What Are the Best VPNs for Public Wi-Fi Hotspots in 2018?

wi-fi

NordVPN is the best VPN to use to protect your computer or mobile device while you’re using a public Wi-Fi hotspot.

NordVPN Logo
  • 3,361 Servers in 60 Countries
  • Speedy Connections
  • Kill-Switch Protection
  • hashtag
    Great Customer Service

The provider’s speedy connections, great customer support and adequate global server coverage all add up to a great way for road warriors to protect their internet connection and related personal and business-sensitive information from those who would seek to steal it for their own nefarious uses.

About Public Wi-Fi Hot Spots

Public Wi-Fi hotspots are locations where a merchant or even local governments offer access to a convenient Wi-Fi connection to the internet. Hotspots can be found in coffee shops and restaurants, hotels, airplanes and even at street kiosks, such as those provided by the city government in New York City.

Free Super Fast Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi hotspots are a convenient way to access the internet when you’re out and about while not using any of your precious cellular data. However, hotspots also have a dark side. Your personal and business-related information is at risk every time you use one.

When you connect to a public Wi-Fi hotspot, you may have noticed that you usually don’t need to enter a password to join the wireless network.

While this makes things more convenient, it also leaves everyone who uses the hotspot open to monitoring by third parties. No password equals no encryption, which, in turn, equals a connection open to monitoring.

A May 2016 report from a newspaper columnist revealed how he found out he was now a member of the mile-high hacked club. USA Today’s Steven Petrow used the Gogo in-flight internet service while on an American Airlines flight. While getting off the plane, a fellow passenger dropped this bit of knowledge on him:

“I hacked your email on the plane and read everything you sent and received.  
I did it to most people on the flight.”

The man then shared the details of an email Petrow had received during the flight.

While the Wi-Fi network at your home or place of business is password-protected, and therefore encrypted (it is, right? Right?), most public Wi-Fi hotspots are not encrypted.

Your favorite coffee shop is more interested in allowing customers to connect quickly and then hang around for awhile, perhaps ordering a scone to go with that coffee they’re drinking. Encrypted protection for your internet connections is not the top concern of Starbucks.

Top 5 VPNs for Public Wi-Fi Hot Spots


Provider

Price

Link

1

NordVPN Logo

$6.99

per month

2

Vypr VPN

$5.00

per month

3

HideMyAss VPN

$6.99

per month

4

PrivateInternetAccess Logo

$3.33

per month

5

ExpressVPN Logo

$8.32

per month

Why Do You Need a VPN for Public Wi-Fi Hot Spots?

If you connect your laptop or mobile device to your local coffee shop’s Wi-Fi hotspot, you are setting yourself up as an enticing target for hackers who would love to steal your personal and business-related information.

Public Wi-Fi hotspot users are subject to a number of attacks by hackers, including man-in-the-middle attacks, phishing attempt and more. In addition to hackers, your own government may be monitoring your online activities, and an unprotected hotspot is a perfect place for them to eavesdrop.

By taking advantage of the protection offered by a Virtual Private Network (VPN), computer and mobile device users can keep their internet activities safe from prying eyes. A VPN encases a user’s internet connection in a layer of encryption, keeping a user’s activities, which can include information about bill-paying, banking and shopping, safe from detection and misuse.

How Does a VPN Work

In addition to providing cover for your online antics, a VPN can also increase your global outreach by providing access to content and services that might normally be geographically blocked from access in your area. A VPN can make it appear that a user is connecting from another location. The new location can be down the street or on the other side of the globe.

Choosing the Best VPN for Public Wi-Fi Hotspots

When searching for a VPN to protect your device’s internet connection while using a Wi-Fi hotspot, there are a large number of factors to keep in mind.

In order to make it a bit easier for you, in this section, I will list each feature you need to consider, explain why it’s important and then list my top 10 VPNs, ranked according to how well each performs in each category.

1

Customer Support

I would never wish any technical issues on my readers. I believe in good karma all around.

However, chances are good that you will need to contact your VPN provider’s customer support team at one time or another. This is especially true of road warriors who will likely use their VPN on open Wi-Fi hotspots while away from the comfortable confines of their home or office.

Most VPN providers offer 3 types of support. Generally, these include live support chat (text), a trouble ticket submission system and a searchable support library. None of the providers I’ve reviewed offer phone support, making quick replies all the more important to road warriors who are using a Wi-Fi hotspot.

The table below shows my top 10 VPN services, ranked from best support to worst. Their ratings were determined by what types of support they offer, as well as the promptness and accuracy of their replies.

2

​Connection Speed

While a fast internet connection is always a plus, it takes on extra importance when you’re connected to a Wi-Fi hotspot, where you have no control over the quality of the internet connection. You want to find a VPN provider that offers as small a speed penalty as possible.

Road warriors require a connection that provides enough speed to reliably use cloud storage, online apps, sharing apps, video and audio conferencing apps, streaming and much more.

In the list below, you’ll find my top 10 VPN providers, ranked in order of their connection speed, fastest to slowest.

Results were calculated by first measuring my usual, ISP-provided connection speed, then connecting to each VPN provider and running the speed test again. Speed percentage was calculated by comparing the two readings for each VPN service.

All tests were performed by visiting the Speedtest.net website.

3

​Kill Switch

If your connection to your VPN’s server is interrupted, there is a chance of your internet being laid bare to prying eyes. This is an especially bad thing if you’re connected via a public Wi-Fi hotspot.

Hackers monitoring other users’ connections to the hotspot could attack your connection, stealing your precious personal data. This scenario is why it’s important to only use a VPN provider that includes a kill switch function as part of their apps.

A kill switch will automatically kill your internet connection if you do lose connection to your VPN provider. No connection at all is preferable to one that is laid open to monitoring by third parties.

Kill switch is a binary, “yes/no” type of designation, so I’ve listed the providers in the table below alphabetically.

Provider

Kill Switch?*

Link

CyberGhost
check-circle-o
ExpressVPN Logo
check-circle-o
HideMyAss VPN
check-circle-o
IPVanish
check-circle-o
NordVPN Logo
check-circle-o
PrivateInternetAccess Logo
check-circle-o
PureVPN Logo
check-circle-o
Tunnelbear VPN Logo
check-circle-o
VPN Unlimited
times-circle-o
Vypr VPN
check-circle-o

 = “Yes” Offers Support, x = “No,” No Support Offered.

4

​Global Server Coverage

Global server coverage should always be a consideration, no matter what the intended use.

A VPN provider that has their server farms located strategically around the globe allows users to unblock streaming and gaming content that might normally be unavailable from their current location. The screenshot below illustrates what excellent global server coverage looks like.

VPN Global Server Coverage

The table below ranks VPN providers by server coverage, best to worst.

5

Other Factors to Consider

Price

Money is no object, and you can subscribe to any VPN provider, no matter how high the price. Plus, you drive a Tesla, and it has 5 brand new, top-of-the-line MacBook Pros in the trunk, and, “Wake up, Dorothy, wake up!”

That was a really pleasant dream, wasn’t it?

Unfortunately, outside of our dreams, we have to watch how much we spend on most things, VPN service included. Luckily, it’s easy to find champagne-level VPN services, even if you only have a beer-level budget.

While you may want to keep your expenses low, don’t fall into the trap of believing cheaper is always better. Always investigate to make sure any “budget” provider you might consider isn’t cutting corners in important categories in order to offer that bargain-basement price.

Most VPN companies offer special deals on a regular basis. If you think car dealers wheel and deal, you haven’t seen anything yet. Visit the website of each VPN provider you’re considering to find out if they’re currently offering a deal of some sort.

While you’ll save money from these deals, you’ll usually have to subscribe for an extended period of time, often for two years or more.

Shoppers on a tight budget can opt for a month-to-month VPN subscription, but be advised that the monthly payment option will likely cost you more in the long run.

The providers listed below are ranked according to their monthly price (their annual price divided by 12), and the price listed is what passes for their “regular” price. Be sure to check their websites for more pricing options.

*The prices in the table reflect the monthly cost when paying for an annual subscription. (Annual Subscription Price / 12 Months.)

Privacy

Always opt for a VPN provider that provides optimal privacy protections. While any VPN provider will protect your internet connection, only the best providers will protect the records of your online activity and your payment information.

Take a close look at where a VPN provider is located. Is the country privacy-friendly? Does the provider keep logs of your online activities? If so, what type of information is saved in the logs? Last but not least, are privacy-friendly subscription payment methods, such as Bitcoin or merchant gift cards, available from the provider?

The Best VPNs for Use on Public Wi-Fi Hotspots

#1 - NordVPN

NordVPN Site Features

PROS

  • check
    Optimal Customer Service
  • check
    Total Privacy Protection
  • check
    Great Connection Speeds

CONS

  • Not Quite as Many Servers as Other Providers

1

Customer Support

NordVPN doesn’t miss a trick when it comes to customer support. 

Live support chat, a trouble ticket support system and an easy-to-search support library are all here for you. I always receive quick, informed answers to all of my inquiries, and the support library makes for a great way to dig on your own for a quick answer.

2

Connection Speed

While NordVPN might not provide the fastest connections in this roundup, they do compare well with my unprotected ISP speeds.

Coming in at 90% as fast as my normal internet connection, this provider’s kill switch-protected speeds won’t slow your hotspot connection to a crawl.

3

Global Server Coverage

With 3,361 servers positioned in 60 countries around the world, NordVPN may not offer the best global server coverage in the VPN industry, but it does provide a way to unblock most of the  geographically-blocked content in the free world.

4

Price

This provider charges a $5.75-per-month (payable at $69.00 per year) subscription price. This puts it solidly in the middle of the pack price-wise on my top 5 VPN list.

For the price of a Taco Bell Cravings Deal, you can get a month’s worth of quality VPN service. And with less heartburn.

NordVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.

5

Privacy

NordVPN is located in Panama, which happens to be a reasonably privacy-friendly country. The government there doesn’t require VPN companies to keep records of any type connected to a customer’s online activities. No logs = nothing to turn over if the cops or a record company attorney comes a-knockin’.

In other privacy-related news, the company also accepts Bitcoin as payment for subscriptions.

6

​Verdict

NordVPN takes the #1 spot on this top 5 list due to its great customer support, fast connections and good global server coverage. Add in reasonable pricing and top-shelf privacy protections, and you’ve got a winner.


#2 - VyprVPN

VyprVPN Dashboard

PROS

  • check
    Fast Connection Speeds
  • check
    Reasonably Priced
  • check
    Good Global Server Coverage

CONS

  • Needs to Provide Better Privacy Protections

1

Customer Support

VyprVPN customer support is among the best. 

Support options from the provider include a trouble ticket submission form, live support chat and a searchable support FAQ section.

This provider’s support agents were always quick to reply with informative answers. The FAQ section was easy to use and chock-full of information.

2

Connection Speed

VyprVPN’s kill switch-protected connection regularly comes within 5% of my stock ISP-provided connections. This means that you’re not going to notice much of a speed drop when you turn on your VPN.

3

Global Server Coverage

VyprVPN has 700+ servers located in 65 countries, offering sufficient-enough global coverage to unlock just about any locked content you might want to access anywhere in the free world.

4

Price

$5.00 will either buy you a Venti Caramel Latte at Starbucks, or a month of pretty darn good VPN protection from VyprVPN. The provider’s $60.00 annual fee for their services makes them the second-cheapest provider on this list.

VyprVPN offers a 3-day money-back guarantee.

5

Privacy

Privacy protection is the only category where VyprVPN doesn’t shine. Despite being based in privacy-friendly Switzerland, where VPNs are not required to retain user logs, the provider insists on keeping some logs for as long as 30 days.

It should be noted that the logs don’t contain any information about your online travels, such as URLs or files downloaded.

Instead, they record your real IP address, the IP address they assign to you for your session, the start and stop time of the session, and how much data was used during the session. I’m in the “any log is too many logs” camp, but it’s up to you as to whether you’re cool with it.

Another privacy minus is the provider’s lack of any anonymous payment option.

6

​Verdict

Despite its lack of love in the privacy protection department, VyprVPN still provides enough great all-around service to grab 2nd place on this list.

If it had better privacy protections to go along with its fast connections, good customer support and global server coverage it might have been able to snag first.


#3 - Hide My Ass!

HideMyAss! VPN

PROS

  • check
    Speediest Connections in the Top 5
  • check
    Tops in Global Server Coverage

CONS

  • 2nd-Most-Expensive Provider in the Top 5
  • Privacy Protection Sucks

1

Customer Support

Customer support shines at Hide My Ass! (HMA!). The provider offers live support chat, a trouble ticket system and an easy-to-search support library. 

I always received prompt, informed answers from HMA! support agents. I also found the support library to be a great answer resource when I needed a quick bit of information.

2

​Connection Speed

Hide My Ass! hauls your ass quickly down the information highway with kill switch-protected connection speeds that regularly came within 5% of my ISP-only speeds. You likely won’t notice any difference in real-world usage when you’re connected to your favorite hotspot.

3

Global Server Coverage

HMA! covers the globe, with 870+ servers in 320+ locations in 190+ countries. This makes it almost a sure bet that you’ll be able to access just about any blocked content in the free world.

4

Price

This provider is one of the more expensive VPN services on the top 5 list. At $6.56 per month (payable at $78.66 per year), HMA! is not a low-price leader by any measurement. That said, the provider does offer top-level service for the price.

The provider offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.

5

Privacy

Hide My Ass! leaves almost all of your ass exposed when it comes to privacy protections. The U.S.-based provider has much of its operations based in the U.K. and saves logs related to your online antics. Plus, HMA! has shared that information with authorities in the past.

Privacy-friendly payment options, such as Bitcoin, are also missing from the provider’s payment options.

6

​Verdict

Hide My Ass! is an excellent, high-performance VPN provider, which offers ultra-speedy connections, great global server coverage and top-notch customer support.

Sadly, it’s priced a bit dearly, and their privacy protections, to be kind, suck. Too bad, or they would have definitely contended for the crown on this top 5 list.


#4 - Private Internet Access

Private Internet Access Dashboard

PROS

  • check
    Lowest Price on the Top 5 List
  • check
    Surprisingly Fast Connection Speeds

CONS

  • Worst Global Server Coverage on This List
  • Customer Service Offering Lacks Live Chat

1

Customer Support

Private Internet Access (PIA) customer support isn’t as good as it could be, due to the provider’s lack of a live support chat option. 

Note that I received replies within just a few hours (via email) from the trouble ticket submission form, and there is a good chance you’ll be able to quickly find an answer to your question by making use of the comprehensive support library.

2

Connection Speed

PIA’s kill switch-protected VPN connection speeds were a pleasant surprise, with encrypted speeds coming within 6% of my ISP-only speeds. While this provider might cut a corner here and there, they give it their all in the connection speed category.

3

Global Server Coverage

I mentioned cutting corners in the section above, and sadly, global server coverage is one of those categories that PIA has saved a few bucks on. While 3,059+ servers might sound like a lot, they’re all located in just 28 countries. You might want to check the provider’s global server coverage before buying a subscription.

4

Price

Private Internet Access wins the low-price leader crown on this list by quite a bit. Coming in at $3.33-per-month (payable at $39.95 annually), their pricing is still one of the best bargains around, coming in at $1.67 per month less than the nearest competitor.

Private Internet Access offers a 7-day money-back guarantee.

5

Privacy

Despite being located in the less-than-friendly United States, PIA provides strong privacy protections. PIA follows a self-imposed “no logs” policy, so even if Johnny Law or movie studio suits come knocking on their door looking for logs, there wouldn’t be anything to turn over.

PIA is one of the few VPN providers that accept both Bitcoin and merchant gift cards in return for their services.

6

​Verdict

Private Internet Access provides fast-lane VPN connections and great privacy protections, all at a bargain price. Sadly, their less-than-optimal global server coverage and lack of live support kept the provider from ranking higher on this list.


#5 - ExpressVPN

Express VPN Features

PROS

  • check
    Wide Global Server Coverage
  • check
    Excellent Customer Service
  • check
    Good Connection Speeds

CONS

  • Worst Pricing on the Top 5 List

1

Customer Support

ExpressVPN provides a top-notch level of customer support to its users. The service offers live support chat, a support ticket submission system and an easy-to-search support library, providing great all-around support.

2

Connection Speed

ExpressVPN might not be the leader in the connection speed derby, but with kill switch protected speeds coming in at 84% as fast as my unprotected connections, the provider still offers a speedy way to protect yourself when you’re connected to your favorite caffeine peddler’s Wi-Fi hotspot.

3

Global Server Coverage

ExpressVPN has 1,500+ servers located in 94 countries, meaning they offer some of the best global server coverage on this list. Comprehensive coverage like that means you shouldn’t have any problems unblocking your content of choice.

4

Price

Perhaps the biggest drawback for many VPN customers will be ExpressVPN’s subscription price. The provider’s $8.32-per-month (payable at $99.95 annually) price earns it the unenviable title of the most expensive provider on my top 5 list.

The company offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.

5

Privacy

ExpressVPN has its base of operations located in the privacy-friendly British Virgin Islands. Despite being a possession of Britain, the BVI are self-governed, and as such, they have no data retention requirements for VPN providers. This means ExpressVPN keeps no logs of any kind.

The provider scores additional points by accepting Bitcoin as payment for its services.

6

​Verdict

Top-notch customer support, comprehensive privacy protections and great global server coverage helped ExpressVPN squeak into the final spot on my top 5 list. If they were priced better, they would have fared better.


How to Add Additional Security on a Public Wi-Fi Hotspot

You’ve selected a VPN provider to protect yourself from exposure while you’re using your favorite open Wi-Fi hotspot. You installed the provider’s apps on your laptop and mobile devices, and you’re ready to sit down with a hot cup of coffee and biscotti to conduct your online business with no fears of being monitored or hacked.

But, can you do more?

While a VPN is the best way to protect yourself while on a Wi-Fi hotspot, there are a few other things you can do to add another layer or two of protection.

Be sure to check out my article, “The Real Life Dangers of Using Public Wi-Fi” for more information about how to protect yourself while using a public Wi-Fi hotspot.

In the article, I discuss how you can lock down your Windows, macOS, iOS or Android device to protect it from the prying eyes of hackers who would do you, and your financial status, harm.

My Caffeinated Verdict

Any of the VPN providers I’ve discussed in this article will do a workman-like job of protecting your online activities from anyone attempting to monitor them. However, only one provider has earned the title of my top “caffeinated” VPN provider.

NordVPN is the best VPN to use to protect your online activity while accessing the internet from a public Wi-Fi hotspot.

Fast connections, tip-top customer support and wide global server coverage makes NordVPN the best choice for keeping you and your data safe while sipping your favorite hot- or cold-brewed beverage.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get in line and get another cup of this coffee - it’s really good. Let me check one thing, though - when your left arm starts hurting, that just means the coffee is really good, and it’s not always a sign of a heart attack caused by too much caffeine, right? Um, right?

Top 5 VPNs for Public Wi-Fi Hot Spots


Provider

Price

Link

1

NordVPN Logo

$6.99

per month

2

Vypr VPN

$5.00

per month

3

HideMyAss VPN

$6.99

per month

4

PrivateInternetAccess Logo

$3.33

per month

5

ExpressVPN Logo

$8.32

per month