Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) provide invaluable protection for all online activities, whether you’re downloading torrents, sending emails, or reading the news. But this protection can come with a cost.

VPNs use system resources and tend to limit transfer speeds to some degree. This can lead some users to turn off their protection or go without a VPN altogether.

However, there is a better way: knowing when to turn off VPN protection, to maximize security and speed. So if you’ve been wondering should I leave my VPN on all the time, read on. This blog will explain everything you need to know.

Where are you using your computer or smartphone? Context matters

Firstly, the answer to the question should I leave my VPN on all the time largely depends on how you use the internet. Some connections are safer than others, and it pays to know when you are most at risk.

For example, if you are using unsecured public wifi connections, you need to have your VPN engaged at all times. Make sure that it’s engaged before you log into a coffee shop or office wifis, as these are some of the most insecure networks around.

But if you’re at home, you can probably be slightly more relaxed. Providing you have a well-secured router, and your ISP is reputable, you can probably save your VPN for high-risk activities, and browse the web without having it logged in.

Streamers should tighten up their VPN policy

However, if you love to stream services like Hulu or Netflix via your home internet connection, things are very different. That’s not necessarily because of security reasons. Instead, it’s all about circumventing geo-blocks.

VPNs allow streaming fans to access content from across the world, opening up huge libraries of previously inaccessible movies. To beat geo-blockers, VPNs have to be incredibly reliable regarding IP anonymization. As soon as your IP address is leaked, your original location is easy to track, and you’ll find yourself frozen out of your stream.

Because of this, you need to have your VPN on whenever you stream from online platforms. And remember to engage the VPN before logging in. If your IP switches suddenly, that can indicate to streaming sites that you’re using a VPN.

Are you being throttled? You might need your VPN on all the time

If you suspect that your ISP is “throttling” your internet connection, answering should I leave my VPN on all the time becomes much easier. Good VPNs can work around throttling via IP anonymization, making it impossible for your ISP to trace your actual identity. In that case, leaving your VPN on constantly is the only way to guarantee decent speeds.

It’s not always easy to tell whether you’re being throttled, but there are some tell-tale signs. For instance, if your speeds routinely drop towards the end of your payment period, it could mean that your ISP is limiting your speeds as you hit certain traffic limits.

This is a particularly big problem for torrenters, who ship a relatively large amount of data through their connections. So if you habitually load up a P2P client to feed your movie or music addiction, make sure your VPN is always on.

VPNs and torrenting should always go together

In fact, there are plenty of excellent reasons to couple VPNs and P2P. Aside from the speed issue, the number one problem here is privacy. All torrenters are vulnerable to legal issues arising from copyright infringement, and VPNs are the only effective way to shield yourself from an investigation.

Does this mean you should always load up your VPN, just in case you feel the need to download a torrent? Not necessarily. Sure, if you make a point of loading your VPN every time your computer loads, you’ll be protected. But, as we’ve noted, constant VPN use has its downsides.

Instead, you might want to use a VPN which integrates with torrenting clients like uTorrent. NordVPN is a good option, with its Socks5 proxy feature, but plenty of elite VPNs offer something similar. That way, your VPN will only engage when you fire up a torrent.

If you shop online, you’ll need your VPN

If online shopping is your thing, it’s even more important to have your VPN running almost all the time. There are a couple of reasons for this.

Firstly, security is crucial. Whenever you hand over private financial details to eCommerce portals, you need to have the extra protection provided by Virtual Private Networks. In a world where identity theft and outright cyber fraud are epidemic, it’s just a sensible insurance policy.

Secondly, having a VPN engaged can help you make online savings. This is something that shoppers know less about, but it can be really helpful. Many online retailers operate geo-filters. These tools divide their customers by region (or other details) and supply certain deals to different groups. So people from Boston might see higher airfares than people from Mexico City while shopping at the same website.

With a VPN, you can fool merchants into thinking you are from locations all over the world. In many cases, although especially on travel sites, that can be a way to access fantastic deals.

However, you don’t necessarily need your VPN on all the time. If it slows down your browsing speeds, turn it off when checking out products or researching holidays. Then switch it on for the purchase.

What about times when VPN usage can be a problem?

So far, we’ve talked about examples where it pays to have your VPN on, most of the time (if not all the time). But there are some situations where you might want to switch your VPN off.

For example, if you’ve ever tried to make a PayPal transfer while your VPN is anonymizing your IP address, you’ll know that it’s not simple. PayPal routinely locks the accounts of VPN users, seeing it as potential evidence of online fraud. This leads many VPN users to switch off protection when making transfers – a potential security risk.

In these cases, you can find workarounds. Some VPNs offer dedicated IPs or StealthVPN which mask the fact that you are using a VPN. If you are dead-set on maximum privacy, they are the tools to go for. If not, banking could be a situation where it’s best to briefly switch your VPN off.

Knowing when to use your VPN is a key ingredient of online security

So, to summarize, the answer to should I leave my VPN on all the time is “not necessarily, but it’s sensible to run a VPN most of the time.”

As we’ve seen, VPNs protect online shoppers, torrenters, and streamers, and can deliver speed boosts if throttling is an issue. But they can also lead to sluggish general browsing speeds and problems for online banking.

By all means, manage your VPN use to maximize speed, but always be aware of the risks of cutting out your protection. That way, you’ll balance speed and security without any problems.