On paper, we love the sound of a free PC VPN – taking control of your digital footprint and anonymizing yourself online is no bad thing, and for free it's even more tempting. However, can a free VPN really compete with the real deal?
On this page we'll be exploring what sacrifices you might have to make to save some money, and whether, in the long-term, it's worth entrusting your data to a free PC VPN rather than shelling out for a cheaper paid-for service.
If you just want to see which we recommend, click this link to jump down to our best free PC VPN picks – you'll be transported to the top five. If you want to learn a little more about your options first, just keep scrolling.
- Want the very best? Check out our guide to the best Windows 10 VPN
How does a free PC VPN work?
Most people will be downloading a free PC VPN to anonymize their data. A VPN does this by sending your traffic through its own encrypted servers instead of your ISP's servers. You can also connect to servers overseas, which can make you appear to be in that country.
As an example, our top-rated VPN ExpressVPN has over 3,000 servers worldwide, and you can pick from locations in around 94 countries. Changing your location allows you to access geo-blocked content from sites like Netflix and, in certain authoritarian nations, unblock Google, Facebook, Wikipedia and more.
However, free PC VPNs are invariably limited in some way or another. That could be through bandwidth throttling, a small data cap, limited server selection, or even a combination of those three and more. Some free PC VPNs are also known to inject ads into the sites you browse.
If you want the full, unlimited package, we'd recommend signing up to ExpressVPN – and Tom's Guide readers are eligible for three months free, getting 15 months for the price of 12 – plus you can get a 30-day trial to make sure it's for you.
The downsides of free PC VPNs
Taking into consideration the limitations mentioned above, there are a few things that free PC VPNs aren't well-suited to. One of the most popular reasons people download VPNs is to access geo-blocked streaming services like Netflix, and unfortunately this activity is virtually impossible for a free service.
That's because it uses a lot of data, requires servers than can evade Netflix's VPN-blocking tech, and needs top-notch speeds to make sure you're not left buffering. However, we have explored the best free Netflix VPN options if you'd like to see how you can get one for free.
If you're looking for a service to switch on and forget about, a free PC VPN probably isn't for you. Those with data caps will run out surprisingly quickly, and while you use them you may find that your connection becomes rather slow.
Also, while here we're talking about free services for PCs, it's worth noting that it's unlikely you'll be able to use your account on more than one device. Fully-functional VPNs allow you to protect a multiple devices, meaning you can cover your phone, tablet, PC, and even devices like routers and games consoles.
In essence, a free PC VPN will have any number of limitations, and if you plan on using it a lot, you'll find that it might lack the power you need.
What makes a great free PC VPN?
Despite their drawbacks, for casual users that just want to quickly get protected when on public Wi-Fi, or for sensitive browsing and inputting personal details, a free PC VPN could be a great option.
Firstly, a good free PC VPN should have a generous data limit so you'll actually be able to use it for a good period of time. Our top pick Hotspot Shield has a great 500MB-a-day allowance that should be enough for general browsing at home and the odd video.
Finally, you'll want your free PC VPN to have decent speeds. Some – like Hotspot Shield – have excellent connections, but others prioritise paying customers and those using free versions will find themselves waiting around for a while.
If you're interested in testing out a VPN for free before you buy, it's worth checking out our guide to the best VPN free trial – with them you'll be able to test a premium service with no risk, and afterwards make the decision to buy or not. However, if you want a truly free PC VPN, read on for our top five.
The best free PC VPNs
1. Surfshark – the best-value VPN on the market
If you're on this Free PC VPN page you might not be considering spending money on a VPN, but Surfshark offers the the best-value paid service on the market. For just $2.49 a month you'll get comprehensive, unlimited cover on as many devices as you want. It's great for torrenting and streaming, and you'll be covered by a 30-day money-back guarantee which acts like a free trial.View Deal
2. ExpressVPN – the best VPN money can buy
If you want the best of the best, ExpressVPN is our #1-rated VPN, and it thoroughly outperforms any free service on the market. Tom's Guide readers can claim three free months plus the regular 49% saving on a one-year plan – which works out at 15 months for the price of 12. Express also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.View Deal
3. NordVPN – the biggest name is super secure
A good middle ground is the famous NordVPN – a little cheaper than Express, but with a couple more features than Surfshark. Plus, as the biggest name in the business, it's a name many trust. At just $3.71 a month it's great value, and Nord also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can try before you commit.View Deal
Overall, Hotspot Shield is simply the best free PC VPN. With 500MB of data every day as well as a five-device policy, it's a great way to get started in the world of VPNs, and you'll be backed by great encryption so you can be sure your data is being kept safe.
Simple apps make the whole experience a pleasure, and while speeds are slightly slower than the paid version, the free plan still delivers consistently quick connections.
While Hotspot Shield Free is supported by advertising. When you're browsing there'll be some extra elements on pages, but we've never found this to be a huge issue and for most users this will be an acceptable compromise.
Other limitations include automatic server selection – not great if you're trying to get around geo-restrictions – and you'll have to hand over your credit card details to open an account (although you won't be charged). Also, security nuts might not be happy that the company is US-based, as although it has never handed over details to authorities, it's not legally permitted to turn away agencies like the FBI if they do demand information.
However, while some of that might sound a little negative, if you're set on getting a free PC VPN then Hotspot Shield is a close as you're going to get to a genuinely secure, usable service. For casual users it'll do what you want it to, and it makes the best of what is often a bad situation – plus, if you ever choose to upgrade, Hotspot Shield's paid version is excellent.
Sign up for free on the Hotspot Shield website.
We think Windscribe's free plan is one of the best on the market, and that's an opinion plenty of people share. As one of the most popular free PC VPNs around, it has a reputation for good performance and reliability.
You'll be able to switch protocols, use a firewall and choose between 10 servers, plus you'll have 10GB of data a month to play with. However, whether you prefer having a daily limit like Hotspot Shield or a monthly limit like Windscribe is up to you – if you want to binge YouTube, 10GB will be great, but bear in mind that if you use it up in a couple of days then you'll be waiting weeks for it to refresh.
Free users also can't access 'Windflix' servers, which are dedicated to accessing overseas Netflix libraries. While that doesn't mean you definitely can't with the servers you have access to with the free version, if you're after a streaming VPN we'd strongly recommend a paid plan.
As a basic free PC VPN, Windscribe is certainly worth considering – just make sure not to blast through your data allowance all in one go.
Sign up for free on Windscribe's website
If you're after unlimited data, ProtonVPN could be a great choice. Unusual in the free PC VPN market for offering a genuinely unlimited data plan for free users, you won't find yourself cutting back your browsing because of your VPN here.
Hold your horses, though, because a number of other limitations mean that ProtonVPN might not be suitable for your usage. For starters, it's not a good torrenting VPN as none of the servers available support P2P traffic. Add to that patchy Netflix support (still better than most free services, though) and throttled speeds at peak times, and you've got yourself a somewhat limited free PC VPN.
If you want a free PC VPN to switch on and go about your business, ProtonVPN and its unlimited data plan is a good choice, but if you plan on torrenting or streaming in HD, it might be worth looking elsewhere.
Sign up for free on ProtonVPN's website
McAfee-owned TunnelBear is a great choice if you're after a free PC VPN that can guarantee the security of your data. With a lot of power and investment behind the VPN, you could certainly do worse.
Very little personal info is needed to sign up, and connection speeds are great. Combined with wonderfully simple apps, all this makes for a great VPN experience, even for novices.
So why isn't TunnelBear at the top of this list? Well, the free version only provides a measly 500MB a month, Bear in mind that Hotspot Shield gives you that every day, and you'll start to see a bit of a problem.
TunnelBear's free option is very much like its paid version, except with a minuscule data cap, and in that respect it probably works well to draw users into paying. If you think you'd be tempted, sign up to the paid plan from the start. However, unless you're only going to be checking emails and your online banking, TunnelBear's data limit is a serious handicap to what is, in use, a very capable free PC VPN.
Sign up for free on TunnelBear's website
Speedify, as you'd expect, is very speedy. Paired with a cracking selection of servers and 10GB of data a month, it's a pretty good free PC VPN.
The way Speedify works is to use multiple connections to enhance the speed of your single VPN-routed connection. While that works great on mobile, on PC it's not quite as effective – and if you're using your cell phone data, it can eat through that pretty quickly. (If you're looking to cover your mobile, check out our top Android VPN apps guide.)
Much like WIndscribe, the monthly data usage is generous, but once it's gone, it's gone, and you'll be waiting until your next month to re-up your allowance. Plus, like Hotspot Shield, Speedify is a US-based company, so is subject to Federal search warrants.
If you're after maximum free connection speeds, Speedify is a great option. However, on the whole, those higher on this list provide more well-rounded experiences.
Sign up for free on Speedify's website
Free PC VPN FAQ
What can I do with a free PC VPN?
Installing a free PC VPN on your Windows or Mac computer gives you the power to anonymize your activity and keep your data safe.
While free services aren't often good as Netflix VPNs, and don't usually work for torrenting either, for most other uses they're pretty good.
For example, if you're worried about the security of using online banking, firing up your free PC VPN can give you the peace of mind that no one between you and the bank's site can intercept your data. The same goes for your emails and private messaging.
Every free PC VPN comes with limitations, but for casual privacy use they're a good bit of software to have on hand.
Is a free PC VPN worth it?
It all depends an what you're using it for.
If you're going to be connected all day, we'd always recommend a paid for service – and if you're worried about money, there are some world-class cheap VPN services that start at around $2 a month.
However, if you won't be using it much, a free PC VPN could be all you need. It's just worth bearing in mind that it probably won't be a great streaming VPN, or be able to protect you when sharing P2P. If you're fine with that, then one of the five above should work well for you.
How do free PC VPNs make money?
Every VPN has to make money somewhere – they've all got employees to pay and servers to keep working. But, if they're not making money from a monthly subscription, where's it coming from?
Well, there are a few ways free PC VPNs make their money. Firstly, a free version is often subsidised by a full paid-for version. This is the case with all the picks in this guide, and often means the free versions can be a little more ethical about where they make their revenue.
These free versions are limited versions that are offered so that you get a taste for the service and end up paying to remove any limits the free option has. Some also inject ads into the pages you visit to earn money that way.
Others – and we're as sure as we can be that this isn't the case for the options on this list – may take a little more advantage of you by selling your data to advertisers (and who knows who else). This essentially negates one of the main uses of having a VPN in the first place, and we strongly recommend you steer clear of any company known to do this.
For some, these concessions are worth it, but many other people use VPNs to avoid ads and data sharing. If that's you, paying around $2 a month for a service like Surfshark might seem like a more attractive proposition.
Are free PC VPNs safe?
It does depend on what consider safe, but our top five are as secure as free VPNs get.
However, for true privacy advocates, it's likely a paid-for service like ExpressVPN will be an easy choice thanks to properly audited privacy policies and the absence of ads.
While Hotspot Shield is the best-performing free PC VPN, there are concerns about its logging practices. And, while TunnelBear has great privacy credentials, it's now owned by US-based McAfee – plus, of course, 500MB a month isn't a lot to play with.
For basic avoidance of trackers and maintaining anonymity on public Wi-Fi, free PC VPNs can do the job well, but if you're after absolute security while torrenting or anything else, your best bet is to pay up for a fully-featured VPN with no limits.