VPNs, or “virtual private networks,” can be used safely with phones, but there are risks if you don't choose a good, reliable VPN service. We explain how a VPN app works on a phone, the legal implications for using one, and everything else you need to know about pairing phones with VPNs.
VPNs add an extra layer of security to your internet, so it makes sense that you would want one on your phone. After all, we're increasingly relying on mobile devices as our main connection to the world around us, whether via social media, email, or messaging colleagues.
The best VPNs let you share an account across 5 devices or more, including on smartphones. We've rounded up our recommendations of the best VPNs further down in this guide, but, if you're itching to get going, then our top-scoring VPN is PureVPN, a simple, safe VPN with some great-value deals and discounts.
We tell you what you need to know about using a VPN safely on your phone, plus how to choose the best VPN to use on a phone or tablet.
Are VPNs Safe to Use on a Phone?
The short answer is yes – it's perfectly safe to use a VPN on your phone. That is, so long as you choose a trustworthy app. A quality VPN app will let you change the server through which you connect to the internet, in effect, masking your location. This can let you access content that's locked to certain regions, or maintain a degree of privacy while online.
So, if a VPN is designed to make your internet connection safer, what risks could a VPN bring?
- Fake VPN scams
- VPNs that log your data
- VPNs selling your browsing details to advertising partners
- Significantly reduced browsing speeds
Your main concern is simple – you need to trust the VPN provider itself to look after your data. You also need to be certain that the app you are using is a genuine VPN, and not itself a scam.
In an ironic twist, many online hackers rely on scamming those who are working the hardest to avoid scams. This means that consumers should be wary of free anti-virus installers, fake ‘alert' pop-ups, and, yes, VPN software.
Even legitimate VPNs can get up to some pretty shady practice, such as monitoring your browsing data or selling it to advertising partners. You may be bombarded with unwanted ads while using the service, for instance.
Plus, a poor quality VPN can cause appalling slowdown. By nature, a VPN has an impact on your browsing speeds. However, the best VPN services (inevitably, paid-for) invest to ensure this isn't an undue impact.
Always check and double-check a VPN provider before committing to it, and only use the ones you trust.
How to Choose a Safe VPN for Your Phone
VPN encrypt the data that leaves your internet-connected device, giving you the benefit of a private network even while you're on a public one.
As a result, you can access websites and services that are geo-locked to certain regions, you'll avoid wi-fi spoofers while on unsecured coffee shop networks, and you'll mask your own IP address, giving your search history more anonymity. VPNs work whether you have a desktop, laptop, or mobile phone.
For mobile devices, the VPN must be in the form of an app. Here's how to protect your phone:
- Check with your favorite VPN service in order to confirm that they do use a mobile app.
- Download it — The Apple App Store has VPN apps listed for iPhone or iPad, and the Google Play store for Android phones. Only use the official Google Play store for Android, as alternative app stores can contain malware or unvetted apps.
- Install it — You then need to create an account, and might need to agree to certain permissions, or specify which region you'd like to browse from. For a paid-for VPN service, you'll need to submit payment details, too
- Check for an icon on the status bar at the top of your phone screen — if the VPN app is running, you should see a key icon on Android or a VPN one for iOS.
For more, see our handy guide on how to set up a VPN for the first time.
That's how the process of installing a VNP on your phone works. But don't start installing the app yet – there are potential risks involved if you choose the wrong service.
Best VPNs for iPhone and Android
You should expect any high-quality VPN service to offer a mobile app for Android and iOS devices. Smartphones are essential to modern life, and the best VPN services are prepared for the fact that most users want to browse on their phone as often (or more) as they do on their desktop.
Which VPNs should be at the top of your mind? Tech.Co has crunched the numbers in the past to figure out a definitive list of 2018's best overall VPN services. You can read our full guide to the best VPNs, or see our top choices, below:
Scroll horizontally to view full table on mobile devices
|PureVPN||NordVPN||IPVanish VPN||TorGuard||Private Internet Access||Windscribe||Proton VPN||Hide Me VPN||AirVPN||Express VPN|
|No. of devices||5||5||5||5||5||10||10||5||5||3|
|No. of servers||750||3605||1000||3000||3035||480||112||150||60||1500|
|Ease of use||★★★★★||★★★★★||★★★★★||★★★★☆||★★★★☆||★★★★★||★★★★★||★★★★☆||★★★☆☆||★★★★★|
|Help & Support||★★★★☆||★★★★☆||★★★★★||★★★☆☆||★★★★☆||★★★☆☆||★★★★☆||★★★☆☆||★★★☆☆||★★★★☆|
|Value for Money||★★★★★||★★★★☆||★★★★☆||★★★★★||★★★★☆||★★★★☆||★★★★☆||★★★★★||★★★★☆||★★★☆☆|
|Price per month||$2.80 (1-year plan)||$2.99 (3-year plan)||$6.49 (1-year plan)||$9.99||$2.91 (2-year plan)||$4.08 (1-year plan)||$4 (1-year plan)||$4.99 (1-year plan)||$2.78 (2-year plan)||$8.32 (1-year plan)|
|Discounts||See offers||See offers||See offers||See offers||See offers||See offers||See offers||See offers||See offers||See offers|
Is It Legal to Use a VPN on Your Phone?
Yes, it is legal to use a VPN on your mobile device. At least, in most countries.
Anything that would be illegal without a VPN is still illegal with one, so don't buy drugs, stalk someone, or torrent copyrighted material
Those in the U.S. or the U.K. are legally in the clear. A few countries — Iraq, North Korea and Belarus — don't permit it, while a few more — China, Turkey, Russia and the United Arab Emirates — restrict VPN use.
However, even if you're following the letter of the law, you should keep a few caveats in mind. First, anything that would be illegal without a VPN is still illegal with one, so don't buy drugs, stalk someone, or torrent Game of Thrones with your smartphone.
Also, using a VPN to watch a geo-locked YouTube video or Netflix show is against the company's terms and conditions. It can't take legal action against you, but they're definitely within their rights to ban you from using their service if they associate your account with attempts to access it over a VPN. It's unlikely, but the rights are on Netflix's side.
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