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Proton VPN free review: One of the best free services on the market

Verified by Molly Dyson

Proton VPN’s free service is a compelling offering among the best free VPNs on the market. As industry experts, we understand the importance of virtual private networks in preserving your online privacy and security and have tested all the leading services. By creating a private network from a public internet connection, VPNs mask your IP address and encrypt your data, making your online actions virtually untraceable. Proton VPN enhances this with its commitment to transparency and a robust no-logging policy. 

In our comprehensive review, we’ll delve deeper into Proton VPN’s free service, exploring its functionality and value in today’s digital landscape. We recently put the provider through its paces to see if it could handle the rigours of heavy internet use while maintaining  digital privacy.

30-second review

Rating: ★★★

Proton VPN delivers a reliable, fast, and safe virtual private network, and its free version provides unlimited data, which isn’t common. Its premium offerings and simple interface make it one of the best free VPNs for new users. Free users are restricted to 152 servers, which is still more than many other free services, and they are spread apart fairly widely in Japan, the Netherlands and the United States, meaning wherever you are in the world, you should be able to get a decent connection. 

Despite its strengths, Proton VPN’s free version lacks some of the security features and high-speed connectivity found in paid plans. Crucially, it doesn’t offer streaming support, meaning when you travel you can’t access your geographic-specific subscription services from back home. What’s more, the free plan does not offer live chat support. However, the company’s commitment to privacy, demonstrated through adherence to Swiss privacy laws and a zero-log policy, is impressive, and open-source apps add to transparency and reliability.

How we research and rate free VPNs

100+
hours performance testing
500+
customer reviews read
100+
hours of research
25
competitors compared
4
VPN experts consulted

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

Our Proton VPN free version review score was determined by 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. To find out more, read our article on how we review VPNs.

Proton VPN free overview

  • Data limit: Unlimited
  • Number of servers for free account users: 152
  • Number of locations: Three countries (Japan, Netherlands, and the US)
  • Maximum number of connected devices: One for free users; up to 10 with the premium subscription
  • AES-256 encryption: Yes
  • No-log policy: Yes
  • Audited no-log policy: Yes, last in April 2022
  • Headquarters: Switzerland

Pros and cons

Pros Cons
No data limit Only one device connection
Ad-free experience No streaming support
Good geographical spread of servers No torrenting support

How does Proton VPN compare to other free services?

Proton VPN’s free service is considered one of the top offerings on the market, renowned for its strong commitment to privacy and security, and stemming from the company’s roots in CERN and MIT. Compared to some of  its top competitors, such as the free version of Hotspot Shield and Windscribe free, Proton offers unlimited data usage, which is a notable advantage, as most providers usually have data caps for their free services. Additionally, the company maintains a strict no-logs policy and uses high-level encryption methods to secure user data, aligning with the industry standards. 

However, one drawback is that the free version limits users to servers in only three countries (the US, the Netherlands and Japan), which is fewer, for instance, than Windscribe’s 11 country locations for its free version. In addition, the free service does not support P2P/torrenting or streaming services, a feature offered by some competitors like Windscribe. It’s also worth considering that many free VPNs come with ads, but Proton VPN – as well as  Atlas VPN’s free service – comes ad-free for a cleaner experience.

The free plan really stands out as a cut above the rest. What’s more, it doesn’t stop at VPN services. Users also benefit from features extended from Proton’s other privacy-focused services. Complementing this, it includes an email address with 1GB of storage and access to calendar tools equipped with end-to-end encryption. The free plan truly encapsulates a comprehensive digital privacy solution.

VPN Servers Countries Data limit/month Platforms supported Torrenting Unblocks streaming Audited no-log policy
Proton VPN Free 152 3 No limit 6 No No Yes
PrivadoVPN Free 12 10 10GB 6 No Yes** No
Windscribe Free 11 11 2GB – 15GB* 12 Yes Yes** No
Atlas VPN Free 3 3 5GB 4 Yes Yes** No
Hide/me Free VPN 5 5 10GB 19 Yes No Yes

*>2GB data requires email verification, social media promotion
** Limited library access; video/audio quality reduced by bandwidth limits
Best alternative to
NordVPN is one of the most trusted VPN providers in the world, offering top-notch encryption, incredible speeds, and extra features to make all your online activities more secure.
4.5
Excellent Trustpilot rating
24/7 customer support
AES-256 encryption
VIEW PLANS At NordVPN

Proton VPN free features

Proton VPN’s free service stands out in the VPN market for its commitment to unrestricted, quality internet access. It offers a no-data-limit service – a rarity among free VPN options – allowing users to browse and stream without worrying about exhausting a data cap. The provider also assures a clean, ad-free browsing experience, enhancing user comfort and privacy. 

What’s more, free users have access to servers located in three different countries, providing some level of geographic choice for server connection. Importantly, the free version adheres to Proton VPN’s strong commitment to privacy, as indicated by its audited no-logs policy. Despite its limitations in device connections and server access, the free service offers a robust set of features not commonly found in free VPN services.

The key takeaway is that Proton VPN doesn’t impose any time, speed, or data limits if you’re on the free plan – a rare combination in the crowded VPN market.

Server count and countries

Proton VPN has 152 servers available for free account users. These servers are located in three countries: Japan, the Netherlands, and the United States​​. The total number of servers offered to paying users is 2,706, spanning 67 countries​. The provider uses physical servers, which the company says it ships and instals itself in secure data centres or on former military bases with biometric security.

Encryption and privacy

The Proton VPN free plan has the same level of security as its paid plans, including the same strong VPN protocols (the industry-standard OpenVPN protocol, as well as IKEv2 and WireGuard), with AES-256 encryption. It also operates a strict no-logs policy, which means the company does not store any information about your online activity, such as your IP address, browsing history and even the websites you visit. What’s more, the provider regularly has its security and privacy protocols audited, which to date has found the company is in compliance with its stated policy and does not store any information about its users’ online activity.

Proton VPN’s free service compares very favourably with its competition, in part due to its unlimited data allowance. Most free VPN providers have data caps or throttle your speeds. Proton does not have any data caps or speed limits, which is fairly unique in the market.

Other features

No ads

These days, internet users are bombarded by ads, but Proton VPN keeps the marketing to a minimum, even for the free user experience.

Bypass firewalls

With Proton VPN’s free version, you can access content that may be blocked in your country.

Proton VPN free performance test results

Testing a VPN involves several steps to ensure it provides the security, speed and reliability you need. At Independent Advisor, our formula includes:

  1. Connection speed: We start by testing our internet speed without the VPN connected using a tool like Speedtest.net. Next, we connect to the VPN and run the speed test again. While it’s common for a VPN to slightly reduce your speed due to encryption overhead, we’re looking for significant drops that could affect your browsing or streaming experience. We test for download and upload speed and latency to ascertain how they are affected by using the service in different server locations.
  2. Security checks: We use a service like IPLeak.net to check for DNS leaks, which can reveal one’s true location, even when connected to a VPN. We also check for WebRTC leaks, which can expose your IP address.

Our researchers applied these same standards when testing Proton VPN’s performance.

Speed test results

Download Speed (Mbps) Degradation (% of base value) Upload Speed (Mbps) Degradation (% of base value) Latency Latency % increase from base value
No VPN 366.57 108.66 11ms
UK to Netherlands 114.49 31% 104.51 96% 18ms 63.60%
UK to US 108.88 30% 59.69 55% 116ms 955%
UK to Japan 102.31 28% 53.42 49% 278ms 2427%

Proton VPN provided a surprisingly fast connection for a free VPN. Our researcher’s base speed from a true fibre connection was quite fast, so the degradation looks high, but they were able to stream video content and browse with minimal lag on all three servers. One thing our reviewer noticed during testing was a significant difference between server speeds depending on the user load, particularly in Japan. Luckily, the Proton app displays a colour-coded wheel next to each server so you can choose one with fewer users connected to it – doing so gave us significantly better performance during a second round of testing.

WebRTC leak test

WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) is a technology that allows direct peer-to-peer communication between web browsers. It’s used for real-time communication applications such as voice and video chat.

While WebRTC is a very useful feature, it can also present a security issue known as a WebRTC leak. This is when your actual IP address is revealed by WebRTC, even while you’re using a VPN or proxy to hide your IP address. This can happen because WebRTC needs your actual IP address to set up a direct connection between browsers, and sometimes this can bypass the VPN. A WebRTC leak is important because it can expose your actual IP address, negating the privacy and anonymity that a VPN is supposed to provide. 

We tested Proton VPN for any WebRTC leaks while connected to all three of its server locations available to free users, and it passed the test each time. No leaks were detected and our IP was detected in Tokyo, Amsterdam and Omaha, Nebraska.

Breaches and audits

Proton VPN has had no major security breaches in the past five years. This aligns with the company’s strong commitment to security, as it employs high-standard encryption methods and maintains a no-log policy.

Additionally, Proton VPN conducted an independent audit of its no-log policy in April 2022, which found it was honest with its claims​​. This further reinforces the company’s dedication to user privacy and data security.

Apps and compatibility

Proton VPN’s free service supports a wide range of devices and operating systems. These include:

  • Computers: Apps for Windows, macOS, Linux and Chromebook
  • Mobiles: Apps for both Android and iOS/iPadOS devices​​

Desktop app

The Proton VPN desktop app provides the same essential security and privacy features under the free plan. It includes AES-256 encryption, VPN protocols (OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPSec) and a kill switch to ensure data protection. The kill switch is a nice addition for free users, as this is often a feature under the paid plans at other VPN providers. The user-friendly interface allows for easy navigation and quick connections.

Mobile app

Proton’s VPN for Android and VPN for iPhone both provide essentially the same experience as the desktop version. It includes strong encryption, a kill switch, and trusted networks for added protection. It offers a user-friendly interface with a simple one-tap Quick Connect feature, making it convenient for free plan users to establish secure connections on the go.

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Customer support

Proton VPN offers a variety of ways to reach out to its customer support team, but they are more limited for free users. These include:

  • Email: you can email Proton VPN’s customer support team. We reached out to them with a query, and the team got back with an answer within 24 hours.
  • Create a ticket: for problems where you need to explain with more detail and supporting images, you can fill in a support form on Proton VPN’s website. A customer support representative will then get in touch to help you with your issue.

Users on paid plans also have access to a 24/7 live chat service, but we could not access this on the free version during our testing.

It’s also worth noting that Proton VPN has a deep knowledge base page containing answers to many frequently asked questions. This is often a good first port of call for quick answers.

What do customers say?

On the whole, Proton VPN gets very positive reviews on both the Apple App Store and Google Play, where it scores 4.6 and 4.4 out of five stars, respectively. People on these platforms seem to be very happy with its free service. On Trustpilot, however, the average rating plunges to 2.5 out of five stars. 

The most common positives mentioned in reviews are the unlimited data, strong privacy policy and generally fast service. The biggest complaints are that the free service doesn’t allow for streaming or torrenting.

“Proton has gained my trust as an awesome VPN. I have been using the free version for months now and haven’t been let down so I think I may upgrade to the paid version to support them and gain access to all countries.” 

“My concern for privacy and security has grown immensely the past few years, as my awareness grew. After much research and trials, Proton Technologies Mail + VPN services have truly been the best thus far to my experience, of course. I began with the free email account and made my way to the free VPN. Ultimately, I grew to enjoy & appreciate both Mail + VPN; therefore, I decided to upgrade to the Mail + VPN Plus (combo) subscription. The rest is history… I have no complaints.”

  • N3v@St0pBel1ev1n, via Apple App Store

Independent Advisor’s verdict

Proton VPN’s free plan is often lauded as one of the best free VPN services in the industry due to its no-ads policy, robust security protocols and unlimited data – a rare offering among free services. Unlike many free VPNs, the provider does not log user activities, and its security protocols have been independently audited. The aspect that stood out most to our team, however, is its impressive speed performance. The consistent, minimal deviation from our baseline broadband speed with no VPN and the low latency provides a stable, reliable online experience that’s well-equipped for myriad activities.

What’s more, Proton VPN’s straightforward app interface further elevates the user experience. For the tech savvy, it has streamlined the pertinent information like the assigned IP address, VPN protocol and server load into a quick view. And for the less savvy, its one-screen, one-click interface couldn’t be simpler to use.  

With access to Proton’s other privacy-focused offerings, including Drive, Mail and Calendar, it’s more than just a VPN service — it’s a comprehensive privacy package. Even with a single device restriction, the inclusion of 152 servers, unlimited data usage, absence of ads and other added benefits make the free plan a compelling choice for those seeking a blend of speed, security and usability.

However, it is worth noting that free VPNs, including Proton VPN, often come with limitations compared to their paid counterparts. For instance, Proton VPN’s free plan only allows connection to a single device and offers access to a limited number of servers in three countries. What’s more, the free plan doesn’t support streaming, so if you’re travelling abroad, trying to watch your favourite shows from back home will be problematic.

But when compared to some of its competitors, Proton VPN stands out for its privacy-focused ethos, impressive security features and unlimited data offering. However, some competitors like Windscribe offer more server locations on their free plan.

Score: ★★★

Read our review of Proton VPN’s paid plan.

Score breakdown

Reputation ★★★
Privacy ★★★★
Performance and features ★★½
Plans and pricing value ★½
Customer experience ★½

Frequently asked questions

Yes, a free VPN is typically free to use without any upfront costs. However, it’s important to note that “free” may come with limitations. For instance, free VPNs often have data limits, fewer servers to choose from, slower speeds, or display ads to make money. Some free VPNs are offered as a limited version of a paid option, with the aim of encouraging users to upgrade to the paid version for more features or better performance.

The safety of a free VPN largely depends on the provider. Some free VPNs can be safe to use, especially those from the bigger and more reputable companies that also offer paid plans. These providers typically have a reputation to maintain and thus adhere to strict privacy guidelines. However, there are also free VPNs that are not safe and can compromise your data. Some may log your internet activities, sell your data to advertisers, or even carry malware in some instances. Therefore, it’s crucial to research and choose a free VPN service that is transparent about its privacy policy and has a good reputation.

Some free VPNs can unblock streaming services, but this is not always the case. Streaming services often actively block VPNs, and many free providers do not have the resources to continually bypass these blocks. Furthermore, the data limits and slower speeds often associated with free VPNs – even those that do support streaming – may hinder video quality. For reliable access to streaming services, a premium – which means paid –  VPN is generally recommended.

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

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

  • The quality of the product based on the security it affords the user
  • User experience of the application(s)
  • Level and quality of customer service

Independent Advisor does not endorse the streaming of content from regions other than where the subscription is held, nor does it endorse the downloading or consumption of illegally pirated content.

Jeff Meyer

Writer

Jeff is a highly experienced editor and journalist with extensive experience in the tech industry, as well as for the automotive and DIY sectors, writing for both B2C and B2B brands.

Jeff has tested all manner of tech, from cameras to phones to EVs and home appliances. In his 23 years as a writer and editor, Jeff has written for global tech titles like TechRadar and Digital Camera World, as well as brands such as eBay, Canon, Panasonic, Eero, and many more.

His expertise extends to topics such as solar panels and VPN, a topic where he is a regular contributor.

In addition to editorial, Jeff also has many years experience producing video and podcasts. He is also passionate about renewable energy and green living, and explaining this technology to new audiences.

Molly Dyson

Editor

After growing up with a passion for writing, Molly studied journalism and creative writing at university in her home country of the United States.

She has written for a variety of print and online publications, from small town newspapers to international magazines. Most of her 10-year career since relocating to the UK has been spent in business journalism, writing and editing for admin professionals at PA Life magazine and business travel managers at Business Travel News Europe and representing those titles at conferences around the world.

Now an Editor at the Independent Advisor, Molly is an expert in a broad range of consumer topics, that include solar panels and renewables, home improvements and home insurance, and consumer technology such as home security and VPNs.

In her free time, Molly can usually be found exploring the outdoors with her husband and their young son or gardening.