Are you browsing the internet without a virtual private network (VPN)? If you are, you may be putting your personal data at risk when you access the internet through public Wi-Fi networks. Hackers and other users who are accessing the same networks could intercept sensitive information such as credit card or bank account numbers. Using only your IP address, internet service providers and websites can tell where you are located, what you’ve been looking at online and additional data you don’t want people getting their hands on.

VPNs can help prevent these problems, but if you’re tight on cash, your budget may not have room to pay for a monthly VPN service. A free VPN service allows you to more securely browse the internet without an extra fee. Though free VPNs have their drawbacks, using a free VPN is often safer than browsing on public Wi-Fi with no protection. The best free VPNs offer decent data limits, a range of servers and many of the same security features as paid plans.

Best Free VPN Services for 2021

Best For

Pros

Cons

ProtonVPN

Overall users

✅  No data limits or logging

❌  No torrenting or streaming

Windscribe

Fast sign-ups

✅  No need to submit your email

❌  Slower speeds

Hotspot Shield

Generous data limits

✅  Limited streaming

❌  Data collection

TunnelBear

Mobile browsing

✅  Access to full range of servers

❌  Low data cap

Hide.me

Customer service

✅  No logging or ads

❌  Single server access

In This Article:

    What is a VPN?

    When you download and activate a VPN, you create a personal “tunnel” you can use to connect to the Wi-Fi network. This obscures your IP address and makes it impossible for other users on the network to see what sites you’re visiting. In some cases, a VPN can also help you hide your location, and make it appear like your internet connection is coming from a different country.

    What Will My VPN Hide?

    Your VPN can hide a ton of information, including the following three items:

      1. Your IP Address

    Anyone who can access your IP address can gain a rough idea of where you are in the world. Though your IP address won’t show other users on the network your exact home address, your IP address is unique and connects back to your device.

    When you use a VPN, your service routes your connection through one of thousands of servers scattered across the world. This makes it impossible to connect your online activity with your individual device.

      1. Your Browsing History

    If you’ve spent any time online shopping, you’re probably already aware that websites and your internet browser can track, view and even sell your browsing data. For example, you might look at a sports jersey on one website, decide against buying it, then see an advertisement for that exact sports jersey follow you around the web in pop-up ads. Even so-called “private” browsers may view and sell your browsing data.

    When you use a VPN, your IP address is obscured and cannot be connected to your browsing history. This makes it impossible for websites and web browsers to serve you specific advertisements based on what you’re looking at online.

      1. Your Location

    Another major reason why users access the web via a VPN is because a VPN can change the appearance of your location. For example, if your VPN provider offers a server in Japan, you can use your VPN service to “tunnel in” through the server and access content that would typically only be available to Japan-based users. This feature can be very useful if you frequently travel or you’re looking to access region-specific content on a regular basis.

    The Controversy Surrounding Free VPNs

    Free VPNs have always been appealing. After all, why should you pay for a VPN service if you could have one for free? Though free VPNs might be tempting, they come with many drawbacks when compared to paid VPN services. Before you download a free VPN, know the risks that come with allowing these options access to your data and browsing history.

    Free VPNs May Be Loaded with Ads

    If you’re the type of person who can’t stand ads, a free VPN probably isn’t for you. All VPNs need income in order to sustain their servers, pay for electricity costs associated with traffic and more. In order to fund these endeavors, many free VPNs load their services with advertisements, which can make browsing frustrating.

    Free VPNs Might Be Selling Your Data

    If your VPN isn’t showing you advertisements, it may be making money in a different way. In most circumstances, that money-making method is selling your data. The biggest reason why most people download a VPN in the first place is to avoid having their data tracked. When you work with a paid VPN, you’ll most likely receive a comprehensive policy that details your VPN’s logging policy, if they log any data at all.

    When you use a free VPN, you won’t receive the same level of privacy. Nearly 75% of free VPNs track data in some form, according to a team of U.S. and Australian researchers in 2016. If your main objective for downloading a VPN is to keep your data out of the hands of marketers, a free VPN isn’t the right choice for your needs.

    Free VPNs Could Experience Security Failures

    A VPN is designed to act as a private tunnel to Wi-Fi networks. While paid VPNs typically accomplish this very well, free VPNs often don’t have the resources or team members required to promptly address security flaws or downed networks. Traffic “leaks” that sacrifice your IP address are significantly more common when you use a free VPN compared to a paid VPN.

    Free VPNs May Have Annoying Limitations

    Most free VPNs come with limitations that can affect what sites you can use and how your VPN functions. For example, a free VPN may allow you to browse the internet without limitations, but it may not support streaming or torrenting sites. Most free VPNs also come with monthly data caps that limit the amount of data you may tunnel through the VPN, and you’ll also be limited in the number of devices you can connect through a single VPN account.

    Should You Use a Free VPN?

    If you’re concerned about receiving top-quality service from your VPN provider, it’s better to go with a paid VPN provider. Paid VPNs have the financial support they need to ensure that security leaks are quickly patched, and they often provide more comprehensive options for users looking to stream and access content from multiple countries. Though starting with a free VPN is a great way to explore your options, we recommend moving onto a paid VPN service — our top picks range from $6-$12.99 for one-month plans — as soon as possible for stronger security and to prevent you from experiencing speed throttling.

    Best Paid VPN Services

    NordVPN

    Visit Site

    ExpressVPN

    Visit Site

    IPVanish

    Visit Site

    Surfshark

    Visit Site

    CyberGhost

    Visit Site

    5 of the Best Free VPN Services

    Our free VPN reviews included thorough testing and analyzing of more than a dozen VPN services. We chose five of the best free VPN services we believe provide quality privacy features, functionality and access options. Some of the factors we considered when deciding which VPNs to put on this list include:

    • Features, functionality and stability of the VPN’s network
    • Overall customer service
    • Pricing
    • Security and privacy
    • Streaming and torrenting capabilities
    • Transparency
    • VPN protocols supported

    Here are our top picks for the best free VPNs to try when you’re testing out a VPN for the first time, need one in a pinch or simply want to avoid another monthly subscription.

    Best Overall: ProtonVPN

    Armed with Domain Name System (DNS) query protection and a strict no-logging policy, ProtonVPN extends many of its most powerful paid features to its free VPN plan. It’s also one of the few free VPNs we’ve seen with no data limitations. It’s based in Switzerland, which means the VPN does not need to comply with logging requirements adhered to by U.S.-based VPNs.

    Though ProtonVPN does offer plenty of benefits, it does not currently support torrenting or streaming on its free plan. However, if you’re looking for the best in security and safety when browsing on a free VPN, ProtonVPN might be the right choice for you. Read our full ProtonVPN review here.

    Best for Fast Sign-Ups: Windscribe

    If you’re looking to get started with a VPN as fast as possible, consider Windscribe. In our tests, we were able to get started with Windscribe in as little as a few minutes — you don’t even need to submit your email address to open an account. If you do choose to enter your email address and verify your account, you’ll have access to a generous 10 gigabytes of data tunneling per month, as well as other Windscribe features. Windscribe also offers security features comparable to paid plans, which makes it one of the strongest choices for free VPN users.

    Windscribe does have its flaws. In our test, we found speeds to be significantly slower than paid alternatives. For example, we were only able to get download speeds of about 11 megabits per second (Mbps) on the Windows operating system. Despite this, Windscribe is an excellent choice for users looking to test out a VPN.

    Best for Generous Data Limits: Hotspot Shield

    One of the most annoying parts of choosing a free VPN is comparing data limits. Some free VPNs may limit you to as little as 500 megabytes per month, which is too small for even casual internet browsing. Users who are looking for the highest data limits on their free VPN should consider Hotspot Shield, which offers a maximum of 500MB per day. That is one of the highest rates we’ve seen. Hotspot Shield also offers limited streaming services, which competitors with high data limits (like ProtonVPN) do not.

    Though some users have claimed that Hotspot Shield’s free VPN version throttles data rates in favor of serving users advertisements, reviews remain mixed. The VPN has a no-logging policy, but it does collect users’ data, which may make it a less than ideal choice for those who are particularly concerned about security.

    Best for Mobile Browsing: TunnelBear

    Many free VPN services limit users to one server when they browse. This means you won’t be able to access content through multiple countries, which can be a major drawback if you’re looking to obscure your location. Unlike competitors, TunnelBear doesn’t limit you to a single server, instead allowing even free users to access their full range of more than 20 server locations.

    The biggest downside of TunnelBear is its low data cap. You’ll only be able to access 500MB of data every month, which will be far too little for most users. However, if you’re only interested in casual VPN use or mobile browsing, TunnelBear might be the right choice for your needs.

    Best For Customer Service: Hide.me

    If you’re new to using a VPN, having a robust customer service team on your side can be a major benefit. Hide.me does extend its 24/7 customer service option to users on its free VPN plan.

    In addition to around-the-clock customer service, Hide.me also offers no logging policies and zero advertisements on its paid and free plans. Though you’ll only be able to access a single server with one connection, Hide.me does have a free 10GB per month plan that offers users a great starting point in learning more about VPNs.

    Pricing is accurate as of publication date.