A free VPN is a tempting proposition – you'll get an extra layer of security alongside additional perks such as unblocking restricted websites while keeping hold of your hard-earned cash. However, can you actually get a good experience with a free VPN?
The good news is that there are stacks of free VPN options around these days and some of these some are pretty serviceable. While they're never going to match the overall best premium services, they'll still help keep your online communications as private as possible by encrypting all internet traffic to and from your computer.
If all you need from your VPN is to keep you encrypted when checking emails or using public Wi-Fi, then grabbing a free VPN can pay dividends. However, if you'll be using it for any extended period of time your data limit is soon going to run dry – and don't even think about streaming Netflix with it.
Is a free VPN worth it?
Completely free VPN services often come with hidden costs. If it isn't getting money directly from you, it's getting funds from someone else – sometimes by selling your browsing history, borrowing your bandwidth or injecting ads into the sites you visit. It's also worth bearing in mind you'll probably have a data cap, which range from the generous to the piffling.
We would always recommend paying to upgrade to one of the best paid-for VPNs. They have full plans without any hidden costs, are totally secure and, crucially, have no limits on use. When you can pay as little as $2 a month for a fully featured service like Surfshark, there's little reason to limit yourself with a hamstrung free VPN.
However, despite their drawbacks, free VPNs are still incredibly popular. In fact, there's far too great a selection to trawl through yourself – and that's why we've rounded up the best free VPN services and apps out there right now.
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The best VPN in the world right now is ExpressVPN, thanks to its rapid and robust connection, watertight security, huge amount of servers and apps for a whole host of devices. ExpressVPN even comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee trial, meaning you can effectively get it free for a month to give it a try. Sound like the option for you? Sign up for 12 months and get an extra 3 months absolutely free!
The best free VPN services you can download today
1. Hotspot Shield Free VPN
The best free VPN you can get right now
Number of servers: 1 | Server locations: 1 | Maximum devices supported: 5 | Data limit: 500MB per day | 24/7 live chat: No
We think Hotspot Shield Free VPN is the best free VPN for many reasons, including the ability to use up to five devices on the service at once with a daily data serving of 500MB, working out at 15GB per month. On top of that, you're protected by top-notch encryption so you know your online shopping is going to be in safe hands no matter what connection you're on.
Once installed, Hotspot Shield Free VPN is really simple to use and just works, exactly what you want with a free service – and that applies to desktop and mobile app use. Everything zips along swiftly with a good connection you can largely rely on.
The only downsides are that you'll have ads, will be limited to automatic server location selections and need to go through a seven-day free trial of the premium version which requires your credit-card details, though it won't be charged. And, because the parent company is based in the US, it can't turn away the FBI if it comes a-knockin' – although a 2017 transparency report says the company had never given law enforcement anything.
Overall, though, Hotspot Shield makes the best of what is often a bad situation. If you're set on getting a free VPN, its good data allowance and excellent connection speeds make it genuinely usable day-to-day, and although it won't be much good for streaming, it'll do pretty much anything else you want it to without any fuss.
Sound good? You can download Hotspot Shield Free VPN here
Generous on data and secure too
Number of servers: 10+ | Server locations: 10+ | Maximum devices supported: 1 | Data limit: 10Gb per month | 24/7 live chat: No
As a premium VPN Windscribe impresses, and it's free plan offers great quality, too. If you want to stay entirely anonymous to everyone, you'll be able to sign up without an email address and get 2Gb of data a month, but if you hand it over you'll get 10 Gb.
It's also nice to see free users get a selection of server locations, and while the list isn't nearly as comprehensive as its paid-for plan, you'll be able to connect in North America, Europe, Hong Kong – with a Turkey server added very recently.
That means you should be able to appear pretty much where you want to be, and seeing as your data is limited per month rather than per day, you'll be able to watch geo-blocked Netflix – but 10Gb will only get you 10 hours of standard def video.
Other great features include an ad-blocker and firewall plus claims of no-logging, so if you're after a discreet free VPN that appears to keep your data private, Windscribe could be a very good option.
Head over to Windscribe's website to sign up
Great identity protection for free
Number of servers: 1,000 | Server locations: 20+ | Maximum devices supported: 5 | Data limit: 500MB per month | 24/7 live chat: Yes
The company behind TunnelBear is none other than security software giant McAfee, meaning you get a whole lot of development behind this service without paying a penny. That also means a clean and easy-to-use app that works on mobile or desktop.
There is very little personal data required for sign-up, meaning this is more secure than ever, especially considering it's free to use. If you want access fast, for example, to check your emails or online banking when travelling, it's a great option.
However, make sure to note that you'll only get 500Mb of data per month – Hotspot Shield gives you that much every day – so switching it on and forgetting about it isn't an option, and forget about using your VPN for Netflix or anything else data-intensive.
If you're after a free VPN for infrequent use that's really easy to sign up for and use, though, TunnelBear could be the one for you.
Head over to TunnelBear's website to sign up
4. ProtonVPN Free
Unlimited data in a free VPN
Number of servers: 3 | Server locations: 3 | Maximum devices supported: 1 | Data limit: Unlimited | 24/7 live chat: No
If you're after a free VPN and don't want to be limited on data, then ProtonVPN’s free VPN is perfect for you. The unlimited data allowance makes it a decent streaming VPN, and gives the peace of mind that usually only comes with paid-for services.
The limitations which may prompt you to upgrade are access to just one device at a time, no P2P support, only three locations and lower speed prioritisation compared to paid users. However, on the plus side, there's no logging, making it very private, and there aren't even ads you have to put up with. It even works on a wide range of platforms, including Android, iOS, Windows, Mac and Linux.
Sound too good to be true? It kind of is. Expect speeds to drop at peak times when the paying users will get more of that precious bandwidth, and there’s also a dearth in server locations with ProtonVPN – you’ll only have three to choose from with the free plan.
If you're a night owl, or don't mind putting up with slower speeds for the sake of saving money, ProtonVPN is a great option – and that unlimited data is sure to come in handy.
Head over to ProtonVPN's website to sign up
Super secure speed
Number of servers: 1000+ | Server locations: 50+ | Maximum devices supported: 1 | Data limit: 10GB per month | 24/7 live chat: No
Speedify, as the name suggests, is a VPN that offers great connection performance across more than 1,000 servers in over 50 countries – and it does so without scrimping on security. You can enjoy a fully encrypted security system while the software's turbo-boosting technology is able to make sure speeds stay at their maximum possible performance throughout your connection time.
This smart software lets you use multiple connections to enhance speed – for example, both Wi-Fi and 4G data connections when on a mobile device – ensuring top performance speeds. The catch with this is that the mobile-data use might eat up your carrier's allocation if it's capped monthly.
Every month, Speedify allows you 10GB of free data, which refreshes every 30 days, which is great if you'll be using it for extended period, but you'll have to remember that one iot's gone, it's gone. Also, Speedify is a US-based company, meaning it's subject to federal search warrants. Do with that information what you will.
Head over to Speedify's website to sign up
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Free VPN FAQs
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.
If a VPN service is based in the United States, 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 free VPNs 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).
Some VPN protocols, including OpenVPN, use the Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security (SSL/TLS) protocols, which are also the standards to encrypt non-VPN connections between your web browser and secure websites (those that begin with HTTPS).
A VPN's scrambling and unscrambling of your data can sometimes slow internet traffic to a crawl. The best free VPN service providers 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.