14 June 2021
If you’re concerned about your privacy when using your Mac online, a virtual private network (VPN) service could be the solution. With a VPN, you can hide your IP address and therefore your location with just a few clicks. To anyone looking on from the outside, you appear to be somewhere else in the world, and no one will be able to link your IP address back to you.
Before the world was hit by a global pandemic, VPN use was growing. But when lockdowns really took hold, it exploded. With more people working from home, demand for VPNs went through the roof, increasing by up to 41% at certain points. And the key motivation for many VPN users has been privacy - particularly when using public wi-fi.
Not only are VPNs great for your privacy, but they can also help you get around geo-blocking. For example, if you’re based in the US, you could use a VPN for your Mac to watch UK Netflix content. That’s because VPNs can trick websites and online apps into thinking you’re in a different country.
When it comes to choosing a VPN service, though, you’re spoilt for choice. There are tons of different VPNs for Mac. To help you find the right VPN service for you, we’ve compiled 10 best ones available right now.
Best for speed: NordVPN
Best for security: MacKeeper
Best free trial: CyberGhost
Best for apps: ExpressVPN
Best for price: NetShade
Best interface: VyprVPN
Best for beginners: TunnelBear
Best for servers: Private Internet Access
Best for countries: PureVPN
Best for simultaneous connections: Surfshark
The NordVPN app for Mac makes things easy, coming with a few preset VPN connections optimized for certain types of tasks – Downloads, Speed and Browsing. These presets choose the location for you, so you don’t get to choose what country they’re in, but they’re still useful. There are also servers designed especially for P2P downloading.
In our tests, NordVPN connected at an average of 91% of our full broadband speed. It wasn’t always the fastest Mac VPN in every location, but it was the fastest overall and the most consistent.
You get four VPN protocols to choose from: NordLynx, IKEv2, OpenVPN (UDP) and OpenVPN (TCP). Plus useful features like a kill switch, which disconnects your internet if the VPN fails for any reason. That helps to keep your real IP address under wraps. And if you’re worried about your anonymity, you’ll be glad to hear that PricewaterhouseCoopers AG audited NordVPN twice and confirmed it to be fully compliant with its no-logging policies.
NordVPN also comes with security features that you don’t generally see in VPN software. Among them is CyberSec, which, when enabled, blocks access to harmful websites. Another useful feature is Dark Web Monitor, which notifies you if your email address is found in leaked lists on the dark web.
By default, PureVPN offers all the basic features you might need from a VPN. That includes a kill switch, P2P servers and the ability to save locations as favorites. PureVPN offers you a recommended location, but you can also sort locations by name or popularity. Unfortunately, there’s no way to filter out servers that don’t allow P2P or to sort servers by speed.
In the settings, you can switch between IPSec and IKEv2 protocols. And you can change things like startup behavior and auto-connect after waking your Mac from sleep. It’s not exactly feature-packed, but the interface is clean and easy to use. Dedicated IP and port forwarding are also available as optional extras.
Speed-wise, PureVPN was almost as good as NordVPN. Unfortunately, its overall speed score was pulled down by a terrible showing in a Ukrainian server, where it dropped down to 26%. Without that odd score, it was hitting around 88% of top speed.
Founded in 2018 and with 2.4m users worldwide, Surfshark has come a long way in a short space of time. With a rich list of features, healthy download speeds, and a huge variety of servers and locations, this is a great VPN for Mac users.
Easy to use, simple to navigate and quick to connect, it’s ideal for first-time users. As well as being able to quickly connect to the nearest country or the fastest server, you can connect to static IP servers and multi-hop servers.
Surfshark supports four protocols: OpenVPN (UDP), OpenVPN, (TCP), IKEv2 and Wireguard. It also includes CleanWeb, an ad blocker and tracker blocker. Plus it has essential features like a kill switch.
In terms of audits, Surfshark has been assessed by Germany-based Cure53, and it passed with flying colors. It doesn’t log user activity, so you can rest assured your privacy is protected at all times.
When tested, Surfshark returned inconsistent results. Overall, it came back with a score of 53%, but in some servers, we saw speeds of up to 88%. It works fine for things like watching streaming video, though.
Best of all, Surfshark doesn’t have any limits on devices or simultaneous connections.
Connecting you with a single click, ExpressVPN is a great-looking, easy-to-use VPN with a standard feature set and a solid spread of servers. You can use it across a variety of devices and its interface is clean and simple to navigate.
It also offers the most VPN protocols – six in total. As well as IKEv2 and both versions of OpenVPN, it supports Lightway (UDP and TCP) and L2TP/IPsec. And it has familiar features such as a kill switch and a browser extension.
ExpressVPN performed well in our tests. Its servers weren’t the fastest in any of the locations, but they were consistently high across the board. That’s not something we can say about some of the other VPNs here. Overall, ExpressVPN averaged around 74% of our top speed, with a few bad results dragging down what was otherwise a good set of scores.
Your privacy is assured too, thanks to zero-logging policies, confirmed by a PricewaterhouseCoopers audit. Plus you get the usual 256-bit AES encryption.
All in all, a pretty good Mac VPN, with no limit on the number of devices you can have attached to your account.
In our tests, VyprVPN returned some excellent results. Like all the VPNs in this test, it performed well in locations close to us, but it also did well in countries further afield. When connected to Ukraine, it hit an average of 94% of our full download speed and 93% of our upload speed - higher than any other VPN in this test group. It wasn’t the fastest in every location, but it’s certainly good enough for movies and file sharing.
VyprVPN supports a few different protocols: IKEv2, Wireguard, OpenVPN and Chameleon, designed for anti-censorship. It’s been independently audited by Leviathan Security, ensuring its no-logging credentials are legit. And, of course, it uses encryption, so your activity is always your business.
Feature-packed and with a good-sized network, Private Internet Access (PIA) is a worthy addition to this list – and one that’s terrific value for money. More than 35,000 servers spread across 78 countries gives it a solid presence, and the fact that you can connect up to 10 devices at a time is a welcome surprise.
Speed-wise, it did okay in some of the locations we tried. But when we connected to a more distant country, we saw our connection speed sink to an average of 5%. More than anything, the connection speed was inconsistent from server to server. In location we got a 92% download speed but only a 65% upload speed.
As well as a kill switch feature, PIA offers PIA Mace, a domain-blocker for ads, trackers and malware. It also supports dedicated IPs.
Although there was some talk about an independent audit, to date that still hasn’t happened. It does claim not to log user activity, though. And you can choose between 128-bit and 256-bit AES encryption. Open VPN (UDP and TCP) and Wireguard are supported.
It’s also worth noting that PIA belongs to Kape Technologies, the parent company of CyberGhost.
If you’re using CyberGhost on Windows, you’ll be thrilled with its speed and power. But this is a list of the best VPN for Mac, and it doesn’t quite hit those heights when it makes the jump to macOS. Our download tests uncovered mostly good speeds, but one connection – to a server in South Africa – saw CyberGhost come last.
Unfortunately, CyberGhost has not been independently audited since 2012, and there are some question marks over its owners. But it does have a zero-log policy, so you should remain anonymous.
One huge plus point is the free trial. Unlike most of the other apps we tested, CyberGhost doesn’t require you to hand over credit card details before you try it out. So you can test it properly before making a decision about whether to buy it or not.
MacKeeper is a little different from the other VPNs apps on our list. It’s not a dedicated VPN per se, but an all-in-one privacy, security and performance toolkit with an integrated VPN tacked on for good measure. Handy if you want to both protect and enhance your Mac browsing experience.
Where the VPN is concerned, there’s a lot to like. MacKeeper offers 296 server locations in 50 countries, including multiple locations in South America and one in Africa. This is less than some of the other VPNs in this list, but it’s not bad considering it's part of a multipurpose tool.
MacKeeper’s VPN is easy to use and connects relatively quickly, but its download speeds during our tests were low, only reaching an average of 32% of full speed. In our case, that’s still around 69Mbps, so it’s fine for everyday browsing and light video streaming, but we wouldn’t recommend using this VPN for big downloads. And despite its impressive range of additional features, you won’t find VPN-specific extras, such as split tunneling or a kill switch.
While MacKeeper isn’t the best VPN for Mac, it’s great if you want an all-in-one security and optimization solution with added privacy features. As well as antivirus, a duplicate finder and a memory cleaner, it offers ad blocking, ID protection, an update tracker and much more. The fact it’s got a passable VPN client at no extra cost is impressive.
It might not have a long list of features or the large networks of its competitors, but TunnelBear stands apart as one of the most beginner-friendly VPNs around.
With its transparent privacy and no-logging policy, you know exactly where you stand when it comes to your data. It even has its software independently audited, committing to full public audits every year. As with SurfShark, these audits are completed by Cure53.
TunnelBear is cheaper than many other Mac VPNs, but it’s more limited. For a start, it only covers 38 countries, and there are no options for particular cities. It does have a kill switch feature, though, called VigilantBear. What you won’t find are options to change the VPN protocol. There is a free version too, but it only gives you 500MB of data a month, so it’s more like a very limited trial.
Depending on location, we found TunnelBear’s speed varied quite a bit. Connecting to Albania, it hit around 92% of our full download speed. But at the other end of the scale, we saw it drop down to 12% when connecting to South Africa.
Generally, though, TunnelBear’s servers are good. And if you don’t mind losing out on a few locations and some advanced features, it's not a bad option.
Independently owned and operated, and with servers in 18 countries and counting, NetShade is one of the cheapest VPNs here. You can get a three-year subscription for just $159, which works out at around $4 a month. You also try it for free without having to hand over any payment details.
However, NetShade offers far fewer servers than competing VPN software. Over those 18 countries, there are just 24 servers. The vast majority of these are in Europe, with a couple in the US and one in Canada. In the locations close to us, we saw consistently good speeds, but when we connected to a server on the other side of the world, our broadband speed dropped down to just 6%.
Its latest version, NetShade 8, is a ground-up rewrite of the app with valuable features including a kill switch. That’s a good feature to have in such an affordable solution. It also has some extra features like access, speed and ping tests. And it supports VPN, SOCK and HTTP proxy connection modes.
It’s not clear, though, NetShade has even been independently audited. But it does have a no-logging policy, and it’s dedicated to complete transparency about how it operates.
To compile our top 10, we compared the following:
To assess the speed of each Mac VPN service, we used each of them to connect to a range of different servers. We connected to servers in five countries, and tested the connection four times using SpeedTest by Ookla. We averaged those scores to work out the performance of the VPN servers compared to our full broadband speed without a VPN enabled.
We looked at how many servers and locations each VPN offered, as well as how many countries were offered.
A more subjective consideration of how each app works. We observed how quickly the app connected and how easy it was to find what we were looking for.
Which subscriptions offer the best value for money? And which allows you to try the software for free before you buy? These are the kind of questions we thought about when looking at pricing.
Quite simply, the number of devices you can have connected to your account, as well as how many can be actively connected at one time. This is important if you want a VPN on your phone, for example, or if you share with other people.
Some apps offer anti-malware and ID theft protection in addition to a VPN. Some have features like kill switches, while others don’t. These are all worth thinking about when buying a VPN for your Mac.
Following this, we ranked each software from 1 to 10 for each category. The best performer in each category received 10 points, the next best, 9 points, and so on, down to 1 point. We then totaled the category points to reach our final result.
How you choose a VPN for your Mac depends a lot on how you’re going to use it. If you just want to be anonymous and hide your location, you don’t need the fastest speeds possible. But if you want to download a lot of files or use P2P file sharing, the faster speeds you can get, the better.
Talking of P2P file sharing, a kill switch is a good idea. It will cut off your Mac’s internet connection if the VPN fails for any reason. That stops your real IP address from becoming visible to any external parties.
You also want to think about locations. Pretty much all VPNs offer connections to major European nations and countries like the USA and Canada. But if you want connections in Africa, Asia and other areas of the world, you need to make sure your chosen VPN actually has servers there.
Last, but least, price may be a big factor in your decision. Nearly all the VPNs we tried make you take up a subscription. And you can’t even try them out without signing up. Instead, you have to hand over money, then cancel the auto-renewal and then request a refund. You still get your money back, but it’s a hassle we could do without.
When you use a VPN, you connect to the VPN’s server, which directs your traffic. The VPN acts as a middleman between you and the internet. This stops your internet service provider (ISP) from tracking the sites you’re visiting. Also, websites monitoring your activity won’t know where you’re browsing from. The VPN makes it appear as though you’re accessing the web from the VPN server’s IP address instead of your own.
There are plenty of situations where using a VPN could be the difference between browsing the web safely and falling foul of hackers (or the authorities). Here are five:
In general VPN companies have no-logging policies. That means they don’t keep track of users or their activities. But the VPNs go a step further and get independent audits to prove they really aren’t storing any information that could be used to identify you. Based on that, as well as the fact it had the most consistent speeds in our tests, NordVPN should be top of your list.
|NordVPN||PureVPN||Surfshark||ExpressVPN||VyprVPN||Private Internet Access||CyberGhost||MacKeeper||TunnelBear||NetShade|
|Number of servers||5,400+||6,500+||3,200+||3,000+||700+||35,000+||7,000+||296||3,000+||24|
|Number of countries||59||140||65||94||60||78||91||50||38||18|
I've been using Macs for both work and leisure for more than 15 years, starting off with a second-hand G3 iMac running OS 9.
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