UK citizens are largely unaware that Britain has become what is arguably the most extreme surveillance state in the Western world. Thanks to prurient new laws and a very aggressive copyright climate, the UK is also one of the most censored countries in the Western world.
The solution to all these problems is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This hides what you get up to the internet from the government and defeats website blocks. Indeed, more than in most places, internet users in the need VPN technology to enjoy freedoms that people elsewhere in the world take for granted.
In a hurry? Get a handy side-by-side view of the VPNs that made our list below. Keep scrolling for a more in-depth look.
The Best VPNs for the UK: Side-by-Side Summary
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Best UK VPNs: In-depth Summary
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- High speed for ultra-fast streaming
- More than 800 servers & global coverage
- Multiple usage on up to 5 devices
- No Logs Policy, guaranteed security and encryption
- Could be faster
CyberGhost‘s software is easy-to-use while also being very fully featured. It uses very strong encryption, and 5 simultaneous connections is generous. Being based in Romania and keeping no meaningful logs is also a big draw. Like ExpressVPN, some minimal statistics are kept, but with no time stamp or IPs recorded, these present no threat to users' privacy.
CyberGhost’s great logging policy, decent local (burst) speeds, and fully featured software are a winning combination. And witha 7-day free premium trial plus 30-day no-quibble money back guarantee, there is zero reason not to give it a whirl.
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- 30-day money-back guarantee
- No usage logs
- Servers in 94 countries
- Excellent customer service
- P2P: yes
- A bit pricey - but worth it!
Based in the British Virgin Islands, ExpressVPN is a popular UK VPN provider, thanks in no small part to its excellent customer service. Our Express VPN review found their service to be very slick and professional, ExpressVPN provides 24/7 support and offers a very generous and a 100% genuine 30-day quibble-free guarantee. Its Windows, Mac OS X, Android, and iOS software is notable for its ease of use, and ExpressVPN offers a custom firmware for routers. Although not the cheapest VPNs 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 operating systems, five simultaneous connections.
PrivateVPN is a Swedish based VPN that has a lot on offer. Security is strong, and subscribers get a lot of different encryption options. In addition, the firm provides an outstanding zero logs policy. The software is great and is available for all popular platforms. Finally, it has a good spread of server locations and connection speeds were pretty fast – and definitely good enough for streaming.
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- Fast speeds
- No usage logs
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- P2P: yes
- Based in Hungary
- A bit pricey
Buffered operates from Hungary. Therefore, it is not required to keep any logs (although it does keep some connection logs for internal use). 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 45 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, in hotels and so forth, by searching for open ports in the local LAN neighborhood. Additional features: three simultaneous connections.
How We Picked the Top UK VPN for 2018
Here at BestVPN.com, we’re fortunate to have some of the VPN industry’s foremost experts as staff members. Based on our detailed VPN reviews and data collected as part of our BestVPN.com Awards process, we’ve carefully considered a range of factors that go into making a great all-round VPN service for the UK.
We recognize that due to the versatility of VPN technology, VPN benefits for one user may miss the mark for another. As such, these top five VPN for UK picks are a consensus choice made after much careful deliberation by the BestVPN.com staff.
For more information about how we review VPNs visit BestVPN.com’s VPN Review Process Overview.
UK VPN FAQs
What is a VPN?
A VPN is a way to connect your computer or mobile devices securely to a “VPN server” run by a commercial VPN provider. Your computer then connects to the internet via this VPN server.
- Using a VPN is arguably the single most effective measure you can take to improve your online privacy and security.
- The VPN encrypts all data passing between your device and the VPN server. This is sometimes referred to as an “encrypted tunnel.” The VPN hides your data from your Internet Service Provider (ISP), so that it can’t spy on what you do online.
- VPN providers usually operate server locations around the world. This is great for avoiding censorship, as you can simply connect to a server located in a country where there is no censorship.
- When you connect to the internet via a VPN server, anyone on the internet will see the Internet Protocol (IP) address of the VPN server, not your real IP.
How do VPNs work?
To use a VPN you must sign-up to a its service, such as one of those listed above. You then usually just download it software onto your device, select a server location you wish to connect to, and away you go! Alternatively, you can install a VPN on many routers. More on this later.
VPNs are the Swiss Army knife of the internet security and privacy world. They can protect you from hackers, unblock websites, defeat government censorship, prevent blanket government surveillance, help protect against tracking by websites, provide privacy when torrenting, and more.
The only real downside to using a VPN is that it will slow down your internet connection. If you connect to VPN server located geographically nearby in order to access a website also located nearby, then you can expect around a 10 percent hit to the internet speed you get without using VPN. If you connect to a server halfway across the planet, you should expect a much greater hit.
It is also a case that some VPN providers do better than others when it comes to speed performance, which is why every review we publish includes detailed speed tests This is due to factors such as server processing power, available bandwidth, and load (how many other people are using the server at the same time as you).
For an in-depth look at what VPNs are, and they can (and can’t) help you, please check out VPNs for Beginners – What You Need to Know.
Do I need a VPN in the UK?
Yes. VPN benefits include:
Use a VPN for Preventing Blanket Government Surveillance
“The UK has just legalised the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. It goes further than many autocracies.”
The IPA provides the UK government with the legal framework to spy on every citizen’s telephone conversations, emails, text messages, and web browsing history.
It also grants the government wide powers to hack into computers, force companies to weaken the security of their encrypted products with backdoors, and imprison any whistleblower who attempts to warn customers that this has happened.
Furthermore, the information collected will be available to a ridiculously large number of government organizations. These include bodies 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.
In order for the government to spy on every UK resident’s every online activity, all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and telecoms companies must keep detailed metadata logs for 12 months. A leaked draft document shows that the government is fully planning to implement mass real-time surveillance of ISP customers, and to force backdoors into encrypted products.
“Extreme,” therefore, hardly does the IPA justice. The UK government has granted itself the power to become the most repressive surveillance state in the so-called free world. For a full discussion on why this terrible law constitutes a full-frontal assault on our freedom, please see here.
Although using a VPN is unlikely to protect you against a targeted attack, it will protect you against the kind of blanket government surveillance permitted by the IPA. All your data is encrypted between your device that the VPN server so your ISP cannot see it, and while your ISP can see that you are connected to a VPN server, it cannot see what you get up to on the internet after that.
And if your ISP cannot see this stuff, then neither can the British government (at least, not unless it starts to actively target you for surveillance). Do be aware, however, that VPN companies based in the UK are subject to the IPA.
What information do UK VPNs keep?
By law, UK VPNs are required to keep the same information that ISPs and other communications providers are. This includes:
- Your IP address
- Your personal details (address, payment details, etc.)
- A log of every website you visit with an associated timestamp. Individual web pages you visit within a website are not required to be logged (although in theory non-HTTPS protected pages visited can be).
As already noted, according to law this information can be freely accessed by a wide range of government bodies.
In practice, the government has been busy over the last year dealing with more pressing matters than implementing the IPA. UK-based VPNs have told us privately that no-one has contacted them to in order to force full compliance with the IPA.
This may well be true but is in defiance of the law as it stands. Indeed, even before the IPA “formalised” the arrangement into law, UK telecoms providers (including VPNs) were unofficially required to keep detailed logs.
Use a VPN to Evade Censorship
UK residents are now required by law to prove that they are over 18 in order to access adult content online. Even more controversially, the new Digital Economy Act requires ISPs to censor websites that feature “non-conventional” sex acts.
It should be stressed that many such “non-conventional” sex acts are perfectly legal. That the UK government can take it upon itself to censor legal content on prurient grounds sets a dangerous precedent for censoring political and social content “for the good of society.”
Use a VPN to Protect Yourself While Torrenting
All major UK ISPs have now agreed to issue “educational letters” to customers who pirate copyrighted content. These letters do, admittedly, lack teeth. A relatively obscure provision of the Digital Economy Act, however, most certainly does not…
Copyright pirates who share infringing material can now be jailed for up to 10 years! The government claims that only large-scale commercial pirates will be targeted, but has refused to set a threshold on how the law can be applied.
“A person…who infringes copyright in a work by communicating the work to the public commits an offense if [the person] knows or has reason to believe that [they are] infringing copyright in the work, and…knows or has reason to believe that communicating the work to the public will cause loss to the owner of the copyright, or will expose the owner of the copyright to a risk of loss.”
This means that, according to the letter of the law, you can be jailed for ten years for peer-to-peer (P2P) downloading a single movie.
It is worth noting here that this provision affects P2P torrenters, but not those who stream via Kodi or streaming websites. This is because with the BitTorrent protocol you are literally sharing files with other torrent users, whereas with streaming you are downloading content only.
Now, here at BestVPN.com we do not condone copyright piracy. To say that we think the threat of 10 years in jail just for downloading a few episodes of Game of Thrones is disproportionate to an obscene degree, however, is something of an understatement!
Use a VPN to Protect You from WiFi Hackers
A VPN will protect you from hackers when using public WiFi hotspots, as your data is secure between your computer and the VPN server. Even if you connect to a fake “evil twin” hotspot, the VPN will protect your data, as it is encrypted.
Use a VPN to Prevent Tracking by Websites
A VPN will help prevent websites from uniquely identifying you and tracking you as you surf the web. They do this to learn your browsing habits, all the better to target adverts at you. A VPN helps because websites you visit will see the IP address of the VPN server, not your real IP. The VPN therefore acts as an IP blocker, helping to keep your identity safe when you surf the web.
Use a VPN to Unblock Netflix
If you connect to a VPN server in another country, as far as websites are concerned you appear to be in that country. This is a great way to access restricted websites that ban overseas visitors, or which have regional restrictions on the content available.
British sports fans are also in for a treat when using a VPN. A VPN allows you to unblock live sporting events from around the world, such as the 2018 World Cup. It can also allow you to subscribe to services such as BeIN, which provide a cheap way to watch the English Premier League and other competitions.
Are VPNs legal in the UK?
Yes. There is nothing illegal about using a VPN in the UK. Indeed, use of VPNs by both private citizens and businesses who use the technology for secure networking is so common that it is in no way regarded as dodgy or suspect.
Of course, what you are doing with the VPN may be illegal. Watching copyrighted content is a good example of this.
How to Choose a UK VPN
When choosing a VPN it useful to first think about what you mainly want a VPN for…
For Preventing Blanket Government Surveillance
As already noted, by law UK VPNs are required to keep the same information that ISPs and other communications providers are. If you wish to evade government surveillance it is therefore vital to choose a VPN based not just outside the UK, but outside its Five Eyes (FVEY) and even Fourteen Eyes spying partners.
Given that the government is pushing forward with plans to force all UK companies to backdoor their encrypted products, I would also recommend only connecting to VPN servers located outside the UK and FVEY countries.
Good server locations to connect to are the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Romania. These are close enough to the UK that distance will have a minimal impact on your internet performance, but they do not require VPN providers to log users’ activity.
For Evading Censorship
VPNs are great or evading censorship. Just connect to a VPN server located somewhere that does not censor the content you wish to access! Again, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Romania are all great options for UK users.
UK law can only reach as far as the UK shoreline, so if you wish to access adult content without providing your ISP or the websites you visit with proof of real-life identity, then use a VPN and avoid British websites.
Not using a British VPN should, by this point, go without saying!
Thanks to the extensive logging British VPNs perform, together with a very hostile copyright environment, we do not recommend torrenters use a British VPN.
The Netherlands, Switzerland, and Romania do not require VPN providers to log traffic. They therefore make great server locations for torrenters to connect to. Just be aware not all VPNs permit P2P downloading, so be sure to pick one that does.
Please check out 5 Best VPNs for Torrenting for an in-depth (albeit non-UK specific) look at this subject.
For Protection from WiFi Hackers
Any VPN will protect you when using public WiFi, and in situations where you don’t trust the WiFi operator. It will also protect you against KRACK attacks. Strong encryption is ideal, but even weak encryption should stump most WiFi hackers.
For Preventing Tracking by Websites
Again, any VPN will do. However, you should also use privacy browser extensions to give you a more complete protection. Firefox for Linux is open source and is compatible with all Firefox privacy add-ons.
For Unblocking Netflix and Live-streaming Sports Events
The first consideration, of course, is that the VPN has servers in the country whose service it is you want to unblock! Speed is also important if you want to avoid buffering problems, so try to choose a service with good VPN speeds.
It’s also important to check that a VPN works with the content you want to access before you subscribe. We try to keep up-t0-date on which VPNs work for services such as Netflix, but nothing beats taking advantage of free trials and money back guarantees in order to check for yourself.
How to Setup a VPN for the UK
Most VPNs these days offer custom apps for the major platforms. To use a VPN, all that is usually required is:
- Register an account with your chosen VPN provider.
- Download the relevant client or app for your device(s). Most providers send a confirmation email upon registration that contains all the links you’ll need. If not, a Downloads area should be clearly labeled on the website.
- Install and run the app. You’ll be likely be prompted to enter your account details on first run.
The exact details of how custom clients and apps are used varies a great deal. Check out our individual VPN provider reviews for in-depth looks at their software.
If your platform isn’t supported, your VPN provider will provide detailed manual setup guides for configuring your devices using its inbuilt VPN client or third-party software. Some providers offer better guides than others, but all get the job done.
How to Test a UK VPN
To test that your VPN is working, visit ipleak.net. If the VPN is working then “Your IP addresses” should show the IP of the VPN server, not your real IP address. If you’ve connected to a VPN server in a different country, it is very easy to see whether your IP has changed.
Here I am in the UK, connected to a US VPN server with no IP leaks. My ISP (Virgin UK) doesn’t currently support Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6), but if your does then also look out for IPv6 leaks! In the UK, IPv6 is currently best supported by BT Broadband and Sky Broadband.
If you see an IP address belonging either to yourself or your ISP, then you have an IP leak. This includes IPv4 DNS leaks, IPv6 leaks, and Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) leaks. Please consult A Complete Guide to IP Leaks to find out why this might be and how to fix the issue.
Get a Faster UK VPN
When it comes to internet speeds, faster is always best! Unfortunately, even the fastest VPN will slow down your internet connection a little.
This is primarily due to the fact that diverting your internet traffic through a VPN adds extra distance for the data to travel, and that encrypting/decrypting data takes processor time. Many VPNs will slow your internet down dramatically.
Some VPN providers, however, have invested heavily in good infrastructure. Usually, this means fast servers, though some providers even have their own network infrastructure.
With such a service and connected to a nearby VPN server, you can expect to enjoy 85%+ of your normal connections speeds when using the VPN. Note that the further away the server you connect to, the slower your internet will be.
For UK users, most locations in Europe will provide only minimal slowdown while also preventing blanket government surveillance of your internet activity.
On the other hand, if you wish to access services from specific locations you should connect to a VPN server as close as possible to that location for the fastest VPN speeds possible. UK users wishing to access US streaming servers should choose US East Coast servers. Servers in located New York and New Jersey are optimal because they are as close to the UK as is it possible for US servers to be.
Best VPN Protocols to Use in the UK
A VPN protocol is the set of instructions used to negotiate a secure encrypted connection between two computers. A number of such VPN protocols are commonly supported by commercial VPNs. The most notable of these are Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP), OpenVPN, Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) and Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2).
This is an old VPN protocol that hasn’t been considered secure for years and should, therefore, be avoided.
This is usually implemented with the Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) authentication suite (L2TP/IPsec). It is most certainly not secure against the NSA, but for most purposes is generally regarded as being secure if openly published pre-shared keys aren’t used. Compared with PPTP, L2TP is very secure.
A new standard that is increasingly popular because it is both fast and secure. How secure it is against the likes of the NSA is unknown, however. Mobile users may even prefer it to OpenVPN thanks to its improved ability to reconnect when an internet connection is interrupted.
This open source and now fully audited protocol is widely regarded as the most secure and versatile VPN protocol available (if well implemented). My general recommendation is to use an OpenVPN network whenever possible. Be wary, however, about the much-advertised use of 256-bit AES encryption. This is indeed a gold-standard cipher, but simply saying “256-bit” is in itself fairly meaningless. The devil is in the detail.
For more information on this subject please check out VPN Encryption: The Complete Guide, which is designed to be as layman-friendly as possible
Unblock US Netflix in the UK
According to our always up-to-date Notflix tool, the UK version of Netflix only offers half the titles its US counterpart does, but costs almost as much.
It is therefore unsurprising that many paying British Netflix subscribers want to access the same catalog that their American cousins do!
A VPN connection will allow you to do this, but please be aware that Netflix is actively trying to discourage this practice by banning all IP addresses that are known to belong to a VPN service. VPNs and Netflix are therefore locked in a cat-and-mouse struggle over the issue.
Please check out 5 Best VPNs for Netflix for the latest updates on which services do and do not unblock US Netflix. Note that we try to keep up with developments in this area, but this is not always possible.
We therefore always recommend that you take advantage of any free trials or money back guarantees to check for yourself that a service works at any given time.
Unblock British Websites to Watch UK TV
This article is primarily aimed at Brits, who do not need a VPN to access British websites such as BBC iPlayer and All4. These services, however, are world renown for the high-quality of their programming and for the fact that they are free at point of service.
The BBC has a unique funding model: all UK residents who own a TV are required to pay for a TV licence. One side-effect of this is that anyone in the UK can watch the BBC’s online catch-up service, iPlayer, for free.
In theory, to do this you must now be a member of a household that has paid its TV licence. However, currently, the only check on this is that website visitors are asked to click on a button saying “I have a TV licence. Watch now.”
Use of BBC iPlayer will soon also require that you register with the service, but registered emails will not be tied to TV licence ownership. In fact, even a disposable email address will work just fine.
All of which means that overseas viewers can easily watch high-quality BBC content on iPlayer for free. All you need is a UK IP address, which using a UK VPN server provides.
Much like US Netflix, iPlayer does try to block VPN users from accessing its service, but these blocks are much less effective than those of Netflix. Most VPNs and UK VPN servers continue to work with BBC iPlayer.
It might also be worth noting that if you like BBC iPlayer, All4 is another UK streaming service that provides some great content. As with BBC iPlayer, it can be easily accessed using a UK VPN server.
Using a VPN Router in the UK
Rather than installing a VPN on your computer or mobile device, you can install it on your router (depending on which router you have). Many modern routers have a VPN client built in, which you can usually configure via the router’s admin page.
You can also flash routers with third-party firmware such as DD-WRT and Tomato, which include a VPN client. Indeed, some providers offer pre-flashed routers that have been pre-configured for their service.
For a full discussion of the pros and cons of this, please see Five Best VPN Routers and 5 Best DD-WRT Routers. We also have a guide to setting up OpenVPN on DD-WRT routers here and you might also want to check out 5 Best VPN Services for DD-WRT Routers.
Best VPNs for the United Kingdom: Conclusion
Are you a British citizen? Then congratulations! You are one of the most surveilled and censored citizens in the so-called free world. Yay! Good news is that, as long as you stay well away from British VPNs, a VPN will protect your privacy and unblock the web. There also many other VPN benefits!