Virtual private networks offer a variety of benefits that can enhance your online activity. In addition to using VPNs for general privacy purposes, many people use them to stream geographically restricted content from around the world. When you connect to a VPN, your internet traffic is encrypted and your IP address changes to the IP address of the VPN server you connect to. This means that your visible location changes to that of the server you’re using, making it appear as though you’re somewhere else — allowing you to access content otherwise unavailable in your location.
At CNET, we’ve spent years rigorously testing nearly a dozen of the best VPNs available to determine which ones are the best for various platforms or use cases, including for streaming. Not all VPNs are created equal when it comes to streaming capabilities, which is why we put VPNs through their paces to develop this list of the best streaming VPNs. You can use the VPNs listed here to access your home Netflix library while traveling or unblock content on all kinds of other streaming services like Max, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus and Hulu. You can even use a VPN to bypass sports broadcast blackouts and watch your favorite teams without any restrictions. Just make sure to check your streaming service’s Terms of Service to see if it says anything about prohibiting VPN use because you don’t want to be mistakenly in violation of the service’s Terms.
What is the best VPN for streaming right now?
ExpressVPN is the best streaming VPN on the market. It successfully unblocks Netflix, Disney Plus and Amazon Prime Video in the US and UK. The ExpressVPN app boasts great customization features but remains user-friendly for VPN beginners. NordVPN is a solid choice with minimal speed loss, superb reliability and broad device compatibility. Surfshark offers the best price-to-performance ratio, with decent speeds and streaming service support. For VPN newcomers, we recommend IPVanish, which, despite its uneven speeds, keeps its app uncomplicated and easy to navigate.
Best VPN for streaming in 2023
Other VPNs we tested
If you want a VPN that’s free and still able to stream the US Netflix library, then Proton VPN is the ideal choice. Proton VPN is currently the only free VPN the CNET recommends, because it’s secure, safe to use and doesn’t put any limits on speed or usage. Technically, Proton VPN’s free servers aren’t optimized for streaming, but we still achieved sufficient speeds and were able to smoothly stream Netflix content through the VPN’s free US servers. With Proton VPN’s premium service, which includes servers in 69 countries (as opposed to three with the free plan), we were able to access content from several Netflix regional libraries as well as content on Hulu, Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus. The only hiccup we ran into was that we were unable to stream Disney Plus on MacOS through Proton’s US servers, although it worked fine on other platforms.
Private Internet Access
The wallet-friendly Private Internet Access, or PIA, is an open-source VPN provider focused on security. Although PIA worked well enough for Netflix and Amazon Prime Video US and UK libraries, we couldn’t get it to work for UK Disney Plus streaming. Despite its affordability compared with many VPN rivals, it’s tough to recommend for streaming. Additionally, PIA doesn’t have a Firestick app in the Amazon Appstore or available to sideload — instead, you’ll need to use its Smart DNS option. While Private Internet Access’s Smart DNS isn’t difficult to install, it’s not as intuitive as apps from ExpressVPN, Surfshark or NordVPN. Ultimately, PIA is a fantastic VPN with strong privacy features, but its streaming shortcomings make it suitable only for casual entertainment needs.
How we test VPNs for streaming
We know choosing a VPN for streaming can be a tall task, so we thoroughly tested different providers using different streaming services on several platforms. For each VPN, we evaluated each provider’s streaming performance on mobile, desktop and dedicated streaming devices like Amazon’s Fire TV Stick. We connected to dozens of server locations with each VPN to determine if the service was able to unblock geo-restricted content from different regions around the world on streaming services like Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video. We noted whenever a VPN was blocked from accessing certain geo-restricted content, and we checked to make sure the streaming experience was smooth and free of buffering when a VPN was able to successfully stream content. Each VPN we’ve listed here is a capable VPN for streaming, but one may work better for you than another, based on your particular needs or budget. Each VPN here also offers a money-back guarantee, so you can try them out to confirm a provider works for your needs before you fully commit to one.
Factors to consider in a VPN for streaming
Based on our years of experience using and testing VPNs, we’ve established the following list of factors you should consider when choosing a VPN for streaming.
Your VPN’s capacity to access streaming content is, of course, the top factor to consider in a VPN for streaming. If your VPN can’t access streaming content, then it isn’t fit for this purpose. And it’s not just access to streaming content in general that’s important to consider; it’s also important to make sure that the VPN you choose works well for the streaming service you want to access. This is where free trials and money-back guarantees really come in handy, because not all VPNs work well for all streaming services.
Your VPN’s speed performance plays a major role in the overall quality of your streaming experience. You’ll need a VPN that’s fast, especially if you’re streaming in 4K or if you’re accessing geo-blocked content from a region that’s a considerable enough distance from your physical location. If your VPN is slowing your connection too much, you may end up experiencing a lot of buffering or a lower-quality video playback.
Regardless of what you’re using your VPN for, privacy is a key consideration for any VPN service. Your VPN should have privacy measures in place like DNS leak protection, a kill switch and a no-logs policy (bonus points for one that’s been audited or tested in the wild). A VPN that provides the necessary privacy protections will ensure that your internet traffic is never leaked unencrypted, including what sites you’re visiting and what content you’re streaming.
A good VPN for streaming should have a network of servers in locations across the globe. If you’re looking to fully optimize your streaming and get access to the largest selection of streaming content, then you’ll probably want to choose a VPN with servers located in the largest number of countries. But if you’re looking to access content from a specific region, you should check to ensure the VPN you want to use has servers in the region(s) you need. You can check the VPN’s server page on its website to see what countries it has servers in prior to purchasing a subscription.
You’ll also want to make sure that the VPN you choose is compatible with the device on which you want to stream content, whether that’s a mobile device, laptop, smart TV or streaming device. Most VPNs are compatible with a wide range of devices, but it’s always a good idea to confirm that the service you’re considering will work with the device you want to use.