Will a VPN Slow Down Your Internet?
Using a VPN (virtual private network) slows down your internet connection—but some VPNs are slower than others.
Free and low-quality VPNs are likely to put a huge dent in your internet speed, often reducing it by well over 50%. Internet speeds also dip on premium, subscription-based VPNs, but the impact isn’t as noticeable. In those cases, the long-term benefits of a quality VPN outweigh the impact it has on your internet speed.
Here’s a quick guide on how a VPN impacts internet bandwidth. We’ll explain why your speeds get slower with a VPN and recommend the best VPNs to maintain fast speeds.
What are the best VPNs for internet speed?
|Service||Best price option||# of servers||Max devices per subscription||Get it|
|NordVPN||$59.88 for first year, then $99.48/year (starts at $4.99/mo.)||5,000+||6||Sign up|
|ExpressVPN||$99.84 for first year ($8.32/mo.)||3,000+||5||Sign up|
|Surfshark||$59.76 for two years ($2.49/mo.)||3,200+||Unlimited||Sign up|
|Private Internet Access||$56.94 for first two years, then that price per year||10,000+||10||Sign up|
|Hotspot Shield||$95.99/year ($7.99/mo.)||3,200+||5||Sign up|
|CyberGhost||$78.00 for two years ($3.25/mo.)||8,000+||7||Sign up|
|Hide.me||Free ($69.95 for two years for paid version)||1,700+||1 (10 for paid service)||Sign up|
NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and Surfshark consistently rank as the fastest VPNs among reviewers and experts—and they’re generally considered the best VPNs for privacy and other features, too. All three use efficient, up-to-date encryption protocols and have enough servers so you’re less likely to experience major network congestion when you sign on.
Private Internet Access, Hotspot Shield, and CyberGhost are also well-known VPNs and have performed excellently in many speed tests. Private Internet Access also boasts the most servers of any VPN in the world, giving you more options to choose from. Hide.me isn’t as fast, but it’s a great free VPN service that doesn’t eat as much bandwidth as most free VPNs.
Want to see how a VPN impacts your speed? Take a speed test
Take our speed test to see if your VPN is slowing down your internet.
Even the best VPN speeds can fluctuate daily. Your internet speed can also easily be impacted by a range of other factors, including your internet provider, the connection type, your plan, and the router you’re using. But a speed test gives you a ballpark estimate of how different VPNs impact your bandwidth.
Here’s a quick rundown on how to do it.
How to test VPN speed
Step one: Run a speed test with your VPN disabled. Write down the results.
Step two: Turn on the VPN and run the test again. Write down these results as well.
Step three: Compare the two speeds to see how they are different.
Step four: Repeat the process a few times throughout the day to see how the numbers differ.
Why does a VPN slow down your internet?
A VPN slows down your internet because it adds multiple extra steps to the process of getting data from your home internet network to your internet provider and back.
VPNs work by letting you sign on to a separate server—usually located in a different state or foreign country. This creates a virtual tunnel that masks your online activity, IP address, and location, keeping you safe from hacking and online surveillance and giving you access to websites that you might not be able to visit otherwise (like foreign versions of Netflix).
But encryption takes up bandwidth, routing a VPN through a foreign server increases latency (especially if it’s a server located in a distant state or country). A VPN’s own server bandwidth and efficiency can also impact your speed. If a VPN server is crowded with other users, it can lead to slower speeds and a less reliable connection.
On the flip side, a VPN can also combat speed throttling from an ISP, as it masks the kind of data you use. So if your provider, say, caps video streaming at 5 Mbps, using a VPN could potentially improve your speed.
How can you make a VPN faster (or at least not as slow)?
It’s hard to predict just how much a VPN may slow your internet speed because a lot of factors play into the speeds you’re getting. But there are a few things you can do to make sure you’re getting the most out of your VPN, speed-wise.
Avoid free VPNs
Free VPNs might work if you’re on a budget, but they typically don’t perform as well as subscription-based VPNs. They have fewer servers, so you have to share a single server with more users, and some are also loaded with malware that drains your bandwidth or even hijacks it for nefarious purposes. Also, some lesser VPNs collect your user data and sell it to make money, which is another good reason to avoid them.
To ensure the best speeds—not to mention the best security and other features—stick to a well-vetted VPN that costs a monthly or annual subscription.
Switch your VPN server location
The best VPNs host servers all over the world. Some servers may perform better than others, depending on where they’re located and how many users are on each one. Try picking a server close to you to reduce the amount of time it takes to route your data to and from the VPN server.
Take a look at 10 simple ways to improve your internet speed for more tips on how to improve a connection while your VPN is switched on.
Use the WireGuard protocol
Although OpenVPN is the most common and best-respected VPN protocol in use today, a newer protocol called WireGuard has been drawing positive attention since it launched in early 2021. Speed tests show it to be faster and more efficient than OpenVPN—although the latter still remains stronger for privacy.1, 2
Most top-rated VPNs allow you to switch between different protocols, and NordVPN specifically supports WireGuard. You can switch between protocols on your VPN by going to the settings menu. Also, you can adjust the protocol settings to make your speeds faster.
Get a better VPN
Of course, if you’re experiencing consistent speed issues on your VPN, you can always try a new VPN to see if it fares better. NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and Surfshark are often the top-rated VPNs, but there are plenty of others worth trying. See our guide to the best VPNs for recommendations.
- JP Jones, TopVPN.com, “Wireguard vs. OpenVPN,” March 11, 2022. Accessed April 14, 2022.
- Sven Taylor, RestorePrivacy, “Wireguard VPN: Secure and Fast, but Bad for Privacy?” January 10, 2022. Accessed April 14, 2022.
More about VPNs and internet speed
Author - Peter Holslin
Peter Holslin has more than a decade of experience working as a writer and freelance journalist. He graduated with a BA in liberal arts and journalism from New York City’s The New School University in 2008 and went on to contribute to publications like Rolling Stone, VICE, BuzzFeed, and countless others. At HighSpeedInternet.com, he focuses on covering 5G, nerding out about frequency bands and virtual RAN, and producing reviews on emerging services like 5G home internet. He also writes about internet providers and packages, hotspots, VPNs, and Wi-Fi troubleshooting.
Editor - Rebecca Lee Armstrong
Rebecca Lee Armstrong has more than six years of experience writing about tech and the internet, with a specialty in hands-on testing. She started writing tech product and service reviews while finishing her BFA in creative writing at the University of Evansville and has found her niche writing about home networking, routers, and internet access at HighSpeedInternet.com. Her work has also been featured on Top Ten Reviews, MacSources, Windows Central, Android Central, Best Company, TechnoFAQ, and iMore.