Top10VPN is editorially independent. We may earn commissions if you buy a VPN via our links.

The Best VPNs for Public WiFi Hotspots

Simon Migliano 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 and more.

Fact-checked by JP JonesAdditional Testing by Alyx Morley

Our Verdict

Using a VPN can mitigate the risks of public WiFi networks by encrypting your data and masking your real IP address, preventing the WiFi network owner and any other third parties from seeing your activity or personal information.

Best VPNs for Public WiFi

Free WiFi networks in coffee shops, malls, airports, and hotels are often open and unsecured, leaving you vulnerable to surveillance from the WiFi provider or hackers attempting to steal your sensitive information.

To protect your personal data, you need a VPN that will securely encrypt your web traffic and prevent third parties from eavesdropping.

Not every VPN is a good fit for public WiFi, though. Robust AES-256 encryption and DNS leak protection are imperative, but you’ll also need fast connection time, easy-to-use apps, and a functional kill switch — at the very least.

What Is the Best VPN for Public WiFi in 2024?

  1. ExpressVPN: Best VPN for Public WiFi
  2. Private Internet Access: Cheap & Secure VPN for Public WiFi
  3. Proton VPN Free: Best Free VPN for Public WiFi

ExpressVPN is the best VPN for public WiFi hotspots. It uses AES-256 encryption by default, has a reliable kill switch, and delivers excellent speeds; we found its mobile apps connected to a nearby server in less than two seconds on average. With 3,000 secure servers and exceptional cross-platform compatibility, it works to protect your public WiFi activity quickly, easily, and effectively.

We evaluated and ranked 65 VPNs to reach these recommendations. Our testing prioritized factors like security, speed, convenience, and affordability.

We’ve also identified which VPNs connect to public WiFi the fastest, so you’re not spending ages waiting to connect.

In this guide, we’ll reveal the full results of our testing. You’ll find out which VPNs are safe to use for free WiFi hotspots, which VPNs to avoid, and which features you should look out for.

The 3 Best VPNs for Using Public WiFi Securely in 2024

We examined 65 VPNs using our hands-on testing methodology to identify those that provide the safest and most convenient experience on public WiFi networks.

Our recommendations highlight the three VPNs that provide the best combination of security, privacy, speed, usability, and convenience on free WiFi networks.

Here’s a list of the desirable features we looked for when recommending VPNs for public WiFi. You can also read our full testing methodology below.

  1. Security: OpenVPN and WireGuard protocols, AES-256 and ChaCha20 encryption, and an effective kill switch.
  2. Privacy: A no-logs policy proven in real-world cases, RAM-only servers, and a safe jurisdiction.
  3. Quick connections: Fast VPN speeds on nearby and long-distance server locations, as well as the ability to connect to them quickly.
  4. Large server network: A wide range of IP address locations across different countries.
  5. Responsive and intuitive apps: Simple and easy-to-navigate apps, so you can get protected on unknown networks quickly.

Use the table below to compare the best VPNs for public WiFi side-by-side:

1. ExpressVPN: Best VPN for Public WiFi Overall

ExpressVPN's app for iOS

Pros Cons
Connects in 1.5 seconds on Windows More expensive than rivals
Highly secure AES-256 & ChaCha20 encryption Search engine CAPTCHAs triggered on many servers
3,000 consistently fast servers worldwide
Excellent usability & compatibility across devices
Never suffered any data leaks or breaches
Helpful 24/7 live customer support
Overall Public WiFi Rating: 9.6/10

This overall score is based on the following category ratings. To learn more, read our public WiFi VPN testing methodology.

Security & Technical Features: 9.6/109.6

Privacy & Logging Policy: 9.2/109.2

Speed: 9.7/109.7

Server Locations: 9.9/109.9

Ease of Use: 9.9/109.9

Connection Time: 10/1010

ExpressVPN is our top choice for a public WiFi VPN. Its apps are extremely reliable and well-designed. They’re simple and easy to use, without sacrificing on security and privacy at all.

In 8 years of testing, we’ve never detected a data leak when using ExpressVPN.

We’ve also recorded fast speeds on all of ExpressVPN’s 106 server locations, so your connection times won’t suffer regardless of where you’re connecting from.

In a coffee shop, a MacBook connects to public WiFi with ExpressVPN connected to a New York server.

We tested ExpressVPN’s speeds, security, and usability on public WiFi network in our local coffee shop.

All of ExpressVPN’s apps have an inbuilt kill switch, ensuring your real IP address is kept hidden if your internet connection suddenly drops on a public hotspot or hotel WiFi.

Cheapest Price: $6.67/mo over 15 months
Data Leaks: No
Logging Policy: No Identifying Data
Simultaneous Connections: 8
Download Speed: 97Mbps
Countries with Servers: 106
Jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands (Privacy Haven)
Compatible with: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS & more

User-Friendly & Quick to Connect

ExpressVPN is by far the easiest VPN to use, which is hugely important if you’re planning to use a VPN on public transport or when you’re otherwise on the go.

Across all platforms, you just need to click the big button to turn it on and encrypt all the data leaving your device. It’s as close as you can get to a “set-it-and-forget-it” VPN, which is perfect for quick protection in public spaces like cafés, hotels, malls, and airports.

We switched VPN servers in seconds using ExpressVPN.

All the important settings are activated by default, including its Lightway protocol and an inbuilt kill switch that doesn’t have to be turned on manually.

Out of all the VPNs we tested, ExpressVPN is also the quickest to connect to a nearby server (within two seconds). This makes it a great VPN for when you’re moving in and out of train stations or other public spaces.

Proven No-Logs Policy & Privacy Haven Jurisdiction

ExpressVPN doesn’t log any personally-identifiable data: not your real IP address, browsing history timestamps, nor your internet service provider.

It was proven to be a genuine no-logs VPN in 2017 after a random seizure of ExpressVPN’s Turkish servers, in which authorities were unable to find personal information on an individual.

It’s also based in a privacy haven, the British Virgin Islands, which has strict laws protecting the privacy of individuals and businesses.

Higher Price Tag

ExpressVPN has a lot of benefits, but these come with a higher price tag. At its cheapest, ExpressVPN costs $6.67 on a 15-month plan.

In our experience, a seamless and secure VPN is worth a premium price, but you might be inclined to choose a more affordable option like PIA.

Screenshot of conversation with ExpressVPN's live chat support.

ExpressVPN’s customer support agents are well-informed and reply within seconds.

If you’re scared of taking the leap of faith without trying out the product first, ExpressVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee to first-time buyers.

And unlike other VPNs, there aren’t any complicated hoops to jump through to get your money back. Simply go to ExpressVPN’s website and click Start Chat to speak to an agent in seconds.

2. Private Internet Access: Cheap & Secure VPN for Public WiFi

the Private Internet Access iOS app

Pros Cons
Connects in 2.2 seconds on Windows Apps are slightly cluttered
Robust AES-256 & ChaCha20 encryption Headquartered in the US (Five Eyes jurisdiction)
Largest network of servers: 18,651 across 91 countries
Cost-effective subscription plans
The only VPN with servers in 50 US states
Allowed on unlimited devices
Overall Public WiFi Rating: 9.4/10

This overall score is based on the following category ratings. To learn more, read our public WiFi VPN testing methodology.

Security & Technical Features: 9.3/109.3

Privacy & Logging Policy: 9.7/109.7

Speed: 9.7/109.7

Server Locations: 9.9/109.9

Ease of Use: 8.1/108.1

Connection Time: 9.5/109.5

Private Internet Access is the second-best VPN for free WiFi. For a VPN that’s almost a third of the price of ExpressVPN, it’s only a fraction slower and offers even more advanced features, including a huge server network.

PIA protects your online activity from untrustworthy WiFi providers and hackers with AES-256 and ChaCha20 encryption. Its best-in-class kill switch prevents IP address leaks on public WiFi.

Cheapest Price: $6.67/mo over 26 months
Data Leaks: No
Logging Policy: No Logs
Simultaneous Connections: unlimited
Download Speed: 95Mbps
Countries with Servers: 91
Jurisdiction: US (Five Eyes Member)
Compatible with: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS & more

Genuine No-Logs VPN With Secure AES-256 Encryption

PIA is one of the most private VPNs on the market. It has taken almost every step possible to become a no-logs VPN, and this really showed in our testing.

Its privacy-first initiatives include transparency reports, independent audits, 100% open-source apps, a diskless server network, and it even accepts anonymous gift card payments.

Not once has it provided logs in response to FBI court subpoenas, and a Russian server seizure revealed no user information.

Its robust AES-256 encryption is extremely effective at preventing unauthorized access to your sensitive information.

VPN Servers in 50 US States

PIA is the only VPN we’ve tested that has a VPN server in every single US state. This makes it a great choice for traveling in the US.

Whether you’re visiting your local mall or working remotely in a different state, you can rely on PIA to hide your IP address and deliver fast speeds no matter where you are.

Private Internet Access' US VPN Server Locations

Some of PIA’s coast-to-coast server locations in the US include Washington DC, L.A., and Chicago.

Beyond the US, PIA has servers in 91 countries. Having a diverse range of server locations makes PIA a great choice for public WiFi because you’re never too far from a VPN server, and they’re very rarely overloaded with too many users.

Slightly Cluttered Desktop Apps

Unfortunately, PIA just misses out on the top spot for public WiFi because ExpressVPN is slightly easier to use. PIA’s desktop apps are packed out with features and information, especially in comparison to ExpressVPN’s sleek design.

Comparing ExpressVPN and PIA's macOS clients.

PIA (right) offers more customization options than ExpressVPN (left).

If you’re new to VPNs, you’ll find ExpressVPN a lot more intuitive than PIA. However, PIA’s long list of features makes it great for security, especially if you want to pay a little less.

3. Proton VPN Free: Best Free VPN for Public WiFi

Proton VPN Free on iOS

Pros Cons
No data usage limits Only 3 VPN server locations
Strong AES-256 & ChaCha20 encryption Doesn’t unblock most streaming platforms
No payment info on signup Only one connection per account
200 very fast free servers
Desktop & mobile VPN kill switch
Privacy-friendly logging policy & Swiss jurisdiction
Overall Public WiFi Rating: 8.5/10

This overall score is based on the following category ratings. To learn more, read our public WiFi VPN testing methodology.

Security & Technical Features: 9.0/109.0

Privacy & Logging Policy: 9.5/109.5

Speed: 9.4/109.4

Server Locations: 3.0/103.0

Ease of Use: 8.5/108.5

Connection Time: 8.4/108.4

Proton VPN Free is the best free VPN for public WiFi. It’s the only free and secure VPN that you can leave on all the time. This is because it doesn’t have any data cap on its 200 servers.

You can use Proton VPN for free without having to sit through any ads or worry about your IP address leaking when the data cap runs out. Secure up to 3 devices at the same time, including iOS, Android, Windows, and macOS devices.

Cheapest Price: Free
Data Leaks: No
Logging Policy: No Identifying Data
Simultaneous Connections: 3
Download Speed: 98Mbps
Countries with Servers: 3
Jurisdiction: Switzerland (Privacy Haven)
Compatible with: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS & more

Secure Mobile & Desktop Apps

Proton VPN Free is a great choice for free WiFi because it doesn’t sacrifice on security or privacy at all. All apps use AES-256 encryption, include both OpenVPN and WireGuard protocols, and have an inbuilt kill switch to prevent IP leaks.

Enabling Proton VPN's kill switch in the app

Proton VPN Free includes a kill switch on all its apps.

The VPN service also places the utmost importance on privacy. It’s based in Switzerland, a jurisdiction with watertight data privacy laws. It’s undergone independent security audits to ensure its VPN infrastructure is impenetrable.

Lastly, its apps are all open-source, meaning the public is able to scrutinize them for vulnerabilities. This level of detail when it comes to maintaining privacy and security is extremely rare in free VPNs.

Doesn’t Unblock Streaming Services

Proton VPN Free is without a doubt the safest free VPN for public WiFi hotspots. However, it isn’t completely flawless. Importantly, it fails to unblock every streaming service we’ve tested it with.

Proton free failed to unblock Hulu

ProtonVPN Free failed to unblock Hulu, HBO Max, Disney+ & US Netflix.

In fact, the only streaming service it works with is YouTube. You can’t watch Netflix, Hulu, Max, or Disney+ at all.

This isn’t surprising considering it’s only a free service. It can take a lot of investment from VPNs to consistently unblock streaming services. If you like streaming your favorite shows when you’re on the go or in foreign hotels, Proton VPN Free likely won’t be much use for you.

Performance Analysis: The Top Public WiFi VPNs

We conducted unique testing on connection time times and added the original data to our findings. How long it takes a VPN to connect to a nearby server can be crucial when using a VPN on a free public network.

Screenshots of ExpressVPN connected to a server and Starbucks Free WiFi permissions on iPhone.

We tested ExpressVPN on our local Starbucks’ free WiFi network.

There are countless scenarios where having quick and safe access to the internet is critical. Whether you’re loading an e-ticket to try and catch a train, using Google Maps to travel, or replying to a message on a subway carriage, being able to quickly connect to a VPN server makes the experience seamless.

Here’s a chart comparing how fast the best 12 VPNs connect to nearby servers while using our iPhone 14 Pro and a Lenovo ThinkPad T480 Windows laptop:

Bar chart comparing connection time between VPNs.

In addition, here’s a detailed table showing you how each VPN performed in our public WiFi testing categories:

As you can see above, ExpressVPN and PIA are almost evenly matched across all categories. The only difference is that ExpressVPN outshines PIA in its accessibility and usability, meaning it’s the better option if you’re on the go and want to quickly connect to a VPN.

Proton VPN Free, on the other hand, matches up to its paid rivals in security, privacy, speed, and ease of use. But it lags behind greatly in server locations available, as there’s only three on offer.

However, this is typical for a free VPN. A lot of them have reduced server lists because they cost more money to maintain.

Dangerous VPNs to Avoid on Public WiFi Networks

Some VPN services simply aren’t secure or private enough to use on a public WiFi network. They might log your real IP address and browsing history, fail to encrypt your data, or contain dangerous malware.

Below, we’ve listed four popular VPNs that should be avoided. Three out of these four VPNs are popular because they’re created by well-known antivirus companies.

However, a lot of these VPNs designed by antivirus companies aren’t very privacy-friendly. They collect your real IP address, browsing history, and might even sell that data on to search engines for a profit.

For these reasons, we highly recommend getting a separate VPN service, like ExpressVPN or PIA, alongside antivirus software. An all-in-one approach to VPNs and antivirus can be risky, as you might end up surrendering privacy in exchange for a quick solution.

Norton Secure VPN

Norton Secure VPN is genuinely awful. It logs your real IP address, which is the worst thing for a VPN to keep. This is because your IP address is unique to your network and can be used to identify you.

It also doesn’t let you choose between protocols, which is an essential feature for any high-quality VPN service.

Adjusting settings on Norton Secure VPN for Windows

Norton VPN Secure is not good enough for day-to-day use on free WiFi networks.

We strongly encourage you to avoid using Norton Secure VPN on public WiFi, even if you have access to it through its antivirus software already.

SetupVPN

SetupVPN is another VPN we advise against using. The worst thing about this VPN is that it logs way too much personally identifiable information. It keeps track of your real IP address, browser type, connection timestamps, and your browsing history.

Screenshot of SetupVPN's logging policy available on its website.

Setup VPN is one to avoid if you want to stay safe on free WiFi.

In the wrong hands, all of this information can be combined to identify any individual user of the VPN and their internet activity.

We also couldn’t find any legal information about the company behind Setup VPN. This stands in stark contrast to our recommended VPNs like ExpressVPN and PIA which have regular transparency reports and are properly registered companies.

Avira Phantom VPN

Avira Phantom VPN logs and stores your IP address and bandwidth usage. It’s actually owned by the same company as Norton Secure VPN — another VPN that logs your IP address. These shady security practices are reason enough to avoid the service.

avira phantom free VPN's app showing 1gb data cap

In our tests, Avira Phantom VPN often failed to connect to a nearby server.

In our hands-on testing, we also found Avira Phantom awful to use. We had a hard time navigating through the website to download the app. Once downloaded onto our device, the VPN apps were full of frustrating bugs.

Avast SecureLine VPN

Avast SecureLine is a mid-tier VPN which doesn’t offer any benefits compared to PIA or ExpressVPN. It’s slower than our top picks for public WiFi and fails to unblock many streaming services like US Netflix, Disney+, and Max.

avast-secureline-server-list

Avast SecureLine doesn’t offer many server locations compared to other VPNs.

Its server network is also incredibly small for its higher price tag. It only covers 34 countries, whereas PIA covers 91.

In 2019, Avast’s antivirus extension was also discovered to be harvesting and sending back data to Avast, before selling it onto Google and Microsoft. This data included websites visited, search terms, videos watched, links clicked, and unique device IDs.

How to Use & Set Up a VPN to Stay Safe on Public WiFi

Here’s a video demonstrating the dangers of public WiFi hotspots, plus how a VPN can enhance your online privacy and keep you safe on unsecured networks:

A VPN encrypts your web traffic and hides your IP address on public WiFi.

Here’s how to set up and use a VPN on public WiFi:

  1. Subscribe to a trustworthy VPN service. The safest VPN services are paid, but they usually have a money-back guarantee if you change your mind.
  2. Install the VPN software to your device.
  3. Open the VPN client. We recommend leaving on auto-start, which launches the VPN every time you turn on your device.
  4. Log in to your VPN account.
  5. Go into Settings and make sure the VPN kill switch is enabled.
  6. Turn on any auto-connect features your VPN has.
  7. Open the server list and connect to the nearest server.
  8. You can now browse the web safely over public WiFi.

Is There Anything You Shouldn’t Do on Public WiFi?

You should always use public WiFi with caution. Accessing private accounts or entering sensitive information on an unsecure public WiFi network can put you in danger of identity theft.

If you’re using public WiFi, it’s best to avoid any online activity which might expose sensitive information, such as:

  • Online banking
  • Online shopping
  • Paying bills
  • Filing taxes
  • Downloading unknown files
  • Accessing emails

A VPN can prevent dangerous man-in-the-middle-attacks – that’s why you should always use a VPN on public WiFi. But, it’s not enough to protect you from malware. We recommend using a combination of cybersecurity tools to protect yourself online, including antivirus software and a private browser like Firefox.

It’s easy to assume that the name of a public WiFi network might indicate whether it’s a secure network. However, a legitimate public network name can easily be spoofed by a malicious third party.

That’s why we recommend treating all networks that you don’t have control over as unsafe, and therefore requiring protection like VPNs and antivirus software.

EXPERT ADVICE: Some features leave you susceptible to hackers and malware. We recommend turning off these features on your devices before entering a space with public WiFi:

  • WiFi Auto-connect: Disable automatic WiFi connections on your device to avoid connecting to dangerous networks.
  • Bluetooth, AirDrop, or Nearby Share: Disable Bluetooth because files sent by strangers could potentially be malware.

VPN Features to Look Out For

The best VPNs provide additional features that protect you against data leaks, hackers, and cyberattacks. We’ve compiled a list of the best VPN features for protecting yourself on public WiFi:

VPN Kill Switch

A VPN kill switch is a security feature that automatically disconnects your device from the internet if your VPN connection is lost. It then reconnects when the VPN connection is reestablished.

It prevents any web traffic from being sent over an unsecure internet connection, particularly on risky public WiFi networks or free WiFi hotspots.

The kill switch settings for Private Internet Access' macOS client

PIA’s kill switch operates in exactly the same way as its Windows counterpart.

The best VPNs for public WiFi all come with a VPN kill switch that’s built-in or can be easily turned on.

Use our custom VPN kill switch tool to test your VPN’s kill switch. It’s the only test available which can determine whether a VPN kill switch is effectively preventing IP address leaks in real-time.

VPN Auto-Connect

VPN auto-connect initiates a VPN connection any time you connect to a WiFi network. This ensures you stay protected from hackers and snoopers each time you connect to a new WiFi hotspot. This is especially important if you often use hotel WiFi or hotspots in malls and other public spaces.

You can find the feature in all popular VPNs, including ExpressVPN, NordVPN, PIA, and Surfshark. VPN auto-connect is not to be confused with your device’s WiFi auto-connect feature, which initiates a WiFi connection any time you are near one.

VPN Features Specifically for Public WiFi

A couple of VPNs have features designed specifically for protecting you on public WiFi. These are essentially advanced auto-connect features, which separate safe and unsafe WiFi networks – also called a ‘Trusted Networks’ Feature.

A Trusted Network Feature often works like an exceptions list: when you add a WiFi network to it, you will no longer get connected to a VPN server when using that network.

In short, by adding a WiFi network to the Trusted Networks list, you signal that you trust this network and do not need VPN protection when connected to it.

Screenshot of PIA's automation rules setting on macOS.

PIA’s Automation setting lets you automatically connect or disconnect from certain networks.

This feature is useful if you want to automatically disconnect from your VPN when you get home and automatically connect to a VPN when you leave. In our testing of the feature, we found that a lot of VPNs offer it but with different names.

Here’s a short list of popular VPNs with a Trusted Network feature:

  • NordVPN: Trusted Network
  • PIA: Automation
  • Surfshark: Trusted Wi-Fi Networks
  • IPVanish: Trusted Wi-Fi Networks
  • VyprVPN: Public WiFi Protection
  • HMA: Connection Rules

EXPERT ADVICE: If you’re new to VPNs, it’s best to leave your VPN on all the time, whether you’re at home or on-the-go. This way, you don’t run the risk of forgetting to turn on your VPN and accidentally exposing your sensitive data on public WiFi networks.

DNS Leak Protection

A DNS leak is a security vulnerability that occurs when your computer sends DNS requests to an unauthorized server, potentially allowing a third party to monitor your online activity.

When using public WiFi, where security risks are heightened, it’s important to use a VPN that comes with robust DNS leak protection. The best VPNs for public WiFi encrypt your DNS requests with strong encryption ciphers, such as AES-256 or ChaCha20.

The best VPNs also operate their own network of DNS servers. By doing so, they eliminate the reliance on third-party DNS providers, reducing the risk of unauthorized access to your online activity.

Is Using a VPN Essential When Using Public WiFi Hotspots?

Although HTTPS has made free WiFi hotspots a lot safer, VPNs can still protect you from man-in-the-middle attacks and other eavesdroppers.

Cybercriminals use unsecured public WiFi networks and network scanners to intercept your connection and steal any personal information you send over the internet, including device information, passwords, and credit card numbers.

Hackers might also create a spoof public WiFi network of the same name as a coffee shop or shop to fool users nearby into connection to their network.

Once you connect to this spoof network, this allows them to look at all network packets flowing through that network and even change your browser’s data endpoint to a server owned by the hacker.

If you then log in to a banking app or social media account while connected to the spoof network, your authentication details can be logged by the website and seen by the hacker.

Screenshot of LanScan of the Top10VPN Office WiFi showing multiple devices.

A cybercriminal might use software such as LanScan to find low security devices on a public WiFi network to target.

As we’ve established, there’s an inherent level of risk with public WiFi networks and free hotspots, as they might be unsecured and vulnerable to these types of attack. However, you can protect yourself.

A VPN can enhance your online security and mitigate these risks by encrypting any transmitted data and masking your real IP address. By encrypting your data, VPN services also prevent the WiFi owner from seeing your internet activity.

Wireshark tests with Psiphon proxy, which is not encrypted, and Psiphon VPN, which is encrypted.

Web traffic before and after connecting to a VPN with AES-256 encryption.

Unfortunately, VPNs aren’t guaranteed to protect you against malware and viruses. You’re still vulnerable to malware if you download it with a VPN connected, which is why we recommend using a combination of privacy and security tools to protect yourself online.

In addition, you can still get phished while connected to a VPN. If you open a suspicious link and enter your credit card information, even if you are connected to a VPN server, that information will still be transmitted to the cybercriminal who set that trap.

It’s absolutely worth investing in a VPN if you’re traveling a lot and using public WiFi often. Consider that cell phones are frequently connected to public WiFi networks in cafes, airports, hotels, and malls. These WiFi networks are typically unsecured and exposed to cyberattacks.

Is HTTPS Enough to Protect You on Public WiFi?

There’s an argument that people don’t need VPNs on public WiFi because the internet has become much safer with the introduction of HTTPS. While it’s true that HTTPS has ensured greater security online, HTTPS alone is not enough to make sure you’re secure when browsing on public WiFi.

HTTPS encryption online works between browsers and web servers, whereas a VPN encrypts all the data that leaves your device, even outside the browser in question.

This is especially important when using public WiFi on mobile devices, as you’re much more likely to use apps outside your online browser, and they might not rely on HTTPS encryption for transmitting data.

Is It Safe to Do Banking on Public WiFi With a VPN?

If you’re planning to do online banking on public WiFi, we strongly suggest you turn on a VPN before doing so. Using a VPN will add another layer of encryption to your traffic when opening banking apps or logging into online banking.

Ideally, you would only open your banking apps and websites in the safety of your home, where you control the WiFi network. Beyond complex hacking, someone might just look over your shoulder in a public place and see your bank details on your screen’s device.

Is a VPN Effective When Connected to a WiFi Network That Requires Authentication?

Some WiFi networks require you to sign in or enter an ID number, so that the network owner can keep records of who is using the network and for what purpose. Other public WiFi hotspots are paid services where you create an account and log in to access the internet.

In a coffee shop, using a MacBook to connect to public WiFi with ExpressVPN.

We suggest using a temporary email address and an alias to connect to unfamiliar public WiFi hotspots.

The bad news is that these WiFi networks can use login details to track when you use the WiFi network. Using a VPN unfortunately won’t make these pop-up windows disappear.

However, if you want to keep your browsing history private, you can use a VPN to encrypt your web traffic, making it impossible for network providers to view your online activity. Once connected, the WiFi network provider will have no idea what website you’re visiting — though they will be able to see you’re using a VPN service.

How We Tested the Best Public WiFi VPNs (Our Methodology)

NOTE: All our tests have been conducted in a controlled environment using the same test devices, to ensure accuracy in our test results.

To find the best VPNs for free WiFi hotspots, we conducted hands-on testing and created a bespoke methodology to evaluate 65 VPNs. The best VPNs for public WiFi excel in these categories:

  • Security & Technical Features (30%)
  • Privacy & Logging Policy (20%)
  • Speed (20%)
  • Server Locations (10%)
  • Ease of Use (10%)
  • Connection Time (10%)

We assign each VPN an overall public WiFi rating based on how well it performed in these categories. Each category is weighted differently according to its importance.

Our testing and results are completely unbiased. We pay for all our own VPN subscriptions and manually test each VPN ourselves.

For this guide, we’ve prioritized a VPN’s security credentials and logging policy because these are the most important aspects to staying safe on public WiFi.

You can find the categories and the breakdown of their weightings in the chart below:

Pie chart showing methodology weightings.

Every paid and free VPN we review has been evaluated and ranked based on their performance in these categories.

Below we explain how we calculated an overall rating for public WiFi and how each category rating is individually tested:

Security & Technical Features: 30%

Strong AES-256 and ChaCha20 encryption is crucial for any VPN to hide your internet activity and real IP address on public WiFi networks.

To test for this, we run every VPN through Wireshark, a web packet sniffer that shows whether your internet activity is encrypted.

Analyzing ExpressVPN's browser extension encryption using packet-sniffing software

In our tests, ExpressVPN successfully encrypted our web traffic.

We also use our own proprietary security tools which test for IP, DNS, WebRTC, and geolocation leaks. Our bespoke VPN kill switch test also checks whether a VPN is protecting your IP address when your internet drops.

To calculate this rating, we take each VPN’s Security & Technical Features rating in our review and multiply it by 0.3. Then we have 30% of the overall public WiFi rating.

Privacy & Logging Policy: 20%

A VPN’s logging policy lists the amount of data a VPN monitors and whether it’s stored. If a VPN logs your IP address, timestamps, or browsing history, we recommend steering clear of it completely.

We also take into account whether a VPN has diskless servers, accepts anonymous cash payments, or conducts regular independent audits.

To calculate this rating, we take each VPN’s Privacy and Logging Policy rating in our review and multiply it by 0.2. Then we have 20% of the overall public WiFi rating.

Speed: 20%

Public WiFi speeds can be notoriously slow. That’s why it’s important for a VPN to maintain fast download and upload speeds, and low ping times across nearby servers.

VPNs with fast download speeds can stream video content in higher quality, access web pages faster, and download private files quicker.

Having fast upload speeds is also crucial if you’re working remotely on public WiFi and you need to send files via email or upload them to databases.

To measure each VPN’s speed, we conduct speed tests by connecting to servers in five continents in a controlled testing environment.

Top10VPN Speed Test Tool Manual Testing

We manually conduct every VPN speed test.

We manually conduct each test on our proprietary internet speed testing tool. No third-party software is used.

To calculate this rating, we take each VPN’s Speed rating in our review and multiply it by 0.2. Then we have 20% of the overall public WiFi rating.

Server Locations: 10%

The best VPNs for public WiFi have a diverse range of IP address locations available. A VPN with servers in more countries can give you access to more region-specific content.

To evaluate a VPN’s server locations, we look through each and every VPN’s server list. In our experience, a VPN’s website server list might be different to its apps, and even vary between different platforms.

Then we record each and every server location, including city-level servers, and compare them to find the VPNs with the most server locations.

To score at least 8.0, a VPN has to have servers in at least 21 countries. To calculate this rating, we take each VPN’s Server Locations rating in our review and multiply it by 0.1. Then we have 10% of the overall public WiFi rating.

Ease of Use: 10%

Ease of use measures how user-friendly and intuitive the experience of using a VPN’s software is. To evaluate this, we document our personal experiences with a VPN while testing for other categories (like torrenting and streaming).

During these other tests, we note how easy it is to navigate a VPN’s app, its server sorting options, and the clarity of labels. We also take into consideration a VPN’s look, options for dark mode, and other customization options.

To score highly in this category, a VPN must be extremely intuitive to use across a broad range of platforms. Having attractive and user-friendly apps on Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android are key to this category.

To calculate this rating, we take each VPN’s Ease of Use rating in our review and multiply it by 0.1. Then we have 10% of the overall public WiFi rating.

Connection Time: 10%

A VPN’s connection time is a measurement of how quickly it can connect to a nearby server. This is crucial, especially when using a public WiFi VPN, as the period between joining a hotspot and connecting to the VPN is when you’re susceptible to snoopers and hackers.

A VPN with fast connection times can establish a connection in less than three seconds. We measure a VPN’s connection time using a stopwatch, an iPhone 14, and a Lenovo ThinkPad T480 laptop. We record the time it takes to connect to the nearest server using the VPN’s default protocol.

A VPN’s connection time is evaluated by averaging results from three different tests and converting the result into a rating out of 10. A lower connection time corresponds to a better rating.

Screenshot of our Google Sheet with connection time test data and ratings.

Our database of VPN connection times across devices.

To calculate this rating, we take each VPN’s connection time rating and multiply it by 0.1. Then we have 10% of the overall public WiFi rating.

This category is different to overall speed, which evaluates a VPN’s download speed, upload speed, and ping times.

FAQs

Should I Use a VPN on Hotel WiFi Networks?

If you want to stay safe on hotel WiFi, we strongly recommend using a VPN like ExpressVPN or PIA. It will encrypt your internet traffic and make it impossible for any hackers sharing your WiFi network to steal your data. A VPN will also prevent the owner of the WiFi network, as well as any other guests connected to it, from spying on your online activity.

Is Public WiFi Safe With a VPN?

As long as you’re using a secure VPN provider with AES-256 encryption and a kill switch, public WiFi networks are actually safer when you’re using a VPN service.

VPNs establish an encrypted connection between your device and a remote server. When you’re connected to a VPN, your web traffic is shielded from malicious users on the same network who might try to intercept it.

Even though a VPN can significantly improve your security, it isn’t a bulletproof solution. VPN software won’t protect you from malware that’s already on your device, and it won’t prevent you from falling victim to phishing attacks.