ExpressVPN

5 Best UK VPN Services (2016)

In this look at the Best UK VPN Services (England, Scotland, Wales, and N. Ireland) I will discuss how using VPNs for the UK can provide at least a modicum of privacy in this surveillance age.

Western governments are showing ever more enthusiasm for turning their countries into Orwellian surveillance states. At the forefront of this alarming trend is the UK. Once known for being the birthplace of modern democracy and beacon of liberty and tolerance, British people are now among the least free citizens of the so-called “free world.”

Indeed, government surveillance is not the only issue facing UK citizens. UK ISPs block more websites than anywhere else in the Western world. Ostensibly to prevent copyright piracy and inappropriate access to porn, access to a great deal more is restricted.

On the plus side, the UK makes some of the best TV in the world! In addition to allowing Brits to defeat government surveillance and evade censorship, UK VPN services allow non-UK residents ready access to popular geo-restricted services such as BBC iPlayer and Channel4 All 4.

Best UK VPN Services Summary

Disclosure: compensated affiliate: click here for more information

Rank Company Score Price Link

1

ExpressVPN Logo
Read Review10/10
$8.32 / monthVisit Site

2

NordVPN Logo
Read Review8.8/10
$5.75 / monthVisit Site

3

Buffered Logo
Read Review8.4/10
$8.25 / monthVisit Site

4

IPVanish Logo
Read Review7.4/10
$6.49 / monthVisit Site

5

VPNArea Logo
Read Review7/10
$4.92 / monthVisit Site
Editor's Choice Award

Winner

ExpressVPN

5/5

Best UK VPN Service

  • ProsPROS
  • 30-day money back guarantee
  • No usage logs
  • Servers in 78 countries
  • Excellent customer service
  • P2P: yes
  • ConsCONS
  • Connection logs
  • A bit pricey

Based in the British Virgin Islands, ExpressVPN is a popular UK VPN provider, thanks in no small part to its excellent customer service. A very slick and professional VPN, ExpressVPN provides 24/7 support and offers a very generous and a 100% genuine 30-day quibble free guarantee.  Its Windows, Mac OSX, Android, and iOS software is notable for its ease of use. Although not the cheapest VPN service out there, when you consider that a full Smart DNS service is thrown in for free, ExpressVPN works out as great value for money.

Additional Features: P2P allowed, mobile apps for all OS’, five simultaneous connections.

Get the best UK VPN now!

Visit ExpressVPN »

30-day money back guarantee

2nd place

NordVPN

4.4/5

NordVPN

  • ProsPROS
  • No logs at all
  • Six simultaneous devices
  • Servers in 47 countries
  • 30-day money back guarantee
  • “Double-hop VPN”
  • ConsCONS
  • Speeds can be slow

NordVPN has its headquarters in Panama. This is excellent news for the more GCHQ-phobic out there, as Panama sits well outside FVEY’s area of influence. It also keeps no logs at all, uses strong encryption, and accepts payment via Bitcoins. Some may appreciate NordVPN’s “double-hop” VPN chaining feature, although I am dubious about its value.  Some NordVPN servers are rather slow, but its 30-day money back guarantee means that you have plenty of time to test out this privacy-focused VPN service for yourself.

Additional Features: P2P: yes.

Visit NordVPN »


3rd place

Buffered

4.2/5

Buffered

  • ProsPROS
  • Fast speeds
  • No usage logs
  • 30-day money back guarantee
  • P2P: yes
  • Based in Hungary
  • ConsCONS
  • A bit pricey
  • Some connection logs
  • Does not accept Bitcoins

Buffered operates from Hungary. Therefore, it is not required to keep any logs (although it does keep some connection logs). It also means that this small provider is out of the direct reach of GCHQ and its Fourteen Eyes spying partners. Buffered runs VPN servers in 16 different countries, including the usual favorite locations, and of course has plenty of UK VPN servers. Its 30-day money back guarantee is quite generous, but please do be aware that conditions apply. Buffered’s most interesting and unique feature is “port discovery.” This allows you to bypass login requirements when using WiFi at airports and hotels etc. by searching for open ports in the local LAN neighborhood.

Additional Features: 3 simultaneous connections, “port discovery.”

Visit Buffered »


4th place

IPVanish

3.7/5

IPVanish

  • ProsPROS
  • No logs at all
  • 5 simultaneous connections
  • Smart DNS included
  • Accepts Bitcoin
  • P2P allowed
  • ConsCONS
  • Based in the US
  • So-so support

IPVanish is US-based no-logs (at all) provider. Being US-based means it may not be ideal if NSA (and therefore GCHQ) surveillance worries you. However, it accepts payment in Bitcoin and permits P2P, and torrenting.  IPVanish throws in a free Smart DNS service for all customers, and although a little basic, its client works well. With servers in an impressive 61 countries, IPVanish is also an excellent choice when traveling.

Additional features: Apps for Android and iOS, 61 countries.

Visit IPVanish »


5th place

VPNArea

3.5/5

VPNArea

  • ProsPROS
  • No logs at all
  • Five simultaneous devices
  • Accepts Bitcoin
  • 7-day money back guarantee
  • P2P: yes
  • ConsCONS
  • Minor issues

This small Bulgarian company has always impressed me with its well-designed Viscosity-based client (with DNS leak protection, a per-app kill switch, auto-IP changer, and server statistics). VPNArea’s five simultaneous connection limit is very generous. Furthermore, it accepts potentially anonymous payment via Bitcoins. Its UK VPN servers are well optimized, and you shouldn’t have issues with streaming or anything else that you’re doing.

Visit VPNArea »


Considerations for UK VPN Services

GCHQ

It’s not just a US problem. The UK has a huge dog in this fight. They [GCHQ] are worse than the US.

Edward Snowden to the Guardian.

In 2013 Edward Snowden shone a torch onto the extent to which the NSA’s sidekick, UK intelligence and security organization GCHQ, spies on both UK citizens, and on all international traffic that flows through its transatlantic internet terminus.

GCHQ headquaters

To this end it has hacked billions mobile phone SIM cards, harvested millions of text messages and phone conversations (for when companies don’t just hand over customers data,) infected tens of thousands of computers with malware, collected millions of private (and often explicit) images from citizens webcams, subverted anti-virus software, and much more.

It is, therefore, safe to assume that everything you do online, every phone call you make, and every text you send is being monitored by GCHQ if you live in the UK. And as a member of the Five Eyes (FVEY) Anglophone spying alliance, data that GCHQ is not permitted to collect on UK citizens by law (which is not much) can instead be obtained via it best buddy the NSA, which is not so constrained.

And all this was happening before the upcoming…

Investigatory Powers Bill

When Snowden revealed the terrible extent of NSA spying on its citizens, the United States did a lot of soul-searching, and meaningful debates were held on the proper use of such powers.  In the UK, the government simply declared that it would “formalise” into law what it was doing behind closed doors anyway…

The Investigatory Powers Bill (aka the Snoopers’ Charter Mark 2) is a direct assault on the freedom of every UK citizen. Under its provisions:

UK ISPs will be required to keep records of every customers’ internet activity for a minimum of 12 months

Note that UK VPN providers (such as HideMyAss) are already required to keep logs, and will hand them over to the police when requested to do so.

The government’s right to perform mass surveillance of the British population will become enshrined in law

Interestingly, the Bill also grants the UK government the explicit legal right to spy on all data passing through fiber-optic cables entering and exiting the UK (again this is something that is known to happen covertly already). Of course, this includes UK VPN t

This effectively means that the UK government is granting itself the right to spy on everyone on the planet, regardless of nationality. Equally, interestingly, not a single foreign government has complained about this…

UK GCHQ

Police, security organizations, and other government bodies will be able to access stored logs without a warrant

This list of government and council bodies with this power is insanely long. It includes organizations such as the Department of Health, HM Revenue and Customs, the Postal services Commission, the NHS ambulance service Trust, the Scottish Ambulance Service Board, and many more.

Despite May’s talk of “double-lock” oversight, there will be no effective control for access to this incredibly vast and sensitive trove of personal data.

Legal requirement for companies (both UK-based and international) to co-operate in decrypting users’ data

With deceptively bland title of “Maintenance of technical capability notice,” Section 189 of the Bill requires all companies operating in the UK (even if not UK companies) to comply with UK government demands, as long as “it is (and remains) practicable for those relevant operators to comply with those requirements.”

This almost certainly means that the government will try to force tech companies to introduce back doors into their encrypted products. At the time, the Section 190(8) of the Bill makes it a criminal offense for anyone involved to reveal the existence of these backdoors, under any circumstances!

Censorship

Porn filters

In addition to firmly placing the UK on the path to becoming a full-fledged surveillance state, the government has a penchant for censorship. Using typical “think of the children” rhetoric, all major ISPs have been pushed into introducing “porn filters”.

These filters are voluntary on the part of the ISP’s bill-paying customers, but not other family member, tenants, etc. who also share a connection. In addition to this, these filters are on by default for new customers. This forces them to go through the embarrassment of contacting the ISP and asking for access to porn be turned on, should they wish unrestricted access to the internet.

Even more alarming is that these ISP “porn filters” block much more than porn. Sites blocked include ChildLine, the NSPCC and the Samaritans (02), award-winning British sex education site BishUK.com, the Edinburgh Women’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (TalkTalk), Sexual Health Scotland, Doncaster Domestic Abuse Helpline, domestic abuse tackling website Reducing The Risk (BT), and more.

BT’s filter, for example, covers not just porn, but 17 categories of internet content that parents can restrict their children’s access to. This covers a huge swathe of information (Pornography, Drugs, Alcohol & Tobacco, Hate & Self-harm, Nudity, Weapons & Violence, Gambling, Dating, Social Networking, File Sharing, Games, Media Streaming, Obscene & Tasteless, Fashion and Beauty, Homework (for blocking sites during certain hours), Search Engines & Portals, and Sex Education.)

This means that abusive and controlling parents can prevent vulnerable children from accessing vital services and information designed to inform and protect them. The last category, Sex Education, shocked many observers by including apparently homophobic filters.

Copyright piracy

The British government has amply demonstrated its willingness to bend over to an extremely well-funded (.pdf) pro-copyright lobby. It then uses the blunt tools of domain takedowns and IP blocks to censor what now amounts to hundreds of allegedly “pirate” websites. This puts the UK high on the list of most censored countries in the “free world”.

The Pirate Bay

In addition to this, under the upcoming Digital Economy Bill, the maximum penalty for online copyright infringement will jump from 2 years to an eye-watering to 10 years in jail! When combined with the IPB’s requirement for ISPs to keep logs of customers’ activities to at least 12 months, the potential danger of this Bill becomes even more alarming.

The government claims that this harsh penalty will be reserved for repeat offenders who pirate on a commercial scale. But when has any government not ended up using the full powers it has at its disposal?

How using VPNs for the UK can help

By now I hope that one thing is very clear. If you live in the UK and care even slightly about privacy or censorship, then you should use a UK VPN service.

  • Your ISP (and therefore the government) can’t see what you get up to the internet. This is because the connection between your computer and the UK VPN server is securely encrypted. If the government already has you in its sights then using a VPN is unlikely to protect you against targeted surveillance, but a VPN will be effective against the kind of ubiquitous dragnet surveillance routinely performed by GCHQ and its ilk.
  • You can evade censorship by the simple expedient of connecting to VPN servers located in places that aren’t censored. Using VPNs for the UK will also bypass your ISP’s porn filters (saving you the embarrassment of asking for them to be turned off).

Countries such as the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Romania provide good VPN server locations from the UK because:

  • VPN providers are not required to log in those countries
  • Copyright enforcement for personal use if lax
  • They are close enough to the UK have minimal impact on internet performance

UK-based VPN providers should be avoided at all costs, as they log everything. Providers based in Five Eyes spying alliance countries should also be avoided, as the intelligence agencies of these countries share everything with GCHQ.

The situation as regards to logging at server centers is unclear. Foreign “no-logs” VPNs are unlikely to keep logs themselves, but the data centers themselves likely do. I, therefore, recommend against using UK  VPN servers.

Watch iPlayer with VPNs for the UK, Britain, and England

On the other hand, UK VPN servers are very popular among international users. This is because they allow access to BBC iPlayer, the streaming portal of the BBC. The BBC is famous worldwide for the high quality of its programming.

BBC iPlayer September 2016

Almost all VPN services operate UK servers. Much like US Netflix, the BBC is trying to block VPN users from accessing its services (which are only supposed to be available to UK residents who have paid the TV License fee).

In practice, most services still work. But it is good idea to take advantage of any free trials or money back guarantees to check before laying down real cash.

VPNs for the UK Conclusion

Governments everywhere are pushing for greater surveillance powers (and to a lesser extent for greater censorship – especially where Intellectual property rights are threatened!). The UK is, regrettably, leading the charge in this. The best way to push back against this sustained attack on our freedoms is to encrypt everything. And using one of these best UK VPN services is a great place to start.

Best VPNs for the UK (2016) Summary

Disclosure: compensated affiliate: click here for more information

Rank Company Score Price Link

1

ExpressVPN Logo
Read Review10/10
$8.32 / monthVisit Site

2

NordVPN Logo
Read Review8.8/10
$5.75 / monthVisit Site

3

Buffered Logo
Read Review8.4/10
$8.25 / monthVisit Site

4

IPVanish Logo
Read Review7.4/10
$6.49 / monthVisit Site

5

VPNArea Logo
Read Review7/10
$4.92 / monthVisit Site

Douglas Crawford I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. Find me on Google+

Related Coverage


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *