The internet isn’t as safe as you think it is.

This isn’t meant to scare you; it’s simply stating a matter of fact. There are countless individuals and organizations that want to get their hands on your data. Some want to sell it, some want to analyze it, and some want to use it for nefarious purposes.

That’s why a growing number of internet-connected consumers are turning to virtual private networks (VPNs) to protect themselves. These services spoof your physical location while encrypting your traffic so onlookers — above board or untoward — can’t see what you’re up to in digital spaces.

FYI: New to VPNs? Check out our virtual private network information guide. There you’re going to find more than enough resources to get you up to speed.

As with any service, some VPNs are better than others. Many offer additional layers of protection or sophisticated security protocols to set themself apart from the competition; others prioritize certain activities like peer-to-peer file sharing or streaming media.

That said, there is one constant to speak of. Regardless of the provider you select, you’re going to have to pay for this type of digital protection. Before we get into dollar amounts, though, it’ll be helpful to understand how VPNs are priced.

VPN Pricing Structures

I’ve put dozens of VPNs to the test, and in my experience there are two ways to pay, generally speaking, and a rarely seen third option. The first and most common is a subscription-based payment structure.

IPVanish's partnership with SugarSync

IPVanish’s partnership with SugarSync

Pro Tip: Be on the lookout for services that partner with other cybersecurity products. For instance, in our review of IPVanish, we found that they offer a deal on cloud storage through SugarSync.

With a subscription to a VPN, the amount you pay is based on the duration of your membership. Your monthly cost will be higher if you sign up for a month-to-month payment plan than if you sign up for a year or two. Most of the time, the service remains constant no matter how long your membership lasts, and all of the VPN’s features will be available to you.

The second most common way to pay is connection-based. There’s usually a month-to-month price that will increase with the number of devices you’d like to connect to the VPN network. Most of the time this works in increments of five, and this structure can be really helpful if you’re looking to protect an entire household.

FYI: Want to know a little more about how VPN costs are structured? Take a look at our VPN pricing guide for more information.

ProtonVPN's Dashboard

ProtonVPN’s Dashboard

The final, less frequently seen payment structure is based on features. A smattering of providers will offer a stripped-down trial version of their service, with prices increasing as they add on features and functionality. Although it’s uncommon, this structure is great for folks who might need only certain aspects of a provider’s services.

Now that you have an idea of how VPN prices are laid out, let’s take a look at what exactly these services offer and what you’ll be paying for them.

The Different Types of VPNs and What They Cost

As with any product, there are services that belong on the top shelf and others that can be found in the well. Both are designed for different purposes, and your first order of business in selecting a VPN is determining which is right for you. How much you’ll end up paying hinges on this decision.

Ivacy's dashboard after connecting.

Ivacy’s dashboard after connecting.

If you’re looking for an industry-leading VPN like a NordVPN or an ExpressVPN, expect white-glove service and prices to match. The best of the best will offer mile-long feature lists, geographic-specific protections, state-of-the-art network architectures, and blazing-fast speeds. Expect elegantly designed user interfaces as well as exhaustive resources for troubleshooting and configuration.

FYI: Want a great service without paying the full price? There are plenty of ways to save when you’re shopping for a VPN. Check out our guide to VPN sales and deals for more information.

For all of this, though, you’re going to be paying a premium. The best VPNs in the industry usually cost around $10 to $13 per month, but savings can be realized by signing up for longer subscription durations.

Your middle-of-the-road VPNs make up the vast majority of the services on the market today. These will keep your average internet user safe while forgoing some of the bells and whistles that might be necessary for, say, a journalist embedded in North Korea. You’ll get everything you need and nothing you don’t for around $4 to $7 per month.

The most affordable of the bunch will offer bare-bones protections without much in the way of advanced features. These services will keep you anonymous online, but little more. If that’s all you’re interested in, expect to pay between $1 and $3 per month. Pocket change, certainly, but you get what you pay for.

There is most certainly a VPN for every need and every budget, but we should probably address one of the most common questions we get: What’s the best free VPN?

What About Free VPNs?

So there are free VPNs on the market today, but simply put, we wouldn’t recommend any of them. There are free open-source VPN projects out there like SoftEther, but you need to know a lot about networking and computer science to apply them effectively.

FYI: Interested in learning more about low-cost VPNs? Check out our guide to the best cheap VPNs, as well as our resource on the top free VPNs.

The next best thing is a free version of a service, like we found in our review of TunnelBear and our in-depth look at ProtonVPN. Like I said above, though, expect a really stripped-down version of the service. These trial versions are meant to give you a taste of the product and convince you to purchase a robust, more expensive version, so expect some key features to be missing.

NordVPN's map interface

NordVPN’s map interface

If you want to get into semantics, you can also try most VPNs risk-free via a money-back guarantee. These periods usually range from a week to a month, and although you do have to pay upfront for them, you’ll get your money back if you’re dissatisfied with the service. So it’s kind of free if you think about it — at least within the defined trial window.

With all this in mind, you might be asking yourself if you should really be spending your hard-earned cash on a VPN. At a certain point in your shopping process, you’re certainly going to find yourself asking if VPNs are really worth it.

Should I Buy a VPN?

If you value your privacy and want to be more secure online, a VPN is one of the most versatile tools you can have at your disposal. It’s not going to protect you from every online threat, but setting up and using a virtual private network will go a long way at keeping bad actors, snooping ISPs, and overreaching law enforcement agencies at bay.

Private Interent Access' expanded dashboard

Private Interent Access’ expanded dashboard

Think of it this way: Locking your doors and windows won’t prevent the most determined (or deranged) criminals from breaking into your house, but it will go a long way in preventing opportunistic criminals from snatching your laptop while you’re at the store. VPNs operate on essentially the same principle. If you’re not attracting attention and no one can really see what you’re doing, you’re far less likely to fall victim.

When you consider that even the most expensive VPN services out there cost less than a cup of coffee per day, it’s hard to make an argument against them. As long as you’re using a reputable provider, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

Final Thoughts on VPN Costs

As mentioned, there’s a VPN out there for pretty much every budget and use case. If you’re looking to bolster your digital privacy and increase your online security, you can do so for prices that are almost negligible.

If you’re convinced that the cost of a virtual private network is worth the peace of mind, a great place to start your search is our list of the top ten VPNs. There you’re going to find a great assortment of providers across numerous price points; you’re sure to find what you’re looking for.

VPN Cost FAQs

Are VPNs expensive?

While industry-leading VPNs like Nord and Express are a little on the pricey side, there are plenty of virtual private networks on the market today that won’t break the bank.

What is the cheapest VPN?

There are a handful of VPNs on the market that cost between $1 and $3 per month, depending on the subscription package you select. VyprVPN is extremely affordable, as are Ivacy and VPNSecure.

Are VPNs hard to use?

Most modern, consumer-grade VPNs pride themselves on their user experience and ease of use. In our tests, we’ve never encountered a VPN that would take advanced knowledge of networking to set up and use.

Do I need a VPN?

If you want to browse the internet privately, the best way to do so is by using a virtual private network.

What is a good free VPN?

There aren’t many truly free VPNs on the market today, but there are a few providers that offer free versions of their service, such as ProtonVPN and TunnelBear.