Although free VPNs do exist, it’s often the ones with a paid subscription that provide the best features and protection. However, a VPN doesn’t need to be expensive to be effective. There are VPNs out there that won’t break the bank but also won’t compromise your digital security and privacy. These VPNs go for as low as $2 per month, which is a great deal considering that most VPNs we’ve tested were somewhere within the $8 to $15 per month range. So if you’re looking for the best VPN subscription your money can buy, these are the best cheap VPNs of 2022.
Total price of best-value subscriptions and term length
We paid $11.95, which was their regular monthly rate, for the one month we tested out NordVPN. However, had we signed up for a longer commitment, we could have saved up to almost 70 percent with the VPN’s two year subscription. The subscription required an $89 one-time payment, which, if divided into 24 months, would come out to only $3.71 per month. That would have been a huge discount if we were looking for a VPN for that long. Now, if two years is too long, NordVPN also has a subscription billed every six months that costs $54. That’s $9 per month, which is still cheaper than most VPNs.
Pro Tip: To maximize your savings, get a two year subscription from NordVPN for $89. That’s equivalent to only $3.71 per month. In case NordVPN doesn’t work out for you, you can cancel the subscription and get your money back during the first 30 days.
We selected NordVPN as one of our top picks mainly because of its superior privacy features. One that we liked most was its double VPN feature, also known as multi-hop. Basically, instead of routing our data through one VPN tunnel, NordVPN doubled down on its privacy measures by adding a second VPN tunnel. This meant that our browsing data and online identifiers were encrypted not just once, but twice. Of course, introducing a second VPN tunnel sometimes caused a slight slowdown on our connection. So whenever we wanted to prioritize speed over privacy, such as when we were downloading large files or streaming Netflix, we simply turned off the double VPN feature.
Similar to NordVPN, SurfShark’s pricing gave us several options with regard to the length of our subscription. The rate for the monthly plan was the most expensive at $11.95 per month, but the one year and two year plans offered significant discounts. The one year subscription billed every 12 months reflected a 50 percent savings. From $11.95 per month, the rate went down to $5.99 per month. The two year subscription unlocked an even bigger discount, with a monthly rate of only $1.99. In total, we would have needed to pay only $47.76 to enjoy using SurfShark for two years. We’ve spent about the same amount on pumpkin spice lattes in the past two weeks alone, so that’s a pretty sweet deal.
Netflix boasts an impressive library of content to stream, but weirdly, we often find ourselves craving more. Thanks to SurfShark, we accessed other countries’ Netflix libraries that would have been unavailable to us otherwise; for example, when we wanted to channel our inner otaku, we simply connected to a Japan server to watch Spirited Away on Netflix Japan. Side note: it’s a roller coaster of emotions. All in all, SurfShark gave us access to 15 Netflix libraries, considerably more than other VPNs we tested. We even tried to access Netflix U.S. from abroad and most of the U.S. servers seemed to work. Better still, SurfShark’s Smart DNS feature allowed us to use our hotel room’s smart TV to watch the U.S. programming of Netflix, which was good because our necks were getting a bit stiff staring at our laptops.
Split Tunneling and Kill Switch
SurfShark also offered us a bevy of useful features, including split tunneling and a kill switch. Split tunneling, or the Whitelister feature as SurfShark calls it, allowed us to connect to public and private networks simultaneously. We used the public network for online activities we deemed unnecessary to anonymize, like downloading app updates on our smartphones. At the same time, we could use the private network to encrypt our data while online banking. Split tunneling reduced our overall bandwidth, making our speeds faster than they would be if everything was routed through the encrypted tunnel. On the other hand, SurfShark’s kill switch automatically cut off all of our online activities when the VPN stopped working unexpectedly. This ensured that none of our data became visible to our Internet Service Provider.
With a $12.99 regular monthly rate, we deemed CyberGhost quite expensive for month-to-month use, but for long term use, both the six-month and 18-month plans offer great value. They are priced $47.94 and $49.50, respectively, reflecting rates as low as $7.99 or $2.75 per month. We also liked that CyberGhost had a 45 day money-back guarantee on their long term plans and that the 18-month plan gave us access to CyberGhost’s premium password manager for one year. In sum? We got a great bang for our buck with CyberGhost.
Must Know: After the first 18 months of CyberGhost, the subscription will renew yearly for the same price of $49.50, roughly $4 per month.
Support for Multiple Operating Systems
As individuals who use a number of devices running different operating systems, we appreciated how CyberGhost worked on all of them. Whether we were on our Macbook, our Windows desktop PC, Android smartphone, iPad Pro, or our smart TV and gaming console, CyberGhost did a great job hiding our personal data. They even had a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox for those times when we needed to hide our browsing activity without affecting our other online apps. Although the number of simultaneous connections was limited— only seven devices under our account could connect at a time— it was plenty enough for us.
Excellent Customer Service
One of the things about CyberGhost that really stood out to us was their customer support. Before getting a subscription, we wanted to know a few technical things about CyberGhost first, so we contacted the company’s customer support. They didn’t have phone support, but the agent we chatted with through the website’s live chat feature was super helpful. He answered all our questions clearly no matter how technical they were. Take note that we weren’t even paying customers back then, yet he was truthful when we asked if the VPN offered split tunneling and port forwarding. Both features weren’t available yet at that time and he was completely forthcoming about that. Fortunately, split tunneling was added shortly after we subscribed.
TunnelBear offered two types of pricing models. The regular pricing for individual users was $9.99 per month, $59.88 per year, or $120 for three years. The three-year plan was a pretty great deal considering that it included free access to TunnelBear’s VPN and password manager for essentially $3.33 per month. The second pricing model, which was what we used, was for groups of three or more users. It’s usually marketed towards small businesses, but groups of friends, colleagues, or families are also welcome to create a TunnelBear Team account. Together with our colleagues, we created a group of five users. The rate was $5.75 per month for each user, paid annually. Although the team subscription was a tad more expensive than individual subscriptions, the centralized dashboard that came with it made it easy for us to pay and access all our accounts in one place.
FYI: TunnelBear only issues refunds on a case-by-case basis. If you want to dip your toes first before paying for a subscription, TunnelBear has a free VPN with a 500 MB usage data limit per month.
Connects to Fastest Server Automatically
VPN speeds vary greatly based on a number of factors, but TunnelBear made it easy to connect to the fastest server available. TunnelBear’s desktop clients and apps offered the option to choose the fastest possible server for us automatically. Essentially, it connected to the closest server, thus ensuring the best possible speed test results by reducing the data’s travel time. Of course, if we wanted to access a specific geo-blocked website, we could always manually select a server in the country where the website wasn’t blocked.
Privacy and Digital Security Features
Although full of fun bear-related puns, TunnelBear was actually a serious VPN when it came to protecting our online privacy. Its feature set included a kill switch that stopped all online activities whenever the VPN disconnected to stop our data from potentially leaking out. There was also an “always on” feature that automatically turned on the VPN as soon as we turned on our computer, ensuring that we didn’t forget to use the VPN. Lastly, TunnelBear used a strong AES 256-bit encryption protocol to hide our Web activity from the prying eyes of hackers and Big Brother.
How We Decided The Best Cheap VPNs: Methodology
We created this review of the best cheap VPNs of 2020 so you don’t have to do the work yourself. But in case you want to do your own research, look into different VPNs, and compare their pricing, here’s an insider’s look at our methodology. What factors did we consider? How did we test VPNs? How did we decide which ones to recommend? Read on to find out.
First, we decided what is considered expensive, reasonably priced, and inexpensive for a VPN. Those that cost $13 to $15 per month can be considered expensive. The norm is $8 to $12 per month. Anything below that can be considered cheap, but not in a bad way. That’s because most of the VPNs that cost less than $8 per month are the same VPNs that cost $8 to $12 per month. How so? Well, the price difference usually hinges on the length of the subscription. Springing for a longer subscription usually means getting a bigger discount, while getting a monthly plan often yields a higher rate.
For this review, we selected VPNs with regular monthly rates somewhere in the mid-range, but with special discounts for annual, two-year, or three-year subscriptions. We also pointed out which VPNs have a money-back guarantee. We figured that if a VPN company offers long-term subscriptions, we as customers should have the option to cancel it and get our money back if we thought it didn’t live up to its promises. A 30-day money-back guarantee is ideal, although CyberGhost went above and beyond with their 45-day guarantee for long-term subscriptions.
What about free VPNs? While there are good free VPNs out there, we still recommend paid ones because free VPNs typically have limitations whether it’s in terms of data usage, speed, or server locations. However, signing up for a free trial when available is a good way to test things out before paying for the service.
Privacy and Digital Security
Just because a VPN is cheap doesn’t mean it can skimp on privacy and digital security features, especially now that privacy concerns are on the rise in the U.S.3 First, we tested each VPN for DNS and WebRTC Leaks to make sure they weren’t leaking our IP address while in use. We used the DNS Leak Test tool and ExpressVPN’s WebRTC leak test to search for leaks, and fortunately, we didn’t find any from the cheap VPNs we recommended above.
We also checked each company’s profile to see which ones were under the jurisdiction of the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes alliances. These countries have laws that would allow them to force any VPN and ISP companies to share user data. It’s not ideal if a company is based in a member country, but we won’t go as far as to say they aren’t good enough; to make that judgment, we need to consider the company’s logging policy, as well.
Needless to say, speed was one of the factors we considered. Almost all VPNs impacted our Internet speed, but we tried to look for VPNs that didn’t slow down our connection by a lot. To test VPNs, we used a Windows laptop and Macbook Air or Pro.
First, we ran a speed test on both computers to find out our baseline Internet speed without a VPN. We recorded the upload speed, download speed, and ping. We then ran a second speed test, but with the VPN connected. Next, we computed the speed difference in terms of percentage to see which VPNs affected our Internet speed the least, ideally no more than 40 percent in any of the three-speed categories. You can find the speed test results in our longer individual reviews for each VPN.
Features also matter to us, specifically split tunneling, multi-hop, kill switch, access to Netflix and torrenting, and the number of simultaneous connections allowed. Split tunneling was particularly important, as it would allow us to connect simultaneously to the VPN and to a public network, creating faster speeds for online activities that don’t need as much protection from a VPN. A kill switch was also vital as it would stop all online activities in case of a VPN failure. It ensures that when we disconnect the VPN, our current IP address and other browsing data won’t be revealed to our ISP. Lastly, we gave special credit to VPNs with multi-hop. Multi-hop routes Internet traffic through multiple VPN tunnels instead of just one, making our data encrypted multiple times.
We also checked which apps are available for each VPN. Ideally, a VPN offers apps for all major operating systems: Android, iOS, Windows, Mac, and Linux. We gave additional credit to those that supported smart TVs and gaming consoles as well.
Our methodology also included our assessment of each VPN’s app. Are the apps easy to use? Are they reliable? What are other users saying about them? These are some of the things that we try to find out when comparing VPNs.
The last but not the least criterion we considered was the quality of each company’s customer support. Did they have phone support or live chat support? Were they responsive? How well did they handle our concerns and questions? It’s uncommon for VPN companies to have great customer support, so we made sure to highlight the companies that did well in this area.
In most cases, cheap VPNs are better than free VPNs in terms of features and performance. Typically, free VPNs have limitations, such as data usage limits, speed limits, and server location limits. Cheap VPNs don’t have such limitations.
The cheapest VPN depends on how long you’re willing to commit. Paying for a three year subscription in advance will yield a lower price. In the case of SurfShark, the monthly rate for the three year plan is only $1.99. However, the six month, one year, and two year subscriptions also yield significant savings.
Most VPNs have a money-back guarantee. They will give you your money back if you’re unsatisfied with their service. In most cases, you have 30 days to do so after paying for the subscription. There are also VPNs that don’t have a money-back guarantee but have a free trial. You can take advantage of the free trial to test things out before paying for a subscription.