Free VPNs are regarded with some suspicion by those in the know. On the one hand, they have a reputation for playing fast and loose with your personal data and on the other they so limit the service you get that they're basically unusable.
The good news is that there are some excellent free VPN services out there, including the four we've picked 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 the data sent between your phone, laptop or tablet and the Wi-Fi hotspot could be visible to anyone, but a VPN works by encrypting all that data, protecting you from such attacks.
Free vs paid VPNs
It’s worth knowing that a paid-for VPN service with no real limitations can work out surprisingly cheap – especially 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 76p), 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.
At the time of writing the five-year deal is from Ivacy gets you 88% off, bringing the price down to $1.16 per month. Use the code Ivacy20 at the checkout and you'll get another 20% off, too.
Surfshark is a great alternative at $2.49 per month, which works out at £1.95. And 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?
Compared the others here, ProtonVPN is really in a different league. It is a rare beast indeed, as it imposes none of the restrictions you’d expect 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 blocked in Europe. 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.
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.
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, there’s 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 than the original 2GB monthly limit. And you can now keep using the service once your 10GB is used up, but 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, 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.
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.