What Is a VPN? Beginner’s Guide, Explained by Experts (2024)

Eric Raue
Last Updated by Eric Raue on July 16, 2023

Short for Virtual Private Network, a VPN creates a secure connection between you and the internet. It provides you with an extra layer of privacy and anonymity, so you can:

  • Hide your internet activity and location to avoid being tracked (especially on public WiFi networks)
  • Freely browse the internet without constraints
  • Browse safely and anonymously with no speed throttling

You don’t need to be a technical expert to use a VPN either. I tested 157 VPN services and there are plenty of beginner-friendly VPNs for any device. The best option is ExpressVPN as it’s packed with 1-click features in an easy-to-use app.

Read more to find out how VPNs really work. Plus I’ll share my tips and tricks for getting the most out of your VPN.

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What Does a VPN Hide?

Using a VPN hides your real IP address and encrypts your internet connection. Here are a few examples of what that looks like in real life:

  • Your browsing history is private — A VPN hides your browsing and search history from your Internet Service Provider (ISP). The only thing the ISP can see is your encrypted traffic traveling to the VPN server.
  • You can change your online location — Your IP address gives away your physical location. With a VPN, you can connect to a server in a different country.
  • Your internet activities are anonymous — A no-logs VPN ensures that no one knows what you’re doing on the web.

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Benefits of Using a VPN

Now that you know what a VPN does and how it works, let’s take a look at what you can do with a VPN:

1. Secure Your Online Privacy

When you transmit your bank details to individuals online or utilize public WiFi networks, there exists a potential danger of exposing your personal information to hackers. This risk is particularly heightened when using public WiFi hotspots.

A quality VPN will use the most advanced encryption to secure your data. It’ll also ensure that any websites receiving your private data can’t trace your device, which keeps you as anonymous as possible.

2. Improve Your Internet Connection and Speeds

At times, your ISP may deliberately slow down your Internet connection. It could be because it detects that you’ve gone over a certain data limit. Some ISPs even use this strategy to try to get you to upgrade your connection. The practice is known as “throttling.”

With a VPN, your activity remains private, and not even your ISP can see it. That means it can’t throttle your bandwidth, so you may actually see an increase in speeds.

3. Save Money

As an experienced internet user, I’ve come to realize that e-commerce platforms and online stores often display varying prices depending on your location. Whether you’re booking flights, searching for accommodation, buying clothes, or subscribing to services, this practice remains quite common.

Everyone loves a bargain — and a VPN can help you find the best deals online. With a VPN, you can pretend you’re in a country where the prices are cheaper.

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Essential Features Every VPN Should Have

It’s not always obvious which VPN features are marketing fluff and which are truly useful. As I’ve been using VPNs for nearly a decade, I’ve compiled a list of the critical features that you should keep in mind when selecting a VPN.

1. Fast Speeds

Using a VPN can slow down your connection, as your data is being encrypted and routed through another server. With some VPNs, the difference is barely noticeable, whereas others can cause a considerable slowdown. Your VPN won’t be of much use if it slows your connection speed to a crawl. This is why you should make sure you pick a service with unlimited bandwidth and plenty of fast servers.

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2. Strong Encryption and High-Quality Security Protocols

One of the main reasons for using a VPN is to make your connection as secure as possible, so don’t skimp when it comes to security. Look for a service with industry standard 256-bit AES encryption and ultra-secure protocols like OpenVPN and IKEv2.

3. Trustworthy Privacy Policies

Choosing a VPN provider with a stringent no-logs policy is of utmost importance. Without such a policy, the company may store your data and potentially disclose it to external parties, including governments. It is also crucial to ensure that the provider operates outside the 5/9/14 Eyes alliances, which are groups of countries that engage in sharing surveillance information. If you are uncertain about a provider’s stance, it is advisable to carefully review their privacy policy for clarity.

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4. Multiple Device and Cross-Platform Compatibility

You’ll want all your devices to be protected, so look for a provider that allows several simultaneous connections. Remember to check that the VPN is compatible with all your devices too.

5. Great User Experience

Don’t waste money on a service that’s slow, unreliable, or has a clunky user interface. Do your research and make sure the provider is highly-rated before committing. Reading reviews is a great way to do this.

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6. Reliable Customer Support

If something goes wrong, you need to be confident that it will be sorted quickly. Look for a provider with 24/7 live chat support available, as well as email support. It’s a bonus if you can phone in when there’s an urgent problem.

7. Value for Money

When you’re paying for a service, you need to be confident you’re getting your money’s worth. That doesn’t mean choosing the cheapest available option. Instead, look for a service with all the features mentioned above at a reasonable price.

Not sure which VPN to choose? All this information may seem overwhelming, but don’t panic! I’ve tested and reviewed leading VPN providers like ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, and Private Internet Access (PIA) to help you make your decision.

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3 Best VPNs for First-Time Users in 2024

1. ExpressVPN — Premium VPN With User-Friendly Apps for Any Device

ExpressVPN is a premium service with superfast speeds. You can set it up in just a few simple steps, and you can get instant support via its live chat service if you need help getting started. Since the company also takes security very seriously, it uses the strongest available encryption, and none of your data is ever saved to a hard drive. Additionally, leak protection and an automatic kill switch protect you even in case of connection interruptions. Features like this make sure that hackers, your ISP, websites, government authorities, and others can’t see personal information that could connect your identity, browsing history, and true location. Best of all, you can try ExpressVPN risk-free for 30 days with its money-back guarantee.

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2024 Update! ExpressVPN has dropped prices for a limited time to a crazy $6.67 per month for the 1-year plan + 3 months free (you can save up to 49%)! This is a limited offer so be sure to grab it now before it's gone. See more information on this offer here.

2. CyberGhost — Great VPN With Reliable Servers Optimized for Speed

Whilst not the fastest VPN on the market, CyberGhost has over 5,900 servers so you’ll still get decent speeds. It has a strict no-logs policy, a kill switch feature, and even some self-managed servers based outside the 14-Eyes countries. The service is very affordable and allows you to connect up to 7 devices at a time.

CyberGhost has a 45-day money-back guarantee available, which is one of the most generous of any VPN provider. You can also try it out free — with no credit card required — for 24 hours.

Try CyberGhost for free for 45 days!

2024 Update! You can subscribe to CyberGhost for as low as $2.03 per month + get an extra 4 months free with the 2-year plan (save up to 84%)! This is a limited offer so grab it now before it's gone. See more information on this offer here.

3. Private Internet Access (PIA) — Highly-Secure VPN With Helpful 24/7 Live Chat Support

Private Internet Access (PIA) is extremely easy to use, with a 1-click setup process that takes under a minute. It’s also one of the safest VPNs available, thanks to its military-grade encryption and a proven no-logs policy.

To find a working server quickly, you can always contact the customer support team over 24/7 live chat or an online form on the website. There’s also a 30-day money-back guarantee available so you can test it out risk-free.

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Bottom Line

VPNs are crucial for maintaining your security and anonymity while online. I highly recommend ExpressVPN for its premium features and great value for money. It is easy to set up and use, is available on a wide range of devices, and even comes with a no questions asked money-back guarantee.

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Top Ranked Top Choice
$6.67 / month Save 49%
CyberGhost VPN
$2.03 / month Save 84%
Private Internet Access
$2.03 / month Save 83%