As a full-time traveler, expat living abroad, and digital nomad, a VPN has been essential for running my business abroad these past ten years.

What is a VPN, you may ask? A Virtual Private Network (VPN) allows your computer to securely connect to the internet by encrypting the data being transferred.

This can be helpful for accessing services in your home country (like financial accounts and streaming platforms only available in your country), bypassing content restrictions, and improving your online privacy.

These days, VPNs are really affordable, so the value you get for the security and accessibility they provide is a no-brainer, not only for travelers and expats abroad but also for everyone looking for a more secure internet connection.

Here’s a deep dive into the best VPNs for travel and expats, the best countries to connect from, and other tips to consider when picking and using a VPN.

Phone protected by a VPN

What is a VPN? And Why Use a VPN for Travel?

As the internet creates an increasingly connected world, it’s more important than ever to protect your online privacy and security while at home or traveling.

One easy and safe way to do this is by using a Virtual Private Network, commonly referred to as VPN.

A VPN is a tool or service that encrypts your internet connection. It routes your internet traffic through a secure server, making it difficult for hackers, governments, and other entities to track your online activity or intercept your data.

VPNs can be used on your computer, smartphone, and tablet so that you can be secure while on the go from any of your devices.

There are several reasons why you should consider using a VPN when traveling, but here are a few key benefits:

  • Security: A VPN encrypts your internet connection and helps protect your personal information and data from hackers and surveillance. This is even more important when using public WiFi, which can be vulnerable to attacks.
  • Privacy: A VPN allows you to browse the internet anonymously, hiding your IP address and location. This can help protect your privacy when using websites and online services that track your activity or collect personal information.
  • Access: Some websites and online services are blocked or restricted in certain countries. A VPN allows you to bypass these restrictions and access the content you want, wherever you are.
  • Savings: Some websites and online services offer different prices based on your location. A VPN can help you travel-hack and access these websites and get the best prices. This is especially true with booking engines like Expedia, Booking.com, Skyscanner, etc. They are known to vary prices for the same flight based on the country where it’s being purchased. I offer a few more tips for travel hacking and getting cheaper airfares here.
Passport with a Boarding Pass

How to Use a VPN while Traveling?

Whether at home or on the road, using a VPN is pretty straightforward and requires the same steps.

First, you must choose a VPN provider; then, install their software and set up your connection settings. Lastly, choose to which server (or country) you want to connect.

It doesn’t matter where in the world you are. As long as you have an internet connection and a great VPN provider, you will be able to take advantage of a secure VPN connection.

Most people use a VPN to bypass the geo-restrictions imposed by the country they are physically in. 

For example, I had no access to Youtube in China with their standard internet connection. But, the moment I connected to my VPNs server in New York, I immediately gained access to YouTube because my connection showed I “was in New York,” bypassing any censoring and geo-restrictions imposed by China. 

Other people use VPNs simply to encrypt their data, so the server location is not essential. In those cases, they opt to auto-pick the server closest to them to have the fastest connection possible.

Guy using his laptop and phone at a coffee shop

When Should you Use a VPN?

In general, you should always use a VPN, but at least, you should use it in the following scenarios:

1. When you need to improve your browsing privacy

First and foremost, that’s the main goal of a VPN, as they make it extremely difficult to track your online activity. 

2. When accessing your financial accounts overseas, and even at home

If your bank is not aware that you’re traveling, logging into your bank account from abroad could make their system think it’s a suspicious activity and lock your account. 

Also, some countries have economic sanctions against other countries, so even just logging into your bank account from one of these countries can completely freeze your account.

Surfshark VPN in secured phone

Learn from my mistake (twice) when in Cuba and Iran. I logged into my bank account without a VPN, which caused an immediate freeze of my accounts because they wanted to “guarantee” that I was not using my money in a country sanctioned by the US.

Thankfully they unlocked my account once I was out of each respective country.

3. When you need to bypass censorship 

As explained in my YouTube example in China, some countries have bans and censorship on certain websites. A VPN can help you bypass that. 

4. When connecting to public WiFi 

As a rule of thumb, consider all public WiFi networks as unsecured, especially those in public spaces, cafes, airports, and libraries.

As a result, any information you type, including emails, usernames, and passwords, is openly transmitted and accessible to any malicious hacker.

Vintage globe with a magnifying glass

5. When you want to access global content not available where you are

Not all content is made the same for every part of the world, especially when it comes to entertainment, movies, and TV shows. For example, a VPN can give you access to shows exclusive in Korea, Germany, the UK, and so on. 

Here’s a scenario. I’m a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race, but unfortunately, some of the later seasons were not available on the Paramount+ app in the US.

But, they were available in the UK! So with my VPN I connected to a server in the UK and voila, I had plenty of Drag Race to watch!

6. When you’re looking to save money when purchasing flights, hotels, and other travel purchases.

Airlines have complex pricing algorithms that can affect the airfare for the same flight when purchased from two different countries. 

For example, I’ve purchased several flights using an Italian VPN server because their airfares were around 5% cheaper than purchasing them from my physical location in the US. 

Also, not all booking aggregators show the same results in every country. Some smaller booking sites are local or regional, so you might miss deals shown on the Italian site, for example, if you’re not looking for them with an Italian IP.

One small “drawback,” though, is that sites will probably appear in the selected country’s language. But, nothing that Google translate can’t fix!

You can learn more about finding cheaper airfares with a VPN and other travel hacking techniques here.

Privacy please sign

How to Pick the Right VPN for your travel needs? 

There are many different VPN providers to choose from, and it can be overwhelming to try to sort through all of the options, but here are a few things to consider when choosing a VPN to help you select a quality provider.

  • Jurisdiction: Choosing a VPN provider that operates in a country with strong privacy laws is important. Some countries, such as the US and the UK, have laws allowing for government surveillance and data collection, potentially compromising your privacy. Look for a VPN provider that operates in a country with strong privacy laws, such as Switzerland or Panama. (more on this below)
  • Is Reputable: While using a free VPN option may be tempting, it’s important to remember that these may not always provide the best security and privacy protection. In some cases, free VPNs may even sell your data or insert tracking cookies into your browser. Instead, choose a reputable and trusted VPN with a proven track record of protecting user privacy.
  • Offers Multiple Server locations: The more server locations a VPN provider has, the more options you have for accessing blocked content and bypassing censorship. Look for a provider with a large network of servers in various locations. Also, make sure they have a server in your home country so you can keep access to your financial accounts and other important governmental websites.
  • Has Strong Encryption: Make sure the VPN provider you choose uses strong encryption, such as AES-256. This will ensure that your data is secure and cannot be intercepted by hackers or other third parties.
  • Offers High Speed: If you plan on streaming content or accessing large files while traveling, choosing a VPN provider with fast speeds is important. Some VPNs can slow down your internet connection, so a provider that offers fast speeds and minimal latency will be ideal.
  • Supports Multiple Devices: If you’re traveling with multiple devices, such as a laptop, smartphone, and tablet, it’s important to choose a VPN that supports all of them. This way, you can protect all of your devices at once rather than purchasing separate subscriptions for each one.
  • Has a Kill-Switch Option: A kill switch is a feature that automatically shuts off your internet connection if the VPN connection is lost. This is important because it prevents your data from being exposed if the VPN connection is disrupted. Not all VPNs have a kill switch, so it’s important to check if this feature is available and how to enable it.
  • Has a No-log Policy: A no-log policy means that the VPN does not keep any logs of your online activity. This is important for protecting your privacy, as your data is not stored or shared with third parties. When choosing a VPN, be sure to check if they have a no-log policy in place.
  • Offers the Right Service for the Right Price: Many affordable VPN options are available, but be wary of providers that seem too good to be true. Some cheap VPNs may not offer the same level of security and privacy as more expensive options, so it’s important to do your research and choose a provider that offers a good balance of price and features.
Expat woman working by the beach

Best VPN for Travel and Expats

I’ve been using VPNs for several years now, so I’ve tried and tested many of them in various common and not-so-common travel scenarios. These are the top five VPNs for travel and expats and what makes them stand out from the competition.

Best Overall: ExpressVPN

This is a top choice among travelers due to its fast speeds, strong encryption, and extensive global server network. ExpressVPN has servers in 94 countries, allowing you to unblock content and access a wide range of services easily. It also offers excellent customer support and a 30-day money-back guarantee.


Most Secure on a Budget: NordVPN

NordVPN is another popular choice among travelers due to its robust security features and extensive server network. It has servers in 60 countries and offers excellent customer support. NordVPN also has a feature called “Double VPN,” which encrypts your connection twice for added security.


Best for Families: Surfshark

This VPN is a great option for travelers on a budget as it offers unlimited simultaneous connections and a wide range of security features at a low price point. Surfshark has servers in 63 countries and offers excellent customer support.


Best for Streaming: CyberGhost VPN

CyberGhost VPN is a user-friendly option with a simple interface and strong security features. It has fast servers in 89 countries that are excellent for streaming. It also has a “NoSpy” server network that is specifically designed for maximum privacy and security.


For a robust network on a budget: Private Internet Access (PIA)

PIA is a reliable VPN with a large server network and strong security features. It has servers in 84 countries and offers excellent customer support. PIA also has a “MACE” feature that blocks ads, trackers, and malware.


1. ExpressVPN

  • Platforms supported: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Android TV, Linux.
  • Works to stream from: Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, BBC iPlayer, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, Spotify, Pandora, YouTube, Paramount+, and more.
  • Important Features: No-logs, kill-switch, split tunneling, supports P2P file sharing, multiple devices (up to five simultaneously)
  • Countries supported: 94 countries, 3,000+ servers.
  • Speed rating: Very fast
  • Price: On the pricier side, but still affordable.
  • Money Back Guarantee: 30 days
ExpressVPN Website Homepage

ExpressVPN is popular among travelers due to its fast speeds, wide server coverage, and strong security features. It has over 3,000 servers in 94 countries, including popular travel destinations like the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

It uses military-grade encryption to secure your internet connection and protect your data. It also offers a kill switch feature, which immediately cuts off your internet connection if the VPN connection is lost, ensuring that your online activities are not exposed.

ExpressVPN has a strict no-logs policy, meaning it does not track or store any of your online activities.

It also supports split tunneling, allowing you to choose which apps and websites use the VPN connection and which use your regular internet connection.

One of the standout features of ExpressVPN is its MediaStreamer, which allows you to unblock and stream content from popular streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. It also has a large number of server locations specifically optimized for streaming.

ExpressVPN has a user-friendly interface and supports a wide range of devices, including Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS. It also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can try it out risk-free.

From personal experience, ExpressVPN worked for me better than other VPNs in places with highly censored internet, like Iran, Turkmenistan, China, and Cuba. 


2. NordVPN

  • Platforms supported: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Android TV, Linux.
  • Works to stream from: Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, BBC iPlayer, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, Spotify, Pandora, YouTube, Paramount+, and more.
  • Important Features: No-logs, kill-switch, double VPN, supports P2P file sharing, multiple devices (up to six simultaneously)
  • Countries supported: 60 countries, 5,000+ servers.
  • Speed rating: Very fast
  • Price: Affordable and they often offer deals.
  • Money Back Guarantee: 30 days
NordVPN Website Homepage

NordVPN is another popular choice for travelers due to its strong security features and wide server coverage. It has over 5,000 servers in 60 countries, including popular travel destinations like the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

NordVPN uses military-grade encryption to secure your internet connection and protect your data. It also offers a kill switch feature and a strict no-logs policy.

One of the standout features of NordVPN is its double VPN feature, which routes your internet connection through two servers instead of one, providing an extra layer of security.

It also has a large number of servers optimized for streaming, allowing you to unblock and stream content from popular streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, among others.

NordVPN in a laptop

NordVPN has a user-friendly interface and supports a wide range of devices, including Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS. It also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.

NordVPN has worked great for me and I highly recommend it. Additionally, you get a tremendous discount if you sign up for a year or multi-year plan. 


3. Surfshark

  • Platforms supported: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Android TV, Linux.
  • Works to stream from: Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, BBC iPlayer, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, Spotify, Pandora, YouTube, Paramount+, and more.
  • Important Features: No-logs, kill-switch, dedicated IP, ad tracking protection, supports P2P file sharing, multiple devices (unlimited)
  • Countries supported: 63 countries, 3,200+ servers.
  • Speed rating: Very fast
  • Price: Affordable and they often offer deals.
  • Money Back Guarantee: 30 days
Surfshark Website Homepage

Surfshark is a newer VPN that has gained popularity due to its fast speeds, strong security, and global availability. It has servers in more than 63 countries, including popular travel destinations like the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

Surfshark also offers strong encryption, a no-logs policy, and a kill switch to protect your privacy and data.

In addition, it has a unique feature called “CleanWeb” that blocks ads, trackers, and malware. Surfshark is also more affordable than some other options.

It uses military-grade encryption to secure your internet connection and protect your data from hackers and other cyber threats.

Surfshark also allows you to connect unlimited devices to a single account, making it a convenient choice for families or individuals with multiple devices.

Another one of Surfshark’s features is that they offer a dedicated IP option, which allows you to have a unique, static IP address that is not shared with other users.

Surfshark VPN in a phone and laptop

Lastly, Surfshark supports multiple protocols, including IKEv2, OpenVPN, and Shadowsocks, allowing you to choose the protocol that best fits your needs.

They offer 24/7 customer support through live chat and email, making it easy to get help with any issues you may have.

I love the value you get with Surfshark, especially with their unlimited devices, which is great to share with the family. Also, I love their interface, which is easy to use and beautifully designed. 

While I have not used Surfshark in countries with censorship, so far it has worked marvelously whenever I use it abroad. It’s currently one of my favorite VPNs and one I use regularly.


4. CyberGhost VPN 

  • Platforms supported: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Android TV, Linux.
  • Works to stream from: Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, BBC iPlayer, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, Spotify, Pandora, YouTube, Paramount+, and more.
  • Important Features: No-logs, kill-switch, pre-configured profiles, supports P2P file sharing, multiple devices (up to seven simultaneously)
  • Countries supported: 89 countries, 8,000+ servers.
  • Speed rating: Fast
  • Price: Affordable
  • Money Back Guarantee: 45 days
CyberGhost VPN Website Homepage

CyberGhost VPN is another popular choice for travelers due to its ease of use. The service has a user-friendly interface and is suitable for beginners and more advanced users.

It also has several pre-configured profiles for specific tasks, such as streaming or anonymous browsing, which makes it easy for users to get started with the service.

Another strong feature of CyberGhost VPN is its strong encryption and security measures.

It uses AES-256 encryption and has several security protocols to choose from, including OpenVPN, IKEv2, and WireGuard. It also has a kill switch and a no-log policy, which help to protect the user’s privacy and security.

In addition to its strong security features, CyberGhost VPN has a wide network of servers.

It has over 6,800 servers in 89 countries, which allows users to choose a location that is optimal for their needs. This can help access content restricted in certain countries or get around internet censorship.

Overall, CyberGhost VPN is a reliable and secure VPN service that is easy to use and offers strong encryption, a wide network of servers, and a variety of security and privacy features.


5. Private Internet Access (PIA)

  • Platforms supported: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Android TV, Linux.
  • Works to stream from: Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, BBC iPlayer, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, Spotify, Pandora, YouTube, Paramount+, and more.
  • Important Features: No-logs, kill-switch, pre-configured profiles, supports P2P file sharing, multiple devices (up to ten simultaneously)
  • Countries supported: 84 countries, 3,300+ servers.
  • Speed rating: Fast
  • Price: Very Affordable
  • Money Back Guarantee: 30 days
Private Internet Access Website Homepage

Private Internet Access (PIA) is a budget-friendly VPN option that offers strong security features and wide server coverage. It has over 3,300 servers in 84 countries, including popular travel destinations like the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

It uses AES-256 encryption, which is considered to be one of the strongest encryption algorithms available. It also offers a kill switch feature and a strict no-logs policy.

One of the standout features of PIA is its ad and tracker blocking feature, which blocks ads and tracking cookies from following you online.

It also has a large number of servers optimized for streaming, allowing you to unblock and stream content from popular streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.

PIA has a user-friendly interface and supports a wide range of devices, including Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS. It also offers a 30-day money back guarantee.

PIA has been in the business for over ten years, and they have mastered and evolved significantly throughout the years. 


Flight board at airport

What are the Best Countries to Connect With a VPN

Now that your VPN is selected, the next best thing to know is which country server you should use. Where should your connection show where you “are”?

Switzerland

Switzerland is renowned for its strong data security laws, which are considered the best in the world.

These laws require companies to obtain users’ consent before collecting and processing their personal data, and any data collected without consent is illegal and can result in significant fines. 

As Switzerland is not a member of the European Union or the European Economic Area, it is not subject to EU laws such as the Data Retention Directive. 

Additionally, Switzerland is not a part of the five-, nine-, or 14-Eyes alliances, so it does not have to share users’ data with intelligence organizations.

In addition, Switzerland is one of the few countries where torrenting is legally protected, as long as it is not done for profit. 

This makes Swiss server locations ideal for torrenting. In addition to its strong privacy laws, Switzerland has advanced internet infrastructure that ensures high speeds for mobile and fixed broadband connections.

These factors make Switzerland an excellent choice for connecting to a VPN.

Man using his laptop and phone at the airport

Panama

Panama has laws to protect users’ online privacy, including Law No. 81 and Executive Order 281 (together with the Data Protection Law), which regulate personal data protection and prohibit companies from collecting data without consent. 

In addition, Panama does not have any data retention laws, making it an ideal location for zero-logs VPNs, which do not store users’ online activity logs.

This means that you can securely connect to a server in Panama without worrying about your data being compromised. 

However, it is important to note that sharing copyrighted content is illegal in Panama and can result in fines and legal action.

Therefore, if you are looking for a country that is friendly to torrenting, you may want to consider other options. 

Also, good to know is that NordVPN is based in Panama.

Man using laptop at a store

British Virgin Islands

The British Virgin Islands (BVI) is another good choice for users who value privacy, as it has its own privacy legislation and code of laws. The Data Protection Act, which was enacted in 2021, requires companies to obtain users’ consent before processing their data.

Additionally, BVI does not have a foreign intelligence agency and is not part of any global data-sharing alliances like the UK.

Furthermore, BVI lacks data retention laws, so VPN services in the country are not required to store logs. These factors make the BVI a good location for privacy-focused users.

ExpressVPN is based in the BVI.

Iceland

Iceland offers users access to strong data protection with few restrictions. Censorship is prohibited by law due to the Equal Access Act, which guarantees unrestricted internet access to all its citizens.

Additionally, personal data is protected by the Data Protection Authority’s Rule No. 811, which was enacted in 2019.

As Iceland is part of the European Economic Area (EAA), the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) also apply to protect privacy online.

While Iceland has strict data privacy laws, VPN providers are required to keep logs for up to six months. However, these logs are only used in matters of public safety and are not shared with third parties.

Overall, Iceland is a good choice for users who value strong data protection and unrestricted internet access.

Neon security sign

Romania

Romania is a good location for VPN users due to its strong data protection laws.

Even though Romania is a European Union (EU) member, in 2006, the country’s Constitutional Court revoked the EU’s Data Retention Directive due to privacy concerns. 

The Romanian National Supervisory Authority for Personal Data Processing protects users’ right to privacy and data protection, and the country is also covered by the robust General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).

In addition, Romania offers some degree of protection for users interested in peer-to-peer (P2P) and torrenting, as copyright infringements are considered a victimless crime by law enforcement in the country.

Overall, Romania is a good choice for users who value strong data protection and some level of P2P and torrenting protection.

CyberGhost VPN is based in Romania.

These countries listed above are highly recommended due to their strong data protection laws and advanced internet infrastructure, but they are not the only country/server options. 

In general, as long as you stick with the recommended VPN providers above, you’ll have a secure and fast connection wherever you’re traveling or working.  

Man at the Airport

Last Few Tips to Consider when Using a VPN while Traveling

Here are a few final best practice tips for using a VPN while traveling:

  • Always Use a VPN on all your devices: This will ensure that your internet activity is protected, no matter which device you use.
  • Choose a server location based on your needs: Different server locations offer different benefits. If you want to access content only available in a specific country, choose a server in that country. If you want to improve your internet connection speed, choose a server that’s physically close to your location.
  • Consider using a split tunneling feature: Some VPNs offer a split tunneling feature, which allows you to choose which apps and websites use the VPN and which don’t. This can be useful if you want to use the VPN for certain activities but not others and keep the VPN at optimal speeds.
  • Be aware of local laws and regulations: Some countries have strict laws and regulations regarding VPN use. It’s important to be aware of these laws and regulations and follow them while in the country.
  • Don’t rely on the VPN alone for security: While using a VPN is an important step in protecting your online privacy and security, it’s not a foolproof solution. It’s important to also use other security measures like strong passwords and two-factor authentication to protect yourself further.
  • Keep the VPN updated: Keep your VPN software and servers up-to-date to ensure you have the most secure connection possible. This may involve installing updates or switching to a different server location if one becomes compromised.

Using a VPN while traveling can be valuable for protecting your online privacy and security. By following these tips, you can ensure that your internet activity is secure no matter where you go.

Travel safe!

5 Best VPN Providers for Travelers & Expats
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