More than any in other country in the (so-called) free world, UK citizens need to protect their online privacy and right to access an unrestricted internet; and their first line of defense should be to use a good Virtual Private Network (VPN) service.
In addition to having the “the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy,” the UK censors a huge number of websites on copyright grounds, and will soon require everyone who watches pornography to prove that they are over 18.
A UK VPN will protect you from government surveillance and unblock censored websites. And just like everywhere else, it will allow you to stream US Netflix, protect you from WiFi hackers, and let you torrent with peace of mind.
We delve into all these points later in this article, but let’s first look at our picks for best UK VPN services in 2018.
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What are the Best UK VPNs?
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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.
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- No logs at all
- Six simultaneous devices
- Servers in 61+ countries
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- “Double-hop VPN”
- 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 The Five Eyes’ 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 for yourself. Additional features: P2P permitted.
Special Offer: 77% off 1-year plan!
- 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.
- Loved by consumers
- Super fast for streaming
- Zero logs
- Fully featured for security and privacy
- Fantastic customer care
- Not much
PrivateVPN is an amazing service from Sweden that users praise regularly. It is a superb choice for use in the UK. It is fast, efficient, easy to use, and extremely reliable. It also provides lightning fast speeds for streaming in HD. PrivateVPN truly is a pleasure to use and has all the important security features you might need. It also has servers in over 50 countries.
Encryption is military grade OpenVPN and this VPN keeps zero logs. Amazingly, this fantastic VPN is also super cheap. Why not try the 30-day money-back guarantee to see why this VPN is proving so popular?
- No logs at all
- Five simultaneous connections
- Smart DNS included
- Accepts bitcoin
- P2P allowed
- 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.
What is a VPN?
A VPN is a technology that helps you to stay secure and private on the internet. It creates a secure encrypted connection between your device and a VPN server run by a VPN provider. This means that:
1. Your internet provider (ISP) cannot see which websites you visit when you surf the internet
All it can see is that you connected to a web address that (if it even bothers to look it up) belongs to a server run by a VPN company.
2. It can also not see any of your data
As it is encrypted between your device and the VPN server. Between this and point 1, your ISP has no idea what you get up to online.
3. The UK government doesn’t know what you get up to online either
The government’s bulk surveillance program relies on ISPs to keep logs for 12 months. So if your ISP has no idea what you get up to online, then neither will the government. As a result, VPNs are great for preventing untargeted bulk surveillance – although they can’t stop the police from entering your house and confiscating your computer!
5. You can bypass all forms of censorship
Circumvent draconian censorship simply by connecting to a VPN located somewhere that does not restrict the internet (or require proof of identity to access porn).
4. Criminal hackers and dodgy WiFi hotspot operators can’t snoop on what you do online
Because all your data is securely encrypted, you don’t need to worry about hackers or insecure hotspots.
5. You can torrent safely
Because peers and anyone else watching on the internet will only see the IP address of the VPN server, not your real IP address, you can torrent in peace. Just be sure to pick a VPN that allows P2P. Please see 5 Best VPNs for Torrenting for more details.
6. You can access services such as US Netflix, Hulu or HBO
Access services unavailable in the UK, simply by connecting to a VPN server in the US (for example). Similarly, accessing Netflix though a US VPN server lets you watch twice as much stuff as using the British version of the service.
Check out our groovy Notflix tool if you want to drill down deeper! Note that all these services try to block VPN users, so do take advantage of any free trials and/or money back guarantees to ensure that a VPN service works for the content you want to accesses before stumping up your hard-earned cash.
As you can see, VPNs are pretty darn handy!
Avoid British VPNs
As we discuss below, the UK has the most intrusive surveillance laws of any country on this planet. UK VPN services are classed as communications providers under the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) and so are required to keep logs of pretty much everything you do online for 12 months.
The UK has just legalized the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. It goes farther than many autocracies. https://t.co/yvmv8CoHrj
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) November 17, 2016
Having talked to quite a few of UK VPNs, it seems the government has been too busy with other matters to enforce the new law as of yet; but it is the law. Indeed, the purpose of the IPA is simply to “formalise” the mass surveillance that has been going on in secret for years.
As Edward Snowden famously said:
“‘It’s not just a US problem. The UK has a huge dog in this fight.
‘They [gchq, the UK’s intelligence service] are worse than the US.”
Even before the IPA became law in December 2016, UK VPN services were informally required to keep extensive logs which have been used in the past to catch and convict their users’. If privacy is even a small part of why you use a VPN, we strongly recommend that you avoid British VPN providers.
“Supported by the NSA and with the prospect of sharing data, the British agency brushed aside all legal obstacles and embarked on mass surveillance of nearly a quarter of the world’s communications.”
Under the IPA, UK communications providers (which includes all UK VPN services) must log extensive metadata. 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).
This information is available to a very large number of government bodies with very little oversight. Indeed, it is primarily this lack of any meaningful oversight that recently caused a UK High Court to rule the IPA incompatible with European law and require that it be rewritten by the start of November 2018.
At time of writing, the law is still very much in place and the government has given no indication about how it will respond to this ruling. So if you do not want the government to know everything you do online, then use a VPN (but not a British VPN)!
Evade the UK’s porn filters
UK internet providers (ISPs) are already required by law to block access to porn sites unless you can prove that you are over 18. In reality, the age verification system or systems are not yet in place, but it is coming soon.
It could mean entering your phone number, email address, or credit card details, or could even require going to a shop, handing over ID and collecting a 16-digit code to use on a porn website.
Details have yet to be finalized, but it seems age verification will be handled by private companies such as MindGeek, which expects to sign-up between 20-25 million UK users. In theory this means that the government will not have direct access to data on which porn sites you visit, but who knows?
And even if the government does not have direct access to this data, there is a very high chance that criminal hackers will! As Pandora Blake from the Advisory Council of the Open Rights Group told the BCC:
“It’s going to be the most hackable list of what people like to look at ever. Do you remember the Ashley Madison case and people killed themselves. I don’t think it’s outrageous to fear that’s what we could be looking at here, an actual loss of life.“
Fortunately, the ISP porn filters can be easily evaded by using a VPN. Simply connect to a VPN server somewhere outside the UK. It is not yet clear, but British VPN services may well also be required to block porn sites without identification checks in place. Again, I recommend avoiding UK VPNs, just in case.
Can I use a free UK VPN?
Free VPNs exist, but they fall into two categories: those that are basically just free trials – offering a very limited free service in the hope that you will upgrade to a premium plan; and those that are criminal scams intent on stealing your personal data or bandwidth (or both!).
Please see our 5 Best Free VPNs for more details and a list of reputable providers (who all fall into the first category mentioned above). Although these free services are a limited, they will prevent blanket government surveillance and allow unrestricted access to the internet. As always, we recommend against using a free UK VPN service.
Unblock British channels
This article primarily concerns why Brits really should be using a VPN. Many people outside the UK, however, use UK VPN servers to access British websites such as BBC iPlayer and All4. These offer high quality streaming content that is free to watch at point of contact for anyone in the UK. With a VPN for the UK you can watch the world cup for free anywhere in the world, see our how to stream England in the world cup guide and don’t miss an England group game.
All UK residents who own a TV are required, by law, to pay for a TV licence, but this law does not apply to overseas visitors who use a VPN to watch UK streaming services. In order to use BBC iPlayer you must now register, but this registration is not tied to either a physical UK address or ownership of a TV licence.
A bigger problem is that iPlayer blocks anyone using an IP address that it knows belongs to a British VPN server. Please see 5 Best VPNs for BBC iPlayer for a list of VPNs that were not blocked last time we checked.
As always, though, we strongly recommend taking advantage of any free trials and/or money back guarantees to check a VPN service is not blocked by any website you wish to visit.
The UK is fast becoming a Big Brother state in terms of both mass government spying and internet censorship. Even if you have nothing to hide (and is this ever really the case?), it is important to push back if we are to avoid a very dark future. Using a VPN is a very effective way to do this. Or you can just use one to watch US Netflix – it’s your choice!