Rating 9 / 10
- Jurisdiction: Switzerland
- 3rd Party Audits: Yes, by Mozilla and SEC Consult
- Servers Network: 1,048 servers in 54 countries
- Streaming: Yes, in the Plus plan and above
- P2P & Torrenting: Yes, in the Basic plan and above
- Browser Extensions: No
- Best price: 2 years deal, $3.29 /mo
If you’ve started even a cursory search for a VPN, you’ve likely heard the name ProtonVPN. They’re a popular provider trusted by a wide variety of individuals and organizations worldwide, including journalists working on major stories.
But just because a VPN is popular doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for you. Our complete, impartial ProtonVPN review takes a look at the features, company background, plan options, and everything else you need to know.
ProtonVPN is a VPN service provider. They’re owned by Proton Technologies AG, a Swiss company. Proton Technologies AG also owns ProtonMail, a secure email service first popularized by international journalists.
We’ll elaborate on the connection between the VPN and the email service further down, but first let’s look at Proton Technologies, which stands out from the competition in two significant ways:
- Their strong emphasis on customer privacy
- The background of the founders
Proton Technologies created both their email and VPN services to provide secure email for journalists and activists. Why does that matter if you’re not one of those? Because their entire service was built from the ground up for privacy.
Additionally, their founders have an impressive pedigree. They met at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with a VPN provider run by marketing experts, one run by folks who know their technical systems inside and out is the better option.
Jurisdiction and Privacy Laws
They’re based in Geneva, Switzerland – and that’s easily one of the best locations for a VPN.
Swiss privacy loads are heavily weighted in favor of individual privacy and are far different than laws in the UK and US. As detailed in a post by ProtonVPN, data logging is not mandated, and the government can’t compel a VPN provider to reveal their users.
The Secure Core Feature
One of the ProtonVPN features is a Secure Core option. When you use it, your data first goes through one of their Secure Core servers and then routes through a second VPN server. It’s a double-layer of protection. It is what other VPNs name Double VPN or Multi-hop, but the Secure Core name describes specific ProtonVPN idea better.
Here’s where their location plays a role: All of their Secure Core servers are located in Switzerland, Sweden, or Iceland. That means the servers are protected by each country’s respective privacy laws, which are all generally pro-privacy.
Additionally, the server location means ProtonVPN has control of practically every aspect of physical security. They ship their servers directly from their offices to secure underground data centers and military bases. Plus, they connect the servers to the Internet using their own Local Internet Registry.
Today, their Secure Core servers route traffic to over 560 servers in 43 countries, allowing you a secure and fast connection even if you don’t live in Switzerland.
(Note that Secure Core servers require a Plus or Visionary subscription. We’ll cover subscription plans below.)
How Transparent is ProtonVPN?
Let’s jump right into arguably the most essential part of our ProtonVPN review: their transparency. To help ensure your privacy, your VPN should be an open book regarding how they operate.
Overall, they do quite well here in several areas:
- Third-Party Inspection
Each contributes to a clear view of potential data exposure.
First, they maintain a transparency report on their site. There’s not much there, but that’s a good thing. Their most recent request is from 2019, when an unidentified third party requested data. However, the request was not fulfilled because Proton knows nothing about the IP addresses of their customers.
- You need an email address to sign up
- Their site and service has no advertising
- Your IP address might be logged if you attempt DDoS or Brute Force attacks
A few influential organizations have checked out this VPN and found it held up under scrutiny.
Mozilla assessed Proton’s VPN, apps, and related services. They found open-source code for all apps, plus other signs of true transparency and competence. In 2018, Mozilla and Proton VPN officially partnered, a move that many in the tech industry felt boosted the reputations of both.
Additionally, independent audits are regularly performed on all companies within the Proton organization, including both the VPN and email services. For example, they recently passed (handily) an intensive audit from security firm SEC Consult.
Is ProtonVPN Safe?
All VPNs pose some risk of data exposure or access, but you’ll find a multitude of reasons to feel safe here.
What Data Do They Track?
They record a minimal amount of data, basically the least amount required to operate the service. They keep a record of the following:
- The email address associated with the account
- Support tickets and related issues
- Payment information
Additionally, they record one type of session data. They track the most recent time you logged in or tried to log in. That helps prevent brute force attacks, which is when a person (most likely using a program) attempts to guess your password through a massive amount of login attempts.
The data is encrypted then stored on their local servers. It stays there as long as you have an account. If you delete your account, the information is deleted as well.
What Data Do They Not Track?
Despite all the privacy protections in place, both physically and legally, let’s say somehow a third-party gets access to Proton VPN servers to download some information. Fortunately for users, the company doesn’t log any user connection data.
We understand if you’re wary about free VPNs. Many bombard you with ads, slow your speed, limit your data usage, or otherwise other restrictions in an attempt to press you into selecting a paid upgrade.
The ProtonVPN Free Plan is significantly different in many ways, including:
- No ads
- No data limits
- Medium speed (ProtonVPN doesn’t cap speeds even on a free plan. It is only a matter of actual server load)
VPN speed varies significantly based on your location, ISP, router, and a wide range of factors beyond your VPN provider. That said, in general terms, the speeds of ProtonVPN’s free plan are suitable for email, social media, and general web surfing.
Why Does ProtonVPN Free Exist?
Any ProtonVPN Free Plan review needs to explain the interesting reason why this plan even exists.
Remember the company’s founding motive, about providing secure and private web access to journalists and activists? That philosophy is behind their desire to provide a powerful, free VPN. They truly believe having access to that type of communication is a fundamental human right.
The Free plan is subsidized by some of the money made from the paid plans. They urge you to upgrade in order to help support the idea of a private, secure internet.
That said, they do limit some features with the free plan. Notably:
- You’re allowed one VPN connection (one device)
- They limit your access to server locations in three countries
- You don’t get access to the Secure Core system detailed earlier
- You can’t use TOR
In many cases, a free version is better than a free trial for a VPN. Both are easy to start and give you a solid idea of what using ProtonVPN is like. However, if the free version meets your needs, you don’t have to worry about it expiring.
Still, the ProtoVPN free trial can offer you the opportunity to check out some features not available in the free version, so it’s still worth checking out.
Many tech experts and ProtonVPN reviews consider the company’s Free plan as one of the best free VPN options available. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for you. There are many reasons you might prefer one of the paid versions.
Including the free plan, ProtonVPN offers four subscription options. Their three paid plans are:
Let’s take a closer look at each:
Why choose the basic over the free? Essentially, it’s faster with a few more specific features unavailable in the free option. Basic includes:
- Two VPN connections
- Access to servers in 50 countries
- High speed (compared to the free plan’s Medium speed)
- Perhaps most importantly, Basic supports P2P/BitTorrent transfers, which the free version doesn’t.
However, there’s a major downside. Many people will struggle to stream HD video, due to the plan’s speed limitations. If you want reliable speeds to stream video, this probably isn’t the plan for you.
The Basic version costs $4, or $48 for a year in advance, saving you $12.
The Plus plan is touted as their Best Value. This is the plan where you start to get into Proton VPN’s signature features. The Plus plan includes:
- Connections for up to five devices
- Access to servers in 50 countries
- Highest speed (their fastest offering, up to 10Gbps)
- P2P/Bit Torrent support
Additionally, it includes features worth additional elaboration.
First, with this plan, you now have access to the Secure Core. It is possible to route all traffic through the protected servers located in either Switzerland, Sweden, or Iceland, providing you with increased security and legal protections.
TOR over VPN
Additionally, the Plus plan works with TOR. The open-sourced TOR software allows you to anonymize your internet traffic and access what are called Onion sites, which are hidden from normal browsers.
Many people prefer the extra level of privacy a VPN provides when using TOR. The two work well together. TOR requires a TCP connection, while ProtonVPN supports both TCP and UDP.
Blocked Content (such as Netflix)
Finally, the Plus plan is the first plan mentioned so far that allows you to access geo-blocked content. You can watch Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, region-specific YouTube, and other blocked content regardless of your location.
If accessing blocked content is a major reason you want to use a VPN, it’s probably best to first subscribe for one month, to check out if you can access what you want to watch.
The Plus version costs $8 a month, or $96 a year, a savings of $24 (or it’s like four months for free).
Their premium plan is the Visionary. You can think of it as the Proton Technologies plan. Not only do you get everything included with the Plus plan, but you also get the premium level of ProtonMail. Everything works together seamlessly.
Additionally, you’re given a significant connection upgrade. With this plan, you can connect to up to 10 devices. While that’s likely a bit beyond the needs of even the most tech-savvy individual, it often makes sense for large households or small businesses.
The Visionary plan is $24 a month, or $288 if you subscribe for a year. You’ll save $72 with the annual plan.
Where to Subscribe
Signing up for a plan is easy. You can subscribe via the website or through the app on your device. If you sign up for a free plan, ProtonVPN makes it simple to upgrade to a paid option without re-entering your email address or other info you might have already given them.
ProtonVPN Plan Security
You don’t have to subscribe to a paid plan to feel secure using their VPN. Proton uses bank-grade AES-256 encryption on all plans, including the free option.
Additionally, they use OpenVPN (UDP/TCP) and IKEv2 protocols.
Interestingly, they don’t use servers that support PPTP and L2TP/IP/Sec because they don’t provide enough security for the company’s strict standards.
The slowest speeds are found on the Free plan. It’s ideal if your online activities mainly consist of sending emails and reading sites like Facebook and Reddit.
The Basic plan boosts the speed a bit. It’s ideal if your internet speeds are already slow, and you want to minimize further slowdown. (Keep in mind the increased speed isn’t the main reason to jump from free to basic; the ability to use P2P/BitTorrent is.)
To get the best speeds, you’ll need either Plus and Visionary. They’re the only plans capable of delivering streaming 4K video. There’s no difference in speeds between the two plans. They both deliver up to 10Gbps. The difference is the number of devices allowed (five versus 10).
Always keep in mind that a huge range of potential factors can influence your internet speed when using a VPN. Factors that affect ProtonVPN download speeds include:
- Your internet service provider
- The type of device you’re using
- The number of devices you’re using
- Whether you’re using wired or wireless
- Where you live
- The time of day and day of the week
- The distance from your home to the closet server
All VPNs will slow down internet speeds somewhat; that’s just the nature of how they work. However, the more you can negate all the other factors that might slow down your Internet, the less impact a VPN will have on your overall speed.
ProtonVPN and ProtonMail
Let’s take a closer look at ProtonMail, which we like to think of as ProtonVPN’s cousin.
Both owned by Proton Technologies AG, ProtonMail and ProtonVPN share management teams, technical resources, business operations, and even office space. Perhaps most importantly, they share the same founding philosophy of a private and secure internet for all.
ProtonMail launched first, with its success leading to the development of ProtonVPN. As you might expect, the email service shares many features with its VPN counterpart. ProtonMail includes:
Highly Encrypted Email
Your emails are secured with both end-to-end and zero access encryption. Even if they wanted to, or were somehow compelled to do so, folks at ProtonMail can’t read or share your emails in any way.
Proton takes care of the encryption and privacy behind the scenes. Navigating the inbox is easy thanks to its clean, intuitive design. You’ll find all the main organization features available in any other modern email system.
ProtonVPN Lifetime Accounts Auctions
They occasionally hold a Lifetime Account Auction. The Lifetime Account is their most exclusive option, available in extremely limited quantities.
They first sold these accounts in 2016, for over $1,300 apiece.
After that initial offering, new Lifetime Accounts can only be obtained through a second-hand sale (where they fetch a pretty penny) or through the company’s annual auction.
A Lifetime Account grants you the following perks:
- Free Visionary membership for life
- Free lifetime subscription for all future products
- Early access to all future products
You’re free to transfer the Lifetime status to any existing Proton account you might already own. Additionally, you’re allowed to sell the Lifetime account, and you’ll likely get a hefty amount for it. However, while the perks are nice, we admit a major draw here is the exclusivity.
Does ProtonVPN Have an App for My Device?
Most likely. ProtonVPN has apps for Android, iOS, Mac, and Windows. All apps for those devices are pre-built, which means installing and running them requires no technical know-how.
You’ll likely run the VPN through the client (meaning, through the app). At least, that’s what most people do. However, in some cases, you can run the VPN natively through the device. Notably, you can use the IKEv2 protocol to run it natively on iOS.
The layout is clean and information, if perhaps a bit on the busy side. You’ll see information on your account, current server location, other server options, and more. The bulk of the screen shows a map of the world with clear indicators of current and potential server locations, plus current speeds.
The use of a map works well on the phone, providing the ability to gauge performance quickly. Additionally, the night mode helps spare your eyes if you want to change servers while watching using your device in low light conditions.
Unfortunately, they don’t have apps for practically any devices, even slightly out of the mainstream. You won’t find pre-built options for: Xbox, Playstation, or other gaming consoles
If you want a VPN so you can stream or play games outside your region, onto your TV screen, make sure you have a way to do it that doesn’t require built-in VPN integration with your TV or gaming console.
That’s not to say you can’t use this VPN on these devices; you just won’t, for example, find a button on your Xbox home page, which sets it all up for you.
(Tip: In these situations, you might be able to use the VPN on your router. They’re recently added DD-WRT, Tomato, and AsusWRT, among other options.)
Overall, ProtonVPN started building apps relatively late in the game, with many appearing only a few years ago. But they’ve made up for lost time with full-featured, easy-to-use apps for most modern smart devices, with the potentially noteworthy exception of game consoles and smart TVs.
Let’s go over some main features of the VPN, and see whether they’re well implemented or could use some work:
Kill Switch for Desktop
On occasion, you’ll lose connection with your VPN server, no matter what provider you use. When you’re dropped, your IP address might temporarily be exposed. A Kill Switch immediately blocks all network traffic to keep your identifying info safe. All plans include a built-in Kill Switch.
Always-On for Mobile
The Always-On feature automatically attempts to re-establish a connection if you’re dropped from the server. As with the Kill Switch, Always On is built-in with all plans.
Tor over VPN
ProtoVPN Plus and Visionary plans include built-in support for Tor. You can quickly and securely access Onion sites on the Tor anonymity network. Note this isn’t available with the free or Basic plans.
ProtonVPN Servers Network
They have over 1,000 servers in 54 countries with a total Gbps capacity of 1,226. However, it’s important to note that server access is dependent upon the plan you choose.
If you’re using the Free plan, you only have access to three servers: Japan, Netherlands, United States.
If you don’t live in or near those countries, you’ll likely get slow speeds when using the Free plan.
The Basic plan gives you access servers in about 40 countries. You’ll find a wide range of options in North and South America, Europe, and Asia, with slightly fewer options for Africa. They publish a full list on their site.
Finally, the Plus and Visionary plans let you access all of their servers, including their Secure Core Servers in Switzerland, Iceland, and Sweden.
It’s a little confusing at first glance, but here’s how it works:
All three of those countries have multiple Secure Core servers. Each server then connects to a specific country. For example, if you wanted to use a VPN to unblock US Netflix through a Secure Core server, you’d connect to the server with a picture of a US flag next to the words “via Iceland,” “via Sweden,” and “via Switzerland” within the Plus/Visionary server section.
ProtonVPN VPN for Streaming and Torrenting
Is ProtonVPN good for unblocking region locks on streaming content?
ProtonVPN Free does not unblock streaming sites.
ProtonVPN Basic doesn’t typically have the reliable speeds for streaming in HD or 4K.
ProtonVPN Plus and Visionary both unblock many streaming sites. Both regularly unblock US Netflix, US Disney+, and BBC iPlayer.
Additionally, ProtonVPN Netflix speeds allow for sufficiently smooth streaming. Of course, keep in mind it’s not guaranteed to do so 100% of the time, as VPNs may need to adjust settings to continue to unblock streaming services.
If you’re interested in torrenting, you can do so with Basic or Plus. However, if you plan to torrent often, the faster speed of the Plus plan is likely worth the extra cost.
ProtonVPN vs NordVPN
NordVPN is another popular provider, so the question of ProtonVPN vs. NordVPN is a common one. Here’s a rundown:
NordVPN is headquartered in Panama. Their privacy laws are reasonably similar to Switzerland, in that they’re generally pro-privacy. No Panamanian laws require data preservation, so NordVPN doesn’t store anything related to your online activities.
Proton has a slight edge here in that they’re closer geographically to their servers, so they can maintain stricter controls over them.
Features and Transparency
Both companies offer a wide selection of features, and you’ll find a ton of overlap, such as each having a Kill Switch, Auto-Connect, and some plans that allow Tor over VPN.
NordVPN does a slightly better job with their Dedicated IP options, but both plans have a robust selection of standard features you’d find from a high-end VPN service.
Both companies have a wide selection of servers, but we give the point here to Proton. Their Secure Core servers offer a level of both physical and virtual security that’s practically unmatched.
Many NordVPN plans are priced a few dollars cheaper than similar Proton plans. However, NordVPN offers the best deals if you commit to a two or even three-year plan, and that’s not for everybody. Also, NordVPN doesn’t offer a free plan.
Other Swiss VPNs
If you’re a fan of Swiss privacy laws, or perhaps that location provides a fast connection for where you live, you’ll want to check out these other Swiss VPNs:
VyprVPN – Affordable and fast with a small but growing user base.
PerfectPrivacy – A Swiss-based VPN that launched in 2008.
ProtonVPN is arguably the most famous Swiss VPN, but other quality options exist.
Other Proton VPN Alternatives with a Free Plan
Proton’s Free VPN is considered one of the best around, but more options are always welcome. Here are three other VPNs with a free plan:
- Speedify – A US-based platform that uses a technology called channel-bonding to deliver fast speeds.
- Betternet – Based in the US and Switzerland, they’re primarily a free service.
- Windscribe – A Canadian VPN with ad-blocking capabilities and other features
One of the best aspects of a free plan is that you can try them with no risk.
Reddit about ProtonVPN
What is ProtoVPN’s Reddit presence? The ProtonVPN subreddit has 19,800 members but isn’t very active. If something major happens to the platform, the subreddit might pick up again, but right now, there aren’t many new ProtoVPN reviews on Reddit.
If you want more active discussion, visit r/VPN. They discuss all aspects of VPNs, including specific companies.
While every VPN claims that their main focus is on privacy, ProtonVPN truly walks the walk. Driven by the simple philosophy of creating a secure and private internet for all, and backed by a team of talented technicians, ProtonVPN has a lot to offer.
Their free plan is about as good as it gets and will work fine for anyone who uses the Internet mainly for emails and general surfing. If you’re looking to stream HD video, their Plus and Visionary plans allow you to do so, even in other regions.
From their unique Secure Core Servers to their home country’s laws and their overall commitment to privacy, ProtonVPN is worth a close look if you’re looking for a reliable VPN provider.