Although widely perceived as a champion for freedom and therefore a democratic country, it may come as a surprise to some that there are some broad restrictions the country places on Internet freedom and that it has been carrying our mass surveillance activities against its own people.
While doing my research for this article I honestly wanted to believe that the UK would be better than other countries like India or Indonesia where Internet freedom was concerned. Unfortunately, it seems like the same old, just different location.
From government surveillance to arbitrary decision making on the behalves, it seems that resident in the UK aren’t much freer on the net than other places. Let me show you why you need a VPN here.
UK regulate access to content on the internet
As with so many countries around the world I found that the UK does its fair share of blocking content from users in the country. They are prohibited from accessing a range of websites directly by their Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
This is done using a filtering program which is in general use by all the ISPs in the country. However, there is an option to opt-out of filtering which makes the blocking of sites in the UK distinctly different from other countries.
If you wish to access content that is blocked by default for any reason, you can choose to opt-out of content filtering! While that may sound perfect for you, it has been noticed that removing that filter may lead to increased data security vulnerabilities.
At this point of time, content that is blocked includes; pornography, drugs, gambling, cyberbullying, and a heck of a lot more categories. This has in fact led to a phenomenon known as ‘overblocking’ which has led to legitimate sites being blocked – such as charity-run educational sites for children!
To help you realise what content falls under the overblocked category, here are some examples;
- Sex education & health
- Support services for rape & domestic abuse
- Suicide prevention
- Drug advice
Few limits to surveillance powers
Another of the long list of government infractions revealed in the Snowden files was that the UK carries out unlawful surveillance. Since the files were released in 2013 it has been known that the UK had several bulk surveillance programs which helped gather, filter and analyse Internet traffic.
This included the monitoring of company activities, a situation which has recently been also judged as illegal by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). A larger issue in the ruling was that the UK government did not place safeguards around the methods used to collect such data.
Despite the judgement by the ECHR the UK government has seemed unrepentant with a spokeswoman saying that the government would give “careful consideration” to the judgement. The statement can be construed as a legal “we’ll think about it” rather than a firm demand for action on a ruling from a legal body.
Big brother is still watching.
Following these incidents, the UK passed legislation in 2016 allowing it to legally carry out surveillance activities. Known as the Investigatory Powers Act (IP Act), it means that the government now has the law on its side when it wants to collect any information.
Telcos must retain usage history
Further to the IP Act, it should be noted that ISPs in the country must conform to data retention laws as well. This means that they must collect and keep information about user activity, including browser history for up to 12 months.
The IPA Act was modelled on DRIPA, which was already ruled illegal in the UK as well as the rest of the EU. These incidences show that the UK government isn’t willing to respect user privacy and that any attempt to block it from collecting data will be met with new legislation – legally or illegally.
On a side note, one might think that encryption would be a good way of working around these issues from an end-user standpoint. Unfortunately, the government has thought of this as well and the IP Act covers this provision. By law the government can compel companies to decrypt content!
Thankfully, this is one major areas that VPNs were designed to excel in, but more on that later.
ISPs actively send warnings on P2P activities
In an industry worth close to $300 billion and rising, it’s obvious that the movie industry is serious about protecting their copyrights and IPs. Even though it has been shown that torrents don’t really affect ticket sales – they merely remove control from the hands of authors.
Whatever their reasons though, movie and music companies have gone on a global rampage, slapping individuals with lawsuits all around the world. In the UK, they are now being helped by the ISPs which in recent years have begun piracy alert campaigns.
ISPs in the UK now send email notifications to those of their users who allegedly use their connections to pirate content. Of course, this means that they are monitoring everything their users do online, if not they can’t catch these downloaders.
Although theoretically, this alerts system is intended for specific users only, the UK doesn’t have a sterling record of getting filters right and any issues arising from this will put the onus of proof that they didn’t do it on the users.
The system will also extend to apps such as Popcorn Time. Now this alert system is just that – to alert users. There is no current enforcement action or otherwise, but it would not be difficult to progress from the current state to litigation.
VPNs are still legal in the UK
As with many other countries, VPN use is legal in the UK. There is no current litigation explicitly stating that you cannot use a VPN in the country. Again, as usual, be aware that the use of a VPN and the use of a VPN for illegal purposes are separate issues.
If you are using a VPN for legitimate means such as identity masking or security out of a need for the sense of added security, that’s fine. To use a VPN for the purpose of masking illicit or illegal activities is still punishable by whatever laws apply. If you get caught.
What we look for in VPN for the UK?
Below are the 5 criteria we use in ranking the best VPN for UK readers;
- Privacy & Anonymity
- Geolocation Spoofing
- P2P Support
- Speed & Stability
1. Privacy & Anonymity
As you may realise by now, the UK really isn’t the kind of place where you want to be surfing the net without the use of a VPN, whether you are a national or visitor to the country. Because of the factors I’ve shared above and the seriousness of consequences of violating those regulations, it is a good idea to focus on the aspects of privacy and anonymity a VPN offers for users in the UK.
With both the government as well as private industry working together as well as independently to monitor and control traffic, a VPN needs to be able to ensure that your data and activities can be kept exactly the way it should be – private.
One of the best ways to ensure this is to keep an eye out for VPNs that not only have strict no-logging policies but that are also based out of countries that are laxer in their data retention laws. This certainly excludes countries in the five eyes and fourteen eyes jurisdiction.
The security spiel on VPNs is the same for the UK-based users as everywhere else. The ideal balance is known only to you, as a user. Do you opt for 256-bit encryption at the risk of lower VPN speeds or are you willing to lower that bar for increased speed?
Personally, I feel that for the UK market that it would be best to try and keep encryption levels high for two main reasons. The first is that one of the protagonists in the case we are discussing is the UK government, which will likely have more resources dedicated towards attempting to break any encryption encountered.
The second is that because of lower average internet speeds in the country, you are safe to keep encryption levels as high as possible without compromising your overall maximum speeds achievable.
3. Geolocation Spoofing
Normally when we talk about geolocation spoofing it would be with an aim of accessing alternative content from mainstream providers such as Netflix US. However, the UK users have much more to look forward to in geolocation spoofing since there are literally a ton of sites they cannot access.
4. P2P Support
One of the categories of sites being blocked from access in the UK seems to be torrent sites. Again, this is another area where a VPN would really help. Look out for VPNs that have P2P traffic guidelines clearly spelt out in their terms of service, such as NordVPN or TorGuard.
5. Speed & Stability
With an average fixed line broadband speed of just 55.88Mbps in the UK, most VPNs should have zero issues matching the needs of users there. Mobile speeds are even lower at an average of 29.72Mbps, so the main concern with VPNs in the UK certainly won’t be speed.
Ranked: 7 Best VPN For The UK
In the Eurozone, the UK is probably as far as it gets from where I physically am, so speeds from here to the region are expected to take a hit. Still, this is based on distance since my 500 Mbps line is usually able to show pretty good speeds.
As with all my VPN tests, before judging their speed I always judge my own. My line normally does close to 500 Mbps on a local server, but this changes as I switch servers depending on the location they are at.
My speeds normally won’t deviate that much when not connected to a VPN and this is especially so when connecting to servers in the Asia Pacific region. Still, VPNs add in more factors than simply speed, so let’s take a look at how they affect speeds to the UK with these tests.
- Price is based on the currency exchange rate of 1 USD = 0.81 GBP.
- Price shown is lowest based on plans available from each VPN service provider.
- No Logging
- Kill Switch
- Supports 6 Devices
- 5,600+ Servers
- Double DNS
"The average British home has multiple active connected devices - with NordVPN you can connect up to 6 devices to one account."
NordVPN takes a strong first place in our Best VPN for the UK list for many reasons. One of the first is that they are based in Panama, which is also a good place to be for VPNs. Aside from that, NordVPN has a sterling reputation and is another VPN provider that has a huge number of servers in many countries.
Their strict no-logging policy combines with 256-bit military grade encryption and great price plans to offer almost anyone a deal that is hard to resist.
As you can clearly see, despite the great distance between here and the UK, NordVPN was able to show rather strong performance at close to 140 Mbps. This strength shown in their servers over there bodes well for those in the UK,
What makes them even more attractive is that they not only allow P2P traffic but have specially optimized servers for P2P traffic! With speeds like this you can torrent to your heart’s content at any time.
See our complete NordVPN review to find out why it’s our #1 VPN!
- Data Compression
- Ad Blocking
- Supports 7 Devices
"CyberGhost is based in Romania and it has a strong server presence in the Euro region."
CyberGhosties are happy with them and they have certainly tried to be hip and upbeat in their marketing. This is another of the more well-known names in the VPN industry and I am happy to report that they have improved performance by leaps and bounds.
About a year ago I found CyberGhost struggling to cope with traffic on its network and was pretty disappointed. Yet in a very short amount of time their network has literally exploded with the addition of a ton of new servers and locations.
An industry veteran investing so heavily in infrastructure only means growth, and I am happy to say that their server loads are now much better handled. This can clearly be seen in the stellar performance on UK-based servers.
Despite a strong presence in the UK, CyberGhost also has a strategic presence in other areas around the globe. This means that even if they aren’t in a country that you’re looking to connect with, there is sure to be at least one other access point nearby.
In any case, speed on UK servers for me was noted at over 100 Mbps and for the distance, 166 ms latency is to be expected. More than enough to stream media on and even for downloads.
Learn more at our thorough analysis on CyberGhost!
- Ad & Track Blocker
- Unlimited Device
- 1040+ Servers
"If it wasn’t for their limited track record, Surfshark would be a much more serious competitor in our ranking lists."
Despite the ailing British pound exchange rates, it remains a strong currency relative to other places around the world. This is especially significant in the case of Surfshark since an already low price is brought down even further.
Surfshark so far has shown eye-raising performance benchmarks and is a great favourite of ours. Unfortunately, they’re still relatively new in the market which makes us hesitate to push them any further up.
Still, the road is long and competition fierce. This is definitely one to keep an eye on, especially if they continue to grow at current paces.
My home base is rather far from the UK, which results in higher latency. However, that hasn’t stopped Surfshark from churning up some serious performance figures. Upstream speeds leave a bit to be desired, but the important speed is what comes in!
See our in-depth Surfshark review to find out why it’s one of our top picks!
- Privacy Protection
- 256-bit Encryption
- 148 VPN Locations
- 3,000+ Servers
- Multiple Protocol
"ExpressVPN has intuitive, native VPN apps to keep everyone from the UK safe online."
Because of the many restrictions there It should come as no surprise that ExpressVPN seems to have laid extensive infrastructure allowances for the UK. The company has key servers in a few areas around the UK, ranging from Berkshire to London.
On average, this VPN service offers excellent all-round service from top-notch speeds all the way to comprehensive applications and protocols – ideal for safety, privacy and anonymity. Its security protocols are also the best-in-class for consumer use existing today.
I have tested the service comprehensively and have no hesitation in recommending them as the top VPN service provider for users in the UK. ExpressVPN is stable and allows access on a good range of devices as well.
As an idea of how good it gets, I compared my default line speed without a VPN to an ExpressVPN covered test to the same location. With ExpressVPN on and connected to a server in the UK, I managed to show a good 117 Mbps downstream speed.
Read our full ExpressVPN review to learn more!
- 256-bit Encryption
- Unlimited P2P
- Supports 10 Devices
"IPVanish is a name still talked about and even though they aren’t top of the list, shows speeds worth of some recommendation."
IPVanish has had its reputation tarnished in the past and we can’t say it wasn’t their own fault. However, since then it has come under new management – which has kept its nose clean for the time being.
Moving those incidents aside, they remain a VPN giant in the field and boast speeds that are impressive. Luckily for that, since if you have any complaints about their speed, there isn’t much you can do as they force 256-bit encryption on everyone without exception.
Speed-wise, IPVanish managed to stay up to par even with its more limited UK presence. I managed to establish a downstream speed of around 60 Mbps which is decent for their infrastructure there.
For those willing to experiment you can always try other servers in the region which may give better results. Still, the connection was stable and more than enough to stream media on.
See our full review on IPVanish for more information!
- Built for P2P
- Stealth Proxy
- Supports 5 Devices
- Ad & Malware Block
- Unlimited Bandwidth
"Using TorGuard is a delightful experience and gives one the assurance their Internet connection is truly safe."
The TorGuard interface may seem a little dated when first encountered but there is no doubt that there are one of the most secure VPN service providers around. Even though there isn’t a lot of bling on the user-facing side, performance is quite remarkable.
There is one key difference between TorGuard and many competitors in that it allows you to choose what level of encryption you prefer. This means that for P2P users, you can turn down encryption a notch and enjoy faster torrenting speeds anytime!
Aside from that, TorGuard has many other redeeming qualities, such as stable speeds, multi-platform capability and the ability to bypass VPN blockers.
As one of the best VPNs for the UK, TorGuard of course met certain speed requirements. This showed in my test result for it from a London-based VPN server and again, users in the country should generally get this speed with few issues.
The only downside is that for younger users who are used to the sleekness of modern applications, the TorGuard interface will look like something from the past.
Feel free to see our in-depth TorGuard review to learn more!
- P2P Optimized
- Server Hopping
- Supports 10 Devices
"A surprising addition to our list, FastestVPN shows improved performance for a pittance in cost."
FastestVPN isn’t the fastest I have tested but neither is it the slowest. In fact, if it wasn’t for their limited number of servers and locations, I daresay they would be able to better live up to their name.
It offers a very limited number of countries you can run your connection out of compared to many top-tier VPNs but at prices from as low as 89 cents a month it is a steal. They also have P2P optimized servers which makes them good for that as well.
You also need to take into consideration that even with their limited location count, you’ll still be able to stream Netflix content at least (only for the US region anyway, but that’s where the good stuff is).
83 Mbps is certainly good performance for the price you’re paying and is more than enough to even stream 4k content on. Still, you need to be aware that not all FastestVPN servers will be able to perform as well as their UK servers do.
Head over to our FastestVPN review to learn more!
Final Thoughts: Do I Really Need A VPN In The UK?
To recap, here is the top 3 VPN for the UK:
SECURITY & PRIVACY
In my mind there is only one thing worse than living in a country with oppressive Internet regulation and that is living in one which not only does that but manipulates the law to supports its activities. Surprisingly enough the UK falls into the latter category.
Although I wouldn’t tell you it is of the utmost urgency for you to use a VPN service in the UK at this point of time, I think it is prudent to start some exploratory measures. Take the time to choose the right VPN for you (I hope this ranking list helps) before it is too late.
By too late, what I mean is that it is apparent the UK government is leaning towards very draconian measures of surveillance and control. Living under such conditions can be stressful and a good, reliable VPN service can go a long way to providing peace of mind.