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When it comes to free VPN services, everybody wants the best. But is there any free VPN that can serve you best and be a worthy opponent against a paid VPN? Well, in a sense.
A great free VPN service can usually be used, without major risks, to spoof your IP address to access censored web content or stay secure while using your banking app on a public wifi hotspot. Yet to get even that much, you need to steer clear of all the terrible free services out there – and we’re here to help.
Try the best premium VPNs for free
If you want airtight online security and privacy, fast connections for torrenting or streaming, and live support, free VPNs are not the way to go. Fortunately, some of the best VPN services offer a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can give them a shot. They’re also not that expensive:
At $1.99/month, Surfshark VPN brings by far the most bang for your buck. Surfshark’s fast connections will let you stream, game, or torrent smoothly, wherever you are.
You can get the super-secure NordVPN and all of its 5500+ servers for as little as $3.49/month.
Both Surfshark and NordVPN offer 30-day money-back guarantees.
Free VPN vs. paid VPN
There are many major differences between free and paid VPNs. Let’s take a look at the table below to get a bird’s eye view of what you miss out on when choosing a free VPN.
|Free VPN||Paid VPN|
|Anonymity and security||no||yes*|
|Public WiFi protection||yes||yes|
|24/7 live chat support||no||yes|
|No bandwidth sharing||no*||yes|
|No third-party ads||no*||yes|
|No data logging||no||yes*|
|No malware included||no*||yes|
* It doesn’t relate to all VPNs in the category.
As you can see from the table above, paid VPNs are simply better. Free VPNs usually don’t provide full anonymity and security or 24/7 live chat support. They are more likely to have bandwidth limitations, third-party ads, and malware risks.
Moreover, free VPNs can be slower and might be logging your data. On top of that, free VPN services tend to offer users access to far fewer server locations. This can result in thousands of connections per server at a time, congesting traffic and reducing speeds to a crawl in the process.
The dangers of free VPNs: here’s what you should know
Even though decent providers do exist, the free VPN market is riddled with pitfalls, especially if you stumble upon the wrong free VPN service. Here are some of the dangers and drawbacks that you risk running into when using an random free VPN service:
- IP address leaks. Unfortunately, a lot of free VPN services can leak IPv4 and IPv6 addresses, if they don’t have proper leak protection as well as a kill switch. This means that your physical location can easily be identified and used against you if this information lands in the wrong hands.
- Data tracking, logging, and monitoring. Some free VPN providers may go even further than merely logging your data and inject hidden trackers into users’ devices. These trackers may collect your data even when you’re not connected to the VPN server, which makes these malicious free VPN services nothing more than spyware in disguise.
- Fraud. Some shady free VPNs collect your data and sell it on black markets. This can result in not only fraud, but also identity theft, data breaches, and worse. It pays to be extra careful when choosing which free VPN to use, so make sure to stay away from the less-known brands.
Choosing the best free VPN: what to keep in mind
When it comes to picking the best free VPN, the following factors are the most important:
- Security – the free VPN should have industry-standard encryption and tunneling protocols, as well as security features that are at least somewhat comparable to a paid VPN service.
- Business model – ideally, the free VPN should earn money not by selling your data to third parties, but by selling paid subscriptions to the premium version of its service.
- Limitations – the provider should cut as few premium features as possible, including offering you more free bandwidth, server selection, and allowing P2P traffic.
Not all free VPN providers out there meet each of these criteria. Some cut advanced security features from their free versions, many log and sell your traffic data to marketers and advertisers, while others still simply underperform because of overcrowded servers.
Top 5 free VPNs for 2020
1. ProtonVPN ‣
The #1 best free VPN service
ProtonVPN, unlike all other free VPNs on this list, doesn’t limit how much you can download, how quickly, or how often you can switch servers. Instead, with the free version of ProtonVPN, you’ll just have one device per user account, fewer servers to choose from, and fewer features to use. And they’d be really nice features to have, so you wouldn’t be a fool to pay for them.
What the ProtonVPN free version does have, however, is solid security fundamentals: military-grade encryption, industry-standard tunneling protocols, and a reliable kill switch. The more advanced security features like Secure Core multi-hop and Tor over VPN are left behind the paywall.
Moreover, ProtonVPN’s torrenting policy doesn’t discriminate against P2P traffic. This P2P-friendly attitude makes it a decent choice for any VPN user, who doesn’t require great performance. And that’s precisely why ProtonVPN is at the very top of our list.
- Unlimited data and bandwidth
- Strong encryption
- User-friendly apps
- Torrenting allowed
- Kill switch
- No Secure Core and Tor over VPN features
- VPN for one device only
Incredibly generous – both in features and bandwidth
Moreover, the Windscribe app is extremely well-designed and easy to use. This makes it a perfect choice for beginners and casual VPN users alike.
While Windscribe’s somewhat average speeds might not be top of the line and your connection may occasionally drop, the privacy that Windscribe provides (for free!) certainly more than makes up for these possible drawbacks.
Overall, Windscribe VPN may be good for browsing or streaming geo-restricted content safely, as well as for gaining extra layers of security when accessing sensitive content (social networks or banking) via unsecured wifi hotspots.
- Generous bandwidth limit (10GB)
- No-logs policy
- Great set of free security and privacy features
- User-friendly and easy-to-use clients
- 13 servers
- Based in a Five Eyes country
- Average speeds and occasional connection drops
- You have to earn extra free data with tweets and referrals
- No Netflix servers
Good for privacy, bad for streaming
The free version of Hide Me VPN packs all the security and privacy features you can expect from an industry-standard premium VPN service. Military-grade encryption, IP and DNS leak protection, and a no-logging policy make hide.me VPN an attractive choice for budget-free privacy enthusiasts.
Even though Hide Me VPN speeds are relatively good (for a free VPN) and you can enjoy P2P file-sharing on all servers, the 2GB data cap can be too restrictive for some. Additionally, hide.me VPN is a no-go for binge-watchers and streaming fans since none of the servers we tested could unblock Netflix.
Overall, Hide Me VPN can be a great free VPN service. The caveat here is that it all depends on your needs. If those needs are heavily dependent on the amount of online bandwidth you require, hide.me VPN might not satisfy them. On the other hand, if you don’t plan on torrenting large files or streaming an entire season’s worth of geo-blocked content in one go, this VPN provider could be right up your alley.
- Strong security features
- No-logs policy
- Decent speeds
- Torrenting allowed
- Modest 2GB monthly bandwidth limit
- Access to only three VPN servers
- Can’t unblock Netflix
- VPN for one device only
4. TunnelBear ‣
High on features, low on data
TunnelBear VPN is usually the top choice for most free VPN lists, but due to its extremely low 500MB monthly bandwidth cap, we consider it just a teaser for you to go for the paid version ASAP.
With that said, the free version of TunnelBear VPN offers almost everything you’ll find in its premium version, at least feature-wise. Which means you get strong encryption, solid tunneling protocols, obfuscation, and a kill switch to make your anonymous web surfing quite a safe endeavor.
The TunnelBear apps are also very user-friendly, with a few tongue-in-cheek design decisions thrown in to make using them joy, especially when connecting to servers in faraway countries.
We recommend it for beginner VPN users to read and unblock web content, secure their internet traffic when using public wifi, or to simply spoof their physical location by changing their IP address.
However, all the features in the world won’t make us put TunnelBear higher on our best free VPN services list until this provider increases that incredibly restrictive data cap.
- Double encryption
- Kill switch
- Unblocks geo-blocked websites
- Very low monthly bandwidth cap (500MB)
- No Australia server
- Doesn’t unblock Netflix or other streaming services
The most popular free VPN on the planet
With a 600 million-strong user base, Hotspot Shield VPN comes off as the most popular of all free VPN services. With these kinds of numbers, it might look like Hotspot Shield might be a barely functioning service. However, numbers can be deceiving.
Despite the huge user loads, Hotspot Shield VPN may very well be the world’s fastest free VPN. To be frank, it is certainly faster than our first top 2 picks. However, due to the constantly increasing numbers of free users, the Hotspot Shield servers may one day get overloaded and thus become slower.
Because of Hotspot Shield VPN’s somewhat questionable data practices, we don’t consider their free version to be the #1 best free VPN service available, at least if you’re concerned about your online privacy. Yet, you can still enjoy some basic IP address spoofing, geo-unblocking to read and watch geo-restricted content within your data limit.
- 500MB daily bandwidth cap
- Military-grade encryption
- Automatic public wifi protection
- Easy-to-use VPN app
- Fast connection times
- Relatively fast VPN servers
- Limited number of servers (some of which are virtual servers!)
- Third-party ads while browsing
- VPN for one device only
Risk-free VPN trials: when free just doesn’t cut it anymore
When using free VPNs, it won’t be long till you start to really notice their drawbacks. Namely, the slow speeds, the lack of server options, and the restrictive bandwidth limitations. These inevitable handicaps will certainly make you want to try a premium VPN service.
This means that your best bet is going with the paid VPN that offers a lengthy trial period and a no-questions-asked money-back guarantee. This way you’ll have plenty of time to reconsider and get a quick refund in case you change your mind.
We recommend going with NordVPN, which is an industry leader that offers a generous 30-day risk-free trial period and guaranteed full 100% refund to their customers.
What is a free VPN?
Free VPN services work just like paid VPNs, with several major caveats. The VPN basics are pretty much the same across the board: when you use the app, it encrypts your online connection and routes it via secure servers in another location – for free.
And then come the caveats. As with most things in life, “free” isn’t exactly free with VPNs either. Since you don’t pay a dime for using these services (and don’t forget that keeping the lights on costs money), you can end up becoming the product. While so-called “freemium” providers offer free versions of their premium apps in hopes of enticing you to purchase their service, others brand themselves as “free” VPNs and make money by more insidious means.
By offering you to use their VPN servers for free, some of these providers can in exchange show you display ads, log and track your online traffic, allow third parties to spy on your activities, and even inject malware into your device.
Benefits of free VPNs
When you go for a free VPN instead of a paid one, there’s an obvious difference in the quality of service. With that said, you may still find free VPN services useful for certain activities when you may not need maximum security, privacy, or lightning speeds. You can mainly use a better VPN service for:
- Unblocking websites – to access geo-restricted content
- Securing public wifi – not to leak sensitive data
- Gaming & Torrenting – if speed and latency allow
- Hiding your IP – to fake your geolocation
This doesn’t mean that with one single free VPN you’ll be able to enjoy all of these features, although our top 5 picks should essentially cover them. Nevertheless, there may be other free services that are more suitable for a specific usage or platform while they fail at others.
The worst free VPN services: avoid these free VPNs at all cost
While you can reliably use all the best free VPNs we list above as general online privacy and geo-unblocking solutions, we strongly recommend you stay well away from the rest. When it comes to online security and privacy, your room for error is practically non-existent.
This is why you simply have to avoid most free VPN services, the worst of which can be incredibly dangerous. Once again, we’ll repeat the age-old saying that there’s no free breakfast.
You’ll be much better off paying the monthly price of a coffee cup for a premium VPN than putting your online safety and privacy at risk by downloading and installing any of these unsafe apps masquerading as legitimate VPN services (such as Hola VPN, VPN Gate, Betternet VPN).
Please read our dedicated malicious free VPN guide for the full list of free VPNs to avoid at all costs.