A VPN (a virtual private network) is touted as a privacy and security must-have nowadays. Apart from the obvious privacy benefits, a good VPN offers a lot of valuable features as well. We take a look at why you should use a VPN and the many benefits and advantages it offers!
What is a VPN and what does it do?
Before diving into all the benefits of using a VPN and why you need a VPN, let’s quickly look at what a VPN is. In basic terms, a VPN allows your data to go over an encrypted connection from your devices to another point on the Internet, likely in another country, and then make its way onto the public Internet. A good VPN service will encrypt and protect the data and ensure the origin and device information stays hidden as well.
For a more detailed breakdown, don’t forget to check out our excellent explainer on what a VPN is, what it does, and why you need one.
Why get a VPN: Privacy and security are the biggest positives
One of the biggest benefits of using a VPN is to keep your data secure and online activity private. An ISP (Internet service provider) and some organizations have ways to keep track of everything you do online. If you think going incognito is all you need to do, you couldn’t be further from the truth.
Some automatically associate using a VPN or trying to keep your activity private with nefarious purposes. That’s certainly not the case for a large majority of users. The reason why most people use a VPN is actually simply because of the peace of mind it offers.
The obvious security and privacy advantages of a VPN come when connected to a public Wi-Fi network. Wi-Fi could be widely available at coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and school campuses, depending on where you are. There’s no way to know what kind of security is available on these networks, though. Some can even use these public connections to snoop and steal your data. As a rule of thumb, never do anything like online banking when connected to such networks without a VPN.
All your data is encrypted when using a VPN, so that’s a security plus as well. Some services even offer extra security features like protection from malware, among others.
VPN connections: You can protect multiple devices
Most paid VPNs (and you shouldn’t really use a free VPN) provide multiple simultaneous connections. So you should be able to protect all your devices, be it a computer, smartphone, tablet, and even smart TVs and gaming consoles, at the same time. How many simultaneous connections a VPN allows varies from service to service, but you can choose one that best suits your needs. Between three and seven VPN connections are generally what you get from most.
What if you have a lot of devices you want to protect? Or you’d rather not go through the trouble of downloading and signing into the app over and over again. Maybe you want to ensure that all the devices on your network are always protected without remembering to connect to the VPN. A VPN router sounds right up your alley in that case.
These routers can run VPN software directly with little fuss and lets you connect all your devices to it without needing any additional software or apps. Of course, a VPN router helps you bypass the issue of limited simultaneous connections as well.
Read more: How to use a VPN?
Benefits of a VPN: It lets you work remotely
If you work in a corporate office of any kind, you probably have to connect to an internal or local area network (LAN) at work. When quite a few people, whose job affords them the capability, are now working from home, a VPN lets you connect to the office network and work remotely. You can access any confidential information you need that would otherwise only be available in the office. The data is encrypted as it travels to and from your home.
Remember that corporate VPNs used to connect to office networks are very different from the consumer-grade services that we generally talk about for personal use. You, or the company’s IT administrator, will need to manually set up the VPN on your devices first to ensure that you have access to the office network as required.
A VPN lets you unlock certain websites and bypass filters
A lot of VPN services proudly advertise that they can help you circumvent geolocation restrictions, particularly when it comes to streaming services. It is often their biggest advantage over competitors and one of the main reasons someone uses one in the first place. It’s not the worst thing you can do since you still have to pay for the service regardless, but there are issues.
I’m not going to dive into the complicated world of content licensing. However, there’s a reason why some content is available only in certain regions and not others. In the best-case scenario, some content providers “frown upon” using such services. That said, a lot of streaming services actively work towards disallowing access to its content when using a VPN.
Some countries block specific types of websites and content for various reasons. A VPN lets you bypass these filters as well. You could say that that’s exactly what a VPN is for. But something to keep in mind is that using a VPN for any purpose is illegal in some countries, and you don’t want to break the law in these places.
A VPN can help you save (a little) money
You might have come across expansive claims about how a VPN can help you save thousands of dollars. You can supposedly do so by finding cheaper subscription plans for software, streaming services, and other apps and programs. Even airfare, rental car rates, and hotel prices could be much lower when using a VPN.
I’m not going to scoff at this claim as it does work in theory. Certain pieces of software, streaming service subscriptions, and airline booking rates are priced differently across the world. You can use a VPN to see the differences, and it’s certainly worth the purchase if you can save big. However, you either have to be very, very lucky or make a lot of trial and error to save thousands of dollars.
There are undoubtedly some differences in prices. That difference will likely get covered in currency exchange rates, bank fees, and other transaction charges, though. Other restrictions might also come into play, like a website not allowing the use of a credit card that isn’t from a local bank.
Granted, you may see significant savings in the long-term or if even you’re planning a long holiday. Even five to ten dollar savings on everything will eventually add up to a pretty good amount. That said, you might want to re-think things if saving a lot of money is the main advantage you’re looking for from a VPN service.
Plenty of pros, but there are some cons to using a VPN
VPNs are the best way to address online privacy and security issues, and there’s are plenty of other reasons why you should use one. Nothing is perfect, though, and while there are many pros, VPNs are not without their cons either.
The biggest downside is a drop in connection speed. You are basically sending your data to another location before it heads to the right web server. This, unfortunately, means that connection speeds will almost always be slower than your regular, non-VPN speed. Depending on the server location, the drop can be quite significant.
Along the same lines is the server load. A VPN provider has finite resources, and a server may get overloaded if there are too many simultaneous connections. Connection speeds may drop, or you may be unable to connect at all. Luckily, most good VPNs feature multiple servers at every location, and you generally don’t have to worry about server load with premium services.
A VPN connection can drop unexpectedly as well. If you don’t notice this change, you will continue to use the Internet while thinking your information is safe when it no longer is. Once again, most VPNs have a way around this issue with something called a kill switch. This feature basically blocks all Internet traffic if the connection drops and only works again when it reconnects.
Using such services is also outlawed in some countries. Often because they offer anonymity, privacy, and encryption, some claim to work in these places, though. However, it’s a risk that you may not be willing to take since associated punishments can often be quite harsh.
Lastly, some online services have a system to detect the use of VPNs. If they think someone is connecting via a VPN, they can block access. Netflix is one such service that goes out of its way to block access to those using a virtual private network.
How to get a VPN: Our recommendations
We’ve looked at a few reasons why you should use a VPN, and it’s between ExpressVPN and NordVPN for the top spot for me and many users. Nord boasts an awe-inspiring number of servers and has a lot more security features. It’s also one of the cheapest you can get, while ExpressVPN is one of the more expensive options around. The reason ExpressVPN is my go-to choice, though, is that I get better speeds with it. However, your personal experience may vary.
We recommend many more fantastic options in our roundups of the best VPN services you can get, along with some equally good but more affordable choices. I don’t recommend free VPNs for long-term use because there’s a lot they can do with your data. However, some good free options will get the job done in a pinch.