Do you know exactly how exposed you are online? It’s pretty unsettling, actually. If you’re not taking measures to keep yourself safe, anyone who cares to do so can see exactly what you’ve been doing online, which sites you’ve visited, and where you’re physically located.

Enter the Virtual Private Network. VPNs allow you to browse the internet in near anonymity, keeping prying eyes and bad actors at bay. What’s more, these programs are simple to use and extremely affordable. Today we’re going to discuss VPN pricing and other costs associated with digital privacy. But before we get into that, let’s talk a little about how VPNs work.

ProtonVPN Dashboard

ProtonVPN Dashboard

What Is a VPN, and Why Do I Need One?

Without getting too deep into the technical jargon, VPNs allow you to access the internet in almost complete anonymity. They encrypt your data and send you through private channels to access whichever website or service your destination happens to be.

Did You Know: The first VPN was constructed in the 1990s by engineers at Microsoft. They grew in popularity as a means in which remote workers could access organizational data in a secure way from decentralized locations.1

Think of it this way: if you’re driving your car from your house to the store, anyone can see it, right? They can look in your windows, see the make and model, and even write down your license plate number. However, if you were able to take a private tunnel from your origin to your destination, third parties (like hackers!) would be none the wiser. This is how VPNs function. With a VPN, you can take a private internet tunnel rather than expose yourself on surface streets.

Now why might you want to use a VPN? To put it succinctly: privacy. VPNs prevent onlookers — malevolent or otherwise — from seeing what you’re doing online. This adds a critical layer of protection to our personal and professional lives, which are increasingly playing out in digital spaces. From streaming to banking and everything in between, VPNs can keep onlookers and bad actors at bay.

The NordVPN desktop dashboard

NordVPN Dashboard

Pro Tip: VPNs are particularly handy if you find yourself connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi networks in public. (Think cafés, restaurants, and hotel rooms.) You never know who might be sharing that connection with you and what their intentions might be. If you’re running a VPN, though, there’s nothing to worry about.

How Much Do VPNs Cost?

All of this begs the question — what will this level of protection cost you?

Luckily, the short answer is “not much.” Basic VPNs will run you a few dollars a month, and the most advanced won’t cost more than $15. Those more advanced VPNs — like NordVPN and ExpressVPN — offer features like geographic-specific protections, file-sharing and streaming optimizations, as well as VPN traffic obfuscation. But that might be overkill for the everyday user. If you go with a more basic service, you’ll get all the security you need for what amounts to pocket change.

FYI: If you’re interested in learning more about cybersecurity and how VPNs work, a great place to start is our VPN buyers guide.

Keep in mind that most VPN services operate on a subscription basis. In addition, most have month-to-month plans that cost between $5 to $10, with savings for those who sign up for longer terms. Your monthly cost will usually be in the single digits if you sign up for a year or more, and some companies will let you save even more by signing up for long-haul, five-year terms.

To give you some context, here are the pricing breakdowns for some of our favorite services.

Snapshot of VPN Pricing

VPN Service Standout Features Cost Per Month Cost Per Year
ExpressVPN Ram-Only Servers;
Extremely Secure,
Large Network
$12.95 $99.84
NordVPN Advanced Security,
VPN-to-Tor,
P2P File-Sharing Optimizations
$11.95 $59.04
ProtonVPN Privacy-Friendly Swiss Jurisdiction;
Elevated Geographic Protections;
Tor-Ready
$10.00 $120.00
VyprVPN DNS Server Customizability;
Auto-Reconnect,
WireGuard Protocol
$2.50 $60.00*
TunnelBear User-Friendly,
Password Manager Included;
Ad Block Functionality
No Monthly Plan $59.88
Surfshark Unlimited Device Protection,
Multi-VPN Functionality,
Identity Theft Protections
$12.95 $59.76**
HMA Huge Global Network,
IP Shuffle Randomization;
Great for Streaming and File Sharing
No Monthly Plan $59.88***
CyberGhost Excellent Streaming Optimizations,
Multiple Protocols,
Free Trial Period
$12.99 $47.88
IPVanish Bundled Cloud Storage,
Large Server Network,
No Connection Caps
$9.99 $79.99
NortonVPN Speedy and Reliable and Integrates with Norton’s Cybersecurity Offerings;
Extremely User-Friendly
$4.99**** $49.99****

*36-month plan
**Two-Year Plan
***Five Connections
****One Connection

So this should give you a pretty good idea of the pricing spread across a few of the industry’s standouts — but let’s take a closer look at some of the best VPNs on the market today.

  1. ExpressVPN
    We love pretty much everything about this service. When we reviewed ExpressVPN, we found the service to pretty much check every box. It’s fast, it’s reliable, it’s extremely secure — everything you want to hear about a VPN. In our guide to ExpressVPN costs, you’ll see it’s a little on the pricey side, but in our honest opinion, it’s well worth the cost. The $99.84 annual plan gets our vote.
  2. NordVPN
    NordVPN is another great option. Our NordVPN review highlights their powerful security features (enough to keep activists and embedded journalists safe), lightning-fast speeds, and unique performance optimizations. And in our NordVPN pricing guide, you’ll see they’re comparable to ExpressVPN, but slightly more affordable. Thankfully, this VPN will only set you back $59.04 for the year.
  3. ProtonVPN
    Now for one of our all-time favorites — our analysis of ProtonVPN dives into this brand’s high-tech security features and network optimizations. For example, all of their servers are RAM-only and are completely rebuilt from scratch every time they’re reset. This is the gold standard of privacy and security. You’ll also see that ProtonVPN’s pricing and subscription structure is a little different — but their $10 monthly plan is a pretty solid deal.
  4. VyprVPN
    If you check out our feature on VyprVPN plans and prices, you’ll see it’s one of the most affordable options on the market. But don’t let the small price tag fool you — read our VyprVPN review and you’ll see how this service packs a serious punch. Extremely secure with a huge network and super-fast speeds, as well as the option to select your own DNS servers. What’s not to like? This VPN will only set you back $60 per year (on a three-year plan) or only $2.50 per month (yep, you read that right).
  5. TunnelBear
    TunnelBear gets bonus points for having one of the best user experiences we’ve encountered in the industry. Check out our TunnelBear review for more insight. But we also need to point out that they’re more than just a pretty face. TunnelBear offers serious protections, great optimizations, and blazing-fast speeds — and all for a price that’s more than reasonable. Read our guide to TunnelBear’s costs to learn more about their feature-packed $59.88 annual plans.

Are VPNs Worth the Money?

So now for the million-dollar question — are VPNs worth it? Depends on who you ask and what that individual values.

Are VPNs a foolproof cybersecurity silver bullet? No, not really. Will they add a layer of protection to ward off bad actors and interlopers? Yes, absolutely. At the end of the day, if you value your digital privacy and want to keep nosey third parties out of your business, you can do so for less than the price of a cup of coffee. That’s a great deal in our book.

FYI: If you want to start looking for the right VPN, there’s no better place to start than our top 10 list of the best VPNs of 2021.

When you consider the fact that the average identity theft incident takes a toll of about $1,000 in material losses2 or that any internet service provider or government agency can access your browsing data at their whim, it makes sense to us to protect yourself in any way you can — particularly if that protection costs so little. Ultimately it’s your decision, but with the stakes so high and the cost of safety so low, we ask why wouldn’t you?

ExpressVPN Desktop Dashboard

ExpressVPN Dashboard

How Can I Get the Best Deal on a VPN?

VPN costs are driven down significantly with regular frequency since providers are almost always running deals, offering sales, or taking part in promotions. Major holidays are a great time to buy, as are both Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

FYI: If you want to know how to stretch your dollar as far as it will go, check out our guide to VPN deals and sales.

Some of the best deals come by way of adding a free couple of months to your subscription package, or offering a percentage off the normal asking price. We’ve seen this with some of our favorite VPNs in the past.

VPN Costs and Pricing — Our Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, your digital privacy and security are up to you. A VPN won’t solve all of your cybersecurity issues, but using one is certainly a giant stride in the right direction.

And like we said before, you’re not going to pay an arm and a leg for a VPN. In fact, you can pay for a decent VPN like IPVanish or Surfshark with the change you find in between your couch cushions. And for more robust services like ExpressVPN and NordVPN (we highlighted those VPNs above), you’re only looking at $10-$15 per month. Not bad for comprehensive digital privacy that could save you thousands of dollars and countless headaches.

For the most part, VPNs are extremely simple to use, and most offer plenty of great features. And to sweeten the deal, the majority of VPNs we’ve tested are offered at a price point that’s more than reasonable for the safety, security, and peace of mind that come with them.