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Does VPN decrease internet speed? Let’s test it

Does a VPN decrease internet speed? Yes, but if you’re using a good VPN (virtual private network), you probably won’t notice. The amount by which your connection is slowed down should be so small that it doesn’t impact your online activity. There are also some situations in which using a VPN can actually improve your overall speed. Read on to find out more.

Eglė Juodytė

Eglė Juodytė

Does VPN decrease internet speed? Let’s test it

What causes latency?

Does a VPN make your internet speed slower and cause latency? Simply put, a VPN will slow your internet connection down, because your internet traffic is going through the VPN server: it’s an extra step in the process. However, a premium VPN like NordVPN is so fast that you won’t normally notice any increased latency; the slowdown is usually imperceptible for the user. And as you’ll see in this article, if you’re using a good VPN brand, the service can offer a variety of benefits, some of which may even prevent ISP throttling and speed up your overall internet experience.

There are several reasons why you might experience latency.

    1. Distance to a server

      Shorter distances between you and the VPN server improve internet speeds. For example, if you’re in the UK and connecting to a server in Australia, it is a substantial distance for a data packet to travel. So the nearer a server is located, the faster the internet speed will be.

      Unless you need to connect to a server in specific location, it’s better to choose VPN servers in nearby countries or the one you’re in. To help reduce VPN latency as much as possible, search for a high speed VPN service provider with a broad country coverage and a large number of servers, like NordVPN which offers 5200+ servers in over 60 countries.

    2. Distance can affect VPN performance
    3. Server load

      When there are too many users connected to one server, the VPN connection speed drops. Overload issues are common among free and slow VPNs that cram too many users into too few servers in the hope that being “free” is enough to gain users. Users of premium VPNs with extensive servers should almost never face latency, and can always rely on faster VPN speeds. NordVPN’s Quick Connect button comes in handy here because it automatically picks the best server to give you the fastest speeds possible.

    4. VPN server load can affect connection speed
    5. Quality of encryption

      Encryption is the key feature of virtual private networks. It makes your online traffic inaccessible to hackers and snoopers, letting you browse in privacy. However, the way encryption is handled depends on the VPN service provider, which can cause latency if executed poorly.

      Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is the block cipher algorithm used as the current encryption standard. It may come in different levels of strength, such as 128-bit, 192-bit, and 256-bit encryption. The higher the encryption level, the more reliable the protection of your data.

      PRO TIP: The strongest type of AES is what you should be looking for in a VPN. However, there is a small tradeoff you have to make: the security and privacy supported by the strongest available encryption can produce latency and lower internet speeds.

      So, it’s a matter of preference: do you prioritize maximum speed or data protection against snoopers? In terms of NordVPN security, next-generation AES-256 encryption implemented into the IKEv2/IPsec and OpenVPN security protocols gives users incredibly powerful data protection.

    6. VPN encryption power can make a difference
    7. Internet speed offered by your ISP

      If your internet speed is low to begin with, a VPN won’t be the only culprit of sluggish speeds. Sometimes, internet service providers (ISPs) throttle bandwidth on purpose. Users might experience this by their internet speed slowing down for specific websites or at certain times. As a user, this usually means that you won’t be able to stream videos or download content as fast as you normally would.

      In this situation, a VPN is a true lifesaver – by routing your internet traffic through a virtual private network, you can bypass any content- or user-specific speed limitations imposed by your ISP.

VPN internet speed infographic

What affects internet speed?

At its core, a VPN’s job is to encrypt your connection and send it through a secure VPN server. Because a VPN adds extra steps between you and the Internet, it’s bound to slow down your connection somewhat. However, there are tips you can use to reduce the impact, and we’ll even see cases later where a premium service like NordVPN can make your connection faster!

Does a VPN make your internet faster?

Under some circumstances, a VPN can actually make your internet faster. This happens when your ISP uses bandwidth throttling to target you, artificially slowing down your connection to release pressure on the wider network.

With a VPN shielding your activity, your ISP can’t monitor your behavior and target you with bandwidth throttling based on your activity. If they target the entire network, of course, you won’t be able to get around the bandwidth throttling, but a VPN will stop them from throttling your speeds specifically.

9 tips: how to make your VPN faster

In most cases, you can expect your internet speed to take a small hit when using a VPN. That’s because your traffic is being routed through a VPN server, creating one extra step in the data transfer process. Depending on the VPN connection speeds, however, you probably won’t experience any noticeable slowdown. But using the right tools, techniques, and settings, you can achieve the best VPN speed possible. Check out these 9 tips:

1: Check your internet speed

If your connection is slow to begin with, your VPN isn’t the bad guy here. Run a quick test and check your internet speed with and without a VPN. This will help you determine whether your VPN is responsible for the slowdown or if you simply need to upgrade your internet plan or hardware.

2: Tinker with your protocol settings

Premium VPNs like NordVPN come with extra security settings and other features that can change your VPN speed. Go to Advanced Settings on the NordVPN app and try switching to a different internet protocol if available. Choose UDP for a faster connection, but be ready to accept the risk of possible instability. If you’d rather have a slower but more stable connection, go for TCP.

Either way, you can switch between these two as many times as you want. Keep in mind that “slower” and “faster” are relative – you probably won’t notice any difference until you’re pushing the limits of your connection. NordVPN also offers NordLynx, a lightning-fast protocol that balances powerful encryption with rapid speeds.

3: Adjust your encryption level

Depending on your device, platform, and VPN, you may be able to change the type of encryption you’re using. But before playing with protocols, study their differences and find out about any possible risks associated with them (read about different protocols here). For increased security, pick the OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPsec protocols used on the NordVPN apps.

4: Restart your router/modem

This one is as simple as it sounds. If your router/modem is running slower because of memory leaks or other issues, an old-fashioned restart will probably help. Also, remember that a VPN connection on your router will probably be slower than connecting to the VPN from your device (unless you have a very powerful router). If you’ve set up your VPN on your router and the speed is too low, you may want to use the VPN primarily on your computer/phone only. Never use both at the same time, as this will make your connection even slower!

5: Change your server location

If you chose a server far from your actual location, it could slow down your internet speed. Connecting to a closer server may help increase your VPN speed. Try it yourself – NordVPN’s simple interface makes globetrotting with your connection a breeze. You can even use NordVPN’s Meshnet feature to connect to another device instead of a VPN server; for example, this could give you access to a home computer while on holiday.

6: Use a wired connection

Wi-Fi is awesome, but it can cost you some speed, especially if you connect multiple devices to the same network. Wireless connections use a shared channel to transmit data to many computers and phones in your home, which can slow down your speeds. If you can, consider switching to a wired connection to enjoy faster connectivity.

7: Turn off firewall and other local security software

Firewalls and your antivirus software can slow down your VPN velocity because it filters through outgoing data. If you temporarily disable these tools, you can see whether they are causing your VPN speed issues. However, do so at your own risk. We would prefer that you lose some speed but keep your data secure by leaving your VPN, firewall, and antivirus on at all times.

8: Restart your devices

Your computer or smartphone may just be “tired.” Give it a fresh start by turning it off and on. This is another old-fashioned trick, but it could help you get the best VPN speed available.

9: Don’t use a free VPN

Free VPNs can be a tempting option, but there’s always a cost, even if it’s not money. Most free VPNs find other ways to make a profit, and will often sell your data as a way to cover their costs. They’re also more likely to provide slower speed, less stability, and (most importantly) poor security.

On the other hand, premium VPNs can afford to maintain proper server networks with strong encryption protocols, giving you a much better user experience. Their business model also relies on customers being genuinely satisfied, so they’re usually much more focused on providing privacy and security.

These tricks should help make your VPN connection run faster. Try them and see which one works best for you.

Will a VPN stop buffering?

Buffering issues are often a result of ISP throttling. If your ISP can see that you’ve been streaming a lot or consuming a large amount of bandwidth, they are more likely to throttle your speed. Since a VPN hides what you’re doing from your ISP, they can’t throttle your speed, which means you’ll have far less buffering issues.

What is a good speed for the internet?

Your optimal internet speed is defined by the activities you use it for. While 25-30 Mbps can be considered pretty good for an average home user, it’s not really a one size fits all kind of answer.

Think about the amount of internet-connected devices in your household. How many users will be online simultaneously? While sending an email won’t take up a lot of bandwidth, activities like gaming have higher and more specific speed requirements.

Which country has the fastest connection?

South Korea has the fastest internet speed at 26.7 Mbps, compared to the global average speed of 5.5 Mbps.

Sweden ranks second at 19.5 Mbps, followed closely by Norway (18.8 Mbps), Japan (17.5 Mbps), and the Netherlands (17.0 Mbps).

Of the top 10 countries with the fastest internet speeds, Denmark has the lowest speeds of 16.1 Mbps, while Hong Kong, Latvia, Switzerland, and Finland all have speeds between 16.6 Mbps and 16.8 Mbps.

How to check your VPN speed

To see how internet speed differs when connected to servers in different locations, run a speed test and take a look at the ping time. It shows the length of delays in the connection between your device and the server it’s communicating with. This will give you some inkling of how much latency you’re likely to experience.

Here’s a quick and easy way to perform a VPN speed test:

    1. Turn your VPN off
    2. Search your browser for “Internet speed test”.
    3. Make a note of your upload and download speeds.
    4. Now, turn your VPN on and connect to a server of your choice.
    5. Repeat steps 3 and 4, and compare your speed results. You should now see the difference in speed when using a VPN, compared to when you’re not using a VPN.

To run a VPN speed test for NordVPN, we used the NordVPN speed comparison tool while connected to Wi-Fi. Without a VPN, using a local speed test server, the internet speed looked like this:

Speed No VPN

When connected to a recommended server via the auto-connect functionality, which picks an optimized server based on its load and geographical proximity, we noticed a slight decrease in the download and upload speed.

Speed Ukraine

When continuing to experiment by connecting to servers in geographically distant countries, we got varying results depending on the server location. Generally, the closer the server, the less the internet speed drops. That being said, some countries have faster internet speeds which can make your VPN faster.

Speed Estonia

Overall, these experiments point to one thing: a good quality service like NordVPN won’t slow your internet connection down by a perceptible amount. You can enjoy all the benefits high-quality encryption without compromising on speed.

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VPNs offer both speed and security

So, as you can see, the server location plays one of the main roles in speed performance and latency. If you use a VPN for simply browsing the web, you will experience little to no latency. If you use a VPN for watching video content securely, you might want to explore ways to make streaming faster. We recommend connecting to special servers optimized for secure streaming.

A VPN won’t significantly increase your data usage, but this depends on the provider and protocol used. The usage usually increases by around 5-10% due to the encryption process. In terms of speed, your VPN can only be as fast as your internet connection. In fact, slight drops of around 10-20% in speed are absolutely normal when using a VPN, since their main priority should always be security and privacy.

If you want to see for yourself how fast NordVPN is, you can download the app today. Make sure you use a NordVPN coupon to get the best deal available.

Do you want speed and security online?

Get both with the world’s leading VPN

Eglė Juodytė
Eglė Juodytė Eglė Juodytė
Eglė is a UX writer at NordVPN. She designs delightful user experiences with words and shares product updates with our blog readers.