Does Using a VPN Slow Down Your Internet?

Source: Unsplash

With the ever-growing threat of cyber attacks, geoblocked streaming services, and a desire for privacy, VPNs are more popular than ever. And even if you already know what a VPN is used for and understand that VPNs are safe, you may still wonder if a VPN slows down your internet.

The short answer is: yes.

But the more accurate answer is: not really. Not with a good VPN.

If you’re using a trusted VPN with high-quality encryption and a reliable and extensive server network, the decrease in speed shouldn’t be noticeable.

Why does a VPN slow down your internet?

Latency – the time it takes for data to go from A to B – can be due to a number of factors, but here are 3 of the main ones.

The distance to the server matters

Just like a flight from Chicago to London takes longer than a flight to New York, connecting to a server far away takes longer than connecting to one nearby. Unless you’ve got a reason to send your data halfway around the world, always opt for the closest server.

How crowded the server is matters

The same way a printer queues print jobs, a server queues processes. That means your data waits behind the data of everyone who got there before you. Free VPNs cram as many users onto a server as possible, so they can feel more like the DMV than a VPN.

Premium VPNs like ExpressVPN and NordVPN have enough servers to avoid these overload issues.

Your ISP’s speed matters

Naturally, the speed your ISP delivers is the biggest factor. But even if you’re signed up for a gigabit broadband connection your ISP may still throttle certain websites or activities such as streaming and online gaming. Using a VPN masks all of this from your ISP, swallowing you to stream or game as fast as usual.

How to run a VPN speed test

If you want to know just how much your VPN is slowing down your internet, it’s easy enough to find out by performing a simple speed test.

Step 1: Disconnect your VPN

Turn off (or pause) your connection in your VPN app.

Step 2: Test your internet speed

Speedtest by Ookla is the most popular, but we recommend checking out Internet Health Test. Run the test and record your results.

Step 3: Turn your VPN back on

Open your VPN app and connect to your most common server.

Step 4: Test your internet speed again

Using the same internet speed test service, run the test again. Compare the results to your previous test and note the difference. That’s how much your VPN slows down your internet.

However, unless there’s a huge discrepancy, the number’s not going to mean all that much to you. You know how much your VPN impacts your internet speed until you see it in action.

How to make your VPN faster

There are a number of different actions you can take to increase your VPN speed. The following are listed in order of priority, with the first most likely to have the biggest impact.

Connect to a different server

Distance matters. Connect to the server closest to you.

If you’re using a VPN to access overseas content, try connecting to a different server in that country. If you don’t see a list of servers to manually choose from, take note of your server number, then disconnect and reconnect until you get a different server.

For online gamers, try connecting to your VPN’s server that is closest to the game’s server.

Try changing the VPN protocol

This is what your VPN uses to encrypt data before sending it. This should be found in your app settings under Connection (or similar). If there’s a setting to choose the protocol automatically, disable it and choose a protocol from the list. Try them all and see which is the fastest.

Source: NordVPN

Change VPN providers

Some VPN providers are faster than others. Some have larger networks or more servers in the location you want to access. ExpressVPN, IPVanish and NordVPN all consistently rank among the fastest VPNs available. Certain VPNs may have more — or faster — servers located where you want to connect to.

Use split tunneling

Split tunneling lets you divide your internet traffic, sending some through your VPN and some through your ISP directly. This comes in handy when using “resource hogs” like FPS games or 4K streaming.

Reboot, reboot, reboot

There’s a reason that every tech support rep starts off every call with: “Have you tried turning it off and on?” Reboot your device and, while you’re at it, reboot your router as well.

Use a wired connection

Obviously, this only applies if you’re Wi-Fi to begin with. A wired connection delivers faster internet speeds, so it is particularly recommended for bandwidth-hungry activities such as streaming 4K video, streaming lossless HD audio, and online gaming.

Plus, having a few wired connections means your Wi-Fi will be faster for the rest of your (wireless) devices.

The fastest VPNs on the market right now

As mentioned above, ExpressVPN, IPVanish and NordVPN are 3 of the fastest VPNs available.

Our Takeaway: You shouldn’t notice a good VPN

Unless you’re connecting to a distant country with a spotty infrastructure, you shouldn’t notice a decrease in internet speed when using a reliable VPN. It should run in the background so quietly that you forget it’s even there.

If other things – such as privacy or price – are more important to you than speed, our 6 best VPNs offer options based on a variety of factors to help you make an informed decision.

Douglas Wright

Douglas Wright Author

Douglas Wright is a freelance writer based in Japan. A former web designer and technical writer, he left beautiful Vancouver for bustling Tokyo, where he spent a decade recruiting for software and high-tech firms. No longer commuting through the world’s busiest train station, he writes fiction and a wide range of formats for clients around the world. When he gets AFK, he’s either outdoors with his two boys, streaming a show with his wife, or reading a book over a French-pressed, hand-ground coffee.

Desiree Wu

Desiree Wu Editor

Desiree is a full-time Honours Business Administration student at Ivey Business School at Western University. She also works as the Editorial Intern at Flixed. Desiree is based in London, Ontario.

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