VPNs work on your mobile data the same way they do on any Wi-Fi network.
However, they consume more data.
So, if your mobile data is limited, a VPN can be the reason you get charged extra by your mobile network provider – unless you know how to minimize data usage while maximizing your online security and privacy.
Let’s see how this can be done.
Does a VPN Spend More Data? (Tested)
Yes, a VPN spends more of your data – approximately 5% to 15% more than usual.
Although it’s not a significant difference, it’s still something to keep an eye on.
Especially if your mobile operator can charge you for it.
To prove it, I tested my mobile data usage with and without a VPN.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any good (and free) applications for data monitoring on Apple’s App Store, so I switched to my Android.
One app on the Play Store that caught my eye was “My Data Manager – Data Usage.”
It had decent reviews and helpful features to track how much data I use for each app.
Keep in mind, these types of tools track internet usage across apps, which is a bit intrusive and might be concerning for privacy-conscious users.
So, I only recommend it if you know and accept the risks.
I only used it for the duration of this test.
What I found really useful is that the app tracks data by the hour and shows the exact amount of data used by each app every hour.
If you select your monthly data plan, it also calculates how much you can spend per day for the duration of the billing cycle.
The VPN I used for this test was ProtonVPN.
It has a cool free plan, and I wanted to try it on mobile.
It was expectedly limited in many features but surprisingly slow.
When I opened the data tracking app, I set the data preferences and started with 0 data spent.
Then, to make the distinction, I watched the same video on YouTube with and without a VPN.
The whole process was very straightforward.
I opened my app, scrolled through the feed, and searched for a Netflix trailer.
I really like that the app calculated the exact amount the VPN spent during these sessions.
In other words, for around 13MB of data spent, ProtonVPN spent an additional 2MB.
Overall, the results are clear.
Any VPN you use will spend more data.
At first glance, it’s not that big of a deal.
However, this could be a potential problem if you’re using your cellular data for things like streaming or downloading a larger file.
It’s worth mentioning that the key factor here is the VPN protocol.
Some protocols spend more data, and some spend less.
With ProtonVPN, I used WireGuard, which uses up around 15% less data than OpenVPN.
So, let’s take a closer look at other VPN protocols, what they mean for your data, and which one you should use.
VPN Protocols: Which One to Use and Why?
Every VPN protocol has its pros and cons, and choosing the right one to use with your mobile data depends on your preferences and the device’s compatibility.
For mobile use, I recommend either WireGuard or IKEv2/IPSec protocol.
They’re both mobile and data-friendly, plus they won’t compromise your internet speed.
These two, however, aren’t your only options.
Before you make a decision, you can also check this insightful video that lists all the major differences between the most popular VPN protocols.
Why Do VPNs Use More Data?
A VPN will increase your mobile data usage, but the amount largely depends on which VPN protocol you’re using.
The data consumption increases with more advanced protocols.
That’s because the VPN protocol and encryption increase the information transferred from point A (your device) to point B (the website or the app you’re accessing).
When you use the internet, each interaction (everything you send or receive) is divided into “packets” that hold pieces of data.
The interaction itself, or the information you send or receive, is called payload.
But, these packets also contain additional information like the internet protocol used, where this data is coming from, and where it’s going.
When the VPN encrypts these packets, it also increases the information.
Since each packet has limited capability, more additional information per packet also means less space for payload information.
So, now your information needs to be divided into more packets than usual because of all the extra VPN data, thus increasing your data usage.
Which VPN Protocol Uses the Least Mobile Data?
Most VPN providers offer different protocols and encryption, ranging from secure and reliable to frail and vulnerable.
Usually, the level of security is disproportionate to the speed and data usage, although there are exceptions to this rule.
Let’s have a look.
The VPN protocol that uses the least amount of mobile data is the PPTP protocol.
It’s also the least secure.
PPTP is an outdated VPN protocol that only supports 128-bit encryption.
Still, some VPNs offer it as a faster option regardless of its privacy and security disadvantages.
I don’t recommend using it on your mobile or other devices.
Another fast VPN protocol that uses less data is the L2TP/IPSec protocol.
The protocol is slightly more secure than PPTP, but it won’t give you the proper VPN protection.
I recommend using it only when you have no other option.
For example, when you’re approaching the end of your monthly data plan, and you need at least the basic protection.
IKEv2/IPSec protocol is a good choice for mobile users since it uses a moderate amount of mobile data while keeping you safe online.
Plus, the protocol supports the strongest encryption available, the AES 256-bit encryption.
VPN service providers often use it as their go-to mobile VPN protocol, and IKEv2/IPSec is usually the default option for iOS.
OpenVPN is one of the safest protocols on the VPN market.
Unfortunately, it’s also one of the slowest and the protocol that uses up the most data.
But there’s more to it.
When you connect to the OpenVPN protocol, you can choose between the UDP and TCP ports.
UDP stands for User Datagram Protocol, and it’s a connectionless internet protocol that makes OpenVPN faster.
TCP or Transmission Control Protocol is a connection-oriented protocol that enables a more stable OpenVPN connection.
If you’re willing to sacrifice your mobile data, I recommend OpenVPN TCP for maximum security.
WireGuard is a relatively new protocol or the newest one on this list.
The good thing is that WireGuard is the best protocol for mobile use since it has three key things: speed, security, and low data consumption.
Most popular and trustworthy VPNs offer either WireGuard or a proprietary version of the protocol.
However, it’s still not as widely implemented as other VPN protocols.
If your VPN has it, I recommend using it with your mobile data.
It’s my go-to VPN protocol for my mobile, even when I’m on my data plan, and it’s a great compromise between staying safe and using less mobile data.
Should You Use a VPN With Mobile Data?
There are pros and cons to using a VPN with your mobile data.
I prefer using a VPN on my Wi-Fi over mobile data when at home.
That way, I won’t get charged if I use more than my monthly data plan.
However, when necessary, I also use a VPN with my mobile data.
Usually, when I’m on the road without access to Wi-Fi.
There are numerous reasons to use VPN with mobile data, from better privacy and security to accessing content worldwide.
A VPN is the best way to keep your browsing private and bypass censorship and geo-restrictions while traveling abroad.
However, the downside is that a VPN slows your internet speed and uses up more data.
If you can get past these obstacles, I suggest using your VPN as much as possible on all your devices.
Best VPNs for Mobile Use
Going on the App Store or Google Play Store, you’ll find an overwhelming number of VPN apps, both free and premium.
It isn’t easy to pick one since each VPN has its strong and weak sides.
It depends on what you’re looking for in a provider.
I narrowed down some of the best VPNs on the market for mobile use.
Each of these has a specific asset that you might find useful, so let’s take a look.
Surfshark (Best for Price)
Surfshark is always on top of my go-to VPN list.
There are numerous advantages to this provider, including its mobile compatibility.
Plus, you can use it on as many devices as you need with only one subscription.
The provider offers several VPN protocols, including WireGuard.
WireGuard is available for Android and iOS, which is great news for your mobile data.
Finally, another thing I like about Surfshark is its affordability.
Surfshark is quite cheap, and if you want to test it out on your mobile, you can use the 7-day free trial on Android or iOS or get amazing discounts on Surfshark’s long-term plans.
NordVPN (Best for Security and Privacy)
Of course, you can use it on all your devices since it allows up to 6 simultaneous connections and is compatible with most operating systems.
The provider offers three VPN protocols: IKEv2/IPsec, OpenVPN TCP and UDP, and WireGuard.
However, NordVPN has its own version of WireGuard, called NordLynx.
This is its default VPN protocol for most devices.
ExpressVPN (Best for Streaming)
Last but not least is ExpressVPN, an advanced VPN provider with a lot of features that I’m sure you’ll find useful in your day-to-day life.
As a top-tier provider, ExpressVPN supports the favored protocols on the VPN market, like OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPSec.
However, the provider also has a proprietary VPN protocol, Lightway, with UDP and TCP ports.
Lightway is available for both iOS and Android devices.
When you download and set up the ExpressVPN mobile app, the default settings choose the protocol automatically.
To save data, switch to IKEv2 or Lightway on the UDP port.
With thousands of servers in over 90 countries and excellent speed, ExpressVPN comes in handy if you’re an avid streamer.
It works against stricter geo-restrictions (like Netflix) and is a great tool for beating online censorship.
Although you get ExpressVPN at a slightly higher price than the other suggestions, rest assured that the VPN will deliver excellent service in any situation.
To settle any doubts you might have, try ExpressVPN for yourself.
Thanks to its refund policy, you can get your money back within the first 30 days of purchasing.
Should I Use Free VPN Apps on My Mobile?
Free VPN apps can compromise your privacy.
A concerning percentage of free VPNs leak personal data to third parties.
Studies show that 75% of all VPN Android apps use third-party tracking libraries, and 82% ask for permission to track their users’ sensitive data, including accounts and text messages.
So, the benefits you get from a free VPN usually come at the cost of your privacy.
That, however, doesn’t imply that ALL free VPNs are bad.
It’s just that the risk is not worth it.
Instead, there are plenty of affordable premium VPN providers that won’t compromise your online privacy and security, or premium VPNs that offer a free plan like ProtonVPN.
However, for everyday use and convenience, I’d go with a more reliable VPN like Surfshark.
If it’s the price you’re concerned about, make sure you grab this great deal!
Can I Bypass My Data Cap With a VPN?
VPNs do not affect your data cap.
They can’t bypass the limitation set by your cellular network.
For example, if you have a monthly package of 15GB, a VPN can only hide how and where you use these 15GB, but not how much you use.
The VPN will change your IP address to mask your true location, and the VPN protocol will help encrypt your data traffic so that your internet provider can’t track your internet usage.
But none of these things influence your data cap.
So, once you reach the data limit, your provider will either charge you for any additional data usage or limit your plan until the start of the next billing cycle.
How to Connect to Your VPN Using Mobile Data?
Connecting to your VPN on cellular data is a simple process.
It really isn’t any different than using your VPN while connected to Wi-Fi.
All you have to do is follow these steps:
- Turn on your mobile data.
- Open your VPN app and sign up/sign in.
- Choose and connect to a VPN server.
- Browse privately on your mobile.
How to Check if a VPN Is Working on Mobile Data?
To see if your VPN works on mobile data, perform an IP address check.
There are many websites and tools for this, like NordVPN’s IP address lookup.
If you’re not using any VPN, the website should show your real IP address and your physical location on the map.
Enable your mobile data, open your VPN app and connect to any server.
Check your IP address again.
This time your IP address and location should be different from before.
This is a simple yet effective way to check if your VPN works on your mobile data.
Is 4G Network More Secure With a VPN?
If you want to secure your 4G network, use a VPN.
When you connect to your 4G mobile data, you use your mobile operator’s network.
As your internet service provider (ISP), the mobile operator can see which websites you visit and sometimes even what you do on these websites.
And although mobile data is a safer option than public Wi-Fi, it won’t protect you from ISP snooping.
If you want to keep your browsing private and away from prying eyes, I advise you to always use a VPN when connecting to your 4G network.
Now that you know that there are ways to minimize data loss with a VPN, I hope you’ll also take the next step and get one for your phone.
Despite the few downsides, using a VPN with your mobile data is a much better alternative.
So grab this great Surfshark deal, and get yourself a reliable VPN for your mobile data!