Free VPNs are generally regarded with some suspicion. People say they have a reputation for playing fast and loose with your personal data and that limit the services to the point they’re basically unusable.
That may be true for some free VPNs, but certainly not all. And the good news is that there are some excellent free VPN services, such as those you’ll find here.
None of them will sell your data in return for your use of their servers and, while they do impose restrictions that paid-for VPNs don’t, they can still do the job you need them to.
And the job we’re talking about is actually one of three possible jobs:
- Unblocking websites and videos
- Browsing the web in private
- Securing your internet connection on public Wi-Fi hotspots
A free VPN might well be all you need, so long as you don’t want to stream lots of video.
That’s for two reasons. First, most free options only allow you to use a certain amount of data per day (or month). Video uses up data fast and once that limit is reached, either the VPN connection will be stopped and you’ll be returned to your normal internet connection or you’ll find you can no longer stream video due to throttled connection speeds.
The second reason is that free VPNs limit you to a choice of just a few servers. Often they’re not in the locations you want, either because their distance from you is too great, which means slower browsing speeds, or because you can’t unblock US Netflix because there’s no US server to select.
However, if you just want a VPN so you can browse the web without your ISP, government or websites themselves tracking your activity, a free one can certainly enable that.
They’re also a great option when you need to connect to free Wi-Fi in airports, hotels and other public places. The Wi-Fi networks there often have no password, which means the connection isn’t encrypted. That means data sent between your phone, laptop or tablet and the Wi-Fi hotspot could be visible to anyone if it isn’t encrypted by another means. Using a VPN ensures all data is encrypted, protecting you from such attacks.
Free vs paid VPNs
It’s worth knowing that a paid-for VPN service, which doesn’t have the limitations of free services, can be surprisingly cheap. That’s especially true if you don’t mind paying for a subscription up front which lasts several years. We’ve seen five-year deals offered as cheap as $0.99 per month (around 73p), and for most people it’s simply not worth putting up with the restrictions of a free service when you can have a fully fledged one at those kinds of prices.
You’ll find plenty of other
great VPN deals in our roundup as well as our recommendations of the
best paid-for VPN services.
Which is the best free VPN?
Unblocks Streaming services
10GB bandwidth per month
Only 1 connection allowed
Privado is a relatively new VPN service, though only the brand is new: the company behind it has a wealth of experience, not just in VPN but also running the networks for streaming services.
Because it owns the server and network hardware, Privado is a good choice if you want a VPN for privacy, and it’s headquartered in Switzerland – a country with favourable privacy laws.
The big advantage, though, is that it will unblock Netflix and other streaming services including iPlayer and Amazon Prime, and offers the use of 13 servers in 9 countries (including the UK and US of course).
In addition to its macOS app, it also supports iPhone, but you can only use a free account on one device at a time. (You can install it on multiple devices, but you can’t use the service on more than one at a time.)
It even lets you download files using P2P and the only catch, if you like, is that you can only download or stream 10GB per month.
Get Privado here.
Unlimited data usage
Doesn't unblock streaming video services
From free ($5 per month for Basic)
Compared to most free VPN services, ProtonVPN is in a different league. Like some of the others here, it is a rare beast, imposing none of the restrictions you usually get from a free service.
There’s no throttling, no ads and you have unlimited data usage. Proton has plenty of servers, but while anyone signed up to the Basic tier ($5 per month) can pick and choose between them, free users can only pick Japan, Netherlands or the US.
The latter is an unexpected bonus, as it means you can access websites that are otherwise blocked for European visitors. However, don’t get too excited, as it won’t unblock Netflix or other US streaming services. For that, you’ll need to upgrade to a Plus or Visionary account, which grants you access to ‘Plus’ servers. But as we said, there are much cheaper paid-for services if your priority is to watch US Netflix.
Proton is a Swiss-based VPN which has a no-logs policy, so is a fine choice for privacy. It offers apps for macOS and iOS (plus Windows and Android) which should cover most, if not all of the devices you want to use.
Just note that only one device can be connected to the service at any one time, but it’s impossible to complain about that when you’re not a paying customer.
Get ProtonVPN here
Only 3 servers
From free ($1.39 per month for Premium subscription)
Atlas VPN is another new VPN service. It offers a completely free tier, but will nag you to upgrade to the paid-for version (as will others here which offer them).
The three servers offered to free users are in the USA and Europe, but the speeds you’ll get won’t be as quick as paying customers receive.
It’s hard to complain, of course, when you’re getting free use of the service which supports P2P downloads and, theoretically at least, unblocking for streaming services. However, in testing, we found Atlas wouldn’t unblock Netflix, Amazon Prime or BBC iPlayer. You might have better luck.
There’s also good news and bad news in terms of privacy. The good is that you can download Atlas VPN to your Mac (and iPhone) and use the service without even entering so much as an email address. But being based in the USA isn’t ideal because of its unfavourable privacy laws.
Get Atlas VPN here.
Supports many devices
10GB monthly data
Doesn't unblock Netflix
Windscribe is a VPN service that supports more devices than you might expect. It offers apps for macOS, iOS, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Windows, Android and Linux.
The Apple TV doesn’t have VPN support, so any service that claims to offer an app will instead direct you to an awkward workaround using your Mac or router.
There are also browser extensions for Firefox and Chrome, which can be useful if you only want web browsing traffic to go via the VPN connection.
Windscribe gives you a 10GB data allowance per month, which is huge compared to most free VPNs. There are also quite a few servers to pick from, with locations in the US, UK, Hong Kong, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Canada, Romania and Switzerland.
As with ProtonVPN, though, you cannot watch US Netflix and speeds can be very slow, despite the claim that the free version doesn’t have any speed restrictions.
Note that you’ll get a 2GB allowance if you don’t provide an email address, too, but Windscribe says it does not sell data to third parties even if you’re using its free service.
Get Windscribe here
24/7 tech support
No video unblocking
1 connection at a time
Have a read through
hide.me’s website and you’ll be tempted to download the app immediately. It won’t bombard you with ads, you’ll get the same 24/7 customer support that paying customers receive, there’s no throttling and unlimited bandwidth.
‘So…What’s the catch?’ asks a sub-headline. And the answer is that – despite the unlimited bandwidth claim, free users are actually only entitled to 10GB per month. This is five times more hide.me used to offer and you can keep using the service once your 10GB is used up. The difference is that you’ll lose the ability to pick a server.
What hide.me means by bandwidth is speed, because it promises fast connections and doesn’t impose throttling on users of its free tier. (It does say, though, that it won’t guarantee speeds once you’ve hit that 10GB limit but will offer the best service it can at that point.)
The other two limitations are just five server locations (Singapore, Canada, Netherlands, US East and US West) and that you’re only allowed to connect one device to the service at any one time.
There’s one final restriction that isn’t mentioned: free users don’t get P2P support, so you can’t download torrent files or play any games which use P2P.
The 10GB allowance isn’t as good as the unlimited package you get with ProtonVPN and Atlas VPN, but if you’re only looking for a VPN to use on your iPhone or MacBook to secure your connection on public Wi-Fi, it’s probably more than enough.
And don’t get over-excited about the two US servers: they won’t unblock Netflix, Hulu, HBO or other streaming services.
Get hide.me here
Only 500MB of data per month
From free ($4.19 per month for annual plan)
This fun VPN service has been around for ages, and is now owned by antivirus giant McAfee. The free version is also very well known and still exists in exactly the same format.
It means that, unlike other providers’ free tiers, TunnelBear gives you access to the full list of 23 locations that paying subscribers get. The catch in this case is that you’re only allowed to route 500MB of data via those servers each month.
That is pretty restrictive, even if you’re only intending to use it on public Wi-Fi hotspots as some users will get through that allowance before the month is up. Even if you don’t use it up, data does not roll over.
Twitter users can tweet bear-related puns to @thetunnelbear to get an extra 500MB that month. Rawr! to that.
There are a couple of other things that free users miss out on. First, you can only have one device connected to the service and second, only paying users get Priority support.
It’s the 23 locations, then, which are the main reason to use Tunnel Bear over the other free services here.
Get TunnelBear here