We regularly test every free VPN we review. If a VPN service offers both free and a paid versions of their apps, we will often test both versions as part of the same review.
In other words, we put free VPNs through the same exact testing process we apply to premium VPN services.
We test for speed, security, unblocking (including streaming), and torrenting. We analyze every privacy and logging policy in detail, as well as assessing a VPN’s ease of use and reliability.
Our VPN reviews and verdicts are completely impartial. We never accept compensation in return for positive coverage.
All free VPNs we recommend meet the following criteria:
- No payment details required at signup
- No personally-identifiable activity logs
- No IP or DNS address leaks
- Strong encryption and security settings
- Reasonably fast connections around the world
We’ve bought a wide range of test devices in order to fully test a VPN service’s complete range of applications.
VPN Test Devices
Here is a list of most of the devices we test VPNs on:
- Lenovo T480 & T480s (Windows 10 & Ubuntu Linux 20.04)
- Apple iMac & MacBook Pro (macOS Monterey)
- Apple iPhone 11 (iOS 16) & iPad Pro
- Samsung Galaxy S9 & Samsung Galaxy A8 (Android 12)
- Amazon Fire TV Stick (3rd Generation) & Apple TV 4K
- Google Chromecast with Google TV & Sony KD65XE
- Sony PlayStation 4, Xbox One & Nintendo Switch
Below is a specific breakdown of the factors that make up our free VPN testing process, and how we weigh each individual category:
1. Privacy & Logging Policy: 30%
Minimum Requirement: Any connection logs must be anonymized.
We Recommend: An absolutely no-logs logging policy.
We only recommend free VPN services that respect your internet privacy and provide a high degree of anonymity.
We also expect to see transparent and detailed policies, written in plain language.
A VPN shouldn’t collect unnecessary or personally-identifying activity data, for instance your IP address or records of the websites you visit.
The most private VPNs operate a strict no-logs policy. We highly value a policy that has been independently audited by a trusted third-party, or has been confirmed by real-world events (e.g. VPN server seizures and court cases).
2. Speed: 25%
Minimum Requirement: No more than 40% loss in download speeds on local connections.
We Recommend: Local speed loss less than 30% and reliably quick international speeds.
A VPN slows down your internet speeds, at least marginally. This is because your internet connection travel via the VPN server before reaching the destination website or app, therefore it takes a longer round trip.
High data encryption can also slow down the speed at which the data travels through the VPN tunnel.
With free VPNs, the speed loss tends to be higher than with the best premium VPNs. However, that doesn’t mean you have to endure painfully slow connection speeds.
We run regular manual speed tests, measuring each VPN’s download speed, upload speed, and ping time.
We conduct speed tests around the world, connecting to local and international VPN servers, in order to get a full picture of the VPN’s performance.
The best free VPNs are almost as fast as many of the premium VPNs we review. You’re unlikely to notice huge drop-offs in speed, and you’ll able to stream high-quality video or torrent quickly.
3. Security, Encryption & Features: 10%
Minimum Requirement: AES-128 encryption and an internet kill switch.
We Recommend: AES-256, OpenVPN, WireGuard or similar, and obfuscation tools.
Testing the security levels of a free VPN is of particular importance. That’s because dangerous and ineffective free VPNs are much more common than risky premium services.
We make sure every free VPN we recommend is free of malware, actually encrypts your web data transfers, and does not collect personally-identifiable activity data.
The security standard and encryption levels used by a VPN application are equally important aspects we thoroughly analyze.
Most VPNs use the AES encryption cipher to encrypt web traffic. While AES-128 is secure enough, we do favor applications that use the stronger AES-256 encryption cipher.
Additionally, the VPN protocols used need to be highly secure and reliably fast. OpenVPN and WireGuard are by far our preferred default choices.
That said, we do value proprietary protocols, like ExpressVPN’s Lightway, that perform just as well. Crucially, we will never recommend a proprietary protocol without proper testing and inspection.
A VPN service must also have a working kill switch that prevents IP address exposures due to abrupt VPN connection interruptions. All the service’s main apps should come with this tool, and ideally enabled by default.
4. Unblocking Streaming Services: 10%
Minimum Requirement: Sometimes unblocks global streaming platforms and libraries.
We Recommend: Unblocks US Netflix and BBC iPlayer from anywhere in the world.
One of the most common reasons to use a VPN is for bypassing streaming geo-restrictions. By changing your IP address, you can access video content usually blocked in your geographic region.
Sadly, free VPNs are notoriously bad for streaming. Most content platforms, such as Netflix, dedicate many resources to blocking VPN users – and free VPN connections are often the easiest to identify and block.
We’ve run thousands of tests to see which VPNs unblock which streaming services. We regularly check multiple Netflix regions, BBC iPlayer, Disney+, Prime Video, Hulu, HBO Max, and more.
Although free VPNs have a very low success rate at unblocking streaming platforms, the best ones like PrivadoVPN and Windscribe are able to stream US Netflix and BBC iPlayer.
5. Server Locations: 7.5%
Minimum Requirement: A choice of free VPN server locations.
We Recommend: Several free VPN servers spread around the world.
We analyze each VPN’s server network in detail. We pay particular attention to the total number of servers, how well distributed they are across the world, and any specialized servers (e.g. P2P-, streaming- or Tor-optimized servers).
Larger VPN server networks give you greater chances of enjoying fast connection speeds and unblocking geo-restricted web content.
The greater the range of servers the less congested they’ll be and the more anonymous IP addresses you’ll have access to. Moreover, the higher the chance there will be a server close to your physical location, for increased speeds.
Free VPNs often have limited VPN server networks, both in terms of server count and server locations. However, there are free services with 10 or more global server locations.
6. Torrenting & P2P File Sharing: 5%
Minimum Requirement: Allows torrenting on some of the free servers.
We Recommend: P2P-optimized servers and an average bitrate of at least 4MiB/s.
Using a VPN is crucial for safe and anonymous torrenting. We first examine each VPN service’s P2P file sharing policy, as many don’t allow free users to torrent at all.
We then check for P2P-optimized servers, AES-256 encryption, and make sure the VPN kill switch is working effectively.
We also run IP and DNS leak tests to ensure the VPN won’t leak your true torrent IP address while you’re in the torrent swarm.
Finally, we run a series of P2P performance tests. Most importantly, we record the VPN’s average torrenting bitrate. Just because a VPN is fast for streaming, it doesn’t mean it’ll deliver fast P2P file sharing speeds.
The best free VPNs have an average torrenting bitrate of at least 4MiB/s.
5. Ease of Use: 5%
Minimum Requirement: Simple setup and user-friendly apps for popular devices.
We Recommend: All of the above, plus compability with additional devices.
A VPN service’s compatibility with many devices and operating systems is clearly very important. The more devices you can it on, the better.
Unless a VPN is specifically dedicated to mobile users, we expect every VPN service to have good native applications for Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android devices.
Installing and using these applications should be straightforward, even for a complete novice. Once the VPN has launched, finding and connecting to a VPN server should only take a few seconds.
Additionally, we rate even more highly VPN services that have built native apps for Fire TV devices, a user interface for Linux, and offer .apk installation files for increased Android compatibility.
The very best VPNs even the option for router setup, and include a Smart DNS service to use the service on Apple TV and games consoles. Most free VPNs do not offer the latter solution, though.
6. Customer Support: 5%
Minimum Requirement: Email support and online troubleshooting guides.
We Recommend: All of the above, plus 24/7 live chat support and detailed online manuals.
In our experience, the speed, knowledge, and reliability of a VPN service’s customer support makes a big difference.
The VPNs that provide 24/7 live chat support and maintain detailed setup and troubleshooting online guides are the ones that deliver the best experience to their existing and future customers.
Many free VPNs do not offer 24/7 live chat support, mainly for financial reasons. However, as a minimum, we expect a free VPN to offer email support as well as helpful online troubleshooting guides and FAQs.
7. Bypassing Web Censorship: 2.5%
Minimum Requirement: Includes obfuscation technology and bypasses moderate internet censorship.
We Recommend: Circumvents the strictest of internet censorship, particularly in China.
Bypassing internet blocks in high-censorship countries is one of the hardest things for a VPN to do. Many VPNs, free or paid, aren’t equipped to circumvent strict web filters.
Building adequate obfuscation technology and tools requires a high degree of commitment and investment.
To accurately test if a VPN works in a highly-censored country, we rent a remote-access server in China to replicate how an internet user in China would try to bypass internet blocks.
The process is the following: we install a VPN on the server and then regularly check if it can unblock popular websites known to be blocked (e.g. YouTube, Instagram, or Wikipedia).
Data Usage Cap Limiter
Minimum Requirement: 500MB per month.
We Recommend: 10GB a month or higher.
Data usage caps are one the most common drawbacks of safe, free VPNs.
The vast majority of free VPNs place restrictions on how much data you can use, which can hugely inhibit what you’re able to do with the VPN.
We thoroughly check every VPNs data allowance policy, and explore ways you can claim ‘bonus’ data for free (e.g. through ‘refer a friend’ schemes or by registering an email address).
The very best free VPNs let you use at least 10GB of data per month. One or two, like Proton VPN, have no limit at all.
After calculating the rating of a free VPN using the methodology above, we reduce it based on how limiting the service’s data usage cap is.
The percentage reduction we apply to the overall rating of a free VPN, based on its data usage cap, is the following:
- 500MB per day: 5%
- 10GB per month: 10%
- 5GB per month: 15%
- 1GB per month: 25%
- 500MB per month: 30%