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
- IPVanish – 30 day money-back guarantee
This is a good way to use a top-rated VPN free of charge, but only if you intend to use the VPN for a short period of time.