Private Internet Access VPN Review (PIA)

PIA Review
Private Internet Access

PrivateInternetAccess

Product Name: Private Internet Access

Offer price: 2.69

Currency: $

Availability: OnlineOnly

Overall
4.2









  • Price









  • Service









  • Apps









  • Speed









  • Policy









Summary

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Pros

  • Respectable speeds.
  • Many encryption levels.
  • Modern desktop apps.
  • Low price.
  • Works with US & UK Netflix.

Cons

  • Doesn't work with BBC iPlayer.
  • Unreliable in China.


Private Internet Access (PIA) is one of the most well-known and respected names in the VPN industry. Known for their privacy protections and low prices, they're loved by many but avoided by some, which is why this VPN review is so important.

We've been reviewing Private Internet Access (PIA) since 2013 and they've continued to offer an excellent service throughout the years, but is this the case in 2022?

We have been putting Private Internet Access VPN through its paces over the past few weeks to see whether their 2022 VPN service is still up there with the best.

What will our VPN review uncover? Keep scrolling to find out.

Service

Speeds

Download speed

Using Private Internet Access VPN for a range of everyday tasks posed no issues for us.

There were no issues staying connected daily for a range of regular activities such as web-browsing, sending email, streaming video and any other general internet usage.

To put Private Internet Access VPN speeds to the test, we ran some detailed VPN speed tests on their service.

Using a regular UK home internet connection and a Windows desktop system, we downloaded a test file and measured the download speed to the PIA desktop client.

We then measured the download speed again while connected to a selection of servers from Private Internet Access VPN. We also took account of the upload speed too.

We carried out these speed tests using the PIA Windows app with OpenVPN using AES-256-GCM encryption. Our home connection speed was: 63.40 Mbps

When connected to the PrivateInternetAccess servers we achieved the following speeds:

  • UK – 60.88 Mbps
  • France – 56.68 Mbps
  • Netherlands – 60.2 Mbps
  • Switzerland – 60.87 Mbps
  • Sweden – 58.84 Mbps
  • New York, US – 58.93 Mbps
  • Australia – 59.60 Mbps

While the download and upload speeds aren't the fastest we've seen in an internet speed test, they are up there with the best of them.

For such an affordable VPN service, we were astounded at the download and upload speed that was achieved. It's an area that Private Internet Access has seriously improved in recent years.

What you now have is a low-priced VPN with many of the bells and whistles that some of the more expensive VPN providers offer while competing on speed.

Please note that a speed test is not 100% reliable. They are merely a glimpse of performance at a certain period. Your results may differ depending on your location, time of usage, services accessed, device used and many other factors.

Logging

Private Internet Access VPN claims to be a no-log VPN.

What this means is none of your activity or connection data is recorded or stored. Private Internet Access even go so far as to state in the strict no logs policy on their website that they have “No Traffic or Request logs” and they should keep your own IP Addresses private.

However, being based in the US has raised questions from some users. Although there are no mandatory requirements to log user data in the US, some question how a privacy service can continue to operate without interference from many of America's three-letter agencies.

On a positive note, unlike many other VPNs, Private Internet Access VPN has had their logging policy tested in the US courts on numerous occasions.

Both in 2016 and in 2018, PIA found itself caught up in legal cases which resulted in them being unable to assist due to their no-logging policy. You can read more about those cases here and here.

Due to those cases, you should be reasonably confident that Private Internet Access (PIA) adheres to their claims and will keep your internet access private, meaning no web traffic logs, keeping your real IP address private in the process.

However, an increasing number of VPNs are proving this by committing themselves to an independent third-party audit of their privacy policies. Private Internet Access has not done that yet and we would like to see them add their name to the list sooner rather than later.

So if you are uber-cautious about your online privacy, you might want to choose a different provider that has.

Simultaneous Connections

Private Internet Access VPN currently allows you to use one client account to set up a PIA VPN connection on up to 10 devices simultaneously.

This limit was upgraded from 5 simultaneous connections fairly recently and now means that PIA has one of the most competitive simultaneous connection offerings of any VPN.

Aside from those few VPNs that offer unlimited simultaneous connections, this is as good as it gets and more than enough for just about every user. If you need to connect multiple devices simultaneously, then PIA is a good option for you.

Jurisdiction

Private Internet Access VPN is based in the United States. This means it operates under US law and is based in one of the 5 eyes countries.

On the face of it, that doesn't sound great and we would prefer an offshore location.

But the truth is that the US does not have any mandatory data retention laws so users don't have too much to worry about at the moment. Details of the sites you visit and personal data like your own IP addresses should be fine.

Private Internet Access VPN does respond to court orders from the US government but if it isn't collecting data, it can still do this without compromising user privacy, in theory.

Customer Support

Private Internet Access VPN offers a 24/7 live chat customer support feature. This is great because it means that PIA users can get help with any problems they might encounter almost instantaneously which is impressive customer service.

In our tests, we found their 24/7 live chat support team to be friendly, helpful, and responsive. There wasn't a single customer service query that we put to them that they couldn't answer or direct you to the relevant information.

If a live chat support service isn't for you, there are a number of other customer support features available including ticket support via emails and an extensive range of online tutorials.

It is an impressive customer support offering.

Server Locations

Server locations

There was a time when Private Internet Access VPN had one of the smaller selections of VPN server locations but in recent years that has changed.

Last year we reported that the number of VPN servers they were offering had grown to cover 78 countries.

That trend has continued this year and now Private Internet Access offer their state of the art next generation servers in no fewer than 85 different countries.

The PIA server network now covers most corners of the globe including the US and the rest of North and South America, Europe, the Middle East and India, Asia and Australia & New Zealand. They also have servers in South Africa, Nigeria, and Algeria.

In Australia, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and the US, they even have multiple cities available to connect to. There is a particularly extensive range of US servers available.

Individual VPN servers total over 28,324 making them one of the largest providers in terms of individual servers alone, and as you can imagine, they've got a large IP address offering too.

PIA is a great choice of service if you're looking to access private internet.

Does Private Internet Access use Virtual Servers?

Private Internet Access VPN clearly states on its website that it only uses bare-metal servers for its VPN network. The reasons they give for this are for enhanced security and performance. However, this is a little misleading.

A look at their server list shows locations include places like China where it is all but impossible to safely run a physical VPN server.

On closer inspection, a number of server locations are described on the site as “geolocations”. What Private Internet Access means by that is that they are virtual servers and not physical ones.

So, while they are technically bare-metal servers, they are actually using virtual servers extensively. They are bare metal but not located where they claim. It's important to understand this subtle difference.

However, at least PIA are a little bit open about which servers are virtual and which aren't, which cannot be said for many other VPNs.

Private Internet Access VPN claims their service works well in China. Plus, one of the leading websites monitoring the situation agrees.

However, in our on the ground tests, PIA did not work in China, we've also seen multiple other sources online that reaffirm the same.

Internet access is always tricky in China but sadly PIA doesn't prove reliable enough for this purpose and there are better VPNs working in China out there.

Yes. Private Internet Access VPN recently launched a dedicated IP Address feature.

That means that you can now get a dedicated IP Address and still be connected to the PIA VPN service. A dedicated IP is an IP address that is just used by you so it is much harder to see that you are using a VPN.

However, there is an extra charge for accessing the dedicated IP address feature which is currently £3.39 a month – more than double the price of their 2-year package.

If you think that's still good value for money, you will have to either opt into it when you sign up for PIA or add it to your existing PIA package.

Yes, there is a split tunneling feature available with PIA.

Split Tunneling means you can choose which apps you want to run through your VPN connection and which you don't. Split tunneling is useful for internet banking, gambling sites, and others that require a local IP address.

Split tunneling is a fairly advanced VPN feature and we are delighted to see Split Tunneling included in Private Internet Access VPNs offering.

There are a growing number of VPNs that come with a built-in ad-blocker, and PIA VPN is among them with its own ad blocker known as MACE.

PIA MACE claims that it can block domains for advertisements, trackers, and malware. It can be switched on and off in the settings menu and is certainly better than nothing.

However there are some noticeable service limitations. For example, PIA MACE does not enable users to white list domains or adjust the filter settings to suit there needs.

This is not a huge surprise. The best ad blocker tools are stand-alone ones rather than the ones that come built into other services and we would usually recommend signing up for one of these in any case.

So, even though Private Internet Access does have PIA MACE included, our best advice would be for you to sign up up for a great ad blocker and run it alongside PIA.

Security and Safety

Protocols & Encryption

Protocols and encryption

Private Internet Access VPN continues to offer support for the PPTP, L2TP/IPSec VPN protocols. There is also the OpenVPN UDP protocol. More recently they have also added the new WireGuard protocol which is a very welcome addition.

The WireGuard protocol offers a terrific combination of fast connection speeds and strong security and is undoubtedly the future of VPN protocols.

PIA made substantial donations to the project while it was in development so it's no surprise to see them so keen to adopt it now it is ready to use.

The OpenVPN protocol remains their default setting however, so you will have to switch to WireGuard in the settings menu. They also have OpenVPN configuration files available for you to download which is always nice to see.

The Private Internet Access client also does encryption very well too. They've been at the forefront of providing strong encryption for many years and this remains the case.

Encryption options include AES-128 and AES-256 in both CBC and GSM modes. You can also connect without encryption which we wouldn't recommend unless you're doing something simple like streaming video.

Data Authentication is handled by SHA1 or SHA256. Handshaking options include RSA-2048, 3072 or 4096. The opportunity to use ECC exists too.

Most of this encryption is customisable from within the PIA apps. They've got a dedicated encryption page where you can read more about their available options.

PIA quite simply offers some of the best privacy and advanced network settings features around, so if you want to access private internet, then their secure protocols and encryption will help you do so.

DNS Leak Testing

Private Internet Access promises to be a leak-free VPN, but how can you test this promise?

While PIA doesn't have an inbuilt DNS leak testing feature of its own, as some other VPNs do, it does offer links all over its website to dnsleak.com, which is one of the best DNS leak test sites around.

This means DNS leak protection shouldn't be a problem with PIA as a DNS leak test can be easily accessed along with various other security features.

Not that we are aware of.

However, at the end of 2019, PIA was purchased by Kape Technologies, a company that has been linked with a prior company with a somewhat shady history.

There is nothing to suggest that they are doing the same thing with PIA, and their recent acquisition of ExpressVPN has enhanced their reputation considerably.

But in the interests of transparency, it is important to give you all the facts.

Yes, we believe Private Internet Access is perfectly safe for torrenting.

Its connection speeds are good and it also offers port forwarding, which is a useful additional feature. Frequent torrent downloaders are always on the lookout for port forwarding.

There are lots of servers to choose from too and secure settings are easy to establish with the all-important VPN kill switch being a particularly strong feature.

One slight downside is that US jurisdiction which could mean legal issues. But PIA's solid no user logs promise and their impressive kill switch feature means there is no reason this should ever happen.

Private Internet Access has a range of policies covering everything from their Terms of Service to Export Control Policy and DMCA.

Much of this won't be of interest to you and a lot of it is legal jargon.

Their Terms of Service is annotated in plain English which is likely a nod to GDPR and other international regulations. From a layman's perspective, this is a useful addition and allows you to understand the basics of the more lengthy legal texts.

PIA is clear on what they retain and much of this relates either to billing or your email address. They also go on to state that they will scrutinise any legal requests and try and narrow down the scope of information provided if it isn't valid in law.

They also state they can't share what they don't have, such as session data, browser traffic logs, your IP address, etc.

We saw nothing of concern in their policies, although they are lengthy legal texts which we are not qualified to understand or explain.

Apps

Apps

Mobile Apps

Private Internet Access offers VPN apps for both Android (Android app) and Apple iOS (iOS app) mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad. Both the Android and iOS apps have been thoroughly tested by ourselves.

So whatever phone or tablet you've got you'll be able to connect to their service through PIA mobile apps and keep yourself protected.

We mainly tested their Android app so will be basing our findings on that but the iOS app and Android app are almost indistinguishable so Apple users can learn much from this too.

As with most VPN apps, Private Internet Access lets you connect quickly from the main screen. Simply flick their ‘on' switch to get connected.

If you're new to VPN use or you don't want to concern yourselves with the inner workings and complicated app settings, then this quick connect feature will be right up your street.

You can access countries by clicking an option from the main PIA app window which opens a country list sorted alphabetically. Unfortunately, there's no option to connect to individual servers like with some other services' apps – instead, the PIA VPN app will pick the best in that location for you.

PIA Android

While the Private Internet Access app hasn't changed much visually since we last tested it, it has changed somewhat behind the scenes.

The settings area is a techie's dream so if you want customisation and plenty of options to fiddle with then we haven't seen a better app for this than the Private Internet Access app.

Options include switching between UDP and TCP connections (encryption settings), Request port forwarding (which allows incoming connections to bypass the NAT firewall), Remote port selection, Local port selection, DNS set-up, kill switch, use small packets amongst others.

There's also a great range of bonus security features including a VPN Kill Switch, IPv6 blocking which PIA call ‘Aggressive' and the ability to block access to the local network.

There's also a ‘VPN always on' feature accessible for Android 8.0+ users which PIA claims is better than using a Kill Switch.

The PIA VPN client stands out in the encryption stakes.

While most mobile apps don't let you play around with these options, PIA's app enables you to select everything from Data Encryption used to Data Authentication and even the size of the Handshaking key.

There's an elegant split tunnelling feature that is easy to configure and push apps outside of the encrypted VPN tunnel. It's also one of the only Android apps to offer a ‘widget' feature that will allow you to one-click connect and disconnect from your phone's main screen.

PIA Android Widget

Overall the mobile apps are easy enough for the beginner to use and feature-rich enough to keep advanced iOS and Android users happy.

Desktop Apps

Private Internet Access completely overhauled their desktop VPN apps a few years back and not much has changed since.

Available as both a Windows client and a Mac OS client, their new apps sport a minimal-modern design that allows customisation to your liking. Oh, and they also have a Linux app too.

We tested the Windows client but Mac users can be reassured that the apps are very similar. From the home screen, you can connect with one click if you wish. You need not do anything more. If you want to choose a server location, then it's only an extra click away.

As with their mobile VPN apps you can't select individual servers but can choose countries and in some cases, individual cities sorted either by name or latency.

We liked the new design that lets you pin features to the main screen or remove those you dislike to limit the clutter. This modular approach is something new and a neat feature.

PIA Windows application

For all the positives of the new desktop VPN client, we weren't keen on how it remains stuck to the notification area. While this is intuitive meaning it closes automatically when needed we felt restricted not being able to move it around the screen.

As with its older app, Private Internet Access settings area is rich in options.

Standout features include their Kill Switch that cuts your internet connection if for some reason your VPN disconnects. VPN connection drops occur on all VPNs, so protect your internet traffic by activating the kill switch.

Plus the PIA Mace function that allows you to block ads, trackers and other nasties.

Most connection and encryption options are customisable including everything from DNS servers to encryption and handshaking used.

The app only allows connection via OpenVPN or WireGuard VPN protocol and while that's not a significant issue, if you have needs for the other supported protocols, you'll have to look for other methods to connect.

Overall we liked the new slick design which makes getting protected quick and effortless.

If only you could ‘unhook' that window from the notification area, it would round the app off. Either way, both the desktop and mobile apps (Android and iOS app) are pretty great.

Private Internet Access offers apps for Linux and also a range of consoles and smart TVs.

Unfortunately, there's no Amazon app for Fire TV devices or Amazon Firesticks as many of PIA's rivals already offer.

That's a shame and something we had hoped PIA would have rectified by now. If you're a big streamer and prefer to watch on your TV then you'll need to stick with a VPN service that supports Amazon Fire TV.

Yes. Private Internet Access does offer browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera.

We are not big fans of browser extensions because they only offer limited protection and apps are much more comprehensive. But if you like them, PIA has a reasonable selection.

Disappointingly, Private Internet Access still does not offer support for VPN-enabled routers either.

This is a bit narrow-minded of them and we would like to see them rolling out a far broader range of support, including for routers sooner rather than later. We have called for this in previous years and will continue to do so.

Streaming

Streaming

Streaming has been a real achilles heel for Private Internet Access in the past and an area where we have urged them to make improvements in previous years.

It is definitely an area where they have focused a lot of their efforts over the past twelve months. So what are the results of their endeavours?

Does Private Internet Access work with Netflix?

Netflix fans will be pleased as both US Netflix and UK Netflix are accessible on Private Internet Access.

However, we didn't find PIA quite as reliable at unblocking either US Netflix or UK Netflix as some other VPNs despite having one of the largest server network options.

Some servers are excellent, others less so, and it does seem to be very much a case of trial and error to find a server that works for you.

We did sometimes have to reconnect quite a few times on occasion and speeds seemed to vary wildly. That is not ideal if you just want to sit down and watch your favourite show.

If you want to access other Netflix libraries around the world, Private Internet Access performs well without being outstanding.

It cannot open all Netflix libraries, but in our tests we managed to get Japan, the Netherlands, Canada, Germany, France, Denmark, Australia, Israel, Italy, and Sweden all working fine.

If a primary reason for you to download a VPN is to unblock Netflix, in all honesty, there are better VPNs for the job. But having said that, PIA is much improved and for a lot of people will do the job.

Does Private Internet Access access BBC iPlayer?

Private Internet Access has added a dedicated London streaming server in recent times and if you want to stream content from the BBC iPlayer, this is the server to use.

We found that it worked absolutely fine when it comes to unblocking BBC iPlayer shows. However we would note that when streaming, we did encounter occasional buffering and slow load times which suggests that demand on this server might be quite high on occasions.

We would like to see them work a bit harder to get BBC iPlayer working more stably for PIA VPN users but credit to them for finally managing to unblock it.

Does Private Internet Access unblock Disney+?

Yes. In our tests, Private Internet Access was unable to unblock Disney Plus. We tried on various servers in the US and were able to watch shows.

This is great as Disney+ is one of the most popular new streaming services around. It is also one of the hottest for VPN users too and as far as we know, it had taken steps to keep Private Internet Access and other VPNs out before, so kudos to them for managing to unblock it.

However, sadly we again encountered some buffering and other issues with speed that meant that actually watching your favourite TV shows and moves on Disney+ using Private Internet Access could be a frustrating experience.

If you have a bit of patience, PIA can unblock Disney+ but again, if we are honest, there are other VPNs that can do the job much better.

Does Private Internet Access work with Amazon Prime?

It is a similar story with Amazon Prime Video too.

Amazon Prime is one of the hardest streaming services for a VPN to be able to work with. However, PIA is able to unblock it on multiple US-based servers according to our tests.

Again though we encountered buffering and other issues that made viewing difficult at times.

There are a number of online streaming services that don't take too much effort to unblock. Things like ITV Hub, My5, and 4OD can all be unblocked without too much trouble using PIA.

Our tests also suggested that Private Internet Access were able to unblock things like Hulu and HBO Max as well as Kodi, Crunchyroll, Peacock and more.

It is to their enormous credit that Private Internet Access has addressed their failings when it comes to unblocking streaming services. There are now not too many streaming services that Private Internet Access cannot unblock if users have a bit of patience.

However, there has to be a big caveat with this. While unblocking is fine, we experienced buffering and download speed issues with multiple different streaming platforms.

This can only lead us to the conclusion that other demand for unblocking streaming platforms like Netflix is currently outstripping PIA's capabilities, or there are some underlying technical issues.

Whichever it is, while PIA is now capable of unblocking, it is difficult to recommend them as a streaming VPN until this issues is resolved.

Prices and Plans

Prices and Plans

Private Internet Access offers packages in much the same manner as almost every other VPN software.

There is one package available and you can subscribe for different periods of time. The benefit of this is the prices will be reduced when you commit to more extended periods.

For some bizarre reason, this year they have ditched their annual package and replaced it with a six-month option. This is presumably to encourage users to go for the 2 year deal, which comes with 2 extra months for free and which has superseded their previous 3-year package.

If that all sounds a bit confusing, here are the current Private Internet Access packages:

  • 1-Month – $11.99 (£8.99) a month
  • 6 months – $7.50 (£5.39) a month
  • 2 Years -$2.19 (£1.69) a month (+ two months free)

It is a strange selection of packages but there is no doubt that the 2-year deal offers the best value for money by some distance. We would definitely like to see the return of the one-year offer too however.

There is a nagging sense that this package structure has been created with PIA VPN in mind, not its users. This is not the case with many other VPN companies so it is a shame to see it here.

We are pleased to see that their money-back guarantee has been upped from the former 7-day deal to a 30-day money-back guarantee. This is the industry standard these days and if PIA wants to be a major player, a 30-day money-back guarantee is the minimum it has to be offering to its users.

Other VPN services such as CyberGhost VPN offer a much larger 45-day money-back guarantee which is the longest out there. So if you want a bit longer to try a VPN service, check out CyberGhost VPN (also owned by the same company).

There are occasional PIA offers available on their website. But while PIA offers are always welcome, these prices are already competitive enough.

Payment Options

Private Internet Access accepts a wide range of payments options including most credit cards and Paypal.

They also take some anonymous types such as BitPay, Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, and LiteCoin

They used to accept payment via gift card which allows you to sign up without handing over any of your financial details. Financial details being the one area where many VPN services gain knowledge of your identity so this was a great privacy feature.

However, this option appears to have been dropped. There are also no options to pay using electronic payment methods like Apple Pay either which some users will miss.

Verdict

Verdict

Private Internet Access VPN is one of the oldest VPN services and over the years they've been slowly improving. So, what conclusions can we reach about this established VPN company from our Private Internet Access review?

While Private Internet Access has retained many of the improvements we have seen over recent years, there have been a few regressions too and it remains very much a case of ‘nearly there' rather than continued progress.

There are aspects of their service which the review shows are up there with the very best VPN companies on the market. But there are still areas of their service that our review found are lacking and this is a shame.

While they can work with Netflix and have moved heaven and earth to manage to unblock a whole host of other streaming services, there is still a major issue when it comes to watching shows using Private Internet Access.

Speed and buffering issues are commonplace and until these have been fixed, Private Internet Access is still lagging behind its rivals on streaming.

We would also like to see them making more of an effort to get working in China and cutting down on servers using virtual locations by the time of our next review too.

On the flip side, we loved their desktop apps which are easy to use. PIA overall is easy to use if you're a beginner and has a broad range of features to keep you happy if you're more experienced.

Their privacy and security offerings are certainly up there with the best and will keep your internet connection secure. You will be able to access geo-restricted content, stream on some sites easily thanks to their unlimited bandwidth and speeds, and encrypting public wifi networks is simple too.

Encryption is solid and while their no user logs privacy promise hasn't been independently audited, it has been tested in the US courts and found to be robust.

Speeds are generally good too and with extra features like a kill switch, dedicated IP addresses, links to DNS leak testing and other support tools as well, there is much to praise.

PIA also allows you to have up to 10 simultaneous connections per VPN account, so you can have access to a new IP address on all your devices.

Prices are a little higher than they were in our last review and their removal of their one-year package is strange. But their 2-year package is still extremely competitively priced.

Overall Private Internet Access compares pretty well against other VPNs out there and is one of the better VPN services around.

It is not a perfect Virtual Private Network by any means. There are one or two areas that let them down and we would like to see more signs of them making improvements in these areas before we wholeheartedly endorse them.

We would not go so far as to recommend Private Internet Access. But if you're in the market for a new VPN service that will keep your internet access private, then this affordable service is definitely worth considering.

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Author: Christopher Seward

After 25 years of using the internet, Christopher launched one of the very first VPN comparison websites in 2013. An expert in the field his reviews, testing and knowledge have helped thousands of users get the correct VPN for their needs.

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