When we evaluate VPNs from the perspective of a Mac user, we’re looking for a few key things. If you’re using the MacOS operating system, you’re used to a clean, intuitive user interface with a minimal learning curve and a well-organized set of digital tools — which is why a VPN’s usability weighs into our consideration. Furthermore, while not every Apple device is faster than PC and Windows products, we want to see a VPN with a connection speed that compliments MacOS machines’ rapid reputation. We also know that for many MacOS users, a broader resistance to app-borne malware and viruses is a driving reason to choose that ecosystem over Windows products. To that end, we scrutinize a VPN’s anti-tracker capacity and its general compatibility with Apple’s increasingly heightened privacy policies.
Apple’s devices are renowned for their security, but MacOS can’t prevent your internet service provider from tracking your web activity, nor can it provide complete encryption of your internet traffic. That’s where a virtual private network comes in. As the increase in pandemic-driven remote work brings a new wave of first-time VPN users to the market, deciding which VPN best fits your Mac device can be difficult.
We’ll keep this list updated as new contenders emerge for the top spot, so check back here regularly if you’re shopping for a Mac VPN client. Drawn from our directory of the best VPN services for 2020, here are our top picks for the best Mac VPN.
ExpressVPNEditor’s Choice: Fastest VPN, proven privacy
Number of IP addresses: 30,000
Number of servers: 3,000-plus
Number of server locations: 160
Number of simultaneous connections: 5
Country/jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands
Three months free with one-year plan
ExpressVPN consistently proves itself one of the fastest VPNs on the market, and actively promotes its commitment to privacy. That’s why it tops our list as the best Mac VPN. The VPN company tells us its network is powered by TrustedServer technology, which ExpressVPN built to ensure that there are never any logs of users’ online activities. In the privacy world, ExpressVPN has a strong track record, having experienced a server seizure by authorities which proved their zero-log policy true at the time. We also like the quality of the VPN’s setup guides, and the detailed information in its FAQ.
Like the rest of the top five VPN services we’ve reviewed for 2020, ExpressVPN offers a useful kill switch feature, which prevents network data from leaking outside of its secure VPN tunnel in the event the VPN connection fails. Unlike the others, though, ExpressVPN gained points from us for its support of bitcoin as a payment method — something not all of our favorites offer, but which adds an additional layer of privacy during checkout.
The company has been in business since 2009, and ExpressVPN has a substantial network of fast VPN servers spread across 94 countries. Its best plan is priced at less than $7 a month for an annual package, which includes three months free.
ExpressVPN operates on Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, Linux and a slew of others.
SurfsharkA speedy up-and-comer, packed with features
Number of servers: 1,000
Number of server locations: 60
Country/jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands
While Surfshark’s network is smaller than some, the VPN service makes it up for it features. Let’s start off with the biggest win it offers: 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. It also offers antimalware, ad-blocking and tracker-blocking as part of its VPN software.
Surfshark received generally high marks when its Chrome and Firefox extensions were audited for privacy by German security firm Cure 53 though that audit was commissioned by Surfshark.
The company 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. 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 three 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. Multihop jumps your internet connection through multiple countries to hide your trail. Finally, NoBorders Mode “allows [you] to successfully use Surfshark in restrictive regions.” Just be careful: Doing any of these three things could be illegal in your country and could result in severe penalties. During our testing, we saw no DNS or IP address leaks, and had no trouble accessing Netflix.
For a one-year plan, Surfshark comes in close to many of the other full-featured VPN providers, at $72 for the first year. Be careful, because it looks like that will jump to $143 after your first year is up. Month-by-month plans are $12. Its best offer is $2 a month, for its 24-month plan (you pay $48 up front). Definitely take advantage of its generous 30-day trial to decide if you like this service (and maybe set a reminder in 23 months to see if you can talk it into a continued discount rate).
NordVPNReliability and security
Number of IP addresses: 5,000
Number of servers: 5,200-plus servers
Server location number: 62
$3.49 a month (70% discount) for a three-year plan
NordVPN in-depth review and hands-on testing (ZDNet)
NordVPN is one of the most recognized brands in the VPN field. It offers Mac VPN users a generous simultaneous connection count, with six simultaneous connections through its network, where nearly all other providers offer five or fewer. The VPN provider also offers a dedicated IP option, for those looking for a different level of VPN connection. NordVPN offers a kill switch feature, and the ability to VPN into Tor. We detected no privacy leaks during our tests, and found its speeds to be reliably fast.
The company’s one-year subscription plan is $7 a month ($84 billed at once). While that yearly price is lower than most other contenders, the month-to-month price of $12 is at the high end of the spectrum. As of September 2019, the company’s other pricing tiers have crept up a bit: It’s now $3.49 a month for a three-year plan (or $126 total), up from $2.99 a month and $108 a year. And the two-year plan is now $4.99 a month ($120), up from $3.99 a month and $96 a year. And yes, it also has a full 30-day refund policy.
While NordVPN has lived on this list for a long time, we moved it to the penalty box in October 2019 to re-evaluate our recommendation after a report emerged that one of its rented servers was accessed without authorization in 2018. Nord’s actions following the discovery included — eventually — multiple security audits, a bug bounty program and heavier investments in server security.
While we’d have preferred that Nord self-disclosed the issue much earlier, the fact that the breach was limited in nature and involved no user-identifying information served to further verify that NordVPN keeps no logs of VPN user activity. As a result, Nord remains on this list of the best Mac VPN as a recommended vendor. It operates on Mac, Windows, Android, iOS and Linux.
Originally published by CNet