Updated: January 1st, 2018
This is the most comprehensive Private Internet Access review out there. Here you will find everything you need to know about Private Internet Access from pricing plans and speed/encryption performance to customer support and compatibility. Detailed setup guide is included to help you setup Private Internet Access ASAP.
Private Internet Access offer a very sophisticated and detailed VPN service that pays a lot of attention on both security and giving the user control.
Overall, this US-based VPN provider delivers a service that delivers the most important functions a VPN should, for a very affordable price.
Operating System Compatibility
1 month plan for $6.95 USD
6 months plan for $35.95 USD
12 month plan for $39.95 USD
VPN Protocols Offered
- User can choose from big bank of encryptions
- Major protocols used
- Supported on all devices and OSs
- Good speeds
- Affordable price plans
- Users complain of connection dropouts and speed fluctuates
- Slow support response time
One of the best VPN services providers on the market right now. PIA offer a service that is of the highest quality out there for a price point that is very affordable. Let's dive into this detailed Private Internet Access review now...
Pricing, Plans & Payment Options
Private Internet Access offers pricing ranges that are highly affordable, especially when compared against the main competing VPN providers that they are in the same marketplace as. Customers are offered to subscribe for the service from as little as $3.33/month, with this price rising only a few dollars for plans that require less commitment duration from the user.
This is an exceptional bargain if you are looking for a VPN on a tight budget. You would need to pay at least $8.75 a month to get access to ExpressVPN. Even NordVPN, which is one of the cheapest top-tier VPN providers I have come across, costs $5 a month. While Private Internet Access lacks some of their functionality, it may be more than enough for what you need at a lower price.
Very standard plans are offered with this VPN. Customers are given the option of three plans to subscribe to. This is a popular plan structure for VPN service providers, as it caters to every type of customer from the non-committed, right up to those who subscribe for the long haul:
Customers are given a fantastic choice of options to make payment through. Of course the normal payment options are covered (PayPal and credit card), but importantly there is also the option to pay via BitCoin. This is a popular choice among customers who really care about maintaining anonymity, since paying via BitCoin leaves no paper trail and requires zero personal information being given/stored.
Some other interesting methods of payment are also offered to users:
It is worth mentioning in this PIA VPN review that the service also utilises the "gift card" payment option, which allows customers to use gift cards with major outlets to pay for their subscription. This is a recent payment method that also provides a higher level of anonymity for users throughout the payment transaction process.
PIA appears to have stopped accepting Ripple as a payment option. They have started accepting Z-cash though. Just another option to consider if you want a secure payment option.
PIA has also started accepting gift card balances to pay for their services. You can use ANY gift card as a means of payment. I am very surprised that they started accepting these, but this is a great deal.
They don’t accept gift cards on a dollar for dollar basis though and weight some gift cards as being more valuable than others. Here are some examples of gift cards that could be traded for credit with Private Internet Access:
- You can trade in a $25 Starbucks gift card for 100 days of access.
- You can trade in a $32 Best Buy gift card for 129 days of access.
- You can trade in a $50 Walmart card for 366 days of access.
As you can see, it is a better deal to trade in any unused Walmart cards, because you get a better deal from them. This is something to think about if you have both Starbucks and Walmart cards lying around. PIA states that all gift card balances are transferred anonymously, but this may assume that you didn’t register the cards already.
I haven’t found another VPN provider that accepts gift cards before, so if you got a lot of gift cards for the holidays to brands you never intend to use, then you might as well cash them in!
Money back Guarantee
Private Internet Access offer all new customers a 7 day money back guarantee. Such guarantees are almost expected nowadays, with many VPN providers such as ExpressVPN and NordVPN going as far as offering users up to 30 days.
Such guarantees speak volumes about how confident the VPN service provider is in their quality of service, so it is a little disappointing to see only a 7 day guarantee in place with Private Internet Access. However, any money back guarantee is of course 100% better than none at all:
Their 7-day money back guarantee also beats some of the lower-tier VPNs that only give you 24 hours to try their service. This is a limitation of some services such as SaferVPN. You will at least get a chance to be familiar with the features of the service. You also won’t have reduced access to important features, which would be the case with a lot of other VPN services that offer trials.
The only issue is that you may need to be persistent to get a refund. I didn’t personally try to get one, but a lot of other people report that they needed to send a number of emails before their refund request was approved.
Here are some threads from the Private Internet Access forum from disgruntled customers that had trouble getting their money back:
“Where’s my account or refund?”
“Where is my money PIA? Terrible service!”
“32 hours on my refund request and no reply from support”
If you think there is a good chance that you will need a refund, then you may need to brace for some hassles when dealing with PIA. This shouldn’t be an issue if you know what to expect from them and know that they offer what you need, but you will never know 100% for sure beforehand.
International server locations
Private Internet Access lets you connect to 3,263 servers in over 25 different countries. While this is a smaller range of geographic options than ExpressVPN (which lets you connect to 94 different countries) or even NordVPN (which has servers in 61 countries), it is still better than a lot of the other VPNs out there. I have come across quite a few VPNs that only have servers in one or two countries and some of those countries are very small (such as iPredator that has only a single server in Sweden).
Therefore, the range of servers offered to PIA customers is fair. It could be better, but it is by no means terrible. They have expanded into five new countries since the last time I had checked, so they are clearly trying to spread their presence too.
PIA offers L2TP/IPsec, PPTP and OpenVPN protocols. You will need to use a CATCHA to connect to them. Unfortunately, the CAPTCHA doesn’t always work perfectly, which is something even people that left otherwise positive testimonials on their support page have complained about. However, you shouldn’t have any real trouble otherwise, regardless of which protocol or server you are trying to connect to.
You can connect up to 5 devices simultaneously with your PIA account. This is more generous than the majority of the other VPN providers we have reviewed. To put things in perspective, ExpressVPN allows you to connect to three devices at once. NordVPN lets you connect up to six devices, but they won’t let you use more than one protocol on a given server.
If you want a VPN that supports lots of devices, PIA seems to be your best bet.
PIA has no caps put on the amount of data users can transmit. Even lower-tier brands such as SurfEasy and Hide.Me have started offering unlimited bandwidth these days, so on the surface this isn’t a huge selling point. However, PIA is cheaper than most of the other brands, so if you have high bandwidth requirements and a tight budget, then this is one of the most affordable options.
All logs are written to a ”null device”, which is as if they never existed in the first place. They make this very clear on their Help Desk page when they say: “PIA absolutely does not keep any logs, of any kind, period.” PIA points out that the Mandatory Data Retention that affects ISPs doesn’t apply to them, since they are a private network.
PIA takes user privacy very seriously, as most VPN companies do. They go above and beyond many other VPN providers. PIA has a DNS Leak Protection option that is automatically setup to prevent any data from leaving the VPN tunnel. This option used to be something that users could turn on and off as they wished. The newest version always has the DNS Leak Protection option, which is a useful safeguard in case you toggled it accidentally. They also offer an “Internet kill switch”, which will sever traffic if your VPN drops.
The only concern is that they are still under the jurisdiction in the region they operate. They don’t openly publicize their base of business, so we had to check their WhoIs data to see that the company is located in Grandville, Michigan in the United States. A post in their HelpDesk corroborated this. We suspect they didn’t advertise this publicly, because the United States has some of the worst privacy laws in the world. Even though PIA doesn’t log data, you still have to worry about DNS leaking and other risks. While PIA has a DNS Leak Protection option setup by default, you can never count on it to be 100% effective.
Some of the older versions do not have the leak protection. You need to be aware of this if you downloaded an older version for some reason. You must also pay attention to reviews on newer versions, in case they have any bugs with their leak protection. However, the most recent version seems to work very well, possibly even better than the leak protection features of ExpressVPN and other VPNs in its class.
PIA also states that as a U.S.-based country, it is part of the Five Eyes jurisdiction. This agreement means that while the country itself can’t legally collect data on its own citizens, it can ask the other four countries in the agreement to do so on their behalf. They can turn to the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand for assistance getting information on their citizens. These countries don’t have the best track records for protecting privacy compared to countries like Switzerland, Panama and the BVI.
Their Terms of Service do specify that they can turn over information to law enforcement authorities as necessary. However, since they don’t keep data logs, they wouldn’t have any metadata to provide.
While PIA does a pretty good job safeguarding user privacy, there are still risks, as it is a U.S.-based company. If you are particularly worried about protecting your privacy, NordVPN, Golden Frog, ProtonVPN or ExpressVPN may be better bets. These companies also use DNS Leak Protection and Internet kill switches, but are based in countries that have much stricter privacy laws.
-- OTHER BENEFITS --
There are some other benefits that you should be aware of as a PIA customer. One is that the VPN comes with an ad blocker called PIC MACE. PIC MACE isn’t the most effective ad blocker I have ever come across, but it is still more than most other VPNs provide. Ads can be a pain by themselves, but the biggest issue is that advertisers sometimes try to use tracking tools to identify you.
Even with a VPN, this can be a risk if you accidentally click the ad, so PIA’s ad blocker offers some additional protection. It can also block malware as well. I wouldn’t use it in place of a more dependable desktop malware protection service, but it can still offer an extra layer of protection a lot of other VPNs don’t offer. However, it isn’t quite as robust as the Trackstop ad blocking and malware protection service that Perfect Privacy VPN offers.
The software itself is very easy to setup on your device. From payment to downloading to installing and finally connecting -- it took me only a few minutes on my Macbook to complete.
I went through this process and will now take you through the steps to demonstrate how it flows:
I chose the month subscription and opted to pay via PayPal for efficiency. This process took all of 30 seconds since PIA's PayPal integration for payment is clearly top notch.
The moment I had processed payment, I was redirected to a page that very clearly displayed the next step -- to download the appropriate software for my device and operating system. I obviously went ahead and clicked the Mac OS X download option:
As I hoped, upon clicking the download link, I was then redirected to a page that laid out helpful instructions for the download process, while the download itself began automatically:
As you can see, very clear instructions given for both downloading and installing the software. Seeing these simple three steps made me very at ease, as they suggested that a very simple and quick setup was ahead of me.
With the software downloaded to my Macbook, I began the install and was presented with a even simpler instructions than the ones just screenshot above, to help me even more with this super simple process:
Installation took just seconds, with the software automatically launching afterward. This is where I was prompted with a login window to access the VPN software. Said login username and password was emailed to me the moment my payment was confirmed:
Connecting to your preferred Private Internet Access server location is incredibly simple. Once you are logged in, you just click the symbol in your toolbar as instructed, which brings a dropdown menu of all available servers:
You will then be connected within seconds to your VPN.
All in all this was a super easy and quick setup from start to finish. Not one step in this process can I say I was disappointed or hoped for more. Definitely a lot of consideration put into the user experience by Private Internet Access for this, and it shows.
For this PIA VPN review I went ahead and setup a VPN connection on my Android device to see how PIA accounted for the large amount of users that would predominantly use the VPN on such devices. Here's an overview of this setup process:
Thankfully, PIA have also developed their own Android app, which makes setting up and connecting to the VPN on your Android device so much simpler than having to source configuration files and connect via a general VPN client app.
To get the PIA Android app, I just went to Google Play on my device and searched for it. It popped right up, and downloaded + installed in seconds:
Once installed, I launched the app immediately and was presented with the main interface screen. Here I was prompted to enter my username and password, after which entering I was able to connect to the VPN immediately:
Choosing a specific server is simply a case of tapping the "Automatic server selection" text, which opens a list of all available servers that you just click to connect to:
You also have some great options in the settings section of the app, including an "internet kill switch", which allows you to disallow unencrypted internet traffic once connected:
Private Internet Access is compatible with all major operating systems including Windows, OS X, Android, iOS and Linux. Device-wise, users can setup a PIA VPN connection on their desktop, laptop, smartphone, smartTV, games consoles, eReaders, routers and many more.
You essentially have more than enough options to have the PIA VPN setup and connected on all the devices you would wish to have an unblocked and privacy-protected internet connection on.
Speed & Performance
A quick speed test was conducted to see the difference in data transmission speeds when connected to the VPN and disconnected.
I have to say that the results were some of the best and most impressive I have encountered of the many VPN services I've reviewed to date. As you can see, my standard connection was very fast anyway, so even a slightly big dip in speed would still have resulted in good overall speeds -- but when connected to the Private Internet Access VPN server, the speeds barely dipped at all:
I also tested the VPN on servers located in the US, and speeds maintained an impressive level. This was a surprise since I had read multiple cases online of users having issues with PIA's speed. I can only vouch for my own experience, which was positive. Note also that no connection drop offs were experienced in the 2 hours I kept the connection active.
The only complaint I had is that they don’t have a server status page like some other VPNs do. Some customers have stated that server speeds may fluctuate quite a bit on any given day and you can’t know until you try logging in. I would prefer knowing ahead of time which servers had the lowest loads and were running the fastest, so I could choose them accordingly. However, since the speeds overall are some of the best, I don’t think this was that huge of a problem.
Private Internet Access customers receive support via live chat on the website or via their built-in support area that uses a ticketing sustem. Live chat support workers are very experienced and clearly have great knowledge on all things VPN. However, I was a little disappointed at having to wait over fifteen minutes before getting to talk to such a support staff member:
I took some time to read their forums and found a lot of other people haven’t been impressed with the support PIA offers either. Here are a couple of excerpts from customers that have complained about their level of support on their forum:
“Extremely bad support, do not buy PIA subscription! I have contacted PIA three times by now over the last 5 days and has had no response what so ever. As a paying customer, this is highly disturbing that a company can be so negligent to their customers, I am very disappointed about PIA and will cancel my yearly subscription once it runs out. Please don't buy their services!!”
“I agree 100%.. When I send in a support ticket it just gets shrugged off. I needed a password from PIA what I got was and an invitation to go premium. I am a paying customer and I won't buy for a full year upfront.”
As far as support goes, I would say that there are more dependable VPNs to use. ExpressVPN, IPVanish and NordVPN offer more timely live chat support. I guess this is one of the drawbacks of buying a service that is going to have a more economical VPN service. Fortunately, PIA is pretty reliable regardless, so you shouldn’t need to contact support too often.
To their credit though, PIA do offer a very comprehensive database of setup guides, tutorials, and answers to frequently asked questions and issues raised, and the support area appears to function very efficiently with the ticketing system that's used therein.
The Private Internet Access website contains every important piece of information a visitor would want to find, with most of this vital info being presented to visitors right on the home page:
So content-wise, the site is top notch. Functionality and layout-wise (i.e. user experience optimisation), the site also delivers, with a great and intuitive navigational feel. I liked the interface a lot better than that of IPVanish, PureVPN and lots of the other providers I have checked out. Not once while interacting with the site did I feel lost or that I was unable to easily find a section or portion of the site easily.
Where it lacks slightly is in the actual design. The site has clearly been designed with functionality and structure first; with aesthetic design taking less priority. As a result, the site has a somewhat corporate and bland feel to it, especially when compared to some of Private Internet Access' main competitor service websites, which look very modern and are incredibly pleasing on the eye.
Security & Privacy
Before this Private Internet Access VPN review, I knew that it was a pretty safe VPN provider. I still wanted to check it out on my own before giving it a thumb’s up. From everything I looked at, PIA seemed to have a very secure connection and there weren’t any red flags that concerned me.
The VPN connections that Private Internet Access offer are given on the main protocols one expects from a VPN provider nowadays (OpenVPN, PPTP and L2TP.) This is great, particularly since their OpenVPN is offered on the 256 AES bit level of encryption. Users can freely select whichever protocol connection they wish to make on every server the choose to connect to.
When I tried it out, I didn’t notice any signs of a DNS leak. This was an important finding, because DNS leaks are one of the ways people’s identities are often exposed with other VPN services. I didn’t get a chance to try PIA’s Internet kill switch, because the server connection wasn’t lost. I don’t have any reason to doubt that it would work fine though.
Although the company is US-based, Private Internet Access counter the stringent jurisdictions and laws they are under by keeping zero usage or connection logs of any user. This, I believe, really makes up for their US-based location. They even openly state that P2P file sharing and torrenting is allowed on their VPN service.
My overall conclusion with this Private Internet Access VPN review is positive. They give the user a lot of control with the connections they offer and also offer one of the most affordable price plans I have encountered for the level of privacy, encryption and (what was my experience, anyway) speed of service.
I am not the only one that felt this way about their service. Plenty of people have stated that it offers the best bang for your buck, with flawless connections and exceptional speed. It is also very easy to setup.
That being said, you still get what you pay for. You will get better support and more server variance by using a more expensive VPN provider like ExpressVPN or NordVPN. You also need to be aware of the privacy risks, as they are U.S. based. But if you are on a tight budget and want a decent VPN provider, Private Internet Access is a good one to consider. It definitely beats PureVPN, Betternet and ProtonVPN. It is comparably priced (maybe a little more expensive), but still performs a lot better than any of these ones.
I highly recommend giving them a try. Setting up is easy, and with the money back guarantee, you really have nothing to lose.
Thanks for reading through this comprehensive PIA review.
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