Having a virtual private network on your mobile device, phone or tablet gives you additional protection, whether you’re casually browsing social media at home or taking advantage of public Wi-Fi connections. A mobile VPN works by encrypting your online use by routing your activity to a server in a different location altogether. Your browsing goes into stealth mode, meaning your internet service provider and mobile carrier won’t be able to see the sites or services you’re using while on your mobile device. As an added bonus, a mobile VPN can also put a stop to location-based ads from interrupting your browsing sessions.
If a TV show or movie is blocked from viewing in your location, a mobile VPN can also help. These apps disguise your true IP address and replace it with that of the server you’re being redirected to. One simple click can unlock geographically restricted content that may have been unavailable for streaming, previously.
A VPN for mobile devices is particularly useful for anyone who travels a lot or anyone whose work, location or online activities require heightened privacy. If you’re a journalist, doctor, attorney, dissident, activist or whistleblower, for example, you’d benefit from a mobile VPN to protect your online privacy while you’re on the go. If you’re in a location where the government censors the internet or engages in online surveillance, you can use a mobile VPN to circumvent the censorship efforts while keeping your online activity private. And a mobile VPN is a handy tool if you’re simply looking for a way to watch your Netflix shows while traveling abroad.
The best VPN providers all offer excellent mobile apps for both iOS and Android devices. And mobile VPN apps continue getting better and more useful as online services overall continue becoming increasingly mobile-first. It’s more important than ever to use a VPN on your mobile device, but if you’re an iOS user, you need to be aware of a vulnerability that can compromise your privacy while using a VPN on your iOS device.
Savings 49% off with 12-mo plan (+3 free months)Latest tests No leaks detected, 2% speed loss in spring 2022 testsNetwork 3,000-plus servers in 160 locations across 94 countriesJurisdiction British Virgin Islands
ExpressVPN is the best mobile VPN, in addition to currently holding the distinction of being CNET’s Editors’ Choice for the best overall VPN. It’s the VPN for you if you want the best in privacy and streaming and you don’t mind paying a premium for it.
49% off with 12-mo plan (+3 free months)
Savings $2.49/mo with 24-mo plan (+2 free months)Latest tests Zero data leaks and 19% internet speed loss in fall 2022 testsNetwork 3,200-plus in 99 countriesJurisdiction Netherlands
Surfshark is another excellent mobile VPN, and CNET’s current Editors’ Choice for the best value VPN. It packs a ton of features, is great for streaming and is the perfect choice if you’re on a budget but still want the premium VPN experience. I just wish its speeds were more consistent.
$2.49/mo with 24-mo plan (+2 free months)
Savings 59% off with 24-mo plan (+ 3 extra months)Latest tests No leaks detected, 13% speed loss in summer 2022 testsNetwork 5,600-plus servers in 84 locations across 59 countriesJurisdiction Panama
NordVPN is a highly popular and well-established VPN provider based in the privacy-friendly jurisdiction of Panama. If you’re looking for a mobile VPN that’s fast and reliable, then NordVPN could be a good fit for you. Android VPN users could also benefit from a few extras tucked away in NordVPN’s Android app.
Savings 66% off with 12-mo planLatest tests DNS leaks detected, 58% speed loss in spring 2022 testsNetwork 2,000-plus servers in 75 locations across 52 countriesJurisdiction United States
If you’re new to VPNs, just want an easy-to-use app and don’t care about all the extra bells and whistles, IPVanish is a solid choice. You’ll get a capable VPN that’s slightly easier on the pocketbook than ExpressVPN and NordVPN, and customer support is easily accessible directly through the app whenever you need help.
Proton VPN is the highly secure open-source VPN solution from the Swiss-based privacy company Proton. Proton VPN holds the distinction as the only free VPN that CNET recommends and is the mobile VPN for you if you’re looking for a top quality service without having to pay a dime for it.
How we tested mobile VPNs
To determine the best mobile VPN, I tested the mobile apps of each of the VPNs highlighted below on both iOS and Android for speed, DNS leaks, streaming, features and usability. Each of the VPNs here is worthy of its designation as one of the best mobile VPNs available, but one may be a better fit for you over another, depending on your budget or individual circumstances.
A word of caution about VPNs on iOS
There’s been a fair amount of chatter from VPN companies and independent researchers over the past few years about iOS devices leaking data outside of the VPN tunnel unencrypted. Proton VPN outlined a potential workaround that could be universally applied to other iOS VPN apps. The trick is to connect to a VPN server, then enable and disable Airplane mode. This should kill all existing processes connected to the internet on the device and allow them to reconnect through the VPN tunnel.
To be clear, this issue is on Apple’s side and affects all VPNs on iOS devices, so it didn’t influence my assessment of the top mobile VPNs, but is nonetheless crucial for iOS users to know. The vulnerability was reported to be present since at least iOS 13. Apple has not responded to multiple requests for comment on the issue, including whether the company plans to issue a fix ahead of the expected release of its latest mobile operating system, iOS 17, later on this fall.
A mobile VPN is a VPN app optimized for your mobile device, whether you’re using an Android or iOS device. The best mobile VPNs all have easy-to-use VPN apps that can help you protect your online privacy while you’re on the go. A mobile VPN is also an excellent tool if you’re traveling and want to evade censorship efforts or unblock geographically restricted content from across the globe.
What’s the best free mobile VPN
Proton VPN’s free tier is currently the only free mobile VPN that CNET recommends. Most other free VPNs are either useless or risky to use because many of them make money by selling user data and may even contain malware. Additionally, free VPNs usually put restrictions on speed and usage and are typically heavily restricted in terms of available servers and features.
What does my ISP/mobile carrier see when I’m connected to my mobile VPN?
Whether you’re connected to Wi-Fi or using your mobile VPN on a cellular network, the provider supplying the internet connection will only see that you’re connected to a VPN. Your ISP or mobile carrier won’t see your internet activity or the websites you visit, but will see the IP address of the VPN server you’re connected to, the amount of data you’re transmitting and the timestamps of when you were connected to the VPN. You can connect to a “stealth” or obfuscated server, if offered by your VPN, and hide from your provider that you’re connected to a VPN, if you need additional privacy.