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Best Free VPN of 2018

Simon Migliano
Simon MiglianoUpdated

Free VPN services are a great way to get started if you can’t afford a paid subscription. They do come with certain limitations however, such as data and speed caps or reduced server choice. Our picks make it easy to see at a glance exactly what the trade-offs are with each service so you can pick your ideal free VPN quickly.

The best free VPN services allow you to experience private, encrypted browsing at zero cost. We go hands on with every free VPN we recommend to make sure there are no unpleasant surprises or frustrations so you can enjoy peace of mind as well as privacy. To see which VPN we recommend for a specific purpose, tell us why you need one below, or read on for the best overall picks for 2018.

The 4 Best Free VPN Services of 2018
  1. Windscribe
  2. Hide.me
  3. TunnelBear
  4. Avira Phantom
Read on for our detailed analysis of each VPN.
Our pick for Free VPN
1
Windscribe
Our rating: 4.25
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User-friendly VPN with a strong privacy focus. Good choice for streaming fans.

Customer Support
Email
No. of Server Locations
11 Countries
Simultaneous Connections
10
What we like
  • Generous 10GB data allowance
  • Solid download speeds: 48Mbps global average
  • Unlimited simultaneous connections
  • Excellent near-zero logging policy
  • Strong privacy policies and features
  • Reasonably generous choice of server locations
What we like less
  • No live chat customer support
  • No access to full 51 server locations
  • Clunky server location selection on free plan
Bottom Line

Windscribe is easily the best free VPN on the market right now. The big advantage being the 10GB monthly data allowance. While that’s not actually very much, particularly if you want to stream any media at all, it’s much more generous than anyone else and will let you browse the web normally. Unlimited simultaneous connections is another winning feature that becomes even more useful when you upgrade.

It’s reliably fast enough for most people’s needs even if it lags behind the best premium VPNs for speed. You’ll have to upgrade to take full advantage of reliable Netflix and iPlayer access due to the data cap but it’s there. It also scores highly for privacy thanks to its strict zero-logs policy, killswitch, DNS leak protection and stealth protocol that even works in China. Customer service could be slicker but we’re not complaining too much, especially when it’s free.


Read our full review on Windscribe

2
Hide.me
Our rating: 4.15
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Fast VPN with lots of privacy extras. Great choice for P2P users.

Customer Support
Live chat Support
No. of Server Locations
28 Countries
Simultaneous Connections
5
What we like
  • Very fast dowload speeds outside peak hours
  • Strictly zero logs and 1st party DNS
  • No credit card required
  • Really easy to use. Quick set-up.
What we like less
  • Only 3 server locations on free plan
  • "Best effort" bandwidth only
  • 2GB data cap is restrictive
Bottom Line

If you are based in Europe and need a really fast free VPN, Hide.me is for you. Like all free VPN services, it has some major limitations but it’s more functional than most.

Server locations are limited to just Netherlands, Canada and Singapore but in manual speed tests from London, we were surprised to experience speeds of up to 196Mbps down and over 70Mbps up. Even connecting to distant Canada gave us over 50Mbps down. The major caveat is that paid users have priority over free users, so expect major slowdowns in peak periods.

The data cap is 2GB per month, which is at least enough for basic browsing unlike TunnelBear and Avira. It’s still not a patch on Windscribe however. You also can only protect one device at a time.

Hide.me is very strong on privacy with a strict zero logs policy and excellent security, so it’s well worth trying out despite the limitations.


Read our full review on Hide.me

3
TunnelBear
Our rating: 3.7
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User-friendly VPN best suited to beginners. Good privacy features and access to Netflix.

Customer Support
Email
No. of Server Locations
20 Countries
Simultaneous Connections
5
What we like
  • Free plan is a great way to test out the software
  • Fast download speeds on same-country connections
  • Easy access to major streaming services
  • Simple set-up on most popular platforms
  • Connect securely to 20 countries
  • GhostBear works well in high-censorship countries
What we like less
  • Very small server network
  • Inconsistent speeds over long distances
  • Based in privacy-unfriendly Canada
  • Limited device compatibility
  • No livechat feature
Bottom Line

TunnelBear Free is a great way to for beginners to experiment with a VPN. It’s super simple and user-friendly with a light-hearted bear theme that non-techie people should enjoy.

The free plan is a good way to test out the software as it’s fully functional with the only limitation being the data cap. At a paltry 500MB monthly, unless you tweet out for an extra 1GB, it’s a major limitation though. It’s easy to burn through that in minutes.

Speeds are pretty average but given the data cap, anything high bandwidth is off limits anyway. On the plus side, TunnelBear has an excellent privacy policy and has been independently audited. TunnelBear is worth a quick look but isn’t a long-term privacy solution.


Read our full review on TunnelBear

4
Avira Phantom
Our rating: 3.65
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Fast, reliable VPN with well-designed apps and access to HD streaming.

Customer Support
Email
No. of Server Locations
25 Countries
Simultaneous Connections
5
What we like
  • Reliable speeds up to 56Mbps
  • Access to Netflix on some US servers
  • Easy to use. Simple set up.
  • Connect securely to 25 countries
  • Generous 30-day money-back guarantee
What we like less
  • 500MB data cap (1GB if you register)
  • Limited customer support
  • Very small server network
  • Subject to EU data retention laws
Bottom Line

Avira Phantom is a simple, straightforward VPN for people who want a streamlined experience and don’t need lots of settings.

The free version is hampered by a very stingy data cap of 500MB that increases to 1GB if you register. Unfortunately, even browsing the web will burn through that allowance in a matter of hours, less if you try to stream.

Speeds are very consistent across the small network, so you know you won’t get any frustrating slowdowns.

Avira is worth looking at if you treat the free version as a trial and you know you only want a basic but reliable VPN when you upgrade, however there are much better paid products out there.


Read our full review on Avira Phantom

How we picked the best free VPN of 2018

We are always testing the VPN services that we recommend to make sure our reviews and top picks are fresh and up-to-date. We compare the latest speed test results to assess which free VPN is the fastest. We also verify whether you get access to top streaming services such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer and other popular apps. We go hands-on with the latest free VPNs and see just how good they really are. We look at how easy they are to use and the quality of their user support.

Our top picks have the most full functionality compared to paid VPN services and the least limitation on speed and performance (more on that below). Just because it’s free doesn’t mean your VPN shouldn’t properly protect you so we look for the most transparent and fair privacy policies along with the most effective privacy features. Our top picks are easy to use and install and offer a good level of support to their users.

Free vs paid VPN: Why pay for a VPN?

You may be considering going with one of the handful of free VPN services available. Why pay for something you can get for free, right? Unfortunately there’s a ton of limitations and risks with using a free VPN. Most offer tiny bandwidth allowances, limited server locations, even capped speeds, as they want to convert you into a paid customer to unlock the full product. Don’t expect to be able to stream more than a few Youtube clips, that’s for sure.

Worse, free VPN providers may try to profit from you and your data in other ways. There have been reports of selling usage history to advertisers, secretly redirecting users via sponsored links to earn commissions and even adding devices to a massive botnet.

In comparison, a good paid VPN will heavily invest in privacy and security measures. It will also have to compete to deliver the best possible service in order to attract and retain your custom.

How to choose a free VPN: 7 Tips

  • Are there any speed or bandwidth caps?

    Check whether the free VPN you are considering caps speed or bandwidth, or even both. Think about your expected VPN usage. If you are only planning to do very light browsing then you might be able to live with the limitations. Just be aware that the modern web with all of its auto-play videos and glossy images is very bandwidth hungry. For reference, 1GB is only enough for a half-hour show on Netflix.

  • Does the free VPN have servers in the locations you need?

    Check whether the free VPN allows you to use servers in your preferred location. Typically, the servers offered are NOT in the most popular locations, such as the US or the UK. This can limit your ability to gain unrestricted access to content.

  • Does it work on your preferred devices?

    Almost all VPN software will work on Windows, Mac and Linux machines, along with iOS and Android mobile devices. However, some VPN services are also compatible with other internet-connected items, such as routers, games consoles and streaming devices, such as the Amazon Fire Stick.

  • Will it work with your favorite app?

    Do you watch Netflix or BBC iPlayer? Most free VPN services do not work with these apps, so you may need to consider a budget VPN instead. We continuously test whether each VPN is working with Netflix and other apps and share the results in our VPN reviews.

  • Check connection, encryption and security features

    The sheer amount of VPN jargon can be overwhelming, even if you are pretty tech-savvy. Do look out for OpenVPN though, as this connection protocol offers the best overall blend of speed and security. Ignore talk of military or bank-grade encryption and just look for AES-256, as that’s the gold standard. Unless you know your DNS from your IPv6, a VPN killswitch is the main thing to look out for among security features as it will protect you from exposing your real IP address should your connection drop unexpectedly.

  • What is their logging policy?

    Every VPN will tell you it does not track your internet activity or is a “zero logs” VPN. In reality, delivering high performance across an extensive global network is impossible unless you are monitoring at least some connection details of your users. You could read a ton of privacy policies and terms of service to find out exactly what’s collected and for how long it’s stored or let us do that for you and just check the logging policy section of our review that explains this in plain language. Ideally you want a VPN that does not log your IP address at all and limits timestamp logging to just the date of your connection.

  • Are their client apps and software easy to use?

    No-one likes a clunky, confusing app. Look for a VPN with software that’s well-designed, simple and powerful and you will be much more likely to use it all the time. We share the results of our hands-on testing of each VPN app in the the Ease of Use part of its review. We spend all day testing VPN apps, so hopefully we know a thing or two!