It’s possible to browse the web securely and anonymously without spending a penny on a virtual private network, but even the best free VPNs have their drawbacks. That’s why we recommend a paid VPN for maximum security, simultaneous connections and servers.

If you’re a casual web user, free VPNs are good in a pinch, when you need to check email through public Wi-Fi or browse the web away from the prying eyes of your internet service provider. Streaming and file sharing, however, are going to be limited and best suited for paid VPNs. A paid plan may not be as expensive as you think, with many providing trials or money-back guarantees so you can try one risk free. We’ll list our top free VPNs as well as a few paid alternatives.

Featured VPN Services

Pricing is accurate as of Oct. 29, 2021.

In This Article:

    Best Overall: ProtonVPN

    ProtonVPN extends many of its powerful paid features to its free VPN plan: unlimited data, a strict no-logging policy and a kill switch that protects your IP address should your connection to the internet be interrupted. Though ProtonVPN offers plenty of benefits, it does not support torrenting or streaming on its free plan. File sharing and high speeds are available on the Basic plan for $5 a month but the best features — streaming, access to The onion router (Tor) and multi-hop security — come with ProtonVPN Plus for $10 a month.  

    ProtonVPN is one of the cheapest VPNs we’ve tested. We liked the:

    • NetShield ad blocker — available starting with the Basic plan
    • Multiple security protocols — including WireGuard
    • Variety of countries — 61 total with the Plus plan. The free plan offers access to 23 servers in three countries. 
    • Encrypted email — Parent company Proton Technologies offers free encrypted email. If you sign up for a paid Visionary email account, you’ll get a free VPN. Sign up for a Visionary VPN account, and you’ll get a free Visionary email account. 

    ProtonVPN Plus speeds were competitive in our tests but not as fast as rivals like ExpressVPN or NordVPN. We experienced some buffering when we streamed Netflix through a U.S. server. While ProtonVPN offers easy-to-follow steps for setup, we wouldn’t recommend this provider to first-time VPN users — rival services offer greater customer support. Read our full ProtonVPN review for more. 

    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 create an account.

    If you do choose to enter your email address and verify your account, you’ll have access to 10 gigabytes (GB) of data per month, as well as account recovery. Windscribe offers security features and protocols comparable to paid plans, including WireGuard and Stealth, Windscribe’s proprietary VPN protocol. Unlike ProtonVPN, you’ll be able to stream content from 10 countries. Another nice perk is that Windscribe allows you to add locations a la carte, $1 per location, per month. 

    Windscribe does have its flaws. In our tests, 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 our Windows operating system. Ad blocking, unlimited data, Windscribe’s full range of servers in 63 countries and the ability to configure your security protocol are only available with a Pro account ($49 annually).    

    Best for Generous Data Limits: Hotspot Shield

    Data limits can significantly vary from one free VPN plan to the next. Some free VPNs limit you to a meager 500 megabytes (MB) of free data each month, which is too small for even casual internet browsing. Hotspot Shield offers 500MB per day and streaming, though it’s only available through a single U.S. server.

    In our tests, we downloaded and used the free version without the need to log in or sign up for an account. It protected our IP address and didn’t slow down our internet connection. The free plan even offered extras for Android users including a data consumption monitor and 30 minutes of free data, but Android users might see ads while using the free plan. (Check out Hotspot Shield’s VPN privacy policy here.) We were able to stream Disney+ but had trouble accessing Netflix. 

    Streaming on Netflix and Disney+ was easy when we tested Hotspot Shield’s Premium plan on Android, Windows and iOS. We recommend upgrading to access: 

    • 1,800+ servers in more than 80 countries
    • Unlimited data
    • Password manager through 1Password
    • Malware and phishing protection

    You can try Hotspot Shield Premium free for seven days.

    Best Network: TunnelBear

    Many free VPN services limit users to a certain number of servers in a certain number of countries. TunnelBear opens its free plan to all 3,000+ servers in 46 countries. The catch is that you will be limited to 500MB of data every month, but you can send a tweet to TunnelBear to get an extra 1GB

    We recommend upgrading from TunnelBear’s free plan to its Unlimited plan to get unlimited data. Unfortunately, that’s about all you’ll unlock with a paid TunnelBear plan which lacks advanced features that competitors routinely include such as split tunneling, multi-hop or a Tor connection. But if you’re looking for a safe, inexpensive VPN with independent security audits, TunnelBear is a reliable choice.

    Best for Customer Service: Hide.me

    If you’re new to using a VPN, having a robust customer service team on your side may be a major benefit. Hide.me extends its 24/7 customer service option to users on the free and premium VPN plans. It also offers a no-logs policy and zero ads. Though you’ll only be able to access up to five of its 75 locations, the free plan comes with 10GB of data each month. Free users may exceed the 10GB limit but won’t have a choice of server location. 

    To access unlimited data and Hide.me’s 2,000 servers, we recommend upgrading to a premium subscription which also comes with Stealth Guard, Hide.me’s version of split tunneling, and multi-hop. 

    4 Reasons to Avoid Free VPNs

    Free VPNs have always been appealing, but they can come with several drawbacks when compared to paid versions. Before you download a free VPN, know the risks that come with channeling your data and browsing history through one.

    1. Annoying Limitations

    Most free VPNs, including ones on this list, come with limitations that can affect the sites you use and how your VPN functions. They may restrict your data usage, speed and/or the number and type of device you use. Paid VPN plans typically grant unlimited bandwidth and unlock the company’s full range of server locations and features.

    2. Advertisements

    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.

    3. Data Selling

    If your VPN isn’t showing you advertisements, the company is likely making money another way. In some circumstances, that money-making method can include selling users’ data.

    One reason people download a VPN in the first place is to protect their data and anonymity. Free or paid, the best VPNs publish privacy policies describing what information they collect about you and how they use that data. Nearly 75% of free VPNs track data in some form, according to a 2016 study conducted by a U.S. and Australia research team. If the main goal of downloading a VPN is to keep your data out of the hands of marketers, a free VPN may not be the best choice.

    4. Security Failures

    A VPN is designed to act as a private tunnel that seals off your browsing activity and data from prying eyes. Paid VPNs typically accomplish this, but some free VPNs often don’t have the same resources or number of team members required to promptly address security flaws or downed networks. 

    The companies on this list are all supported by paid plans and provide the same basic security across the board, but traffic leaks are more common when you use a free VPN compared to a paid VPN. A traffic leak is when your internet traffic is routed through your local network instead of the VPN as intended, thereby potentially exposing your IP address.

    Methodology: How We Tested the Best Free VPNs

    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
    • Speed tests
    • Overall customer service
    • User-friendly streaming and torrenting capabilities
    • Transparency
    • VPN protocols supported

    Here’s a closer look at how our Gizmodo Advisor Reviews Team scored the free VPN providers included in this review.

    Factor

    Score

    Description

    Privacy and Stability

    30%

    Nothing is more important in a virtual private network than your privacy and security. What encryption does the VPN use? How many servers does it provide? How does it perform in data leak tests?

    Features and Functionality

    30%

    The best VPNs offer top-tier features while keeping their products simple and easy to use. Can you access servers in a wide variety of locations? Are streaming, torrenting and split tunneling available?

    Reputation and Credibility

    20%

    We evaluate such factors as time in business and changes in service (good and bad). We read community forums and reviews to look for patterns of where a company stands out or is lacking.

    Customer Experience

    10%

    VPN services should answer customer questions in a timely manner. Is there a 24/7 customer support team? How easy (or difficult) is it to contact them? Are their websites helpful and easy to navigate?

    Plans and Pricing/Value

    10%

    There’s a VPN for every budget, so we look at the number of pricing options and whether the cost is proportional to the value customers receive in features, privacy, customer experience and trust.

    FAQs

    What is a VPN?

    When you download and activate a VPN, you create a personal and encrypted tunnel you can use to connect to any Wi-Fi network. The VPN obscures your IP address, shielding it from other users on the network so they’re unable to see what sites you’re visiting and what information you enter there. In some cases, you can spoof your location to make it appear as if you’re in a different country.

    What are the benefits of using a VPN?

    Using a VPN means: safer access to public Wi-Fi, online tracking may be prevented and overseas content may be unblocked for viewing. This is all because VPNs 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 display your exact home address to other users on the network, your IP address is unique and does connect back to your device.

    When you use a VPN, your service routes your connection through one of potentially thousands of servers scattered across the world. This makes it difficult for outsiders to connect your online activity with your individual device, preserving more of your privacy and anonymity. 

    1. Your Browsing History

    Because your IP address is obscured by a VPN, it’s more difficult for websites and web browsers to serve you specific advertisements. This means there’s a greater chance for better online shopping deals. Because VPNs also encrypt your connection, hackers are less likely to scoop up your personal details or credit card information.  

    1. Your Location

    Spoofing your location — making it appear as if you and your device are in another region — is useful if you travel frequently or simply want to access sites that are only available in another country. For example, if a VPN provider offers a server in Japan, users can choose to connect through that server location and access content that would typically only be available to Japan-based users.

    Should you use a free VPN?

    In most cases, no. A free VPN is better than no VPN when using an unsecured Wi-Fi network at a coffee shop, airport or hotel, but it’s almost always better to choose a paid VPN. Paid VPNs typically provide the most comprehensive security options and features you want and need.  

    Starting with a free VPN service is a great way to explore your options, but we recommend moving to a paid VPN as soon as possible. Average monthly prices range from around $5 to $13. Once you’ve tried out a few providers and settled on the best VPN for you, you can lock in a lower price by signing up for a long-term plan. We’ve seen promotional pricing as low as $2 a month (Private Internet Access). 

    Here’s a look at more VPNs that offer free trials or money-back guarantees.

    VPN Free Trials and Money-Back Guarantees

    HMA

    7-day free trial

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    Private Internet Access

    7-day free trial (iOS and Android)
    30-day money-back guarantee

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    Surfshark

    7-day free trial
    30-day money-back guarantee

    Visit Site

    CyberGhost

    24-hour free trial (all devices)
    7-day free trial (iOS and Android)
    45-day money-back guarantee

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    NordVPN

    30-day money-back guarantee

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    ExpressVPN

    30-day money-back guarantee

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    IPVanish

    30-day money-back guarantee

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    BullGuard

    7-day money-back guarantee

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