Why Does a VPN Slow Down Your Internet Connection?

A slow turtle sitting on a computer keyboard.

VPNs will bring down your connection’s speed, no matter how much some untrustworthy VPN providers like to claim the opposite. Why does a VPN slow down your connection, though, and are there ways to fix this problem?

What Affects VPN Speed?

Though some providers like to claim that their VPN can boost your internet speed, the fact is that VPNs will always cause some loss of speed, the question is only how much. When a VPN is said to be fast, it just means that it loses less speed than its competitors do. There are three main reasons why VPNs slow down your connection, here they are in descending order.

Distance to the VPN Server

The biggest issue that affects internet speeds when using a VPN is the distance between you and the VPN server, and the bigger the distance, the worse the loss. If, for example, you’re in New York City, a server in Boston will make you lose less speed than one in Los Angeles, not to mention one in Tokyo.

This is because, as ethereal as data may seem, it still needs to obey the laws of physics. When you are surfing the internet, you’re sending and receiving so-called packets of data, and they need to physically travel to and from you. The longer the route, the longer the delay between call and response.

You can see this directly when you test your speeds yourself: connect to a server nearby and then to one further away. Chances are the first server will give you a better, fast year result than the second. If it doesn’t, though, one of the other factors could be at play.

Server Load

Another important factor in VPN slowdowns is the load on the server you’re connecting to. A server can only handle so much traffic. The closer you get to that cap, the bigger the slowdown will be, there’s no way around it.

As a result, if you connect to a server even just a few miles away from you that’s close to capacity, you may get a worse result than from a server in another country that is empty of users. Of the three factors, this is the one most influenced by VPN providers themselves. A good service will invest in better infrastructure so users won’t experience slowdowns due to server load—ExpressVPN’s servers are a good example.

Encryption & Protocol

The final factor that affects VPN speed is the protocol and encryption used. Though it’s not as important as distance and server load, it does play a part. This is because when you use a VPN, you’re sending your information through a so-called VPN tunnel. Before sending, packets are encrypted and then decrypted when they get to their destination. This process takes time. It’s not a lot, but in conjunction with the other factors, it can add up.

Heavier encryption takes longer to encrypt and decrypt, so that plays a part, as does the protocol used. This is in part because the VPN protocol determines the level of encryption—but also because some are simply faster than others. For example, IKEv2 is faster than OpenVPN, but it has some security issues.

How to Speed Up Your VPN Connection

With the above information in mind, we can also figure out ways to speed up your VPN connection. Not all our tips will work for everybody, but even applying them in modest measure should see some serious improvement.

Choose a Nearby Server

The easiest way is to use a different server. If you’re in New York, choose that server in Boston over the one in Los Angeles. If you’re in Britain, use one in the UK or Ireland rather than on the European mainland. That said, if you’re using your VPN to get through to Netflix ,you can’t change servers as easily, so you may want to look at other options.

Change Protocols

We’ll start with one tip that you should be cautious about, namely changing protocols. This is because, unless you know what you’re doing, messing with protocol settings could potentially put your security at risk. Still, though, if your connection is very slow, changing from TCP to UDP could speed up your connection, or even using IKEv2 instead of OpenVPN if security isn’t your top concern.

Pick a Good VPN Provider

Finally, it could very well be that your provider is using poor servers. In that case, we recommend you check out our selection of the best VPNs, as most of those perform admirably. The fastest VPN out there is probably ExpressVPN as it uses state-of-the-art server architecture to balance loads.

The difference between a good provider and a bad one is like the difference between night and day. Switching VPN providers could be the simple—if expensive—solution you’ve been looking for to fix your speed problems.

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