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Free Windows VPN: are they worth downloading and which ones are good?

Free Windows VPN
(Image credit: Wachiwit/Shutterstock)

If you're a casual user searching for the best VPN, there's no doubt you'll have come across a huge range of both paid and free VPN options for Windows – and the choice between the two is probably the biggest one you'll have to make in the process. So, can a free Windows VPN really cut the mustard, or is it worth investing in a premium provider?

On this page, we'll run down what you need to look out for when it comes to picking a free Windows 10 VPN, what features you need, which providers are worth testing out, and if, in reality, spending a couple of dollars a month is the right decision.

If you want to see the best free Windows VPNs right away, click the 'Jump To' tab at the top of the page. If you want to learn a little more about how they work and what your options are, just keep scrolling.

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What's the benefit of a free Windows VPN?

VPNs (virtual private networks) anonymize your activity by encrypting your Internet traffic and hiding it from your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Popular uses of VPNs include avoiding government and advertiser tracking, accessing sites that are blocked at work or school, and for changing your location to watch overseas TV – you can find out more by reading how does a VPN work.

Free Windows VPNs promise all of this for absolutely no cost – and that's quite understandably an incredibly tempting proposition. 

If you pick a quality provider (we'll suggest a few below), you can expect some of these features to work, and if you just want to check your emails in privacy, briefly become anonymous for a sensitive Google search, or change location to check the price of a product in a different country, a free Windows VPN could be useful. However, there are inevitably some downsides...

The downsides of free Windows VPNs

If you're planning on using your free Windows VPN regularly and for lots of different VPN uses, you'll need great speeds, the power to unblock geo-restricted content, P2P support and, of course, unlimited data transfer – and there's simply no provider that's generous enough to give you all of that for free.

Almost all have a data cap of some kind, ranging from a meagre 500MB to 10GB or more a month, but at some point that's going to run out. You'll also notice your server selection will be restricted. So, for example, if you wanted to use your free Windows VPN as a free Netflix VPN and watch a TV show only available in Canada, you may well find that server restricted, and only available for paying users.

And, of course, that's assuming your free Windows VPN is able to access Netflix and the like which is, frankly, unlikely.

It's also worth considering how your free service makes money and is able to keep its servers up and running. With 'freemium' services it's quite clear – they want you to upgrade from the limited free version to the fully functioning paid service, and free users are supported by those who pay – but 100% free Windows VPN services may well be a little more shady. They could be selling your data, or using your device as an exit node for other users. We'd never recommend using a free service that doesn't have a paid option.

free windows VPN

(Image credit: Anton Shaparenko/Shutterstock)

Is a free Windows VPN worth it?

It all depends on how you're planning on using your free Windows VPN. If you think you'll be connecting once in a while for a few minutes and then switching back off again, it may well be a good choice.

However, if you're planning on torrenting, streaming geo-blocked content or want access to thousands of servers worldwide, only a premium provider will do.

That doesn't mean you have to spend a bomb to get world-class VPN cover, though. Almost all providers offer a 30-day or more money-back guarantee so you can trial the unrestricted service and then claim back the money paid if you don't think it's worth it. You can also find some great VPN free trials if you want to test a service over a shorter time.

Below, we'll round up the very best free Windows VPN services available today, and we'll also suggest some great-value premium providers that will have you covered no matter what you plan on using your VPN for.

FREE WINDOWS VPNS

1. ExpressVPN – try the best VPN risk free for 30 days
If you want the best way to get a free Windows VPN, we’d suggest trying out ExpressVPN – its 30-day money-back guarantee is generous and, if you choose to, you’ll be refunded no questions asked. However, it’s also our highest-rated VPN, and you can claim three free months on 12-month plans.View Deal

2. Surfshark – the best-value VPN on the market
If Express is a little pricey but you're still considering a fully featured VPN, Surfshark is an excellent choice. For just $2.49 a month you'll get unlimited connections, intuitive apps, really swift servers and world-class streaming support – plus a no-quibble 30-day money-back guarantee.View Deal

3. NordVPN – the biggest name is a safe bet
NordVPN is probably on your radar, and it's definitely a paid service that's worth considering. With over 5,000 servers, great streaming power, polished apps and incredible encryption, $3.71 a month doesn't sound too bad – and again, make a claim within 30 days and you'll get every penny back.View Deal

The best free Windows VPNs

ProtonVPN free Windows VPN

(Image credit: ProtonVPN)

1. ProtonVPN

Unlimited data is class-leading

Unlimited data
Some Netflix access
Secure
Throttled speeds
Limited servers

If you're going to go with a truly free Windows VPN, we'd recommend ProtonVPN. Standing out from the crowd by offering totally unlimited data, you really can set it and forget it – and although speeds are limited compared to the premium plans, it's still fairly usable.

If you do upgrade to a paid plan you'll have access to the worldwide Secure Core servers, but even free users have a choice between servers in the US, the Netherlands and Japan. 

Surprisingly, ProtonVPN Free has even had some success at accessing Netflix, but we wouldn't rely on it. The best bit, though? New users will get a seven-day free trial of the unrestricted ProtonVPN service (every server, full features, and unthrottled speeds) without having to hand over any payment details whatsoever. That's a seriously good bargain.

Sign up now on ProtonVPN's website

2. Hotspot Shield

Great free option from super-fast provider

500MB of data a day
Decent speeds
Ad-supported on some platforms

Hotspot Shield has been a favorite of ours for a long time, offering reliable free protection that's simple and effective.

Some platforms are ad-supported, and you'll often be encouraged to upgrade, but it's by no means intrusive and is a small sacrifice to make when you think about what you're getting.

However, it ranks below ProtonVPN here for a couple of reasons. To start, there's no trial or taster of the full service like Proton's seven-day introduction, and if you plan on doing anything data-intensive, you'll find that 500MB restriction, well, restrictive.

When it comes to streaming on Netflix, Hotspot Shield is an absolute no-go – while some free or unspecialized VPNs can get you access to Netflix Original and nothing more, Hotspot Shield Free actually blocks the site itself in an attempt to get you to upgrade. That's either very annoying, or pretty smart on the provider's part, because paid plans are great streaming VPNs.

For casual use, Hotspot Shield is an excellent choice, and if you do ever choose to upgrade, it's one of the best in the business.

Sign up now on the Hotspot Shield website

The best free Windows VPN trials

Surfshark free Windows VPN

1. Surfshark

The best cheap VPN also offers a 7-day trial

Great for streaming
Proper free trial
Excellent apps for all devices
Not hugely configurable

As the best cheap VPN on the market, it's no surprise Surfshark is rearing its head here. And, while it can be a bit tricky to get up and running, the provider does offer a genuine free Windows VPN trial.

To get it, you just need to head to the App Store on your smartphone. Once you've downloaded the app, you'll be offered a seven-day free trial. Simple.

However, for real flexibility we'd recommend signing up for a full plan and claiming a refund back if you're not happy with the service. It's a no-quibble process, and you get a month rather than a week of free access if you do choose to get a refund.

Either way, Surfshark blows any free provider out of the water with excellent streaming power, great security, good speeds and, of course, unlimited data. All of that for less than $2.50 a month? Not bad in our opinion.

Sign up now on Surfshark's website

2. NordVPN

Another big gun offers seven days free

Fully audited and secure
Great for streaming
Good connection speeds
Mobile apps can be awkward

You'll probably recognize the name NordVPN – it's everywhere from soccer sponsorships to TV ads. It's not all mouth and no trousers, though, and it's got the credentials and performance to live up to its boastful persona.

You'll get access to tons of Netflix libraries, excellent security and apps on loads of devices (although the mobile interface is a little clunky).

Just like Surfshark, when downloading the app on mobile you'll be offered a free seven-day trial – but again, we'd recommend going for the money-back route. It's quick and easy to do so if you want, and you'll get full access to every feature for a whole month before committing.

Sign up now on NordVPN's website

The best free Windows VPN money-back guarantees

ExpressVPN free Windows vpn

(Image credit: ExpressVPN)

1. ExpressVPN

Test the best for a whole month risk-free

Top-class Netflix unblocking
Excellent apps
Great customer support
Pay before you try (but you can get it back)

We make no bones about it – we think ExpressVPN is the best of the best when it comes to just about every VPN. However, for those on a budget it can prove a little expensive, but there's a way around this.

After you've signed up to any plan, you've got 30 days to test out the service and make sure it's the one for you. If it's not, for any reason, you can claim your money back at the end of the trial and you won't have spent any money at all. Of course, though, you can only do this once.

All things considered, we think ExpressVPN provides the best service available today, and while there are cheaper options out there, if you can spare a couple of extra dollars a month, it's the one to go for.

Sign up now on ExpressVPN's website and claim three months free

2. Cyberghost

Perfect for those on a budget

Specialised for streaming and torrenting
Massive 45-day guarantee
Tons of servers
Experience is slightly unpolished

If ExpressVPN is too rich for your blood, CyberGhost offers a bargain alternative with a huge 45-day money back guarantee.

It doesn't offer a truly free Windows VPN experience, but you'll get over 6,000 servers plus good streaming support, and it's also excellent for torrenting. A nifty server filtering feature takes the guesswork out, too.

While at this price point we probably prefer Surfshark, CyberGhost's huge money-back guarantee is very tempting, giving you a month and a half before you have to commit. You can't ask for much more than that.

Sign up now on the CyberGhost website

Free Windows VPN FAQ

Can I stream with a free Windows VPN?

If we're honest, free Windows VPNs aren't going to be great for streaming thanks to slower speeds, inferior unblocking tech and data limits – if you want to watch worldwide content, we'd recommend a premium service like ExpressVPN.

However, some providers can give limited access to sites like Netflix, and other sites like YouTube should be no problem – unless you've run out of data.

Why do I need a free Windows VPN?

A free Windows VPN can offer a quick and easy solution to staying private when on public Wi-Fi, keeping your identity private from ad trackers, and even just giving you peace of mind that your ISP can't see what you're looking at online.

However, if you want to use more advanced things with your VPN like torrenting, streaming geo-blocked content and keeping it all day, every day, a paid option is a better bet.