Does a VPN Slow Down Your Internet Speed?

Does a VPN Slow Down Your Internet Speed?

Many people have come to know virtual private networks as convenient ways to secure their internet connection and online traffic. Through encryption and VPN tunneling, user data like browsing activity and search history is made unreadable to hackers and malicious actors.

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A common question asked, however, is whether VPNs have any adverse effect on internet speed. More bluntly — do VPNs slow down your internet? Do they have a significant impact on overall stability and connectivity? What factors influence your internet speed while using a VPN?

We’ll answer these questions and more below!

Do VPNs actually slow down your internet?

Yes, VPNs slow down your internet — but not by much. Quality VPNs will typically slow down your internet speed only by around 10-20%, if at all. While there are other factors we’ll get into below, it boils down to three main reasons:

  • With a VPN, your internet traffic is routed to a VPN server, adding another step to your traffic’s travel time. This inevitably slows down your connection compared to if you were only connected to your internet service provider.
  • Once connected, a VPN server’s distance from your real location can also affect speed. Connecting to a VPN server that’s far away from your actual location will cause your traffic to travel longer than if you were connected to a server closer to where you are.
  • A VPN encrypts your internet connection — which takes time. The process by which your online traffic is made unreadable to third parties can add up to slower connection speeds.

Reliable VPN providers are able to provide speeds that are very close to or only slightly slower than your ISP’s speed. In my experience, the above-mentioned 10-20% or even 30% drop is what I’d consider a fast performing VPN service. Of course, your baseline ISP speed will play a factor if these percentages manifest in an overall positive or negative experience.

SEE: Is a VPN Really Worth It in 2024? (TechRepublic)

In my view, however, these kinds of drops are normal and almost negligible in everyday use. This is on top of the additional security and privacy features you get with a VPN — a tradeoff that I feel is worth taking.

Factors that make your VPN speed slower

In this section, we’ll go more in-depth about the various elements that can slow down your internet connection when using a VPN. Here are the factors:

Server distance and location

Server distance refers to the physical distance between your computer and the VPN server you’re trying to connect to. Aside from adding another step to your overall traffic, connecting to a VPN that’s significantly farther away from your location adds latency and makes for a slower internet connection.

SEE: 4 Different Types of VPNs & When to Use Them (TechRepublic)

For example, if your business is located in Europe, connecting to a VPN server located in Asia will give you less than ideal VPN speeds. For users who are using a VPN to access geo-restricted content, slower speeds may be worth it. But it’s important to consider server distance when you need fast and reliable speeds for your workflow.

Encryption overhead

Another factor that affects VPN speed is encryption. The main way VPNs strengthen your security is by encrypting your online traffic and making it unreadable to prying eyes. That being said, the encryption process adds a slight overhead to the data being transmitted in your connection.

The additional bandwidth needed for encryption can technically cause a slowdown in your connection speed. However, most VPN providers have configured the encryption process to only have a minimal effect on overall speed.

Type of VPN tunneling protocol in use

Your choice of VPN tunneling protocol also impacts the type of speed you get when connected to a VPN. Tunneling protocols are sets of rules that govern how your VPN handles your online traffic as it passes through a particular network.

SEE: Free VPN vs Paid VPN: Which One Is Right for You? (TechRepublic)

The VPN protocols offered by most VPN providers are OpenVPN, WireGuard and IKEv2. Of the three protocols, WireGuard is regarded as the tunneling protocol best optimized for speed. Meanwhile, OpenVPN is regarded for its security, while IKEv2 is tailored towards mobile.

If you’re using a VPN and want the best speeds, I highly recommend switching over to WireGuard if your VPN offers it.

Overall quality of VPN server infrastructure

While all VPNs have a server network, not all server suites are created equal. The amount of resources and technology a provider puts into their server infrastructure can have a notable impact on your VPN speed.

Quality VPN services typically employ technology such as 10Gbps servers and an extensive server network, with the aim of providing fast and reliable speeds to end users.

SEE: 4 Best Small Business VPNs (TechRepublic)

To me, the wide server suite is the most important. Having more server options allows users to select VPN servers closer to their location, giving them the best opportunity to have fast speeds.

Free VPN services offering lesser speeds

If you’re interested in using a free VPN option, don’t expect the fastest speeds. Free VPN services usually offer slower speeds compared to paid VPNs. It’s either they cap the speed to begin with on their free options or they’ve restricted the servers free users can connect to — locking them out of access to their highest-performing servers in their network.

A few free options also put a data limit on their VPN services. While not necessarily affecting speed, this stops you from using the VPN long term and thus makes the experience less than ideal.

How to mitigate slow VPN speeds

Now that we’ve gone over the factors that can slow down your internet while on a VPN, it’s time to see what steps you can take to mitigate this problem.

Choose a server near your location

The first thing you can do to resolve slow VPN speeds is to connect to a VPN server near your location. Usually, this step will have a massive impact on your VPN speed and can help improve stability and connectivity right away.

Fortunately, many VPN apps have a ‘quick-connect’ button that automatically connects you to the server nearest to where you are or to the server that can provide the fastest speeds.

If speed is your main priority, and you don’t mind using an IP address based in your country, you can connect to a VPN server within your actual country. While this defeats the purpose of making it appear like you’re in another location via the VPN, for speed purposes — this can help.

Run a quick speed test comparison

Another thing you can do is run a quick speed test comparing your ISP connection speed and that of the VPN. This gives you a better idea of whether or not your slower speed is caused by the VPN or if it’s because your ISP connection itself is lagging.

For a more detailed approach to speed testing VPNs, I recommend you check out our guide on how to check if your VPN is working properly. It gives you a good rundown of ways to troubleshoot your VPN, including speed testing and checking for anomalies like slow internet speeds.

Generally speaking, though, if your ISP’s speeds are unusually low per the speed test results, it may be an issue with your actual internet connection itself. At this point, I suggest contacting your ISP directly to resolve the issue.

Opt for lightweight or speed-focused VPN protocols

You can also switch to using more lightweight or speed-focused VPN protocols if you’re looking to have the fastest possible speed.

As mentioned above, I recommend using the WireGuard protocol. However, some VPN providers, such as ExpressVPN and NordVPN, have proprietary options akin to WireGuard. For ExpressVPN, it has the Lightway protocol; for NordVPN, it has NordLynx — a WireGuard-based protocol also optimized for speed.

Choosing these options over more security-focused protocols will possibly net you faster overall performance.

Restart your VPN application

In the event that none of the above steps work, it may be worth giving your VPN application a fresh restart. This allows the service to reset its systems and, perhaps, resolve any glitches that could possibly be affecting your VPN connection speed.

Investing in a paid VPN service vs. free VPNs

For free users specifically, it may be time to invest in a paid VPN subscription if you want the fastest performance. Free VPNs typically put a cap on their server speeds to encourage users to pay for a paid subscription.

Thus, investing in a paid VPN will give you access to a VPN’s full server network and server technology. Thankfully, most free VPNs have paid counterparts that provide more security features and in turn, faster internet speed.

If you’re interested in learning more about free VPNs, check out our rundown on the Best Free VPNs for 2024. From this list specifically, Proton VPN is an example of a VPN with a free version that caps internet speed; while also having a paid version that gives you the fastest speeds they have to offer.

Switch to a more reliable VPN provider

If all else fails, it may be time to switch over to a more reliable VPN provider. There’s only so much tweaking you can do to hopefully get your VPN to perform better. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of a VPN not being a good fit for your needs and performance requirements.

The good thing is, you won’t have to worry about researching which VPNs have a good track record of offering high-speed VPN connections. I’ve already gone ahead and made a quick list of which VPNs provide reliable and fast speeds down below:

Fast VPNs to consider

NordVPN logo.
Image: NordVPN
  1. NordVPN – While NordVPN is known for its security, it also provides undeniably good performance in terms of internet speed. During my testing, I had zero issues with speed and overall internet connection, regardless of what server I used.

When I first reviewed NordVPN in 2023, its server network comprised 5,800 servers across 60+ countries. In 2024, they increased this number to 6,333 from a whopping 111 countries. With this, I imagine NordVPN’s speeds to be as fast — if not much faster — today with the higher server count.

You can check out my full NordVPN review here.

ExpressVPN logo.
Image: ExpressVPN
  1. ExpressVPN – In terms of reliability, ExpressVPN is one of the best. Per my use, I was able to get consistently fast speeds while using their service on my regular workflow. It also helps that the overall app experience with ExpressVPN is intuitive and very easy to use.

Like NordVPN, ExpressVPN offers an extensive server network that’s spread out in 105 countries. This provides users a wide range of servers to choose from, allowing them to connect to the ones closest to their location for the fastest possible speeds.

You can check out my full ExpressVPN review here.

CyberGhost VPN logo.
Image: CyberGhost VPN
  1. CyberGhost VPN – Another VPN provider with a massive server network, CyberGhost VPN is a great choice for speed. It currently offers a fleet of servers across 100 countries and 126 locations — providing flexibility and options to users from all over the world. When I tested CyberGhost VPN, it also registered some of the smallest decreases I’ve seen in terms of upload and download speeds.

CyberGhost VPN also has specialty servers for streaming, gaming and torrenting, making it a prime option if you plan to use a VPN for these specific use cases.

You can check out my full CyberGhost VPN review here.

Is a VPN worth having?

While VPNs can slow down your internet’s overall performance, I find the decreased speed isn’t enough to discount the benefits you get with a VPN. You get added protection through VPN encryption and the ability to access geo-restricted content from anywhere in the world.

Luckily, many VPN providers have designed their services to provide fast speeds, even with the additional steps and layers in your network that come with virtual private networks.

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