Apple is known for the powerful security of its mobile devices, butusers still need a solid virtual private network if they want to keep their browsing private, avoid ad tracking and get past streaming service geoblocks. Not every VPN is going to pair well with iOS’ distinct controls, but Apple-focused VPN apps are only growing more popular among leading providers.
The most recent trend reports available have shown that the market for mobile VPNs has surged in the past few years — beginning between 2019 and 2020 when, according to a report from research firm Top10VPN, more than 480 million people downloaded a . That’s a whopping 54% increase from the previous year. And while 84% of those downloads were free VPN services, we’d strongly advise you to steer clear from any , as they almost always involve unforeseen risks on top of being limited in their usefulness. Instead, it’s best to stick to tried-and-true paid VPNs whenever possible. Of course, if you’re opting for a paid service, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.
Theservices are more reliable than ever before and have excellent apps that are optimized for mobile devices, so we’ve created a list specifically for you and your iPhone.
This list is essentially a subset of our main, but specifically focuses on VPN clients for anyone looking for mobile browsing protection for their iPhone or other iOS device. If and when a service is ranked higher here than on our main VPN list, it’s because the mobile app experience was superior. (You can check out our picks for the , too.) Keep in mind that this is an evolving list: We’re actively working on more research and hands-on testing, so check back regularly as we expect this list to change throughout the year. Here are the top VPN apps for iPhone that we’ve tested so far this year.
- Intuitive app interface, with plenty of power under the hood
- Number of servers: 3,200-plus
- Number of VPN server locations: 95
- Country/jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands
Despite its customizability and powerful performance as a VPN, Surfshark’s iOS VPN app (and Android app) offers an interface that is surprisingly intuitive for first-time users. Its four-tab design elegantly conceals a host of privacy tools and connection options, highlighting a single-click connection button on the app’s landing screen.
Quickly access one of Surfshark’s multihop connection options — one of its most promising features, which jumps your connection through multiple countries to hide your trail — through its main location-selection screen, with no need to rummage through the app’s VPN settings. Surfshark also gets bonus points for making its customer support options readily available, including its help ticket feature and user guide library.
Surfshark’s network has expanded significantly, now offering servers in 95 countries — making its network one of the largest in the industry. Though Surfshark and NordVPN announced a merger in February, each VPN provider runs its own separate network of servers.
One of Surfshark’s big draws is its unlimited device support. If you want to run your entire home or office on Surfshark’s VPN, you don’t have to worry about how many devices you have on or connected. The VPN provider has a solid range of app support, running on Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, FireTV and routers. Additional devices such as game consoles can be configured for Surfshark via DNS settings.
Surfshark received generally high marks when its Chrome and Firefox extensions were audited for privacy by German security firm Cure 53 (PDF link of full report) — though that audit was commissioned by Surfshark.
We particularly like the feature that allows you to whitelist certain apps and websites to automatically bypass the VPN. For some business uses, this can be critically important. Surfshark also offers antimalware, ad-blocking and tracker-blocking as part of its software.
Along with multihop, Surfshark also offers two more special modes designed for those who want to get around restrictions and more carefully hide their online footsteps. Camouflage Mode masks your VPN activity so your ISP doesn’t know you’re using a VPN. And NoBorders Mode “allows [you] to successfully use Surfshark in restrictive regions.”
Just be careful. Doing any of those three things could be illegal in your country and could result in severe penalties. During our testing, we didn’t see a DNS leak or IP address leak, and had no trouble accessing Netflix.
Like many other VPNs, Surfshark offers several promotional pricing packages designed to pull you in with attractive first-term prices before hiking costs after that term closes.
With Surfshark, one of your options is to lock in 26 months of service for about $60 — which Surfshark frames as “24 months +2 Free” for $2.30 a month. It’s a decent intro deal, but the plan then recurs at $60 annually. We also don’t recommend contracts of more than a year with any provider because of the VPN industry’s rapidly shifting landscape.
For the standard yearly subscription plan, you’ll pay about $48 initially for the first year of service, then $60 per year for any additional years of service. Surfshark’s regular monthly plan offers no discounts and is available for $13 a month. If you’re not satisfied with the service, Surfshark offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. Read our Surfshark VPN review.
Screenshot by David Gewirtz/CNET
Despite battling major upheavals through the end of 2021, ExpressVPN clenched our Editors’ Choice Award for best VPN in 2022. One of the two largest providers globally, the VPN titan has been in business since 2009 and once again aggressively raised the industry bar for service transparency this year.
In the past year, ExpressVPN increased its independent third-party audit count, published details about its TrustedServer deployment process, joined the i2Coalition to call for improved VPN industry ethics, and released an open source Lightway encryption protocol.
After a setback in 2020, ExpressVPN is again currently in first place as the fastest VPN we’ve tested. While most VPNs will cause you to lose half or more of your normal internet speeds, ExpressVPN caused us to lose just 2% of speeds in our 2022 speed tests. It also unblocks Netflix and other streaming services more reliably than most other VPNs, and seamlessly surpasses geo-blocking for access to international gaming servers and torrenting sites.
Lightway’s flexible nature allows it to take on both TCP and UDP connections, seamlessly balancing speed and stability. It’s a brilliant choice for iOS devices, since it’s so responsive to varying connection types and strengths.
All of our top-rated VPNs have wide compatibility across platforms and operating systems, but ExpressVPN’s collection of setup guides, detailed FAQs and troubleshooting articles give it a clear advantage for users. So does its 24/7 customer support, and its no-questions-asked, 30-day money back guarantee.
While you can get a better month-to-dollar bargain with ExpressVPN’s two-year subscription, we don’t recommend anyone purchase any two-year VPN subscriptions at this time due to overall market volatility. ExpressVPN’s best plan offers five simultaneous connections for $80 a year (which includes three extra months, for a limited-time deal totaling 15 months of service). You can also opt for a $13 per-month plan, or pay $60 for six months. Read our ExpressVPN review.
- An easy to use, reliable VPN application
- Number of servers: 5,500-plus servers
- Number of VPN server locations: 58
- Country/jurisdiction: Panama
NordVPN is one of the most recognized brands in the VPN field. Part of that brand recognition is based on its intuitive design. The NordVPN iOS app is just as easy to interact with as its desktop client, with a similar design. It poses no learning curve if you’re new to the app and looking to move from desktop to a mobile iOS device like an iPhone or iPad.
Just as the desktop client does, Nord’s iPhone app opens to a familiar blue-scale landing screen map where an iPhone user can opt to either select a country or connect to the fastest server automatically. Nord gets bonus points for its split-tunneling feature, which allows you to select other apps that you don’t want to run through your encrypted VPN connection.
Nord offers a generous simultaneous connection count, with six connections allowed through its network — nearly all other providers offer five or fewer. NordVPN also offers a dedicated IP option, for those looking for a different level of VPN connection. NordVPN offers a kill switch feature, and the ability to VPN into Tor. We detected no privacy leaks during our tests, and found its speeds to be reliably fast.
NordVPN’s pricing structure is similar to that of its sister company Surfshark, but more expensive. The company’s one-year subscription plan costs $5 a month ($60 billed at once) for the first year of service. The yearly plan then renews at $100 per year for any subsequent years of service. NordVPN also offers an option for a 2-year plan for $79 for the first two years. However, the 2-year plan then renews annually at the same $100 rate as the yearly plan. It’s a good introductory deal, but we don’t recommend signing on with a VPN provider for longer than a year at a time given the rapidly changing nature of the industry. While the introductory rates NordVPN offers for its longer-term plans are relatively cheap, the provider’s month-to-month price of $12 is at the high end of the spectrum. But NordVPN does offer a full 30-day refund policy.
While NordVPN has lived on our top VPNs list for a long time, we moved it to the penalty box in October 2019 to reevaluate our recommendation after a report emerged that one of its rented servers was accessed without authorization in 2018. Nord’s actions following the discovery included — eventually — multiple security audits, a bug bounty program and heavier investments in server security.
While we’d have preferred that Nord self-disclosed the issue much earlier, the fact that the breach was limited in nature and involved no user-identifying information served to further verify that NordVPN keeps no logs of its VPN user activity. As a result, Nord remains on our list as a recommended VPN service provider.
Screenshot by David Gewirtz/CNET
- Most customizable VPN app
- Number of servers: 2,000-plus
- Number of VPN server locations: 75-plus
- Country/jurisdiction: US
A big win for IPVanish is its fun, configurable interface, which makes it an ideal client for those who are interested in learning how to understand what a VPN does under the hood. With its iOS app, IPVanish manages to pack the same extensive suite of digital knobs and dials into a smaller screen to impressive effect.
If you’re looking for the ability to do some precision-tuning to your VPN connection, IPVanish is a solid bet. From generating visual graphs of your internet activity to a bevy of switches controlling split-tunneling, LAN connection allowance and more — IPVanish is an iOS app for the methodical tech tweaker who enjoys having exact control over their mobile traffic.
While IPVanish isn’t the fastest VPN, the 58% speed loss we measured in our most recent speed tests is about on par with most VPN providers. However, we noticed that IPVanish’s Quick Connect feature doesn’t always connect you to the best available server, so you may need to optimize your speeds by connecting manually to a server showing a lighter load. In IPVanish’s iOS app, you can check the current load of each server by tapping on Locations and tapping the number next to each city.
IPVanish’s monthly plan costs $11 per month, but you can get a discount on its yearly plan now for $40 for the first year. However, that yearly plan jumps to $90 for any subsequent years of service. You can also opt for a quarterly plan that costs just over $13 for the first three months, then $30 for each three-month period thereafter. The provider offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, but only if you purchase the yearly plan — which could be a disappointment to anyone who purchased a monthly or quarterly subscription and decided they didn’t like the service. That said, the company gets kudos for allowing unlimited simultaneous connections. We also liked its connection kill switch feature, a must for anyone serious about protecting their privacy while surfing. Read our IPVanish review.
What’s the best iPhone VPN right now?
Thanks to its impressive performance and unlimited device support, Surfshark is our current top pick for the best iPhone VPN. ExpressVPN is a close second among our picks and offers a simple and effective iPhone VPN app. It isn’t the cheapest, but it’s among the fastest of all the VPN options. NordVPN, our third choice, is a die-hard heavy-hitter. It costs more than Surfshark but less than Express, has a network of servers that’s constantly getting faster and more secure, and is easily the most reliable service we’ve tested.
Use a mobile-friendly VPN to avoid slower speeds and ensure greater data privacy for your whole device. Mobile VPNs generally have a smaller memory footprint, and require less processing power than desktop VPNs, so they run faster and save more battery. Our top three VPNs listed above all have excellent, easy-to-use mobile app options for their services. Some VPNs will only work with one type of platform — like Apple or Android — and some are universally compatible. To find the right mobile VPN for you, check out our other mobile-specific VPN guides below. We routinely update them with our retesting information so check back often.
What’s the best free VPN?
We don’t recommend opting for a free VPN because they can be risky to use. Free VPNs usually make money by selling user data, and some have even been found to be riddled with malware — which is the exact opposite of what you want from a VPN. On top of that, free VPNs are often slow, impose restrictive usage and data limits, offer a minimal selection of servers and are generally less secure than paid VPNs. Most won’t work with streaming services, either. Check out CNET’s list of the best cheap VPNs if you want to find a premium, budget-friendly VPN.
Can you get in trouble for using a VPN?
You normally don’t have to worry about getting into any legal trouble just for using a VPN — unless you’re in a country like China or Iran where VPN use is banned or illegal. In most parts of the world, using a VPN is perfectly legal. If you’re in a country where VPN use is restricted in any way, you’ll need to connect to an obfuscated server. Doing so will disguise your VPN traffic as regular HTTPS internet traffic, so authorities won’t know you’re using a VPN in the first place.
What does my ISP/mobile carrier see when I’m connected to my VPN?
Your internet service provider or mobile carrier (depending on whether you’re connected to Wi-Fi or using mobile data) will see that you’re connected to a VPN, but it will not be able to see any of your internet activity like the websites you visit or browsing history since your traffic is encrypted. It will also see things like the IP address of the VPN server you’re connected to, the timestamps of when you’re connected and the amount of data you’ve transmitted. If you want to hide your VPN usage from your ISP or mobile carrier, you can connect to an obfuscated server, if offered by your VPN.