Private Internet Access (PIA) is one of the most affordable and well-known VPNs out there. The consistent quality of this service has kept it popular for ages now. But just how good is it?
Private Internet Access (PIA) is one of the most affordable and well-known VPNs out there. The consistent quality of this service has kept it popular for ages now. But just how good is it?
Often heralded as one of the top VPNs in the industry, Private Internet Access is a dependable security tool with high customizability. Users can torrent safely, utilize dedicated streaming servers for quality entertainment, and benefit from solid protection at a great price. But does PIA actually deliver on its promises?
That’s what I’ll be testing in this Private Internet Access review. Is this provider safe to use? Have the speeds improved, or are they still painfully average? And what about unblocking various streaming services? I answer all these questions below and even cover some controversial topics, like the new owners of PIA – Kape Technologies.
Keep reading to see whether to invest in the product or look further.
|Rank||#18 out of 231 providers|
|Support||Live chat, email|
|Free version or trial||7-day free trial|
Private Internet Access is a great choice for watching your favorite shows online. It has plenty of bare-metal servers to keep the load down and fast-enough speeds for HD or even 4K streams.
You can easily tune into Netflix US, YouTube TV, or even Hulu. But because the provider primarily focuses on the US, you might encounter problems accessing foreign streaming platforms.
Getting access to Netflix US wasn’t a problem, whether I was doing so on PC or mobile. The speeds were good, so the experience wasn’t hindered by video stuttering or buffering. And the streaming quality was decent as well.
I tried a bunch of other locations as well – the UK, Canada, Germany, and Japan – but PIA wasn’t able to unblock these regional Netflix libraries. Therefore, if you want to access foreign content, look for another streaming VPN service.
However, if you cannot unblock Netflix at all, I suggest reading up on our troubleshooting guide.
Private Internet Access works like a charm for US-only platforms. Besides Netflix US, I could peruse the libraries of Youtube TV, Hulu, and HBO Max. Interestingly enough, I could also access Sky Sports and CBC Gem whilst connected to the Canada Ontario server.
Regarding UK-only services, I couldn’t access BBC iPlayer, DAZN, Sky Sports, and other streaming platforms. I suggest trying other streaming VPN providers if you really need these services.
There are three different Private Internet Access pricing plans. You can choose from:
All subscriptions come with the same features promised on the package. I’m talking about 10 simultaneous connections, standard VPN security tools, the Email Breach Scanner, Boxcryptor license, etc. Everything is protected with the 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can get a refund if the service doesn’t meet your expectations.
You can also add two premium add-ons for an extra cost:
Taking advantage of various PIA coupon codes could potentially net you a better deal. For example, some offer 80% discounts.
Better yet, Private Internet Access finally offers a 7-day free trial if you’re interested in testing the service before committing. Available only on iOS & Android, you can download it from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, respectively.
The payment options include standard, widely-used methods, and more private ones if you want to keep the purchase a secret, so to say. Selections usually tend to vary from country to country, but you can generally pay with:
Overall, PIA VPN offers subscriptions for a pretty low price. While the service isn’t spectacular compared to competitors like NordVPN, it gets the job done.
Connection speeds depend on location, Internet Service Provider (ISP), hardware, and other factors. Because of this, no average speed test in the world can give you a good answer to the question, “How fast is this VPN for me?”
That said, we’ve created our in-house speed test tool that eliminates as many variables as possible when measuring those Mbps. It should give you an idea of how fast PIA really is when connecting in the US, the UK, Germany, and other countries.
|Download Speed||106 Mbps|
|Upload Speed||115 Mbps|
|Download Speed||54 Mbps|
|Upload Speed||99 Mbps|
|Download Speed||238 Mbps|
|Upload Speed||378 Mbps|
Right off the bat, PIA provides plain average speeds, even when utilizing the next-gen WireGuard tunneling protocol. They’re not the best in the industry, especially when you compare them to speed demons like NordVPN or Surfshark, some of the fastest VPNs in the industry.
Connecting to servers further away will likely result in less than optimal performance. So, it might not be the best provider for streaming foreign content from other countries. But if you’re only planning on using it primarily for protection, PIA’s speeds should be enough for a comfortable online experience.
Here’s a comparison of Private Internet Access with other VPN provider speeds from the last 7 days:
|Provider||Average download speed (7 days)|
|Private Internet Access||105|
Private Internet Access used to show exactly how many servers they have across the globe. Sadly, there’s no information about it anywhere on the website, and the support couldn’t provide an estimate when I contacted them for answers.
We currently know there are a lot of them and that they are primarily based in the US. As for the overall global coverage, PIA VPN covers an impressive amount of countries – 84. Still, it doesn’t beat Surfshark VPN with its roster of 95 countries across all continents.
Most of the hardware is bare-metal, meaning they are located in the country you can connect to. What’s left is virtual, in regions where having physical hardware could be dangerous due to data retention laws, like India. You can either connect to:
What’s more, the infrastructure is slowly being upgraded to 10 Gbps servers. It is excellent news for those seeking reliable performance. Even with increased traffic on the overall network, your speeds technically shouldn’t be dropping below average.
With Private Internet Access, you’re most likely to feel the negative effects of server distribution if you reside in Asia (including the Middle East), Africa, or even South America. Sadly, most servers are not based in these locations.
If you are in Europe or North America – you’re in luck. A large chunk of PIA’s servers is concentrated in these two locations.
Here’s what it all looks like in more detail:
|Americas||Argentina, Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Greenland, Mexico, Panama, United States, Venezuela|
|Europe||Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom|
|Asia Pacific||Armenia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Cyprus, Georgia, Hong Kong SAR China, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Macau SAR China, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam|
|Africa & Others||Algeria, Australia, Egypt, Morocco, New Zealand, Nigeria, South Africa|
PIA includes plenty of reliable security features. They may not be super-advanced or numerous, but they’re all most users will ever need. These include:
Of course, there’s more than that. First, all PIA’s applications are open-source, meaning their software code is publicly available for scrutiny. Then there are the Whitehat Alert Security and Vulnerability Disclosure programs. Both allow users to submit high-impact bugs that pose security and performance risks.
Feature-wise, subscribers also get PIA MACE (ad & malware blocker), advanced split tunneling (routing VPN traffic via select apps), Multi-Hop + Obfuscation (double routing and hiding VPN traffic), Identity Guard (an email breach scanner), and a Boxcryptor License (secures cloud storage).
Users can increase their privacy and security with PIA Antivirus and Dedicated IP for an additional price. The former protects against real-time cybersecurity threats, while the latter gives you a static IP address only you can use.
The most appealing factor of Private Internet Access is the highly-customizable and feature-packed applications. They’re perfect for tech-savvy people with specific security needs who want to tailor everything to the smallest detail.
PIA uses strong encryption – namely, AES-128 and AES-256. In the past, you could pick between CBC and GCM, but now the latter is only available as it is newer, faster, and more secure.
The app offers more cryptographic choices than are commonly available. You can pick:
Previously, users could also select the type of Handshake used for VPN server authentication. But because it caused some minor manual connection compatibility issues, the option was removed. Now, PIA uses RSA-4096 as default – the strongest option currently available.
Usually, premium providers offer several tunneling protocols as they’re suitable for different purposes. Private Internet Access includes only two – OpenVPN and WireGuard – across all operating systems.
OpenVPN is an older, reliable tunneling protocol that’s been used for several years. There are two versions of it: UDP, which is faster, and TCP, which is slower but more stable. You can expect great security and optimal speeds from it.
WireGuard is the newer, open-source tunneling protocol that provides lighting fast speeds due to lightweight code. It’s much faster than other protocols and has better security in general. So, if you want excellent performance no matter what you do, this is the superior option.
Private Internet Access has a great kill switch – an important feature to protect from unexpected connection disruptions. This is bolstered through the use of their private DNS to avoid any leaks.
The provider also offers an Advanced Kill Switch. It blocks all connections, thus avoiding data leakage, even when the VPN is turned off. Pretty useful if you want to prevent important info from being visible in all situations.
To see if there are any IP or DNS leaks, it’s best to run a test online. First of all, I connected to Luxembourg and was assigned the IP address 18.104.22.168. After that, I checked if my IP address or DNS queries were leaking:
As you can see, the IP addresses match, which means there is no IP leak.
Above is the result of the DNS leak test. PIA does not leak DNS requests.
I performed the test a couple of more times by connecting to Mexico, France, Algeria, and Slovakia. My real location was hidden throughout.
PIA is based in the US, one of the most problematic places for registering a VPN company. It is the founding country of the Five Eyes Alliance, an alliance between several countries for the sole purpose of monitoring their citizens’ activities. Although the pretext is national security and “the greater good,” it’s still invasive and eliminates your rights to privacy.
The United States is also notorious for its seemingly anti-privacy legal climate. Legislation such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), The Patriot Act, general government surveillance, including by the NSA, and corporate surveillance by tech and telecommunications companies certainly doesn’t make things better.
Usually, I’m not one to recommend a VPN provider based in regions that don’t shy away from surveillance. With that said, all of these privacy risks are greatly mitigated by PIA’s strong no-logs policy, which has been proven in court.
Private Internet Access has a clear no-logging policy. This was proven in a US court case in 2015 and several more recent cases. PIA personnel was called to testify and couldn’t produce anything useful to the prosecution.
Furthermore, PIA releases semi-annual Transparency Reports. These include information about legal requests sent to the company, such as court orders, subpoenas, and warrants. Next to them, you can see the number of inquiries received and how many produced logs. In PIA’s case, none were ever procured.
This should be reassuring to anyone seeking online privacy – you can be certain that not even PIA knows what you’re doing online. Still, it would increase the provider’s reliability considerably if their no-logs policy underwent an independent audit.
As of 2019, Private Internet Access operates under another company – Kape Technologies. It also owns several other notable VPN providers: CyberGhost, ZenMate, and ExpressVPN. Amassing a few services under one name certainly isn’t a crime, but what concerned most users was Kape’s controversial past.
Formerly known as Crossrider until 2016, the company was responsible for creating internet tools used to distribute malware. Furthermore, it was an affiliate of many Ad Injection Libraries, which typically litter unsuspecting users with intrusive ads and pop-ups.
Not exactly the best track record, especially for a business that now tries to champion privacy in the digital space. Some tend to let bygones be bygones, for others, it is a clear dealbreaker, and understandably so.
What I like about PIA is its vast options for anonymous purchases.
You can pay anonymously with many major brand gift cards, including Fully Anonymous, Instant Access, 100% Secure Starbucks, Walmart, Best Buy, and many more.
Additionally, there are plenty of cryptocurrency options as well. These include Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ethereum, Beam, and Zcash, among others, thanks to Bitpay. That’s more than enough opportunity to keep Private Internet Access off your balance sheet.
In August 2019, Private Internet Access announced a new feature – the Handshake Naming System (HNS). To put it in simple terms, the HNS is a blockchain alternative for the Domain Name System (DNS).
HNS completely decentralizes the domain name system and creates an additional layer of privacy for users. According to PIA, it also works as a tool against DNS-level blocking (something governments use to ban websites and online services).
The HNS is definitely good and will be appreciated by power users. However, its usefulness for common folk is exaggerated. It is no more effective for bypassing DNS blocking than regular PIA DNS servers.
PIA offers an abundance of features that help users customize their VPN experience:
Then there are some minor settings you can tweak. These include port forwarding, allowing LAN traffic, changing your DNS, and automation (which turns on or disables the VPN when you join a particular network).
PIA MACE is Private Internet Access’s in-house ad blocker that works as intended by disabling most online advertisements. It utilizes public blocklists to do so, which are updated every month. MACE does not block Facebook, Twitch, or YouTube ads, though. Furthermore, you can’t whitelist specific domain names.
Identity Guard is an email breach scanner that allows users to check whether their email address has been compromised. You’ll have to log into your PIA account via browser and navigate to the Client Control Panel. The email will be monitored for any breaches, and you’ll receive an email containing all data that was jeopardized.
The Boxcryptor License, once activated, can be used to secure your online cloud storage with leading end-to-end encryption. It’s compatible with Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive, among other 30 cloud services in total.
Split Tunnel is a split tunneling feature useful for routing VPN traffic via specific apps only, like torrent clients or streaming platforms. Everything else outside the list remains unprotected, letting you browse the interwebs like usual.
Multi-Hop and obfuscation is a double feature that utilizes either Shadowsocks or a SOCKS5 Proxy, depending on your choice. First, it routes your traffic through a proxy, thus adding an extra layer of encryption. Then it also hides all VPN usage, which in theory, should let you bypass Deep Packet Inspection (DPI).
Yes, Private Internet Access is a safe and secure VPN provider. It comes with industry-standard AES-256 encryption, solid IP & DNS leak protection, and a reliable kill switch. Plus, all applications include OpenVPN and WireGuard tunneling protocols, considered some of the best in the industry.
Furthermore, PIA VPN utilizes the RSA-4096 handshake by default for server authentication. Currently, it is the strongest cipher you can use to bolster your security to the max. Then there are the numerous useful features for protection you usually won’t find with other providers.
Private Internet Access supports torrenting and is definitely not the worst choice for P2P action. European and North American users will find the speeds decent, and the security features are sufficient.
There’s also the port forwarding feature, which is great if your torrent tracker demands that you seed. However, use it at your own risk because it increases your device’s vulnerability.
Unlike some other VPN services, PIA doesn’t limit P2P traffic on the network – you can torrent on any server. Additionally, users can take advantage of the free SOCKS5 proxy. This allows you to secure traffic at the VPN app level, thus potentially saving some valuable bandwidth.
PIA has apps for a wide range of operating systems. These include Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS. You can cover such devices as Smart TVs and Xbox & PlayStation gaming consoles by utilizing the Smart DNS feature as well.
There’s no Private Internet Access router applet at the moment. However, you can still run PIA VPN on most router devices, including DD-WRT, pfSense, and Tomato, if you follow the instructions on their site. There are also manual Amazon Fire Stick setup guidelines, although it’s not officially supported.
As for browser extensions, PIA offers full-fledged add-ons for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. Despite being mere proxies, these extensions offer high customizability and exceptional functionality.
After finishing setting up the app, the first step I advise doing is changing the “Dashboard Appearance” from “Attached to Tray” to “Window.” It will make using PIA much easier, as the Tray setting forces the application to vanish from the screen whenever you move the mouse somewhere else.
I’ve looked at the Windows 10 and macOS v3.3.1 versions of Private Internet Access applications. They are identical on both operating systems (features included), and the design is elegant and simplistic. Plus, there are some security benefits over the old app.
Once you’re connected, you’ll see a simple home screen where you can:
The server choice screen lets you expand or minimize the location lists in various countries. The menu is easy to use and self-explanatory, but I think the lack of a visual server map you can use to pick a country is a bit detrimental to the overall experience.
In the Settings screen, everything’s grouped according to function:
Ultimately, this constitutes a good set of tools for both Windows and macOS owners. However, power users may miss stealth features that are crucial to have in censorship-heavy countries.
PIA VPN is the only VPN provider that has a Linux OS app with a full graphical user interface. And beside some minor differences, it has the same looks and functionality as the Windows and mac applications.
Currently, it works on Ubuntu 18.04+ (LTS), Mint, Debian, Fedora, and Arch. Plus, it supports x86_64, ARM64, and ARMHF. The installation process was quick and easy – downloading the file from the website and following the instructions was enough to get everything up and running.
Both PIA VPN applications for Android and iOS are virtually the same as their desktop counterparts. You can request port forwarding, switch DNS, connect via a proxy, force IPv6 blocking, and so on.
The interface is customizable, so you can hide what you don’t need to see. Apart from what you’ll find on Windows and mac, there’s a Favourite servers tab, a secure InBrowser, a built-in kill switch, and an obfuscation feature that allows you to connect via proxy. Notably, you don’t get PIA MACE on mobile apps.
You’ll find some differences between Android and iOS as well. Android has a Private Browser and the Per App Settings feature, which is split tunneling. You can also technically get MACE, but this requires downloading the .apk file from the provider’s website.
iOS, on the other hand, supports Siri shortcuts and offers the private InBrowser +Safari Content Blocker. There is no form of split tunneling, though.
You can download PIA browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. These are HTTPS proxy add-ons, and while they are great, keep in mind that only your web traffic will be protected.
I was surprised by the abundance of features and sheer security customizability. First of all, the browser extension looks like a proper VPN application rather than simply an add-on. And you get so much more than other providers tend to offer. The complete list of tools includes:
The server list is, understandably, more moderate, but it still has good options. Other notable features include the Bypass List and Smart Location. The former acts similarly to split tunneling – you can exclude specific websites from the extension connection. The latter allows you to set a geographic location for a particular page and view the site through it.
Private Internet Access has multiple customer support options. These include:
We welcome the most recent addition, the 24/7 live chat option, as it truly makes for a much more streamlined experience. Sure, it works according to the US time zones, but it’s still way better than waiting at least half a day before someone sees your support ticket.
Still, this option is a bit of a hit or miss. Sometimes the responses were prompt and polite, other times, I had to wait for an agent to answer me for quite a while.
Those who want a deeper dive into Private Internet Access VPN can watch several of our videos that sum up the service pretty well.
PIA is good, especially if you’re an experienced VPN user who wants to fine-tune their security. It comes with solid features, a court-proven no-logs policy, plenty of connection points in the US and Europe, and an excellent price-to-feature ratio. Still, the service has certain drawbacks.
If these don’t pose an issue for you, then Private Internet Access is worth the attention.
Yes, PIA is a trustworthy VPN that offers good security and a court-proven no-logs policy. It comes with an ad blocker, anonymous torrenting, and the largest server fleet on the planet. One would be hard-pressed to find a more reliable VPN option for such a small price.
While PIA is not the fastest VPN, it’s far from the slowest. You have to keep in mind that speed is affected by multiple factors, such as tunneling protocol implementation, your location, hardware specs, server load, internet quality, etc.
Yes, PIA works with Netflix, but it only unblocks the US library. If that’s all you need, it’s good, but if you want to access multiple foreign libraries, you’re better off getting a VPN suited for Netflix.
No, Private Internet Access does not keep any logs. In fact, it’s been proven in a court case that PIA cannot provide any information about user browsing habits. Still, the no-logs policy hasn’t been audited by an independent third party to verify it.
Private Internet Access has trouble working in China, despite offering the Shadowsocks proxy, which technically should bypass The Great Firewall. If you need a service for this country specifically, we strongly recommend looking at the best VPNs for China that are able to circumvent online censorship.
No, PIA VPN is not free. There is a 7-day free trial, though, that lets you test the service beforehand. It’s only available on Android and iOS – you can download it via the Google Play Store and Apple App Store, respectively.