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The Best VPNs for Canada in 2021

For those of us who grew up just a short drive from the Ambassador Bridge, Canada has an outsized place in our formative years. We visited often to eat at Tim Hortons before it took over American markets. We pointed our TV antennas just so, in order to pick up Canadian channels. We’re grateful we can now repay that nation for all it has given to us with this list of the best VPNs for Canada.

What’s on This List

To assemble this roundup, we went through our top-rated VPN services and looked for services that offer servers in Canada. To protect your privacy, a nearby VPN server is the best option. Other activities may require a distant VPN server, which we discuss below. That’s why we’ve organized this list in the order of the largest presence each company claims for Canada. 

Note that TunnelBear does not disclose the number of servers it has in any country. We gave it preference because it’s a Canadian company and an excellent service in its own right. The other services on this list operate under different legal jurisdictions, which may be an important point for some users.

Location, Location, Location

Canada is an especially large country, stretching (like the US) from sea to shining sea. That can present a problem for VPN use, because the farther you are from the VPN server, the more likely you are to experience poor service. At the very least, you’ll probably see greatly increased latency.

More servers doesn’t necessarily solve this problem, but more server locations might. Companies with VPN servers on both the east and west coasts of Canada are more likely to provide lower latency service than companies with just one location. Much of that, of course, will depend on where you are in relation to those servers.

At PCMag, we test VPN speeds using from our offices in Manhattan and using only US-based VPN servers. In this location, we enjoy above-average quality of service for VPNs. That means our test results won’t match against someone in the US in a less populous region, and especially not another country—even a close neighbor like Canada.

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, all of PCMag has been working from home since mid-March 2020. Unfortunately, our analysts’ home internet is nowhere near as fast and uncluttered as the PCMag Labs test network, so any new testing we do would be purely anecdotal. We look forward to continuing our speed testing once it is safe to do so.

Unlocking Regional Content

PCMag’s surveys confirm what we’ve long suspected: most people use VPNs to access region-locked content online. The theory is simple: if there’s a movie or show available in country X and not where you live, just tunnel into a VPN server in country X and enjoy. 

In practice, it’s much more complicated. Netflix, for instance, aggressively blocks VPNs, and other streaming platforms likely have a similar stance. VPNs are frequently tweaking their products to sneak by gatekeepers, in an endless streaming cat-and-mouse game. The upshot is that a VPN that works with your streaming platform of choice today may not do so tomorrow.

We periodically evaluate VPN services’ ability to let us access Canadian Netflix. In our last evaluation, just three services worked successfully: ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and Hotspot Shield VPN. We look forward to testing the ability of VPNs to stream distant content soon.

Do You Need a VPN in Canada?

Canada doesn’t have many of the issues found in other popular VPN locales. Unlike the US, it’s our understanding that Canadian ISPs cannot sell your data without express consent. Unlike the UK, Canada doesn’t limit access to online pornography. Unlike China, Canada doesn’t have a massive internet surveillance and censorship machine. So is a VPN any use in Canada?

This isn’t to say that surveillance doesn’t exist in Canada—it’s a member of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance, after all. In 2017, the CBC reported that while Canadian ISPs can’t sell your data, there are all sorts of ways for information to be harvested and used. VPNs also make it harder to track you online, by hiding your true IP address. And if you’re ever using a public Wi-Fi network, a VPN will safeguard your information from any snoops, even if they’re the ones running the network. A VPN is especially valuable when traveling abroad, where privacy protections may be poorer than in Canada. The answer, then is that VPNs are still extremely useful, even in Canada.

Pro Tips for Choosing a VPN

Before laying down your hard-earned loonies, here are two things to keep in mind when you’re choosing a VPN.

First, you will always save money by opting for a longer subscription. However, we caution against this—at least initially. Instead, use a free subscription or short-term subscription to test out a VPN in your home environment. That way, you can find out whether it will work with all the sites and services you need, and get a feel for its performance hands-on. If you like what you see, you can always upgrade to a long-term subscription.

Second, while a VPN is a useful tool for improving your privacy online, it can’t protect against every ill. To really anonymize your traffic, you’ll need Tor, but using it will impact your internet speeds far more than a VPN. Also, be sure to use a password manager to create unique and complex passwords for every site and service you use, enable two-factor authentication wherever it’s available, and install local antivirus software.

Many Excellent Options

Anyone looking for a VPN with a strong presence in Canada is lucky. After the US and UK, it’s one of the most popular regions for VPN providers to focus their efforts. Canadians are also fortunate that the need for a VPN is arguably lesser than it is in many other countries, but there are still privacy gains to be had by using one. If you can’t decide if you need a VPN, our piece explaining what a VPN is, and why you need one can help you decide.

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