surfshark review

Surfshark Review 2021

Surfing. Sharks. Is there any situation where these two things go well together? I can think of one: if the surfing is on the internet, and the shark is Surfshark VPN. In this Surfshark review, I’ll explain why this is one shark you want to turn up in your shallows.

let’s go surfing
Surfshark not having a logo of a shark or a surfer or a shark surfing seems like a missed opportunity. 

Surfshark is the young gun of the VPN world. It’s a young industry in general, with most of its titans founded in the late aughts. But with a launch date in 2018, Surfshark is hardly old enough to quit diapers, and it doesn’t yet have the maturity of its more seasoned competitors.

That doesn’t mean you should ignore it, though. In under three years, Surfshark has built a network of over 3,200 servers in 65 countries, paired with an affordable, powerful VPN app. For this Surfshark VPN review, I put the VPN through its paces, testing its features, prices, speed, security, streaming ability and more.

Product

Surfshark

$2.21
$12.95 per month, $6.49 per month for 6 months, $2.49 per month for 24 months

Get Surfshark

Surfshark Review Overview

Surfshark Specs:

WebsiteSurfshark
Our Rating91/100
Pricing$2.21 $12.95 per month, $6.49 per month for 6 months, $2.49 per month for 24 months
Free trial available7 Days
Money-Back Guarantee30 Days
Desktop OSesWindows, MacOS, Linux
Mobile OSesAndroid, iOS
Worldwide Server Amount1700+ Servers in 63 Countries
Simultaneous Connectionsunlimited
Streaming AccessNetflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, HBO Max.

PROS

  • Strong, secure protocols
  • Unlimited simultaneous connections
  • Fast speeds
  • Unblocks all streaming services
  • Extremely cheap two-year plan
  • Servers in many underrepresented countries
  • Static IP address & multi-hop servers
  • Kill switch
  • Ad & malware blocker included

CONS

  • Short track record in terms of potential security flaws
  • UI can be aggravating
  • Automatic server select doesn’t always make good choices
  • Relatively small server network overall
  • Split tunneling not available on all OSes
  • Difficult to install on most ISP-provided routers

How Good Is Surfshark?

Surfshark is a young VPN provider with a lot of potential. It offers some of the best value for the money of any VPN service, and has proven its commitment to constantly improving. And of course, it’s the most important thing a VPN can be: secure and private. Only a few user-experience missteps keep it from the top of the heap.


Surfshark: Latest News and Updates

surfshark mainpage
I would love to use a shark to secure my online activities.

We’ll update this section regularly with the latest news about Surfshark VPN.

Surfshark has been quiet since it released its 3.4.0 version back in April 2021. And that’s good! VPN providers are like babysitters — you don’t want to see yours in the news.

Version 3.4.0 is fully compatible with Apple’s M1 chip, so it works on the latest Macs and iPhones without any extra software. The current version is 3.6.2, which mostly resolved minor bugs.


Surfshark Background & History 

What Is Surfshark?

Surfshark is a virtual private network (VPN), founded in 2018. Its job is twofold: to protect your online privacy and anonymity, and to enable me to get paid for making Jaws references.

Boat with several sharks
When you use Surfshark, hackers are gonna need a bigger boat.

When you connect to one of Surfshark’s VPN servers, any third-party malefactors see the server’s untraceable IP addresses instead of your own. Surfshark communicates via VPN protocols that encrypt all network traffic, making it impossible to snoop on your personal information.

Who Owns Surfshark?

Surfshark is owned by Surfshark Ltd., a business with no parent company and no obligation to the government. Its only objective to is to keep you safe and secure online.

Where Is Surfshark Located?

Surfshark is based in the British Virgin Islands, a territory famous for lenient data retention laws. Despite being a territory of the United Kingdom, the British Virgin Islands aren’t bound by the UK’s membership in the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes and Fourteen Eyes intelligence-sharing treaties, which means that Surfshark isn’t obligated to keep logs of user data.

Shark emerging from ocean
The CEO of Surfshark tours corporate headquarters in the British Virgin Islands.

How Safe Is Surfshark?

It’s extremely safe. All Surfshark’s VPN protocols use AES-256 encryption, the strongest cipher currently known to man. Also, though it hasn’t been around long, Surfshark has never been breached or hacked. See the “Surfshark Security” section below for more details.

How Has Surfshark Changed Over Time?

As it’s barely three years old, Surfshark hasn’t had much time to change. Still, there have been a few milestones in its young life.

Surfshark started as an iOS exclusive before diversifying into desktop apps and browser extensions. In 2019, the company launched a sister app called Trust DNS, designed to circumvent website bans in censorship-happy countries like China.

In 2020, Surfshark transitioned all its servers to save user activity on RAM instead of on a hard disk. Since RAM automatically refreshes every hour or so, it’s now impossible for Surfshark to sell your browsing logs even if it decides it wants to. See “Privacy & Logs” section below for details.


Surfshark Features (92/100)

Basic Features

Servers are a VPN’s bread and butter. Surfshark lets you choose between three types of servers.

surfshark server menu
Surfshark’s server locations menu.

The bulk of servers can be found on the “locations” tab. These servers work in the usual VPN fashion: connect to one, get a new IP address, and go on your way. Most of the time, you’ll connect to the closest server for a fast VPN connection, but you’ll sometimes want to pick one in another country to access geoblocked content.

The second tab is for static IP servers, which are only available in five countries: Germany, Japan, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States (all in New York).

Static IP address servers are useful because some sites get suspicious when too many different IP addresses log in to the same account in a short time. Using a static IP address can save you from incessant requests to reenter your password.

The downside is that you’re sharing the same IP address with everybody on that server. If one guy gets the static IP banned from Facebook for spamming a recipe group with articles about how ancient aliens were responsible for 9/11, everyone else could get in trouble too.

Plated lasagna
Although, there were some great lasagna tips buried in the ranting.

Finally, there are multi-hop VPN servers. These run your VPN connection through two VPN servers before the final destination, making your activity that much harder to track.

Advanced Features

Additional features on Surfshark start with a kill switch, a feature we look for in top-performing VPN services. If you lose your VPN connection for any reason while the kill switch is active, your internet access will be cut off at the same time. A kill switch can come in clutch if you’re on public WiFi, protecting you from exposing sensitive information for even a second.

Surfshark VPN advanced features
Surfshark offers a number of advanced features.

There’s also the reverse of the kill switch, an auto-connect feature. If it’s on, and you connect to any WiFi network outside your trusted allowlist, Surfshark will automatically connect to the closest server.

Split tunneling comes in the form of an allowlist for apps that can bypass the VPN connection and connect to the internet unprotected. This lets you, for example, use banking apps — which usually don’t work with VPNs — while keeping your browser’s traffic protected.

CleanWeb is Surfshark’s ad and tracker blocker, which comes with a standard subscription. This initially raised some red flags for me. More often than not, bundling an ad blocker is a marketing gimmick, and you shouldn’t rely on a VPN service to do the job of an antivirus. But after testing CleanWeb, I had to admit that it works pretty well. At minimum, it won’t hurt you to have it on.

Rounding out the set are two premium features I’ll discuss in the next two sections: Surfshark Alert and Surfshark Search. You can get both of them by adding $0.99 per month to your Surfshark subscription fee.

What Is Surfshark Alert? 

surf at own risk
…without a VPN.

Big ransomware attacks grab the headlines, but these days, most “hacking” consists of exploiting security flaws, grabbing lists of login credentials, and leaking them on the dark web. 

Surfshark Alert scans for data dumps and alerts you if any of your information turns up on one, so you can change your password before anybody uses it to log into your Facebook and message your ex. Or, if you’re lucky, they’ll just steal all your money.

What Is Surfshark Search? 

Surfshark Search calls itself “the real incognito mode,” referencing the fact that incognito mode on your average browser keeps you about as private as a pair of glasses and a mustache. It’s a no-frills, no-ads search engine that doesn’t log your activity, similar to DuckDuckGo. That said, DuckDuckGo is free, and Surfshark Search is a paid feature, though less than $1 per month.


Surfshark Cost: Plans & Value for Money (98/100)

Breaking Down Surfshark Pricing & Plans

Surfshark offers three subscription choices. The same features are available on every tier, including unlimited bandwidth, unlimited device connections, 24/7 customer support and access to every server in the network. Alert and Search can be added to any plan for an extra $0.99 per month.

surfshark pricing
Surfshark offers three pricing plans, and the two-year plan comes with a 3-day money-back guarantee.

As with most VPNs, the only difference between the plans is the length of your commitment. The shortest for Surfshark is the one-month plan, which costs $12.95 and must be renewed every month. The six-month plan drops that to $6.49 per month ($38.94 billed every six months). If you’re uncertain, it’s a great sweet spot, less intimidating than the 12-month plans other VPNs demand.

The best deal is the 24-month plan, which plunges the price to $2.49 per month ($59.76 billed every 24 months). When I say “best deal,” I don’t just mean for Surfshark. It’s one of the best deals on the entire VPN scene, beating even Private Internet Access, the usual price leader.

There is no better savings on any VPN service that is worth your time. Grab it now before the Surfshark team realizes they’re bankrupting themselves.

How to Get Surfshark for Free

Surfshark doesn’t have a free trial, but it does offer a 30-day money-back guarantee on all subscriptions. If you only need a VPN for 29 days, you can enjoy Surfshark free of charge.

Surfshark Pricing Deals 

The 24-month plan is the best deal currently available. However, if you can wait until November, Surfshark usually offers a Black Friday/Cyber Monday deal that goes as low as $1.99 per month.


Apps & Support (95/100)

Surfshark is a multi-device VPN. I’m mostly describing the desktop app here, but it’s easy to set up on a wide range of platforms.

One note: since Surfshark puts no limits on the number of simultaneous connections you can have, the argument for installing it on a router is not applicable. Though it’s difficult to set up Surfshark on most ISP-provided routers, that hardly matters in practice.

What Devices Work With Surfshark?

  • Desktop: Windows, macOS, Linux
  • Mobile apps: iOS, Android
  • Browser extensions: Chrome, Firefox
  • Smart TVs: Apple TV, Samsung Smart TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Android TV, Chromecast, LG TV, Nvidia Shield
  • Routers: Asus, DD-WRT, Portal, OpenWRT, Tomato, GL.inet

Servers & Server Locations (90/100)

How Many Servers Does Surfshark Have?

Surfshark has over 3,200 servers in 65 countries. This includes 37 countries in Europe, 15 in the Asia-Pacific region, six in South America, five in North America, two in the Middle East and two in Africa.

Surfshark VPN server locations
This list shows just a few of the countries where Surfshark has servers.

Surfshark offers a total of 30 static IP servers: 11 in Japan, five in Germany, five in the UK, five in the U.S. and four in Singapore.

Multi-hop servers have final destinations in 10 countries: the U.S., Sweden, Singapore, the UK, Hong Kong, India, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Portugal.

Where are Surfshark Servers Located?

As with most VPNs, Surfshark’s servers are concentrated in a few areas: North America, Europe and East Asia. Unlike most of its competitors, Surfshark has the excuse that it’s still growing.

From that perspective, having two servers in Africa is impressive, as opposed to disappointing. Plenty of far older VPNs haven’t managed to establish much presence in the Southern Hemisphere. Having achieved that in just three years, Surfshark shows the potential to become one of the top VPN providers for typically underserved areas.

Speeds & Performance Testing (94/100)

After security and privacy, speed is the most important trait of a VPN. Security and convenience have to go hand in hand. In the real world, you’ll be quite safe if you never leave your house, but it’s hard to live that way long-term.

To test the impact Surfshark has on your browsing speeds, I used speedtest.net to test several increasingly distant locations from my home base in Portland, Oregon. For each location speed test, I gathered three numbers:

  • Ping (ms) measures the latency of the VPN server. When you send the server a message, the ping measures how long it takes to reply. A low latency is important for online gaming.
  • Download speed (Mbps) measures how long it takes files to download from the server to your computer, in megabytes per second (Mbps). This is important for viewing any website, but especially for streaming.
  • Upload speed (Mbps) measures how long files take to get from your device to the server. This is important for submitting content to any website, including Facebook and Twitter.

You can see the results of my speed tests in the table below. I conducted all of them using the IKEv2 protocol, which the Surfshark app determined would be fastest.

How Fast Is Surfshark?

Server location:Ping (ms):Download speed (Mbps):Upload speed (Mbps):
Portland, Oregon (unprotected)1841.075.92
Seattle, Washington2227.005.52
Montreal, Quebec18228.325.65
Colombia28922.705.52
Greece44018.565.48
Hong Kong35913.745.19
Static IP servers:
New York, New York18434.685.58
Frankfurt, Germany34034.335.57
Multi-hop servers:
Australia United States39112.932.13
India United Kingdom5549.153.38

I’d never thought of Surfshark as a speed demon, so these speed tests really surprised me. Getting more than two-thirds of my unprotected download speed on the other side of North America was especially impressive. Upload speeds never dropped, and download speeds never fell anywhere near 5 Mbps, the minimum you need for streaming video.

Latency rose sharply in proportion to the distance, but that’s expected. With ping time, I look for consistency, and none of Surfshark’s servers showed any unexplainable spikes.

The static IP servers performed as well as the dynamic locations. Unsurprisingly, the multi-hop servers were slower, though even on the India-to-UK multi-hop (halfway around the world, twice) I still got enough speed to watch videos.

In summary, I can recommend Surfshark on the basis of speed without any pings of conscience whatsoever.


Streaming & Torrenting (95/100)

In the last section, I demonstrated that Surfshark VPN is fast enough to stream video. That doesn’t mean much, though, if it can’t get around the blanket VPN bans imposed by Netflix and its cousins. While connected to a Surfshark server, I attempted to enter six top streaming platforms: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, HBO Max and BBC iPlayer.

Can Surfshark Unblock Netflix or Other Streaming Sites?

Surfshark managed to unblock all six streaming sites I tested on the first try (though I had to switch to a UK server for BBC iPlayer). Combined with its excellent speed-test results, Surfshark is a great choice for streaming.

Is Surfshark Good for Torrenting?

Surfshark is fast and secure enough that it’s a great choice for torrenting. None of its servers are explicitly built for P2P, but you can file-share with any of them. As always, make sure you aren’t torrenting in any country where it’s forbidden.


Surfshark Security: Encryption & Protocols (95/100)

Surfshark supports four protocols: OpenVPN, WireGuard, IKEv2 and Shadowsocks. All four of them rely on AES-256 encryption, the strongest cipher on the market. It’s never been cracked, though if you check again after the heat death of the universe, someone might be close.

surfshark protocols
Not all protocols are available on every OS, but every OS has at least two good options.

If I was setting up a VPN service for myself, these would be the four protocols I’d choose. Each one has a specific use case and no glaring flaws. OpenVPN is the proven veteran; secure and functional. WireGuard is similar, but with a slimmer codebase that presents fewer vulnerabilities.

IKEv2 is the fastest protocol, great for mobile connections that often dip in and out of WiFi. Shadowsocks is ideal for bypassing censorship from companies and governments; in addition to protecting your connection, it also obscures the fact that you’re using a VPN.

How Secure Is Surfshark?

I tested Surfshark to see if it could really protect my internet connection against leaks. Here’s my result.

Surfshark VPN leak test
All IP addresses shown here belong to the VPN server.

If its protocols weren’t secure, my real IP address and location would have shown up in that window. Instead, I got the IP address of the VPN server, as I’d hoped. I tried several other servers, with the same results every time.

I also tested for DNS leaks, which can expose web browsing activity, but found none. Surfshark’s protocol decisions have borne fruit: its VPN is secure.


Privacy & Logs (96/100)

Surfshark has never been implicated in the sale of user data, or any other violation of its users’ privacy. If it ever is, this article will be updated immediately — it’s a serious breach of trust that everyone deserves to know about. So far, though, Surfshark is clean.

Does Surfshark Keep Logs?

Because it’s based in the British Virgin Islands, Surfshark is not legally required to keep logs of user data, or to share that data with any law enforcement body.

Surfshark VPN privacy policy
Surfshark’s privacy policy is interspersed with helpful summary paragraphs.

According to the company’s privacy policy, it only saves data about customer behavior on its own website. Surfshark saves each customer’s account information, and also tracks your activity on Surfshark.com for marketing purposes, but nowhere else. All VPNs do at least that much, so I’m OK with letting it slide.

One cool thing about Surfshark is that, similar to ExpressVPN, all the servers store user activity data on RAM instead of on hard drives. While hard drives store data indefinitely, RAM automatically refreshes about once an hour, consigning your browsing history to oblivion. These RAM-only servers guarantee that Surfshark has no data on you.


Customer Support & Service (92/100)

I almost always get firsthand experience with customer support when I write these reviews — despite my best-laid plans, something inevitably goes wrong. This time around, while testing Surfshark’s security, I found that the option to change protocols had been grayed out.

I started at the troubleshooting guide, which was well written, though hard to navigate. All the articles are lumped into a few overlarge categories, so I had to comb through a lot of them to find what I needed.

It turned out that there was no knowledgebase article about my problem, so I got on live chat. I reached the head of the queue in seconds and spoke with a representative who very patiently reminded me that I hadn’t yet tried uninstalling and reinstalling the app.

Surfshark VPN live chat
Uninstalling and reinstalling is the “turn it off and on again” of the software world.

I’m not sure how I missed that — must have been tired that day — but it worked right away (it turned out Surfshark had deployed a minor update in the middle of my session). Though it loses some points for its Wiki, Surfshark gets full marks for live support.

How to Contact Surfshark

Frustratingly, you can’t access support directly from the Surfshark app. Once you’ve gotten to the help center through the “help” link at the top of the website homepage, you can talk to an expert by scrolling to the bottom of the page.

Surfshark VPN contact
You can find the live chat and email links in Surfshark’s Help Center.

There, you’ve got two options: live chat, which is highly responsive, and email, which takes a bit longer but is better for complex issues. The technicians on both are knowledgeable, prompt and cheerful.


Ease of Use (75/100)

This is the main area where Surfshark loses points. Compared to many of its contemporaries, especially NordVPN and ExpressVPN, Surfshark doesn’t give the impression of having been carefully designed to cater to its users.

My biggest complaint is the automatic server selection, which kept trying to connect me to Bend, Oregon, despite it being consistently much slower than any of the others. I’m not sure what’s going on at Surfshark’s Bend data center, but I’d have appreciated the app taking it into account.

Surfshark VPN connection
Connecting to Surfshark sometimes takes longer than expected.

The app window frequently opens and closes on its own. Connecting to a server can take a long time, and if you try to cancel, an unnecessary window asks you to give it a chance first. If all you did was click the wrong server by accident, this can feel cumbersome and patronizing. I also wish scrolling the list was easier in general.

It’s not all bad, though. There’s nothing in here that would be disorienting for a first-time user, with only a few preferences and options in each menu. Download and installation is seamless. The kill switch feature works exactly as it should. Many of the problems already mentioned are reduced or absent in other versions of the app. 

Given Surfshark’s commitment to security, a lot of this is peripheral. UI problems aren’t a reason not to use Surfshark, just something I hope the developers pay attention to in future versions.


Bottom Line: Do I Recommend Surfshark?

It’s easy for me to recommend Surfshark. Having established a server network and a best-in-class security infrastructure, the team has turned its attention to speed, generating substantially better numbers in a short time.

There’s obviously a lot of talent behind this VPN, which gives me confidence that my only real problem with it — the clunky user experience — will be ironed out soon. For reference, the last time I tried Surfshark, I complained that it wasn’t fast enough for me.

Then there’s the unbeatable price on the 24-month plan. That would still be good value even if this VPN was a lot worse. If you want to get started with a VPN provider but find the cost of other providers to be prohibitive, Surfshark is the choice for you. Thanks for reading this full Surfshark review.


Surfshark Alternatives 

If you find Surfshark’s youth or user interface to be a dealbreaker, try ExpressVPN instead. It’s about nine years older than Surfshark, but its privacy record is just as spotless. It’s also had more time to fine-tune its user experience, and it has split tunneling. Read more about it in my ExpressVPN review.

If ExpressVPN is too expensive, you can save a few dollars by choosing NordVPN instead. It’s consistently fast, gets into all streaming platforms, also has a kill switch and split tunneling and is very friendly for beginners. Read more about it in my NordVPN review.

If you’re an old hand at online security and want more control, CyberGhost is for you. It’s packed with fully programmable features for the security expert. It also has a 12-month plan at a great price for those who hesitate to commit to two full years of Surfshark.

1

ExpressVPN

Product

$6.66
per month annually (15 months for $99.95); $12.95 monthly

Extremely fast & easy to use

Servers in 94 countries

Kill switch, split tunneling & no logs

Unblocks all major streaming services

Excellent security record

ExpressVPN is everything a VPN should be, but it's expensive.

Get 49% Off ExpressVPN
2

NordVPN

Product

$4.13
per month for a 2-year plan ($99.12 for two years); 11.95 monthly

Easy to operate

Unblocks every major streaming service

Great savings on one- & two-year plans

Includes a kill switch & ad blocker

Strict no-logs policy

A good VPN service with a fair price.

Get NordVPN
3

CyberGhost

Product

$2.29
per month for a 3-year-3-month plan ($87.75 for three years and three months)

Easy to use

Thousands of servers including streaming servers

Strong encryption

Doesn't keep logs

45-day money-back guarantee

A first-class VPN solution with a charming user interface.

Get CyberGhost
4

Private Internet Access

$2.19
per month for a 3-year plan ($79 for three years)

Easy to operate

Very fast data transmission

Value for money

Suitable for Netflix

Flexible security settings

A fast VPN at affordable prices.

Get Private Internet Access
5

Surfshark

Product

$2.21
$12.95 per month, $6.49 per month for 6 months, $2.49 per month for 24 months

Very good price-performance ratio

High security level

Netflix-compatible

Unlimited simultaneous connections

Great support with live chat

Surfshark offers an all-round package.

Get Surfshark

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