VPNs, or virtual private networks, are becoming more and more popular with every passing day. They offer lots of handy features and functions, not only protecting your when using the internet, but also allowing you to access more sites and services than ever before.
A lot of VPNs come with premium fees and subscription costs, but there are free VPNs out there. What's the best free VPN? And what should you look for in the best free VPN? Read on to find out.
How is a free VPN different from a premium VPN?
Free VPNs work just like premium VPNs — you just don’t pay a subscription to use them.
A VPN, or virtual private network, is an application that you can use to protect your devices, like computers and phones, when browsing the net or using any online services, such as streaming platforms like Netflix and HBO Max.
VPNs work by encrypting your internet connection and rerouting it via a network of secure servers. Many VPN providers have lots of servers all around the world, and when you connect to these servers, your IP address and location become hidden.
This means that you can not only hide your online activities from internet service providers and government agencies, but you can also make it seem like you’re in other locations around the world. This allows you to bypass geo-restrictions and access more sites and services.
As stated above, most VPNs come with monthly or annual fees, but there are free VPNs out there. These VPNs are completely free to use and work just like their premium counterparts. However, free VPNs can have some unique restrictions that make them less appealing.
Learn more about how VPNs work in our VPN guide.
Reasons to get a free VPN
Even though they can have some issues, the best free VPN providers still have plenty of advantages to take into account, including:
- Free - Obviously, the main benefit of a free VPN is that you don’t have to pay for it.
- Functional - The best free VPNs are fully functional and work just like paid ones.
- Good for testing - If you’re hesitating about a paid VPN, you can test out a free one first.
- Better than nothing - Even with limitations, free VPNs are usually better than no VPNs.
How to decide on a free VPN service
The best free VPN for you will depend on what you’re looking for and what you plan to use it for. Here are some of the main things to look for:
- Compatibility - Make sure your chosen VPN works on your favorite devices.
- Security - Good free VPNs have decent levels of security.
- Privacy - A reputable free VPN will protect your privacy and not sell your data.
- Limits - Many free VPNs have data limits, but some are more generous than others.
- Ads - Check to see if your chosen free VPN uses ads or not.
The problem with even the best free VPN providers
Free VPNs might sound a little too good to be true. After all, why would you pay for a premium VPN service if you can get the same thing for free? Well, the truth of the matter is that free VPNs do have some issues that drag them back a little.
Since they're free, these VPNs usually come with certain limitations. They might only work with a set amount of data, like 10GB per month, for example. So you won't be able to use them limitlessly.
They might also have annoying ads to help the developers make money, and some of them even sell user data to third parties. This means that they’re generally less secure and less functional than premium VPNs.
Even the best free VPN programs usually have at least a couple of flaws or restrictions that prevent them from truly competing with the best of the best. However, some of them are a lot better than others.
If a free VPN doesn’t sound like it’ll cut it for you, try the VPN provider we recommend most: ExpressVPN. Read a full review of ExpressVPN.
Next, let’s look at a few of the very best free VPN providers you might like to try before taking the plunge on a premium VPN subscription.
Proton VPN Free is the best free VPN all-rounder
Out of all the free VPNs, Proton VPN Free stands out as one of the very best options. You'll often see experts recommending this free VPN, and it's easy to see why, as it's one of the only free VPNs to offer unlimited data.
While many other free VPNs restrict you to a certain amount of usage per week or month, Proton VPN Free lets you use the VPN as much as you like. It also has excellent levels of security and privacy, and it won't sell your data to any third parties.
Of course, as a free VPN, Proton does still have some restrictions. It only lets you access three servers based in the US, the Netherlands, and Japan. So it's not the best for getting around global geo-blocks, but it's still impressive for general usage.
- Unlimited data
- Good security
- Decent speeds
- An intuitive app
Privado VPN is the best free VPN for streaming
In general, if you want to use a free VPN for streaming purposes, you may struggle. The vast majority of free VPNs simply don't work on streaming sites. However, Privado VPN is different. This free VPN can actually work (for now) on sites like Netflix and Disney+.
So, if you want to see how VPNs work on streaming sites or access and enjoy some international content via a VPN, you can do so with Privado. However, it has a maximum data limit of 10GB per month, so you won’t be able to watch much.
Privado VPN also offers access to servers in nine different countries. It has pretty impressive speeds, and even when you go over the 10GB limit, you can still continue browsing at a vastly reduced speed.
- Works with streaming platforms
- High data limit
- Impressive speeds
- Works on mobile
Windscribe is the best free VPN for simultaneous connections
If you're looking for the best free VPN to share with your whole family, you might like to try Windscribe. With just one account, it's possible to use Windscribe on an unlimited array of devices, and each user gets up to 10GB of data to use each month.
Speeds are pretty impressive with Windscribe, too, and there are 14 server locations in 11 different countries. So, if one of the servers isn't quite working for you, you can simply switch to another with the click of a button.
Windscribe is also capable of unblocking certain streaming services. It can work with the BBC iPlayer and Netflix in some countries, for example, although you won't be able to stream much content, due to the 10GB limit.
- Unlimited connections
- Good speeds
- Decent security and privacy
- Can access some streaming sites
Hotspot Shield Basic is the best free VPN for beginners
Another good option to consider if you're searching for the best free VPN is Hotspot Shield Basic. This is the free version of Hotspot Shield, which is actually a premium VPN. The Basic version is pretty simplistic, with just one server location, but it still has some advantages.
Firstly, you can get unlimited data with Hotspot Shield Basic. This means that you won't be blocked or stopped from using the free VPN when you hit a certain limit. This allows you to download files, watch videos, and more without having to worry.
In addition, Hotspot Shield Basic also runs well on different devices. It has a handy browser extension you can use on Chrome, and it's really easy to work with in general. However, you will have to put up with ads with this free VPN.
- Unlimited data
- Works well on Chrome
- Intuitive app design
The best premium alternatives to free VPNs
The best free VPN is good to start off with, but if you want to use a VPN to watch NFL games, for example, or unblock Netflix anywhere in the world, you’ll probably need to make the upgrade to a premium VPN instead. Here are a few of our top recommendations:
- Express VPN - Express VPN is one of the fastest and most reliable VPNs on the market. It’s relatively affordable, too, and works well for streaming.
- Nord VPN - When it comes to security and privacy, Nord VPN is king. This is one of the top VPNs for protecting your connections and identity online.
- IP Vanish - IP Vanish is one of the best VPNs to use if you don’t have much or any experience, as it has a very beginner-friendly layout.
Our takeaway: The best free VPN for you will depend on what you want
Clearly, there are several great free VPNs out there. Arguably, Proton is the best free VPN of all, thanks to its unlimited data and other useful features, but you might also be tempted by some of the other entries on our list.
Ultimately, if you want to get the most functionality and versatility out of a VPN, you’ll need to pay for one, but in the meantime, a free VPN is handy to have. Check out our ultimate VPN guide to learn more about how VPNs work.
Khadija Bilal • Author
Khadija Bilal is an accomplished writer with over a decade of experience under her belt. Having developed a versatile writing style that allows her to tackle a wide range of topics, Khadija has several publications to her name. Khadija’s expertise includes in-depth guides and how-to articles.
Kelsey Reynolds • Editor
Kelsey is a content strategist based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota. Kelsey was drawn to working at Flixed because the team was so open, motivated, and curious. She most enjoys thinking about how to blend programmatic and editorial content to answer readers’ questions as completely and efficiently as possible. When she’s not at her computer, Kelsey can usually be found working in her garden or walking her two dogs in the park.