Private Internet Access VPN Review: Is It Worth the Price?
Private Internet Access (PIA) has been around since 2010, and by now they’re the third most popular VPN, just behind ExpressVPN and NordVPN.
As we’ve seen countless times before, often the less-popular VPNs are actually better than their more-popular alternatives. We wanted to find out if that’s also true for PIA, and see how their service compares to others.
In this Private Internet Access VPN review, we tested their speeds, reliability, customer support, security, compatibility with Netflix and torrents, and other aspects.
In a few words, PIA is probably the best option if you’re looking to stay truly private over public networks or while torrenting. However, their VPN won’t be that good for bypassing censorship and watching Netflix.
Private Internet Access strengths
Based on our tests, Private Internet Access is one of the fastest VPN providers out there. When compared to others, PIA is slightly quicker than ExpressVPN and NordVPN, but slower than IPVanish and PrivateVPN.
We made several tests from Europe, U.S., and Asia, and we experienced minimal speed losses:
Only some providers have been tested in real life about their ‘no logging’ policies legitimacy. While some fail, and actually collect logs when stated otherwise, PIA has withstood government requests twice.
Both times U.S. intelligence agencies requested information about PIA’s users, and both times it was concluded that PIA hadn’t collected any logs.
So if you’re looking for a service that really doesn’t collect any information about how you’ve used their services, PIA is probably your best bet.
Private Internet Access offers a 7-day refund policy for new users. You can test out how their service works for a few days before actually committing for a yearly purchase.
In one of our tests, we requested a refund and were successful. So we can vouch for its legitimacy.
With Private Internet Access, you’ll be able to use up to 10 different devices simultaneously. This is good if you’re planning on sharing your login details with your family or close friends - you’ll save some money by paying only for one subscription.
To compare, ExpressVPN allows only three connections, and NordVPN only six.
Private Internet Access weaknesses
Although a company that’s registered in the U.S. seems much safer than one that’s registered in Panama or the British Virgin Islands, for VPNs, it goes backward.
Ideally, you’d want to use a service that’s registered in a private & secure jurisdiction, not in a country where the intelligence agencies are known to spy on their citizens. So this is definitely a weak point for PIA.
But this is outweighed by their genuine ‘no logging’ policy. Whenever a government requests data about their users, they don’t have any.
For us and many, the lack of Netflix support is a huge issue.
PIA has not mentioned a word about Netflix on their website, which is why you shouldn’t use them if you’re planning on watching Netflix. Instead, go for ExpressVPN or NordVPN.
Just for fun, we tried out five servers for accessing Netflix US, and all five were working. But you shouldn’t take this for granted, because in future they might not work anymore.
This is what really got on our nerves. Almost all other providers allow you to switch between servers. For instance, if there are 50 servers in New York, you would be able to select which one you’d like to connect to.
That’s not how it works with Private Internet Access. You’ll be able to select only a specific region that you would like to connect to, and you’ll be assigned to the fastest server. And if you’re assigned to a server that’s banned from Netflix or one that has bandwidth issues, you’re stuck with it.
We understand that PIA probably wants to protect their IP addresses from getting blacklisted, but if others can provide this option, they should as well.
Speed and reliability
To determine how fast Private Internet Access really is, we compared our typical download speeds with the results that we got with their VPN turned on.
Speed results without a VPN
We’re located in Europe, and for the speed test we used a 4G connection, that averaged at 15 - 25 Mbps download speeds.
After that, we turned on the VPN from various locations and recorded what speed losses we got.
Speed results with Private Internet Access from Europe
From Germany, our download speed was 17.34 Mbps.
From Sweden, our download speed was 21.37 Mbps.
From the United Kingdom, our download speed was 18.27 Mbps.
The industry average for VPN speed losses from nearby connections is somewhere around 10-30%.
However, with PIA we didn’t record any speed losses. Some test runs were 10-12 Mbps, but those happened rarely. So on average, Private Internet Access worked with almost no speed losses in Europe.
Next, we wanted to see how they’d perform on long-distance connections.
Speed results with Private Internet Access from the U.S.
From Denver, our download speed was 19.50 Mbps.
From New York, our download speed was 14.81 Mbps.
From Washington DC, our download speed was 13.06 Mbps.
The average speed loss for Europe - U.S. VPN connections is somewhere around 20-40%. We recorded that PIA works only with 10-30% speed losses for Europe - U.S. connections, which is pretty fast.
Next, we tested how PIA performs from Asian servers.
Speed results with Private Internet Access from Asia
From Hong Kong, our download speed was 11.90 Mbps.
From Japan, our download speed was 17.31 Mbps.
From Singapore, our download speed was 22.73 Mbps.
It’s not uncommon to see 30-70% speed losses for Europe - Asia connections even from the most popular VPNs. With PIA we experienced only 10-30% losses for Europe - Asia connections, which is much faster than on most other VPNs.
How fast is Private Internet Access VPN?
In a few words, Private Internet Access is pretty fast, but not the fastest that we’ve seen.
If we were to compare their readings with other VPNs, we’d say that they’re only slightly faster than ExpressVPN and NordVPN, but not as fast as IPVanish and PrivateVPN.
However, we noticed that on some servers, the connection wasn’t that stable.
Is Private Internet Access reliable?
From all of our tested regions, the servers on Washington DC, Hong Kong, India, and Germany didn’t seem too stable. The first connection speeds took longer than usual, and the connection wasn’t stable at all.
Most likely, we got assigned with servers that were used by too many users. And the thing that we didn’t like about PIA is that you can’t choose a different server in that region. On other providers, we could just change the server to a better-performing one.
So in a few words, we would say that PIA is pretty reliable, but with minor speed issues on some servers.
How often is Private Internet Access down?
Most of the times, downtime isn’t really an issue with popular providers. Same goes for PIA - we didn’t find too many cases of their servers being down.
However, we did find a few cases in the last months. For instance, back in November, some of their US servers were down. A month later, they had problems with their DNS servers. And in March 2019, their Turkey servers were down, as seen in this twitter conversation.
How secure is Private Internet Access?
Private Internet Access connects you through a secure, well-encrypted connection, that’s basically impossible to hack. Compared to others, they’re pretty secure.
PIA offers the ability to change between OpenVPN TCP, OpenVPN UDP, PPTP, and L2TP/IPSec tunneling protocols.
However, we’ve seen a better implementation from other providers. By default, the app connects you through the OpenVPN protocol. If you want to use PPTP or L2TP/IPSec protocols, you’ll have to set them up manually through complicated setup guides.
This is an issue only for a very few people because most will want to use OpenVPN anyway, as it’s the securest option.
PIA also allows you to choose between various encryption methods, ranging from completely unencrypted to the securest methods up to date. That’s good because some might need strong encryption, while others don’t need any at all.
You’ll be able to choose between these encryption methods:
If you don’t understand any of this, it’s best to stick to their default recommendations, which are secure enough for most users.
The ‘Maximum protection’ is similar to what most VPN providers offer by default, and in our opinion, an overkill. You’re not protecting rocket launch codes, for Christ's sake. It’s just a way to show that ‘we have the securest VPN out there,’ but because of that it’s also unnecessarily slowed down.
No IPV4, IPV6, WebRTC, and DNS leaks
Sometimes the cheaper VPN providers will not be properly configured, which might result in data leaks. These leaks let your ISP see what websites you’ve accessed.
We tested PIA for leaks, and we couldn’t find any. Here are some of the test results.
Unfortunately, Private Internet Access doesn’t have a live chat feature. Although we had heard about some bad experiences with their support, ours was pretty good.
To test how good their support is, we tried to get the 7-day refund. We submitted a ticket and got a confirmation for the return within three minutes (Though, it was processed a few hours later.)
You can see how our conversation went down below.
Maybe we got lucky, but overall this was a really pleasant experience. When we did this test for other providers, we usually got asked too many questions, and they tried too hard to keep us onboard.
That’s why we rate their customer support at four out of five stars. Only four, because there’s no live chat.
Device compatibility and apps
Because Private Internet Access is so popular, they offer a wide variety of apps:
Also, they’ve made some browser extensions:
And you’ll also find setup tutorials for some VPN routers and firmware:
The app and tutorial coverage is more than enough for the regular user who uses VPNs for privacy, Netflix, and torrents.
Aside from a few annoying aspects in their Windows app, we really like the overall user experience of PIA. The apps are minimalistic and easy to use, everything is where it should be, and they’re made for people who are new to VPNs.
The signup process
After we selected the plan, entered the payment details and email, we were redirected to the download page. The installation process was pretty straightforward, and in just two or three minutes, we had a VPN installed on our PC that’s working.
App user experience
Here you can see how their Windows (left) and Android (right) apps look side by side.
Notice how simple these apps are?
We’ve seen similar layouts only on Cyberghost, PrivateVPN, and ExpressVPN. And we believe that a layout similar to this is perfect. Otherwise, everything becomes too cluttered and hard-to-find.
If you’re entirely new to VPNs you can just hit the large on/off button, and you’ll be good to go. No other knowledge or configuration needed.
The only thing that we didn’t like about the Windows app is that it doesn’t open normally. It opens up in your system tray, not in a regular window. So every time you click somewhere else on the screen, you have to go to hidden icons to open it up again. An option to make it act like a regular app would be a nice addition.
Advanced options and settings
Behind the minimalistic layout, PIA has hidden a pretty well-made settings section. You’ll find everything you’d need there, even for the more-advanced VPN professionals.
On the first page, you’ll be able to set up the kill switch and turn on the PIA Mace (Just a regular adblocker.)
In the next window, you’ll be able to choose between various name servers:
And the last window is what we’re the most excited about. PIA allows you to optimize your security levels based on what level of security you want. We like this, because most other providers just set it to maximum encryption (which is slower and overpowered), and don’t let you change anything.
For optimal browsing, you should select AES-128 (CBC) data encryption, SHA1 data authentication, RSA-2048 handshake, UDP connection type, and uncheck the ‘use small packets’ option. This will result in a faster connection that’s secure enough for most people.
Locations and servers
Although Private Internet Access is one of the most popular VPN providers, they offer their servers in a limited amount of countries. In total, PIA has 3000+ servers in 32 countries. For comparison, their closest rivals NordVPN and ExpressVPN offer more servers in twice as many countries.
However, we still think that the 32 countries offered are more than enough for the typical VPN user.
Is Private Internet Access VPN good for torrenting?
Yes, Private Internet Access is pretty good for torrenting. In fact, most of their user base consists of people who use their services mainly for torrenting.
Some providers don’t allow the use of Peer To Peer technology (P2P). However, PIA openly states on their website, that P2P technology is allowed and no bandwidth limits are put into place.
For using uTorrent, you’ll have two options - Use a regular VPN connection, or use a free SOCKS5 proxy, that’s included with every account.
How to get the free SOCKS5 proxy
To get your SOCKS5 access credentials, you have to go to ‘my account’ on their website and find the username and password there.
For the IP address always use proxy-nl.privateinternetaccess.com, and choose the 1080 port.
We tested all three download speeds, and overall the results were not too bad. We got the best results without a VPN, a 30% speed loss through a P2P VPN server, and a 40% loss through SOCKS5.
Is Private Internet Access VPN good for Netflix?
Unfortunately, PIA doesn’t support Netflix. They did before, but since Netflix started the fight with the providers, Private Internet Access has stepped down.
So if you’re looking for a VPN for Netflix, you’d be better off with some other providers, like ExpressVPN or NordVPN.
However, just for the heck of it, we still decided to test if their servers work with Netflix.
We wanted to connect to Netflix US from Europe, and out of five servers that we tested, all five were working fine:
But don’t take this for granted, because PIA isn’t supporting Netflix. In the future, these servers might not work anymore.
Does Private Internet Access work in China and other censored countries?
Not really, at least not with the default setup.
With all the recent crackdowns on VPNs in censored countries, PIA is now having difficulties working there. Just a few years ago, PIA was working perfectly in China for accessing restricted websites and apps, but it looks like they’ve dropped the support.
Potentially, you can still bypass the firewalls in some cases by using L2TP connections, but that requires a complicated configuration process.
If you’re looking for a service that’s great for bypassing censorship, you should check out ExpressVPN, which works flawlessly there.
Private Internet Access jurisdiction
London Trust Media Inc, other known as Private Internet Access is registered in the U.S.
Although you may think that’s a good thing, it’s actually not. The U.S. is a member of the 14 eyes alliance, which is an alliance between the intelligence agencies of its member countries. So if, for instance, Sweden, another member of the 14-eyes alliance, would request information about PIA users, USA would share that information as part of the agreement.
However, it looks like PIA isn’t that concerned about that fact because they don’t collect any information about their users in the first place.
‘No logs’ policy
PIA has openly stated that they don’t collect any logs.
You can see that on their website:
So even if a government would seize their servers or request any data, they wouldn’t have any information about their users.
In fact, there already have been two recorded cases where U.S. intelligence agencies requested information from PIA about its users, and the requested information didn’t contain anything meaningful. This basically confirms that their ‘no logs’ policy is true (You can see the two cases here and here)
And what further strengthens their claims, is the case with their Russian servers a few years ago. In 2016, Russia passed a law that required all VPNs to log their user data. PIA responded by shutting down all operations in Russia, remaining true to its customers.
So based on the evidence we gathered, we would say that PIA is reasonably safe to use. Although its Jurisdiction is in the U.S., we’re pretty confident that they don’t collect any logs.
Private Internet Access comes with a kill switch, which is a crucial feature to have.
If enabled, the kill switch automatically blocks all internet connection when you’re disconnected from the VPN. That’s good because you don’t want your real IP to be revealed while torrenting or on public Wi-Fi.
On PIA, you can set the kill switch on ‘automatic’ or ‘always on.’ We recommend that you select the ‘always on’ option because the ‘automatic’ option only shuts off the outside traffic if the VPN is on.
In a few words, the PIA mace is a slightly underperforming Adblocker. It blocks domains used for ads, malware, and trackers.
Based on our tests, a regular adblocker was slightly more effective than PIA mace. But you can turn it on anyway because the PIA mace doesn’t eat up too much PC resources.
Pricing and discounts
Although most sites speak of PIA as one of the cheapest VPNs out there, it’s actually not true. Yes, it’s cheap, but it’s definitely not the most affordable.
PIA’s pricing starts at $3.49 per month, and you can get some serious discounts by purchasing for longer periods.
To compare, NordVPN starts at $2.99 per month, and Cyberghost starts at $2.75 per month.
30 free days for referring a friend
If you want to get some additional discounts, you should participate in the refer-a-friend program. In case of an accepted invitation, you both will get 30 days of services for free.
Also, it’s worth noting that there is no limit for the invitations, so, if you have enough friends, you could potentially use PIA for free like Windscribe.
PIA offers a pretty wide variety of payment options. Some of them, like Bitcoin and Ethereum, are entirely anonymous, which is appealing for some.
You’ll be able to pay with:
Our final verdict: Is Private Internet Access VPN worth it?
Although PIA is the third most popular VPN provider out there, we believe that it’s quite limited and not particularly better than others in most cases.
The only instance where we think that PIA would be a good choice is if you’re looking for a cheap VPN provider that’s truly private. Most other affordable services are either speculated about collecting logs or owned by questionable companies that would be interested in collecting your data.
PIA is good for torrenting, staying anonymous over public networks, and protecting your identity.
But in most other categories, PIA falls a bit short. For instance, PIA isn’t working with Netflix, it’s mostly not working in censored countries, and their support is pretty hard to get by.
Concluding our PIA review, if you’re looking for a universal VPN that works perfectly in all categories, you should pay a bit more for ExpressVPN.