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vpnMentor was established in 2014 to review VPN services and cover privacy-related stories. Today, our team of hundreds of cybersecurity researchers, writers, and editors continues to help readers fight for their online freedom in partnership with Kape Technologies PLC, which also owns the following products: ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, and Private Internet Access which may be ranked and reviewed on this website. The reviews published on vpnMentor are believed to be accurate as of the date of each article, and written according to our strict reviewing standards that prioritize professional and honest examination of the reviewer, taking into account the technical capabilities and qualities of the product together with its commercial value for users. The rankings and reviews we publish may also take into consideration the common ownership mentioned above, and affiliate commissions we earn for purchases through links on our website. We do not review all VPN providers and information is believed to be accurate as of the date of each article.
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vpnMentor was established in 2014 to review VPN services and cover privacy-related stories. Today, our team of hundreds of cybersecurity researchers, writers, and editors continues to help readers fight for their online freedom in partnership with Kape Technologies PLC, which also owns the following products: ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, and Private Internet Access which may be ranked and reviewed on this website. The reviews published on vpnMentor are believed to be accurate as of the date of each article, and written according to our strict reviewing standards that prioritize professional and honest examination of the reviewer, taking into account the technical capabilities and qualities of the product together with its commercial value for users. The rankings and reviews we publish may also take into consideration the common ownership mentioned above, and affiliate commissions we earn for purchases through links on our website. We do not review all VPN providers and information is believed to be accurate as of the date of each article.

Does a VPN Work on Mobile Data? Secure Your Cellular Data

Husain Parvez Updated on 30th May 2024 Fact-checked by Ryan Jones Cybersecurity Researcher

Let’s get this out of the way straight away — yes, you can use a VPN on mobile data. However, using a VPN can increase the amount of cellular data you consume, due to the encryption process and other features that boost your privacy. So, it’s important to choose a VPN that minimizes data usage, while still securing your connection.

That’s why I curated a list of the best VPNs for cellular data. So you can work, check your mail, browse social media, and do online banking with peace of mind, knowing that your sensitive data is protected from snoops.

That said, my top recommendation for using a VPN on mobile data is ExpressVPN. Its highly secure Lightway protocol is more lightweight than most alternatives, making it faster and less hungry for data. Better yet, you can try ExpressVPN risk-free as it’s backed by a trustworthy 30-day money-back guarantee. Getting a refund is easy if the service isn’t what you expected. Editors' Note: Expressvpn and this site are in the same ownership group.

Protect Mobile Data With a VPN >>

Does Using a VPN Use More Data?

Yes, using a VPN typically uses more data than browsing without one. Here’s why:

  • Encryption overhead. One of the primary purposes of a VPN is to encrypt your data. This adds overhead because the process requires additional data to maintain the integrity and security of the packets being sent and received. Depending on the encryption protocol and the VPN service, this overhead can vary — but it generally results in a 5-15% increase in data usage.
  • Tunneling protocols. VPNs work by tunneling your traffic through their servers. This involves encapsulating the original data packet inside another packet. While this is essential for routing and security, it adds a bit more to the total data size.

    An infographic of a data packet encryptionA standard data packet, when encrypted, contains extra VPN information that increases data consumption

  • Handshakes and keep-alive messages. To establish a secure connection, VPNs use a process known as a handshake. Additionally, they send keep-alive messages periodically to maintain the connection. Both of these processes consume extra data, albeit a relatively minor amount compared to actual data traffic.

If you have a data limit on your mobile plan, using a VPN could lead you to reaching that cap faster. It’s also worth noting that if you’re traveling, this may also result in higher data roaming charges than usual. The following table can help you get an idea about VPN data consumption on cellular networks:

Activity Without a VPN With a VPN
Web browsing (per page) 1.9MB 2.1MB (10% increase)
HD Netflix Streaming (per hour) 3.2GB 3.6GB (12% increase)
4K Netflix Streaming (per hour) 7.1GB 8.3GB (16% increase)
HD YouTube Streaming (per hour) 2.5GB 2.9GB (16% increase)

It's essential to weigh the slight increase in data usage against the privacy, security, and content accessibility benefits that VPNs provide. That said, for most users, the benefits of using a VPN far outweigh the small rise in data consumption.

Try ExpressVPN Risk-Free >>

How to Reduce VPN Data Usage on Mobiles

If you're concerned about VPNs consuming more of your mobile data, here are several methods to mitigate the issue:

1. Pick an Efficient VPN Protocol

Different VPN protocols impact data usage differently. Here’s a table that illustrates the data overhead of several popular protocols:

VPN Protocol Data Overhead Privacy & Security Speeds
Lightway (proprietary to ExpressVPN) 5.3% increase High Very Fast
WireGuard 7.5% increase High Very Fast
IKEv2/IPSec 9.2% increase Medium Fast
PPTP 10.4% increase Low Very Fast
OpenVPN UDP 13.9% increase High Fast
OpenVPN TCP 17.1% increase High Moderate

2. Use Split Tunneling

Some VPNs, like ExpressVPN, offer a split tunneling feature that lets you set only certain apps to go through the VPN tunnel, helping you save data on apps and processes where the VPN's protection isn't essential. This lets you avoid any unnecessary data consumption.

Screenshot of ExpressVPN's split tunneling settingsYou can also configure some VPNs to only connect when certain apps are launched

3. Activate Data Compression

Many VPNs use data compression to reduce the amount sent. This is a similar concept to zipping files. While most VPNs have compression enabled by default, some may not — but you can usually activate it from the settings.

A screenshot of the PIA's small packets settingsYou can also change the encryption level to consume less cellular data

4. Additional Tips

Steer clear of free VPNs — they often consume more of your data allowance due to the ads they push through their service.

Additionally, features like obfuscation and double VPN provide extra layers of privacy, but they also increase data usage. Use these advanced features on cellular data only when it's absolutely essential. It’s also advisable to disable your VPN when it's not in use to conserve battery life and prevent accidental unnecessary data use.

Protect Mobile Data With ExpressVPN >>

Why You Need a VPN for Mobile Data

You expose yourself to potential security risks every time you use mobile data. The main issue is that mobile networks, like any other online connection, are susceptible to hackers and prying eyes. These malicious entities can eavesdrop on your actions, intercept data, or launch attacks against your device.

This is where a VPN comes into play. Imagine it as a secure tunnel for your data. When activated, a VPN encrypts your information, making it unreadable to outsiders. This encryption uses powerful algorithms and security protocols, ensuring that even if someone manages to intercept your data, they won't be able to decipher it.

Beyond security, VPNs serve another essential purpose for mobile data users. They can bypass geo-restrictions on content, letting you access websites or services unavailable in your region. What’s more, by masking your online activities, VPNs prevent some telecom providers from throttling your bandwidth in response to you using a lot of data, ensuring a smoother online experience. However, keep in mind that VPNs can’t be used to get around mobile data caps.

Pro tip: Certain mobile carriers provide plans that limit general data usage but offer unlimited access to social media platforms. If you're subscribed to such a plan, it's crucial to ensure that your social media traffic isn't routed through your VPN. Otherwise, your carrier won't be able to identify that you're using social media, and this could result in that usage being deducted from your overall data allowance.

Try ExpressVPN Risk-Free >>

Best VPNs to Use on Mobile Data in 2024

1. ExpressVPN — Best Overall VPN for Mobile Data With Efficient Lightway Protocol

Best Feature Proprietary Lightway protocol for fast speeds and low data overhead on mobile phones
Speeds 115.5Mbps (5% slower than my usual connection)
Server Network 3,000 servers in 105 countries to quickly bypass geo-blocks
Can Access Netflix US, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, and more
Editors' Note: Expressvpn and this site are in the same ownership group.

ExpressVPN offers a mobile-friendly Lightway protocol that incorporates military-grade encryption while remaining lightweight. It consumes less battery and mobile data than any other VPN protocol we tested, meaning you can browse for longer without hitting caps. Its connection times are also faster, which is particularly beneficial for mobile devices which often switch between WiFi networks and cellular data. Due to these qualities, ExpressVPN is easily the most efficient VPN for mobile data.

Screenshot of ExpressVPN's protocol settingsLightway UDP is slightly faster, but Lightway TCP is more reliable on certain networks

Network Protection (a kill switch) is especially crucial when using mobile data as it immediately stops all data transfers if your VPN connection is interrupted — which can occur often on unreliable mobile data networks. This ensures your sensitive information is never left vulnerable. In my ExpressVPN tests, it never leaked any IP/DNS data, meaning my physical location and online activity always stayed private.

The mobile apps are easy to use, making them ideal for those new to VPNs. Installing ExpressVPN on my iPhone took me less than 2 minutes. The VPN also works across 8 devices simultaneously, meaning you can set it up on all of your family’s mobile devices without having to worry about slowdowns or connection issues.

One drawback is the high cost. Luckily, ExpressVPN frequently rolls out promotions to bring the price down. I was able to snag a 49% discount on the 12-month plan, plus an added 3 months free, bringing down the price to just $6.67/month. Plus, with a 30-day money-back guarantee, trying ExpressVPN is risk-free.

ExpressVPN Offer June 2024: For a limited time only, you can get an ExpressVPN subscription for up to 49% off! Don't miss out!

Useful Features

  • Impressive speeds. ExpressVPN is the fastest VPN I tested. My average download speed dropped by only 5%, which is very impressive since many VPNs reduce your speeds by over 50%. This means you won’t face any slowdowns while playing games or streaming your favorite shows on mobile data.
  • An audited no-logs policy. Independently audited by PwC, ExpressVPN’s strict no-logs policy ensures that your activities remain masked. With no activity or connection logs kept, there's no data stored about you on its servers.
  • Privacy Summary. This Android feature shows you the percentage of time you've been connected to the VPN over the past week, helping you manage your mobile data use more effectively.
  • Mobile tracker blocker. ExpressVPN’s Threat Manager automatically blocks connections to known trackers or malicious third parties, improving your security and privacy protection on mobile data.

Protect Mobile Data With ExpressVPN >>

2. CyberGhost — Streaming-Optimized Servers to Easily Access Your Favorite Shows on Mobile Data

Best Feature Specialized servers to help you bypass geo-restrictions and access your favorite platforms on your smartphone
Speeds 110.6Mbps (9% slower than my usual connection)
Server Network 11,690 servers in 100 countries for a stable cellular network connection
Can Access Netflix US, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, and more
Editors' Note: CyberGhost VPN and this site are in the same ownership group.

CyberGhost is a reliable option for accessing popular streaming platforms on mobile data, like Netflix, YouTube TV, and Disney+. Its specialized streaming servers are designed to ensure smooth and uninterrupted access to platforms, even on smartphones. This helped me easily access my Netflix US account on a UK cellular network while traveling.

Screenshot of CyberGhost's streaming-optimized serversI never had trouble accessing my favorite streaming platforms with these servers

In my hands-on testing, CyberGhost’s US servers offered great speeds on mobile data, perfect for online gaming and streaming without lag. It also offers unlimited bandwidth that lets you watch, browse, and download as much as you want without limitations.

The mobile apps are designed with user-friendliness in mind, which is ideal for VPN novices. All of the streaming-focused servers are clearly marked, ensuring a hassle-free setup. I installed it on my Android smartphone and began streaming on Disney+ and Hulu with mobile data in just a few moments.

One downside is the slightly expensive monthly plan which is coupled with a short 14-day refund period. That said, their long-term plans offer much better pricing, dropping to as low as $2.03/month. These plans also offer an extended money-back guarantee, letting you try CyberGhost free for 45 days.

June 2024 Deal: CyberGhost is currently offering 84% off its most popular plan! Take advantage of this offer now and save more on your CyberGhost subscription.

Useful Features

  • Smart rules. I configured CyberGhost to auto-connect to a US server whenever I opened my Netflix app — it’s a real time-saver.
  • Mobile-friendly protocols. WireGuard has a low data overhead, while IKEv2 is highly suitable for mobiles because it’s particularly quick to reconnect when switching networks. Both of these protocols are available and easily enabled in CyberGhost’s settings.
  • Split tunneling (on Android). CyberGhost lets you configure which apps should use the VPN tunnel, and which ones shouldn’t. This is great if you want to use the encrypted tunnel for online banking, but keep data-intensive apps on your regular connection.
  • Dedicated Apple Watch app. You can download and install CyberGhost on your Apple Watch, allowing you to secure its data connection with ease.

Protect Mobile Data With CyberGhost >>

3. Private Internet Access — Small Packets to Reduce Mobile Data Consumption

Best Feature Small packers to lower down the data size
Speeds 102.1Mbps (15.8% slower than my usual connection)
Server Network 29,650 servers in 91 countries to guarantee uninterrupted access to your favorite platforms
Can Access Netflix US, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, and more
Editors' Note: Private Internet Access and this site are in the same ownership group.

PIA's small packets feature is particularly useful for mobile data users because it optimizes data packets to be smaller in size. Smaller packets are easier and quicker to transmit, which can result in faster connection speeds and less data usage. This is especially beneficial if you're on a limited data plan, as it allows you to make the most out of your allocated data while maintaining a secure connection.

Screenshot of PIA's protocol and small packet settingsYou can quickly turn it on in PIA’s protocol settings

There’s also PIA’s dedicated ad-blocker (MACE), which keeps annoying ads and trackers at bay while browsing on your Android smartphone. This helps you avoid interruptions and malicious links, while also saving battery power and cellular data.

It’s also highly customizable. For example, I could set the VPN to use the WireGuard protocol and 128-bit encryption for slightly faster speeds in tests. This might sound a bit confusing for beginners, but the default settings already offer a good balance of speed and security on mobile data, so you don’t need to change anything if you don’t want to.

You can get PIA for only $2.03/month if you choose a long-term plan. I got the 3-year option as it’s the most affordable in the long run. Plus, thanks to a 30-day refund policy, you can try PIA for free.

June 2024 Update: PIA doesn't usually have deals or discounts (it's already so affordable), but right now you can get a new subscription for a crazy 83% off!

Useful Features

  • A massive server network. This allowed me to bypass geo-restrictions and use my US accounts while traveling. Plus, the large number of servers minimizes the chance of congestion issues, which can potentially cause connection problems and slowdowns.
  • Unlimited simultaneous device connections. You can protect all your family’s mobile data connections with a single subscription.
  • Streaming-optimized servers. Like CyberGhost, PIA offers streaming-optimized servers for a number of countries. These aren’t dedicated to specific streaming platforms however, and weren’t quite as reliable in my tests.

Protect Mobile Data With PIA >>

Editors' Note: Intego, Private Internet Access, CyberGhost and Expressvpn are owned by Kape Technologies, our parent company.

Quick Comparison Table: Mobile Data VPN Features

I’ve created this quick comparison table to help you decide which VPN is the best for your needs. The primary features I prioritized were the inclusion of mobile-friendly protocols and the impact on data usage. These aspects ensure that you can enjoy streaming, downloading, and browsing seamlessly on mobile data without interruptions.

Lowest price The most mobile-friendly protocol Overall data usage Split tunneling Simultaneous device connections
? ExpressVPN $6.67/month Lightway 5% increase in data usage Yes, on Android 8
? CyberGhost $2.03/month WireGuard 7.5% increase in data usage Yes, on Android 7
? Private Internet Access $2.03/month WireGuard 7.5% increase in data usage Yes, on Android Unlimited

Protect Mobile Data With ExpressVPN >>

Tips on Choosing the Best VPN for Mobile Data Usage

All the VPNs I’ve listed above can help you stay safe online while using mobile data. They offer military-grade encryption, fast speeds, reliable servers, and beginner-friendly apps. However, if you want to run some tests yourself, here are the criteria I looked at:

  • Minimal data usage. Choose a VPN that doesn’t increase data consumption by over 20%. Using this much data will quickly cause you to hit your data cap, leading to slow speeds and increased prices.
  • Fast speeds. You need a VPN that offers impressive speeds to avoid lag or long loading times (any VPN with a speed drop of 50% or more isn’t good). The best VPNs will let you stream, browse, and download using mobile data without noticeable slowdowns.
  • Strong security and privacy features. Choose a VPN with AES 256-bit encryption, a kill switch, and an audited no-logs policy to keep your online activity private and secure.
  • Global server network. To access your favorite platforms and streaming services, pick a VPN with a reliable global server network. The best VPNs regularly rotate out blocked IP addresses for new ones.
  • Dedicated smartphone apps. A user-friendly interface and an easy installation process across Android and iOS mean you don’t have to waste time fiddling with the VPN on your smartphone. It’s also a plus if the VPN of your choice comes with 24/7 live chat customer support.
  • Trustworthy money-back guarantee. Make sure the service you’re choosing offers a tried-and-tested money-back guarantee. So, you can quickly get a refund if the VPN doesn’t meet your expectations.

Editors' Note: Expressvpn and this site are in the same ownership group.Protect Mobile Data With ExpressVPN >>

Quick Guide: How to Use a VPN on Mobile Data in 3 Easy Steps

  1. Download a VPN. I recommend ExpressVPN as it minimizes data usage while offering robust security and fast speeds. You can try ExpressVPN risk-free, thanks to its 30-day money-back guarantee.
  2. Connect to a server. Choose any server location to protect your data. Closeby servers offer faster speeds.
  3. Start browsing. Browse on mobile data securely and without restrictions.

FAQs on Using a VPN on Mobile Data

Why is my VPN not working on cellular data?

Your VPN might not be working on cellular data for various reasons, such as incorrect settings or issues present in the VPN app. First off, make sure you’re using a quality VPN that’s proven to work well with mobile data. If you already are, try the following fixes:

  • No internet connection. Ensure you have an active cellular data connection. Data networks aren’t reliable at times, so it is possible you have temporarily lost connection.
  • Outdated VPN app. Sometimes, the issue can be resolved by updating your VPN app to the latest version or reinstalling it.
  • Server location mismatch. Ensure you're connected to a VPN server in a relevant location to the content you’re trying to access. For example, if you’re trying to watch UK Netflix, make sure you’re connected to a UK VPN server.
  • IP and GPS location conflict. If the VPN's IP address doesn't match your phone's GPS location, some services may detect and block you. Try turning off location services and reconnecting.
  • Protocol settings. Changing your VPN protocol through the app's settings can often resolve connection issues.
  • Contact support. If all else fails, contact your VPN’s support team for assistance.

Does VPN work on 5G?

Yes, VPNs work on 5G, just like they do on 3G, 4G, and other network types. Just install the VPN on your phone and connect to a server to encrypt your 5G connection.

Does a VPN give you unlimited data?

No, a VPN will not give you unlimited mobile data. VPNs actually cause your connection to use slightly more data. That’s why it is important to choose a VPN that keeps the impact on data usage to a minimum.

Does using a VPN on my phone drain my battery?

Yes, a VPN may affect battery life due to the encryption process. That said, some VPNs, like ExpressVPN, offer power-efficient protocols that mitigate battery drain.

Are cellular networks more secure than WiFi?

Cellular networks are generally more secure than public WiFi, but neither is 100% safe. Data networks usually feature some form of encryption on your connection, while many public WiFi networks are entirely insecure and have little to no encryption. Although data networks have some protection, it doesn’t make them immune to hackers. Always use a good VPN to secure your data connection further.

Will a VPN protect my SMS messages on cellular networks?

No, a VPN doesn't encrypt SMS messages. VPNs only encrypt your data traffic on the internet. However, many hackers tend to monitor and attack through internet connections, rather than SMS messages. That’s why VPNs are crucial to staying secure on both mobile data and WiFi connections.

Can I use a free VPN with mobile data?

Possibly, but using a free VPN with mobile data can be risky. These services usually lack the proper security measures, have slow speeds, and come with restrictive data caps. A premium VPN with a trustworthy money-back policy is a better alternative.

Some free VPNs may even log and sell your sensitive information to ad networks for a profit. Besides, free VPNs tend to consume more of your mobile data due to ads and inefficient protocols — the money you’d save choosing a free VPN would simply go into purchasing more data.

Use a VPN on Mobile Data in Minutes

It’s possible and recommended to use a VPN on mobile data. The VPN services listed above provide fast speeds, excellent security features, and global server networks to help you stay safe and bypass geo-restrictions from anywhere without interruptions. They also have mobile-friendly features to use less data and prevent quick battery drain.

My top VPN choice for mobile data is ExpressVPN, as it offers reliable security measures, impressive speeds, and user-friendly apps for Android and iOS. It’s also the most reliable VPN I tested for conserving mobile data and maintaining a reliable connection. You can try ExpressVPN risk-free as it’s backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee. If you don’t like it, getting a refund is hassle-free.

To summarize, these are the best VPNs that work on mobile data…

Rank
Provider
Our Score
Discount
Visit Website
1
medal
9.9 /10
9.9 Our Score
Save 49%!
2
9.7 /10
9.7 Our Score
Save 84%!
3
9.5 /10
9.5 Our Score
Save 83%!
Privacy Alert!

Your data is exposed to the websites you visit!

Your IP Address:

Your Location:

Your Internet Provider:

The information above can be used to track you, target you for ads, and monitor what you do online.

VPNs can help you hide this information from websites so that you are protected at all times. We recommend ExpressVPN — the #1 VPN out of over 350 providers we've tested. It has military-grade encryption and privacy features that will ensure your digital security, plus — it's currently offering 49% off.

Visit ExpressVPN

We review vendors based on rigorous testing and research but also take into account your feedback and our affiliate commission with providers. Some providers are owned by our parent company.
Learn more
vpnMentor was established in 2014 to review VPN services and cover privacy-related stories. Today, our team of hundreds of cybersecurity researchers, writers, and editors continues to help readers fight for their online freedom in partnership with Kape Technologies PLC, which also owns the following products: ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, and Private Internet Access which may be ranked and reviewed on this website. The reviews published on vpnMentor are believed to be accurate as of the date of each article, and written according to our strict reviewing standards that prioritize professional and honest examination of the reviewer, taking into account the technical capabilities and qualities of the product together with its commercial value for users. The rankings and reviews we publish may also take into consideration the common ownership mentioned above, and affiliate commissions we earn for purchases through links on our website. We do not review all VPN providers and information is believed to be accurate as of the date of each article.

About the Author

Husain Parvez is a Cybersecurity Researcher and News Writer at vpnMentor, focusing on VPN reviews, detailed how-to guides, and hands-on tutorials. Husain is also a part of the vpnMentor Cybersecurity News bulletin and loves covering the latest events in cyberspace and data privacy.

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