Best Mac VPN for 2023
Apple is known for its strong security measures, but if you’re a Mac user and you want to protect your online privacy, using a VPN, or virtual private network, is a good idea. While Apple devices offer a number of security features, it’s still possible for your internet service provider to track your browsing activity on both iOS and MacOS, and other sites can collect your IP address. MacOS can’t prevent either of those things, but the best Mac VPN can. With a reliable and well-tested VPN, Mac users can keep their online activity under wraps and better protect their digital information.
When we select the best Mac VPN for our readers, we consider a number of things that are specific to being a Mac user: First, if you’ve been using MacOS, you’re used to a clean, intuitive user interface with a minimal learning curve and a well-organized set of digital tools — which is why a VPN’s usability weighs into our consideration. Further, while not every Apple device is faster than a Windows and PC product, we want to see a VPN service with a connection speed that complements MacOS machines’ rapid reputation.
We also know that for many Mac users, a broad resistance to app-borne viruses and malware is a major reason for picking that ecosystem over Windows devices. To that end, we examine a VPN’s antitracker capacity and its general compatibility with Apple’s progressively heightened privacy policies.
Note that there are currently some limits to the privacy VPNs offer MacOS and iOS users. Recent independent research has suggested that iOS (and some MacOS) users’ browsing and internet data may be sent to Apple despite the protections offered by an encrypted VPN tunnel. We’ll continue to update our recommendations as more research emerges around this issue.
Drawn from our directory of the best VPN services, these are our top recommendations for the best Mac VPN. Keep checking back here often since we regularly update this list as new VPN contenders emerge for the top spot.
- Latest tests: No leaks detected, 2% speed loss in spring 2022 tests
- Network: 3,000-plus servers in 160 locations across 94 countries
- Jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands
- Price: 5 simultaneous connections for $13 per month, $60 for six months, or $100 for a year (current discount: 3 months free). 2-year subscriptions available.
Despite battling major upheavals through the end of 2021, ExpressVPN clenched our Editor’s 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 set-back 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.
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 $100 a year (which includes three extra months, for a limited-time deal totalling 15 months of service). You can also opt for a $13 per-month plan, or pay $60 for six months.
- Latest tests: Zero data leaks and 19% internet speed loss in fall 2022 tests
- Network: 3,200-plus in 99 countries
- Jurisdiction: Netherlands
- Price: Unlimited connections for $48 for the first year (then $60 annually) or $13 per month. 2-year subscriptions available.
Surfshark boasts an impressive suite of privacy and security features, unlimited simultaneous connections, easy-to-use interface and expansive global network. And it’s still significantly cheaper than most of its competitors. That’s what has helped Surfshark earn CNET’s Editors’ Choice for Best Value VPN in 2022.
Along with standard VPN features like a kill switch and DNS leak protection, some of the more notable Surfshark features include camouflage mode (which hides the fact you’re using a VPN), split-tunneling, NoBorders mode (which lets you use Surfshark in regions where VPNs are restricted) and multihop VPN connections. You’ll also get access to Surfshark’s CleanWeb technology, which blocks ads and malware and helps you avoid phishing attacks.
One innovation we’re excited to see Surfshark roll out over the next year is its Nexus network, which connects the VPN’s entire network of servers together and allows you to choose multiple servers to route your connection through. The functionality is somewhat similar to Tor, but Surfshark says it’s faster. With its Dynamic MultiHop, IP Randomizer and IP Rotator functions, the Nexus network can give you a few extra layers of protection while you use the VPN — which can be particularly beneficial to users with critical privacy needs.
Surfshark says it doesn’t log any user activity. And although no-logging claims are virtually impossible to prove with 100% certainty, German cybersecurity firm Cure53 declared Surfshark’s security to be “solid” in its 2021 security audit of the VPN. Surfshark says a new audit is forthcoming by the end of this year.
Surfshark rates consistently as one of the fastest VPNs available. Which is why we were surprised that one of the only issues we had with Surfshark came in our speed test. While it still ranks as one of the fastest VPNs we’ve tested — with an internet speed loss of just 19% — we were disappointed with the inconsistent speed results we got to certain locations. Speeds to Europe and Singapore were erratic (dipping as low as 9 Mbps to Singapore), while speeds to New York were slower than speeds to the UK and even Australia. Surfhark is in the process of significantly expanding its server network, now offering more than 3,200 servers in 99 countries. The continued expansion of its server network could potentially help bring some more consistency to the VPN’s speeds.
In our tests, Surfshark had no problems unblocking Netflix and Amazon Prime Video content, but we did run into a fair bit of trouble accessing Disney Plus. After testing various servers in the US and other countries where Disney Plus is available, we were finally able to access the content when we connected to a server in Boston. You may need to test a few servers yourself before gaining access to Disney Plus content with Surfshark.
Surfshark offers cheaper introductory prices that jump after the first billing cycle. Even so, Surfshark manages to keep its prices lower than most other VPNs — helping it earn CNET’s Editors’ Choice for Best Value. The yearly plan starts out at $48 for the first year, then jumps to $60 for any additional years of service. If you opt for the two-year plan, you’ll pay $60 up front for the initial two years combined, then $60 per year for any additional years. Surfshark’s monthly plan stays constant at $13 a month. If you’re not satisfied with the service for any reason, Surfshark offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. Surfshark review.
- Latest tests: No leaks detected, 13% speed loss in summer 2022 tests
- Network: 5,600-plus servers in 84 locations across 59 countries
- Jurisdiction: Panama
- Price: 6 simultaneous connections for $12 per month or $60 for a year (current discount: 3 months free). 2-year subscriptions available.
NordVPN is one of the most recognized brands in the VPN field. It offers a generous simultaneous connection count, with six simultaneous connections through its network, where 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, and the ability to VPN into Tor. More than half of Nord’s 5,000-plus server fleet is optimized for peer-to-peer sharing, though Nord has blocked torrenting in 14 countries.
In our latest test rounds we noticed a few hiccups in Nord’s killswitch when using its iOS app, which could be a concern for torrenters. However, Nord has a sideloaded iOS available on its website that it recommends to users. In our most recent speed tests, NordVPN’s performance recovered from middling speed scores of 2021 and zoomed back into the ranks of the fastest VPNs we’ve tested, causing us to lose just 13% of base internet speeds.
NordVPN doesn’t accept PayPal payments, but you can purchase a subscription with any major credit or debit card, AmazonPay, Google Pay or ACH transfer. If you’d rather pay anonymously, you can pay with a variety of cryptocurrencies including bitcoin, ethereum, tether and dogecoin. NordVPN has also partnered with a handful of retail stores like Staples, Best Buy and Walmart — where you can even purchase your VPN with cash.
Read more: NordVPN Review: Feature-Rich and Speedy, but Privacy and Transparency Issues Need Attention
What’s the best Mac VPN right now?
ExpressVPN is the current CNET Editors’ Choice for best overall VPN. We evaluate VPNs based on their overall performance in three main categories: speed, security features and price. Express isn’t the cheapest, but it’s among the fastest, and so far, is the most secure. At lower costs, Surfshark is a close second among our picks, thanks to its impressive performance and unlimited device support. NordVPN, our third choice, is a die-hard heavy-hitter. It costs more than Surfshark but less than Express, has an enormous network 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 VPN 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 mobile-specific VPN guides below. We routinely update them with our retesting information so check back often.
What’s the best free VPN service?
None of them. Seriously. While there are plenty of excellent free security and privacy apps online, VPNs, sadly, aren’t among them. Safe VPNs cost companies a lot of money to operate and keep secure, and free ones are almost always malware-laden data snoops. But there’s good news: The burgeoning VPN market is hyper-competitive right now, so prices for even the best VPNs regularly drop to less than $5 a month. In fact, the least expensive paid VPN option we’ve seen so far ranks in our top three VPNs overall for security and speed. Check out our quick list of budget-savvy VPNs to find one in your price range.
What’s the most secure VPN for Mac?
Each of the three VPNs we highlight on this page offer the same level of AES 256-bit encryption. You’ll be able to secure your connection via the same encryption standards whether you’re using ExpressVPN, Surfshark or NordVPN. Each has also been independently audited for security, and each one operates a RAM-only server infrastructure, which helps reduce the possibility of data being stored on a VPN server. Our DNS leak tests of all three providers revealed no leaks of any sort, and each one’s kill switch worked flawlessly.
Can you get in trouble for using a VPN?
You can potentially get in legal trouble for using a VPN if you’re in a country like China or Iran that bans or outlaws VPN use altogether. Otherwise, in the vast majority of regions around the world, you don’t have to worry about getting into any legal trouble just for using a VPN. Just remember that if you’re doing something illegal online, it’s still illegal whether you’re using a VPN or not. And if you’re in a country where VPN use is illegal or restricted in any way, it’s imperative that you connect to an obfuscated server so your VPN traffic is disguised as ordinary HTTPS traffic. This hides the fact that you’re using a VPN in the first place.
What does my ISP see when I’m connected to my VPN?
Your ISP will see that you’re connected to a VPN and it will see the IP address of the VPN server you’re connected to, along with the amount of data you’re transmitting. It will also see timestamps of when you connected to the VPN. Other than that, it won’t see your browsing history or the websites you visit since your internet traffic is encrypted and rendered unreadable when you connect to a VPN.
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