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Proton VPN review: Paid features compared with other providers

Verified by Molly Dyson

Proton VPN offers a free and paid plan, with the latter offering more than 2,700 servers in 67 different locations. Beginning as a crowdfunded project, this popular VPN continues to be supported by its community, and its free plan is subsidised by its paid users (and was named the best free VPN by our researchers). The provider offers the highest level of encryption – AES-256 – as well as following a strict no-logs policy, and is headquartered in Switzerland, which has fairly strong data protection laws and isn’t a member of mass surveillance alliances.

Proton was founded by a team of scientists who met at CERN (the European Centre for Nuclear Research) in 2014. They first created Proton Mail, the largest encrypted email service, and later came Proton VPN, which was initially intended to protect activists and journalists who use Proton Mail. 

60-second review

Rating: ★★★★

Proton VPN offers the highest level of security – AES-256 – as well as the option to use its NetShield malware and ad-blocker feature. The provider has free and paid plans, with the latter offering more than 2,700 servers – 95 Secure Core Servers – in 67 different countries. There are options to use its VPN Accelerator, boasting improved speed performance by up to 400 per cent versus using the service without this feature switched on. 

Proton VPN’s paid subscription is reasonably priced, and its features compare well with other top VPNs. The level of privacy that Proton VPN offers is more than just its encryption, being headquartered in Switzerland, and its independently audited no-logs policy means your data – in theory – is kept safe and secure.

How we research and rate VPNs

100+
hours performance testing
400+
customer reviews read
100+
hours of research
25
competitors compared
3
VPN experts consulted

Our reviewers are dedicated to bringing you the most accurate and up-to-date information so you can make an informed decision when it comes to buying a VPN. We will only recommend a VPN after hours of testing, extensive head-to-head feature comparisons, and after taking into account verified customer feedback and reviews, and the opinions of industry experts.

Our review scores are determined by the following categories:

  • Privacy and performance (30 per cent)
  • Features and functionality (30 per cent)
  • Reputation and credibility (25 per cent)
  • Plans and pricing/value (10 per cent)
  • Customer experience (5 per cent)

We research and test a total of 25 elements within these categories, including:

  • Number and location of servers
  • Streaming service accessibility
  • Security features such as AES-256
  • Performance (upload and download speeds, latency)
  • Value for money, guarantees and customer service
  • Independent server-site security audits

All of our VPN articles are verified by our in-house team of fact-checkers, so you can be assured that our content is as accurate and up to date as possible. Find out more about how we review VPNs.

Proton VPN overview

  • Lowest price: €4.99 (£4.27) per month (two-year subscription)
  • Free version: Yes
  • Maximum number of connected devices: 10
  • Number of servers: 2,706
  • Encryption: AES-256
  • VPN protocols: IKEv2, OpenVPN and WireGuard
  • No-log policy: Yes
  • Audited: Yes
  • Headquarters: Switzerland

Pros

AES-256 encryption Numerous advanced privacy tools Reliable kill switch Quick, helpful live chat support Unlimited data for free and paid plans

Cons

Slow customer support email response Premium pricing compared with other providers

How does Proton VPN compare?

Proton VPN has servers in 67 locations and has continued to expand its server locations in recent years – it now includes places such as South America and Africa, which are often overlooked by other providers. Proton VPN doesn’t offer anywhere near as many server locations as the top providers, but it does have a free version available – something not many of the other providers we’ve reviewed offer. 

Proton VPN Free gives users access to three server locations, as well as unlimited data, but the internet speed will be significantly slower than users connected to the Proton VPN Plus plan. Compared with some of the most subscribed VPNs, this product fairs well when it comes to connecting to multiple devices, offering a generous 10-device limit.

VPN provider Price Free version? Number of servers Maximum number of devices Netflix BBC iPlayer Disney+ Amazon HBO Max Audit?
Proton VPN From €4.99 (£4.27)/m Yes 2,700+ 10 Yes
ExpressVPN From £5.36/m No 3,000+ 5 Yes
NordVPN From £2.79/m No 5,500+ 6 Yes
Surfshark From £1.80/m No 3,200+ Unlimited Yes
CyberGhost From £1.85/m No 9,000+ 7 Yes

Some prices exclusive of VAT or local taxes. Prices correct as of 10/7/2023
Best alternative to
NordVPN is one of the most trusted VPN providers in the world, offering top-notch encryption, incredible speeds, and extra features to make all your online activities more secure.
4.5
Excellent Trustpilot rating
24/7 customer support
AES-256 encryption
VIEW PLANS At NordVPN

How much does Proton VPN cost?

Proton VPN offers a free version, however this subscription only provides limited access to 22 servers in three locations. Its full, paid-for subscriptions can be taken out on a monthly basis, but users will find the cheapest monthly prices on the 12-month and two-year plans, which are paid for in one lump sum up front.

Subscription term Price
Monthly €9.99 (£8.55) / month
12 months €5.99 (£5.13) / month (€71.88/£61.50 up front)
24 months €4.99 (£4.27) / month (€119.76/£102.47 up front)

Prices may exclude VAT or local taxes. Prices correct as of 10/7/2023

Payment options

There are various ways to pay for a Proton VPN subscription, including an option to purchase Proton Credits.  As well as the standard ways to pay via credit card and PayPal, users can purchase Proton Credits using cash, bank transfer or BitCoin once they have created an account with the provider. 

Ways to pay for Proton VPN:

  • Credit Card
  • PayPal
  • Proton Credits
  • BitCoin
Compare our top recommended providers
Best Overall
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Best Value
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Best All-rounder
3 months free on the 12 month plan
Best for Gaming
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Proton VPN features

Before subscribing to any VPN provider, it’s important to understand what features it offers and whether those features meet your requirements. Typically, VPN users are most concerned with privacy, and usually, this starts with what level of encryption a provider offers. Proton VPN is headquartered in Switzerland, which has strong data protection laws and its servers offer a high level of encryption, ensuring your data is safe from being hacked.

Perfect forward secrecy 

As well as the aforementioned encryption ciphers and VPN protocols, Proton VPN has a feature called perfect forward secrecy (PFS). This security measure reduces the risk of being compromised by creating a unique set of encryption keys each time users connect to the service. By doing so, even if future sessions have been compromised, data from past sessions will remain protected and secure. 

NetShield ad-blocker

Proton VPN comes with an inbuilt NetShield ad blocker – using DNS filtering to speed up your browsing experience, while simultaneously protecting your device. The ad blocker allows users to benefit from the protection of privacy-invading ads and stops trackers from monitoring any browsing activity. Most importantly, NetShield prevents malicious malware from infecting any of your devices. 

Although this handy piece of technology is available for all users, it can be turned off or customised to only block malware, ads or trackers. 

VPN Accelerator

Proton VPN claims to offer a high-speed service across its 10Gbps server network available in more than 50 countries using a unique VPN Accelerator, which gives users a stable and reliable connection. The VPN Accelerator is built-in into all of Proton VPN’s apps, so users will automatically have access to the fastest speeds no matter which server they connect to. The provider claims internet speeds are up to 400 per cent faster – especially when using a less reliable internet connection. This feature is particularly handy for anyone looking for a VPN for torrenting, as it could see you downloading publicly-owned files quickly.

Server count and countries

Proton VPN offers two plans – Proton Free and VPN Plus – with the latter offering more than 2,700 servers in 67 different locations. Users who opt for the free plan can access servers in only three locations, including Japan, the US and the Netherlands.

VPN Plus users will have access to all of the company’s servers, including 95 Secure Core Servers, which are owned and operated by Proton VPN and route traffic through privacy-friendly countries such as Switzerland and Iceland. Access to these servers in its iOS app is what makes Proton a great VPN for iPhone and one of the best mobile VPN apps all round.

No-log policy and headquarters

A no-log policy means that none of your data or IP addresses are stored anywhere, and when it comes to cyber security, this is crucial. Proton VPN has a strict no-logs policy whereby users’ privacy is protected and no online activity or metadata is stored. 

Proton VPN doesn’t store, collect or track:

  • Web pages visited
  • Session lengths
  • IP addresses 
  • Location
  • Connection logs

Proton VPN is based in Switzerland, a country that has strict data protection laws – in fact, it has some of the world’s strongest privacy laws. As well as Proton VPN’s no-log policy, its headquarters is based in a country with a long history of respecting privacy is certainly a positive for its users. 

Adding to this, under Swiss data protection regulations, Proton VPN is not required to comply with data requests that are not supported by a Swiss court order. Switzerland is also well-known for its political neutrality, and it’s not a part of any intelligence-sharing networks, such as Five Eyes, Nine Eyes or Fourteen Eyes. It’s also outside of US and EU jurisdictions.

Kill switch

Proton VPN’s kill switch enables users to stay in control of their online privacy and is available for both the free and Plus plan users. Its kill switch protects users at all times, including if your internet is unexpectedly interrupted, and works to hide the user’s IP address. 

How it works:

  • Immediately blocks all network traffic if the user’s VPN connection is lost
  • Protects user’s IP address and DNS queries from being exposed
  • Users can choose when they want the kill switch to be turned on, or it can be turned on permanently using the Always-On feature

Split tunnelling

Simply put, split tunnelling allows users to route some traffic through the VPN tunnel while excluding others. This means users can pick and choose which apps or devices are passing through the VPN connection. 

Proton VPN’s split tunnelling is currently only available for Windows and Android users, which our researchers confirmed when there was no split tunnelling feature on its VPN for Mac devices or on its VPN app for Firestick

Using the split tunnelling feature, which can be located in settings, there’s an option to exclude apps or only include apps – with these functions, there will be options to customise which apps this applies to.

Encryption and privacy

Just like many other popular VPN providers that we’ve reviewed, Proton VPN uses Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) with 256-bit keys – most commonly known as AES-256. By using such encryption ciphers, which have so far proven to be robust and unhackable, Proton VPN ensures a high level of security and privacy for its users. 

The provider uses two different encryptions – the previously mentioned AES-256, and ChaCha20. Users who are connected to the OpenVPN or IKEv2 VPN protocols are secured by AES-256. Connecting to the WireGuard protocol encrypts the user’s connection with ChaCha20 – an advanced encryption cipher that is slightly faster than AES-256, but just as secure.

Proton VPN performance tests results

Connecting to a VPN server can have adverse effects on users’ internet speeds. While the service is ideal for hiding IP addresses and protecting sensitive data, it can cause your internet speed to drop considerably, and this varies between different providers. 

The best way to find out how much Proton VPN affects your internet speed is to put it to the test. Before you do, there are three main components to consider with or without using a VPN: download speed, upload speed and latency (ping). 

  • Download speed: Refers to the rate at which digital data is transferred from the internet to your device.
  • Upload speed: The rate that data is transferred from your device to the internet. 
  • Latency (ping): The time it takes for a set of data to be transmitted to a server on the internet and back to your device again. 

Our researchers tested Proton VPN to establish how using the service affected download and upload speeds. In order to ensure a fair test was carried out, our researcher tested their internet speeds without using a VPN, which gave us a baseline to work out the degradation of speeds with and without connecting to Proton VPN. To conduct this research, our reviewers used the Ookla Speedtest.

Speed test results without Proton VPN activated
Speed test result without Proton VPN turned on. This is our base line. The numbers along the bottom of the image are the ping (latency) in milliseconds and the amount of data downloaded (green) and uploaded (purple) during the test, measured in megabytes.
Download speed (Mbps) Upload speed (Mbps) Latency (ping) Percentage of base download speed Percentage of base upload speed
No VPN 73.39 18.27 12ms
UK to UK 68.54 16.96 21ms 93% 93%
UK to US 67.28 17.25 83ms 92% 94%
UK to Aus 66.82 16.32 218ms 91% 89%

The speed tests carried out by our researcher showed Proton VPN returned admirable results when connected to varying server locations. In terms of download speeds and upload speeds, there was less than 10 per cent degradation across the board. 

When connected to a UK server, both the download speed and upload speed were 93 per cent as fast as our non-VPN speeds. This means should users decide to hide their IP address, but not need to change server country location, they can expect to enjoy almost a similar connection speed to those not using a VPN. However, there is a noticeable 9ms difference between the latency (ping), with the non-VPN. 

Proton VPN UK to UK speed test results
Speed test result when connected to a UK Proton VPN server from the UK.

Connecting to Proton VPN’s US server also displays minimal variation in terms of download and upload speed.  The degradation for the download speed was 8 per cent and the upload speed was only 6 per cent. This was no surprise considering Proton VPN has 722 US servers in 14 different cities, which means users have lots of different servers to choose from, limiting the load on any one server.  There was a considerable drop in latency from 12ms (without connecting to the VPN), to 218ms – this decline suggests users will experience video lag when browsing and streaming. 

Proton VPN UK to US speed test result
Speed test result when connected to a Proton VPN US server.

The most noticeable difference was our connection speeds when connected to Proton VPN’s Australian server. The degradation for the Australian server’s download speed was 9 per cent and the upload speed was 11 per cent – both of which were the lowest performing out of all tested server locations. However, these speeds were still good and we’re confident users’ internet speed would still be usable. One reason for the Australian server not performing as well could be down to Proton VPN’s sparse amount of available servers in the country – with only three locations to connect to. 

As expected, the latency was 218ms when connected to the Australian server, in comparison to the 12ms recorded when not connected to a VPN.

Proton VPN speed test UK to Australia
Speed test result when connected to a Proton VPN server in Australia from the UK.

WebRTC leak test

Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC)  is a collection of standardised technologies that allows web browsers to directly communicate with each other without the need for an intermediate server. WebRTC is typically recognised for its ability to speed up and enhance video and audio chats as well as data transfer. It’s especially beneficial for users who rely on video or audio chats in a work capacity since it reduces lag time. The following web browsers support WebRTC: Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Safari and Mozilla Firefox. 

Our researchers conducted a WebRTC leak test while using Proton VPN and without. Our leak tests showed our IP address was visible when not connected to the service – meaning our data could be hacked by a third party. When connected to a Proton VPN server, the server’s IP address was visible but not our real IP address. Showing your VPN’s IP address is fine since this is not your actual geographical location – we’re confident in saying Proton VPN passed its WebRTC leak test.

Breaches and audits

Handling sensitive data and making claims the company makes no logs, doesn’t share data and protects users’ information is something that should be verified. Any VPN provider can make such claims, but if the provider has an independent audit, it holds a lot more value. 

Proton VPN acknowledges this, and its services have been independently audited, with this information easily accessible for users on its website. The company has been audited for all of its available apps by SEC Consult (previously built in partnership with Mozilla) – a leading consultancy in cyber and application security. 

Our researchers reviewed the audits for each of Proton VPN’s apps, and collectively, the SEC Consult audits reported only medium to low-risk vulnerabilities. What this means, described by SEC Consult, is there were issues with certificate validation, but the user’s encrypted traffic routed through the VPN could not be decrypted. In conclusion, the service passed all of its audits and users can be sure that their IP addresses and other sensitive information are protected while using the service. 

Proton VPN adheres to its strict no-logs policy and this was tested in a legal case in 2019. The provider was ordered to hand over data in order to identify a user but was unable to comply since it keeps no logs. This was also supported by the Swiss jurisdiction, which does not have forced logging obligations.

Compatibility and apps

Proton VPN has apps that work on the following computers and devices:

  • Computers: Windows, Linux, MacOS, and Chromebook
  • Mobile devices: Android and iPhone
  • TV systems: Amazon Firestick and Android TV

Desktop app

Proton VPN’s desktop app is ideal for both frequent users and those who are new to the service. The app has a sleek black and purple design, which we found to be aesthetically pleasing. 

Proton VPN desktop app map view
The Proton VPN desktop app makes it easy to choose a country you want to connect to.

Upon opening the app, there’ll be a large map, which will pinpoint which server you’re connected to and where it’s located in the world. There’s a tab for profiles, where you can set up a personalised profile that includes which protocol you prefer and server location. This feature makes Proton VPN stand out from other providers we’ve reviewed, and we consider this feature to be very useful, especially for those who wish to set up multiple profiles with varying specifics to suit their needs.

Proton VPN profiles feature
The Proton VPN profiles feature allows you to set up connection preferences for every situation you’ll be using the service for.

As well as choosing your desired server location, Proton VPN’s NetShield, which blocks malware, ads and trackers, is automatically turned on, but you can turn this off in the settings or choose to only block some of the above. 

There are also options to turn on the kill switch, which you can turn on all the time or just as and when suits you. Connecting to a Secure Core server is easy, and you are warned about your internet speed dropping by doing this. However, we didn’t find much difference in speed when turning this feature on.  

In the system preferences, users can change protocols and choose to turn on the VPN Accelerator. The DNS leak protection is always toggled on, which is ideal, meaning users need not worry about privacy.  

Mobile app

Proton VPN mobile app
The Proton VPN app is easy to use and offers many of the same features as the desktop app.

Much like the desktop app, Proton VPN’s mobile app is also user-friendly and connecting to your chosen server is as simple as scrolling for your desired location and connecting. Once connected, you’re able to choose to toggle NetShield off or keep it on and customise what you’d like to be blocked. There’s an option to save the above as a profile if you feel these settings are ones you’d like to use again.

Users can set up as many profiles as they want using the mobile app; there’s a tab at the bottom named profiles, where you can select a server and protocol and give the profile a unique name, as well as make it your default profile. 

Through the settings menu, there are options to turn on the kill switch and turn on the VPN Accelerator, which can increase speeds by up to 400 per cent.

Router compatibility

Configuring your router to run Proton VPN creates a more streamlined user experience and, simply put, means you won’t need to remember to turn on your VPN. 

Advantages to configuring your router to run Proton VPN:

  • Your internet traffic is automatically secured
  • No need to set up your VPN on each device
  • Protects all of the devices in your household
  • Protects devices that don’t support VPN apps

Not all routers will support a VPN connection, so you’ll need to check that yours is compatible. As a general rule of thumb, the router your internet provider supplies you with doesn’t usually support such configurations. It will need  to support OpenVPN (as a client, not a server) and IKEv2 in order to be configured.

Proton VPN does not recommend attempting to configure your router yourself if you’re not tech-savvy, but it does have guides for its compatible routers on its website.

Customer support

There are several ways to contact Proton VPN’s customer support team, and when our researchers tested them we found our queries and concerns were answered in a timely manner.

Live chat is available 24/7 for paid users, and this service puts you straight through to a member of the customer service team without needing to answer a chatbot’s questions. Our researchers found this service to be speedy and helpful. Our messages were answered within seconds and we were able to find the answers and support needed. 

The provider also has an email address for less urgent requests – contact@protonvpn.com – though the company clearly states it will take them longer to reply to this service. 

For customers who need to report a specific issue, the online support form allows customers to report on their specific operating system and describe their issues.

What do customers say?

Proton VPN receives mixed reviews from Trustpilot, Apple App Store and Google Play Store. We’ve read a mixture of reviews from all of its apps and discovered many customers praised the service for having a good variation of server locations with credible internet speeds, protecting their privacy and data, but some reported streaming issues. 

  • Trustpilot: 2.6 (288 reviews)
  • Apple App store: 4.6 (10 reviews)
  • Google Play Store: 4.5 (92,400 reviews)

“ProtonVPN is the best VPN I have ever used. I have been a customer for over five years, and it has been absolutely seamless to use. I’ve also never had an issue with the login process. The user interface is also very friendly and easy to use… Customer service was always responsive whenever I needed anything from them.”

“The browser speed is throttled, and they claim it’s all on your end. Each ticket I submitted was met with a laundry list of things to try and asking for my log information to ‘better service’ my issue. They blocked their own help page while I was using their VPN, [which] makes no sense. Also, I paid in full for the year and the site will not remove my credit card info without adding another, so I can’t cancel my auto renewal without having another payment method. Why? It’s paid for and I no longer want to renew the service.”

“I have had Proton mail and Proton VPN for years… I have set up several profiles as to where I want to connect. Always use Secure Core. I like that I can change to any location, just by clicking on a profile I created. If one profile server speed is slow, I click on another.”

“This VPN works very well. I was using the free service for years with very few problems. Recently, I decided to give the paid servers a try. It’s been about four months with no problems. It connects and disconnects quickly. Switching servers between countries is no problem. Good job, Proton!”

Independent Advisor’s verdict

Proton VPN is one of the newer providers on the market, and it has achieved a lot of credibility since starting out in 2014.  The provider puts privacy at the forefront and the highest level of encryption is available for users, as well as an inbuilt NetShield – protecting users from malware, ads and tracking. In addition to this, Proton’s no-log policy has been independently audited, and even put to the test when the company was ordered to share a users’ data but was unable to comply because no data had been logged.

Another layer of protection is its headquarters being situated in Switzerland, which has some of the strongest privacy laws in the world and is not part of any mass surveillance alliances. 

In general, we found Proton VPN’s apps were user-friendly and allowed users to enjoy a customised experience by switching protocols and servers, creating unique profiles and more. Comparing the features that are included as standard, for paid users, Proton VPN certainly offers a lot for a reasonable price, and we would consider it good value for money. 

Proton VPN offers a streamlined service whereby users can switch up features that apply to their specific needs. The provider offers an excellent level of online privacy without compromising on user experience.  

Overall score: ★★★★

Score breakdown

Reputation ★★★
Privacy ★★★★½
Performance and features ★★★★★
Plans and pricing value ★★★½
Customer experience ★★★★
Round up of today’s best VPN deals
NordVPN 2 year £2.49 /Month
£2.49 /Month
Surfshark 24 month £1.79 /Month
£1.79 /Month
ExpressVPN 12 month £6.77 /Month
£6.77 /Month
CyberGhost 2 year £1.78 /Month
£1.78 /Month
Proton 2 year £4.27 /Month
£4.27 /Month
PIA 2 year £1.57 /Month
£1.57 /Month
Atlas 2 year £1.34 /Month
£1.34 /Month
PrivadoVPN 2 year £1.99 /Month
£1.99 /Month
Windscribe 12 month £4.53 /Month
£4.53 /Month
IPVanish 2 year £3.58 /Month
£3.58 /Month

The data in this review is reported from a neutral stance and should be used for informational purposes only. We review VPN services from the perspective of:

  • The quality of the product based on the security it affords the user
  • User experience of the application(s)
  • Level and quality of customer service

Independent Advisor does not endorse the streaming of content from regions other than where the subscription is held, nor does it endorse the downloading or consumption of illegally pirated content.

rachel

Rachel Sadler

Home Tech Writer

Rachel is a seasoned writer who has been producing online and print content for seven years. 

As a home tech expert for Independent Advisor, Rachel researches and writes buying guides and reviews, helping consumers navigate the realms of broadband and home security gadgets. She also covers home tech for The Federation of Master Builders, where she reviews and tests home security devices. 

She started as a news and lifestyle journalist in Hong Kong reporting on island-wide news stories, food and drink and the city’s events. She’s written for editorial platforms Sassy Hong Kong, Localiiz and Bay Media. While in Hong Kong she attended PR events, interviewed local talent and project-managed photoshoots. 

Rachel holds a BA in English Language and Creative Writing and is committed to simplifying tech jargon and producing unbiased reviews.

Molly Dyson

Editor

After growing up with a passion for writing, Molly studied journalism and creative writing at university in her home country of the United States.

She has written for a variety of print and online publications, from small town newspapers to international magazines. Most of her 10-year career since relocating to the UK has been spent in business journalism, writing and editing for admin professionals at PA Life magazine and business travel managers at Business Travel News Europe and representing those titles at conferences around the world.

Now an Editor at the Independent Advisor, Molly is an expert in a broad range of consumer topics, that include solar panels and renewables, home improvements and home insurance, and consumer technology such as home security and VPNs.

In her free time, Molly can usually be found exploring the outdoors with her husband and their young son or gardening.