ProtonVPN is a smaller VPN service from the makers of ProtonMail, a Switzerland-based email provider.
In this new and updated review, I put ProtonVPN through extensive testing to examine all aspects of the service:
- How fast is ProtonVPN with servers throughout the network?
- Do all the features work correctly?
- Does ProtonVPN have any problems with IP address leaks or DNS leaks?
- How responsive is the ProtonVPN support staff?
- Does ProtonVPN unblock Netflix?
All of these questions are answered in this ProtonVPN review, with screenshots posted below.
Overall ProtonVPN has made some good improvements, but it still lags behind other leading VPNs in a few key areas.
Here is a brief overview of my test results and research findings for this ProtonVPN review:
Pros of ProtonVPN:
- Useful privacy features (no leaks)
- Secure server network (secure core)
- Good privacy jurisdiction and data protection policies
- User-friendly VPN apps
- Responsive and professional support (via email)
- Transparent company with a good track record
Cons of ProtonVPN:
- Below-average speeds
- High prices (for access to all servers and features)
Additional research findings:
- Payment options and refund policy
- Does ProtonVPN work for torrenting?
- Is ProtonVPN good for Netflix?
- Does ProtonVPN work in China?
Pros of ProtonVPN
Here are the Pros that I found for this ProtonVPN review.
1. Useful privacy features (and no leaks)
ProtonVPN has some useful privacy and security features.
First, it offers good leak protection settings with the Windows and Mac OS apps I tested. In addition to the kill switch and DNS leak protection, both the Windows and Android clients also offer a split tunneling feature, just like ExpressVPN. This allows you to route traffic for certain applications outside of the VPN tunnel.
ProtonVPN also offers different settings for auto connect, protocol selection (UDP or TCP), and startup options. Regarding the kill switch and leak protection settings, everything worked well in testing for this review.
I ran the Windows and Mac OS apps through some basic VPN tests to identify potential leaks or flaws. Everything checked out (no leaks):
The screenshot above is with the ProtonVPN Windows client. The Mac OS client also did not have any leaks that I could find.
ProtonVPN encryption and VPN protocols
The ProtonVPN Windows client and Linux script utilizes the OpenVPN protocol. The Mac OS, Android, and iOS apps utilize the IKEv2 protocol.
For the data channel, ProtonVPN uses an AES-256-CBC cipher together with HMAC SHA-512 authentication.
2. Secure server network (Secure Core)
ProtonVPN runs its entire network on dedicated bare-metal servers. This is similar to Perfect Privacy and OVPN in Sweden.
Currently, ProtonVPN has 1,057 servers in 54 different countries. This isn’t too bad for geographic diversity and is about on par with NordVPN.
One unique aspect of ProtonVPN is their implementation of Secure Core.
What is Secure Core?
The Secure Core feature is basically a double-hop VPN server configuration routed through ProtonVPN servers in Switzerland, Sweden, or Iceland. In other words, your traffic will first get routed through one of the Secure Core servers before going to the second VPN server and exiting the encrypted tunnel.
The main advantage of the Secure Core servers is that it provides an additional layer of protection. This protects against a compromised server in a third-party data center, for example. ProtonVPN has gone to great lengths to ensure the security of these “core” servers:
We have also gone to extraordinary lengths to defend our Secure Core servers. First, servers are located in countries selected specifically for their strong privacy laws (Iceland, Switzerland, and Sweden). We also placed our Secure Core servers in high-security data centers to ensure strong physical security. ProtonVPN infrastructure in Switzerland and Sweden is housed in underground data centers, while our Iceland servers are on a former military base. Furthermore, Secure Core servers are wholly owned and provisioned by us(shipped on-site directly from our offices). Finally, Secure Core servers are connected to the Internet using our own dedicated network with IP addresses that are owned and operated by our own Local Internet Registry (LIR).
In addition to ProtonVPN, there are also other VPN providers that offer multi-hop VPN configurations. Unlike with ProtonVPN, however, these other providers do not have the same physical security infrastructure in place.
To use the Secure Core servers, you will need to have a “Plus” or “Visionary” subscription. (We’ll examine the subscription levels more below.) Within the ProtonVPN client, you can toggle the Secure Core servers off/on and then connect to the one you want.
I found the Secure Core servers to generally work well, without any bugs.
Are Secure Core servers slow?
The Secure Core servers I tested for this ProtonVPN review were not very fast. However, this is not surprising since traffic is getting routed and encrypted over two locations. This adds more latency and will be slower than a single-hop connection.
Here is a Secure Core double-VPN server in Switzerland > Canada.
ProtonVPN’s secure core is slower than other servers. You can see the ping (latency) is somewhat high. This would not be the best VPN for gaming, where low ping is important. Gamers should instead use single-hop servers close to their location.
If you want the fastest VPN speeds with double-VPN servers, then I would recommend NordVPN. Below you can see I’m getting about 214 Mbps with a double-VPN server from NordVPN: USA > Canada.
You can find double-VPN servers in a few other VPNs, as we discuss in the Surfshark vs NordVPN comparison.
3. Good privacy jurisdiction and data protection policies
ProtonVPN is based in Switzerland under the company ProtonVPN AG. Switzerland is a good privacy jurisdiction and is not part of the five eyes, nine eyes, or 14 eyes surveillance alliances. As noted on the ProtonVPN website:
We are headquartered in Switzerland which has some of the world’s strongest privacy laws. Switzerland is also outside of EU and US jurisdiction and is not a member of the fourteen eyes surveillance network.
From a business standpoint, ProtonVPN is a separate entity from ProtonMail. However, it still falls under the same parent organization, Proton Technologies AG, based in Geneva, Switzerland. As we’ve covered before, Switzerland is a great jurisdiction for both VPN services and secure email providers.
There are many USA VPN providers that claim jurisdiction does not matter. However, we’ve seen cases where VPNs have logged user data for various state agencies, such as the case with IPVanish.
There have also been US VPN providers caught embedding trackers in their apps, or sharing data with advertisers, such as the case with Hotspot Shield VPN. We also see this with many free Chinese VPN apps.
ProtonVPN logs policy
ProtonVPN describes itself as a no-logs VPN provider. The one thing they store is timestamps, as explained on their support page:
ProtonVPN respects its users’ privacy and enforces a no-logs policy. This means your VPN connections remain private and we do not store information about your connections or the websites you visit.
For the purpose of securing your account and making sure it’s you who is signing in, we store a single timestamp of your accounts most recent login. Again, we do not store any information about where you signed in from or how long you were logged in.
Each time a user connects to the Service, we only monitor the timestamp of the last successful login attempt. This gets overwritten each time you successfully log in. This timestamp does not contain any identifying information, such as your IP address or your location; it only contains the time and date of the login.
We retain this limited information to protect user accounts from password brute force attacks. This is necessary to identify password guessing attempts targeting specific user accounts and to take action to protect those accounts.
This is definitely not concerning given that it’s a single timestamp. ProtonVPN also explains in this blog post how they are fully compliant with GDPR privacy protections and do not share data with third parties.
Want to see some alternatives? Check out these verified no logs VPN providers.
4. User-friendly VPN apps
ProtonVPN has a very nice lineup of apps that are user-friendly and fully-featured.
The layout and design are great, and I also like the dark-mode theme. Here I’m testing out one of the Secure Core configurations on the ProtonVPN Windows client:
In general, connections were pretty quick to establish and there weren’t any major issues. While ProtonVPN is not the best VPN for PC, the desktop clients still worked well in our tests.
ProtonVPN offers dedicated clients (apps) for all major devices and operating systems. Depending on your operating system, you can use ProtonVPN through a client or natively, such as with the IKEv2 protocol on iOS. ProtonVPN does not currently support the WireGuard VPN protocol. Many VPNs are integrating WireGuard into their service due to the performance and security advantages. One recent example of this is VyprVPN adding WireGuard and seeing a massive speed boost.
There are also various startup and notification preferences you can customize within the ProtonVPN client.
ProtonVPN also has a command line tool for Linux, but I’ve seen a lot of complaints (see these best VPNs for Linux instead). For Mac OS, you can use the native IKEv2 protocol or the ProtonVPN Mac OS client. Unfortunately, because it does not support the OpenVPN protocol, I would not consider ProtonVPN to be the best VPN for Mac.
5. Responsive email support
ProtonVPN offers support via email. Their website also has various FAQ articles and guides, which are useful for standard questions.
I used the contact form on their website to submit various inquiries to test out support’s response time.
Overall I was happy with the prompt replies. My inquiries were usually answered on the same day they were submitted. With previous ProtonVPN reviews, I was critical of their support due to delayed response times (several days). Support with ProtonVPN has definitely improved over the past few years.
Most of the large VPN services, such as CyberGhost and others, offer live chat support. If this is important, you may want to look elsewhere, but the email support was still responsive and helpful.
6. Transparent company with a good track record
It’s no secret that Proton Technologies, including ProtonVPN and ProtonMail, has a good reputation in the privacy community. It is also a company that is transparent and led by reputable, public-facing people.
ProtonMail was started in 2014 by a group of academics/scientists who were working at CERN in Switzerland and also MIT. On the topic of transparency, ProtonMail published an interesting blog post about the organization and leadership:
As a company, we are committed to the highest levels of transparency so you know exactly who you are trusting. Our key employees and their backgrounds are public knowledge. Where we are based, the address of our headquarters, our company statutes, and even our directors are all a matter of public record and available for inspection at the Swiss commercial register. ProtonMail’s initial financing through crowdfunding is also publicly documented, along with the identities of many of our initial 10,000 financial backers. But we go even further than that. We also meticulously document and publish information on all the law enforcement requests that we receive.
As noted above, ProtonVPN and ProtonMail both fall under the parent company Proton Technologies AG, based in Geneva, Switzerland. The ProtonVPN arm of this business is officially registered as ProtonVPN AG, which shares the same core leadership as ProtonMail.
Cons of ProtonVPN
Now we’ll take a look at some of the cons of ProtonVPN:
1. Below-average speeds
While ProtonVPN has generally improved with speeds since the last review, it’s also not the fastest VPN I’ve tested. To measure speeds, I tested out various ProtonVPN servers around the US and Europe on a 500 Mbps from my location in the US.
For the first round of ProtonVPN speed tests, I tested servers in the United States.
Here was a ProtonVPN server in Seattle: 92 Mbps
This is not very good when you consider my baseline speed of 500 Mbps.
Next I tested a ProtonVPN server in Los Angeles. The speeds were not as fast at around 82 Mbps.
You can see we are still way below the baseline speed.
Next up, a server in New York offered speeds around 101 Mbps. This was the best speed test we found in this ProtonVPN review.
Lastly, I tested a ProtonVPN server in the UK. This was the slowest ProtonVPN server I found at 20 Mbps.
These are not good speed test results from ProtonVPN. There are definitely some faster VPNs on the market if you have a need for speed.
Take for example NordVPN, which fully supports the WireGuard protocol. With NordVPN, I was able to hit 445 Mbps when testing out NordVPN server in Seattle:
The screenshot above was from a NordVPN server in Seattle, while using the WireGuard protocol.
Note: These slow speeds are one reason that ProtonVPN did not come out on top in the ProtonVPN vs NordVPN comparison.
2. ProtonVPN prices are above average (for full access)
With most VPNs, you can select different durations for your subscription, but you’ll still get access to all features. ProtonVPN does things differently. Of course, they offer the limited “free VPN” that only gives you a few servers. But let’s take a look at paid plans below.
One thing you’ll notice with ProtonVPN is that they restrict features and servers on the lower-cost plans. In other words, to get all features and access to the entire server network, you’ll need to purchase a “Plus” or “Visionary” plan, which costs $8 to $30 per month.
This makes ProtonVPN rather expensive (for all features) and it is not the cheapest VPN by a long shot.
For those wanting maximum security and privacy, I’d recommend the Plus subscription because it provides access to the Secure Core server network. The Visionary plan is quite expensive, but it may be a good fit if you want a combined solution for VPN and secure email service, all rolled into one subscription.
For a better value, I’d recommend going with ExpressVPN or NordVPN, which is only $3.71 per month when you use the NordVPN coupon.
Fortunately you can test drive ProtonVPN with the free VPN. This basically acts like a free trial VPN, allowing you to upgrade if you like the service.
Additional research findings
Below are additional findings from my research of ProtonVPN for this review.
ProtonVPN payment options and refund policy
To get started with ProtonVPN, you can create a free or paid account. If you opt for a paid account, you’ll have the option to pay with PayPal or a credit card. However, if you are upgrading your account, you’ll have the option to pay with:
- Credit cards
Bitcoin and cash can offer more privacy, but you can also pay with a virtual credit card (such as from privacy.com) using an anonymous name and address.
ProtonVPN refund policy
ProtonVPN offers a pretty good refund policy. As they explain on their Terms and Conditions page,
You may cancel your account with a refund for any unused portion of the service period within 30 days of the initial purchase. Here, any unused portion of the service period refers to the prorated remaining full days of the subscription period. Refunds or credits beyond the 30 days window will be considered, but at the sole discretion of the Service.
This is somewhat different from other VPN services in that they do not offer a full 100% refund, but rather a prorated refund of unused time. Nonetheless, it is still generous in comparison to other free VPN services, such as Windscribe and TunnelBear, which both have more restrictive refund policies.
Does ProtonVPN work for torrenting?
Many people are looking for the best VPN for torrenting due to the risks associated with copyright infringement.
Generally speaking, ProtonVPN is a good VPN for torrenting, but with one catch. Torrenting is not supported on the free plans. This is understandable since they don’t want bandwidth being eaten up by torrents.
With paid plans, torrenting is completely supported and allowed without restrictions.
Is ProtonVPN good for Netflix?
ProtonVPN is OK for Netflix. It supports a few different regions, but doesn’t support as many Netflix libraries as other top-name VPNs, such as NordVPN and ExpressVPN.
Let’s see what they state on their website about Netflix streaming with ProtonVPN:
ProtonVPN users can securely watch US Netflix when connected to any ProtonVPN Plus server located in the US. These servers are available for Plus and Visionary Plan subscribers. For the fastest and most reliable connection, please connect to the server that is closest to your current location.
I tested US Netflix with a ProtonVPN server in New York and did not have any problems getting through. The speeds were adequate for the short tests that I ran.
Note: ProtonVPN currently supports the following Netflix regions:
- US Netflix
- UK Netflix
- German Netflix
To see other VPN services that unblock Netflix regions around the world, check out the best VPN for Netflix guide.
Note: You will need a paid VPN plan to access Netflix (not working with ProtonVPN free plans).
Does ProtonVPN work in China?
Unfortunately, it does not look like ProtonVPN is working in China, according to the latest support update:
As of Sept. 18, 2019, the Chinese government is blocking access to ProtonVPN as part of a larger crackdown on Internet freedom.
The Chinese government works hard to control its citizens’ access to the Internet. The Great Firewall employs a vast system of technical tools, including DNS filtering, URL filtering, and deep packet inspection, that the Chinese government uses to prevent people in China from accessing foreign websites. The government also uses these tools to detect and block VPN servers.
You can see these best VPNs for China instead.
ProtonVPN review conclusion
When I first tested out ProtonVPN in 2017 after its official launch, I was somewhat critical due to various bugs and problems I encountered. Now, a few years later, it has made some good improvements.
However, the drawbacks with ProtonVPN remain problematic. It simply does not perform on the level of some of the leading VPNs. Server speeds can be hit or miss, depending on your geographic area, servers selected, and other factors. The other issue is that ProtonVPN remains a very expensive option, especially if you want access to all features and servers.
Nonetheless, ProtonVPN remains a solid choice, with excellent security from a very reputable company. So if you think it’s up your alley, it doesn’t hurt to give it a test drive.
Alternatives to ProtonVPN
Click the VPN name below to read our full review – or grab the discount for the best savings. All three of these VPNs have a 30 day money-back guarantee.
You can also check out our best VPNs list here for other recommendations.
If you have used ProtonVPN, feel free to share your honest review (good or bad) below.