You’ve probably heard a lot about VPNs recently.
They’re sold as the ultimate solution to keep your data safe from hackers, governments, and greedy corporations. A quick fix that makes all your internet privacy concerns go away.
But is this actually true? Kind of.
A VPN isn’t the only tool you should use to protect your data and stay safe online. However, it’s definitely one of the most effective, and easiest to set up.
But with so many to choose from, how do you pick the right one? After all, they all offer the same guarantees.
Let me help. I’ve spent 100s of hours testing, reviewing, and writing about VPNs. I currently have six installed on my laptop – but you only need one.
This quick guide will help you:
Understand why you need a VPN, especially in Africa
Know what to look for in a VPN
Choose between the 3 best VPNs for Africa
Hopefully, understand why you shouldn’t use a free VPN
So, let’s get stuck in.
About the Author
Technology Ghostwriter & Founder of Nomad Africa
I’ve spent 100s of hours testing, reviewing, and writing about the best VPNs available – and the worst.
My work has been published on Forbes, The Guardian, BBC, Bloomberg, Techcrunch, and many more major websites.
Meanwhile, this was all happening as I traveled around East Africa, working from hotels, trains, restaurants, and coworking spaces.
This guide is based on my extensive, real-world experience using VPNs in Africa.
Why You Need a VPN in Africa
VPNs are complicated. It’s not always clear what they do, how they work, or why you need one.
So, first, let’s break down the 5 main reasons you should be using a VPN in Africa.
✅ Improved Data Security & Privacy
At their most basic, this is the primary dual function of a VPN: hide your data and boost your privacy online.
A VPN uses various security tools and apparatus to achieve this, many listed below. The result is a safer, more secure, and, ultimately, more enjoyable time online.
✅ Bypassing Censorship
We all know how much many African governments love restricting the internet. Especially around elections.
By using a VPN to connect to servers outside Africa, you can access the ‘internet without borders’ and view unfiltered content from anywhere in the world. A VPN also hides most of your browsing activity, so governments can’t spy on you so easily.
✅ Accessing Netflix (and more)
Netflix has the toughest “geo-restrictions” on the internet, and a premium VPN is the best way to get around these. However, it goes way beyond Netflix.
Many websites, apps, and online services restrict access if you’re in Africa. A VPN with 1,000s of servers around the world reduces the risk of getting blocked from a website based on your location.
✅ Faster Internet
This may surprise you, considering VPNs require a small amount of bandwidth to work.
But here’s how a VPN can also speed up your internet.
Many internet service providers and private network providers – such as hotels – deliberately slow down internet users’ connections, based on their activity. If you’re downloading, streaming, gaming, or doing loads of video calls, you risk getting your connection throttled. This is especially true in Africa, where internet infrastructure is often limited.
I know this, because I did it to people. While managing a guesthouse in Uganda, I restricted access to Netflix, Skype, Facebook, and other sites or apps that drained our bandwidth.
Because a VPN hides your online activity, you avoid the risk of this happening to you.
✅ Reputation Management
This mostly applies to freelancers and businesses.
Everyone is taking data privacy more seriously now. If a client or partner finds out you’re not taking necessary measures to keep their data safe, it could impact your business. Never mind if you get hacked or accidentally leak their information online.
A VPN is a simple way to boost your data privacy and provide peace of mind.
What to Look for in a VPN
Next, how to choose a VPN.
There are 1,000s out there, all offering the same thing, and it can be overwhelming.
I’ve picked the 3 VPNs listed below based on strict criteria and personal experience from many months testing them. Keep these criteria in mind any time you’re looking for a reliable VPN.
✅ Zero-Logging Policies
A VPN should only ask for and store your most basic personal details, necessary to set up an account. Once you’ve signed up, no VPN should ever record your IP address, location, or browsing history. That way, the VPN can never share your private data, even if it wanted to.
An example from NordVPN:
✅ Encryption Standards
Most reputable VPNs use AES-256 encryption, IKEv2/IPsec protocols, DNS leak protection, and many more complicated tools to keep you hidden. Look out for these when reading each VPN’s feature list.
✅ An Automatic Kill Switch
If your internet connection is disrupted and it trips out your VPN, you risk data leaking out without realizing it. An automatic kill switch stops this by freezing your internet connection until the VPN has reconnected to a secure server.
✅ Large, International Server Library
A VPN with 1,000s of global servers has many advantages. You’re guaranteed minimal disruption to your internet connection, wherever you are. Streaming services will struggle to keep up, so you won’t get blocked for using a VPN. If you travel a lot, you never have to worry about losing access to any part of the internet when you arrive in a new country.
One of the reasons ExpressVPN is so fast, is the amount of servers it has around the world, including Africa.
✅ Location & Jurisdiction
Your chosen VPN should be based in a privacy-friendly country and far away from states that actively monitor, track, store, and share their citizens’ data with other governments. I’ve only picked VPNs based in Panama and the British Virgin Islands for this reason.
✅ Multi-Device Protection & Simple Payment Plans
To work effectively, a VPN needs to be installed on every internet device you use.
The 3 VPNs on my list each protect numerous devices on a single subscription. You can choose a short plan, or opt for 2+ years. Regardless, you’ll get access to all the same features across numerous devices.
Each VPN also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, as you can see in Surfshark’s price plan:
✅ Unlimited Bandwidth
No doubt, you’ll be using your VPN to stream, download, and make video calls, along with your usual browsing. Thus, the VPN must not restrict the bandwidth it protects. This way, you don’t lose protection halfway through a movie or video call.
✅ Builtin Adblocker
For added convenience, look for a VPN that offers a builtin adblocker. It saves you having to install one on your browser and goes undetected by websites that depend on advertising for revenue.
You’ll be spared pop-ups asking you to constantly white-list websites.
✅ Customer Support & User-Friendly Apps
VPNs can seem incredibly complicated, especially to new users. If this is your first time using one, look for 24/7 live chat, simple installation, and user tutorial videos.
The 3 Best VPNs for Africa
Best Overall Choice: NordVPN
|Africa Server Locations:||South Africa|
|Total Servers:||5,200+ in 58 countries|
|Built-in Ad Blocker:||Yes|
NordVPN is generally considered the best commercial VPN in the world, and until recently, it was the only one I recommended.
NordVPN’ssecurity features are unparalleled, along with super easy-to-use apps, and the most amount of servers in the world. NordVPN also makes it easy to switch between specialized servers built for P2P, Tor Browser, and more.
Set up is straightforward, and you can quickly program NordVPN to run in the background as soon as you open your laptop. This is also, without a doubt, the best VPN for bypassing geo-restrictions.
However, recently I’ve noticed a significant drop in the number of NordVPN servers in Africa. You’ll often have to connect to servers in the Middle East or Europe, which can result in slower speeds.
If you need consistently fast connections, ExpressVPN might be a better option.
- Consistently rated the #1 VPN by experts.
- A massive number of international servers.
- The best VPN for accessing Netflix, BBC iPlayer, etc.
- User-friendly apps.
- Only has servers in 1 African country: South Africa.
- Slow speeds in some countries (for example, Ethiopia).
Best VPN for Speed: ExpressVPN
|Based in:||British Virgin Islands|
|Africa Server Locations:||Algeria, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa|
|Total Servers:||3,000+ in 94 countries|
|Built-in Ad Blocker:||No|
Frustrated by a significant drop in speed when using NordVPN in Ethiopia, I switched to ExpressVPN and was blown away by the difference.
If speed is a priority for you, ExpressVPN is the best choice. You may have to switch between a few servers to get around geo-restrictions on the streaming platforms, but this only takes a few minutes. Once connected, whatever you’re watching streams super-quick.
ExpressVPN isn’t just about speed. It offers industry-leading security and an enormous selection of servers – including many in Africa. This is my first choice now when I’m actually on the continent.
However, it’s also expensive.
If you can live with slightly slower speeds and don’t need fast downloads, another VPN with a lower price tag might be a better option.R
- It’s the fastest VPN on the market.
- Has a builtin speed test for individual servers. Useful for when you need fast download or upload times.
- A huge number of African and international servers.
- The price.
- No built-in adblocker.
- It can take a while to find a server for streaming.
Best Budget VPN: Surfshark
|Based in:||British Virgin Islands|
|Africa Server Locations:||Libya, Nigeria, South Africa|
|Total Servers:||1,000 in 63+|
|Built-in Ad Blocker:||Yes|
You’ve probably never heard of Surfshark.
Its a much smaller provider than NordVPN and ExpressVPN, and it hasn’t been around for very long. However, Surfshark has quickly risen to the top of most VPN rankings and is consistently voted ‘Best Newcomer.’
It’s easy to see why. Surfshark offers incredible value, with unlimited device protection for as little as $1.99 per month. The VPN’s apps are packed with premium features that rival anything offered by more expensive providers and their data security tools are just as effective.
While it can’t currently compete with more prominent VPNs on server numbers and speeds, Surfshark is quickly catching up. It has nearly doubled its server numbers since I first tested it a year ago.
I expect this trend to continue and happily recommend Surfshark to readers anywhere in Africa.R
- Unlimited device protection.
- Low price.
- Lots of features.
- Less competitive speeds.
- Fewer servers globally.
- Customer service could be improved.
Is a VPN a good investment? Yes.
It takes less than 10 minutes to set one up and creates a safer, more enjoyable internet experience, along with providing considerable peace of mind.
And access to Netflix, of course.
If you’re still not sure, try one out for free on a 30-day money-back guarantee and see the difference it makes. You can always cancel your subscription and get a full refund.
How Do VPNs Work?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. As the title suggests, a VPN is a secure network hosted within a larger, often public internet network.
The VPN encrypts your data and connect you to the internet via a secure server, creating a tunnel through which all your data travels. The tunnel blocks other people on the same network from seeing anything you do online, along with your physical location, and more. This includes your internet service provider.
When you connect to a VPN’s servers and stay within the ‘tunnel’, you’re insulated from most tracking, hacking, and potential leaking of data that makes the internet so unsafe. It also creates a ‘borderless internet,’ as described at the start of this guide.
Are VPNs Legal in Africa?
In most cases, yes.
Only the most repressive governments in the world ban VPNs or restrict you from downloading one. These include China, Russia, North Korea, Oman, Iran, and the UAE. At present, no African country has made VPNs illegal.
Should You Use a Free VPN?
The short answer is: no.
VPNs are built from complicated software that needs constant updating. They also need to be profitable. Premium VPNs achieve both by charging a small subscription fee.
Free VPNs do so with very shady and often dangerous tricks. While most just limit your speeds and bandwidth or bombard you with ads, I’ve seen free VPNs secretly track and sell user data and even ignore when people plant malware and similar viruses in their networks.
For these reasons, I always tell people using a free VPN, not worth the risk or headaches involved.
Did We Leave Something Out?
Do you have a question about using a VPN in Africa that we didn’t answer? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll do our best to answer it.