Looking For The Best VPN Service For Streaming? Here Are The VPNs That Are Worth Your Time
There are many reasons to install a Virtual Private Network – or VPN – on your devices or router. VPNs can be used to stop your internet provider from keeping tabs on your web traffic, blocking attempts to intercept your data on public Wi-Fi networks in airports and cafés, and granting you anonymity. But the most fun feature built into a VPN is the ability to unlock boxsets and movies from across the globe on streaming services like Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, as well as sports fixtures and more not available in your current location. When abroad, a VPN will grant you the ability to use websites and services – like BBC iPlayer and Sky Go – as if you were sitting on the sofa at home too.
With so many VPNs on the market, it can be daunting to find the best option for your needs. Express.co.uk has been using a number of different providers in recent weeks to determine our favourite. If you're looking for the best VPN for streaming, we've got the definitive answer…
What Is A VPN?
A Virtual Private Network is an application that creates a secure, encrypted tunnel whenever you head online. If you're connected to a busy public Wi-Fi network, like those found in popular coffee shop chains and airports, the VPN will shield around your online activity – preventing bad actors from intercepting your data. Back at home, it will stop your Internet Service Provider (ISP) from keeping tabs on your online activity, similar to a supercharged version of the Incognito Mode built into the Google Chrome web browser.
You might also want to rely on a VPN to keep your internet history from your Government too, with these apps particularly crucial to whistleblowers and sources helping journalists uncover wrongdoing, for example. In some countries, like Turkey or China, a number of the globe's biggest internet services have been banned due to tough censorship laws. If you're visiting and need access to the likes of ___ or Google to continue working, you'll need access to a VPN.
But while encryption is an essential aspect of a Virtual Private Network (and the reason that your workplace likely requires you to turn on a VPN before working remotely), it is the ability to manually alter your IP addresses that makes these apps infinitely more exciting. For those who don't know, an IP address is assigned to your device whenever you connect to the internet and contains information about your current location. It's the reason you're able to see your address on Google Maps or the way that retailers enable features like Find Your Nearest Store on their sites.
What's the point of changing your current location, you might ask? Well, some of the biggest streaming services place geographic restrictions on their content, usually due to different licensing agreements in each country. For example, while Tina Fey's seminal sit-com 30 Rock is available to watch in its entirety on Netflix in the United States, the show is only available via Sky Comedy (either via Sky Q, Sky Glass, NOW TV, Virgin Media or BT TV) in the UK due to different agreements between the broadcasters.
Using a VPN to manually tweak your IP address, you can make it appear as if you're on holiday in the United States for the evening. Just like when you're visiting on holiday, your existing UK login credentials will work on all of the Netflix apps, but the catalogue of shows, documentaries, and movies will be completely different.
And it's not just for Netflix either. VPNs can be used to unlock a bevvy of shows and films across a wide range of streaming services, unlock sporting events that aren't broadcast in your current location, and subscribe to new services that haven't yet launched where you're based.
Likewise, if you're away on holiday and some of the online services that you subscribe to aren't yet available in the country you're staying in – a VPN can help. For example, following the UK's departure from the European Union, Sky Go no longer works for UK subscribers on the continent. If you're abroad for a few weeks, you won't be able to watch live broadcasts from terrestrial channels in the UK, or download on-demand boxsets ready for the journey back home.
What Is The Best VPN For Streaming In January 2022?
If you're hoping to unlock new boxsets, sports and movies with your new VPN, look no further than ExpressVPN. This blockbuster VPN service only has a minimum impact on download speeds, so you shouldn't have to suffer through endless loading times before getting stuck into a new binge-able series from Netflix US, for example. After all, if you're using a server that's halfway around the globe, it will take longer for your data to be beamed across the planet. That's something that ExpressVPN minimises as much as possible, something you won't find with some more affordable rivals.
But what really pushes this provider above its rivals is the fact that ExpressVPN works incredibly hard to ensure that it has a steady stream of new servers coming online to escape Netflix's recent crackdown on VPNs. While some providers struggle to unlock the full catalogue available in the United States, ExpressVPN never runs into an issue. It also cuts out the hassle that you might have with some VPN providers that don't specifically go out of their way to bring online new servers that work with Netflix – switching between a number of locations within the country to find one that works. ExpressVPN makes it an impossibly simple tap-and-go. If you're only planning to use your VPN to boost your streaming habits at home, this is why you need ExpressVPN in your arsenal.
If you've got a truckload of gadgets, the 5 device limit might put you off ExpressVPN. However, the company does offer dedicated apps to install on your router – encrypting every device that you own each time they connect to your home Wi-Fi network.
ExpressVPN pledges to never collect identifying information about its customers, including IP address, online activity, traffic destination, or even the length of each session. For those who want a VPN for privacy benefits, this is immensely reassuring. ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands, which has no data retention laws. So the company isn't legally obliged to keep tabs on the browsing habits of its customers.
NordVPN has a beautiful app that's the perfect entry point for those new to streaming with a VPN
If you're not too confident about using a VPN, then NordVPN is a great entry point. The company has one of the most beautifully and intuitively designed apps on the market. Available on both iOS and Android – as well as a host of other devices, including Amazon's popular Fire TV Stick range, Wi-Fi routers, laptops and tablets – the app makes it ludicrously easy for newcomers to get connected. Switching locations around the globe is incredibly simple too, and frequently-used countries will be listed at the top – making it easy to jump back into your favourite series on US Netflix, for example.
NordVPN doesn't offer connections in quite as many countries as ExpressVPN (60 versus 94), so those who want to appear in more exotic locations might want to look elsewhere, but for most of us, NordVPN more than makes up for this shortcoming with the dizzying number of possible servers it has on offer for subscribers to connect to (more than 5,000 available worldwide compared to just 160 for ExpressVPN). That means you're always able to find a solid connection to a server that isn't too congested.
Even if you stumble across a server that has been blocked in Netflix's crackdown on VPNs, you should easily be able to find a replacement with a quick tap or two.
Like ExpressVPN, NordVPN had minimal impact on our download speeds during our testing, making it a great option for those looking to leverage their VPN to stream, rather than buying primarily to encrypt their data online. NordVPN offers some incredible deals, especially if you sign up to its one-year or two-year plans – with prices plummeting as low as £2.74 a month.
ProtonVPN has a free subscription tier, as well as paid options that unlock faster streaming speeds
ProtonVPN offers a free subscription tier to its service, which makes it a great option for anyone who wants to dip their toe in the water. Better yet, the VPN doesn't impose any limits on the amount of data that you can use when connected (this is a pretty common ploy used by many free VPN providers to push you onto one of their paid plans after a short trial period). But that's not the case with ProtonVPN Free, which makes it a great option when streaming video online, which uses a lot more data than reading text, or even searching for images. Aside from online gaming and video calls, streaming high-resolution video is one of data-hungry activities you can do online.
As you'd expect from a free VPN service, there are some limits imposed on the service. First off, there are only three locations around the world available: the United States, Japan and Netherlands. So, if you're abroad and want to spoof your location back in the UK to access services not available outside of the country, you're out of luck with ProtonVPN Free.
There are apps on both iOS and Android, Windows and Mac, which is nice. But the biggest drawback with opting for ProtonVPN Free is that your online traffic is de-prioritised compared to the provider's paying customers. So, at peak times, you can expect to see your download speeds dwindle as ProtonVPN ensures its paying customers enjoy a buffer-free experience. That's understandable, after all, this won't be costing you anything, but if you're specifically looking to install a VPN to enable streaming from around the world… it's not ideal.
Like the two providers above, ProtonVPN has strict data protection policies and won't log any information about your online activity or visits. Nice!
Is It Legal To Use A VPN To Stream Content From Around The World?
Using a VPN to alter your IP address to unlock different content from around the world can be incredibly tempting.. but is it legal? The good news is – yes. There's nothing illegal about manually tweaking your IP address to appear in a different location on the planet and using the web as if you were really there. However, it's worth noting that while it isn't against the law, it might contravene individual streaming services' terms and conditions.
Netflix has cracked down on servers that enable users to connect to the US catalogue of shows and movies, for example. However, it has seemingly never targeted individuals.
In its terms of service for iPlayer, BBC states that “accessing content from outside the UK that you aren’t allowed to, or helping others do the same” is against its rules. If you break this rule (or any of the others listed on its help pages) the Beeb “can suspend or terminate your use of services and your account”.
Is Using A VPN Legal?
That depends where you live. In most countries around the world, using a Virtual Private Network is completely fine. In fact, most companies actively encourage employees to use a VPN to ensure that sensitive internal data is shielded from outside eyes, or to access internal software or systems. It's likely the reason you've been provided with a work laptop when working at home, or the IT department has warned you against signing-up to a Wi-Fi network in the nearest Starbucks or airport lounge without switching on the company VPN first!
But there are some countries where VPNs are outright illegal. China, Iran, Russia, Turkey, and the UAE all heavily restrict the use of VPNs. China is known for its tough restrictions on the internet in its country – banning the likes of Google and WhatsApp from operating within its borders. Since VPNs would allow citizens to access these services on their home Wi-Fi networks, it makes sense that China isn't too happy about this software becoming widely-used.
Some nations, including Belarus, Iraq, North Korea, Oman, and Turkmenistan, have passed specific laws that ban the use of VPNs entirely. So, if you live in any of the countries listed above, you might want to avoid signing-up for one of these services.
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