VPNs help to improve your privacy by routing all your web traffic through an encrypted connection to a remote server, but that protection can come at a price—in the case of Surfshark, that means actual dollars and cents. Surfshark is our latest Editors’ Choice winner for VPNs, but it’s also one of the most expensive. In a crowded field, Surfshark has done much to justify its price tag, offering rarely seen features, fielding thoughtfully designed apps, and emphasizing customer privacy. Surfshark also stands out—even among Editors’ Choice winners—because it lets you connect to an unlimited number of devices simultaneously. That makes it an excellent value for large families or households with many devices.
How Much Does Surfshark VPN Cost?
Surfshark VPN’s subscription costs $12.95 per month, compared to an average price of $9.96 per month among the services we’ve tested. This puts Surfshark among the most expensive VPNs we’ve yet reviewed, far beyond the €5 ($6.10 at time of writing) per month charged by Mullvad—our most affordable Editors’ Choice VPN—or the $4.99 per month for Mozilla’s VPN.
Like many VPNs, Surfshark incentivizes long-term commitments with steep discounts. Unlike most other VPNs, Surfshark has eliminated its annual subscription. Instead, it offers a six-month subscription for $38.94, and a two-year plan for $59.76. Note that the two-year plan renews at that same price every year after the first two. While that’s a bit confusing, that annual renewal price is still quite a bit less than the $72.33 average for the VPNs we have reviewed.
These plans absolutely save you money, but we still recommend starting with the shortest possible subscription to make sure it works for you, and then moving to longer subscription plans if you decide you like the service.
You can purchase a Surfshark subscription using major credit cards, Amazon Pay, PayPal, and a variety of cryptocurrencies. We appreciate that Surfshark allows semi-anonymous payments with cryptocurrencies, but other services such as IVPN—an affordable Editors’ Choice winner noted for its focus on transparency and privacy—and Mullvad go so far as to accept cash payments.
If Surfshark is too rich for your blood, there are numerous cheap VPNs and even a few worthy free VPNs to consider. ProtonVPN fits into both categories and is one of the only free VPNs that does not impose a data limit on user traffic.
While it is expensive, Surfshark does offer excellent value for that money. For one thing, it lets you use an unlimited number of devices on one account, whereas most companies cut you off after just five simultaneous connections. Avira Phantom VPN, Encrypt.me VPN, Ghostery Midnight, IPVanish VPN, and Windscribe VPN are the only other VPNs we’ve tested that place no limit on simultaneous connections.
(Editors’ Note: Encrypt.me and IPVanish are owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag’s parent company.)
What Do You Get for Your Money?
Surfshark’s real strengths are the rarely seen features it provides. Whitelister, for instance, is a split tunneling tool that lets you decide which apps and websites use the VPN connection. This is handy since some sites block access from VPNs. Surfshark’s solution is very tidy, going beyond most of the competition.
Another often-absent feature is multi-hop, which creates a VPN connection to a server and then bounces your traffic to a second VPN server for even greater security. Surfshark’s multi-hop connections are limited to the premade ones the company supplies, whereas IVPN lets you create a multi-hop connection between any two of its servers.
One rare feature Surfshark currently does not offer is access to Tor via VPN, which is available through NordVPN and ProtonVPN. ProtonVPN also offers multi-hop and split-tunneling features. You don’t need a VPN to use Tor but this kind of push-button access is convenient.
Many VPN companies offer add-ons to your base subscription. NordVPN and others supply private, static IP addresses, which are useful any time you find your VPN connection blocked. Surfshark does not offer dedicated IP addresses for purchase, but it does allow customers to access static servers for free. Anyone who uses a Surfshark static server shares an IP address with everyone else using the same server.
Surfshark includes several privacy tools that go beyond VPN protection: a custom DNS service called Smart DNS; an ad-blocker branded as CleanWeb; Surfshark Alert, which alerts you if your accounts have been compromised, much like HaveIBeenPwned; and a privacy-respecting search tool called Surfshark Search. Note that both Surfshark Alert and Surfshark Search cost an additional $0.99 per month. It’s a good collection of extras, but not especially impressive given the high price of the core service. Hotspot Shield VPN grants access to several third-party services for free with each subscription.
While VPNs are powerful tools, they can’t solve all your privacy and security problems. There’s a wide range of ways to track you online. We recommend using the privacy tools built into most browsers and a stand-alone tracker blocker like the EFF’s Privacy Badger. Note also that the free Tor anonymization network makes it even harder to track your online activity. We highly recommend creating unique and complex passwords with a password manager, enabling two-factor authentication wherever possible, and using antivirus software.
Surfshark’s VPN Protocols
There are many ways to create a VPN connection. Surfshark offers the OpenVPN VPN protocol in its Android, iOS, Linux, and Windows apps. The excellent IKEv2 protocol is also available on all platforms (except Linux) and is the default for macOS.
We’ve preferred OpenVPN for years, as its open-source roots mean it has been picked over for potential vulnerabilities. The heir apparent to OpenVPN seems to be WireGuard. Like OpenVPN, WireGuard is open-source, but uses newer technology and is reportedly much faster than other protocols. We were pleased to see that Surfshark deployed WireGuard for its Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows apps in late October 2020.
Surfshark Servers and Server Locations
Having lots of server locations across the globe to choose from means you’re more likely to find one close to home or wherever you might be traveling, and it provides lots of options for spoofing your location. Surfshark covers 65 countries with its servers, which is above average. ExpressVPN leads the pack with servers physically located in a whopping 94 countries.
Surfshark provides above-average coverage to South America and Africa, both regions often ignored by other companies. Surfshark also offers servers in countries with repressive internet policies, including China, Russia, Turkey, and Vietnam. We’d like to see more competitors following Surfshark’s example.
Some VPNs make use of so-called virtual servers and virtual locations. Virtual servers are software-defined, meaning that a single physical server can play host to several virtual ones. Many companies use these to accommodate surges in demand. Virtual locations are servers (virtual or physical) configured to appear somewhere other than where they are physically located. Neither is inherently problematic, but we prefer that companies be clear about where and how their servers operate.
Surfshark told PCMag that all its servers are physical machines. We were pleased to see that the company’s website clearly labels its virtual locations (Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Philippines, and South Korea). A representative tells us these servers are physically located in Colombia, Hong Kong, and the Netherlands.
Having more servers is a good thing, since it means a better chance at getting a connection that works well for you. It does not, however, guarantee better service. For its part, Surfshark boasts over 3,200 servers, more than double the average we’ve seen across VPNs we’ve tested. CyberGhost still leads in this area, however, with more than 6,520 servers available.
Surfshark says that it relies on “trusted third-party data centers” to provide its server infrastructure. The company does make use of tamper-resistant RAM-only servers. This means that if someone were to physically remove the server to get at the data inside, the server would be immediately wiped. A blog post from the company also details how diskless servers prevent private encryption keys from being stolen from server configurations. A few companies, such as ExpressVPN, made this change long ago.
Your Privacy With Surfshark
In its policy documents, Surfshark stresses that it does not log IP addresses, browsing history, amount of bandwidth used, network traffic, or even connection timestamps. That’s exactly what you want to hear from a VPN company.
The company does collect some information, including anonymized aggregate analytical data, as well as account information and billing history. The company also notes that it receives advertising IDs from third parties, citing Google Play as an example. These are identifiers that you can reset yourself. Surfshark explained that these IDs are used to determine whether the company’s advertising is driving installations. The app does not have ads within it. Elsewhere in its policy, Surfshark goes to great lengths to explain every cookie on its website and analytics service it uses. We appreciate the effort toward transparency, although the sheer volume of the list and the scope of the data is intimidating.
Company representatives have told us that Surfshark is a highly decentralized organization, with offices in Cyprus, Lithuania, the Netherlands, the Philippines, and the UK, as well as remote employees around the globe. We appreciate the company’s transparency on this point.
On February 2, 2022, Surfshark VPN announced it was merging with NordVPN. Both brands are said to be set continue as separate entities, with their own business plans and infrastructure. The deal was characterized in a press release as an opportunity for the two companies to share knowledge and focus on different market segments. A representative from Nord Security stressed to PCMag reporter Michael Kan that this was not an acquisition, and neither company was purchasing the other. A new holding company, called Cyberspace, was registered in the Netherlands and will own both companies.
Many VPN companies commission third-party audits to verify company statements about customer privacy and security. Surfshark commissioned its first audit in 2018 and its second in 2021. Both were carried out by Cure53. The second audit looked at Surfshark’s infrastructure and VPN configuration, giving a level of assurance about the unseen portions of the company. We’re happy to see the positive results from this new audit, and hope that Surfshark continues to do such audits in the future. While they are imperfect tools, a commitment to audits is a valuable step a VPN can take toward establishing trust. TunnelBear, for instance, has committed to annual audits of its service.
Hands On With Surfshark VPN for Windows
Surfshark has Android VPN, iOS VPN, macOS VPN, and Windows VPN client apps. The company also offers an app for FireTV, which is a bit of a rarity. There are Surfshark proxy plug-ins for the Chrome and Firefox browsers and a custom DNS resolver for Xbox and PlayStation.
We tested Surfshark on an Intel NUC Kit NUC8i7BEH (Bean Canyon) desktop running the latest version of Windows 10. On Windows, Surfshark offers a small, stylish app with flat colors and smart design that expands and contracts to show more or less information. We especially like that it has a clear, obvious way to immediately get online, and that it lets you select specific servers, and not just entire countries. It’s not quite as friendly as TunnelBear, but it’s very clean in the way that the best mobile apps are. Interestingly, you can resize the window and the app adjusts its layout, similar to a responsive website. A smaller version of the app can be summoned from the system tray, and its available functions can be customized.
You can select a server at the country or city level and can favorite a location for future use. You cannot choose between individual servers at the same location. That’s not a critical feature, but it is useful for anyone looking to access online content by spoofing their location.
A Kill Switch feature prevents your computer from sending web traffic in the clear should the VPN become disconnected. Also notable is the option to block or allow local network traffic, which is handy for streaming to other devices or accessing network printers.
Surfshark offers a surprising number of advanced features. There’s Whitelister and the multihop capability mentioned above. Whitelister is a bit more powerful than the average split tunneling tool. With it, you can require that an app’s traffic go through the VPN or outside the VPN connection. Whitelister also works with URLs, but you can only set URLs to travel outside the VPN connection. Also of note is NoBorders Mode, which disguises your VPN traffic as normal HTTPS web traffic. Other VPNs include this feature under different names (TunnelBear calls it GhostBear, for instance), and it’s especially useful if you’re in a region that blocks the use of VPNs. Note that the company also offers obfuscated servers called Camouflage Mode.
A concern with VPNs is that they may leak your DNS information or IP address. Using the DNS Leak Test tool, we confirmed that, at least on the server we were using, Surfshark did not leak any DNS information and successfully hid our IP address.
During testing, we had no trouble streaming from Netflix while connected to a US VPN server. Keep in mind, however, that Netflix is locked in a cat-and-mouse game with VPN companies. A service that works today may not work tomorrow.
Hands On With Surfshark for Android
We installed Surfshark’s Android VPN client from the Google Play store on a Samsung A71 running Android 10. The Android app looks just like the iOS version, with a flat white interface while disconnected, and a teal gradient that appears when you connect to a VPN server. The Android app has similar features to the Windows version, including CleanWeb and Whitelister. It also provides static servers and multi-hop connections.
Keeping your information private is a key feature of any VPN. We tested the service with the DNS Leak Test Tool, running an extended test on a server based in Vienna, Austria. SurfShark successfully changed our IP address changed and did not leak our DNS information.
To test the app’s performance on Android, we went to YouTube.com and loaded a couple of videos. The videos took longer to load than on competitors like IVPN. It took about six seconds for each video to play. We also went to Twitch.tv and watched a live stream. The stream took less time to load—about five seconds—and when it played, the video quality looked great, with no noticeable lag or buffering.
Hands On With Surfshark VPN for iPhone
We installed the Surfshark iPhone VPN app on a iPhone XS running iOS 14.4.1. The app has a clean white interface with teal buttons. To connect to a VPN server, you tap the large teal Connect button and the white screen changes to various shades of teal to show you’re now connected.
You have a lot of servers to choose from, but, as with the Windows version, you can’t choose a specific server. You can only choose the country the server is in, or the country and city where the server is located. The iPhone app supports static IP addresses and multi-hop connections.
The iOS app has some features that are included in the Windows version, including a Kill Switch and NoBorders mode.
We went to DNSLeakTest.com and ran an extended test while connected to a server in Toronto, Canada. We confirmed Surfshark did not leak our DNS information and that it changed our public IP address.
We then went to Twitch.tv and were able to immediately load and watch a few streams, none of which showed any lag or buffering. After that, we went to the YouTube app and tried to watch a quick makeup tutorial. The VPN server performed a lot slower here, taking up to six seconds to load the YouTube video. Once the video started playing, the quality was excellent, but the load time was definitely longer than usual.
Hands On With Surfshark for Macs
It was easy to find and install the macOS app for Surfshark on a MacBook Air (2020) running Big Sur 11.2.2. The app is in both the App Store and on the vendor’s website. Like the iOS version, the app has a mostly a flat white design with teal accents.
The app’s home screen features a list of VPN server locations. When choosing a VPN server, you can only select the country, and in some cases the city where your VPN server is located. The app also has the CleanWeb mode and a Kill Switch feature.
It’s important for a VPN to do its job and protect your private information. We performed an extended DNS leak test by visiting DNSLeakTest.com while connected to a server in Sao Paolo, Brazil. This server did not leak our DNS information and successfully hid our real IP address.
While we were still connected to the server in Brazil, we loaded up a few YouTube videos and they all played instantly, without any lag or interruptions. We also visited Twitch.tv and watched several minutes of a live stream, and it loaded incredibly fast and displayed high-quality video.
Speed and Performance
Generally, using a VPN lowers your upload and download speeds while increasing your latency. To get a sense of that degradation, we calculate a percent change between batches of tests run with a VPN and those without, using the Ookla Speedtest tool. To get the nitty-gritty about how we come up with our numbers, you can read How We Test VPNs.
(Editors’ Note: Ookla is owned by PCMag’s publisher, Ziff Davis.)
Despite using the WireGuard protocol in our testing, Surfshark did not show stellar performance. We found it reduced download and upload speed test results by 61.6% and 59.7%, respectively. That upload figure isn’t bad, but the download results leave much to be desired. We found that it also increased latency by 59.5%, just a smidge above the median results.
In the past, we ran speed tests on all the VPN services we reviewed back-to-back to get a birds-eye view of performance. This year, we’ve moved to a rolling model which should show fresher results faster. This is also due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has limited our access to the PCMag Labs. The chart below shows the latest speed test results.
Keep in mind that our results came from using this VPN at a particular time of day and at a particular place. Your results will surely differ, but this method allow us to make a comparison between services while controlling for variables. Speed alone should never be the main concern when shopping for a VPN.
Safe Surfing, for a Price
Surfshark has long been an excellent VPN service. It has a generous unlimited devices policy, letting you hook up as many devices as you like, and provides rarely seen split tunneling and multi-hop features. The company deserves credit for its transparent privacy policies and its tamper-resistant RAM-only servers, too. Surfshark’s recent audit of its VPN infrastructure helps make clear that the company follows best practices and is willing to show its work. All that helps balance out its hefty up-front cost, making Surfshark our newest Editors’ Choice award winner.