Private Internet Access VPN review
Private Internet Access (PIA) is one of the most popular online security tools among experts and users. With it, you receive not only essential security features, such as advanced encryption or functional kill switch but also additional features, like browser extensions and ad blocking. Moreso, it offers anonymous payment methods, which makes the service privacy–focused.
But despite these obvious benefits, some things still raise concerns. PIA is not the fastest VPN out there, lagging behind some other major providers, and it's not the best for streaming either, as it can't access several major streaming platforms.
Additionally, the VPN's parent company, Kape Technologies (also owning ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, and Zenmate VPN), has several publications pointing out its alleged past connections with malware distribution.
Considering it all, this VPN provider has some real strengths and weaknesses to dig into. So, in this Private Internet Access VPN review, we'll take a closer look at what it offers in terms of features, security, privacy, and other factors, and what it actually delivers.
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|🥇 Overall rank:||#13 out of #35|
|📖 No logs policy:||No logs|
|💵 Price:||From $2.19/month|
|🖥️ Servers:||30000+ servers in 83 countries|
|🍿 Streaming services:||Netflix, YouTube, Hulu|
|🔥 Coupons:||PIA coupon 82% OFF|
Private Internet Access pros & cons
- Good for torrenting
- Kill switch on all clients
- Anonymous payment methods
- Full Linux app
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Independently audited
- Based in a 5-Eyes country
- Average speeds
- Lacks extra features
Is PIA good for streaming?
|Platform||Does it work?|
|BBC iPlayer||❌ No|
Private Internet Access VPN is capable of unblocking US libraries of some of the most popular streaming platforms. As for libraries in other countries, or streaming services other than Netflix, PIA VPN might not be as good when compared to NordVPN, as noted in our PIA vs NordVPN comparison. Nevertheless, let's take a closer look at how well PIA VPN works for streaming.
Unblocking Netflix with PIA
I tested PIA VPN with Netflix on multiple servers on both Windows and Android applications. It did work, and I was able to access Netflix US. However, the story was different with UK servers. PIA didn't manage to unblock exclusive Netflix UK content.
All in all, Private Internet Access is a pretty good VPN for Netflix if you want to access the US library. But if you want to stream content from the whole wide world, we suggest you look into other streaming VPNs.
Unblocking other streaming services with PIA
Unfortunately, the VPN didn’t work with BBC iPlayer. On the other hand, PIA VPN unblock geo-blocked videos on Youtube without breaking a sweat. It also seems that all of their US servers unblock Hulu. So, if you're looking into ways to unblock US streaming libraries, PIA can be helpful.
However, if you find that PIA is struggling with streaming services other than Netflix, you can find VPNs that work perfectly well here:
- Watch BBC iPlayer with a VPN – catch up on your favorite UK movies and shows
- VPNs that unblock Hulu – watch the most popular series
- Best VPNs for HBO Max – a broad variety of content for everyone
Is PIA good for torrenting?
Yes, PIA is good for torrenting, as all of its servers support P2P and torrenting. The VPN also offers an integrated SOCKS5 proxy and the Shadowsocks option to reroute your internet traffic for even more protection (or to protect only your torrent client, for example). You can expect PIA to work with the following torrenting clients, as they worked for us:
For this Private Internet Access review, I tried torrenting on my MacOS device. I was pleasantly surprised by PIA’s performance. That’s because torrenting not only worked – it was really fast compared to all the other torrenting VPNs that I tried. I was constantly getting 10-15 MB/s speeds (80-120 Mbps). There was no need to connect to specific servers for P2P support. Even the largest files won't take too long to download.
Plans & pricing
|6-month plan||$7.50/month ($45 for half year)|
|2-year plan||$2.19/month ($56.94 for two years)|
The pricing system of Private Internet Access VPN is really simple. You get the same features with every single plan. The only difference is the duration of your subscription and the prices shift based on that.
You’ll pay the least if you commit to the two-year plan, which costs only $2.19 a month, or $56.94 for the whole duration of the subscription. In addition, you’ll get two extra months for free.
Buying the half subscription results in $7.50 a month, which would cost you $45 a year. You will pay the most for a single-month plan, which costs $11.99. As usual, their monthly plan is the most expensive.
Unfortunately, Private Internet Access VPN doesn't have a free trial. On the other hand, you can use their 30-day money-back guarantee if you realize that PIA and you are not a good fit.
In terms of payment options, Private Internet Access VPN offers a few different credit cards, gift cards, PayPal, and lots of cryptocurrency options like Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, and Litecoin.
- Private Internet Access might be one of the cheapest VPNs of them all – however, if you're still not sure, check out our PIA VPN coupon page and get the best PIA deal for you. Otherwise, take a look at our list of the most affordable VPNs.
Servers and locations
I have yet to see a VPN with more servers than Private Internet Access VPN. That’s because its selection is massive: right now, it offers 30000+ VPN and proxy servers across 83 countries.
|Regions||Number of countries|
|Asia and Oceanic region||25 countries|
The servers are located in Europe, South America, North America, Africa, Asia, as well as Australia and Oceania. However, a small part of the servers is virtual (PIA refers to them as “geo-located”), as it’s not possible to have physical servers in some countries due to certain regulatory reasons. For example, the Russian server is actually located in Estonia, the same applies to Hong Kong and other countries.
Virtual servers still behave as if you're located in the selected country, but they may be prone to more giveaway signs that you're using a VPN server.
Selecting a server to connect to is also pretty straightforward. Upon opening the app, you need to select ‘VPN servers’ and then connect to any of them.
Does PIA work in China?
Private Internet Access VPN might work in China thanks to the Shadowsocks proxy. However, there are no consistent reports about this. But if you're looking for a China-friendly VPN, be sure to check out our guide to the best VPNs for China.
Speed performance: how fast is PIA?
|Location||Download speed (Mbps)||Upload speed (Mbps)|
Right off the bat – Private Internet Access is not the fastest VPN out there. If you want blazing fast speed, this provider might not always fulfill your needs to the max. Despite its high server count, it's not always able to deliver speeds that are as good as the ones of NordVPN or Surfshark. To get the optimal experience with PIA, you'll often have to pick the closest server to you. This again is unfortunate if you want to access, for example, streaming libraries from farther countries.
Despite this, the WireGuard protocol (which is regarded as the fastest protocol on the market right now) showed decent performance. The average drop in download speed over the five locations was 56%. WireGuard also retained 54% of the original upload speed on average, which is a little bit more than the download.
This is how PIA's average download speed looks when compared to other top VPN providers:
|Provider||Average download speed|
PIA’s performance with other protocols
While WireGuard may be the most popular PIA’s protocol, let’s not forget that there are others as well. Let’s take a look at the average download and upload speeds of each protocol, tested across 10 different locations:
- WireGuard: 124Mbps/154Mbps
- OpenVPN (default settings) TCP: 32Mbps/37Mbps
- OpenVPN (default settings) UDP: 126Mbps/131Mbps
- OpenVPN (secure settings) TCP: 11Mbps/41Mbps
- OpenVPN (secure settings) UDP: 139Mbps/137Mbps
The difference between OpenVPN default and secure settings is that PIA’s default encryption is AES-128 paired with RSA-2048 key, which is a little bit less secure than AES-256 paired with RSA-4096. I tested OpenVPN protocols with both the AES-128 (default) and AES-256 (secure) encryption settings.
Intuitively, you may think that lesser encryption will result in higher speeds, but as we can see, that is not the case. In fact, OpenVPN UDP protocol under the secure settings presents the best download speed of all protocols, with the drop being 54%. And even with default settings, the UDP protocol is significantly faster than the TCP.
Interface and ease of use
You can download Private Internet Access VPN applications to your Windows, Linux, Mac, Android, and iOS devices. In addition, there are browser extensions for Chrome, Brave, Edge, Firefox, and Opera that help when you want to block ads.
|Windows||Generally good, although a little bit buggy app|
|macOS||The smoothest PIA experience|
|Linux||Incredibly easy to install and use|
|Mobile||Easy to use and navigate|
|Browser||Chrome extension offers some exclusive features|
All PIA’s apps are intuitive and user-friendly. The design is easy on the eyes, and you can choose either the dark or the light theme. You also won’t have any problems with the installation process, as it’s quick, smooth, and doesn't require any prior knowledge.
However, it still seems like the VPN is geared towards more advanced users, as the abundance of different stats may confuse people who have never used a VPN before.
It’s also worth noting that all the Private Internet Access apps offer OpenVPN and WireGuard protocols, while the iOS app also supports IKEv2/IPsec.
You might also want to check out:
- Free and paid VPNs for Android – browse on your Android device with maximum privacy
- VPNs for iPhone and iPad – use a VPN on your iPhone or iPad and access geo-restricted content
- VPNs for Windows – get the best VPN for Windows right now
- VPNs for Mac – encrypt your internet traffic with a VPN for Mac
The Windows desktop application of PIA VPN is slick and easy to navigate. The main window lets you manage the VPN connection, while the Settings window allows you to customize the VPN to your needs. You can also customize whether the app will be in light or dark modes.
I like the fact that the main window displays a lot of information about your connection like the protocol, encryption, port, and authentication cipher. It also includes a connection speed graph with a counter that tracks the amount of data you sent and received during the VPN session.
It’s also nice that you can snooze the VPN for a specified amount of time. However, I find it a bit inconvenient that there’s no map to choose a server from, as trying to select a server from a list is not as intuitive. You'll get a big button which when pressed will connect to a nearby location automatically.
I also experienced a weird bug that happened when connecting to a server. It caused my whole PC to freeze up for a few minutes. Then, the app crashed, and the PC started working normally again.
There’s one more thing you should know. Under the General tab, there’s the option to choose how the app is displayed on your screen (Attached to Tray/Window). Even though the default setting is Attached to Tray, I suggest you switch to Window as soon as possible – the former option makes the app automatically close as soon as you click outside it. Also, the Settings window is displayed behind the main tab, obscuring the view.
The app for Mac looks almost identical to the Windows application. Most of the features are there, including split tunneling, port forwarding, and the kill switch. The app was working smoothly and didn't crash once, which was a nice change after the Windows experience.
Installing and using the Private Internet Access VPN app on Linux was surprisingly easy. All I had to do was download an installation script and run it. It has the same user interface as the macOS and Windows apps.
The application offers the same features as its Windows and macOS counterparts. However, the split tunneling feature is more complicated, because you need to be acquainted with the basics of the Linux filesystem to be able to use it. On the other hand, it has an additional option for virtual machines.
PIA mobile apps
The design of both of PIA’s mobile apps (Android and iOS) is almost identical to the desktop versions.
The functionality is also very similar. For example, you can rearrange the connection options, view the full connection info, and snooze the VPN for a selected amount of time.
On the mobile operating system, the Settings menu is a bit different. Most features are renamed and simplified in comparison to the desktop apps of PIA VPN. For instance, the Android app allows you to use split tunneling only for specific apps, but not for specific websites.
Private Internet Access has extensions for three browsers – Chrome, Opera, and Firefox. Out of the three, we tested Chrome.
Overall, PIA's Chrome extension is worth installing on your browser even if you already have the app on your device. It offers some neat features that browser extensions of other VPNs don’t really have.
For example, it can block access to your camera, microphone, and location from websites that do not ask for permission. On top of that, it also disables the credit card and address autofill function, meaning you won’t accidentally buy something you didn’t mean to or your credentials won’t get stolen.
PIA VPN features
Even though rich in features, PIA VPN makes sure you’re not overwhelmed by them. You can find everything you need in its Settings tab, neatly grouped into different categories. They range from additional privacy features to advanced functions that will be very useful to experienced users.
Under the Network tab of Private Internet Access VPN there are lots of options for setting up split tunneling. It’s quite a useful feature that lets you select the applications that use (or don’t use) the VPN connection.
It can be helpful when you want to use online banking on one browser while privately browsing with another. However, split tunneling is not limited to browsers – you can also include/exclude games and other apps that use the internet connection.
When testing this feature, I found that the Bypass VPN option did not work for some apps, but worked for others. Oracle VM VirtualBox didn’t work with the split tunneling feature at all (it functioned as if it was not on the split tunneling list). However, Google Chrome functioned as it should.
Private Internet Access VPN supports port forwarding, an advanced feature that helps you connect to a remote device (among other things).
However, I found port forwarding a bit frustrating to use, since a forwarded port gets assigned to you randomly. As a result, you need to configure your network to forward that port as well. It is also important to note that PIA’s US servers don’t support port forwarding at all.
What I did like about this feature is that you can further customize it with command line interface and write your own scripts.
PIA VPN allows you to use a proxy if you want to redirect the VPN connection through an additional location for an extra layer of anonymity when torrenting. You can also use this feature on your torrenting client or browser to save bandwidth.
Simply go to the Proxy tab and select the option you want your connection to go through. You can choose between the SOCKS5 Proxy and Shadowsocks. The latter might even bypass the Great Firewall of China. It offers six countries: the UK, Switzerland, Canada, the US, Israel, and Japan.
If you don’t want to see annoying ads anymore, then PIA’s got your back. All of its apps include an ad blocking feature called MACE that blocks online ads at the DNS level. Which means that you won’t encounter any pop-ups or banners anymore.
What’s even better is that PIA will also block YouTube ads, which will save you a lot of time and nerves. You also won’t accidentally open malicious websites. In addition, the tool blocks trackers that can compromise your online security.
To activate the feature, simply open the VPN application and enable the MACE setting.
Is PIA secure?
PIA is a secure VPN provider, however, it wouldn’t top our most secure VPNs list. This VPN has customizable encryption levels, works on RAM-only servers, but is based in a privacy-unfriendly jurisdiction, and doesn’t have an independently audited no-logs policy.
Overall, PIA offers basic protection for your data protection and anonymity, however, this is not one of the safest VPNs on the market right now.
When using Private Internet Access with the OpenVPN protocol, it’s up to you to set the level of encryption – or else it will be left on the default AES-128 (CBC). So, here are your choices once you open the Connections tab:
- AES-128 (CBC)
- AES-128 (GCM)
- AES-256 (CBC)
- AES-256 (GCM)
All of these options are really secure, but there exist a few differences between them. For example, even though AES-128 and AES-256 are both impenetrable to brute force attacks, AES-256 is the more secure one, and thus considered the golden standard.
Now, the main differences between CBC and GCM are speed and security: GCM is newer, more secure, and faster than CBC.
You can also disable the encryption entirely. Your credentials will still be encrypted and your IP hidden – however, not encrypting the actual data might allow for better speeds, which is pretty good for streaming and gaming, when speed is more important than security.
There’s also the possibility to pick between the SHA1 and SHA2 hashing algorithms for authentication (the latter being the stronger one). You’ll also find a long list of handshake methods that include RSA-4096 and ECC-521.
It’s always good to have a selection of tunneling protocols, because different protocols may be better for different purposes. For example, one may be faster than the other but less secure. And if you're not concerned about speed, but want to keep your data encrypted at all costs, then choosing a protocol that is not so fast, but much more secure would be the way to go.
Private Internet Access VPN tunneling protocol selection is not a very extensive one, but there's something for every case:
- Wireguard. This open-source tunneling protocol fits everyone’s needs. Strong security aside, it offers much faster speeds than other VPN protocols.
- OpenVPN (UDP/TCP). Being a staple tunneling protocol, OpenVPN has proven its reliability time and time again. PIA VPN lets you choose between two versions, UDP (faster) and TCP (a bit slower but more stable).
- IKEv2/IPsec. You can find this tunneling protocol only on the iOS app of Private Internet Access VPN. It’s great for mobile devices, as it offers great speed and stability.
So, the first thing you should know is that PIA VPN claims to not collect any activity logs. However, it does collect your username, IP, and data usage. On the other hand, this info is deleted as soon as you close the application.
Another important thing in terms of logging is the Private Internet Access’s NextGen network. Its servers are RAM-only, which means that their data is wiped out with every server reboot. This reduces the risk of third-party breaches and doesn’t allow such data as your browsing activity be collected.
We may disclose your Personal Data to any member of our group of companies (this means our subsidiaries, our ultimate holding company and all its subsidiaries) insofar as reasonably necessary for the purposes set out in this Policy.
Every VPN should have a reliable kill switch, and thankfully, PIA VPN has a good one. It works like this: if the connection to the VPN gets interrupted, i.e., your real IP is no longer protected, PIA will disconnect you from the internet.
You have to reconnect to the VPN or turn on your wifi manually in order to restore the connection. In this way, your real IP address won’t accidentally leak.
If you run into some technical difficulties or simply have a question about Private Internet Access VPN, you can visit the VPN’s help center that includes:
- Setup guides
- A knowledge base
- A community forum
You can also fill in a support ticket or reach an agent through live chat. However, PIA’s customer support didn’t manage to solve my problem with my WireGuard connection. The agent insisted that the problem was related to my device instead of the VPN.
Despite this, I still managed to get PIA to work. All things considered, I'd say that their customer service agents are qualified and polite. This really makes solving all problems that you might have, much easier.
Is PIA VPN good?
All in all, Private Internet Access is worth your attention, as it offers advanced security features and is capable of unblocking US Netflix or Hulu.
More on VPN providers from Cybernews:
PIA vs. ExpressVPN: which is the winner?
Surfshark review: VPN with strong security and great features for a competitive price
PIA vs. NordVPN: how do they compare?
Can Private Internet Access be trusted?
Is PIA good for torrenting?
Yes. All the servers of Private Internet Access VPN support torrenting at a really high speed. You can use your preferred torrenting client for P2P connections. There are also the SOCKS5 and Shadowsocks proxies for an even smoother experience.
Does PIA work in China?
Yes, Private Internet Access VPN might work in China thanks to the Shadowsocks proxy. However, there are no consistent reports about this. Additionally, you can check our guide on the best VPNs for China.
Does PIA work with Hulu?
Yes, right now, most users are able to unblock Hulu using PIA's US servers. You can also check our list of other VPNs that work great with Hulu. In addition, you can use PIA to unblock other streaming services like Netflix thanks to the wide variety of countries and servers.
Does Private Internet Access work on Firestick?
Yes, there is a dedicated PIA VPN app for Amazon Firestick. You can install it via Downloader. You will find the instructions on the official page of Private Internet Access VPN. Also, feel free to check our top VPNs for Amazon Fire Stick & Fire TV.
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