Slow VPN? Why it can happen & how to fix it

Tips & tricks
6 mins

Experiencing slow speeds with your VPN download can be frustrating, especially when relying on it for secure and efficient internet access. Understanding why this happens and how to address it ensures that your VPN enhances, rather than hinders, your online experience. Let’s review the reasons behind slow VPN connections and explore solutions to speed things up.

Does a VPN slow down your internet speed?

Yes, all VPNs have the potential to slow down your internet. At ExpressVPN, we optimize our service so that you’ll barely notice a difference. 

Several factors can influence how much a VPN slows down your internet, from the quality of your VPN service to the physical distance between you and the server. However, good VPNs shouldn’t decrease your speeds beyond 10%-20%. Let’s take a look at the most important factors.

Before we start: Is the VPN really the cause of your slow speeds?

As mentioned, a VPN can be the cause of slower connection speeds, especially if you’re not using a good one. However, many different things can affect how fast your connection is, so before adjusting anything else, I suggest you verify if the VPN is the source of the slowdown.

Disconnect the VPN and run a speed test. If your internet is still slow, the issue might lie with your ISP or local network rather than the VPN.

For example, I ran speed tests with my connection alone and found that my baseline speeds were around 950Mbps. When I connected to ExpressVPN, it only decreased to around 832Mbps, meaning I’m well within the expected speed decrease when using a VPN.

Baseline speeds

Your internet speed without a VPN serves as a baseline. The performance of any VPN can’t exceed this baseline; it can only match or reduce it due to the encryption process. If your initial internet speed is slow, using a VPN might further decrease it. Your baseline speeds are dictated mainly by the speed of your connection (basically, what your ISP charges you for).

Quality of your VPN

The overall quality of your VPN service plays a significant role in its speed. Premium VPNs like ExpressVPN invest in high-speed servers and advanced technology to minimize speed loss. In contrast, free or low-quality VPNs might offer a different level of performance, leading to slower connections.

A VPN service with lots of bandwidth on its servers (which can partially come from having a large number of servers) can ensure speeds are maintained. For example, ExpressVPN uses next-gen 10Gbps servers, which thanks to high bandwidth prevents congestion and slow speeds even when handling a large number of users.

Encryption method

Encryption is what makes VPNs secure, but it can also affect speed. More robust encryption methods require more processing power, which can slow down your connection. For instance, AES-256 encryption is stronger but slower to process than AES-128. However, we would not recommend going below the best-in-class encryption method of AES-256.

Distance to the server

The physical distance between your device and the VPN server can impact your internet speed. Generally, the further you are from the server, the slower your connection will be. Choosing a server closer to your location can help improve speed.

If you are using a VPN for security and are not looking to be placed in any specific location, choose the server location closest to you. ExpressVPN’s Smart Location feature can help you automatically choose the server that’s best for your network conditions.

Server load

The number of users connected to a VPN server simultaneously can also affect your speed. High traffic on a server can lead to congestion, reducing the speed for everyone connected. Premium VPNs manage this by distributing user load across multiple servers or adding new servers to high-traffic areas.

5 methods to make your VPN faster

If you’re experiencing slow VPN speeds, there are several methods you can employ to improve its performance. Let’s explore the most important ones.

Change your server location

The distance between you and the VPN server can affect speed. If you’re connected to a faraway server, choose a closer one. A server closer to your physical location will likely provide faster speeds. If you’re using ExpressVPN, you can use the server recommended for your network conditions by selecting Smart Location. If you need to place yourself in a specific country, you could also try a different server location within the same country if multiple locations are available. 

Change your VPN protocol

VPNs use different protocols to transport data securely. Some protocols are faster than others. For instance, switching from OpenVPN to IKEv2 might improve your speed if it suits your network conditions. Note that some popular protocols sacrifice security for speed; ExpressVPN has phased out weaker ones like PPTP, as we don’t recommend using weaker security levels. We’ve developed our own protocol called Lightway, with one of the aims being fewer lines of code for a faster VPN experience that maintains robust security. (All subscribers get Lightway included, and it’s the default protocol you’re using in most cases.)

Restart your devices

Sometimes, the simplest solution is the most effective. Restarting your device can resolve many connectivity issues, including slow VPN speeds. This clears the device’s memory and can help the VPN software run more smoothly. Bear in mind that this includes the device you’re using and also any routers or access points on your network. The issue could be on any of these devices, so you can increase the chances of solving everything if you reboot them all.

Turn off security software

Firewalls and antivirus software are essential for your online safety, but they can sometimes interfere with VPN connections. Temporarily disabling these programs can help diagnose if they’re causing the slowdown. 

Use a premium VPN

Free VPNs often have limited resources, leading to overcrowded servers and slow speeds. Investing in a premium VPN service like ExpressVPN can significantly improve your speed and overall experience. Premium VPNs offer optimized servers, advanced technology, and better bandwidth, ensuring faster and more reliable connections. ExpressVPN is often reviewed as being one of the fastest VPNs on the market thanks to its vast network of 10Gbps servers.

Can a VPN increase my internet speeds?

Yes. It’s possible that an ISP throttles—meaning slows down—connections when it detects high-bandwidth activities, like streaming, gaming, and large downloads. ISPs do this to reduce overall traffic congestion. Because a VPN hides what you are doing from third parties including ISPs, your ISP won’t be able to detect the activity type and apply throttling. Therefore, your speeds could improve. It’s important to note that this improvement is relative to throttled speeds and not an increase over your maximum ISP speed.

Can a VPN stop buffering?

It’s possible, if the buffering is caused by ISP throttling (see above). If your ISP is throttling your connection when streaming video or engaging in other high-bandwidth activities, a VPN can conceal the nature of your internet traffic, potentially stopping your ISP from throttling, thereby reducing buffering.

However, if buffering is due to slow internet speeds, a congested VPN server, or limitations of the streaming service itself, a VPN won’t solve the issue. In general, a VPN slows down internet connections rather than speeds them up. But with a premium VPN like ExpressVPN, you likely won’t notice a difference.

FAQ: About slow VPN

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