OpenVPN Review 2021: Before You Buy, Is It Worth It?

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OpenVPN Overview April 2021

OpenVPN isn’t technically a VPN service, it’s a VPN protocol. While I can’t recommend it to newbies due to its highly involved setup process, it is by far the most popular protocol out there.

Of course, you’ll need to be fairly knowledgeable in networking to set OpenVPN up manually, so I recommend you check out these more beginner friendly VPNs if you’re just starting out.

That doesn’t mean the information in this article will be irrelevant to you. Jump down to discover how to set the protocol your VPN uses to OpenVPN.

Don’t Have Time? Here’s a 1-Minute Summary

  • Can’t unblock streaming services. While this is highly dependable on what servers you use, you’ll likely have trouble finding a working server with low ping. Learn how to unblock streaming services with OpenVPN.
  • No servers offered. If you don’t have servers you can use through another VPN, OpenVPN isn’t for you. Read more about available servers.
  • Tight security features. I compared OpenVPN’s security to other VPN protocols available, and it came out on top. Check out the security breakdown here.
  • Ambiguous logging policy. I read through OpenVPN’s privacy policy so you don’t have to. Beware! It can’t guarantee your safety if you use third-party servers. Understand the risks here.
  • Used by popular VPN services. If you’re having troubles setting OpenVPN up manually, you can get a VPN service to do it for you. Find out how here.
  • 100% free. I looked through their website and there were no premium plans available. Read more here.

OpenVPN Doesn’t Unblock Streaming Services

While OpenVPN has the ability to unblock most streaming services available, it doesn’t provide you with any servers pre-installed on its app, or provide a list of servers you can connect through. As such, you’ll either have to connect to your own or use third-party options — This includes free servers run by the OpenVPN community or ones you have access to through other VPN services.

If you’re looking at getting OpenVPN for streaming purposes, bear in mind the servers the community offers are not guaranteed to unblock content, and come with their own privacy risks.

Also, while you can use OpenVPN’s app to connect to other VPN’s servers — that you have access to — it’s easier and more efficient to use your VPN’s app instead. If you have yet to find one, try NordVPN as it’s known for being able to reliably unblock streaming services.

However, in the interest of keeping this a review of a 100% free VPN, I gathered a collection of free third-party servers.

I tested 100+ servers located on various continents to see if I could find one that would unblock streaming sites with a high quality connection.

Eventually, I had to admit defeat. They either failed to unblock, or had too high latency to load anything. I’m sure there are some servers that work out there, however I didn’t come across any that I was comfortable connecting to, for privacy concerns.

Screenshot of Hulu VPN error, with OpenVPN app open beside it.

Finding a server that works for streaming may take you some time

To save yourself the same trouble of hunting down a working server, check out this guide to getting around Netflix’s proxy error.

Important to know

United States
2002
No
1

Contact Details

[email protected]
www.openvpn.net

Speed6.0

In my research I’ve discovered that while it is the most secure, OpenVPN is not the fastest VPN solution available, especially compared to PPTP and L2TP/IPsec protocols. This is due to the high level of security and thoroughness OpenVPN utilizes — which also makes OpenVPN one of the only protocols capable of getting past firewalls and censorship blocks.

It is also due to the type of servers I used, and you’re likely to get better speeds if you connect to a premium higher-quality server.

Of course, any speed test taken depends mostly on the server that you connect to. To give you a better idea of what speeds to expect when you use this protocol, I ran a test using servers from 3 different continents: North America, Europe, and Australia.

For reference: my base internet speed averages 9.8mb/s, and I’m located in the North-West of the US.

Using local servers, the speed drop with OpenVPN connected was minimal, with an 8% decrease in download speed, and no noticeable change in ping.

Screenshot of two speedtests with very similar data, both are using a Seattle server.

OpenVPN speeds on a local server are fairly consistent

But when I attempted to use OpenVPN with foreign servers, I got high ping and much slower downloads.

The UK server I connected to, about 4.5K miles away, experienced an 18% decrease in download speed and 1400% increase in ping. This was one of the fastest free servers I found for the UK, but unfortunately it didn’t unblock any streaming services.

The best Australian server I found (8K miles away) was almost unusable with a 43% decrease in download speeds. The ping was slightly better than the UK server, at just a 580% increase, but the speeds were unusable for streaming.

Screenshot of two speedtests, one with a London server, another with a Sydney server

OpenVPN speeds drop significantly when using servers in other continents

While the speeds I got from using OpenVPN won’t be the same as what you get, it’s something to bear in mind if you’re looking to do some torrenting or streaming. If you’re looking for faster speeds, I recommend that you try ExpressVPN as it’s known for being one of the fastest VPNs available.

Why Most Speed Tests are Pointless & How We Correctly Test VPN Speeds

Speed determines how fast content uploads, so if you're torrenting or streaming, you want the speed to be somewhat identical to your regular internet speed. Since a VPN encrypts your data, it usually takes a bit longer to send your data back and forth, which can slow down your connection. However, if your ISP deliberately slows down your connection (also known as throttling) a VPN might increase your internet speed. Testing a VPN is somewhat pointless because new servers pop up and affect speed. Your speed can also differ according to your location, so your speed test might not match ours. Having said that, we tested the speed in numerous locations to provide you with the average.

Servers5.0

Server Network — Unofficial Servers Only

While OpenVPN doesn’t offer any official servers that you can use, there are third-party servers that you can connect to through the protocol. These servers are typically free, run by volunteers, and can be found in various places online, such as the OpenVPN community, or free server forums.

Of course, these are unofficial only, and not endorsed by OpenVPN, so they come with their own privacy policies. This can be cause for some concern, but unfortunately OpenVPN doesn’t provide any free servers for you to use.

Privacy concerns aside, there are a lot of servers available if you know where to look.

There is a range of servers available, with several claiming to be perfect for torrenting or bypassing censorship. In my experience though, I had trouble finding one that could both unblock a site and give me high download speeds. If you’re looking for an easier downloading experience, I recommend that you try NordVPN’s dedicated servers for torrenting.

Security — Top-of-the-Line Features

If there’s one thing that OpenVPN is well known for, it’s for being one of the safest protocols out there.

This standalone tunneling protocol uses 256-bit OpenSSL encryption, as well as authentication certificates, and IPv6 support.

OpenVPN also uses SSL (secure sockets layer) and TLS (transport layer security) encryption protocols to secure information for transfer between two devices. These two protocols are the same, with TLS being the more secure descendent of SSL, and are used in conjunction to attain the most secure connection possible.

These SSL/TLS protocols share unique keys between devices, in a process called asymmetrical cryptography. This uses a public key to encrypt data (using the 256-bit encryption standard), with a private key needed to decrypt it. Only the devices that have the keys can access the data.

For the actual information transfer process, OpenVPN uses both the UDP (user datagram protocol) and TCP (transmission control protocol) protocols. With TCP, all the data is carefully checked over to ensure an accurate and reliable transfer. On the other hand, UDP is a lot faster as it sends the data off immediately, though it does sacrifice a reliable connection.

UDP is the default OpenVPN protocol, until the connection loses stability. At that point, OpenVPN automatically uses TCP instead. This background switch of protocols ensures a continual stable connection, with no loss of security.

Along with this, it also features intelligent security measures such as an auto-kill switch that cuts internet access when the connection is failing too much for TCP to secure it, and an auto-connect for when you turn on your device — which is useful if you don’t want to keep going into the app to turn your VPN on.

The proof of OpenVPN’s top notch security features lies in how it’s trusted by the best VPN services available. Don’t just take my word for it, check out NordVPN to see how it uses OpenVPN.

Privacy — User Discretion Advised

While I initially had some concerns about OpenVPN as it’s free software, my worries turned out to be unfounded.

OpenVPN has a very limited data collection system. In fact, if you wanted, you could run their protocol with only an email address. No payment or personal details required.

The issue comes from any servers you connect to while using this protocol. Be advised! OpenVPN does not claim any responsibility for what happens to your data when you use third-party servers. They also don’t put any limits in place for server owners on what they can do with your data.

Screenshot of OpenVPN's privacy policy.

OpenVPN’s privacy policy only covers them — not any third-party users

I did some research into the privacy policies of the free OpenVPN servers available. Most make no mention of whether they sell your data or not, and they save their logs for a minimum of a week before deletion.

Server Locations

OpenVPN

User Experience9.0

Device Compatibility — Run it on Almost Anything

The versatility of OpenVPN surprised me. Like with other free VPNs available, I was expecting some limitations on what it could be installed on.

To my surprise, OpenVPN can be installed on nearly every device you have, iOS and Android included.

Screenshot of devices that you can get OpenVPN on.

Get OpenVPN on both desktop and mobile devices

Ease of Setup & Installation — Technical Know-How Required

I cannot recommend OpenVPN to beginners in VPNs or networking. Despite the UI being incredibly simple to use, the technical requirements are impossible to get around, so it’s essential that you know what you’re doing.

Tip: if you are a complete beginner at VPNs, read this article to find out what you need to know.

There are 2 ways you can set up OpenVPN:

1. Manual Setup

The first method takes a lot more technical knowledge and resources, and it is not what I consider to be an easy process. However, it’s possible to go through the entire setup procedure without spending a penny.

To start with, you’re going to want to download OpenVPN Connect from the website, this is the name of the official OpenVPN open source client.

Actual installation of the app is straightforward, and once it’s installed you can get straight into importing server profiles.

These server profiles are how you add servers to OpenVPN. There are two import methods you can use, with URL or by dragging and dropping a .OVPN file into the app.

To get either a URL or an .OVPN file, you’ll have to do some searching on forums for free OpenVPN servers. As this can be a little involved, remember you can always try a VPN with pre-installed servers like Surfshark.

Screenshot of the two ways you can import server profiles into the OpenVPN UI.

You can easily import server profiles via URL or .OVPN file

At this point, it’ll ask for a name and password for the server, and also ask if you want to use a proxy.

You also have the option to connect automatically once the server is imported, but you can also connect yourself at any time with a flick of a switch.

To summarize, here’s a quick guide on the entire process:

Quick Guide to Setting up OpenVPN Manually

  1. Install the OpenVPN Connect app and start it up
  2. Import your server profile via URL or .OPVN file
  3. Connect to your newly added server and begin browsing securely

If you’re still lost on how to set up OpenVPN manually, the official site has an entire documentation guide on how to start using OpenVPN.

2. Automatic Setup

The second method requires you to already have a VPN subscription set up. Depending on what VPN service you’ve signed up with, this method could possibly cost you money.

Most VPNs worth their price tag allow you to choose the protocol you want to connect over — OpenVPN being a common option.

Luckily, the process is pretty simple, and is the same regardless of what VPN app you’re using.

In your VPN app, go to the settings tab and find the protocol option that your VPN uses. Most VPNs available have several different protocols they use, with OpenVPN being a very popular option.

Once you’ve selected OpenVPN, connect to any server you want — the protocol will work with all of them.

For an overview of the whole process, here’s a quick guide:

Quick Guide to Using OpenVPN With Your VPN

  1. Start up your VPN and navigate to the settings
  2. Locate the protocol configuration and change it to OpenVPN
  3. Connect to whichever server your want, and you’re done!

Support5.0

OpenVPN doesn’t offer the typical support options. As it’s open source software, there is no dedicated live chat or email to message.

Instead, you’ll find a very comprehensive FAQ on their main page, along with step by step guides on how to set up OpenVPN exactly how you want it.

If you were after a more personal support option, or had a more specific problem that the guides didn’t fix, there’s a large community available of OpenVPN professionals who use the protocol regularly.

How We Test Customer Support and Why Should You Care

We personally test the customer support team of every VPN we review. This means asking technical question through the live chat feature (where applicable) and measuring the response time for email questions. Whether you need to connect to a specific server, change your security protocol, or configure a VPN on your router, finding a VPN with quality customer support should be important to you.

Pricing10

OpenVPN is, as the name suggests, open source. This means it’s 100% free!

I did some hunting around the OpenVPN website and couldn’t even find a donation button!

Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s the right VPN solution for you. If you want something in the same price range, but don’t have the technical know-how to set up OpenVPN, check out this list of free alternatives.

OpenVPN offers the following plans

Final Verdict

If you have the technical know-how, OpenVPN could be a fantastic alternative to subscribing to a VPN service.

If speed is an issue, OpenVPN is not the best VPN protocol to use, as it’s focused primarily on having the best security. You could experience unusable speeds when connecting to foreign servers, which you might not get if you use a dedicated VPN service instead.

There are some privacy concerns when using third-party servers, but it is possible to find trustworthy server owners, or even set one up for yourself.

Common FAQs

Is OpenVPN worth it?

If you’re not afraid of networking and overly technical details, OpenVPN is definitely worth it. This is especially true if you’re not afraid of investing some time into the finding/maintenance of a server.

On the other hand, if you are new to VPNs, or download speeds are essential to you, I can say that OpenVPN won’t be worth it to you. For an alternative VPN with little set up needed, I recommend you try NordVPN.

Can I get OpenVPN for free?

OpenVPN is 100% free, and that’s unlikely to ever change.

If you can find a third-party server with a good privacy policy, you can set up a good VPN for a fraction of the cost of standard services. You can also try OpenVPN free with ExpressVPN with its risk-free money-back guarantee.

Is OpenVPN safe?

This VPN protocol prides itself on one of the most secure protocols out there. Here are some features that make OpenVPN the safest you can get:

  • 256-bit OpenSSL encryption process with authentication certificates
  • SSL/TLS encryption protocols
  • UDP and TCP information transfer protocols
  • Auto-kill and auto-connect switch

Try OpenVPN for yourself today!

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