Simon is a recognized world expert in VPNs. He's tested hundreds of VPN services and his research has featured on the BBC, The New York Times, CNet and more. Read full bio
Free VPNs promise to unblock region-restricted content, secure your browsing activity, and protect your privacy – all without costing you a cent.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of free VPNs come with significant drawbacks. They often cap your data usage, fail to unblock streaming services, or suffer from slow connection speeds. A lot of free VPN services use invasive advertising, and some can even be dangerous.
Truthfully, even the best free VPN can’t compete with a good paid VPN service. However, after rigorous testing of over 70 VPNs, our experts have found the five best free VPNs available in September 2020:
Windscribe Free: The best free VPN for secure streaming and torrenting. Read Summary.
ProtonVPN Free: A highly secure free VPN with unlimited data.
TunnelBear Free: A fully-functional free service with a 500MB data Read Summary. cap.
Hide.me Free: Limited free server network and 10GB data cap. Read Summary.
Avira Phantom Free A basic free VPN with a 1GB monthly data limit. Read Summary.
Windscribe Free is the best free VPN available. It has a minimal logging policy, strong security, and it’s available on most popular devices. More importantly, it allows you to stream geo-blocked content like Netflix and BBC iPlayer as well as torrent without any issues.
We test free VPNs just like paid VPNs and hold them to the same high standard. We never recommend a free VPN that doesn’t meet the following strict criteria:
No user activity logs
Strong security & no IP or DNS leaks
Fast speeds with no cap on download speeds
Large data allowance
Easy to use with good customer support
All of the services recommended in this article are completely safe to use. However, if you’re using a free VPN instead of paying for a monthly subscription, it’s likely you’ll receive a limited application that’s designed to persuade you to get a paid subscription.
Even the top free VPNs have data caps or speed restrictions, and lots of free services also block torrenting on their servers. Generally, you shouldn’t expect to access streaming sites like Netflix or Amazon Prime, either.
Free versions of premium VPNs aren’t always the best way to try out a VPN, as their features and performance don’t match those offered by the paid service. Instead you might want a free trial, which gets you access to a premium VPN for a limited amount of time before having to pay. You can see the best VPN free trials here.
Windscribe Free is the best free VPN we’ve seen. It can stream US Netflix and BBC iPlayer reliably and it’s also a secure choice for torrenting. It has a minimal logging policy, tight security, and you can use it on all major platforms. The 10GB data cap is generous, but isn’t enough for heavy use.
These features all help to prevent Windscribe Free from leaking your true IP address or DNS details. Importantly, it allows P2P traffic on the majority of servers too – another rare offering from a free VPN.
Windscribe Free didn’t reveal our true IP address in this leak test
Though impressive, the free version of Windscribe still doesn’t measure up to the premium version. There’s only 10 server locations available compared to 110 for the premium version, and connection speeds are around a third slower on most connections.
The server selection is more limited than in the premium version but still strong for a free service. You can connect to any of the following locations:
We’ve even seen Windscribe Free working in China when connected to the Hong Kong server. All you need to do is select the Stealth or WStunnel protocol.
The VPN does include a ‘Stealth’ connection protocol (for Windows, MacOS, and Android), which deploys the open source Stunnel algorithm to obscure the use of VPN tunneling. This is worth a try if you’re in a less heavily-censored region like Turkey.
Customer service could also be improved: there are some online guides and an unreliable chat-bot to help you out. We’ve always found it a super easy product to use, though, so you’re unlikely to need support too much with this free service.
The novelty of a free, secure, and reliable VPN with unlimited data shouldn’t be understated. ProtonVPN is the only free VPN we recommend you can leave on all the time to offer constant privacy and security.
ProtonVPN’s airtight security and minimal logging policy make it an excellent general-use VPN. Unlimited data without adverts is unique for a free VPN of this calibre, but unfortunately you won’t be able to use this plentiful data for streaming or torrenting.
ProtonVPN doesn’t allow torrenting on its free service and we haven’t been able to access Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video or any other geo-restricted streaming sites either. The only streaming site ProtonVPN Free was able to unblock in our tests was YouTube.
ProtonVPN subjected all its apps to a full third-party security audit, it has also made them open source to allow the public to scrutinise them for vulnerabilities. This level of transparency is the gold-standard in VPN security and trustworthiness.
You can use the free version of ProtonVPN on Windows, Mac, iOS and Android devices, all of which use OpenVPN – the most secure encryption protocol available. ProtonVPN’sminimal-logs policy means it’s extremely private too, and the built-in VPN kill switch adds an extra layer of protection just in case your connection drops out unexpectedly.
ProtonVPN Free is very quick, though, even with its very limited VPN server network of just three countries:
Connecting from the UK to the Netherlands, we experienced an average of 36% drop in download speed. This small server network means if you live outside of Europe, North America or Japan you shouldn’t expect great speeds, though.
You’ll also only be able to use ProtonVPN Free one one device at a time, while competing services like Windscribe Free allow for unlimited simultaneous connections.
Overall, ProtonVPN is a great choice if you’re looking to find a free VPN for general privacy and security rather than streaming Netflix or torrenting files.
TunnelBear Free is a trustworthy free VPN that’s ideal for beginners. It’s easy to use and fully audited, but it isn’t the best option for torrenting or streaming. It comes with a 500MB data cap but no other restrictions.
Not only is TunnelBear Free simple and easy to use, it also has one of the biggest server networks we’ve seen from a free service: 23 countries worldwide, including the US, the UK and Australia (the same as the paid version).
TunnelBear Free has an India server, so we suspect it will be the fastest trustworthy free VPN for India. Feel free to comment below if you’ve found a better alternative, though.
In fact, the only difference between the paid and free versions of TunnelBear is the 500MB per month data cap. This isn’t much data, but offers you a good opportunity to get to grips with the full service before committing to a subscription.
Like ProtonVPN, TunnelBear has commissioned independent audits for its VPN apps. In fact, TunnelBear was an early adopter of such audits: it has carried out an audit every year since 2017, with the most recent in January 2020.
TunnelBear has also taken some important additional steps towards user privacy:
This means that you can rely on TunnelBear not to engage in the kind of underhanded practices free VPNs have become renowned for.
Its apps can be installed on all popular platforms (Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android) and each app is encrypted with top cipher AES-256. We’ve never seen any data leaks from TunnelBear’s VPN apps, either.
Unfortunately, TunnelBear Free does not work to unblock BBC iPlayer or US Netflix. It’s better for torrenting – which is allowed on all servers – but the 500MB data cap is extremely limiting. We recommend choosing Windscribe Free if you want to use a free VPN for P2P activity.
Hide.me Free is a secure VPN with a pretty generous 10GB data cap. It allows torrenting on the majority of its servers and is one the fastest free VPN services we tested for same-country connections, although it does not work to unblock streaming services like Netflix.
We were able to achieve a 75Mbps download speed on our 100Mbps connection when connecting to the Netherlands server. This is a fast result for a free VPN.
Internally assigned IP address (for duration of connection)
Total amount of monthly data traffic
Though not perfect, this is a reasonable logging policy that will protect your identity and activity while using the service.
You can install Hide.me on all popular devices (Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, and Linux) as well as routers. This means you can use it with lots of devices like Amazon Fire TV and AppleTV – even though it won’t work with streaming content.
You can also choose from a range of VPN security protocols including IKEv2, OpenVPN, and Wireguard – though we recommend using OpenVPN where possible. We’ve never seen Hide.me leaking DNS or IP addresses during the course of our testing.
One limitation of Hide.me free is that you can only connect to five server locations: the Netherlands, Canada, Singapore, and the US (East and West). This makes it essentially useless in places like India, Africa, South America or Australia, which have no nearby servers.
We haven’t been able to access streaming services with the free app, either. This means Hide.me won’t work with US Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, or BBC iPlayer. As with most VPNs we could watch region blocked YouTube videos, though.
Despite these limitations, Hide.me is a secure and fast option for torrenting or protecting your browsing on public WiFi networks.
The free version of Avira Phantom VPN is a simple, straightforward VPN that provides a basic level of privacy and reliable security. It is distinguished from many second-rate free VPNs by its privacy-friendly logging policy and strong AES-256 encryption.
Its apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android, all of which use the OpenVPN protocol. The exception is the iOS app which uses IKEv2; a particularly fast protocol on mobile devices.
Avira Phantom Free’s speeds are reasonable too: 70% of what you get with the paid alternative. We measured an average speed drop from 94Mbps to 60Mbps when connecting to Avira Phantom Free from our London office.
Unfortunately, the user experience is quite limited. There is no VPN kill switch and users are automatically connected to the closest VPN server with no ability to select a country to connect to.
If you’re in the UK, you can only connect to a UK server and if you’re in the US you can only connect to a US server. Aside from the lack of choice, this means you won’t be able to use Avira Phantom Free to unblock region-restricted content in other countries. Even from the UK we weren’t able to access BBC iPlayer, though we have had occasional luck accessing UK Netflix.
You don’t get much data with Avira Phantom Free either. If you provide your email address you will receive 1GB and if you want to remain anonymous you will be limited to 500MB. This means it isn’t worth using for torrenting, although P2P traffic is permitted on some servers.
We’ve also seen accounts online that state Avira Phantom (free or paid) doesn’t work in China or other highly censored regions.
Overall, Avira Phantom Free is a VPN best suited to you if you want to occasionally secure your internet connection or change your IP address for specific actions like emailing, using public WiFi, or visiting sensitive websites.
It’s a safe and secure service, just don’t expect it to last until the end of the month.
To help you make a decision, we’ve collected data to compare 25 of the most popular free VPNs available right now.
Here, you’ll be able to directly compare the most popular free VPN services by their average speed, security offering, ability to unblock streaming services and likelihood to work in China:
Testing Methodology: How Do We Choose the Best Free VPN?
Every free VPN we review is tested regularly by our team of VPN experts. If a VPN provider offers both a free and a paid option, we will often cover both pricing plans in the same review.
Each of our recommendations is tested weekly and scored based on its performance in terms of speed, security, ease of use, and reliability. We test every VPN for streaming and torrenting support, server availability, and privacy, including an in-depth analysis of its logging policy.
In short, every free VPN we recommend in this article has been thoroughly tested and found to meet the following criteria:
Doesn’t ask for payment details at signup
Doesn’t collect user activity logs
Strong security & no IP or DNS leaks
Fast speeds with no cap on downloads
Has the biggest data allowance possible
Easy to use with good customer support
We never accept compensation for positive coverage from a VPN provider in order to keep our reviews and verdicts totally neutral.
On top of our full free VPN reviews, we’ve also carried out a series of in-depth investigations into the many dangerous free mobile VPN apps. We believe all VPN services have a level of responsibility over the security of your personal data, and we will never recommend a service that is not safe and trustworthy.
Are Free VPNs Safe?
The free VPN services recommended in this article have been thoroughly tested and proven to be safe to use. However, many of the most popular free VPN providers can pose a serious risk to your online safety.
Free VPNs are often loaded with spam, advertisements, and even malware. Many choose to monetize their service by collecting user data and selling it on to third parties. A large portion of free VPNs leak data, others employ bad business practices, and some are simply outright scams.
In short, many free VPN services are not safe and you should not blindly trust every service with your traffic or personal data.
In 2019, we tested the top 150 free Android VPN apps and discovered that over 85% were potentially unsafe.
Here’s a brief summary of the potential dangers of using an unverified free VPN:
Strong encryption and a reliable server network costs money. As a result, many free VPNs are poorly maintained and simply aren’t secure. We’ve seen lots of popular free VPNs like YogaVPN and TurboVPN leak DNS and even IP address information, which immediately reveals their users’ identity. Often, these free ‘VPNs’ are just basic web proxies that don’t encrypt your data at all.
We investigated who’s really behind some of the most popular free VPNs. We were shocked to find out that 60% of free VPNs had suspicious links to China, as well as worrying privacy flaws.
Free VPN services need to make money to support their business, and most do it through advertising. This is a tradeoff some users are happy to make, but we think it’s important you know that VPN apps with advertising are inherently less private than those without.
VPN apps with advertising have to include third party code in their apps which is a potential vulnerability. These adverts also send personal information directly back to the advertiser.
If you are using a VPN to escape corporate surveillance and protect your privacy, it’s sensible to avoid a VPN that uses advertising.
Most free VPNs – particularly mobile VPNs – are not safe. Positive reviews on the Google Play Store or iOS store are in no way a guarantee of their safety or ability to protect your privacy and security.
However, among the hundreds of unreliable or downright dangerous free VPNs, there are also some trustworthy services. Any website insisting that all free VPNs are dangerous is probably just trying to sell you a paid product.
We’ve carefully tested all five of the free VPNs we recommend in this guide and can confirm that they are 100% safe.
Free VPNs to Avoid
Among the hundreds of free VPN services on the market there are several popular names that stand out as particularly dangerous or invasive. You should avoid these dangerous free VPNs at all costs:
Hola Free VPN
Hola Free VPN is one of the most popular ‘free VPN’ services available, but that doesn’t mean you should use it.
It’s actually an extremely insecure peer-to-peer proxy network that’s being incorrectly marketed as a VPN. It doesn’t provide any encryption whatsoever, meaning anyone listening in will be able to see your activity.
Hola VPN also monitors everything you do online, including the websites you visit, and has been known to sell user bandwidth without consent.
VPN Proxy Master
VPN Proxy Master is a very unreliable free VPN that has a history of sending confidential user information to China.
There’s no information available that explains how VPN Proxy Master encrypts your data, and your IP address is collected and stored for an indefinite period. This makes VPN Proxy Master one of the least private VPNs available.
In addition, its apps are inundated with pop-up ads and reminders to rate the company in the App Store. In short, VPN Proxy Master is not worth the time taken to download it.
While the user reviews on the Google Play Store seem positive, there is a disturbing lack of transparency behind the VPN. It reveals almost no details about how it operates its service, or who it belongs to.
After some investigation we discovered potential links to China. Do not use SuperVPN Free VPN Client, or Jinrong Zheng’s iOS equivalent, LinkVPN. If you already have one of these apps installed, we recommend you uninstall it immediately.
Thunder VPN is without doubt one of the worst free VPN services we’ve tested.
This Android-only free VPN uses a sub-standard connection protocol (SSL), lacks essential privacy features, and it also ignored our requests for more information about its encryption.
Like most free VPNs, Thunder VPN claims to be no-logs but that’s an outright lie. It collects lots of information, including your IP address, ISP, VPN server location, and much more.
UFO VPN was a “zero logs” VPN which was recently discovered to actually be keeping extensive logs on its users. The data included not only personally identifyable information, but also in some cases plain test passwords and a record of which websites had been visited.
This is one of the worst things a VPN can do, as it totally undermines the anonymity, privacy and security of users.
UFO VPN is a white lable VPN product (meaning a branded product produced by a third party). Six other free VPNs are produced from the same white lable: FAST VPN, Free VPN, Super VPN, Flash VPN, Secure VPN and Rabbit VPN.
We recommend staying well away from all these VPNs, and treating free VPNs that lack transparency with caution.
But there are many more dangerous free VPNs out there. Here is a list of popular free VPNs to stay away from:
HolaHola Networks LimitedCaught selling user brandwidth through “Luminati”
Unsecure, no transparency, China links
Unsecure, no transparency
Snap Master VPN
Innovative Connecting PTE. Limited
Unsecure, China links
SuperVPN Free VPN Client
Unsecure, no transparency, China links
Unsecure, no transparency
Extensive logging, Russia links
Innovative Connecting PTE. Limited
Unsecure, China links
VPN Proxy Master
Innovative Connecting PTE. Limited
Unsecure, China links
Yolo Net Technology
Unsecure, China links
You might have noticed that the same owners pop up again and again with untrustworthy free VPNs. Developers of these dangerous services purposefully make multiple VPNs and operate under multiple different company names to avoid detection and scrutiny.
This means dangerous new free VPNs appear all the time, and some of them even get very positive scores on the Google Play Store or iOS store before being detected. Before downloading any free VPN you need to research it first.
Free vs Paid VPNs
Free VPNs may come with downsides, but that doesn’t mean we recommend outright avoiding them. Every service varies, but there are some benefits and drawbacks to free services that can be applied more generally:
Free VPN Pros:
No need provide payment information (potentially more anonymous)
No long-term commitment
Some free VPNs allow streaming and torrenting
Free VPN Cons:
Speed & data caps
Limited server choices
Streaming options or P2P compatibility are rare
Some are just proxies
Potential logs or data leaks
Untrustworthy business practices
Oversaturation of ‘bad’ free VPNs
Advertisements can undermine privacy
Paid VPNs tend to offer a better service than free VPNs, but there are good free VPNs for specific tasks. You won’t find a free VPN that does everything, but if you just need security or just want streaming and are OK with data caps or advertisements, there are options available.
For the best chance of getting a good free VPN we recommend sticking to our recommendations, or doing thorough research before using a free VPN.
How Do Free VPNs Make Money?
VPNs aren’t free to run. There are development costs, infrastructure costs, staff costs and much more. It isn’t really possible to run a VPN for free, which means all free VPNs must have an income source.
How a free VPN makes its money is really important. After all, as the saying goes: if you aren’t paying for a product then you are the product.
Exact monetization methods vary from one VPN to another, but the most common ways free VPN make money are:
Being subsidised by a premium service (another VPN or security software)
Selling user data
Generally it’s safer to choose free VPNs that are subsidised by paid VPN services like Windscribe, TunnelBear, or ProtonVPN. This is because these companies don’t have to monetize their free applications directly.
While trustworthy, these services do normally come with data caps or other limits to speed, server selection and features. They do this to encourage you to move onto their premium paid VPNs.
Other free VPNs make their money by running advertisements within their apps. This is most common with mobile-only free VPNs available directly from the App Store or Google Play Store. When using these apps, you’re often prompted to upgrade to an ad-free (paid) version of the VPN.
Advertisements aren’t ideal from a privacy standpoint, but they are a tradeoff many users are willing to make for a free service.
Finally, the worst free VPNs listed below make money by selling your browsing data to advertisers and other third parties. This is really dangerous: in the best case scenario you’re made into a product for marketers, in the worst case scenario you could find your personal details for sale online.
Using a Premium VPN for Free: VPN Free Trials
You can use a paid VPN for free by taking advantage of the money-back guarantees and free trials offered by most top-tier VPNs.
Providers like CyberGhost, PrivateVPN, and Hotspot Shield offer ‘true free trials’ which let you try the full VPN service for a limited period without handing over your payment details. The best VPN free trials won’t automatically charge you after the trial has finished either.
Take a look at our recommended VPN free trials if you’d like to try out a top VPN without making any upfront payment.
Other premium VPNs offer money-back guarantees. These services require you to give your payment details upfront, so they aren’t quite as good as a true free trial.
However, if you request a refund during the prescribed period, you can essentially use the full paid VPN service free of charge for the duration of the guarantee (usually 30 days).
For example, if you sign up to ExpressVPN – our current top VPN service – and cancel your subscription before the end of its 30-day refund period, you’ll be refunded quickly with no questions asked.
Other high-quality VPN services which offer a refund period are:
NordVPN – full use of the service for 30 days with no restrictions
Windscribe Free is the best free VPN we have tested. It has a private logging policy, secure encryption, and we’ve never seen it leak IP or DNS information. It’s an excellent choice for torrenting and streaming too: we were able to unblock Netflix on every free server. It only has a 10GB a month allowance, but this is more generous than most competing free VPNs.
Is Hotspot Shield Free a Good VPN?
Hotspot Shield Free is one of the most popular free VPNs available, and a few years ago it was one of the better options available, but right now it just doesn’t match the alternatives.
It does have a fairly generous data allowance, though, of 500MB per day (rather than per month, which most data caps use). If you spread the data evenly you could end up with around 15GB a month – one of the most generous offers we’ve seen – but in reality you probably won’t be able to use it quite that much.
There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with Hotspot Shield Free, but we don’t think it’s up to scratch with the free VPNs we’ve listed here.
If you’re already using Hotspot Shield and are happy with it: keep using it! Otherwise, we think there are much better free options available.
The only downside of using Windscribe free for torrenting is its monthly 10GB data cap, which isn’t enough for many downloads, particularly if you also want to use it for streaming and general privacy.
These sorts of issues are very common when you try to use a free VPN for torrenting. More often than not you will encounter data caps, which make it almost impossible to transfer anything more than a handful of bulky files before hitting the data limit.
But even if you find a free VPN without a data cap there are other issues. Speed throttling is common on free VPNs, and can leave you waiting for hours for even small torrent files to download. Other “unlimited” free VPNs aren’t actually private and either leak your true IP address or have shady logging and business practices.
ProtonVPN, a rare trustworthy free VPN with unlimited data, explicitly prevents P2P traffic on any of its free servers.
Serious torrenters may find that a free VPN just doesn’t give them the data they need.
Fortunately a paid VPN for torrenting doesn’t need to break the bank. PrivateVPN and AirVPN are both cheap premium VPNs which are highly optimised for torrenting.
Windscribe is the best free VPN for Netflix we have tested. In fact, it’s the only trustworthy free VPN we’ve found which works reliably to unblock region-restricted content. We found that Windscribe Free unlocks Netflix in all 10 of its server locations.
Just like torrenting, using a free VPN with Netflix is normally a very frustrating experience. Almost all free VPNs we tested were detected by Netflix’s filters and couldn’t bypass them.
If you do find a VPN that works with Netflix, it’s either a privacy-unfriendly VPN (like Hola) or the data caps will massively restrict your viewing time.
If you’re looking for an alternative, the HideMyAss VPN proxy extension (forChrome andFirefox) also works well with US Netflix. However, it’s important to remember that a proxy extension is not a VPN, and your web traffic will be visible to your ISP and other third-parties.
What Is the Fastest Free VPN?
Our most recent speed tests found that the fastest free VPN was TunnelBear Free. We measured impressive average speeds of 97.73Mbps (download) and 93.3Mbps (upload) on local connections, which puts it amongst the fastest VPNs we’ve tested overall – free or paid.
TunnelBear Free’s speeds are an exception, though. This is because TunnelBear Free offers the exact same service as its paid version, just with a very restrictive data cap.
Many free VPN services implement speed caps or throttling in order to persuade users to migrate to their paid subscription plans. If the number of servers is limited on the free version, the service is also likely to be slower due to server congestion.
For this reason, free VPN speeds vary a lot depending on what time of day you connect and how many other users are connected to the same VPN server. In short, don’t be surprised if you encounter some large fluctuations in speed.
Here are the local speeds we’ve seen from our top 5 Free VPNs, testing from our 100Mbps test connection in London:
Avira Phantom Free
Proton VPN Free
As usual, if you’re looking for a reliably fast connection, it’s worth subscribing to a premium VPN service.
Are Free VPNs Legal?
Free VPN services adhere to the same laws and restrictions as their paid equivalents. VPNs are completely legal in most countries and can be downloaded and used without any issues. However, there are a few exceptions. VPNs are currently banned in:
In the countries listed below, you only use ‘government approved’ VPNs:
Unless you’re in one of the 10 nations listed above, you can use a free VPN without any concerns. If you’re in one of these countries, it might be difficult to download any free VPN – let alone a safe one. You might also face legal consequences for installing or using an unsanctioned VPN.
If you do manage to get a free VPN working, we recommend using it to download a safe and secure VPN with strong obfuscation technology. We have recommendations in our roundups of the best VPNs for China, Russia, Turkey or UAE.
You can also read more about where VPNs are banned or restricted in our full guide:‘Are VPNs Legal?’.
The Bottom Line
There are only a few really good free VPNs which offer utility without compromising on your privacy, imposing tiny data caps or hijacking your device.
Unlike premium VPNs, there is no free VPN which does everything. But there are still good free VPNs, with plenty of options depending on what you want to do.
If you want to stream or torrent we recommend you use Windscribe Free – our number one overall pick – it has a generous 10GB data cap and works for both streaming and torrenting on all its servers..
If you want year-round protection for free, though, ProtonVPN is the way to go, as it is secure and private without a data cap. You probably won’t be able to stream, and it doesn’t allow P2P traffic, but there is no limit on how much you can use it.
The most important part of finding a free VPN is to do research, and not to always trust the first result in the app store.