What Is a VPN: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started

Take our brief 101 course to answer some of the most pressing VPN FAQs.
Michael Michael (131)
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The internet is a fantastic place. It’s very much the driving force of our modern world. With it, we can work, socialize, shop, and do so much more.

VPNs shift the tide back to our favor.

Unfortunately, thanks to bad actors like cybercriminals, advertisers, and other threats, it’s not the safest place. It’s so easy for all personal data to fall into the wrong hands.

However, VPNs shift the tide back to our favor. They are excellent, affordable, user-friendly, and highly effective privacy and security tools. And VPNs are really rather simple to understand, once you get a handle on what they do. That's why we're here!

In this brief guide, we’ll answer some of the most pressing VPN FAQs and explain everything you need to know to select and start using a VPN like a pro now.

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VPN offers security

VPNs or virtual private networks create an encryption tunnel that secures your data as it flows back and forth between your devices and the internet. At the same time, VPNs also change your IP address to enhance your privacy further.

Common scenarios to use a VPN

Securely using public Wi-Fi

Who doesn’t love free Wi-Fi? It’s usually decently fast and comes especially in handy when you’re traveling. Unfortunately, public Wi-Fi is notoriously unsafe. You never know who can be watching you and what kind of malware is hidden there. VPNs secure your traffic to keep you safe.

Stream content from outside your country

We all know there is a different version of Netflix in every country. That means you are missing access to tons of free titles you’re already paying for. With VPNs, you can change your virtual location to a different country and bypass these restrictions giving you a world’s worth of new content. Check out our guide to learn how to watch Netflix overseas for an example of how this works.

Save money while shopping online.

Many retailers use dynamic pricing that changes based on where you’re browsing from. With a VPN, you can change your virtual shopping location and unlock some serious deals.

Bypass censorship and restrictions

We all know about the Chinese Great Firewall, but other countries have restrictions as well. Even if they don’t, their governments might be monitoring you. Browse securely with a VPN.

Ensure your data is private

Regardless of what you’re doing online, you deserve privacy, and that’s what VPNs give.

Legal file and gavel

In most countries, it is legal to use a VPN. In others, it can be complicated. For example, in China, you have to use a state-approved VPN.

However, because VPNs are so effective in increasing your privacy and security, the chances that you’d ever be caught using one are incredibly low no matter where you’re browsing from.

Proxy vs VPN

They do share some overlap, actually. Proxies can hide your IP addresses and can bypass some geographic restrictions. They’re a good quick tool and better than nothing.

...it’s much better to use a VPN over a proxy.

That’s because they don’t actually encrypt your data, and it’s pretty easy for hackers and other threats to detect who’s actually behind an IP address.

Also, all proxy traffic is visible to the owner of any server you connect through. However, reliable VPN providers have strict “no logs” policies to ensure your data is truly kept private. That’s why it’s much better to use a VPN over a proxy.

For a more detailed look at proxies vs VPNs, check out our guide that highlights the major differences.

NordVPN Browser extension

They both are great options, but they provide different levels of protection. Browser extension VPNs only protect the traffic going through your internet browser. So, if you’re using another app or doing anything else online on your computer, all of that traffic is vulnerable.

On the other hand, a VPN app protects all the traffic from your computer no matter what browser or app you are using.

Generally, you should use a VPN app, but browser extensions come in handy if you’re using somebody else’s computer.

VPN on Desktop

The most important is selecting the right VPN provider. We all know the expression “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” This is especially true in the world of VPNs.

Any free service is either selling your data, stealing some of your bandwidth, or not offering you the level of protection and performance you deserve.

That’s why you must go with a paid option—but you don’t have to spend much. There are plenty of excellent VPNs out there that cost just $5-10/month.

When choosing one, opt for a provider that offers many servers across a wide variety of locations. This will ensure the highest speeds possible. Likewise, check that they have a “no logs” policy and offer features like strong encryption.

We recently reviewed NordVPN and found them to be a solid choice. Other popular options to consider are ExpressVPN, SurfShark, and CyberGhost.

Once you’ve selected one, the hard part is over. Download and install it, and you’ll be ready to start using your VPN. Enjoy!

Need further help setting up your VPN?

Check out our guides on VPN setup for a Mac and VPN setup on Windows for even more help!

Access the web as if from anywhere!
Michael Michael (131)
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VPNs are becoming more and more popular and essential in today's digital world, particularly for changing your IP address and location.