Most of the VPNs we recommend in this list are premium services, which means you’ll have to pay a subscription fee in order to use them properly.
You can also find free VPN services advertised online and in app stores, which can be a tempting alternative. Some are 100% free, while others are limited ‘freemium’ versions of premium services.
The Limitations of Free VPNs
Just like paid VPN services, free VPNs come in a wide spectrum of quality. However, they are almost always inferior products compared to their paid equivalents.
It costs money to support a server network and run a secure VPN service, which is why free VPNs are usually very limited or offer inadequate privacy and security.
Due to the extensive resources required, it simply isn’t possible to match the best VPN services completely for free.
The safest free VPNs are limited versions of paid-for services like Windscribe, TunnelBear, and Proton VPN.
When you use the free version of these apps, your VPN use is essentially subsidized by premium subscribers, so the company doesn’t have to monetize the free VPN directly.
‘Freemium’ VPNs usually offer a restricted version of the premium service.
Freemium VPNs often use the infrastructure of a premium VPN, but with major restrictions on its functionality. You’ll typically get a limited number of servers and a monthly data cap of 10GB or less.
As a result, these free VPNs also tend to have slower speeds and unblock fewer streaming services.
100% Free VPNs
The worst VPN services are usually completely free to use. They generate income by running invasive advertisements or – in the worst cases – logging and selling user data to third parties.
Aside from their privacy and security risks, most 100% free VPNs are simply less effective, too. They often use weak encryption, have slow speeds, and leak your IP or DNS data.
It’s also very rare for a 100% free VPN to unblock popular streaming services.
Since 2016, we’ve tested more than 150 free VPNs and found that 77% had privacy and security risks.
The chart below illustrates some of the key findings of our free VPN investigations:
We’ve discovered dozens of popular free VPNs that are essentially proxy services: they reroute your web traffic, but they don’t encrypt your data.
Many of the most-downloaded free VPN apps on the Google Play Store even have suspicious links to Chinese companies.
When Should You Use a Free VPN?
Premium VPNs are almost always faster, more secure, and have more servers than their free equivalents.
Additionally, paid-for VPNs unblock more streaming services, offer unlimited data usage, and have a range of extra privacy and security features.
By contrast, many popular free VPNs are ineffective or limited at the very least. If you plan to use a VPN regularly, it’s worth paying for a high-quality premium VPN service.
However, not all free VPN services are bad.
The very best free VPNs securely encrypt your data transfers and hide your IP address, which can be enough if you only need a VPN for very casual use.
However, you’ll be limited to a small monthly data allowance, and you’ll be restricted when it comes to speed, streaming, and torrenting.
Out of all the free VPNs we’ve tested, only Windscribe Free consistently streams multiple Netflix regions at reasonably fast speeds.
This is impressive for a free app, but the paid version of Windscribe offers more than ten times as many servers and unblocks 32 Netflix regions.
In short: a handful of free VPNs are safe to use in limited circumstances. However, if you plan on using your VPN for streaming, torrenting, or handling sensitive data, it’s absolutely worth paying for a premium VPN subscription.