The Android operating system continues to dominate the mobile market, with the average user spending about three hours per day on their Android device. To maximize your ability to stay private and secure, while also getting full access to all websites and streams, you will need to use a reliable VPN for Android. This Android VPN guide will answer all of your questions and more.
Unfortunately, there are many dangerous and malicious Android VPN apps that have been flagged by researchers. In our testing and research, we have also documented privacy problems with popular Android VPNs, such as Betternet and Hotspot Shield VPN. Furthermore, recent news also highlights VPN apps in the Google Play Store that distributed financial malware. So how do you find the best VPN for Android to keep your data safe and secure?
To answer this question, we tested the most popular VPNs for Android and ranked the top performers. This guide takes a deep dive into the world of Android VPNs to answer all of your questions. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- The best VPNs for Android that met all of our criteria
- How to use a VPN on Android
- When you should use a VPN on Android
- How to setup an Android VPN
- Tips for using a VPN with Android
- Why free Android VPN apps are not recommended
- Android VPN comparison table
Ranking the best VPNs for Android
Below we will take a close look at each of the recommended Android VPNs. So how did we narrow it down to these choices? To be recommended in this guide, the VPN needed to meet these criteria:
- Passed all tests with no data leaks found (no IP address leaks or DNS leaks)
- Good performance throughout the server network (speed and reliability)
- High-quality Android VPN apps with all features working correctly
- Supports secure VPN protocols with strong encryption standards
- Offers a money-back guarantee
- Trustworthy and well-established VPN provider with a good track record
- Located in a safe privacy jurisdiction (outside of Five Eyes countries, such as the US and UK) to keep your data safe
Here are the best Android VPN services:
1. NordVPN – Value, performance, and security make this the best Android VPN
|Logs||No logs (audited)|
|Support||24/7 Live chat|
It is easy to see why NordVPN is one of the most popular Android VPNs in the world. It is at or near the top of the pack in every category, delivering excellent privacy and security along with phenomenal performance. This VPN includes powerful features like double-VPN and Tor-over-VPN servers, along with the CyberSec feature that blocks ads, trackers, and malware domains.
NordVPN has a big performance advantage over most other Android VPNs because it now supports the WireGuard VPN protocol in all apps. The WireGuard VPN protocol offers huge performance upgrades and improvements over legacy VPN protocols like OpenVPN and IPSec. Here’s why you want a VPN that supports WireGuard with your Android device:
- Much faster speeds than legacy VPN protocols (up to 445 Mbps in our tests).
- Faster to establish a connection with the encryption handshake (two seconds or less).
- Seamless transition between network interfaces. This means you can transition between Wi-Fi and cellular networks without losing your VPN connection. No other VPN protocol does this, which is why WireGuard is the most reliable protocol for mobile devices.
- Better battery life for your devices (OpenVPN and IKEv2 protocols drain the battery faster).
Fastest VPN for Android
NordVPN is currently the fastest VPN we have tested. Their implementation of the WireGuard VPN protocol is called NordLynx. Here was a speed test with NordVPN where we were able to get 445 Mbps download speeds:
Fast speeds and solid reliability make NordVPN an excellent choice for any high-bandwidth activities, such as using a VPN for torrenting and streaming. WireGuard also improves streaming for all Android VPN users, even if you are using Android TV. So now let’s examine privacy and security.
The NordVPN Android app passed all tests we put it through. There were no data leaks, bugs, or connection issues, and all the features worked perfectly. Below is a screenshot of the NordVPN Android app:
Here are some additional privacy and security features that convinced us that NordVPN has the best Android VPN app:
- Dedicated RAM servers: The company does not use any virtual server locations and runs all servers in RAM-disk mode (no hard drives). This means no data can ever be stored on a server or seized by a third party, which gives NordVPN users more data security and privacy.
- Obfuscated servers: If you want to conceal your VPN traffic or use a VPN where they may be blocked (China) you need to use an obfuscated server. The NordVPN Android app works with NordVPN’s full lineup of obfuscated servers to keep you safe.
- Verified No logs: NordVPN is a verified no logs VPN provider, having passed two separate third-party audits of their logging policies performed by PWC AG in Zurich, Switzerland.
- IP and DNS leak protection: NordVPN apps offer excellent protection against IPv4, IPv6, and DNS leaks. The Android VPN app has a built-in kill switch, which performed flawlessly in our tests.
- Strong encryption: NordVPN uses an AES-256-GCM cipher with an HMAC SHA256 hash authentication, and DHE-4096 key exchange for Perfect Forward Secrecy.
- WireGuard: Most VPNs do not even support WireGuard yet. NordVPN leads the pack with full WireGuard support built into all of their VPN apps via NordLynx.
- Best VPN for streaming: NordVPN is rated the best VPN for Netflix and streaming in general. It works with 14+ Netflix regional libraries, as well as Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime VPN streaming, and many more.
- Responsive support: You get 24/7 live chat support directly through the website, as well as many support manuals and videos.
- 30 day money-back guarantee: If NordVPN doesn’t work well for you, simply cancel in the first 30 days for a 100% refund.
Here are the pros and cons of NordVPN:
- User-friendly and reliable apps for all operating systems and devices
- Double-VPN and Tor-over-VPN servers
- No logs (audited twice)
- Strongest encryption standards with full support for WireGuard
- Works with Netflix and many other streaming services
- CyberSec feature to block ads, trackers, and malware domains
- 24/7 live chat support
- Split tunneling on desktop and mobile apps
- Dedicated RAM-servers with 10 Gbps bandwidth channels
- Big discounts only available with long-term subscriptions
See our NordVPN review for more test results and info.
2. Surfshark VPN – A fully-featured Android VPN at a great price
|Based in||British Virgin Islands|
|Support||24/7 Live chat|
Launched in 2018, Surfshark is rapidly gaining popularity and offers one of the best Android VPN apps on the market. And like our top recommendation above, Surfshark has these characteristics that give it an advantage over other Android VPN apps:
- Full WireGuard support with excellent performance (screenshot below)
- CleanWeb feature to block ads, trackers, malware, and phishing domains on your Android device (as well other operating systems)
Our latest tests show that Surfshark is definitely a leader in the Android VPN space. It outperforms other longstanding VPN services, as you can see in the IPVanish vs Surfshark comparison. Here is a speed test where we hit 397 Mbps download speeds with a Surfshark server in the US:
We didn’t find any problems with the Surfshark Android app. It didn’t leak, crash, or glitch during our tests. And with over 3,200 servers in 65 countries, the server network is large enough to give you a local server in all the most interesting places. This network is comparable to NordVPN and CyberGhost.
After testing out Surfshark VPN on Android, here are some of our favorite aspects of this service:
- Strong security: The service has solid security and leak protection, including double-VPN servers and a kill switch to prevent any data leaks.
- Privacy-focused: With a no logs policy, and features like Override GPS location and Invisible to devices, Surfshark goes above and beyond to protect your privacy on Android and other platforms.
- WhiteLister: This is a split tunneling feature that lets you route selected apps or websites around the VPN connection.
- Great for streaming: Surfshark officially supports 16 different Netflix regions (including US, UK, and Canada). It also supports many other streaming services and is a great VPN for BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Disney Plus, and more.
- RAM servers: Surfshark runs all servers in RAM-disk mode without hard drives for a higher level of data security.
- Great support: Surfshark offers 24/7 live chat support that was responsive and helpful when we did our tests.
- Safe jurisdiction: Surfshark is based in the British Virgin Islands. This is one of the best privacy jurisdictions and it’s not a member of the 5/9/14 eyes alliances.
- WireGuard: Surfshark supports the WireGuard VPN protocol on Windows, Mac OS, Android, and iOS devices. This gives you phenomenal speeds and reliability.
All of the features we listed above are available in the Surfshark Android VPN app that we tested out for this guide. Here is a screenshot of what it looks like:
Great value: Next to NordVPN, Surfshark is also a great value. At only $2.49 per month with the two-year plan with the coupon below, it is arguably one of the best cheap VPNs we have reviewed.
- Unlimited connections
- User-friendly apps for all devices and operating systems
- CleanWeb feature to block ads, trackers, and malware domains
- Works great with Netflix and many other streaming services
- 24/7 live chat support
- Strong encryption and leak protection features
- Limited support for VPN routers
- No WireGuard support for Linux (coming later in 2021)
See our Surfshark review for more test results and analysis.
3. ExpressVPN – A reliable and user-friendly VPN for Android
|Based in||British Virgin Islands|
|Logs||No logs (audited)|
|Support||24/7 Live chat|
While NordVPN is our pick as the best VPN app for Android, ExpressVPN is also a strong contender, even in the #3 spot. Based in the British Virgin Islands (a great locale for internet privacy), ExpressVPN offers very secure, reliable, and user-friendly Android VPN apps. It is easily one of the best Android VPN apps and it performed well in our tests.
We found no leaks, bugs, or connection issues of any kind when testing out ExpressVPN on our Android device. And like NordVPN, ExpressVPN is also a verified no-logs VPN service, having passed an independent audit by PWC. It also gets high marks with both security and features:
- Strong encryption: ExpressVPN uses strong encryption standards with an AES-256 cipher, a 4096-bit RSA key and SHA-512 HMAC authentication.
- VPN Protocols: The ExpressVPN Android app gives you the choice of OpenVPN UDP or TCP protocols, as well as IPSec/IKEv2 and Lightway. Lightway is a self-developed protocol by ExpressVPN with many similarities to WireGuard.
- Audited: ExpressVPN has passed a third-party security audit performed by Cure53, as well as a privacy audit verifying the no-logs policies.
- Split Tunneling: ExpressVPN offers a split tunneling to the Android app. This allows you to select which apps will use the VPN tunnel and which will go directly to the regular (unencrypted) internet.
- Secure servers: ExpressVPN’s TrustedServer feature runs all VPN servers in RAM-only mode, as we also saw with NordVPN and Surfshark. This protects your data against physical seizure of the servers.
- Network protection: ExpressVPN Android apps can temporarily block internet access when you are unable to connect or reconnect to the VPN. This block prevents internet traffic from leaking out when it is not protected.
You can enable “Network protection” in the settings of the Android VPN app as you see below:
Aside from privacy and security, ExpressVPN also does well with streaming. It unblocks many regions of Netflix, although not as many as Surfshark (see our ExpressVPN vs Surfshark comparison for more details). You can use ExpressVPN with all major streaming devices, including Smart TVs, tablets, computers, and Android TV boxes. ExpressVPN even offers a dedicated Amazon app and is one of the best VPNs for Firestick and Fire TV.
Below is the ExpressVPN Android app in action. It is clean, minimal, and was very reliable in our tests.
Unlike with NordVPN, ExpressVPN offers server selection with a list, rather than a world map. There are pros and cons to each layout. For a more detailed discussion of differences, see the NordVPN vs ExpressVPN comparison guide.
Here are the pros and cons of ExpressVPN:
- User-friendly and secure apps
- Fast speeds throughout the server network
- Split tunneling feature (for Mac OS, Windows, and routers)
- Works with Netflix and most streaming services
- 24/7 live chat support
- Passed independent third-party audits for security and no-logs
- Very large server network
- Above-average prices
- Fewer features than some leading VPNs
Check out the ExpressVPN review for more test results and analysis.
4. VPNArea – Secure, privacy-focused VPN for Android
|Support||24/7 Live chat|
VPNArea is a privacy-focused VPN service based in Bulgaria. They offer a well-regarded VPN that has been operating since 2012 with a no logs policy. Like our other top Android VPNs, VPNArea has a large server network spread across 54 countries.
The VPNArea apps we tested out for the review all performed well. They have custom apps for Windows, Mac OS, Linux, iOS, and Android. All VPN apps come with built-in leak protection (kill switch), with all DNS requests being translated by VPNArea’s own servers. And similar to NordVPN, VPNArea also offers double-VPN servers and Tor-over-VPN servers for added anonymity. Below is the VPNArea Android app:
The VPNArea Android app supports the OpenVPN and IKEv2 protocols. And while it is not quite as fast as WireGuard, VPNArea’s implementation of the OpenVPN protocol still performed well. They also offer an obfuscation feature to conceal VPN traffic and get around blocks. This makes VPNArea a great choice if you need a VPN for China or any other restricted network.
Another unique feature with VPNArea is that they offer dedicated IP addresses. This allows you to select a region with an IP address that only you will use, rather than sharing with other customers. Check out these VPNs with dedicated IP addresses to see the pros/cons of this feature.
Lastly, VPNArea provides users with 8 simultaneous connections, as well as live chat support and a 30 day money-back guarantee. Their prices are also quite affordable if you go with the two-year pricing plan. Check it out below.
- No logs
- Great speeds and reliability
- Works with Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and other streaming services
- Anonymous payment options
- Strong security features, with self-hosted DNS
- Ad blocking
- Dedicated IP addresses available
- Large server network
- Apps can be a bit clunky
- Limited number of Netflix streaming servers (but still works well)
See our VPNArea review for more info.
Android VPN Overview
If you are new to using a VPN on a mobile device, or are new to VPNs altogether, you’re probably wondering how to use a VPN with Android. Let’s quickly cover VPN basics, then talk specifically about using a VPN on an Android-powered device. We’ll focus on installing and using a VPN on an Android smartphone, since this is by far the most likely use case.
VPN Basics in 100 words or less
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a system that securely and privately connects two devices across the Internet. It does so by creating an encrypted connection (called a tunnel) that provides security by preventing outsiders from reading your messages as they pass between the devices. A VPN also protects your privacy by hiding your IP address and location. Since IP addresses are the way that devices are identified on the internet, hiding yours means the message recipient doesn’t know who you are, unless you tell them.
How to use a VPN on Android
So how do you use a VPN on an Android smartphone? There are a few steps:
- Choose a good VPN service – The VPN service provides the software you need to connect your Android to the physical servers that comprise the VPN network.
- Download the Android VPN app – The VPN software (VPN app) handles your side of the connection. This includes interacting with the VPN’s servers, encrypting outgoing messages before they leave your device, and decrypting incoming messages once they arrive. But don’t worry, all you need to do is install the Android VPN app onto your device.
- Connect to the VPN – Given the correct login credentials, the VPN software will establish a connection to a VPN server that you choose. The app will create an encrypted tunnel between your device and the VPN server. It will also replace your IP address and location with the VPN server’s IP address and location.
When should you use an Android VPN?
- Whenever you are doing something private or personal online – Logging into your bank account, reviewing your medical records, or planning to visit a controversial website? Using the VPN will greatly increase your privacy and security.
- Whenever you are using a public WiFi connection – Public WiFi is a wondrous thing… if you are a hacker or spy. Most free public networks are extremely vulnerable to being hacked. Recent news reports also show that mobile WiFi itself is vulnerable to hackers.
- Whenever you don’t want someone to track your location – Your device’s IP address can be used to figure out approximately where you are in the physical world. A VPN replaces your real IP address with its own address when sending your messages to the internet. Anyone trying to track your location using your IP address will be foiled.
- When your Internet Service Provider is spying on you – If you are not using a VPN, you have virtually no privacy online. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and all sorts of hostile entities (spies, hackers, and various three-letter-agencies) can see everything you do online. They may use that information themselves or sell it to third parties who will use it for their own purposes. If you use a VPN, your ISP won’t be able to see what you are doing since all traffic is encrypted.
In a nutshell, a VPN is a crucial tool in an age of eroding privacy. And for maximum security and privacy, you should always use a safe and reliable VPN on your Android device.
How to setup an Android VPN
There are three major approaches to setting up an Android VPN. They are:
- Use a VPN service’s Android app
- Use third-party VPN clients for Android
- Use Android’s built-in VPN features
In the following sections we will take a look at each of these options in more detail. There are of course pros and cons to each.
Using a VPN service’s Android app
As you saw at the beginning of this guide, most of the best VPN services for Android provide their own Android client. This client will be compatible with the features and benefits of the VPN service, making it the easiest way to make the connection. A good example of this is the NordVPN Android client. Among its many talents, this client knows how to work with NordLynx, NordVPN’s custom protocol for WireGuard. It also includes all of the other great features we mentioned above, such as CyberSec and Split Tunneling.
Any time the VPN service you decide to use has specialized features, choosing the service’s own Android app is going to be not only the easiest way to go, but the only way to take full advantage of the features your service offers.
Use third-party VPN clients for Android
While using a VPN service’s own Android app is normally the best way to go, sometimes those apps are more trouble than they are worth. If you find yourself using a VPN service with a crummy Android app, you might want to try a third-party VPN app instead. Let’s take a quick look at some free Android VPN apps that might work for you in such a situation.
OpenVPN Connect for Android
For a few years now, OpenVPN has been recognized as the best overall VPN protocol. It is secure, capable of using 256-bit encryption keys and top encryption algorithms. It does a good job of bypassing firewalls, supports Perfect Forward Secrecy, has passed third-party audits, and is available for all popular operating systems.
OpenVPN is used by all the top VPN services, and has been for quite a few years (the first OpenVPN code was released in 2001). It is also open source code, which greatly decreases the odds that there is anything shady happening to your data inside the code.
On the downside, OpenVPN isn’t particularly fast, and the codebase that comprises OpenVPN is huge. This creates what is known as a large attack surface. The larger the attack surface, the greater the odds that hostile forces will be able to find a way to hack the code. While it isn’t perfect, OpenVPN is still a great choice. OpenVPN Connect is the official VPN application for Android developed by OpenVPN, Inc.
WireGuard on Android – Fast, modern, and secure
Right now, WireGuard is the VPN protocol getting lots of attention. Small (about 4,000 lines of code vs OpenVPN’s 600,000+ lines) yet sophisticated (built with state-of-the-art cryptography), WireGuard is meant to replace all those other VPNs out there, including OpenVPN.
In our testing to date, WireGuard appears to be faster than OpenVPN. You can see in our WireGuard vs OpenVPN speed tests page that WireGuard was about 58% faster than OpenVPN in our tests.
Thanks to its much smaller codebase, it should be easier to audit, and it offers a smaller attack surface for hackers to exploit.
WireGuard is the best protocol to use with Android
The updated rankings in this Android VPN guide reflect the performance of WireGuard. In other words, NordVPN and Surfshark are at the top because they have a very clean, user-friendly, and privacy-focused implementation of WireGuard that delivers really fast speeds.
To recap, here are the reasons you should be using the WireGuard VPN protocol on your Android device:
- Faster speeds
- Better reliability (no dropped connections when switching network interfaces)
- Faster connections speeds (handshakes)
- Improved batter life
In short, WireGuard is the future of mobile VPN services. Sure, you can still get solid performance with OpenVPN, or even with ExpressVPN’s Lightway protocol, but WireGuard remains the top performer.
Tips for using a VPN with Android
Here are a few tips that could be helpful when using a VPN on Android devices.
Enable Always-on VPN and block connections without VPN
Starting with Android 8 (Oreo), we’ve had access to two new VPN settings. They are:
- Always-on VPN – Exactly what the name implies. Your device will try to connect to the installed VPN and stay connected. This is a great way to avoid forgetting to turn on the VPN after rebooting your phone or after the VPN gets disconnected for some reason.
- Block connections without VPN – Again, the name implies the function. If your device is not connected to the VPN, you will not have access to the Internet. This is a way to ensure that your real IP address and other personal data don’t accidentally “leak” onto the Internet.
To change these settings, follow these steps:
- Open the Settings app, and tap Connections.
- If you don’t see the VPN option here, tap More connection settings.
- Tap VPN, then tap the Gear icon next to your VPN’s name. You should now see these options. For the utmost in privacy, turn both of these options On.
Choose the right VPN server to maximize speed on your Android device
You can sometimes get better performance from an Android VPN (or any VPN for that matter) by manually choosing the right VPN server. The “right” server to connect to depends on what you are going to do with your device while connected. The following are a few rules of thumb for deciding which VPN server to connect to:
- Connect to the geographically-closest VPN server – This will generally give the best performance. Think of a VPN connection as having multiple legs. One leg is the connection between you and the VPN server you are using. The other leg is the connection between the VPN server and the location you are connecting to. Remember that it does take time for signals to travel across the Internet, and the further away a server is, the greater the amount of time it will take. Connecting to a VPN server near you minimizes the length of one leg of the connection, and often makes a noticeable difference in performance.
- Switch servers if the one you are using seems slow – Sometimes individual VPN servers get overloaded with too many users, or have other problems that cause the server itself to slow down. If the server is the problem, switching to another server nearby will let you bypass the problem.
- Try split tunneling to reduce the load – If your computer is old, or your Internet connection is slow, having all your Internet traffic pass through your VPN connection could be too much. If your VPN service supports split tunneling, you can enable that, and have all your non-critical data pass outside the VPN. You will have to figure out which apps need the protection of the VPN and which don’t, but limiting the VPN connection to only those uses that really require privacy and security (online banking for example), could speed things up nicely.
Try a different VPN app
As we discussed earlier in the post, there are some third-party Android VPN apps that you might want to try if you are unhappy with the performance or usability of your VPN’s app on Android. OpenVPN Connect and VPN client pro both have a lot of potential in this case, since the vast majority of VPN services do support OpenVPN.
Why free Android VPN apps are dangerous
Can you trust a free VPN?
Over the years, free Android VPN apps have cultivated a toxic reputation. One major study examined over 200 different free Android VPN apps and found some alarming issues. Here are the biggest problems with free Android VPN services according to the study noted above:
- 38% of free VPN apps contained malware
- Many popular free Android VPN apps contained tracking libraries
- 84% of the tested apps leaked user data (IP addresses or DNS requests)
- Some services used browser hijacking to redirect customers to shady commerce sites
- Many free VPN services give third parties access to your data (see for example in our Betternet review)
If it costs money to run a VPN service, then why are there so many free VPN apps in the Google Play Store?
Answer: They are making money off of their users. This is most likely done by collecting data and selling it to third parties.
Note: Do not confuse a completely free VPN service and app you see in the Google Play Store with a third-party VPN client. The third-party VPN client (such as OpenVPN Connect) does not offer the VPN service itself, but rather just the app through which you will connect to your (paid) VPN service.
We generally do not recommend any free VPN services. However, there are some free trial VPNs you could consider.
Android VPN Comparison Table
There are hundreds of VPNs for Android devices to choose from. And the majority of them either don’t work well, spy on you, or both at once. Finding those few excellent Android VPNs is a huge amount of work. Instead of leaving you to figure this out yourself, we decided to do the research for you.
The table below highlights the top-rated Android VPNs that met all of our criteria. These services passed all tests with no data leaks, offer good speeds, their Android apps are reliable, and they use strong encryption. Additionally, they are located in safe privacy jurisdictions and have an established track record and good reputation.
Enjoy staying safe and secure with your Android VPN!
This guide was last updated on June 16, 2021 with new information.