The best free VPN services in 2022

best free VPN
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A free VPN sounds perfect – complete online anonymity without spending a penny. However, as you may have guessed, there are very few free VPNs worth considering, and even those are significantly limited in terms of features and performance.

Knowing how a free service makes money is essential. The best free VPNs are 'freemium' versions of paid products, and are essentially indefinite free trials with lots of restrictions. Others will promise the world and fail to deliver – and if you're thinking of downloading the first free VPN you find on the App Store, don't. Many are known to sell your data, and often provide no VPN protection at all.

It's a fact of life that you get what you pay for, and no free VPN can match the best VPN. However, if you're just looking for infrequent basic protection, they can be useful tools to have at hand. Just make sure to do your research and choose wisely – and don't expect to be able to unblock streaming sites.

Are free VPNs safe?

Well, it all depends on which free VPN you choose. While there are a few decent ones, they're vastly outnumbered by dubious, ad-filled apps with no background and no privacy policies. What's more, these could be harvesting your data – exactly the opposite of what you want from a VPN.

Beyond any risk to your privacy, though, it's important to understand that every free VPN comes with limitations, even the good ones. Almost all impose some sort of data limit, speed caps, and restrict you to a handful of servers at best. 

If you want the best experience possible, we'd recommend signing up to a paid provider. Our top-rated VPN is ExpressVPN, but if you're looking to save some money we'd recommend Surfshark. For just $2.05 a month you'll have unlimited data and simultaneous connections, excellent streaming performance, rock-solid security, as well as in-depth features not available with free VPNs – and you'll also have a 30-day money-back guarantee to test it out risk-free.

However, if you're dead-set on testing out a free VPN for PC, Mac, or any other device, below we've rounded up the best five which manage to avoid compromising usability too much. Plus, all offer an upgrade plan should you like the service and want to get all the available features at a later date.

1.  ExpressVPN – Trial our #1 VPN risk-free for 30 days (opens in new tab)

1. ExpressVPN – Trial our #1 VPN risk-free for 30 days (opens in new tab)
ExpressVPN is our top-rated VPN, and it's the best service on the market. With class-leading streaming performance and privacy features, it's simply the pick of the bunch. If you're on the fence about paying, Express offers a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can test it out with no risk.

2. Surfshark – The best cheap VPN performs well (opens in new tab)

2. Surfshark – The best cheap VPN performs well
(opens in new tab)If you want a world-class VPN but can't afford to splash out, Surfshark is a great option. With world-class streaming and privacy performance, it's a quality product, and you'll now get 2 months FREE, working out at just $2.05 a month.

3. NordVPN – Security-focused VPN giant (opens in new tab)

3. NordVPN – Security-focused VPN giant (opens in new tab)
Probably the most famous VPN on the scene, NordVPN (opens in new tab) provides a seriously secure option. It can unblock just about all streaming sites, including Netflix, and in terms of price it sits between ExpressVPN and Surfshark. Plus, you'll be covered by a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Our complete list of the very best free VPNs:

Proton VPN on a range of devices

(Image credit: Proton VPN)
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1. Proton VPN Free

Truly secure with unlimited data – the best free VPN

Number of servers: 100+ | Server locations: 3 | Maximum devices supported: 1 | Data limit: Unlimited | Support: Website, email

Unlimited data allowance
Great privacy
Excellent speeds
Powerful desktop app
Secure Core and P2P restricted

We've tested a bunch of the best free VPNs, and out of the whole lot, Proton VPN Free impressed us the most. The Swiss provider is as close to being a long-term free VPN solution as we've found, and its history of great privacy and security addresses many of the fears that come along with free services.

First up, what sets Proton VPN Free apart from the pack is the fact it delivers truly unlimited data – this is one of the only free VPNs you really can set and forget without worrying about how much data you're using. And, with peak speeds of 380Mbps in our testing, you're unlikely to be slowed down.

While you won't get some premium features like Proton's Secure Core servers, you'll still get all the basics like WireGuard and OpenVPN protocols, a kill switch, access to the support team through email and a comprehensive knowledgebase. Proton is zero-logging as standard, and you'll also get split tunneling and useful leak protection. Many paid plans don't offer this – let alone a free option with unlimited data.

Of course, there are still some pretty big catches. You'll only have access to 3 server locations (US, Netherlands, Japan), you'll only be able to use your plan on a single device at a time and, unlike some free competitors, P2P isn't supported. If you're after a streaming VPN you're also out of luck, and malware and ad-blocking is off the table.

However, compared to the competition, Proton VPN Free is the most comprehensive free VPN download we've tested, especially in terms of privacy and security. If you really can't justify signing up to a paid provider, it's the service we'd recommend .

Privado free VPN on a range of devices

(Image credit: Privado VPN)
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2. Privado VPN

A free VPN that can unblock Netflix (for now)

Countries: 9 | Server locations: 12 | Maximum devices supported: 1 | Data limit: 10GB per month (+ very slow unlimited data) | 24/7 live chat: No

Generous data allowance
Good speeds
Can unblock Netflix, Disney+, Prime Video, BBC iPlayer
Apps are intuitive
Mobile offerings are a little weak

PrivadoVPN hasn't been around for long, but it's certainly made a splash, especially when it comes to free VPNs. In fact, PrivadoVPN Free can do something very few other services can – unblock some regional Netflix content.

With a fairly generous 10GB of unrestricted data, you'll be able to get a good bit of use out of it, and if you run out you'll still be able to carry on browsing in privacy – albeit at a very slow pace of 1Mbps. This is only available form a Dutch 'emergency' server, but it's certainly better than nothing.

Within your first 10GB, though, you'll have the choice a good range of servers: 12 in 9 countries. This is a much better spread than most providers, including Proton VPN Free, so if you're planning on globetrotting, PrivadoVPN may well be a better choice.

However, in our testing, the standout feature was definitely the streaming results we mentioned above. US Netflix is available, as well as BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+. That's a better showing than many paid VPNs, and unheard of for free providers.

Of course, there are still limitations. You'll only be able to use your plan on 1 device, and the apps themselves aren't nearly as well-rounded as Proton's. There's also no independent privacy audit.

However, PrivadoVPN Free is a very tempting proposition, and for those looking for a temporary VPN to stream with, it could be the right choice.

Sign up now on the PrivadoVPN website (opens in new tab)

Windscribe best free vpn

(Image credit: Future)
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3. Windscribe

Generous on data, and secure too

Server locations: 14 | Countries: 11 | Maximum devices supported: Unlimited | Data limit: 10GB per month | Support: Website, email

Excellent privacy
Unlimited connections
Surprise access to Netflix, iPlayer
Not as fast as others
Apps aren't hugely intuitive

Windscribe's premium service is excellent, and that translates over to its Windscribe Free VPN offering, too. It's powerful, has plenty of features, and will be a great choice for those who want flexibility in their free VPN.

The data limit is stricter than our previous two entries, at a hard-and-fast 10GB with no leeway, but that's should still be plenty for most users. And, unusually, you'll be able to install and use the same plan on as many devices as you need. There's no chopping and changing needed here.

Windscribe's also pretty generous when it comes to what servers free users can use. With 14 locations over 11 countries, it's got a wider range than both Proton VPN and PrivadoVPN. 

In terms of speeds, it's fairly nippy at 240Mbps. That's not as good as our top two providers, but in reality, we're just pleased to see that the free version doesn't throttle speeds.

However, Windscribe's apps do let the side down a little – the interface is quite cramped and complex, and can make it tricky to find settings. But, if you stick to the recommended settings and just turn it on and off (or just get used to the UI), it's perfectly serviceable. It's also worth noting that neither paid nor free versions get 24/7 support, so you could be left in the lurch if something goes wrong.

However, we did find that Windscribe Free could unblock UK Netflix and BBC iPlayer, which again is quite a surprise.

Overall, Windscribe is a powerful free VPN service that's simple and effective, and although it can't match our previous two providers, it's still very usable. Well worth a look.

Atlas VPN displayed on a laptop screen

(Image credit: Atlas VPN)

4. Atlas VPN

Great speeds, and tons of data for Mac users

Server locations: 3 | Countries: 2 | Maximum devices supported: 2 | Data limit: 10GB per month (2GB a day on Mac) | Support: Website, email

Tasty data limit
Speedy
Access to Disney+
Minimal extra features
Only 3 servers

Newly acquired by the venerable NordVPN, in our full Atlas VPN review, we found the provider to be a decent choice – and the same goes for its free VPN.

With a decent data limit of 10GB a month – and a mega 2GB a day on Mac – Atlas VPN Free is a useful little tool for added privacy and changing your location to access geo-blocked websites.

With a range of 3 servers you won't be globetrotting too much, but it's enough to get by on, and privacy fans will be impressed by the fact that you don't have to enter an email to download or connect. 

The apps are attractive, and while they need a little work to appear as polished as those of premium rivals, they're stable and usable – and in our testing, we found it able to deliver speeds of around 320Mbps, which is pretty good for a free VPN.

Overall, Atlas VPN is well worth considering, especially if data limits and a restricted server range don't bother you.

Download now on the Atlas VPN website (opens in new tab)

Hide.me VPN review on a laptop screen

(Image credit: Future)
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5. Hide.me

Flexible and powerful free VPN

Countries: 4 | Server locations: 5 | Maximum devices supported: 1 | Data limit: 10GB per month | Support: Website, email, live chat

Tons of configurable features
Decent data limit
Fair amount of servers
No WireGuard
Poor connection speeds

In our last round of reviews, Hide.me was a standout provider, and while not quite up there with the big dogs yet, it has improved as a service and is well worth considering – especially as a free VPN.

Perfect for those who like to dig around in features and settings, Hide.me Free offers tons of customizable features, all of which are available to free users. That includes a kill switch, a favorites list for servers that can be reordered, split tunneling, Stealth Guard, a whole host of protocols, and more.

Something that we didn't appreciate, however, is the fact that the free version removes support for the WireGuard protocol. Seeing as Hide.me retains a ton of its in-depth features in the free version, it seems like a strange decision to remove the next-gen protocol. And, it's clear that this has hurt the VPN's performance – we only saw speeds of 25Mbps in our testing.

However, with full P2P support and a fairly generous data cap of 10GB, Hide.me could make quite a useful free torrenting VPN, and while it can't match a number of the best services overall, for those who like tweaking software it could be an excellent choice. Just be aware of the limited speeds.

Sign up now on Hide.me's website (opens in new tab)

Hotspot Shield best free vpn

(Image credit: Hotspot Shield)
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6. Hotspot Shield Basic

Decent free VPN with generous data allowances

Countries: 1 | Server locations: 1 | Maximum devices supported: 5 | Data limit: Unlimited | Support: Website

Unlimited data
Easy to use
Useful Chrome extension
No kill switch
Ads and popup pages

Our most recent Hotspot Shield review saw the US-based provider put in an admirable showing, and although it's no longer one of the very best, it's still a good product. However, its free VPN has fallen behind in recent years, and is now one of the lesser options in a jam-packed space.

That said, as of July 2022 Hotspot Shield Basic is one of the only free services to offer unlimited data (alongside Proton VPN), which is a major plus point.

Unfortunately, that's just about all Hotspot has going for it. You'll only get a single US server – nothing compared to PrivadoVPN and Windscribe's generous offerings – and while the speeds of 230Mbps aren't bad, they're not class-leading.

The apps are also quite intrusive in terms of usability. Mobile clients shows ads on connection, and while the Mac app doesn't show adverts, it does insist on opening the Hotspot Shield website on connection and disconnection.

You also don't get a kill switch on the Basic plan, which seems like a miserly decision considering the other limitations present. And, combined with Hotspot Shield's slightly excessive logging practices (bandwidth used, your OS, the time you connect and more), it certainly won't please those looking to use the VPN as a true piece of privacy software.

Overall, Hotspot Shield is a fairly capable free VPN, but the fact of matter is that there are a number of more well-rounded, flexible, and secure options out there right now.

Sign up now on Hotspot Shield's website (opens in new tab)

Free VPN FAQs

Free VPN vs paid – which should you get?

If you're considering whether to save a little cash or go for a fully fledged premium VPN, weighing up the options is well worth doing. The main thing to do is consider what you want to use your free VPN for.

Are you looking for a little extra privacy for select tasks or light daily browsing? If that's all you need, a free VPN might be a sensible choice.

However, if you're looking to torrent, stream content on Netflix, BBC iPlayer or any other streaming site, or access advanced features like Proton VPN's Secure Core servers and split tunneling, a paid VPN is your only option.

Plus, if you want to keep your VPN all the time and not have your connection speeds affected, even picking up a good cheap VPN will perform better than a free VPN.

Who are free VPNs best for?

Even the best free VPN services are only good for occasional use, such as when traveling or in a café. They simply don't provide enough data usage or speed for 24/7 home VPN connections. If you want to encrypt all your home internet traffic, all the time, you should pay for one of the best VPN services – our top pick is ExpressVPN (opens in new tab).

If a VPN service is based in the USA, it will be subject to search warrants presented by US law-enforcement agencies. Also, all free VPN services log user connections, no matter what the service claims.

Many of the services we review here are based in Canada, Switzerland or Germany, which have stronger privacy laws, but one of the Canadian services, TunnelBear, was recently bought by a US company and will have to honor US warrants and subpoenas under a new US law.

How does a free VPN work?

Free VPN services encrypt your data while it's in transit, creating a virtual tunnel through the internet. This separates your data packets from the countless others around them until they reach the service’s exit nodes many miles away from where you are.

Not only is the data encrypted, as it would be during a normal secure web session, but the routing information about the sender and intended recipient is hidden as well.

Today, the most popular VPN protocols are OpenVPN and various implementations of Internet Protocol Security (IPsec), which include IPsec by itself or in combination with Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) or Internet Key Exchange versions 1 and 2 (IKEv1 and IKEv2).

A VPN's scrambling and unscrambling of your data can sometimes slow internet traffic to a crawl. The best free VPN will have fast servers connected to huge data pipes to minimize this performance decline. They also have thousands of servers located in scores of countries, ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe.

Is there a completely free VPN?

Well, it depends on what you classify as 'free'. There are plenty of free VPNs that don't part you from your cash, but you could be paying for them by watching ads or even unknowingly giving them your data to sell.

The best free VPN services tend to be 'free versions' that are intended to give you a taster of a paid product before asking you to actually hand over your money. The best providers like Proton VPN (opens in new tab) and Windscribe do this by using data limits and server restriction to create an incentive to upgrade. Many people do, which pays for the company's costs overall.

We'd recommend avoiding any free VPN that doesn't have a paid option – if there isn't a paying customer-base supporting the development of the software, who knows where the company's getting its money?

When might a free VPN not be a good choice?

A free VPN is likely to come up short for those looking to stream or torrent, or people looking for a gaming VPN. That's because these activities use up tons of data. If you've got unlimited data with your VPN, that's not an issue, but if you've only got 500MB to play with, that's only about one episode in standard def on Netflix – and that's only if you can actually access the service.

Also, you might find that your connection speeds drop, and for gamers and torrenters that's a killer. Those activities rely on having high speeds, and only the best paid-for fast VPN services can provide that.

Finally, some free VPNs struggle with privacy issues, and the addition of ads can be a real pain for users. If you want the most secure service, you'll have to pay for one – at least then you'll know exactly how your VPN is making money, rather than hoping it's not using your info to cash in.

Are free VPNs legal?

In short, yes. VPN software itself is no less legal than any other mainstream software.

However, using it to torrent copyrighted files is still illegal, as is accessing any other illicit content. 

Essentially, while a free VPN is perfectly legal to own and use, it doesn't make illegal acts legal just because it makes the crime harder to detect.

Mo is VPN Editor at Tom's Guide. Day-to-day he oversees VPN, privacy, and cybersecurity content, and also undertakes independent testing of VPN services to ensure his recommendations are accurate and up to date. When he's not getting stuck into the nitty-gritty settings of a VPN you've never heard of, you'll find him working on his Peugeot 205 GTi or watching Peep Show instead of finally putting up those shelves.

  • ToughGuy
    I am surprised that Mullvad was not on the list. They seem to have a very good reputation, and the price is OK (better than ExpressVPN).
    Reply
  • Joeyforthewin1221
    Data limits seem to be quite significant on most of these providers. What about Atlas VPN? It does not have any data limits on its free version and the speeds are quite good as well. Any opinion on it?
    Reply