NordVPN is a 10-year-old VPN operating out of Panama. NordVPN is popular among privacy-focused customers due to strong encryption and strict no-log policies.
Their legal jurisdiction boasts uncensored Internet, no data retention laws, and no online government surveillance. NordVPN has servers in 59 countries and allows for six simultaneous connections.
After years of foolishly running my online business via public WiFi (though more secure now than then ), I decided to start using a VPN to mask some of my communications and access a bit of out of market sporting events while traveling.
But I found out that – similar to web hosting – there is no such thing as a “best VPN provider”. In fact, it’s like a whole world of confusing information because even trustworthy information is near-useless since it’s so complex.
This NordVPN review is my notes from trying them out for my own purposes as a privacy-aware, traveling, US-based businessperson who needs good usability and good pricing. I am not a political activist or someone who regularly travels to firewalled countries.
Whether you are looking for a VPN for privacy on public networks, for website access, for avoiding geotargeting , for masking communications or all the above, hopefully, this NordVPN review will be useful.
What is NordVPN?
NordVPN is a commercial Virtual Private Network (VPN) currently owned by Tefincom S.A. and located in Panama. Their software allows you to route all your Internet traffic through their network so that you can mask your destinations, locations, and other characteristics that show up with your Internet connection.
NordVPN offers all the standard features of a VPN with a focus on speed, no strict no logging, and huge range of available servers. They have a large marketshare in the VPN market. And yes, their corporate location will be both a pro & con in this review.
Is NordVPN Safe?
Yes, NordVPN is safe*. They are owned by a large, growing company with a straightforward and open business model (aka, the customer pays money for a service) and audited services & financial records. They’ve been around for a while and have high standards of disclosure** from many non-profit industry watchdogs.
*The asterisk here is that the company is still anonymously owned in the British Virgin Islands. This offshore location affords both the company and its customers a high degree of privacy from law enforcement and national surveillance programs…but also means that customers do lack the protection of those same law enforcement agencies. Additionally, all commercial VPNs suffer from the same group of risks outlined by the US National Institutes of Technology’s Empirical Analysis in 2018 .
**The second asterisk here is that they have had security incidents in 2018 with very sluggish response times. They’ve since made large, public shows of additional protocols and security disclosures. However, they struggled to regain their spotless reputation since.
Is NordVPN Good?
Yes, NordVPN is a solid VPN all-around. They have tradeoffs for sure, and they aren’t right for everyone. But they offer everything most customers want in a VPN at with an extra layer of privacy that US-based VPNs can’t offer.
So here’s the rest of my NordVPN review – structured with pros & cons based on my experience as a customer so you can figure out if NordVPN is a good fit for you, or if you want an alternative paid VPN.
NordVPN Pros / Benefits
NordVPN is popular for a reason – they do a lot of things right. In an industry where trust is paramount, they do a lot to reinforce their trustworthiness while providing a good user experience. In an industry full of tradeoffs, they position themselves as the “world’s most advanced VPN.”
Every user will have different needs/wants from a VPN, but here are NordVPN’s main advantages based on my experience with them and other VPN providers.
NordVPN offers only one plan, but it’s available at several different price points.
Pay monthly, and you receive the plan for $11.95 per month. Pay one year at a time, and the price drops to just $5.75 per month.
Get the absolute cheapest rate by paying for two years at a time for just $4.00 per month.
Unlike many competitors, NordVPN offers a free trial. You’re able to test out the service for up to three days with no commitment. You don’t even have to provide your payment details – though you do have to request it .
In addition to the free trial, NordVPN offers a 30-day money back guarantee. Try the service for a month. If you’re unhappy, you get your money back. That’s much longer than many direct competitors like PureVPN.
Like most VPN providers, NordVPN accepts credit/debit card and PayPal for payment. And like the best providers, they also accept Bitcoin.
Paymentwall enables you to make payments with less popular methods, including those only available in certain countries.
Account Set Up
One of the most daunting parts of getting a VPN is actually using the VPN. A perfect VPN that you never use is worse than an imperfect VPN that you always use.
NordVPN does very well on this point.
The company makes the entire sign up, set up, and installation process as easy as possible. All that’s required is a valid email address.
Want to add an extra layer of privacy? Then create a disposable email address specifically for your NordVPN account.
Be sure to pay with Bitcoins if you’re using a disposable email address and don’t want NordVPN to have any of your personal/payment details.
After signing up is complete, you’ll receive a confirmation email from NordVPN. Click the activation link, and you’re good to go.
Immediately download the VPN client onto Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android.
Manual installation is also available for Linux, Blackberry 10, Chromium, and more, including a selection of routers.
NordVPN has servers in 59 countries around the world.
They technically have servers located on every continent, except Antarctica. They currently boast around 5740 servers total and are always adding more.
The large number of servers available guarantees consistent speeds and reliable connections, no matter your location…but especially you are in Europe. I will cover this point more in the disadvantages section. But for now – look at their server map.
Notice anything? Yeah – Europe is covered. If you are in Europe (and parts of North America)(, NordVPN gets a big thumbs up. Plenty of availability and plenty of connections.
Ex-Europe…well, we’ll mention that in a moment.
Security and Encryption
NordVPN does well in the security and privacy departments.
The simple fact that it’s located in Panama accounts for much of this. The country has no data retention laws and no government surveillance of the Internet.
Panama is also far enough away from the United States and the United Kingdom that the prying eyes of the NSA and GCHQ have little influence there.
In addition to their prime location for a VPN headquarters, NordVPN also boasts superior encryption standards. They offer PGP keys to contact customer service & account details.
In addition to its standard servers, NordVPN also offers a unique double VPN feature. Use “double VPN” to chain multiple servers together. Your information is then passed between two servers on its way from your computer to the Internet.
Best of all, the information is re-encrypted each time it leaves a server, creating a sort of double encryption.
Though “double VPN” and chaining servers does improve security, it also means much slower speeds – which I’ll cover in the disadvantages section.
For most people, the slightly increased security doesn’t outweigh the lag in speeds.
Their OpenVPN connections are backed up with AES 256-Bit encryption, RSA-2048 key encryption, and HMAC SHA1 authentication.
NordVPN offers a few other protocol options, including L2TP/IPSec, but I recommend the vast majority of people stick with OpenVPN.
Another great security feature is NordVPN’s no-log policy. According to the provider:
“We do not keep any logs – no traffic logs, no timestamps, nothing. All of our logs are pointed directly to /dev/null so as much as third parties would want it is impossible to trace the user itself. In addition, our service has only a minimal configuration which does not give away any information about the user.”
**Caveat – Note that no VPN is 100% secure. Your traffic is still routing through a company. Any company can go out of business or go rogue. If you are trying to avoid your American ISP – then you are simply replacing distrust of Comcast/Charter with the trust of your VPN. If you are a political activist where trust is a life or death situation, you need to be using something like Tor. This highlights this section of NordVPN’s unique features, but the point remains using a VPN does not instantly create security/privacy. That is something you do via aligning company incentives (ie, paying for companies who maintain security) & being proactive.
Unfortunately, NordVPN falls a bit short in one security area: past data center hacks. The 2018 data center hacks are well-documented by NordVPN themselves now. But they took quit a while to notify users and took some reputation points away.
User Interface / Usability
Like all the best VPN providers, NordVPN does things right with a clean, easy-to-navigate user interface.
Both the Windows and Android client are remarkably similar. The same goes for the Mac and iOS client (although they do have some slight differences).
The basic design of the client is ideal for beginners. It’s easy to switch between servers and even protocols as needed.
Unfortunately, the barebones design fails to incorporate many advanced features. Though NordVPN still gets the job done, it doesn’t offer up as many customization options as most other VPN services.
As mentioned above, NordVPN is compatible with Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS right out of the box.
It’s also possible to use it (via manual setup) with Linux, Blackberry 10, Chromium, and a few other platforms.
Website / Design / Resources
On a related note – a good website is often a sign of a good product, especially when it comes to VPNs.
Fortunately for NordVPN, their website checks out. It’s simple and straightforward design makes it incredibly easy to navigate.
You won’t spend much time looking for the information you need. The basics of NordVPN, as well as the service’s pricing plans, are highlighted on the website’s main page.
The NordVPN FAQ web page is a useful resource. Although it never gets very technical, it does answer most basic questions.
The community board and NordVPN blog are additional web pages of note. The community board is a great place for users to interact with each other while the regularly updated blog often has new information related to the VPN industry.
Finally, the website’s servers page is worth a look. It lists several real-time statistics related to each of NordVPN’s servers. This is not only useful information, but the transparency adds to the trust factor mentioned in the security caveat above.
NordVPN offers 24/7 customer support.
The best way to contact the company is by online ticket system, email, or live chat. You can expect to receive an almost instantaneous response with live chat.
Despite how easy it is to contact a support representative, I’ve seen a lot of rumors about NordVPN’s lackluster support. I can’t back it up with personal experience, but there are plenty of online reviews regarding relatively unhelpful customer support staff.
I’ll place an asterisk beside this, but since customer support experience are so anecdotal, I usually try to look at things that indicate an investment in customer support (rather than cost-cutting). NordVPN passes that test with their decent knowledgebase, emails, and 24/7 live chat.
They do not do phone support though. Another option to get in touch with NordVPN is via their Facebook or Twitter accounts, which are maintained on a near-daily basis.
NordVPN is notable for the handful of additional privacy features it offers.
These privacy features are free for anyone to use, including those that aren’t subscribed to their VPN service.
These features include a free web proxy, a free YouTube Proxy, and a free proxy list.
I also like the fact that NordVPN allows for up to six simultaneous connections. Most providers only allow you to use between three and five devices at once (sometimes only one!).
They do not monitor or cap bandwidth. They allow Onion routers for those looking for maximum security via Tor.
If needed, the also allow you to purchase a dedicated IP address.
NordVPN Cons / Disadvantages
NordVPN does many things right. However, running a VPN requires a series of tradeoffs. Here are some of the disadvantages that I found with NordVPN.
Speed / Performance
As a reminder, I am located in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. This means that all my testing is heavily biased towards the United States, where NordVPN is not strong. Here’s that server map again –
See that one in the South America? Yeah – that’s what I ran speed tests on to minimize geographic latency.
NordVPN’s performance varies widely depending on the time of day you’re using it.
While speeds are great sometimes, they’re extremely slow other times. This is especially true if you attempt to use the VPN service during heavy-use hours in the United States.
The varied speeds, especially the slow speeds during busy hours, hints that NordVPN is probably oversubscribed.
*Oversubscription is a tradeoff risk from not monitoring & shifting bandwidth usage.
In other words, they have too many people using the service for the number of servers available (despite having more than 5740 up and running). That said, NordVPN did alright in most of my tests.
I consistently hit around 52% of my non-VPN speeds – which is pretty good. But it’s not consistent.
Still, performance is good enough to stream Netflix, Hulu, and the like, no matter the time of day or your location. I was able to connect to the UK and stream BBC One in standard definition without hiccups.
Here’s a traceroute test that I ran –
The extra security benefits of chaining servers with “double VPN” did not seem to reduce speeds – or at least not they did not add to the latency.
It’s also worth noting that NordVPN’s performance, speeds, and reliability are much better than they were in the past.
If you were disappointed by the service in the past, you might find that their recent improvements in these areas now meet your needs. If NordVPN could improve the consistency of these speeds and connections, the user experience would drastically improve.
Server Options (ex-Europe)
On a related note – the diversity of server options with NordVPN is a serious disadvantage. They technically have server options all around the world, but almost all are clustered in Europe.
If you are ex-Europe or are a frequent traveler, NordVPN is a not going to be a strong choice for you – no matter what their other pros are – especially compared to a VPN like ExpressVPN.
Lastly, I have to re-mention NordVPN’s customer support. They seem to invest a good bit in support compared to other providers. But –
- They don’t have phone support.
- They don’t make any service guarantees.
- They have a good many legit sounding complaints about customer service.
So while their service looks better than some others, I would approach it with eyes open and focused on other benefits.
NordVPN Review Conclusion
NordVPN is a full-featured, privacy-centric VPN service with a solid reputation.
The fact that it’s based out of Panama, a country with great online privacy laws, is its major highlight for us.
Add on the fact that it’s just as good for safely accessing public Wi-Fi as it is for getting past Internet censors in restricted regions, and it’s easy to see why the service is so popular with privacy-focused customers in Europe.
If privacy & usability are a focus for you, and you are located in or near Europe, then go sign up for NordVPN here.
If you want all the data to find a fit for a specific need, then browse this well-regarded spreadsheet .