The best free VPN in 2023

best free VPN
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If you're new to staying protected online, free VPN services might sound like a silver bullet. Total protection from snooping ISPs and governments, plus access to restricted or censored content? What's not to like. Unlike many of the best VPN services, you might not even need to hand over your email address to get started.

However, having an understanding of how VPNs work behind the scenes is essential. In simple terms, they encrypt all your traffic, hiding it from your ISP, and can virtually relocate you by sending you through one of their own servers anywhere in the world. That all costs money, so it's well worth being aware of how your free VPN is funded. Pick the wrong provider and you may be doing yourself more harm than good.

The best free VPNs are typically 'freemium' versions of paid services. You'll get limited features and often data limits, but you can trust they're safe and secure. If you're planning on using your VPN for streaming or 24/7 privacy protection, we recommend one of our top paid providers linked below. However, for infrequent users, one of the quality free VPNs listed further down this page might be all you need.

The best providers overall

The three providers below – ExpressVPN, Surfshark and NordVPN – are my highest-ranked VPNs overall. While they are paid products, they include 30-day money-back guarantees, which allow you to trial them risk-free for a month. Don't think it's worth your money? Just claim a full refund – no questions asked.

1.  ExpressVPN: trial my top VPN risk-free for 30 days

1. ExpressVPN: trial my top VPN risk-free for 30 days
ExpressVPN is my #1 VPN for a reason. It offers class-leading privacy features, unblocks tons of streaming sites, and has intuitive apps on a huge range of devices. It even includes an excellent password manager to keep everything secure.

TechRadar readers who sign up for the 12-month plan will get 3 months free as well as 1 year of cloud backup courtesy of Backblaze. Plus, if you're not sure, you can test it out risk-free with its 30-day money-back guarantee.

Claim your 3 months free now

2. Surfshark: the best cheap VPN performs well

2. Surfshark: the best cheap VPN performs well
Surfshark offers an appealing combination of bargain pricing, tons of privacy features, and fast, reliable connections. You'll also be able to use one subscription on unlimited devices, and its streaming performance is unbeatable for the price. 

For those looking for a cheaper alternative to ExpressVPN and NordVPN, Surfshark is a great choice – and you'll also have a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can give it a test drive.

Sign up for less than $1.99 a month

3. NordVPN: a security-focused VPN giant

3. NordVPN: a security-focused VPN giant
NordVPN is the world's most famous VPN for a reason. With over 5,000 servers worldwide, seriously secure apps, plus appealing extra features like Meshnet and Double VPN, it's an excellent privacy package.

In terms of price, it sits between ExpressVPN and Surfshark, and is currently just $2.99 a month. You'll also get a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can try before you commit.

Claim the best deal on NordVPN now

Recent updates

I haven't seen any huge changes in the free VPN landscape since my last round of updates on this page. PrivadoVPN is still very capable when it comes to unblocking streaming sites, while Proton VPN has maintained its reputation for privacy, as well as its generous unlimited data plan.

Are free VPNs safe?

It all boils down to 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.

That's why I've taken the time to review tons of free VPN services, both good and bad. In them, there's tons of info on where each service impresses and disappoints, and with that knowledge, I've pulled together this comprehensive guide on which I consider safe to use. 

The best provider for you should be fully tested and proven to be secure, but your decision will also depend on what you're looking for from your free VPN. For example, those looking to stream overseas Netflix will likely need PrivadoVPN, while those looking for unlimited data may prefer Proton VPN. So, all you need to do is keep scrolling to learn more and make your choice.

The best free VPNs of 2023

Why you can trust Tom's Guide Our writers and editors spend hours analyzing and reviewing products, services, and apps to help find what's best for you. Find out more about how we test, analyze, and rate.

If you're dead-set on bagging yourself a free VPN, I highly recommend choosing one of the options outlined below. The expert VPN team at Tom's Guide has thoroughly reviewed all of these providers, and we're confident saying that they are safe, secure, and work well day-to-day.

The best free VPN overall

Privado free VPN on a range of devices

(Image credit: Privado VPN)

1. PrivadoVPN Free

Unrivaled streaming and great privacy

Countries: 10 | Server locations: 13 | Maximum devices supported: 1 | Available on: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux | Data limit: 10GB per month (+ slow unlimited data) | 24/7 live chat: No, FAQ and email available

Unlimited data, with 10GB at full speed
Able to unblock Netflix and other streaming sites
Impressive connection speeds
Simple yet intuitive apps
Mobile apps aren't hugely powerful
Only one device allowed per plan
Reasons to sign up:

✔️ You're looking for a free Netflix VPN. From my testing, PrivadoVPN is the only free VPN to reliably unblock Netflix (and others).

✔️ You want plenty of privacy features. While PrivadoVPN imposes some limits, all the essentials like split tunneling and a kill switch are available for free and paid users alike.

✔️ You've got a need for speed. Topping out at around 350 Mbps, Privado is hot on the heels of many paid VPNs, let alone free providers. In real life terms, this means you won't ever notice it's on.

Reasons to avoid:

You need genuinely unlimited data. While Privado does technically offer unlimited usage, if you use more than 10GB in a month you'll be restricted to a single 'emergency server' with very low speeds.

You demand excellent mobile apps. Although they're stable and work perfectly, PrivadoVPN's mobile offerings lack the refinement of some rivals.

Final score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

When compared to paid providers, PrivadoVPN Free falls a little short, but for a totally free VPN it's absolutely unbeatable. Its streaming performance has to be seen to be believed, and for day-to-day privacy usage it's seamless. Absolutely worth a try.

Newcomers to the VPN industry tend to take some time to grow, but despite only being founded in 2019, PrivadoVPN has quickly become a powerful and well-known provider. In my hands-on PrivadoVPN review I found the paid service to be quite impressive, but what really stands out is the PrivadoVPN Free plan.

First and foremost, PrivadoVPN Free offers all the essential privacy features you need to stay safe online. A kill switch blocks any traffic getting through if the VPN loses connection, and split tunneling lets you route some apps through the VPN while excluding others. It's a fast VPN too, topping out at around 350 Mbps in my testing.

At its core, PrivadoVPN is built around AES-256 encryption, which is the industry standard. In short, even if your traffic is intercepted it'll be totally unreadable. OpenVPN and WireGuard protocols are both available, and while most users will now use the swift and secure WireGuard, it's nice to have OpenVPN as an option.

When comparing it to the competition, one of the few places PrivadoVPN falls behind close rival Proton VPN Free is its limited data cap. Proton sets no data limits, while Privado caps full-speed connections to 10 GB a month. However, if you go over this you'll still be able to browse – albeit restricted to a sluggish 1 Mbps.

Sign up to my #1 free VPN PrivadoVPN

PrivadoVPN's party piece, however, is its incredible streaming performance. Free VPNs typically restrict this kind of unblocking power to their paid plans, but in my testing I found that Privado's free plan is capable of accessing US Netflix from around the world, and can also gain access to other streaming sites like BBC iPlayer.

You'll get a generous spread of server locations too, with 13 cities located in 10 countries, including the US, UK, Canada, France, and more. That's better than Proton VPN's 3 locations, but can't match paid providers like ExpressVPN or Surfshark, which boast 100 or more.

It's worth noting that while PrivadoVPN has a robust zero-logging policy, this is yet to be proved by an independent audit. This is apparently due to the disruption an audit can cause, and as a new service, Privado is intent on developing further before sacrificing a significant amount of time to an audit.

From my testing, I'm confident that PrivadoVPN is safe to use, but I've got my fingers crossed that the team will undertake an audit sooner rather than later to prove their claims without doubt.

For a free VPN, PrivadoVPN Free offers the most comprehensive package on the market. With the only real limitations being restricted fast data, a smaller number of servers and only a single device being allowed on each plan, it's well worth a try – especially if you're after a Netflix VPN for free.

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PrivadoVPN Free: key review metrics
App designSmart, simple design that's appealing on desktop and mobile.⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Privacy and security Industry-standard encryption and must-have features like a kill switch, plus a good zero-logging policy. However, the lack of an audit is a minor negative.⭐⭐⭐⭐
Ease of useThe apps are well laid out, which is perfect those new to VPN, but it's easy to access settings for more experienced users to customize features.⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
PerformanceFaster than many free VPNs – but lags a little behind paid providers.⭐⭐⭐⭐
UnblockingQuite simply unrivaled unblocking power when it comes to free VPNs.⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
SupportCapable support agents, but website lacks in terms of detailed articles.⭐⭐⭐⭐

Best free VPN with unlimited data

Proton VPN on a range of devices

(Image credit: Proton VPN)

2. Proton VPN Free

A privacy-focused service with a great Linux VPN

Countries: 3 | Server locations: 3 | Maximum devices supported: 1 | Available on: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux | Data limit: Unlimited | Support: Website, email

Unlimited data allowance
Good range of privacy features
Powerful desktop apps
Fast connections of up to 380Mbps
Torrenting not supported
Poor for streaming
Sign up if:

✔️ You need truly unlimited data. Proton VPN Free is one of the the only free VPNs to offer unlimited fast data.

✔️ You're on Linux. Proton VPN Free is a great option for Linux users, and even offers a full GUI.

✔️ You want a fully open-source VPN. All of Proton's apps are open-source, meaning that you, or any other person in the world can make sure the code is secure.

Avoid if:

You want to torrent. Likely a deal-breaker for some, Proton VPN Free does not allow P2P connections through its servers. You'll have to upgrade for that privilege.

You want to stream. Streaming services without geoblocks are fine, but Proton VPN Free doesn't offer the unblocking power of PrivadoVPN or Proton's paid version.

You need a good range of servers. With just three servers to choose from, Proton VPN's location list is a little restrictive.

Final score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Proton VPN Free is a seriously good product that may well seem more appealing than PrivadoVPN if you don't care about streaming. Unlimited data means you can set and forget, while the useful apps are a pleasure to use. However, its limited server list and poor streaming support means it misses out on the top spot.

Proton VPN is a big name in the VPN industry, and in my hands-on Proton VPN Free review we found that the Swiss-based provider really delivers. 

Its robust applications are open-source and secure, and it delivers an excellent privacy- and security-focused experience.

The biggest advantage Proton VPN has over the competition is its unlimited data policy – no matter how much you use this free VPN, you'll never find yourself restricted. What's more, in my speed testing it even outstripped PrivadoVPN, clocking in at an impressive 380 Mbps.

Just like PrivadoVPN, all the privacy essentials are available for any users, paid or free. You'll have a kill switch, AES-256 encryption, and access to both OpenVPN and WireGuard protocols. This is all very positive to see from a free service.

Unsurprisingly, the useful Secure Core feature isn't available for free users, but in reality fairly few people are really going to benefit from these ultra-secure servers in special locations.

Sign up to Proton VPN Free now

However, there's a reason why PrivadoVPN has overtaken Proton in recent times, and it's the outside the essentials, Proton VPN Free is just a little more limited. You'll only get access to 3 servers (US, Netherlands, Japan) compared to Privado's 13. 

This means that many people around the world may not have a nearby server, with the omission of a UK VPN server being the most noticeable.

The lack of any significant streaming support is also worth noting. While PrivadoVPN may have spoiled us by offering this, it's no longer a given that free services don't work as streaming VPNs, and this now has to be marked as a negative. Lack of P2P support will also be a red flag for some.

However, it's well worth noting that Proton has partnered with German news broadcaster Deutsche Welle, and both paid and free versions of the VPN have dedicated servers that allow free and unrestricted access to unbiased news coverage from anywhere in the world.

In truth, though, if you're just looking for a free VPN to help keep you private day-to-day with no data limits, Proton VPN Free is arguably the better choice over our #1 pick here – but you really can't go wrong with either.

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Proton VPN Free: key review metrics
App designRecent facelift moves aesthetic from The Matrix to Cyberpunk 2077.⭐⭐⭐⭐
Privacy and security Open-source with powerful encryption.⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Ease of useApps are powerful, but could be a little complex for newbies.⭐⭐⭐
PerformanceThe fastest free VPN we've tested.⭐⭐⭐⭐
UnblockingDeutsche Welle access is more than most free VPNs, but it can't rival PrivadoVPN.⭐⭐⭐⭐
SupportPlenty of detailed guides, plus helpful support agents.⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Best free VPN Chrome extension

Windscribe best free vpn

(Image credit: Future)

3. Windscribe Free

Excellent free VPN with great browser extension

Countries: 11 | Server locations: 14 | Maximum devices supported: Unlimited | Available on: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android | Data limit: 10GB | Support: Website, email

Good privacy and useful extra features
Use one free plan on unlimited devices
Able to access UK Netflix, iPlayer
Free browser extension is excellent
Not as fast as others
Sign up if:

✔️ You're looking for a quality VPN browser extension. Windscribe's Chrome VPN is a proxy, but it's very good, and offers great functionality for free.

✔️ You want to use the same plan on all your devices. Unlike PrivadoVPN and Proton VPN, a single free Windscribe account can be used on an unlimited amount of devices.

Avoid if:

You need the fastest free VPN. Windscribe isn't exactly slow, but my higher-rated options provide a swifter experience.

10 GB of data isn't enough. 10 GB of data can go a long way, but when you've used it all up, that's Windscribe done for the month – unlike PrivadoVPN, there's no emergency backup allowance.

Final score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Windscribe is an appealing free VPN, and definitely has a niche in that it offers plenty of server locations and limited streaming support. However, for the majority of users, either Proton VPN or PrivadoVPN will provide a slicker, simpler experience.

Windscribe is well-known in the VPN world for its zany marketing operations and commitment to user privacy. While its paid product is very good, in my Windscribe Free review I found the freemium version to be the pick of the bunch.

Its server spread is remarkably generous. With 14 locations in 11 countries, it offers greater range than our top 2 providers here – although PrivadoVPN isn't far off with 13 locations in 10 countries. 

You'll also get a generous amount of data per month, matching my #1 provider at 10 GB. However, here Privado just pips it to the post by offering unlimited yet slow emergency data. As mentioned above, Proton VPN free outdoes both by offering truly unlimited browsing.

Take Windscribe free for a test run

One of Windscribe's more impressive features is that in my testing, it was able to unblock UK Netflix and BBC iPlayer. This is better than many paid VPNs, and while PrivadoVPN again performs even better in this area, it's an added bonus that's worth mentioning.

In terms of connection speeds, Windscribe lags behind my top two picks, but at 240 Mbps it's still plenty fast. To put that into perspective, most domestic Wi-Fi connections top out at around 100 Mbps, so Windscribe is unlikely to slow you down.

One major drawback, however, is Windscribe's app design. Despite a recent refresh, they're still pretty clunky and cramped. There are some good features like a useful server search, but compared to roomier apps like Proton VPN's and paid rival Surfshark's, Windscribe isn't quite up to scratch.

Finally, it's worth mentioning Windscribe's Chrome extension. It's excellent, and although it's only a proxy – it provides no encryption, and simply changes your location and IP address – it still works very well when trying to avoid ISP content blocking or accessing restricted overseas websites.

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. However, considering all the products here are free, there's little reason to pick it over PrivadoVPN.

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Windscribe Free: key review metrics
App designFairly intuitive, but lacks the polish of rivals.⭐⭐⭐
Privacy and security Open-source apps make it easy to trust.⭐⭐⭐⭐
Ease of useFairly simple to get up and running.⭐⭐⭐⭐
PerformanceLags behind the competition, but still hardly slow.⭐⭐⭐
UnblockingImpressive access to UK Netflix and iPlayer.⭐⭐⭐⭐
SupportNo live chat makes quick resolution tricky, but email support is comprehensive.⭐⭐⭐


The best of the rest

Atlas VPN displayed on a laptop screen

(Image credit: Atlas VPN)

4. Atlas VPN Free

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

Generous data limit for Mac users
Excellent connection speeds
Access to Disney+
Minimal extra features
Only 3 servers
Sign up if:

✔️ You want a free Disney+ VPN. Being able to stream Disney+ with Atlas VPN is a nice surprise.

✔️ You want to use a free VPN on your Mac. Although not unlimited, Atlas VPN's Mac-exclusive generous 2GB/day data cap makes it appealing for Mac VPN users.

Avoid if:

You want a VPN with tons of features. Atlas VPN Free is pretty simple, so if you're looking to configure more than your server location you're out of luck.

You need a wider range of servers. Atlas VPN's three locations in two countries will suit Americans and the Dutch, but if you're after a wider spread, look elsewhere.

Final score: ⭐⭐⭐

Atlas VPN is a decent VPN, and it's clear that development is ongoing. However, when compared to the market leaders in the free VPN space, it can't quite match up – for now...

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

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

The apps are usable, but they do  leave something to be desired, and across different platforms there's little cohesion. Also, they're just not incredibly slick to use, and when compared to the providers above, they don't quite match up.

However, they are simple enough for newbies to get started with, and they're pretty stable, so this shouldn't put off all but the choosiest of users.

You get a selection of three servers, with two in the US and one in the Netherlands.. This doesn't quite match up to the likes of PrivadoVPN or Windscribe, so globetrotters best look elsewhere. However, it's a serviceable mix, and not far off Proton VPN Free's roster.

Connection speeds are impressive considering the limited servers, and in our testing it topped out at a healthy 320 Mbps. That's rivaling the very fastest free VPNs, and certainly shouldn't slow you down when browsing.

This is quite possibly down to the fact that Nord Security owns the two fastest providers I've ever tested – NordVPN and Surfshark. Perhaps some of that is trickling down to Atlas, which is no bad thing.

While you won't be able to put those speeds to use when streaming Netflix and the like, Disney+ subscribers are in for a treat. Atlas VPN can unblock the House of Mouse's streaming offering, which makes it the only provider on this list to do so. 

In terms of privacy, Atlas VPN covers the basics with quality encryption and a kill switch, but additional features are thin on the ground. Don't expect split tunneling or port forwarding here. The iPhone VPN app has had an audit, but in general Atlas VPN hasn't undergone any external checking. I hope to see their claims backed up by fact soon.

Overall, Atlas VPN is decent free option, but unless you're a Mac user who only watched Disney+, there's little to put it ahead of PrivadoVPN or Proton VPN.

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App designServiceable, but not class-leading⭐⭐⭐
Privacy and security Good encryption and a kill switch, but that's about it.⭐⭐⭐
Ease of usePretty simple to get going, but the apps are slightly clunky⭐⭐⭐
PerformanceImpressive connection speeds⭐⭐⭐⭐
UnblockingDisney+ unblocking is excellent considering it's free⭐⭐⭐⭐
SupportWe miss having live chat, but the website is good⭐⭐⭐

Divider VPN review on a laptop screen

(Image credit: Future)

5. Free

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 10 GB/month data limit
Fair amount of servers
No WireGuard
Poor connection speeds
Sign up if:

✔️ You're a big torrenter. free is great for torrenting, which many competitors restrict for free users. 

✔️ You like to customize your VPN experience. There's a remarkable amount of configuration on offer here, just like's paid service.

Avoid if:

You value simplicity. With's raft of extra features come quite complex apps. Beginners and those looking for a simple process should look elsewhere.

You need excellent connection speeds. While's paid version is incredibly fast, its free version is limited to around 25 Mbps.

Final score: ⭐⭐⭐ free is a serviceable free VPN that's great for torrenting, and offers a decent amount of customization. However, slow speeds and complex apps mean it's no match for our top picks.

In our full review, we found that the Malaysian VPN contender had made some key improvements and is now fighting it out with the big dogs. 

However, most people will know this provider from its free product, which offers online protection at no cost.

In terms of the basics, free is a safe and secure VPN, with great encryption alongside a bunch of extra features like Double VPN and split tunneling that will keep the techies happy. 

With 10 GB of data a month, is pretty much on par with most of its rivals, and with US, Canada, Germany and Netherlands servers, there's a passable spread of locations – although hardly class-leading. 

One big plus is that it works well as a torrenting VPN, though, with P2P allowed on all of these servers.

A somewhat annoying omission from the free plan is WireGuard support. It seems like a strange decision to limit the modern protocol to paying customers only, while also giving them access to just about every other tool available. All of my other picks allow full protocol usage on their free plans, and I'd like to see do the same.

This restriction to OpenVPN shows when it comes to speed. Topping out at a measly 25 Mbps, free could quite possibly have a noticeable impact on your internet speeds – and it looks even worse when you consider PrivadoVPN, Proton VPN and other free providers top out at 10 times this.

Overall, if you think that you'll genuinely use the extra features offers while being able to live with a slight slowdown, it's a decent choice. But for the vast majority there are better out there.

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App designUseful and usable, but lacks any kind of flair⭐⭐⭐
Privacy and security Tons of extras, and no concerns found⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Ease of useAdded complexity could be daunting for newbies⭐⭐⭐
PerformancePoor considering the speed of the competition⭐⭐
UnblockingPretty average with no surprises⭐⭐⭐
SupportGreat agents and a comprehensive support site⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


Hotspot Shield best free vpn

(Image credit: Hotspot Shield)

6. Hotspot Shield Basic

A decent free VPN with unlimited data

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
Only 1 location
Sign up if:

✔️ You're looking for unlimited data. Hotspot Shield doesn't impose any data caps, which means you can browse with absolute freedom

✔️ You want fast connections. If you don't want to be held up by your free VPN, Hotspot Shield is a good choice.

Avoid if:

You want servers outside the US. Hotspot Shield only provides a single server, so if you want to access sites not available in the States, you're out of luck.

You want full privacy peace of mind. Hotspot Shield is decent in terms of privacy, but the omission of a kill switch on the free plan prevents it from being a truly reliable piece of software.

Final score: ⭐⭐⭐

With unlimited data and decent speeds, Hotspot Shield might seem tempting. However, it just can't match up to the competition.

My 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, in my Hotspot Shield Basic review I found the free service had fallen behind in recent years, and is now one of the lesser options in a jam-packed space.

That said, Hotspot Shield Basic is one of the only free services to offer unlimited data (alongside the more well-rounded 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 top speeds of around 230 Mbps are pretty good, they're not quite 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, which is seriously annoying when you're in the middle of things.

You also don't get a kill switch on the Basic plan, which seems like a miserly decision considering the other limitations present. 

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.

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App designSimple, fairly attractive design⭐⭐⭐⭐
Privacy and security No kill switch means it simply can't be relied upon⭐⭐
Ease of useEasy enough to get going, but ads are a pain⭐⭐⭐
PerformanceMiddle-of-the-pack connection speeds⭐⭐⭐
UnblockingNothing to write home about⭐⭐
SupportNo live chat or email support means you've not contact with a real human for advice⭐⭐


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.

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 I've included here are based in Canada, Switzerland or Germany, which have stronger privacy laws, but one of the Canadian services, TunnelBear, was 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 WireGuard. 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), are still seen, but are rapidly becoming outdated.

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 and PrivadoVPN 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.

I'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 500 MB 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 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.


We test and review VPN services in the context of legal recreational uses. For example: 1. Accessing a service from another country (subject to the terms and conditions of that service). 2. Protecting your online security and strengthening your online privacy when abroad. We do not support or condone the illegal or malicious use of VPN services. Consuming pirated content that is paid-for is neither endorsed nor approved by Future Publishing.

Mo Harber-Lamond
VPN Editor

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.