If you use an iPhone or iOS device, you’re probably accustomed to a superior class of device security. But if you want to enhance your internet privacy, a strong andcan come in handy. Without a VPN, internet service providers can track your browsing habits on both MacOS and iOS, and other sites can collect your IP address. By itself, an iPhone can’t prevent either of those things, but the best iPhone VPN can.
While not every VPN service is going to pair seamlessly with iOS’ distinct controls, Apple-focused VPN apps are becoming increasingly popular among leading providers. However, there are limits to the privacy VPNs currently provide to iOS users. Recent independent research has emerged suggesting 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 will continue to update our recommendations as more information surfaces around this issue.
According to the most recent trend reports available, the mobile VPN market has surged over the past few years. Over 480 million people downloaded abetween 2019 and 2020, a report from research firm Top10VPN showed. That’s a whopping 54% increase from the previous year. While 84% of those downloads were free VPN services, we urge you to avoid going with a , as not only are they limited in their usefulness, but they nearly always come with unforeseen risks. Instead, it’s best to stick with a tried-and-true paid VPN whenever possible. If you’re opting for a paid service, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. That’s what you’ll find here in our guide to the best iPhone VPN apps.
This list is essentially a subset of our main, but specifically focuses on VPN clients for anyone looking for mobile browsing protection for their iPhone or other iOS device. If and when a service is ranked higher here than on our main VPN list, it’s because the mobile app experience was superior. (You can check out our picks for the , too.) Keep in mind that this is an evolving list: We’re actively working on more research and hands-on testing, so check back regularly as we expect this list to change throughout the year. Here are the top VPN apps for iPhone that we’ve tested so far this year.
- Intuitive app interface, with plenty of power under the hood
- Number of servers: 3,200-plus
- Number of VPN server locations: 95
- Country/jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands
Despite its customizability and powerful performance as a VPN, Surfshark’s iOS VPN app (and Android app) offers an interface that is surprisingly intuitive for first-time users. Its four-tab design elegantly conceals a host of privacy tools and connection options, highlighting a single-click connection button on the app’s landing screen.
Quickly access one of Surfshark’s multihop connection options — one of its most promising features, which jumps your connection through multiple countries to hide your trail — through its main location-selection screen, with no need to rummage through the app’s VPN settings. Surfshark also gets bonus points for making its customer support options readily available, including its help ticket feature and user guide library.
Surfshark’s network has expanded significantly, now offering servers in 95 countries — making its network one of the largest in the industry. Though Surfshark and NordVPN announced a merger in February, each VPN provider runs its own separate network of servers.
One of Surfshark’s big draws is its unlimited device support. If you want to run your entire home or office on Surfshark’s VPN, you don’t have to worry about how many devices you have on or connected. The VPN provider has a solid range of app support, running on Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, FireTV and routers. Additional devices such as game consoles can be configured for Surfshark via DNS settings.
Surfshark received generally high marks when its Chrome and Firefox extensions were audited for privacy by German security firm Cure 53 (PDF link of full report) — though that audit was commissioned by Surfshark.
We particularly like the feature that allows you to whitelist certain apps and websites to automatically bypass the VPN. For some business uses, this can be critically important. Surfshark also offers antimalware, ad-blocking and tracker-blocking as part of its software.
Along with multihop, Surfshark also offers two more special modes designed for those who want to get around restrictions and more carefully hide their online footsteps. Camouflage Mode masks your VPN activity so your ISP doesn’t know you’re using a VPN. And NoBorders Mode “allows [you] to successfully use Surfshark in restrictive regions.”
Just be careful. Doing any of those three things could be illegal in your country and could result in severe penalties. During our testing, we didn’t see a DNS leak or IP address leak, and had no trouble accessing Netflix.
Like many other VPNs, Surfshark offers several promotional pricing packages designed to pull you in with attractive first-term prices before hiking costs after that term closes.
With Surfshark, one of your options is to lock in 26 months of service for about $60 — which Surfshark frames as “24 months +2 Free” for $2.30 a month. It’s a decent intro deal, but the plan then recurs at $60 annually. We also don’t recommend contracts of more than a year with any provider because of the VPN industry’s rapidly shifting landscape.
For the standard yearly subscription plan, you’ll pay about $48 initially for the first year of service, then $60 per year for any additional years of service. Surfshark’s regular monthly plan offers no discounts and is available for $13 a month. If you’re not satisfied with the service, Surfshark offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our Surfshark VPN review.
Screenshot by David Gewirtz/CNET
ExpressVPN is currently the fastest VPN we’ve tested in 2022, causing us to lose less than 2% of our total internet speeds. Its apps for iOS and Android are designed with a streamlined approach aimed at connecting fast without a fuss. A single button on its landing screen directs you to connect quickly, with the only accompanying option a drop-down server location selector with your fastest nearby city selected by default.
ExpressVPN’s other options — its security and privacy tools, account and settings options, and support page — are all kept neatly tucked away under a garden variety three-bar icon in the screen’s top left corner. And they’re worth checking into. ExpressVPN has included an on-board IP address checker, along with two leak testers and a password generator.
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.
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.
The company has been in business since 2009, and ExpressVPN has a substantial network of more than 3,000 RAM-only servers spread across 160 locations in 94 countries. ExpressVPN’s best plan offers five simultaneous connections for $100 a year (which includes three extra months, for a limited-time deal totaling 15 months of service). You can also opt for a $13 per-month plan, or pay $60 for six months.
Read our ExpressVPN review.
- Among the fastest VPNs, with only 13% speed loss
- Number of servers: 5,200-plus servers in 62 countries
- Apps: Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android, iOS, Android TV, Fire TV
- Country/jurisdiction: Panama
- $3.99 a month for a two-year plan
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 for 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, BestBuy and Walmart where you can even purchase your VPN with cash.
Read our NordVPN review.
Screenshot by David Gewirtz/CNET
- Most customizable VPN app
- Number of servers: 2,000-plus
- Number of VPN server locations: 75-plus
- Country/jurisdiction: US
A big win for IPVanish is its fun, configurable interface, which makes it an ideal client for those who are interested in learning how to understand what a VPN does under the hood. With its iOS app, IPVanish manages to pack the same extensive suite of digital knobs and dials into a smaller screen to impressive effect.
If you’re looking for the ability to do some precision-tuning to your VPN connection, IPVanish is a solid bet. From generating visual graphs of your internet activity to a bevy of switches controlling split-tunneling, LAN connection allowance and more — IPVanish is an iOS app for the methodical tech tweaker who enjoys having exact control over their mobile traffic.
While IPVanish isn’t the fastest VPN, the 58% speed loss we measured in our most recent speed tests is about on par with most VPN providers. However, we noticed that IPVanish’s Quick Connect feature doesn’t always connect you to the best available server, so you may need to optimize your speeds by connecting manually to a server showing a lighter load. In IPVanish’s iOS app, you can check the current load of each server by tapping on Locations and tapping the number next to each city.
IPVanish’s monthly plan costs $11 per month, but you can get a discount on its yearly plan now for $40 for the first year. However, that yearly plan jumps to $90 for any subsequent years of service. You can also opt for a quarterly plan that costs just over $13 for the first three months, then $30 for each three-month period thereafter. The provider offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, but only if you purchase the yearly plan — which could be a disappointment to anyone who purchased a monthly or quarterly subscription and decided they didn’t like the service. That said, the company gets kudos for allowing unlimited simultaneous connections. We also liked its connection kill switch feature, a must for anyone serious about protecting their privacy while surfing.
Read our IPVanish review.
Thanks to its impressive performance and unlimited device support, Surfshark is our current top pick for the best iPhone VPN. ExpressVPN is a close second among our picks and offers a simple and effective iPhone VPN app. It isn’t the cheapest, but it’s among the fastest of all the VPN options. NordVPN, our third choice, is a die-hard heavy-hitter. It costs more than Surfshark but less than Express, has a network of servers that’s constantly getting faster and more secure, and is easily the most reliable service we’ve tested. No matter which VPN you choose, however, keep in mind that recent independent research has emerged suggesting iOS (and some MacOS) users’ browsing and internet data may still be sent to Apple despite the protections offered by an encrypted VPN tunnel. We will continue to update our recommendations as more information and research surface around this issue.
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 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 other mobile-specific VPN guides below. We routinely update them with our retesting information so check back often.
What’s the best free VPN?
We don’t recommend opting for a free VPN because they can be risky to use unless they are the free tier of service provided by a premium VPN. Free VPNs usually make money by selling user data, and some have even been found to be riddled with malware — which is the exact opposite of what you want from a VPN. On top of that, free VPNs are often slow, impose restrictive usage and data limits, offer a minimal selection of servers and are generally less secure than paid VPNs. Most won’t work with streaming services, either. Check out CNET’s list of the best cheap VPNs if you want to find a premium, budget-friendly VPN.
Can you get in trouble for using a VPN?
You normally don’t have to worry about getting into any legal trouble just for using a VPN — unless you’re in a country like China or Iran where VPN use is banned or illegal. In most parts of the world, using a VPN is perfectly legal. If you’re in a country where VPN use is restricted in any way, you’ll need to connect to an obfuscated server. Doing so will disguise your VPN traffic as regular HTTPS internet traffic, so authorities won’t know you’re using a VPN in the first place.
What does my ISP/mobile carrier see when I’m connected to my VPN?
Your internet service provider or mobile carrier (depending on whether you’re connected to Wi-Fi or using mobile data) will see that you’re connected to a VPN, but it will not be able to see any of your internet activity like the websites you visit or browsing history since your traffic is encrypted. It will also see things like the IP address of the VPN server you’re connected to, the timestamps of when you’re connected and the amount of data you’ve transmitted. If you want to hide your VPN usage from your ISP or mobile carrier, you can connect to an obfuscated server, if offered by your VPN.