only restricts you to using PPTP, that’s a huge red flag. The protocol is pretty much obsolete since it can be cracked. Also, if the VPN only offers L2TP (so without IPSec), that’s a problem too because, on its own, L2TP offers zero encryption.

In our opinion, if a provider offers OpenVPN alongside IKEv2, WireGuard, or L2TP/IPsec, that’s good enough. You have powerful security (OpenVPN) and speedy alternatives (IKEv2, WireGuard, and L2TP/IPsec).

Their Fleet of Servers

What matters the most here is that the provider has servers in all the countries you want to get IP addresses from. That can mean only 10 or 20 servers, or a huge fleet of 200-300+ servers.

The number of servers doesn’t always matter that much. Still, here’s why you might prefer a larger network – you have better odds of finding servers in nearby countries or even your own country.

That means you get better speeds because it takes less time for data packets to travel between your device and the VPN server. Connections are also less likely to drop because packets won’t be lost in transit as often.

Plus, more servers mean more ways to get IP addresses from the same country. If a server’s IP gets blocked by a site or gaming server, you don’t need to wait until the provider refreshes it. You just hop on the next server on the list.

technology, servers, server
heladodementa (CC0), Pixabay

Their Logging Policy

VPNs can store usage logs and connection logs. Here’s what you need to know about them:

  • Usage logs – They store everything you do with the VPN (what sites you visit, what you download, etc.) + your IP address.
  • Connection logs – They only store data needed to troubleshoot the service (connection timestamps, how much data is exchanged, etc.). Sometimes, they might store your IP address.

So you need a VPN with connection logs, right?

Not really. The best you can get is a VPN with no logs. That way, you really know your privacy is 100% secure. Make sure to also check if they have audits or other legal documents that prove they don’t keep logs.

How They Handle Leaks

A VPN leak is when data (IP address, DNS queries, etc.) is left out of the encrypted VPN tunnel. There are three types of VPN leaks:

  1. IPv6 leaks
  2. DNS leaks
  3. WebRTC leaks

Check how the provider handles them. Do they offer DNS leak protection? Do they disable IPv6 or support it?

Also, we recommend using this tool (ipleak.net) to test the connection for leaks. Just do this:

  • Use the tool when the VPN is offline.
  • Take a screenshot.
  • Next, connect to the VPN, and use the tool again.
  • Compare the results with the screenshot.

If you see your real IP address and DNS addresses, it means the VPN is leaking. So you need to look for a different provider.

What Else Do You Check When Buying a VPN?

If we missed any important things, please let us know in the comments. If your suggestions are really good, we’ll do our best to include them in the article.


{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}