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NordVPN Review: How Safe and Effective Is It?

There’s no scarcity of NordVPN reviews on the internet, partly because NordVPN is ridiculously good at marketing. It seems like everyone and his mother is promoting NordVPN in some form or another these days.

So what makes this NordVPN review any different from the rest of the pile?

Well, for starters, I’m not giving NordVPN any special treatment. When NordVPN found out we were doing this review, they were quite open about asking us to rank NordVPN as highly as possible on our site. They even asked if we had any special “requirements” to make this happen.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I assure you that even if NordVPN offered me an all-expenses-paid junket to Panama and gave me a personal tour of their offices, my rankings of their services would not be affected. Call me naïve, but I just can’t sacrifice my impartiality like that.

That said, NordVPN deserves much of the attention it receives. While not perfect, I would argue that it’s about as perfect as you’re ever going to get with any commercial VPN service.

As an inveterate skeptic, I can’t endorse most of the hyperbolic language used to describe VPN services (like “military-grade” or “100% anonymous”). I can only evaluate claims that I can test with my own eyes and my own equipment. In this regard, NordVPN performs exceptionally well.

In my detailed review below, I’ll describe some of my reasons for recommending NordVPN, as well as caveats to keep in mind as you decide if NordVPN is the right VPN for you. Feel free to skip to the sections that interest you.

NordVPN - Best Overall VPN

No logging, committed to privacy. Unblocks Netflix, Hulu, Amazon. P2P-friendly. Offers OpenVPN, IPSec, multi-hop, and more. 3-day free trial, 30-day money-back guarantee.

$5.75 per month

Privacy and Anonymity

As a Panama-based company, NordVPN is far away from the jurisdictions of the 14 Eyes. Most importantly, they claim to keep no logs whatsoever—no timestamps, bandwidth data, or IP addresses—that could be used to identify users. As they confirmed to TorrentFreak this year, “our zero-log policy means that we don’t have any information about our users’ online activity.”

Whereas other VPN services like to hide exceptions and clarifications to their policies in hidden fine-print agreements, NordVPN is fully consistent with all of its privacy claims, and its policies have remained unchanged over the years. If you use NordVPN, it’s unlikely that your data will be shared with the likes of the NSA, GCHQ, Google, or Facebook.

I say “unlikely” because NordVPN’s privacy policy has yet to be tested in the real world. Unlike with Private Internet Access or Perfect Privacy, there aren’t any failed court-ordered requests for user data on the record to prove that NordVPN keeps no user information whatsoever.

I’m not saying that I don’t trust NordVPN—but my standard is usually “trust, but verify.” In the absence of real-world proof, you’ll have to accept a small level of risk. If you need 100% anonymity with NordVPN, I would recommend using it alongside the Tor browser on your computer.

NordVPN also allows anonymous payments via cryptocurrency (such as bitcoin). While they don’t accept gift card payments, you can pay in cash if you live in the US and are able to visit a nearby Fry’s Electronics or Micro Center location. The only personal information they need from you to accept a payment and register your account is your email address.

The only real anonymity concern I could identify with NordVPN was their support system, which relies on Zendesk and other third-party tools. This is a known privacy issue with many VPN services, though it isn’t a major cause for concern in itself. Simply keep in mind that you should avoid sharing any sensitive information when contacting your VPN provider, as any data or information you share with them may be stored or processed by a third-party.

(Some people have raised concerns about NordVPN being a shell company registered in Panama. I have found no evidence to suggest that NordVPN is a front for the NSA or anything like that. Back when they launched in 2012, their website was offered in English and Lithuanian, which suggests to me that NordVPN  was originally based in Lithuania. Whatever the case may be, I don’t see any particular reason to doubt NordVPN’s overall claims.)

VPN Features

Connections and Bandwidth

NordVPN lets you connect up to 6 devices at the same time using a single subscription. At only $0.96 per connection per month (under the annual plan) this makes NordVPN a good deal if you’re looking to connect multiple devices to your VPN. If you travel for business or with family, this can be incredibly useful, as multiple people will be able to connect all of their devices to the same VPN subscription when you’re on the go.

As NordVPN offers unlimited bandwidth, you will not find your internet speed or data usage restricted in any way when you use their service, even if you connect multiple devices.

Like most high-quality VPN services, NordVPN, supports nearly all devices and operating systems you could possibly think of. Whether you’re running Windows, macOS, Chrome OS, Android, iOS (iPhones/iPads), a Roku box, a router, or Linux, you can be sure that it will be possible to set up NordVPN on your device.

Six simultaneous connections is above average for the industry, but if you’re thinking that you’ll need to connect more devices, the industry leaders are IPVanish (with 10 simultaneous connections) and Perfect Privacy (unlimited connections). The trade-off, of course, is that these services offer fewer VPN features (in the case of IPVanish) or fewer servers (Perfect Privacy).

Servers

NordVPN offers more than 4,300 servers in 62 countries. They have one of the largest selections of countries of any major VPN service. They offer exotic server locations that are rarely covered by VPNs, such as Latvia, Vietnam, Cyprus, and many more. (See the full list here.)

Switching between servers around the world is one of the easiest to ways to become a (virtual) citizen of the world. By switching your geographic location, you may be able to access websites and services that are restricted to particular regions (for more about this, see the next section on geoshifting).

Even if the ability to change your location isn’t of paramount importance to you, NordVPN’s abundance of servers means that you can enjoy fast browsing speeds, no matter where you are in the world.

As I will explain later (see Speed Test below) NordVPN’s servers are fast—much faster than I was led to believe by other reviewers. As long as you pick a server with plenty of capacity (or let NordVPN pick for you) you should barely notice any speed difference compared to your regular connection.

Geoshifting (Netflix, Hulu, BBC, YouTube, and more)

NordVPN is one of the few VPNs I know that reliably unblocks Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and other geographically-restricted content sites from around the world (without needing to pay an additional fee).

Netflix, as you may know, is particularly adept at blocking VPN users from accessing their site. During my tests NordVPN had no problem bypassing Netflix’s blockers, even though I was accessing the US Netflix site from abroad.

This means that if you live or travel outside the US, NordVPN should allow you to access any Netflix site without a hitch. The same goes for users who want to access Canadian, European, or other local Netflix sites without physically residing in those countries.

Also, I had no trouble accessing BBC iPlayer while connected to NordVPN’s UK server location (despite being outside of the UK). If you’re passionate about British Broadcasting but you don’t live in the UK, NordVPN may be the solution you’re looking for!

Of course, keep in mind that NordVPN can’t guarantee that you’ll always be able to access geographically restricted services. If Netflix ups its game, or the BBC gets wind about NordVPN users bypassing its blockers, you may lose access.

Nevertheless, NordVPN is currently one of the best VPNs on the market for geoshifting purposes, and they’re likely to continue innovating in this area, rather than risk losing that title.

P2P File-Sharing (BitTorrent)

NordVPN is an excellent choice for users looking to use BitTorrent or engage in P2P file-sharing.

P2P traffic on their VPN service is automatically rerouted through dedicated P2P servers, which helps keep the network fast for everyone. I suspect this is also done to route P2P traffic through friendly hosts that don’t restrict P2P usage.

NordVPN doesn’t monitor, censor, or otherwise tamper with P2P traffic, and they won’t serve you with DMCA notices or notify third-parties about your P2P activities (which they can’t do, even if they wanted to, as they don’t keep logs).

Censorship Bypassing (China, Schools, Hotels)

If your local internet connection is censored or monitored, NordVPN can route your traffic through countries with less restrictive internet policies. By using NordVPN, you also prevent your local ISP (Internet Service Provider) from viewing or tampering with your internet traffic.

If you’re planning to travel to a country with a highly restricted internet (such as China, Iran, or Turkey) NordVPN offers special obfuscated servers that can bypass the VPN blockers that are used in those countries, which will allow you to connect to the web.

But that’s not the only reason why you might want to use NordVPN’s obfuscated servers. Obfuscated servers actually allow you to disguise your traffic so that no one can tell that you’re using a VPN.

Why would this be useful? Well, many hotels, businesses, and schools around the world have taken to blocking VPNs, or simply monitoring who’s using a VPN. NordVPN is actually one of the few VPN services that lets you bypass these blockers by letting you connect to its obfuscated servers.

If you’re concerned about censorship or monitoring, NordVPN can ensure that you’re always connected to a censorship-free web, no matter where you are in the world. If you’re a digital nomad, or you regularly use free Wi-Fi connections, having a service like NordVPN can literally be life-saving.

Advanced Protocols (Multi-hop, SOCKS, Tor)

If you’re looking to use a particular protocol to connect to VPN, NordVPN has support for OpenVPN, IPSec, IKEv2, L2TP, PPTP, SOCKS5 and Onion-over-IP. You can also switch between UDP and TCP connections.

If this means nothing to you, there’s no need to worry: as you’ll see in my usage test below, NordVPN makes it extremely easy to connect to their VPN service. You won’t need to fiddle with any complicated settings unless you want to—in which case NordVPN makes it easy to customize your connection.

NordVPN offers a multi-hop protocol called “double VPN.”  Double VPN routes your internet traffic through two servers, which may increase your anonymity, at the expense of slightly slowing down your connection. They also have an Onion-over-IP protocol that will route your traffic through the anonymous Tor network.

(If you have critical privacy or security concerns, my suggestion would be to skip double VPN and Onion-over-IP and simply use the Tor browser directly on your computer simultaneously with NordVPN. That way, you won’t have to depend on NordVPN alone to keep your connection private.)

As I’ve already mentioned, NordVPN also offers obfuscated servers that allow you to bypass VPN blockers and hide the fact that you’re using a VPN from anyone who might be monitoring your connection (such as government agencies, hotels, schools, and other organizations).

Finally, NordVPN offers a protocol called CyberSec, which acts as a kind of general malware/adware blocker. If you already use uBlock origin or other ad blockers, CyberSec may not make much of a difference to you. But it’s nice to see that NordVPN cares about browsing safety.

Usage Test

Desktop

NordVPN offers apps for most platforms, including macOS, iOS, Android, and Windows. In this section, I’ll be testing their OpenVPN app for macOS.

If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you’ll know that I’m not a fan of VPN apps. I’d rather use an open source option, such as Tunnelblick, or connect using the native functionality of my device. Apps are notorious for tracking users, and if you download an app from the Mac or Android stores, your usage data will almost certainly be passing through Apple and Google.

That said, for this usage test, I’ll be using NordVPN’s OpenVPN app (because the App Store IKE app isn’t compatible with my version of macOS El Capitan).

After signing up for NordVPN, I was redirected to the download page.

I chose the OpenVPN download. After opening and installing the package, I opened the NordVPN app,

As I mentioned above, I prefer not using proprietary VPN apps, as you’re potentially compromising your usage data. If I were to decide to switch to NordVPN permanently, I would look into configuring it with Tunnelblick, an open source OpenVPN application for macOS.

When I open the app, I’m met with a privacy notice from NordVPN. They’re transparent about explaining that the app collects anonymized, aggregated usage data.

After logging in to my account, I pressed Connect, and after entering my computer password, I was immediately connected to NordVPN’s Hong Kong server location.

Overall, the experience was extraordinarily fast. Switching servers is also quite easy to do, and settings to enable CyberSec, obfuscated servers, and other features, are all available directly from the settings menu accessible with the button on the top left of the window. I also like that you can pick servers by dragging and clicking on the map.

Overall, this is one of the best VPN app experiences that I’ve had so far.

Mobile

NordVPN has dedicated apps available for both iOS and Android. In this section, I’ll be testing NordVPN on iOS.

The process is quite similar to the desktop experience. First, I’ll download the NordVPN app from the App store.

After opening the app, I entered my account information and allowed NordVPN to add new VPN connections.

In almost no time, I was connected to NordVPN’s Hong Kong server location (sorry for the German in the screenshots, I switched my phone’s language settings recently to help me learn German).

The process was unbelievably easy. I have to admit that NordVPN has some of the most effective VPN apps I’ve ever used.

Speed Test

I tested NordVPN while traveling in Hanoi, Vietnam. My original connection (without a VPN) tested at 45.94 Mbps for download speed and 45.05 Mbps for upload speed.

While connected to NordVPN’s Hong Kong server location, I was able to get 40.22 Mbps for download speed, and 14.33 Mbps for upload speed. This represents about a 12% download speed reduction, far better than I would have expected (a typical result would have been about 40% to 50% reduction).

I also tested a United States server from Hanoi. As far as I’m aware, there’s no way to select a specific city, so I simply selected the closest US server. Given that I was more than 8,000 miles away, I was impressed to see 36.62 Mbps for download speed, and 4.36 Mbps for upload speed. I was also able to watch 1440p YouTube videos without any lagging.

NordVPN performs extraordinarily well in terms of speed. It performed better than nearly all of the VPNs that I’ve tested so far, including several “premium” VPNs that cost twice as much.

I’ve read some reviews that criticized NordVPN for its speed, but I’m not sure where they’re getting their information. NordVPN has so many servers that it’s almost impossible to pick one that’s overloaded. You’d have to deliberately pick an overloaded server in order to see any measurable slowdown in your internet speed.

In fact, whenever I log in I’m always amazed to see dozens of servers—even in the U.S.—with 2% utilization or less. I see no evidence that NordVPN has a capacity problem. On the contrary, they seem to have an enormous capacity surplus.

In short, NordVPN in 2018 is one of the fastest VPNs I know, no matter your location or the time of day.

Customer Service and Support

When I had a bit of trouble connecting to NordVPN using their macOS IKE app, I contacted NordVPN via their 24/7 chat support. A support representative responded almost instantaneously and resolved my problem. This is the fastest I’ve ever had an issue resolved by a VPN service.

Few VPNs offer true 24/7 support. For most VPN services, 24/7 support means that you should expect to have a response in 24 hours or less. NordVPN, on the other hand, will actually answer your questions in realtime via chat.

Even if you’re not the kind of person who usually needs technical support, it’s reassuring to know that it’s always available at the push of a button. And if you’re not very technologically-minded, chat support can be an incredible benefit.

Verdict

When I started writing this review, I began as a skeptic. I assumed that if so many people were praising NordVPN, there must be something fishy going on.

Though I tend to be quite stubborn about these things, I have to say that I’m no longer quite so skeptical. NordVPN is remarkably effective and ridiculously easy to use.

Honestly, I have no real misgivings about ranking NordVPN near the top of my list. To rank them any higher, I would have to see a record of a failed court-order proving that NordVPN keeps no user data or logs in its servers around the world. Of course, it’s not really up to NordVPN if that happens or not. (I do like that they keep a warrant canary, however.)

Very few VPN providers offer as many features as NordVPN does—and the ones that do charge much more. At only $5.75 per month for an annual plan, NordVPN pretty much sets the standard for both value and excellence in terms of service and feature offerings. Some of these features are unique—for instance, there’s no other VPN that I know that reliably unblocks Netflix, BBC, Hulu, and Amazon streaming services.

NordVPN offers a generous 3-day free trial, so I’d recommend that you test their service by trying it out yourself, at no cost to you. They also offer a 30-day money-back guarantee (far more than most other VPN providers).

If you do decide to go with NordVPN, let me know how it goes in the comments!

8 Total Score
NordVPN - Best Overall VPN

No logging, committed to privacy. Unblocks Netflix, Hulu, Amazon. P2P-friendly. Offers OpenVPN, IPSec, multi-hop, and more. 3-day free trial, 30-day money-back guarantee.

Privacy
9
Price
9
Protocols and Features
9.8
Speed
9.8
Ease of Use
10
Support
10
PROS
  • Absolutely no logging 
  • Unblocks Netflix and Hulu reliably 
  • Allows anonymous payments
  • Based in Panama
  • Travel-friendly: 3,000+ servers in 60 countries
  • P2P-friendly, no restrictions 
  • All major protocols: OpenVPN, L2TP, multi-hop, Onion over VPN
  • Up to 6 simultaneous devices supported
  • All major platforms: macOS, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android, etc.
  • 3-day free trial
  • 30-day money-back guarantee 
  • Yearly plan only $5.75 per month 
User Rating: 3.5 (2 votes)
NordVPN - Best Overall VPN

No logging, committed to privacy. Unblocks Netflix, Hulu, Amazon. P2P-friendly. Offers OpenVPN, IPSec, multi-hop, and more. 3-day free trial, 30-day money-back guarantee.

$5.75 per month

Justin Uther

Writer, BestSafeVPN.com (justin@bestsafevpn.com)

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