VPNs are more affordable than most VPNs. I’m so skeptical about Surfshark’s extremely cheap price. I tested all aspects of Surfshark to see if it is really able to meet those claims. I also looked more closely at Surfsharks privacy policies to confirm their validity, and tested its support team. Surfshark was extremely safe to use, had surprisingly strong security features unlike most VPNs, and was easy to use.
How Much Does Surfshark VPN Price?
Surfshark VPN’s subscription costs $12.95 per month, which is higher than the average price of $9.96 per month among the services we tested. Surfshark is now one of the most expensive VPNs we’ve reviewed, costing far more than the 5 euros ($6.10 at the time of writing) per month charged by Mullvad, our most affordable Editors’ Choice VPN, or the $4.99 per month charged by Mozilla’s VPN.
Surfshark, like many VPNs, offers steep discounts in exchange for long-term commitments. An annual plan costs $47.88 and is renewed for $59.76 the following year. A two-year plan costs $59.76 as well, but it renews at the same price after the first two years. While this is a little perplexing, the annual renewal price is still significantly less than the $68.03 average for the VPNs we’ve reviewed. Long-term plans do save money, but we recommend starting with the shortest subscription possible to ensure the VPN works for you, and then upgrading to a longer subscription plan if you decide you like the service.
Surfshark subscriptions can be purchased with major credit cards, Amazon Pay, PayPal, and a variety of cryptocurrencies. We appreciate that Surfshark accepts semi-anonymous cryptocurrency payments, but other services, such as IVPN (an affordable Editors’ Choice winner noted for its emphasis on transparency and privacy) and Mullvad, go so far as to accept cash payments.
If Surfshark is too expensive for you, there are a plethora of cheap VPNs and even a few worthy free VPNs to consider. ProtonVPN falls into both categories and is one of the few free VPNs that do not impose a data cap on user traffic.
While the monthly plan is pricey, Surfshark provides excellent value for money. For starters, it allows you to use an unlimited number of devices on one account, whereas most companies limit you to five simultaneous connections. The only other VPNs we’ve tested that don’t have a limit on simultaneous connections are Avira Phantom VPN, Encrypt.me VPN, Ghostery Midnight, IPVanish VPN, and Windscribe VPN.
What Do You Get for Your Money?
The real strengths of Surfshark are the features that are rarely seen. For example, Whitelister is a split tunneling tool that allows you to specify which apps and websites use the VPN connection. It’s useful because some websites block VPN access, so you’ll need to disable it to access them. Surfshark’s solution is very clean, outperforming the majority of the competition.
Another feature that is frequently missing is multi-hop, which establishes a VPN connection to a server and then routes your traffic to a second VPN server for added security. Surfshark’s multi-hop connections are limited to the pre-configured ones provided by the company, whereas IVPN allows you to create a multi-hop connection between any two of its servers. Surfshark currently does not provide VPN access to Tor, which is available through NordVPN and ProtonVPN. ProtonVPN also has multi-hop and split-tunneling capabilities. Tor does not require a VPN to use, but this type of one-button access is convenient.
Many VPN providers provide add-ons to your base subscription. NordVPN and other providers provide private, static IP addresses, which are useful if your VPN connection is blocked. Surfshark does not sell dedicated IP addresses, but it does provide customers with free access to static servers. Anyone who connects to a Surfshark static server shares an IP address with everyone else.
Surfshark includes a custom DNS service called Smart DNS, an ad-blocker called CleanWeb, Surfshark Alert, which alerts you if your accounts have been compromised, similar to HaveIBeenPwned, and a privacy-respecting search tool called Surfshark Search. It’s worth noting that Surfshark Alert and Surfshark Search both cost $0.99 per month extra. It’s a good set of extras, but it’s not particularly impressive given the high cost of the core service. With each subscription, Hotspot Shield VPN provides free access to a number of third-party services.
A While VPNs are effective tools, they cannot solve all of your privacy and security concerns. There are numerous methods for tracking you online. We recommend using the privacy tools built into most browsers, as well as a standalone tracker blocker, such as the EFF’s Privacy Badger. It’s also worth noting that the free Tor anonymization network makes tracking your online activity even more difficult. We strongly advise using a password manager to create unique and complex passwords, enabling multi-factor authentication wherever possible, and using antivirus software.
Surfshark’s VPN Protocols
A VPN connection can be established in a variety of ways. Surfshark’s Android, iOS, Linux, and Windows apps support the OpenVPN protocol. The excellent IKEv2 protocol is also available on all platforms (except Linux) and is macOS’s default.
We prefer OpenVPN because its open source roots mean it has been thoroughly vetted for potential flaws. WireGuard appears to be OpenVPN’s heir apparent. WireGuard, like OpenVPN, is open-source, but it employs newer technology and is said to be much faster than other protocols. We were pleased to see that Surfshark will be using WireGuard in late October 2020 for its Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows apps.
Surfshark Servers and Server Locations
With so many server locations to choose from around the world, you’re more likely to find one close to home or wherever you’re going, and it gives you plenty of options for spoofing your location. Surfshark’s servers cover 65 countries, which is above average. ExpressVPN is the clear leader, with servers physically located in 94 countries.
Surfshark provides above-average coverage to South America and Africa, both of which are frequently overlooked by other companies. Surfshark also provides servers in countries with restrictive internet policies, such as China, Russia, Turkey, and Vietnam. We’d like to see more competitors follow in the footsteps of Surfshark.
Virtual servers and virtual locations are used by some VPNs. Because virtual servers are software-defined, a single physical server can host multiple virtual servers. Many businesses use these to meet surges in demand. Virtual locations are servers (virtual or physical) that have been configured to appear somewhere other than their physical location. Neither is inherently problematic, but we prefer that businesses be transparent about where and how their servers are located.
According to Surfshark, all of its servers are physical machines. We were pleased to see that the company’s website labels its virtual locations clearly (Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Philippines, and South Korea). According to a representative, the servers are physically located in Colombia, Hong Kong, and the Netherlands.
Having more servers is beneficial because it increases your chances of finding a connection that works well for you. However, it does not guarantee better service. Surfshark, for its part, has over 3,200 servers, which is more than double the average we’ve seen across VPNs we’ve tested. However, CyberGhost retains the lead in this category, with over 6,520 servers available.
Surfshark claims that its server infrastructure is provided by “trusted third-party data centers.” The company does use tamper-proof RAM-only servers. This means that if someone physically removed the server to access the data inside, the server would be wiped. A company blog post explains how diskless servers prevent private encryption keys from being stolen from server configurations. This is something that a few companies, such as ExpressVPN, have done for a long time.
Your Privacy With Surfshark
Surfshark emphasizes in its policy documents that it does not log IP addresses, browsing history, bandwidth usage, network traffic, or even connection timestamps. That is precisely what you want to hear from a VPN provider.
The company does collect some data, such as anonymized aggregate analytical data, account information, and billing history. In addition, the company states that it receives advertising IDs from third parties, citing Google Play as an example. These are identifiers that you can change. According to Surfshark, these IDs are used to determine whether the company’s advertising is driving installation. There are no advertisements in the app. Surfshark goes to great lengths in its policy to explain every cookie on its website and every analytics service it employs. We appreciate the effort toward transparency, even if the sheer size of the list and scope of the data is intimidating.
According to company representatives, Surfshark is a highly decentralized organization with offices in Cyprus, Lithuania, the Netherlands, the Philippines, and the United Kingdom, as well as remote employees all over the world. We appreciate the company’s candor on this subject.
Surfshark VPN announced its merger with NordVPN on February 2, 2022. Both brands are expected to continue operating as separate entities, with their own business plans and infrastructure. In a press release, the deal was described as an opportunity for the two companies to share knowledge and focus on different market segments. A Nord Security representative told PCMag reporter Michael Kan that this was not an acquisition, and that neither company is buying the other. In the Netherlands, a new holding company called Cyberspace was formed to own both companies.
Many VPN providers hire third-party auditors to validate their claims about customer privacy and security. Surfshark conducted its first audit in 2018 and plans to conduct its second in 2021. Cure53 performed both procedures. The second audit examined Surfshark’s infrastructure and VPN configuration, providing assurance about the company’s unseen components. We are pleased with the positive results of this new audit and hope that Surfshark will continue to conduct such audits in the future. While audits are imperfect tools, they are a valuable step a VPN can take toward establishing trust. TunnelBear, for example, has committed to conducting annual audits of its service.
Hands On With Surfshark VPN for Windows
Surfshark has client apps for Android VPN, iOS VPN, macOS VPN, and Windows VPN. The company also provides a FireTV app, which is unusual. Surfshark proxy plug-ins are available for the Chrome and Firefox browsers, as well as a custom DNS resolver for Xbox and PlayStation.
Surfshark was tested on an Intel NUC Kit NUC8i7BEH (Bean Canyon) desktop running the most recent version of Windows 10. Surfshark for Windows is a small, stylish app with flat colors and a smart design that expands and contracts to display more or less information. We particularly like that it has a clear, obvious way to immediately connect to the internet and that it allows you to select specific servers rather than entire countries. It’s not as user-friendly as TunnelBear, but it’s very clean, as are the best mobile apps. Surprisingly, you can resize the window and the app will adjust its layout, much like a responsive website. The system tray can be used to launch a smaller version of the app, and its available functions can be customized.
You can choose a server by country or city, and you can favorite a location for future use. Individual servers at the same location cannot be selected. This isn’t a critical feature, but it can help anyone access online content by spoofing their location.
If your VPN connection is lost, a Kill Switch feature prevents your computer from sending web traffic in the clear. The ability to block or allow local network traffic is also noteworthy, which is useful for streaming to other devices or accessing network printers.
Surprisingly, Surfshark has a plethora of advanced features. There’s Whitelister and the previously mentioned multi-hop capability. Whitelister is a slightly more powerful split tunneling tool than the average. You can use it to force an app’s traffic to go through the VPN or outside of the VPN connection. Whitelister works with URLs as well, but you can only set URLs to travel outside of the VPN connection. NoBorders Mode, which disguises your VPN traffic as normal HTTPS web traffic, is also worth mentioning. Other VPNs have this feature under different names (TunnelBear calls it GhostBear, for example), and it’s especially useful if you live in a region where VPNs are prohibited. It is worth noting that the company also provides obfuscated servers known as Camouflage Mode.
VPNs pose the risk of leaking your DNS information or IP address. Using the DNS Leak Test tool, we confirmed that Surfshark did not leak any DNS information and successfully hid our IP address, at least on the server we were using. We had no problems streaming Netflix while connected to a US VPN server during testing. However, keep in mind that Netflix is locked in a cat-and-mouse game with VPN providers. A service that is functional today may not be functional tomorrow.
Hands On With Surfshark for Android
On a Samsung A71 running Android 10, we installed Surfshark’s Android VPN client from the Google Play store. The Android app looks exactly like the iOS version, with a flat white interface when not connected and a teal gradient when connected to a VPN server. The Android app includes the same features as the Windows version, such as CleanWeb and Whitelister. Static servers and multi-hop connections are also available.
A key feature of any VPN is the ability to keep your information private. We put the service through its paces with the DNS Leak Test Tool, running an extended test on a server in Vienna, Austria. SurfShark successfully changed our IP address without leaking our DNS information.
We went to YouTube.com and loaded a couple of videos to test the app’s performance on Android. The videos took a longer time to load than competitors such as IVPN. Each video took about six seconds to play. We also watched a live stream on Twitch.tv. The stream loaded in about five seconds, and the video quality was excellent, with no noticeable lag or buffering.
Hands On With Surfshark VPN for iPhone
On an iPhone XS running iOS 14.4.1, we installed the Surfshark iPhone VPN app. The app’s interface is white with teal buttons. When you tap the large teal Connect button to connect to a VPN server, the white screen changes to various shades of teal to indicate that you’re now connected.
You can select from a large number of servers, but, as with the Windows version, you cannot select a specific server. You can only select the country in which the server is located, or the country and city in which the server is located. Static IP addresses and multi-hop connections are supported by the iPhone app.
The iOS app includes some features found in the Windows version, such as a Kill Switch and NoBorders mode.
We went to DNSLeakTest.com and ran an extended test while connected to a Toronto, Canada server. Surfshark did not leak our DNS information, but it did change our public IP address.
We then went to Twitch.tv and were able to load and watch a few streams right away, with no lag or buffering. Following that, we opened the YouTube app and attempted to watch a quick makeup tutorial. The VPN server was much slower in this case, taking up to six seconds to load the YouTube video. The video quality was excellent once it began to play, but the load time was noticeably longer than usual.
Hands On With Surfshark for Macs
Surfshark’s macOS app was simple to find and install on a MacBook Air (2020) running Big Sur 11.2.2. The app is available in the App Store as well as on the vendor’s website. The app, like the iOS version, is mostly white with teal accents. The home screen of the app displays a list of VPN server locations. You can only select the country and, in some cases, the city where your VPN server is located when selecting a VPN server. The app also includes a CleanWeb mode and a Kill Switch.
It is critical for a VPN to do its job and protect your personal information. By visiting DNSLeakTest.com while connected to a server in Sao Paolo, Brazil, we ran an extended DNS leak test. This server did not reveal our DNS information and successfully concealed our true IP address.
We loaded up a few YouTube videos while still connected to the server in Brazil, and they all played instantly, with no lag or interruptions. We also went to Twitch.tv and watched a few minutes of a live stream, which loaded quickly and displayed high-quality video.
Hands On With Surfshark on Chrome OS
We installed the Android app on a Dell Chrome 3100 powered by an Intel Celeron processor. SurfShark VPN for Chrome OS is a simple app with a slew of useful features. After logging in, users have the option of connecting to the fastest server available or selecting the country closest to their home location. Static IP address servers and multi-hop servers are also available.
A Kill Switch, a split tunneling feature called Bypasser, and CleanWeb, a feature that blocks ads, malware, and trackers when connected to the VPN, are among the features. The Advanced Settings menu also contains some intriguing user options, such as the ability to be invisible to other devices on the local area network, the ability to override your GPS location, and a rotating IP address.
Speed and Performance
In general, using a VPN reduces upload and download speeds while increasing latency. To get a sense of the degradation, we calculated a percentage difference between batches of tests run with and without a VPN using the Ookla Speedtest tool. You can read How We Test VPNs to learn more about how we arrive at our figures.
Surfshark did not perform well in our tests, despite using the WireGuard protocol. We discovered that it reduced download and upload speed test results by 61.6 and 59.7 percent, respectively. That upload figure isn’t bad, but the download results are disappointing. We discovered that it also increased latency by 59.5 percent, which was just a tad higher than the median results.
Previously, we ran speed tests on all of the VPN services we reviewed back-to-back to get a comprehensive picture of performance. This year, we switched to a rolling model, which should produce more recent results more quickly. The new model was also created as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has limited our access to the PCMag Labs. The graph below displays the most recent speed test results.
Keep in mind that our results were obtained by using this VPN at a specific time of day and in a specific location. Your results will undoubtedly vary, but this method allows us to compare services while controlling for variables. When looking for a VPN, speed should never be the primary consideration.
Safe Surfing for a Price
Surfshark has long been a top VPN service. It has a generous unlimited devices policy, allowing you to connect as many devices as you want, and it offers split tunneling and multi-hop features that are rarely seen. The company should be commended for its open privacy policies as well as its tamper-resistant RAM-only servers.
Surfshark’s recent audit of its VPN infrastructure demonstrates that the company adheres to best practices and is willing to demonstrate its work. All of this helps to balance out the high initial monthly fee, making Surfshark our newest Editors’ Choice award winner.
Conclustion:Surfshark VPN has a pricey monthly plan, but it more than makes up for it with a plethora of privacy tools, an excellent app, and unlimited device connections.