Digital nomads work from all over the world. Using insecure internet connections can bring many issues. Learn more about how to choose a VPN for digital nomads and why it keeps you safe.
Working remotely means that you will use the internet provided by the workspace you use or a random café around the corner. The problem you face: Many Wi-Fi spots are not secure. Sniffing Wi-Fi traffic is very easy to do and can expose your passwords in a matter of minutes. To prevent this from happening, you can encrypt your traffic with a VPN.
VPN for digital nomads — the benefits
VPN is short for virtual private network. It describes a group of computers or networks connected together over the internet. Connecting to a VPN usually happens after installing a VPN client first; there are free ones like Tunnelblick and also paid software. To log in, you need to enter the credentials your VPN provider gives you, usually an username and password. After that, you can connect to a server and all your internet traffic is encrypted.
If you are somewhere in South East Asia for example but want to watch your favourite BBC TV show or you just want to Netflix and chill, you can simply connect to UK server. A British IP address is assigned to you and it appears like you are physically in the United Kingdom, although you sit miles away — this is one of many benefits of using a VPN.
Besides the encryption, you can make it look like you are in different parts of the world — and that is important while travelling if you need to access certain services or use products that are geo-restricted.
The biggest factors when choosing a VPN provider
Since whistle-blower Edward Snowden started to leak information about mass surveillance to the press, many people started using a VPN — not only travellers, remote workers and digital nomads but also the average Joe.
The problem with VPN providers is that there are a lot of them, making it difficult to choose the right one. To clear things up, you first need to know about The Fourteen Eyes.
1. Operating outside the Five Eyes countries
The Five Eyes countries United States of America, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have an agreement to cooperatively collect and share intelligence with one another. Not only do they spy on each other — although they agreed not to — they also collect data in different parts of the world.
The Five Eyes also cooperate with other countries (Denmark, Norway, France, Netherlands), forming the Nine Eyes respectively the Fourteen Eyes (Belgium, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Spain).
It is not recommended choosing a VPN provider based in the US because the country runs severe surveillance programmes and sends out National Security Letters with gag orders, which prohibit people from talking about those requests.
2. Secure payment methods
Thankfully, there are a few VPN providers which are not based in the US and are not affected by those rules. You can check out a list of those providers on privacytools.io.
We’ve used Iceland-based Cryptostrom for a few years and were happy with it.
Cryptostorm, for example, doesn’t have many servers but takes privacy very serious. Recently, we changed to MULLVAD from Sweden because we needed a bigger selection of servers.
Besides the location, the payment methods are also important. Paying with credit cards or PayPal exposes you to different threats. Ideally, the VPN provider accepts Bitcoin or other digital currencies.
Other secure payment methods are:
- (prepaid) debit cards
- cash cards
3. Free trial periods
Have you ever bought a service and been let down by its quality? In that moment, you wish you’d had the opportunity to try it out first — and that is possible with some VPN providers. Many of them offer free trial periods. Use those to test out different servers, check the speeds and other features.
Testing the speed of the VPN servers is easy by the way; use services like speedtest.net to test the download and upload speed. You can even measure the speed from the command line:
- install speedtest-cli
speedtest-cliin terminal to test your connection
- you can find all available commands with
4. No personal information required
The reason we chose Cryptostorm is the utter lack of any information you have to give the VPN provider to use its service — not even an email address or username. The company has a unique system in place: You simply pay for their service and get a token in return. Next, you have to calculate the sha512 hash of that token with the calculator from Cryptostorm’s website. The hash you get is your username — there is no password and you can enter a random value to connect.
As a rule of thumb: Stay away from VPN providers that ask more than two details from you.
Other VPN providers like MULLVAD, which we now use, generate a random account number for you. You have to remember the account number to log in. From your account, you can buy the VPN service for a month or more.
Email address and a password — that is all they should need from you. If you have to give them an email address, make sure that it is unique and has never been used before. Also: Don’t use it for any other service. The same goes for the password: Generate a long, secure password with a password manager and store it there to keep it safe.
5. OpenVPN software support
Many VPN providers have proprietary software that helps you connect easily to their servers. The problem is: If that software is not open source, nobody knows what it really does.
Only choose providers that offer OpenVPN configurations files. OpenVPN clients are available for all three desktop operating systems and also iOS and Android.
Final word: Don’t trust (paid) reviews
If you want to look up reviews on the internet, be aware that most of them are not completely unbiased. Stay away from VPN review sites; most of them consist of sponsored articles that don’t always reflect the truth. If you really want to test a VPN provider, choose one with a free trial period or buy the service for a month.
Article image: Parker Byrd | Unsplash