Choosing the best VPN can be a tricky decision, and bagging yourself a VPN free trial is one of the best ways to get to know the software before you commit. However, if you’ve been considering your options for any time at all, you may well have noticed that not every free trial is the same.
Some providers offer a limited free VPN which you can use for an indefinite amount of time, while others require you to pay initially but give you the guarantee of a refund within a certain period of time. Others may also offer a very short unlimited free trial or cheap monthly VPN plan (in some cases just 1 week) that you can use to avoid paying a large amount upfront, even though you’d be able to claim it back.
Here, we’ll be running down the pros and cons of each, and which route you should take. By the end, hopefully you’ll have a better idea of which option will help you pick the right VPN for you.
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Free trials without payment
If you’re looking for a free trial from a VPN provider, this is probably what you expect – about seven days of unlimited use of the product without fronting any cash. However, while these do exist, they’re becoming thinner on the ground.
Notable providers that do offer genuine free trials include NordVPN and Surfshark, but these are only available on mobile from the Google Play and Apple App stores. Head to the sites on desktop, and you won’t see a thing about any trial.
However, while on the face of it a seven-day free trial sounds great – no commitment, no money changing hands – for someone who’s really looking to make an informed decision, a week isn’t really long enough. You won’t want to dedicate every evening of a week looking over features and testing every scenario to make sure the software works as it should.
So, while it might seem counterintuitive, we often recommend making the most of the longer money-back guarantee periods…
While a money-back guarantee isn’t a true free trial, any money you pay upfront will be refunded if you decide the service isn’t for you. But, although you won’t be out of pocket if you do request a refund, it does require a small amount of money to invest to get up and running.
Although that might seem off-putting, we think the benefits vastly outweigh the cons. Firstly you’ll usually get 30 days (up to 45 days in some cases) to truly get to know the provider. Within that month you’re likely to have the chance to test out any and all of the VPN uses you’re likely to want, and you’ll have a much better understanding of the product as a whole.
Plus, while some providers do offer a true free trial, a number of the biggest and best names in the business like ExpressVPN and IPVanish don’t offer any way to test out their products without payment. So, the only way to try some of the biggest hitters before you commit is by making the most of a money-back guarantee.
If you’re worried about claiming back being a huge hassle, don’t be. In our experience just about every provider has stuck by their no-quibble promise. You’ll likely be asked why you're leaving, but no matter your answer, you’ll get your refund swiftly and promptly.
Totally free services
Your final option is to go with a provider like ProtonVPN or Hotspot Shield that offers a genuine free VPN service. That means no time limits and no subscription fees, but you’ll also have to contend with some serious limitations.
Barring ProtonVPN, almost all free providers limit the amount of data you can use. Hotspot Shield offers 500MB a day, while Windscribe (opens in new tab) allows you 10GB a month - if you provide your email. Others are even less generous, like TunnelBear, which only delivers a meagre 500MB a month. Server selection will be limited too, and while the amount of servers on offer to free customers varies, you’ll likely be limited to just a couple of locations.
One of the biggest drawbacks, though, is the fact that free services often don’t have the power to unblock streaming sites like Netflix. When taking advantage of a money-back guarantee, you can test the true streaming VPN performance of a service. Free versions can’t do this, and require you to upgrade to get access to streaming sites – and often you won’t have a money-back guarantee to test it out fully after payment, since the free version acts like your trial period.
The reason why free services restrict features is that, of course, they do want you to pay. They can be very useful in a pinch, but by limiting data and features, there’s an incentive for you to cough up and get the full package.
Which kind of free trial is best?
If you’re not considering ever paying, a no-fee VPN might be what you need: quick privacy, enough data for light browsing, and no commitment.
However, if you plan on streaming or leaving the VPN on all day, you’re going to have to upgrade to a paid service – and we’d thoroughly recommend taking advantage of a money-back guarantee. While it does require a payment, it’s easy to claim back, and you get unrestricted access to the software for at least a month without committing.
A true free trial with no payment upfront is great, but the unfortunate truth is that not every provider offers one, and the product best-suited to you may be untestable unless you invest. Money-back guarantees allow you to do this risk-free, and in our opinion, they're the best way of getting to know a VPN before you commit.
Which VPN do we recommend?
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With over 3,000 servers worldwide and excellent speeds on just about all of them, ExpressVPN is a versatile, secure solution for streaming, torrenting, and day-to-day browsing. You can test it out risk-free for 30 days and claim your money back, and now Tom's Guide readers can get three months absolutely FREE.