Are cheap VPNs worth it?

A VPN running on a mobile device
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A virtual private network, or VPN, is a great security tool that not only encrypts your connection and keeps your data safe from prying eyes, but also can help you spoof your location. This allows you to access geo-restricted content and the catalogs of international streaming platforms.

If you've been looking for a VPN, you may have noticed that there are a lot of VPNs at a lot of different price points on the market. This may have you thinking that, to get the best VPN, you need to shell out a fortune in order to get your hands on a reliable, secure service.

This isn't actually the case, though. Keep reading, and I'll explain which cheap VPNs are worth your time. 

Is it worth paying for VPN? 

With all this talk of cheap VPNs being just as good as more expensive ones, you may be thinking: should I pay for a VPN at all? 

In short, yes. However, since this is your money we're talking about, I'm assuming you want a better answer than that.

The problem with free VPNs is that while there are a few diamonds in the rough that are worth using, most of them have hidden costs, from invasive advertisements and selling your data, to infecting your device with malware. 

What's more, free VPNs usually can’t compete with paid VPNs when it comes to performance, meaning you're really better off paying for a service. If you want to see for yourself (without risking a penny) many of the best paid VPNs have 30-day money-back guarantees or even free trials, so you can try them on your own device, in your own time.

If you are looking for the few free providers that are as safe and effective as they get, you can check out our guide to the best free VPNs

Are cheap VPNs as good as expensive VPNs? 

While the old adage "you get what you pay for" does ring true in many circumstances, VPNs are one of the exceptions. Based on our rigorous testing, we have found that the best VPN on the market is NordVPN, which costs just over $3 per month for its cheapest plan.

Surfshark is an even cheaper option, and also ranks in our top 3, despite costing as little at $2.19 per month. Not far behind is Private Internet Access (PIA), which offers an even lower price of $2.03 per month.

Performance-wise, there are many cheap VPNs that perform just as well, or even better, than the more premium options on the market. For example, when it comes to speed, NordVPN, Surfshark, and PIA have all performed excellently in our tests, with speeds of over 950, 950, and 330 Mbps respectively. While PIA does lag behind in the competition, its speeds are more than enough for most VPN users.

If unblocking content is what you're after, cheap VPNs have your back there, too. In fact, Nord VPN is our best VPN for Netflix, proving that excellent quality doesn't need to come with a hefty price tag.

Finally, cheap VPNs don’t scrimp on security, either. Whether it's PIA proving its' no-logs policy in court (twice!), Surfshark's range of features designed to prevent identity theft, NordVPN's malware protection, or the fact that all three use the best in VPN protocols and encryption methods, you can rest assured that you and your data are safe.

The top 3 cheap VPNs 

After hours of rigorous testing, we have narrowed down some of the top budget-friendly VPNs. If you're looking for a great cheap VPN, look no further than our top three: 

1. Surfshark: the best budget VPN

1. Surfshark: the best budget VPN
While Surfshark may be one of the cheapest VPNs on the market, that doens't mean it's not one of the best, Ranking at #3 in our overall VPN testing.

With prices from $2.19 per month, plus incredible security features, unblocking powers, and unlimited device connections, not to mention a 30-day money-back guarantee, it's clear why Surfshark is the best cheap VPN.

2. NordVPN: the best VPN overall

2. NordVPN: the best VPN overall
While Nord may come in second on this list, it is the best VPN we've tested. It's got great unblocking power, excellent speeds, and is super secure - all for a littleover $3 per month.

You can even upgrade your plan, giving you access to a password manager, secure cloud storage, and cyber insurance, keeping you safe from online nasties. You can even try it out risk-free thanks to the 30-day money-back guarantee.

3. Private Internet Access: the most customizable

3. Private Internet Access: the most customizable
If customization is your thing, look no further than Private Internet Access - it has plenty of features for you to play around with. Not only this, but it's even cheaper than NordVPN and Surfshark at just $2.03 per month.

PIA has literally proven in court that it's dedicated to user privacy, and while its apps may not be as intuitive as Surfshark's, it can hold its own when it comes to accessing streaming content. It even offers a 30-day refund period, so you can try it out risk-free.

Olivia Powell
Tech Software Commissioning Editor

Olivia joined Tom's Guide in October 2023 as part of the core Future Tech Software team, and is the Commissioning Editor for Tech Software. With a background in cybersecurity, Olivia stays up-to-date with all things cyber and creates content across TechRadar Pro, TechRadar and Tom’s Guide. She is particularly interested in threat intelligence, detection and response, data security, fraud prevention and the ever-evolving threat landscape.