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

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PrivateVPN Overview October 2021

PrivateVPN vows to provide lightning-fast speeds and privacy for a low price, and I was immediately skeptical after hearing such a bold claim. So, I spent a few weeks running tests to see how PrivateVPN measures up to market-leading contenders. The results surprised me.

PrivateVPN lives up to its claims of unblocking Netflix, and every other streaming site I tested, with super-fast speeds. It also works in countries with severe censorship, allows torrenting, and supports port forwarding for easy P2P file sharing. While its suite of security features is a bit underwhelming, it keeps you safe online with essentials like DNS leak protection and a kill switch.

If you want to test its features yourself, you can try PrivateVPN risk-free with its money-back guarantee, which gives you 30 days to get a full refund. After testing it for 3 weeks, I easily got my money back within 5 business days.

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PrivateVPN Unblocks Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, HBO Max, and BBC iPlayer

My tests showed that PrivateVPN is a great choice if you need to access the streaming services you pay for while you’re behind a corporate firewall or traveling abroad.

PrivateVPN worked with the most popular streaming sites, except sometimes I had to use its “Dedicated IP” servers instead of the standard ones. These are dynamic addresses that are unique every time you connect. Streaming sites look at whether IP addresses are shared, so having a unique address helps you bypass geo-blocks. The few rare times I couldn’t find a working server myself, PrivateVPN’s 24/7 support team always told me which one to use.

While PrivateVPN no longer has a “Streamed Services” tab with specialized servers, the Dedicated IP options unblocked streaming sites reliably. That’s because they change every time you use them, and IP addresses aren’t shared with other users. By connecting with a new IP address each time, you make it far more difficult for streaming sites to flag and block them.

Netflix: Unblocked

PrivateVPN could unblock Netflix US and other countries’ libraries I tested with my team abroad. The PrivateVPN website has a full menu of countries it claims to unblock Netflix in, and my team and I tried using almost every server on the list. However, there were some discrepancies — for example, there’s no longer a server in Helsinki, Finland. My teammate there used the only Finland location she found (Espoo), and was able to log into Netflix with no issues. Other fellow reviewers even unblocked Netflix in some countries (like the Czech Republic) that weren’t on the list at all. It took about 10 seconds to switch between server locations and another 2-3 seconds to load each library.

Screenshot of a list of servers on PrivateVPN's website that should work with Netflix
You’ll find a sampling of Netflix-compatible server countries on PrivateVPN’s website

You may notice a few seconds of buffering at the beginning of your show if you try to access Netflix using a distant country server. I found that the network speed decreased the farther I got from my location in Virginia (which is normal for VPNs). I connected to a server in Los Angeles and only got speeds of 22Mbps. However, this was still fast enough for HD streaming — I got up to 10 seconds of buffering, but once my show started I didn’t have any further interruptions. PrivateVPN’s server in Miami was the fastest during my tests, giving me 45Mbps — more than enough to stream Stranger Things on Netflix in 4K. Lag never interrupted one spooky second of the show.

Stream Netflix with PrivateVPN

Disney+: Unblocked

Using the main PrivateVPN server menu, I couldn’t find an option that worked with Disney+. I asked support for help and they told me to use the New York server in the Dedicated IP menu. It unblocked Disney+ instantly. I logged into my account and watched all the Star Wars I could handle without buffering interruptions.

Try PrivateVPN with Disney+

I also asked my testing team to try Dedicated server locations in Germany, Italy, Canada, the UK, and Australia — all worked flawlessly and let us access all of the Disney+ libraries worldwide.

Amazon Prime Video: Unblocked

Working with my team of testers to try over 20 servers, I discovered that PrivateVPN instantly accessed Amazon Prime Video in Australia and parts of Europe, including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland.

None of the standard servers would work in other countries, so my team and I tried “Dedicated IP” options in the US, UK, Canada, Japan, and elsewhere. These servers bypassed all of Amazon’s geoblocks easily and let me watch The Boys with no lag, even in HD.

Watch Amazon Prime Video with PrivateVPN

Hulu: Unblocked

I had no problems getting past Hulu’s geo-blocks with any of PrivateVPN’s servers in the US. I was able to load Palm Springs in just 3 seconds, and it didn’t buffer once during the entire film. Even better, I got to watch it in HD and didn’t miss one moment of Andy Samberg’s genius antics.

Watch Hulu lag-free with PrivateVPN

HBO Max: Unblocked

With the exception of Costa Rica, all PrivateVPN’s servers in Latin America accessed HBO Max right away. After having less success with standard servers in the US, I tested options from PrivateVPN’s Dedicated IP tab. These servers in New York and Los Angeles worked with no problems — I watched Aquaman and didn’t miss a single punch:

While occasionally my show or movie would start out pixelated, this only lasted 2-3 seconds before it would change to HD quality.

Unblock HBO Max with PrivateVPN

BBC iPlayer: Unblocked

With PrivateVPN’s servers in London and Manchester, my colleague in the UK easily accessed BBC iPlayer content, like Peaky Blinders. Not only did the VPN overcome BBC’s proxy blocking technology, but it also let him stream comfortably at 30Mbps with no lag, buffering, or image issues.

Unblock streaming platforms with PrivateVPN

Speed8.0

Is PrivateVPN Fast? Yes, It Has Blazing-Fast Speeds

PrivateVPN is really fast, but its top competitors like ExpressVPN and CyberGhost are both faster. The most impressive thing was that PrivateVPN’s speeds stayed high even when I connected to servers on the other side of the world. Usually, faraway servers slow down your connection so much that it’s pointless to try to live-stream, watch 4K movies, or play online games. With PrivateVPN, my download speeds were almost as fast on servers in Tokyo as on those in Atlanta, which is close to my location.

Speed Test Results

I got similar speeds on both the standard and “Dedicated IP” servers. The server in New York (near my real location) gave me download speeds of 82Mbps. This was about 66% slower than my base speed of 188Mbps. While this sounds like a huge drop, it was more than fast enough for 4K streaming, HD video chat, and other high-bandwidth activities. Of course, your experience may be completely different. If your network speed is already slow, a 60%+ reduction could make it impossible to stream in HD or play multiplayer online games without lag.

Screenshot of a bar chart showing speed test results on servers across the world
I had no issues with HD streaming or other high-bandwidth activities with PrivateVPN

I was surprised that my speeds stayed in the range of 50-90Mbps whether I connected to servers in the US, the UK, or Japan. Some other servers were ultra-fast, at upwards of 85Mbps, but 61.63Mbps was my average across 9 different countries. These speeds were 45-75% slower than my network speed of 188Mbps, but didn’t affect my ability to stream in HD or play multiplayer games. However, I have really fast internet — if your usual speeds are 50Mpbs or slower, most PrivateVPN servers can affect your performance significantly.

Screenshot of PrivateVPN speed tests showing servers in the US, UK, Germany, and Japan
PrivateVPN’s servers are super fast even when I connected on faraway servers

Gaming Speed — PrivateVPN is More Than Fast Enough for Lagless Online Games

I never missed a headshot due to lag on PrivateVPN’s gaming servers. To test their limits, I connected to a distant location in Brisbane, Australia, and launched Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Even at only 19Mbps, the game stayed smooth without any stuttering or choppiness that could have gotten me fragged. Thanks to PrivateVPN’s fast and robust network, it was easy to find servers with low ping. Low ping means it doesn’t take long for your device and PrivateVPN’s server to communicate with your game server. This results in less annoying lag while you play.

Screenshot of a Counter-Strike match while PrivateVPN is connected to a server in Australia
PrivateVPN’s server in Australia let me play Counter-Strike online lag-free

I also liked that I could play online games with PrivateVPN without the risk of throttling. ISPs throttle — or artificially reduce — network speeds when users consume too much bandwidth, and gamers are frequently targeted. My DNS leak test revealed that PrivateVPN successfully hid my gaming activities from my ISP’s prying eyes and bypassed any potential speed throttling.

Try PrivateVPN for high-speed gaming

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.

Servers7.0

Server Network — Modest-Sized But Powerful

PrivateVPN has a network of over 200 servers in 63+ countries — far smaller than most top-grade providers. While it isn’t a huge network, the list is always getting longer — I discovered dozens of new servers that were added throughout the year. I also found that the list in the server menu didn’t always provide 200 individual options, so I reached out to support. The agent told me that some locations have several servers, but the app automatically picks the fastest one in the location you select.

There are two server menu tabs — “All Servers” and “Dedicated IP.” It’s great to have both options, as dedicated IPs allow you to connect with a unique IP address each time. You don’t have to share these IPs with other users on these 10GB servers — they’re exclusive to you for every connection. Not only does this make it really hard for streaming sites to identify these servers as VPNs and block them, but using new IPs every time makes it almost impossible to track you online. Having no other users on the same IP helps these servers stay super-fast as well — so whether you’re gaming, streaming, video chatting, or just want the security of a unique IP, I recommend using them.

Screenshot of PrivateVPN's Dedicated IP server menu in Windows
You can choose PrivateVPN Dedicated IP servers from 15 locations in 14 different countries

Better yet, PrivateVPN owns and operates these dedicated IP servers themselves. This boosts your security and privacy because it means you don’t have to trust a third-party server company to adhere to PrivateVPN’s strict safety practices.

Since PrivateVPN has a much smaller network than top-grade providers like ExpressVPN, I was afraid that the server I picked would become crowded. Overcrowding slows speeds down, as multiple users are forced to share increasingly limited bandwidth. To my surprise, I never experienced speed drops caused by overcrowding while connected to PrivateVPN.

A high number of servers in a given region offers greater flexibility if you want to mask your location, as you have more options to keep third parties off your tracks. That’s why I’m still glad PrivateVPN is always adding more servers to its small network.

If you’d rather use a VPN with thousands of server options, I found plenty of lightning-fast server locations when I tested ExpressVPN. Its network is much broader (with over 3000 servers) and can access more of the major streaming sites, like Disney+. You can also try streaming Disney+ with ExpressVPN’s optimized servers without risking your money, as every subscription is backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Tor Support — Works on the Tor Network Without Extra Slowdowns

I had no problems browsing .Onion sites on the Tor browser with PrivateVPN. While Tor already uses encryption to hide data, adding VPN protection makes you safer from threats that are unique to the Dark Web. Just connect to a PrivateVPN server, open the Tor browser, and navigate to your chosen URL.

Although the Onion network is already slow due to its encryption and small, volunteer-only infrastructure, I didn’t notice further slowdowns while connected to PrivateVPN. Despite PrivateVPN’s good performance with Tor, there’s no way to access Tor directly from your regular browser. Other VPNs make it easier. For example, you can visit Onion sites on the Dark Web with ExpressVPN without downloading any extra software.

Is PrivateVPN Good for Torrenting and P2P? — It’s Fast and Safe for Torrents

All of PrivateVPN’s servers support torrenting on P2P clients, like BitTorrent. There’s even a guide to downloading torrents on PrivateVPN’s website. It was definitely helpful to get some extra tips and tricks to increase my speeds and security, such as port forwarding.

I used the Dedicated IP server in New York and torrented Bruce Lee: The Legend, and despite being over 2GB, the download only took 10 minutes with 5-7 peers seeding. Usually, you need more peers sharing bits of the file for speeds that fast, but PrivateVPN’s speedy network made up for the lack of peers.

I wouldn’t torrent on some of the servers in countries with bad privacy laws (like Hong Kong or the US). Instead, connect to countries with privacy-friendly laws like Sweden (recommended by PrivateVPN), Switzerland, Romania, or Poland for that added peace of mind that your data will stay private. Dedicated IP servers in these locations are ideal, since they use unique IPs that are harder for third parties to track. Since all the Dedicated IP servers have ports open by default, they’re also all pre-optimized for fast torrent downloads. Just remember not to use VPNs to violate copyright with torrent sites. Even if you own the file, it isn’t necessarily legal to share it.

You can optimize your PrivateVPN connection for torrenting (and increase speeds) with extra configuration. After you connect to a server, you need to find its port number in the settings menu. Then, enter this number under “Port used for incoming connections” in your torrent’s connection settings. This ensures that data can flow freely between you and other P2P users. Even without this extra step, PrivateVPN works with torrent clients reliably and downloads files fast.

I did find a concerning clause in PrivateVPN’s privacy policy saying it will share your data with authorities if ordered by courts. However, its no-logs policy means that none of your torrenting activities are ever recorded, so there should be nothing to share in the first place. Since even accidental downloads of copyrighted content are illegal, I’m glad that PrivateVPN’s logging policy lives up to its name. You should never torrent copyrighted material even with a VPN, but I feel safe torrenting with PrivateVPN, since even an accidental violation could lead to legal problems.

Torrent safely with PrivateVPN

Does Private VPN Work in China? Yes (But You Can’t Download it There)

Other than ExpressVPN and Astrill VPN, PrivateVPN is the only provider that can bypass internet filters in mainland China. To get past China’s firewalls with PrivateVPN, you need to turn on the obfuscation feature. This makes your traffic look like normal web traffic instead of coming from a VPN. To do this, activate the Stealth VPN setting in the Advanced View tab, and you’re ready to browse the open web in China. PrivateVPN has several servers that are physically close to China — like those in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Tokyo — so you needn’t worry about slowing down your network too much.

Activate the Stealth VPN setting, and you’re ready to browse the open web in China.
PrivateVPN’s obfuscation settings let you use it even in China, UAE, and other web-restricted countries

PrivateVPN’s obfuscation function uses an encrypted Shadowsocks proxy to trick the Chinese government’s internet filters. However, it isn’t the most dependable form of obfuscation because Shadowsocks proxies can be easily blocked. That’s why I still prefer a more powerful provider like ExpressVPN, which uses a proprietary obfuscation technology to access the open web in China reliably and anonymously.

If you want to try PrivateVPN in China, be sure to install it when you’re still at home, as the website is blocked in that country. Also, check the law before you go — while the Chinese government isn’t known to go after VPN users, it’s still illegal to bypass censorship.

Security — Impressive Suite of Security Options for a Smaller Provider

Encryption — Keeps Your Data Safe With Military-Grade Protection

PrivateVPN uses the military-grade AES 256-bit cipher, as well as SHA256 and 2,048-bit RSA keys for authentication. These are some of the most advanced encryption systems available — PrivateVPN makes it nearly impossible for hackers to decrypt your communications by brute force. It gets very technical, but you can learn more about encryption here to find out how PrivateVPN’s technology really works.

VPN Protocols — Choose From a Range of Industry-Leading Tunnels

I was delighted to find PrivateVPN defaults to the OpenVPN with UDP protocol — it’s known for speed, security, and broad compatibility. The full selection of tunneling protocols is:

  • OpenVPN over TCP is a bit more reliable than OpenVPN UDP — it works with more websites. If a website doesn’t load while you’re connected to OpenVPN TCP, switch to UDP and see if it fixes it.
  • L2TP/IPsec are usually combined, because L2TP doesn’t offer trong encryption on its own. It has better security than PPTP (an older protocol) but slower speeds than OpenVPN. This is a popular protocol for iOS devices due to its compatibility.
  • PPTP is a much older, mostly obsolete protocol that is still occasionally useful if you want to connect on an outdated operating system or mobile device. It’s fast but has lackluster security, so it isn’t recommended for risky online activities. For low-risk activities that demand high speeds (like streaming), it’s worth trying it out if you have performance issues.
  • IKEv2 is popular on iOS and Android mobile devices, as it’s designed to maintain your VPN connection seamlessly even as the device switches between cellular and Wifi data. This challenge is unique to mobile phones, so IKEv2 developed to meet that need.

Leak Protection — Protected Me from DNS, WebRTC, and IPv6 Leaks

PrivateVPN successfully protected my real IP address when I tested it for common types of leaks. Even with powerful encryption, certain types of data leaks can still occur and reveal your true IP address and location. Smaller VPNs don’t protect well against these types of leaks, potentially revealing who you really are to website administrators and other third parties.

My first test was for DNS leaks, which happen when a DNS request goes to your internet provider instead of through your VPN. When I ran the test, it found a server near my real location instead of the PrivateVPN server in Sweden I had connected to. This led me to think my DNS queries weren’t being routed through the VPN server. However, chat support quickly figured out the problem for me. I had to disable DNS over HTTPS in my Firefox network settings, which he showed me how to do via a link to an easy-to-follow guide. This setting is meant to protect the privacy of Firefox users who don’t use a VPN, and leaving it on while connected to PrivateVPN can skew DNS test results.

Screenshot of an exchange with PrivateVPN support helping with a DNS detection issue
I noticed a server near my real location during leak tests and PrivateVPN support easily solved my problem

I re-ran the test, and this time, my real location stayed hidden. However, I thought it was odd that the leak test revealed a server in Germany instead of Sweden (where I had connected).

Screenshot of a DNS leak test revealing a DNS server in Germany while connected to a PrivateVPN server in Sweden
A DNS leak test showed that PrivateVPN hid my real IP address behind a relay server in Germany

Support explained that this is because PrivateVPN’s Western European servers channel your DNS requests through a relay server in Germany, and that this was normal. The agent assured me that the server I was connected to was a physical server in Sweden, and not a “virtual server. This is ideal, as virtual servers aren’t actually located in the countries where they claim to be. Conveniently, PrivateVPN’s server list indicates which of its locations are virtual.

I was also relieved to see PrivateVPN’s IPv6 leak protection works perfectly, which is critical for masking my IP address. Your ISP very likely uses IPv6 — short for Internet Protocol version 6 — which is the latest version of the Internet Protocol that’s gradually replacing IPv4. With IPv6 enabled on your device, your data can sometimes leak to your ISP or other third parties when you use a VPN — that’s because most VPNs still don’t support IPv6. I ran an IPv6 leak test while connected to PrivateVPN’s server in Frankfurt, and the results confirmed that my IP address was never compromised.

Screenshot of a successful IPv6 leak test while connected to a PrivateVPN server in Germany
I didn’t have IPv6 leaks while connected to PrivateVPN, meaning my real IP stayed hidden

In addition to DNS, IPv6, and standard IP leaks, I tested for WebRTC leaks. WebRTC is a protocol built into most web browsers (including Chrome and Firefox) to enable real-time communications, like video chat. WebRTC transmissions are often broadcast outside the encrypted VPN tunnel, causing IP address and location leaks. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised that PrivateVPN passed every single WebRTC leak test I ran on my Windows desktop, Android, or iOS. This result shows that PrivateVPN really does keep my data private and my online activities anonymous.

Kill Switch — Protected My Privacy When I Lost My Connection

An internet kill switch is an essential security function for a VPN. If you experience an unexpected server crash, power outage, your computer goes to sleep, or you accidentally disconnect from a server, your IP address and location can be revealed in a split second. PrivateVPN’s kill switch worked perfectly, activating when my PC went to sleep so that my data would never be revealed during a moment when the VPN wasn’t connected.

Screenshot of PrivateVPN's internet kill switch dialog box
When I lost my connection from my PC going to sleep, PrivateVPN’s kill switch kept my data from leaking

There’s also an “Application Guard” feature, which allows you to apply the kill switch only to specific apps. This is helpful if you use multiple apps simultaneously, and don’t need all of them protected by the VPN.

Split Tunneling — No Way to Exclude Apps and Sites From the VPN Connection

I was surprised that PrivateVPN lacks a split tunnelling feature, as it’s common among almost all premium VPNs. For example, ExpressVPN’s split tunnelling exempts selected apps from the VPN connection, and is particularly useful if you have devices that you control over your WiFi, such as a wireless printer. You can also ensure access to your country’s content while you’re connected to a VPN server in another country to perform a sensitive task like torrenting.

Ad and Malware Blocker — No Extra Ad Blocking

PrivateVPN has many useful security features, but an ad and malware blocker is not among them. For this, you’ll have to consider slightly pricier VPNs, such as CyberGhost. It has integrated malware protection that automatically scans every URL your device tries to communicate with, and cross-references it with a database of over 3.5 million malware sites. During my tests, CyberGhost automatically blocked malicious URLs and protected my devices.

Privacy Features

No-Logs Policy — PrivateVPN Vows to Never Log Any Data

PrivateVPN’s privacy policy is clear: it never logs any of your data, such as, who you are, the sites you visit, when or how long you connect for, or any other information. While no VPNs have the liberty of completely refusing to cooperate with authorities, ones that take your privacy seriously simply have no logs to disclose to begin with.

Screenshot of PrivateVPN's privacy policy on its website
PrivateVPN vows to collect none of your data in its privacy policy

Company Jurisdiction — Based in Privacy-Friendly (But Imperfect) Sweden

PrivateVPN’s parent company is Privat Kommunikation Sverige AB, based in Sollentuna (about 12 miles outside Stockholm). Sweden exempts VPNs from data collection laws, which gives it a reputation for being a better place than most Western countries for VPNs to set up. However, the country is still part of the Fourteen Eyes Alliance. This is a data-sharing arrangement between Sweden and other governments that involves collecting data on internet users. The good news is that zero-logs VPNs like PrivateVPN can keep your data safe from these intrusive international agreements. That’s because they never record any of your activities or other personally identifiable information.

Independent Audits — No Third-Party Security Audit

The only problem with PrivateVPN’s security and privacy is that it has never undergone a third-party audit. These audits, done by objective cybersecurity firms, demonstrate that a VPN’s security practices, data management, and server infrastructure keep your data private and safe.

Some of the best VPNs on the market have undergone these audits, so you don’t have to believe their security and privacy claims blindly. But since these audits cost money, a lot of smaller providers don’t take the initiative. If you prefer a VPN with a verified zero-logs policy, try ExpressVPN — its security practices were proven in a real-life incident involving a raid on its servers by Turkish authorities. Because of ExpressVPN’s zero-logging practices, the police couldn’t find any user data on the server they seized.

Server Locations

Argentina
Australia
Austria
Belgium
Brazil
Bulgaria
Canada
Chile
Colombia
Costa Rica
Croatia
Cyprus