Surfshark VPN Review Overview
- Based in BVI
- Works with streaming services
- P2P friendly
- Somewhat small server network
- 24 month plan - $1.99 per month ($47.76 total cost)
- 12 month plan - $5.99 per month ($71.88 total cost)
- 1 month plan - $11.95 per month ($11.95 total cost)
We tend to get a little nervous when a company claims to be great for everything. There’s that old saying about being “a jack of all trades, master of none,” after all.
But that isn’t necessarily true for VPNs with the resources to excel in multiple services – which is how Surfshark presents itself.
So, our curiosity piqued, we decided to put Surfshark to the test. And we have to admit, we were pleasantly surprised to see the provider isn’t all talk. Read more in our Surfshark review.
How does Surfshark Compare to the Competition
See our detailed explanation of how we forensically test each and every VPN.
Located in a Safe Jurisdiction
In the past, we’ve talked about how some countries are better for VPNs than others.
And if you’re familiar with the VPN industry – or even online privacy in general – you’ll understand why we usually suggest steering clear of VPNs located in a 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, or 14 Eyes nation (or any of their unofficial partners, like Israel).
Fortunately, there’s no such concern here. Surfshark is based in the British Virgin Islands.
This is easily one of the best countries for VPN providers, thanks to the BVI’s very favorable privacy laws. There are no data retention laws, so Surfshark isn’t legally obligated to keep user logs.
And even if they were, a foreign government or intelligence agency would have to go through a prohibitively difficult process to petition for a BVI High Court order that would allow them to request that kind of information.
Strict No-Logs Policy
Other than your email address and payment information, nothing can be linked to your internet usage while using Surfshark.
Everything else is diagnostic data, which most VPN companies record so they can maintain their service and fix any problems that come up.
Military-Grade Encryption and the Best VPN Protocols
Now that we know Surfshark isn’t a threat to your online privacy, it’s time to start looking at how they protect you from external threats.
The first step is always looking at the type of encryption and VPN protocols used.
We came across a recent review from PCWorld suggesting Surfshark is using 2 types of encryption: 256-bit AES-CBC and 256-bit AES-GCM.
There’s a slight difference, with GCM generally considered more secure than CBC.
Surfshark advertises they use 256-bit AES encryption, and their Features page specify it’s 256-bit AES-GCM. We wondered if it might differ based on whether you’re using Mac or Windows, so we got in touch with Live Chat:
We don’t know where PCWorld got their information from, but it’s clearly wrong.
This short communication also confirmed Surfshark uses nothing but the best VPN protocols too: OpenVPN and IKEv2. They even have an excellent resource explaining exactly why they only use these 2 (and why we support that choice).
Kill Switch, Split Tunneling, and DNS Leak Protection
But wait! There’s more!
Surfshark is incredibly rich with security features. We’ll try introducing them all to you as briefly as possible.
First up is the kill switch. This is a very important feature that will automatically kill your internet session if there’s any interruption to the connection between your device and the VPN server.
Unfortunately, Surfshark’s kill switch needs to be turned on manually in the app’s settings. The provider also drops the ball a little by not having a kill switch for their Android app, though they say they’re working on one.
Second is Whitelister, Surfshark’s name for their split tunneling feature. Very basically, this allows you to create exceptions by whitelisting specific apps or websites so they don’t pass through the VPN servers.
Third is DNS leak protection. DNS servers are one of the many ways your ISP spies on what you’re doing online (and they can sell that information without telling you).
Surfshark doesn’t say much in this regard, but in a short FAQ article they confirm they use their own DNS servers to prevent any leaks.
More Security Features
Now that we covered the more common security features, let’s run through what else Surfshark has to offer.
Camouflage Mode is briefly mentioned on the Features page as a way to make sure your ISP won’t know you’re using a VPN.
We couldn’t find any more information on Surfshark’s website, though we did manage to confirm that, when activated, it connects you to a server optimized for obfuscation.
Unfortunately, it seems Camouflage Mode is only available with OpenVPN, which excludes Android users.
Next up is Clean Web, which Surfshark included in their VPN design to help protect users from malware attempts and get rid of ads. There isn’t really much more that can be said about this feature other than it seems to work flawlessly.
Finally, there’s MultiHop, which is what Surfshark calls their Double VPN feature. This is another one of those “nice-to-have” options, but if you’re in a country with draconian censorship (China, for example), it can be a lifesaver.
In short: MultiHop routes your internet traffic through 2 VPN servers, usually in different countries. This doubles the encryption and security benefits, but also slows your connection a bit.
What we really like about Surfshark’s version is you can choose a pair of server locations from the MultiHop tab under “Locations” in the app.
This helps optimize the connection so you don’t experience too much of a speed reduction while using the feature.
If it weren’t for MultiHop, we would recommend anyone who’s super security conscious to mimic the feature by connecting to a VPN server and then opening TOR browser.
TOR (The Onion Router) works almost the same way as MultiHop by routing your traffic through 3 different servers to obfuscate your location.
However, TOR isn’t as heavily encrypted, and even using it without a VPN can drastically slow down your internet connection.
However, if you absolutely want to use it, Surfshark does confirm their service is TOR-compatible.
Server Connections and Optimization
We have a strong preference for VPNs with thousands of servers.
Our main reason is this helps prevent something called network overload, which is what happens when a server is handling too much data at one time. This can drastically lower your speed, so having 2,000+ servers to choose from is a nice safety margin.
Unfortunately, Surfshark only has (updated 12/12/19) 1040+ in 61+ countries (an exact number isn’t available and we kept losing count while trying).
Granted, all of them include private DNS and are optimized for P2P connections (Peer-2-Peer/torrenting). But some of them are only virtual servers, which are even more susceptible to network overload.
It’s by no means a deal-breaker for us, but it does lower Surfshark’s overall score as a VPN.
We try to stress this next point as much as possible when talking about VPN speeds: it’s impossible to use a 100% standard test to fairly compare providers.
However, we do our best to get as close as possible by always using the same devices, internet connection, and server locations.
But we can’t control network overload, unfortunately, which can result in some variation. Or, as other VPN comparison sites put it, “inconsistency.”
With that caveat out of the way, here’s what we found while testing Surfshark’s server speeds:
To our delight, Surfshark offers speeds rivaling competitors like ExpressVPN and NordVPN.
Device Compatibility and Connections
Surfshark has an app for almost every kind of device:
- Android (limited – no kill switch or Camouflage Mode)
- Amazon FireTV
- Apple TV
- Other Smart TVs
They also have browser extensions available for Chrome and Firefox.
Usually, we recommend erring on the side of caution by not using a browser extension, as they typically have fewer security features. Sometimes, they’re just a proxy, which won’t hide your IP address at all.
But Surfshark is a very notable exception. In 2018, the provider followed in the footsteps of competitors like ExpressVPN and NordVPN by getting an independent audit.
Surfshark specifically asked Cure53 to audit their browser extensions, perhaps because these are usually the weakest point in a VPN’s service.
Cure53’s report concludes they “make a very robust impression and are not exposed to any issues, neither in privacy nor in the more general security realms.”
So we feel confident in saying you can safely use Surfshark. And you can do so with an unlimited number of devices – a practically unheard of benefit in the industry.
Subscription Plans and Pricing
Like almost all VPN providers, Surfshark offers 3 subscription plans:
As you can see, the longer the subscription plan, the better the price. In fact, at the time of writing, a 2-year subscription costs less than the 1-year.
And if you’re a student, you can get an exclusive 15% discount.
You can also opt to pay for Surfshark’s 2 add-on security features at $0.99/month: HackLock (which scans the internet to see if your email account has been leaked) and BlindSearch (an incognito-mode browser version with zero ads or tracking).
There are also a few different options for making payment to Surfshark: credit card, PayPal, Google Wallet, and cryptocurrency.
If you’re especially concerned with privacy, you can create a separate email address to use for signing up and pay via cryptocurrency.
Finally, Surfshark also offers a free trial. Their website is a little misleading here, advertising a 30-day trial that’s actually referring to their 30-day money-back guarantee, as confirmed by support:
The real free trial only lasts 7 days:
You have to get it via Google Play or the Apple App Store, but once you create your free account, you can use it to install one of the other apps (information in the FAQ article linked above).
Unblock Websites for Unlimited Streaming
On the Features page, Surfshark mentions a “NoBorders Mode.” If you follow its link, however, you’ll find it’s not so much a mode (like Camouflage Mode is), but rather a function of the VPN in general.
Of course, what we’re talking about here is using a VPN to get around geo-location blocks and online censorship, whether it’s by your favorite streaming service or your government.
All VPNs claim to be able to do this. However, many have short-comings, such as not working in China or being unable to unblock Netflix.
Some are honest enough to admit this, but not all of them. Surfshark claims to offer an internet with no borders, so we put them to the test.
They aren’t lying – we were able to connect to various Netflix regions, as well as unblock BBC iPlayer, and none of our Kodi add-ons gave any trouble either.
And, as mentioned earlier, Surfshark works very well as a torrenting VPN too.
Usability and Support
We spent some time working with Surfshark’s Windows and Android apps (though the lack of a kill switch on the latter made us more wary of how we tested it).
Both were quick and easy to install – 5 minutes from start to finish, including signing in and connecting to a server.
And they’re both incredibly easy to use.
Considering the number of features Surfshark offers, we were half-expecting their apps to be clunky. But we could easily find everything we were looking for without any difficulty.
We also have to give their live chat support two thumbs-up. As you can see from the screenshots shared above, their agent was always prompt. Even when we were third in queue, we never waited longer than about 30 seconds to be connected.
She was also able to answer every question we threw her way, no matter how technical.
How to Cancel Surfshark and Get Your Money Back
We do recommend Surfshark as a VPN provider. But if you’re having any difficulties and need to cancel your subscription, here’s how to do so:
- If you signed up via the mobile, app, use the Google Play Store/App Store to find your auto-renewal subscriptions
- Otherwise, navigate to your account settings via the website
- Unsubscribe from SurfShark
- Contact support and request a refund
So long as you’re still eligible for Surfshark’s 30-day money-back guarantee, you won’t have any problems here.
Depending on how you paid for your account, you might have your money back in as little as 5 days without any fuss.