How does a Chrome VPN work?

How does a Chrome VPN work?
(Image credit: ExpressVPN)

Using a Chrome VPN is a fast and easy way to protect your internet connection if you use Google Chrome for most of your web surfing. Since your VPN is baked into your browser, it’s simple to access and change your server location whenever you need.

Not all of the best VPNs for Chrome work in the same way, so it’s important to understand exactly what you’re getting. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at how paid and free browser VPNs work so you can decide which is better for your needs.

If you’re considering a paid VPN service, there’s a good chance that it comes with a browser extension for Chrome. However, for better or worse, you typically can’t buy the Chrome extension on its own – you’ll need to pay for the whole VPN package, whether you want the desktop app or not.

The advantage of paying for a VPN for Chrome is that it’s a true VPN. These extensions not only mask your computer’s location and IP address, but also encrypt all outgoing Internet traffic. That encryption can be critical for your security if you’re logging into something like your bank account on a public Wi-Fi network.

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Free Chrome extensions

Free VPN extensions for Chrome are attractive. After all, who doesn’t like free?

But, as with most free things in life, there’s a catch. Very few free and cheap extensions for Chrome are actually VPNs, but rather proxies developed by VPN providers. These proxy extensions will mask your computer’s IP address and spoof a location, and they can be good for getting past geo-restrictions so you can unblock your favorite content on sites like Netflix.

However, a proxy won’t actually encrypt your outgoing internet traffic like a VPN will. That’s important because it means that any connections you make through Chrome aren’t necessarily secure. You would want to think twice about logging into secure accounts on a public network using only a proxy.

Worse, some free proxies have even been shown to log and sell user data to third parties – totally at odds with what you might be expecting to achieve with the extension. Make sure to double-check the privacy policy to see whether you’re paying for a proxy with your data.

How does a Chrome VPN work?

(Image credit: Alexander Supertramp/Shutterstock)

Which one is better?

If you can afford it, a paid VPN for Chrome does everything a proxy can do and more. You get the same IP address masking, more potential geolocations, and encryption for all web traffic routed through Chrome – plus, you’ll also probably have a robust support network in case anything goes wrong, or you can’t access what you’d like to.

That said, if your goal is only to unblock content on streaming sites and you’re not worried about online security, a free proxy extension can work just fine. Just don’t be fooled into believing that a free extension is protecting your browser data.

What’s the best Chrome VPN?

Looking for a good VPN or proxy for Chrome? We think ExpressVPN provides the best value of any paid VPN. It enables you to get around most streaming sites’ geofences and offers server locations in more than 94 countries. On top of that, it’s fully private and secure enough to trust with sensitive data. When you sign up for an ExpressVPN plan, you also get a desktop app so you can run the VPN outside Chrome – plus Tom’s Guide readers get three free months on a 12-month plan.

If you just want a free proxy extension, we recommend Windscribe. It offers location spoofing for 10 countries as well as advertisment and tracker blocking while you surf the web. Better yet, Windscribe’s extension installs inside Chrome, so it’s perfect for use on a work computer for which you don’t have administrative access.

Michael Graw

Michael Graw is a freelance journalist and photographer based in Bellingham, Washington. His interests span a wide range from business technology to finance to creative media, with a focus on new technology and emerging trends. Michael's work has been published in TechRadar, Tom's Guide, Business Insider, Fast Company, Salon, and Harvard Business Review.