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Best free VPN services of 2024 − the complete guide

Reviewed by Phill Legg Professor of Cyber Security at UWE
Contributions by Rachel Sadler Home Tech Expert

Free VPNs are usually a limited version of the paid VPN. They typically limit bandwidth and server access and provide fewer features than their paid counterparts.

While there are some reputable free VPNs, such as the ones our experts have tested, many use unreliable security protocols, sell your online data to third parties, and bombard you with ads that aren’t screened for malware.

Even the best free VPNs should only be used occasionally. If, for example, you’re travelling and need to access public wifi or unblock geo-restricted content, a free VPN can be a valuable tool.

Even the best free VPNs come with various caveats, but they can be trusted to encrypt your data effectively while offering a basic feature set. We’ll take you through our top free VPNs for 2024. 

Maintaining a high level of security while browsing the web has become more crucial as cyberattacks and fraud become increasingly commonplace. One of the most effective tools to combat privacy issues is a Virtual Private Network (VPN). 

Some of the best VPNs – and the best cheap VPNs – can mask IP addresses, encrypt online data and conceal private information, making them essential for those who value high levels of online security. 

VPNs can be expensive investments, however, which is why you may consider trying out a free VPN. Though these options may be tempting, free VPNs differ from their paid counterparts, most commonly in terms of bandwidth, features, and server availability. Some unreliable VPNs can also lack secure encryption, sell customer data to third parties, and even expose users to dangerous malware. 

Some of the best free VPNs, on the other hand, are an ideal short-term solution for certain circumstances where you should be mindful of using public wifi. If you’re travelling abroad and want to access region-restricted content or engage with sensitive online applications, such as banking apps, a reputable free VPN can provide a much-needed layer of security.

Quick view of the top best free VPNs

According to their research and extensive testing, our reviewers have picked these top seven best free VPNS:

  1. Proton VPN: Best overall free VPN
  2. PrivadoVPN: Fastest free VPN 
  3. Windscribe: Best free VPN for torrenting
  4. Hide.me: Best free VPN app experience
  5. Atlas VPN: Best free VPN for multiple devices
  6. TunnelBear Free: Best free VPN server network
  7. Hotspot Shield Free: Best free VPN for web browsing

The best paid VPNs in 2024

If you need to secure your data quickly, and don’t want to jump through the many hoops that come with free VPNs, then these are our recommendations for the best paid providers on the market. They all come with a 30-day money back guarantee, so you can test them out risk-free.

How we chose the best free VPNs

We’ve spent hundreds of hours reviewing and testing over 70 VPN services in terms of their speed, performance, security, privacy features, and affordability. We also detail what you should look out for when signing up for a VPN, and all the latest VPN news, so you can stay up to date and pick the best VPN for your needs. To find out more about the process, read our article on how we review VPNs.

200+
hours performance testing
200+
hours comparing products
70+
VPN providers compared
4
VPN experts consulted

6 March 2024 update notes

We’ve taken another look at the free VPN providers that make up our list, updating their stats, including server numbers and key features in a big overhaul. This week we’ve also updated our testing data to give you the latest details on the speeds you can expect from the most popular providers.

The best free VPNs 2024

Best overall free VPN: Proton VPN Free

proton vpn logo

Data limit: Unlimited | Number of servers: 22 | Number of locations: 3 | Maximum number of connected devices: 1 | AES-256: Yes | No-log policy: Yes | Audited no-log policy: Yes | Headquarters: Switzerland

Pros

Unlimited bandwidth with free version User-friendly apps Audited no-log policy

Cons

Only three free server locations One connected device No UK server

It’s easy to see why the free version of Proton VPN takes the top spot on this list. Just like the paid version, Proton VPN Free comes with a strict no-logs policy that has been audited by a trusted third party (Securitum), so we know it’s good for its word. Its headquarters are in Switzerland, which has stringent privacy-focused data laws, so any information that is retained will be safe from prying eyes. 

AES-256 encryption is provided as standard by Proton VPN, and it features OpenVPN (UDP and TCP) and WireGuard protocols.

Proton VPN Free is one of the few free VPNs to offer unlimited data, which is a huge plus. Most free VPNs limit bandwidth to a few gigabytes per month, while some will let you boost your allowance through either promoting them on your social media channels or signing up with an email address. Not so with Proton VPN Free – unlimited data really is a major advantage over its rivals.

On that basis alone, it’s a step ahead from a privacy perspective. It’s tough to find an audited free VPN offering unlimited bandwidth, even if there are some caveats to consider. For instance, free Proton servers are prone to slower speeds, often due to overuse. Proton VPN is brilliant at accessing streaming sites, but you won’t find support for popular platforms while using its free VPN software. 

You’ll be capped at 22 servers from three locations, rather than the 3,400+ servers and 71 countries found worldwide with the full-fat version of Proton VPN. 

There are plenty of features, which are, pleasingly, unlocked for free users, such as the ability to create different profiles for different use-cases. For example, you might want to download a file via a torrent, so you can customise your connection for peer-to-peer (P2P), choose the VPN protocol and the server you want to connect to – just one of the reasons Proton is also one of our picks for the best VPNs for torrenting

As with every free provider listed here, it pales in comparison to the full-fat paid Proton VPN version. Regardless, Proton VPN is a viable selection for anyone in need of an audited free VPN with no bandwidth limits.

Read our full Proton VPN free review.

Proton VPN free vs paid

Free Paid
Data limit Unlimited Unlimited
Number of servers 22 3,400
Number of locations 3 71
Max. number of connected devices 1 10
AES-256: Yes Yes Yes
Streaming video No Yes

Proton VPN free vs paid speed test results

While it’s difficult to compare like for like due to the limited server locations available with the free version of Proton, the speeds we saw on the free servers still held up compared to the paid service. On the Netherlands connection, we achieved 319Mbps – not bad up against the 403Mbps we saw on the paid UK server. In the US, speeds reached 318Mbps on the free server and 299Mbps on the paid one, while the free Japanese server performed slightly better than the paid Australian connection (246Mbps versus 216Mbps).

Free version speed tests

Paid version speed tests

Date of testing: 30/01/2014

Fastest free VPN: PrivadoVPN Free

privado vpn logo

Data limit: 10GB per month | Number of servers: 12 | Number of locations: 10 | Maximum number of connected devices: 1 | AES-256: Yes | No-log policy: Yes | Audited no-log policy: No | Headquarters: Switzerland

Pros

Free UK VPN server Excellent speeds WireGuard support

Cons

Not independently audited No split tunnelling for iOS and MacOS devices

PrivadoVPN was the fastest free provider during testing, so it’s worth considering if you need access to the speediest free servers on the market. Coming in at roughly 400Mbps when connected to UK servers, you wouldn’t know it’s a free VPN if not for the prospect of a data cap on the horizon. 

In terms of bandwidth, you’ll get 10GB of data per month with PrivadoVPN. Clearly, an unlimited amount of data is ideal, but 10GB is decent, as long as you’re not planning to do much browsing or – especially – streaming video or music. Of course, you’re also likely to reach the free data cap more quickly due to faster connection speeds than average. 

PrivadoVPN Free has a no-logs policy, although it has not been audited by a third party as of yet. It offers three options for encryption: IKEv2, WireGuard, and OpenVPN (both UDP and TCP protocols). Like Proton VPN, Privado is headquartered in Switzerland, so user data is protected under Swiss law, and doesn’t come under EU (or US) jurisdiction.

Free PrivadoVPN users get access to servers in 12 cities. In comparison, paid Privado users benefit from unlimited data, faster speeds, and a range of servers found in 47 countries. You’ll be free to stream with paid servers, and PrivadoVPN can access popular platforms like BBC iPlayer without breaking a sweat. You’ll also have access to an ad-blocker, a SOCKS5 proxy, and the ability to use the VPN with up to 10 devices at the same time. 

A capped data limit and a lack of an audit are what prevents PrivadoVPN from taking the top spot. You’ll still benefit from 12+ speedy servers, and it could be a viable solution for anyone who doesn’t use much bandwidth. If streaming is your primary reason to get a VPN, then you’ll need to invest in a premium option – and if you like the look of PrivadoVPN, its paid version gets decent marks from us too.

Read our full PrivadoVPN free review.

PrivadoVPN free vs paid

Free Paid
Data limit 10GB per month Unlimited
Number of servers 12 200+
Number of locations 10 47
Max. number of connected devices 1 10
AES-256: Yes Yes Yes
Streaming video Yes Yes

PrivadoVPN free vs paid speed test results

As mentioned, the free version of PrivadoVPN was the fastest on our list in our latest speed testing, with the UK server performing as well as the paid version. However, the downsides of a free VPN became more apparent on the US servers, with the free version only hitting 267Mbps compared to the paid server’s 388Mbps. The premium service offers servers in Japan, with our speeds hitting 299Mbps, while the closest comparison we could find in terms of distance from the UK on the free version was Argentina, where speeds only reached 134Mbps.

Free version speed tests

Paid version speed tests

Date of testing: 30/01/2014

Best free VPN for torrenting: Windscribe Free

Data limit: 2GB – 15GB per month | Number of servers: 12 | Number of locations: 10 | Maximum number of connected devices: 1 | AES-256: Yes | No-log policy: Yes | Audited no-log policy: No | Headquarters: Canada

Pros

Up to 15GB of data

Cons

Extra data requires user to work for it

Windscribe has a decent free VPN tier with a large data cap and streaming support as standard. You’ll find free servers in 11 countries, and you’ll be able to connect with as many devices as you like using the same freemium account. 

On the surface, 15GB of data might seem like a relatively generous allocation, but that upper end comes with conditions. You’ll get 2GB when you sign up for Windscribe Free, which you can increase to 10GB by confirming your email address. A further 5GB bump requires you to send a tweet about the service, and you’ll need at least three followers to qualify. 

In other words, it’s a hassle, especially when compared to similar freemium services. It’s also not great from a privacy point of view if you have to use social media to get a higher data allowance, but some users may find it helpful.

Performance was decent while connected to free UK VPN servers, and we recorded download speeds of 265Mbps. It’s good enough for 4K streaming, even if the data cap means it won’t work as a long-term solution.

Windscribe’s free VPN is a fair choice, but it’s in a clear third place on this list. Its servers test well, especially for local use. However, its basic data allocation is very small (just 2GB) even if it is easily upgradable to a decent amount with email verification. On the other hand, ideally you wouldn’t need to hand over an email address that can be linked to the user.

In terms of privacy, we would definitely recommend a VPN with an audited no-log policy, so Windscribe falls short here. Unlike the free versions of Proton and Hide.me, it’s possible to stream video with Windscribe, but we do not recommend it. Again, you’ll need a paid VPN if you want to do much of this – which Windscribe’s premium version offers, along with servers in upwards of 69 countries. 

Read our full Windscribe free VPN review.

Windscribe free vs paid

Free Paid
Data limit 2GB – 15GB per month Unlimited
Number of servers 12 500+
Number of locations 10 69
Max. number of connected devices 1 Unlimited
AES-256: Yes Yes Yes
Streaming video Yes Yes

Windscribe free vs paid speed test results

The slow-down on Windscribe’s free servers compared to its paid service is a good example of where a free VPN can fall short of its premium counterparts. On the paid version of the UK server, our speeds matched our baseline at 409Mbps, while the free version dipped to 265Mbps. In the US, download speeds of 230Mbps pale in comparison to the 403Mbps we saw on the paid server. These results are still good enough for HD streaming, but if you’re expecting to stay close to your baseline, the paid version of Windscribe is probably the best option.

Free version speed tests

Paid version speed tests

Date of testing: 30/01/2014

Best free VPN app experience: Hide.me

Data limit: 10GB per month | Number of servers: 5 | Number of locations: 7 | Maximum number of connected devices: 1 | AES-256: Yes | No-log policy: Yes | Audited no-log policy: Yes | Headquarters: Malaysia

Pros

Free UK and US server locations Independently audited no-logs policy and strong encryption

Cons

Free version lacks some key features, such as ad-blocker Slow download and upload speeds on every free server Can’t be used for streaming

The free version of Hide.me VPN offers a selection of features that make it a good choice for basic VPN usage. It also offers an audited no-logs policy, WireGuard support, split tunnelling, and a kill switch that automatically disconnects you from the internet if your VPN connection drops. 

You’ll find free VPN server locations in Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, the UK and the US.

Hide.me doesn’t match Proton VPN’s offer of unlimited data for free users, but of the services that do have a data cap, it matches both PrivadoVPN and Windscribe, with a generous 10GB (although, Windscribe users get a permanent 5GB extra if they tweet about the company, raising its limit to 15GB. Once again, this isn’t a good idea if you don’t want your real identity to be tied to a free VPN account).

Along with unlimited data and access to its full server network, paid Hide.me subscriptions include an ad and tracker blocker (SmartGuard), as well as support for port forwarding. It’s also the only way that you’ll be able to bypass any geo-restrictions, given free servers can’t be used for streaming. You can connect with up to 10 simultaneous devices, and it’s on the cheaper end of the pricing scale.

Hide.me’s free VPN service is a good all-rounder in the world of free VPNs. The service has  strong security, a kill switch and an audited no-logs policy. Hide.me also publishes annual transparency reports detailing the requests it receives for user data and how each is managed. 

However, Hide.me’s free VPN doesn’t support multihop connections and it lacks an ad blocker, which is a feature common in many other free VPNs.

Read our full Hide.me VPN free review.

Hide.me free vs paid

Free Paid
Data limit 10GB per month Unlimited
Number of servers 5 100+
Number of locations 7 89
Max. number of connected devices 1 10
AES-256: Yes Yes Yes
Streaming video No Yes

Hide.me free speed test results

In our latest round of testing, Hide.me Free performed well, though it should be noted that we were unable to connect to any server using an existing free account despite following instructions from the company’s support team to try different protocols. As such, we set up a new account using different credentials, which means we were only able to connect under a week-long free trial of the premium version.  

Still, our researcher saw a decent performance on the local UK server, with download speeds of 392Mbps. On the US and Singapore servers, speeds hit nearly 284Mbps and 218Mbps, respectively, though there was a noticeable increase in latency.

Date of testing: 30/01/2014

Best free VPN for multiple devices: Atlas VPN Free

Atlas VPN review featured thumbnail

Data limit: 5GB | Number of servers: 3 | Number of locations: 3 | Maximum number of connected devices: Unlimited | AES-256: Yes | No-log policy: Yes | Audited no-log policy: No | Headquarters: Delaware, USA

Pros

Fast connection speeds Optimised for streaming P2P capabilities

Cons

Fewer server locations Lower data limit compared to other free VPNs Lacking some basic VPN features

Atlas VPN’s free plan stands out in a crowded market thanks to its impressive features and strong security. What’s most impressive about its free service is that users can connect with an unlimited number of devices. While it offers a good level of security for a free VPN, its no-logs policy has not been audited and its data limit is relatively low compared to its competitors.

Atlas VPN free offers just 5GB of bandwidth each month, and although you could use it to access streaming sites, your data wouldn’t last long. It offers far less than most of its competitors, who offer an average of 10GB per month – Proton VPN offers the most with an unlimited amount of data usage. Windscribe offers 2GB of data allowance as standard, which can be increased to 10GB just by confirming your email address. Unfortunately, Atlas free VPN has no such perks.  

There are three free Atlas VPN locations to pick from, found in the US, the Netherlands, and Singapore. There are no speed limits, while its Dutch server recorded speeds of roughly 180Mbps during testing. 

Compared to other free VPNs, Atlas offers a decent level of security, allows for an unlimited number of simultaneous device connections and its performance is good. However, it does have a limited number of server locations available for its free plan, and its 5GB data allowance is very low – especially when compared to its competitors.

Of course, these issues are rectified if you decide to opt for a premium Atlas VPN tier. If you don’t mind spending less than £2 per month, it’s on our shortlist as one of the best cheap VPNs on the market. 

Read our full Atlas VPN free review.

AtlasVPN free vs paid

Free Paid
Data limit 5GB Unlimited
Number of servers 3 1,000+
Number of locations 3 45
Max. number of connected devices Unlimited Unlimited
AES-256 Yes Yes
Streaming video Yes Yes

Atlas VPN free vs paid speed test results

Atlas’s free servers were roughly on par with its premium version in our latest round of testing, with speeds on the paidUK server hitting 198Mbps, and 178Mbps on the free Netherlands connection. In the US, we saw download speeds of 189Mbps on the paid server and 156Mbps on the free one, though it’s important to note that we could not establish a connection with a server in New York on our free account – we could only access the Los Angeles server.

Free version speed tests

Paid version speed tests

Date of testing: 30/01/2014

Best free VPN server network: TunnelBear Free

Data limit: 2GB per month | Number of servers: 5,000+ | Number of locations: 45 | Maximum number of connected devices: Unlimited | AES-256: Yes | No-log policy: Yes | Audited no-log policy: Yes | Headquarters: Canada

Pros

Detailed annual security audits Unlimited devices Access to 5,000+ servers

Cons

No streaming support for free users Lacks live chat support Only 2GB of data per month

TunnelBear offers a free VPN service that allows up to 2GB of monthly secure browsing. If users find this restrictive, there are paid options delivering unlimited data. The free version lacks additional tools, struggles with accessing streaming services and isn’t optimised for torrenting (though file sharing is supported). 

However, it’s one of the most generous free versions on the market in terms of server access, with non-paying users given access to the same selection of more than 5,000 servers in 45 countries as paying customers – unlike most free VPNs, which restrict access to a smaller selection of its wider base. TunnelBear’s simplicity and streamlined interface make it one of the most user-friendly VPN options as a consequence.

Free servers are capable of speeds in excess of 200Mbps, although live chat support is reserved for paying customers. Once again, you’ll be limited by various restrictions that aren’t seen with the paid version of TunnelBear, but it’s handy in a pinch. All of its servers are protected by a no-logs policy that is regularly verified by the German security firm Cure53.

TunnelBear’s free VPN service allows users to access various geographical locations through a single VPN, and with its audited no-logs policy, the provider offers independently proven privacy and security. However, like most free VPN services, certain aspects of its offering, such as the data cap and the lack of an online chat service, could certainly be improved.

Read our full TunnelBear free review.

TunnelBear free vs paid

Free Paid
Data limit 2GB Unlimited
Number of servers 5,000+ 5,000+
Number of locations 45 45
Max. number of connected devices Unlimited Unlimited
AES-256 Yes Yes
Streaming video No Yes

TunnelBear free speed test results

Our tests of TunnelBear Free indicated its relatively strong performance, particularly in downloads. The service managed to offer over half of our baseline download speed within the UK at 202Mbps, which is more than sufficient for general web surfing.

The connection to the US saw a minor decrease in download speed to 193Mbps, and the trend continued in the UK-to-Australia connection, which retained reasonable download speeds of 164Mbps but experienced a dramatic drop in the upload speed.

Date of testing: 30/01/2014

Best free VPN for web browsing: Hotspot Shield Free

Hotspot Shield VPN review logo

Data limit: Daily limit of 500MB | Number of servers for free account users: 160+ | Number of locations: Four | Maximum number of connected devices: One | AES-256: Yes | No-log policy: No | Audited no-log policy: No | Headquarters: US

Pros

160+ free servers to pick from

Cons

Not ad-free (on Android and iOS) Low daily data limit (500MB) Free servers have slow connection speeds

Last, but by no means least, Hotspot Shield has a free tier that allows users to connect to VPN servers found in Los Angeles, New York, Singapore, and the UK. With over 160 servers to pick from, it’s significantly more than most other free VPNs, even if there are only four free locations in total. 

In terms of data allowances, the free version of Hotspot Shield has a daily limit of 500MB, which can be increased by watching ads via the VPN app. It’s not the worst deal for free VPN coverage, but others on this list come with an ad-free experience. 

The free version of this VPN isn’t ideal for geo-unblocking, but that’s not a surprise with a handful of server locations, none of which are optimised for streaming or gaming. 

This is upped to 80+ locations when looking at the premium version. Paid users also benefit from streaming support, including access to sites like Netflix, iPlayer, and Hulu. Free servers offered speeds of 145Mbps during testing, but you can expect a significantly faster experience if you opt for a paid Hotspot Shield subscription instead. 

Read our full Hotspot Shield Free review.

Hotspot Shield free vs paid

Free Paid
Data limit 500MB per day Unlimited
Number of servers 160+ 1,800+
Number of locations 4 80
Max. number of connected devices 1 10 (25 on a family plan)
AES-256 Yes Yes
Streaming video No Yes

Hotspot Shield free speed test results

The free version of Hotspot Shield exhibited modest performance in our tests. Within the UK, it delivered download speeds of 145Mbps, while in the US it hit 134Mbps. Both results would suffice for most online activities if it were not for the lack of streaming support on the free service.

Date of testing: 30/01/2014

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A free VPN is right for you if:

  • You’re a casual internet user: if you don’t do any intensive activities, such as streaming, gaming or downloading large files, a free VPN could be an option
  • You don’t use public wifi very often: if you only use a public wifi network occasionally, a free VPN can often provide enough protection to get by 
  • You only stream videos occasionally: for safely accessing websites or services, free VPNs may offer streaming support
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A paid VPN is right for you if:

  • You prioritise online privacy and security: if safeguarding sensitive data is a priority – such as for online banking, confidential work, or avoiding potential identity theft, a robust paid VPN service is worthwhile
  • You want unlimited bandwidth: if you need a VPN for gaming, streaming video, or torrenting large files, paid services with unlimited bandwidth are essential
  • You value your internet speed: paid VPNs can offer more reliable and faster connections, necessary for maintaining quality video conferencing, online gaming, or streaming services
  • You want to access global content or UK content while travelling: for accessing content from abroad, paid VPNs typically offer a broader choice of server locations, thus avoiding geographic restrictions

How to choose a free VPN

Choosing a free VPN requires careful consideration because not all free VPNs are equal, and some can even be harmful. Here are several key questions to consider when choosing a free VPN:

What’s the provider’s business model? 

Running a VPN service isn’t cheap, so it’s worth considering how the provider finances itself. Many VPNs leverage their free version to attract potential customers. Once users appreciate the value of the free service, they may be more inclined to upgrade to the paid version to avoid any limitations. However, it’s essential to be aware that some free VPNs operate by selling user data or sharing logging and usage information with third parties, significantly compromising your privacy and security online. This is especially prevalent with mobile devices, due to the sheer number of unaudited VPNs available on iOS and Android.

How does a free VPN protect me? 

While most VPN providers offer applications that secure your data as you browse, it’s important to note that this only tackles part of the problem. Even with VPN protection, your device is still identifiable due to the tracking systems on most online websites. A few free VPN providers incorporate ad-blocking features to enhance your privacy and security. Ensure you don’t sign in to any services while the VPN is active if you don’t want to leave a digital trail. 

Does your provider keep user logs? 

Before choosing a free VPN, it’s crucial to determine if they maintain logs of your online activity, and this information can be found on the provider’s terms and conditions page. However, it’s worth noting that some providers intentionally make these documents lengthy and complex, often hiding essential details about their operations. Others have been known to outright lie in the past.

Ideally, you should look for free VPN online providers that prioritise user privacy by explicitly stating that they do not store logs of your internet activities, which is often verified by an independent audit. 

What do I lose by choosing a free VPN?

When opting for a free VPN service, there are certain compromises you may need to make. 

Free VPNs differ regarding available bandwidth, the number of server optimisations and locations offered, and additional features, such as ad blocking, customer support, and firewall protection. However, they typically come with numerous limitations. A paid VPN service is preferable to access unlimited bandwidth, more server locations, and improved security features. 

Can I sign up for the VPN service entirely anonymously?

The ideal scenario for maximum privacy is to find a provider that allows you to subscribe without providing an email address and accepts Bitcoin or other cryptocurrency payments. This combination ensures a higher level of anonymity during the signup process. However, most free VPNs require an email address at the very least, in an effort to stop bots and users gaming the system for unlimited free accounts.

Free VPNs: The experts’ view

We spoke with experts from three of the more reputable VPN providers to see what they thought of free VPNs, and to ask if they would ever use one.

Lukas Mačėnas, Product Owner at Atlas VPN:

I would approach the use of free VPNs with caution. Some free VPN services may generate revenue through ads or selling user data, undermining the purpose of using a VPN for privacy protection. Trustworthiness and transparency also can be concerns with free VPN providers, as they may not disclose their infrastructure, ownership, or logging policies. That being said, there are excellent freemium VPN options on the market that offer a quality free VPN service by subsidising them with paid subscriptions. This is a subscription model that we use at Atlas VPN, as well. So, to sum up, I would. However, I would choose one that is reputable and has a clear no-logs policy.

Justas Pukys, Product Manager at Surfshark:

In the majority of cases, free VPNs might fail to provide the same degree of security and privacy as their paid counterparts because of various reasons, from data collection to infecting users’ devices with malware. A report published by the University of New South Wales and the University of Berkeley checked 283 free Android VPN-based apps and found that 38 per cent contained malware or malvertising.

Moreover, the encryption protocols employed by free VPN services often lack strong encryption that paid services have.

It is crucial to consider the funding sources of a VPN service or any other company that offers free VPN software. Supporting the infrastructure required for a high-quality product and robust encryption protocol can be costly. In the case of free VPN services, there are typically two methods they employ to generate revenue: inundating users with intrusive advertisements or selling their private data online.

Also, the same research on free Android VPN apps found that about 80 per cent of free VPN apps ask for access to sensitive user data, and even 84 per cent willingly or accidentally leak that data to third parties. 

Finally, some free VPNs use ad-serving trackers that track users’ online activity and browsing habits to display targeted ads, which is a privacy violation and quite the opposite of what a trustworthy VPN should do. 

Marijus Briedis, CTO at NordVPN:

No, and I strongly advise any user to think twice before using or downloading such software. For a VPN to be worthy of a user’s trust, it needs many things, from dedication to transparency and independent audits to reliable infrastructure. All of this has costs, and someone has to pay for it. More often than not, free VPN users pay for the company with their data and are even unaware of it. Even if a user thinks “hey, I probably need it just for this day, what harm can it do”, or “I don’t have anything to hide”, it can have grave consequences.

What features do you get with a free VPN?

We’ve compared the features available from numerous free VPNs, alongside the ones offered by paid versions, to identify what you can expect from your service.

ExpressVPN (paid) ProtonVPN Free PrivadoVPN Free Windscribe Free Atlas VPN Free Hide/me Free VPN
Servers 3,000 100 12 11 3 5
Countries 94 3 10 11 3 5
Data limit None None 10GB /month 2GB – 15GB /month* 5GB 10GB
Platforms supported 10 6 6 12 4 19
Torrenting Yes No No Yes Yes Yes
Unblocks streaming Yes No Yes** Yes** Yes** No
Audited no-log policy Yes Yes No No Yes Yes

How to get a premium VPN for free

It can be tough to decide whether to opt for a free or paid VPN, but thankfully there are ways to test premium VPNs for free to help you make a choice. Most premium services allow you to trial them for free for a selected period of time, via a money-back guarantee.

Some VPN free trials are truly free for a limited time, while others require paying for the service up front and then taking advantage of the money-back guarantee on offer if you decide it’s not right for you. Our top cheap VPN recommendation (Surfshark) has a completely free seven-day trial, which allows customers to have full access to all of its VPN features, but the trial is only available for iOS, Android and MacOS devices.

The best free VPN: Summary

In essence, the majority of popular free VPNs offer a similar service. Bandwidth caps are abundant, while many lack an audited no-logs policy. Depending on the provider, the servers on offer may be different, and you’ll find a smattering of core features, but each is lacking in its own way. 

The free version of Proton VPN might be missing out on streaming support and some advanced features, but it’s independently audited, and it can be used indefinitely without having to worry about any data limits. As such, it’s a clear winner if you’re in need of a free VPN that can be trusted. If you think it’s the right choice, read our guide on getting a free VPN.

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Are free VPNs safe?

Many free VPNs are specced-down versions of the company’s full VPN, so will use the same servers, same encryption protocols, and same policies of the paid version. So, on an encryption level, the best free VPNs are as safe as paid ones.

 

That said, free VPNs on the Google Play store have a reputation of being leaky. According to ProPrivacy, more than 40 per cent of these free VPN apps leak users’ data online through poor privacy practices.

 

To help combat this, Google has introduced MASA (Mobile App Security Assessment) which allows developers to have their apps independently validated to ensure they comply with global security standards. Our recommendation is to check for the independent security validation badge when looking for free VPNs on the Google Play Store while also doing your own research to ensure that it has stringent data management practices in place.

 

One example in particular that highlights the potential dangers of less reputable free VPNs is research carried out by cyber security researcher Jeremiah Fowler. He discovered a non-password-protected database containing more than 360 million user records owned by SuperVPN, a free service developed in China – data including email and IP addresses, browsing history, device model, and refund requests.

 

One other thing to look out for is how the VPN company looks after your data and how they make money. Some smaller providers will sell your data to brokers, so this could be considered a risk, especially if you’re looking to stay 100 per cent anonymous online.

Free VPN FAQs

Yes, free VPNs, just like paid ones, are legal in the UK and much of the wider world. However, if you’re using them to torrent copyrighted files, this could have negative consequences if you’re caught. Using a free VPN is legal, it just depends on what you intend to use it for and if your chosen activity is legal in your country regardless of VPN use.

In other words, using a VPN to break the law is still illegal, and you will be liable for any consequences.

Most free VPNs have the option to choose a specific location, although the number of locations are usually extremely limited when compared to the paid version. Some free VPNs that enable you to choose your location are Proton VPN Free, PrivadoVPN Free, and Windscribe Free.

Free VPNs do enable users to hide their IP, similarly to a paid VPN. However, privacy and performance is limited because free VPNs usually offer far fewer server and location options, as well as a limited data allowance.

While you won’t pay money to use a free VPN, companies offering a free VPN – or a free version of their paid service – will often make money through other means, including selling user data to brokers, or with extensive advertising.

Apple does not have a free VPN, however, for iCloud+ subscribers, Apple Private Relay acts similarly to a VPN. The Safari feature is compatible with iPhones, Macs and iPads, and it works by encrypting internet traffic and adding an extra layer of security. It also masks your IP address, allowing for online anonymity, but it should not be mistaken for a true VPN, which usually comes with a range of other security features – Apple Private Relay does not and is best suited to simple secure browsing.

Fortunately, there are ways to try premium VPNs for free. Some providers offer a VPN free trial or a money-back guarantee, which means you’ll pay upfront but can claim this money back so long as it’s within the cancellation period. This is a great way to work out whether a paid or free VPN is right for you, and you can try out features and test their ability to handle your everyday use before parting with your hard-earned cash.

A free VPN provides basic VPN features indefinitely, unlike a free trial that requires payment after a brief initial period of time. Users typically provide payment details upon registration, leading to automatic charges post-trial unless the subscription is cancelled. 

Free VPNs often offer fewer features as providers aim to transition users to their paid, more comprehensive software versions. A free VPN or a trial version is an effective way to evaluate the service’s performance and utility before committing financially.

Some free VPNs can access streaming services like Netflix, Disney, and Hulu, but often restrict your bandwidth, leading to inferior visual and audio quality. In addition, the minimal data allowance of free VPNs is not viable for serious video and audio streaming, exhausting the data limit very quickly. Again, it’s used as a method to highlight paid versions of VPN software to potential users.

The notion that ‘nothing comes for free’ rings particularly true for free VPNs. These services incur substantial server, infrastructure, and maintenance costs, which necessitates alternative revenue streams since the user isn’t charged. 

One method involves monetising the user’s data, including email, location, and browsing history, which is valuable to advertisers for targeted campaigns. Another approach is incorporating pop-up ads within the VPN apps, generating income through user engagement. Furthermore, free VPNs often offer limited data to nudge users towards their paid plans for more extensive access.

How we research and rate free VPNs

Our reviewers are dedicated to bringing you the most accurate and up-to-date information so you can make an informed decision when it comes to buying a VPN. We will only recommend a VPN after hours of testing, head-to-head feature comparisons, and after taking into account verified customer feedback and reviews and the opinions of industry experts.

Our review scores and listings are determined via the following categories:

  • Privacy and performance (30%)
  • Features and functionality (30%)
  • Reputation and credibility (25%)
  • Plans and pricing/value (10%)
  • Customer experience (5%)

We research and test a total of 25 elements within these categories including:

  • Number and location of servers
  • Streaming service accessibility
  • Security features such as AES-256
  • Performance (upload, download, latency)
  • Value for money, guarantees, and customer service
  • Independent server-site security audits

All of our VPN articles are verified by our in-house team of fact-checkers, so you can be assured that our content is as accurate and up to date as possible. You can read more about our testing process in our VPN review methodology.

Round up of today’s best VPN deals
NordVPN 2 year £2.49 /Month
£2.49 /Month
Surfshark 24 month £1.79 /Month
£1.79 /Month
ExpressVPN 12 month £6.77 /Month
£6.77 /Month
CyberGhost 2 year £1.78 /Month
£1.78 /Month
Proton 2 year £4.27 /Month
£4.27 /Month
PIA 2 year £1.57 /Month
£1.57 /Month
Atlas 2 year £1.34 /Month
£1.34 /Month
PrivadoVPN 2 year £1.99 /Month
£1.99 /Month
Windscribe 12 month £4.53 /Month
£4.53 /Month
IPVanish 2 year £3.58 /Month
£3.58 /Month

Disclaimer

The data in this review is reported from a neutral stance and should be used for informational purposes only. We review VPN services from the perspective of:

  • The quality of the product based on the security and privacy it affords the user
  • User experience of the application(s)
  • Connection speeds, and overall performance in terms of reliability
  • Level and quality of customer service

Independent Advisor strongly recommends that you follow the local laws in your region whilst using a VPN. We do not condone the use of a VPN to bypass copyright restrictions, or to stream content without a valid subscription in your current region. Make sure to comply with any and all applicable laws and regulations whilst using a VPN with streaming services, and any other relevant platforms.

Overall Score: 4.5/5
Overall Score: 4.5/5

Our award for the best overall VPN goes to NordVPN, which costs just £2.49 and comes with a 30-day money back guarantee. NordVPN boasts best-in-class security and great performance.

Surfshark: Best value
Overall Score: 4.5/5
Surfshark: Best value
Overall Score: 4.5/5

Surfshark is our choice of the best value VPN and can be had for as little as £1.79 with our exclusive deal and it comes with a 30-day money back guarantee. Surfshark also has a slight but notable advantage over the competition in terms of performance – in our tests it demonstrated the lowest level of degradation for download and upload speeds when locating your IP abroad.

Overall Score: 4.5/5
Overall Score: 4.5/5

If you’re looking for a great all-round option, which is very easy to use, then this is the VPN for you. ExpressVPN has all the market-leading features you could want: top security, a fast, stable connection, and it’s a great option for streaming from the internet. Also comes with a 30-day money back guarantee.

James Milin-Ashmore circle

James Milin-Ashmore

VPN Tech Editor

James Milin-Ashmore has covered cybersecurity and VPNs since the mid-2010s, writing for industry publications and services such as VPN Mentor, Liquid VPN, Comparitech, Bleeping Computer, ProPrivacy, AlwaysVPN, and more.

With a focus on ethics and digital privacy, his work has been featured in a range of publications, including the Activist Handbook and Reader’s Digest. In his spare time, he’s likely to be watching sports, or taking his dog for a walk around Hertfordshire.

rachel

Rachel Sadler

Home Tech Writer

Rachel is a seasoned writer who has been producing online and print content for seven years. 

As a home tech expert for Independent Advisor, Rachel researches and writes buying guides and reviews, helping consumers navigate the realms of broadband and home security gadgets. She also covers home tech for The Federation of Master Builders, where she reviews and tests home security devices. 

She started as a news and lifestyle journalist in Hong Kong reporting on island-wide news stories, food and drink and the city’s events. She’s written for editorial platforms Sassy Hong Kong, Localiiz and Bay Media. While in Hong Kong she attended PR events, interviewed local talent and project-managed photoshoots. 

Rachel holds a BA in English Language and Creative Writing and is committed to simplifying tech jargon and producing unbiased reviews.