Best VPN for Canada: Stream and surf safely in the Great White North
VPNs can protect your privacy, enhance your security and help with anonymity and your right to free speech. By connecting to the Internet through a secure VPN link to a server, you can conceal your location and identity, kick over the traces of your online activities and protect yourself against snoopers, both government and corporate. What’s more, with a VPN you can make it look as if you’re connecting from within the borders of another country; handy if you want to enjoy streaming services that might otherwise be blocked.
Choosing the best VPN for Canada
Canadian users enjoy a high degree of Internet freedom, yet they can still use the protections of a VPN. The Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015, or Bill C-51, has raised new concerns about Internet surveillance and government powers to intercept personal communications, or gain access to information on their Internet behaviour. Canada is also a member of the core five eyes intelligence-sharing network, leading to concerns about snooping from the NSA in the US and GCHQ in the UK. What’s more, there are legitimate concerns about corporate snooping, as Internet and social media services track and store more information about where we go and what we do online.
There are also many other practical reasons to use a VPN. Despite their proximity to the United States, Canadians can’t access many US streaming services, including the US version of Netflix, HBO Now and Hulu. What’s more, many Canadian broadcasters and streaming services deny access outside of Canada, making it hard to keep you with news and sports if you’re travelling or living abroad. A VPN can also be a sensible precaution if you’re using public WiFi services while out and about, giving an extra layer of protection against others on the network spying on your Internet traffic in an effort to grab data and credentials.
You’ll find general advice on choosing a VPN in How to buy the best VPN [URL here]. In Canada, your priorities are likely to be privacy, security and protection from snooping, so we’ve focused in on VPN providers that go the extra mile to disguise your identity and location or encrypt your data. It’s also worth checking whether those providers log your activities, what information they retain, and in what circumstances they might share that information with security services or law enforcement. We’ll also note those providers that take payment through an anonymous currency, like Bitcoin.
Not all VPNs get around the blocks that prevent Canadians using US streaming services – and the services keep getting better at spotting and blocking VPNs. We mention where a service has features in place to unblock Hulu and Netflix, but there’s no guarantee that what works today will work in a few weeks’ time.
The best VPNs for Canada
1. IPVanish: A good VPN for expert users
Price: $7.50 (£5.73) per month, $4.87 (£3.72) per month with annual contract
IPVanish has a wide global reach, with over 850 servers in some 60-plus countries, serving up over 40,000 VPN IPs. It also has a strong local presence in Canada, with 26 servers across Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. With 383 in the US there’s plenty of headroom for those wanting a US presence. However, IPVanish no longer unblocks US Netflix, so if that’s your priority, look elsewhere it’s also a little slow when accessing North American servers from the UK; we saw a high 72.5% reduction in connection speeds, though closer connections stayed in the 33% to 36% range..
IPVanish is particularly good for users wanting more control, with a map-based interface for picking your location and a wide range of features, options and diagnostic tools. These inclide a killswitch to drop all connections should your VPN link be disrupted, and you can set IPVanish to switch IP addresses every 45 minutes to cover your tracks. For added protection, IP Vanish has its own DNS servers. It’s a US-based service, though IPVanish claims to keep no log-in or activity logs. Not the last word in privacy protection, but a good, highly-configurable VPN.
2. Nord VPN: The best all-round VPN for the US
Price: $11.95 (£9.13) per month, $5.75 (£4.39) per month with annual contract
Nord VPN has a lot going for it in terms of privacy protection. It’s based in Panama, which isn’t part of the fourteen eyes network and has no mandatory data retention laws, while the company claims to have a strict no logging policy. It also offers more advanced features than many VPNs, including optional double encryption and a dual-hop VPN, plus enhanced DNS leak protection and a killswitch. If you want to take anonymity to another level, you can also route traffic via the TOR network using an Onion over VPN server.
NordVPN has a strong presence in Canada, with 114 servers including two double VPN servers. Beyond that it has over 1400 servers in 61 countries, including 562 in the U.S., so it’s a good choice if you need to look like you’re connecting from a US address. Performance is good over shorter distances, with speeds dropping by 30 to 35%, though we saw speeds drop by 64% to 68% over longer hauls. It’s neither the cheapest nor the fastest, but Nord VPN is one of the safest and most reliable options.
3. Buffered VPN: The easiest VPN for streaming from US video services
Price: $12.99 (£9.92) per month, $6.60 (£5.00) per month with annual contract
Buffered VPN’s biggest selling point is ease-of-use. Simply launch the app, scroll through the list of 44 countries, double-click and you’re away. There are servers in Canada, which makes it easy to access Canadian services which might be blocked to users abroad, plus servers in three locations in the US. It currently works with Netflix and other streaming services if you’re trying to stream from North of the border. Buffer’s speeds are very competitive as well, with a 23% to 33% speed hit on short-range VPN connections and a reasonable 60% hit on trans-atlantic connections. That’s pretty good.
Buffered VPN is based in Hungary – outside of the fourteen eyes network though still inside the EU – and the company maintains no logs, so there’s no chance of your data being passed on. All your traffic is protected in transit b 256-bit Blowfish encryption. Our biggest concerns are that it doesn’t take anonymous payment via Bitcoin, and that it doesn’t have a killswitch feature, potentially leaving your real IP address visible should the VPN disconnect. If privacy isn’t your biggest concern, though, go ahead; Buffer is fast to connect and a great, hassle-free VPN.
4. Hide My Ass: The best VPN for travel
Price: £7.99 per month, £4.99 per month with annual contract
Hide My Ass beats the rest when it comes to catchy names, but beyond that and the slick, donkey-flavoured UI you have a VPN with some powerful features. It’s easy to use, with an Instant Mode that takes you straight to the closest, fastest server, a Freedom Mode for use in countries that routinely block or censor, and a Location Mode where you can pick your country and location. Hide My Ass’s new Liberty Island location also gets past the blocking provisions made by Netflix and other US and Canadian streaming services. With 174 servers in the US and 27 in Canada, congestion shouldn’t be a problem.
With servers in over 280 locations in 190 countries, HMA is particularly good for use abroad. When using North American US servers from the UK we only saw a 36% reduction in connection speed; much better than the 68% average. General protection features are good as well, with a killswitch and options to double-hop from one VPN sever to another to cover your tracks. The only sticking points are that HMA is based in the UK – like Canada, a member of the core five eyes network – and that it keeps logs. HMA claims it doesn’t store or monitor the websites you visit or the services you connect to, but this could put you off if anonymity is your main concern.
TunnelBear: The best homegrown VPN for privacy protection
Price: $9.99 (£7.63) per month, $4.99 (£3.81) per month with annual contract
As a Canadian provider, TunnelBear makes immediate sense for Canadian users, with a good presence in its home territory. It’s a great service, too, combining low prices, strong privacy features and a likable Bear-flavoured UI. As a bonus, you can use it for free if you keep the traffic below 500GB per month, which may be fine if you only need a VPN for occasional use. It’s also one of the fastest services we’ve tested, both for local speed and for connecting to the US from abroad, with just a 62% reduction in connection speed against the average of 68%.
TunnelBear doesn’t log activities and has clear privacy and information policies. While Canada is part of the five eyes network, TunnelBear specifies how it will deal with any requests from government or law enforcement, putting customer privacy first. Tunnelbear also goes above and beyond normal protection, with a Vigilant mode that kills all connections if the VPN connection is disrupted, plus a Ghostbear function that scrambles VPN communications, making them harder to spot and block. It’s not just the patriotic choice for Canada, but one of the best.