How to Choose A VPN? 10 Must-Have Criteria for Beginners

Author Vic Knott
Publish date 2021.10.08
Author Vic Knott
Publish date 2021.10.08
How to Choose a VPN

If you are ready to go for a VPN program to be anonymous online, protect your sensitive data, and unblock geo-restricted content, this VPN selection guide should be your must-read.

With more and more people pay attention to Internet privacy & security or involve themselves in the pursuit of online freedom, VPN has become a smash-hit, suddenly being everywhere and owned by many tech geeks and newbies as well. Then among the plethora of VPN programs, who’s the best or say most suitable for you? Choosing a piece of handy and high-quality software is not always easy. So is how to choose a VPN. That’s where this post comes in to represent multiple selection standards for your reference.

Simple VPN explanation first!

VPN, you can also call it virtual private network, is a tool that transmits everything by establishing an encrypted tunnel during your smart device and web server, acting as an intermediary to secure your traffic and data. During the transmission, your initial IP address will be hidden and the new IP assigned by the VPN server will be used for all network activities. Hence, neither the ISP, government, network manager, nor hacker would trace you via IP anymore because you are now invisible and safeguarded online. What’s more, the geographically prohibited contents turn to accessible as long as your new IP location is friendly with them.

Now 10 factors to consider on how to choose a VPN service.

1. VPN’s server locations must contain your target one

To catch more eyes from VPN searchers and showcase their server-supported countries and regions, VPN vendors will tell the exact total numbers of servers, available countries, and locations, some of which even clearly list the detailed names and lines on the official sites.

Generally speaking, users prefer to choose the VPN with more geographic locations & servers because it will leave them more (IP) options to pick. Of course, you should make sure the most preferred locations you will frequently use must be included in the VPN servers list, especially when the place is not a “big country/region”.

2. The VPN should obtain a fast and stable connection

A fast and stable connection is definitely one of the most important things for a stellar VPN. If possible, you are suggested to try the product you like for a short period of time, for instance using it at different times of the day, on both midweek and weekend, and test possibly all locations you’d like to locate yourself in. The United States, Switzerland, Iceland, Panama, Romania, just to name a few.

One thing you should know is that the speed fluctuation of a VPN is quite normal because the connection speed is affected by many aspects jointly, such as server location, server load, traffic routing mode, VPN protocol, data encryption level, the speed limit from ISP, anti-virus software and firewall environment, etc. If your location (e.g China, Russia, Iran and Syria) has strict internet censorship, the real-time censoring condition also has a great influence on VPN’s performance. Some servers may even not working anymore.

Most often, the VPN will remind the speed of each server for reference. If you think it’s not accurate, just leverage related speed-testing tools such as Speedtest.

3. Your commonly used smart devices are supported by VPN

Confirm the VPN software supports your device. Theoretically speaking, high-quality VPNs usually have a wide support range of machines and systems, the former of which include mainstream computers, notebooks, tablets, mobile phones, gaming consoles, smart TVs, routers, etc., while the latter include Windows, macOS, Linux, ChromOS, Android, iOS, Windows Phone, etc. In addition, some VPNs also have plug-in versions, allowing you to install it directly on Chrome, Firefox or so.

Of course, if not necessary, you don’t have to pay much attention to the platform quantity a VPN accepts. It’s OK once your device or devices are on the list.

4. Check the maximum devices for simultaneous connection

For users who need to have multiple devices run with VPN at the same time, or your home member will share the same account, you should seek help from an app permitting multiple connections at one time. Most VPNs do have such a feature, and since the maximum number varies from one to another, you’d better find the details from official text. Considering quite many “big” families or corporations need VPN services, some vendors provide plans for enterprise plan for certain or customized device number.

5. Traffic & data should be highly encrypted and not logged by VPN vendor

Although all authentic VPN services in the market encrypt traffic transport, the encryption level are not the same. VPN encryption is determined by VPN protocol and the actual symmetric encryption method together. For example, the encryption of PPTV is poor while the open source OpenVPN is notable for its high level of security. What’s more, certain VPNs even developed its own unique VPN protocol, the one that’s claimed to be the “best VPN protocol”. However, the actual performance it cannot be verified because of the non-open-source-nature makes it impossible to be audited.

If the encryption through VPN tunnel protects you against third parties like network supervision agencies, advertisers, and hackers, then the “zero log” policy is super essential to prevent user’s data from being collected and reused by VPN vendors. If you, due to the particularity of your work or similar, need to handle important or sensitive information, you must choose a “no log” VPN.

6. User-oriented software interface

As the medium of human-machine communication, the user interface matters a lot. An excellent software product must have simple, clear, harmonious color matching, and standout overall design. Otherwise, no matter how powerful it is, as long as users can’t get it started quickly, the long tutorial reading will push you back.

For VPN app, since traffic routing mode and location selection are two main operations, it’s extremely important for it to direct you pick the more proper one in seconds. You can still try out a few more products to compare which is more suitable for your habit.

7. Extra toolbox makes a VPN even better

In order to upgrade the user experience and improve the power of a product, many VPN developers deliberately add some more functions, such as kill switch, split tunneling, ad-blocker, speed tester, multi-factor authentication, etc.

Since these are not top-concern factors, you can decide whether to choose the VPN pre-installed with them according to your own situation and demand. After all, the more functions, the more efforts the development team will deliver, so the price will be surely more expensive.

8. Instant and professional customer support

Only when the VPN vendor offers 7/24 customer service can you enjoy the all-day tech customer support and seek all the possible help on virtual private networks from them anytime and anywhere. Still, compared to e-mail support that may have a response delay, the instant chat service is more convenient and faster.

Customer service is particularly crucial for users living in heavily-net-censored locations. That’s because the domestic firewall and network environment in those areas are changing rapidly, and VPN services are often slow or disconnected all of a sudden. If there’s no immediate reply from the VPN support team, most beginners usually have no idea on what to do and how to fix it besides altering servers contentiously.

9. Appropriate purchase plan, price, payment and refund policy

As mentioned above, the price of a VPN is determined by software features. Beyond that, brand awareness, the developer’s background, and the current marketing strategy, and the overall network condition all impact the final pricing. At present, the mainstream purchase plans include 1-month, 3-month, 1-year, 2- or 3-years. The longer the period is, the higher value you will get.

Payment methods of VPNs are becoming more diversified, too, including many credit card types, PayPal, UnionPay, WebMoney, Bitcoin and more. Among all of these methods, you are informed that Bitcoin payment is the most secure one. Speaking of money, the refund policy deserves mentioning here. Many VPNs now have a 7-day or longer money-back guarantee. What’s more, a few well-known VPNs like PandVPN still enable users to enjoy a limited truly free trial as long as they sign up for an account and log in.

10. Good Company Background and Reputation

The main purpose of most VPN users is to avoid network tracking and censorship, so the registration place of the VPN company is super important because it determines what laws the VPN needs to comply with. If the law of the registration country or region calls for to user information collection and sharing, if the place is anyone among the famous five-eye, nine-eye or fourteen-eye alliance, your web actions and private data are still be monitored and shared. So this is why many top-ranked VPNs are based in some niche countries.

Five-eye Countries: United States, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia
Nine-eyes Country: Five Eyes countries + Denmark, France, Netherlands, Norway
Fourteen-eye countries: Nine-eye countries + Germany, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Spain

Another thing you’d better don’t miss when choosing a long-term VPN plan is searching and reviewing the general word-of-mouth texts from review sites, forums, social media, and communities. Only in this way can you discover the true user experience of VPN from another perspective.

The Best-Value VPN Recommendation in 2021

If you are overwhelmed by those rules on how to choose a VPN, or you are so busy that there’s no time to go on the selection at all, you can try the following best-in-class VPN bet that meets all of the 10 criteria listed above.

No matter you want to hide IP address to surf the internet anonymously, to transfer key messages or files in an encrypted way, to break through the geographical network restrictions and unblock banned websites, to perform simple daily web browsing/chat, to speed up games, to watch overseas 4K/HD streaming media, or to perform P2P For torrent download, you can always rely on PandaVPN.

PandaVPN is a cross-platform VPN service with more than 30 million users worldwide. Currently, 3000+ servers placed in 73 countries and 127 locations have been deployed in total. Plus the patented acceleration tech, multiple-protocol support, the most advanced ECC encryption tech, and zero log policy, you can one-click upgrade your digital security without hassle.

Get PandaVPN

Available platforms: Windows 7+, macOS 10.10+, Ubuntu LTS 16.04+, iOS 11+, Android (TV) 5.0+
Refund policy: 7-day money-back guarantee
Payment methods: PayPal, UnionPay, VISA, Master Card, Bitcoin, Alipay, etc.
Free trial: 3 days free trial on iOS & Android

Vic Knott

A senior tech editor whose focus is diving into everything related to cybersecurity.

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