We absolutely recommend the free version of ProtonVPN as a good VPN. It’s safe to use, its apps are open-source, and it comes with unlimited data. But, it only offers three server locations and it doesn’t work with Netflix or torrenting. Nevertheless, it's a top free service for high levels of privacy.
ProtonVPN was founded in 2017 and is operated by the company that owns the reputable encrypted email service ProtonMail.
From the images of its underground Swiss data centers to its regularly updated transparency report, ProtonVPN definitely wants users to feel safe using its free product.
But are ProtonVPN’s claims of “transparency,” “honesty,” and “security” true? Do free customers get the same level of online security and privacy as its paid subscribers? We’ve tested every aspect of this VPN to create the most comprehensive ProtonVPN Free review.
We found that ProtonVPN Free is the only safe free VPN that comes with unlimited data and no caps, meaning you can leave it on all the time without worrying about using up your bandwidth. This makes ProtonVPN one of the best free VPNs on the market.
The app doesn’t require you to input any payment details and it doesn’t include any ads, which is rare for a free VPN. The free plan also benefits from the same AES-256 encryption and minimal logging policy as the paid VPN — making it an affordable choice for securing public WiFi connections and anonymizing web traffic.
However, the drawback of ProtonVPN Free is that it limits you to just three server locations — the Netherlands, Japan, and the US. If you’re located far-away from these regions, your internet speed will have to travel a longer distance, resulting in slower speeds and connection interruptions.
On top of this, we found that ProtonVPN Free does not work with any streaming sites, including US Netflix, and torrenting is not allowed on any of its servers. It’s capped at one simultaneous connection per account, too.
Ultimately, ProtonVPN Free is a top choice for those seeking private web browsing without spending a cent. But if you want to benefit from the best VPN features, like safe torrenting and unblocking streaming sites, it cannot compete with the paid version.
ProtonVPN Free Pros & Cons
ProtonVPN Free Key Summary
|Data Cap||Speed||Logging Policy||Data Leaks||Jurisdiction||Servers||IP Addresses||Countries||US Netflix||Torrenting||Works in China||Support||Cheapest Price||Official Website|
|Anonymous Server Usage Data||Anonymous Server Usage Data|
|Switzerland (Privacy Haven)||Switzerland (Privacy Haven)|
|Email & Online Resources Only||Email & Online Resources Only|
|$6.63/mo over 24 Months||Free|
Is ProtonVPN Free Private?
About & Logging
ProtonVPN does not collect any logs that can be used to identify you from your online activity. The only thing ProtonVPN Free collects is the timestamp of your last successful login attempt, and this gets overwritten each time you successfully connect to the VPN.
This information is used to protect user accounts from password brute force attacks, and also to determine that nobody else is using your account.
ProtonVPN’s logs don’t contain any identifying information such as:
- Your true IP address or physical location
- The apps and websites (DNS requests) you visit while connected
ProtonVPN also operates under the jurisdiction of Switzerland. This allows you to benefit from some of the world’s strongest privacy laws, which are outside of EU data laws and the 14 Eyes surveillance alliance.
This, along with ProtonVPN’s private minimal-logs policy, means that nothing you do while connected to ProtonVPN Free can be linked back to you.
Is ProtonVPN Trustworthy?
ProtonVPN is a very trustworthy and reputable VPN service. The VPN is provided by the same team as highly-respected encrypted email service, ProtonMail. The company is active in the privacy community, recently donating a large part of its revenue to protect digital freedom in Hong Kong, and even influencing Swiss surveillance law.
Unlike many free VPNs, ProtonVPN Free does not make money by collecting and selling user data. Instead, the VPN makes money from its paid VPN, with these paying customers offsetting the costs involved with the free service. This model of business is perfect for a free VPN as it does not invade your privacy.
Overall, ProtonVPN is the single safest free VPN available. It comes from one of the most reputable and transparent companies in the cybersecurity space, it has a clear no-logs policy, and it doesn’t make money by collecting or selling user data.
Fast speeds for a free VPN
Speed Test Results
ProtonVPN Free performs a lot better than most free VPNs, with no data caps to slow you down, either. Our tests have measured slower speeds during peak times, as there are not many servers to share the load.
We measured a speed loss of around 36% connecting to the nearest VPN server (UK to the Netherlands). This isn’t fast in comparison to the top paid VPNs, but it is reasonably quick for a free service.
Speed Test Results
Before using ProtonVPN Free:
When connected to ProtonVPN Free:
Here are the full results we recorded when connecting to all three ProtonVPN server locations from London, UK with a 100Mbps internet connection:
As ProtonVPN Free only offers three server locations, your speeds will depend on how close you are to these locations. For example, you can expect very slow speeds if you’re connecting from Africa, as there is not a single server in the continent.
These free servers are less advanced than the plus servers, too, with each having a server capacity 90% smaller than those available to paid users. As ProtonVPN only provides 16 servers for free users, these servers are often congested — which can lead to further slowdowns and buffering.
Overall, ProtonVPN Free’s speeds are perfectly fine for encrypting unsafe WiFi networks and anonymizing your online activity, which is the free VPN’s primary purpose. High-bandwidth tasks like streaming and torrenting aren’t permitted on these servers, so the slower speeds aren’t a significant drawback.
Limited to three VPN server locations
The free version of ProtonVPN only allows you to access three different VPN server locations — the US, Japan, and the Netherlands.
ProtonVPN Free’s servers are spread out as follows:
- The Netherlands: 8 servers
- US: 5 servers
- Japan: 3 servers
While this may not be a problem if you’re near to the free VPN servers, if you’re more than a few hundred miles away you will experience slower speeds when using ProtonVPN Free. It’s also not possible to drill down to city-level VPN servers, but if you upgrade to a premium ProtonVPN subscription you’ll be treated to 11 US cities and a total of 51 countries worldwide.
Although the 16 VPN servers seems like a very small amount, we discovered that each free server is actually a load balancer that reroutes traffic to a pool of over 200 servers. That said, the servers are still often overly congested — resulting in slow speeds and connection interruptions.
Impressively, ProtonVPN Free’s server network benefits from the same level of security as its paid offering. This means that all the free servers are bare-metal servers, are physically located in the countries they claim to be, and are only leased from trusted data centers that allow the VPN to ensure its minimal-logs policy is maintained.
A bad choice for streaming and torrenting
Streaming & Torrenting
Our manual and automated tests found that ProtonVPN Free does not work with US Netflix or BBC iPlayer. The VPN is not suitable for unblocking content and will not work with any streaming service.
ProtonVPN Free did not work with Disney+, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu on its US server. As it’s not possible to connect to a VPN server in the UK, you won’t be able to watch BBC iPlayer, either.
If you want to unblock geo-restricted streaming sites with ProtonVPN you’ll have to upgrade to the paid plan. The paid version of ProtonVPN consistently unblocks US Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Disney+ in our testing — all while maintaining fast enough speeds for HD streaming.
While ProtonVPN is safe and secure enough for P2P, torrenting traffic is blocked on all of its free servers. The VPN provider claims this is to minimize server load and to prevent degrading performance for casual free plan users.
When we tried to legally download a torrent file using BitTorrent, the ProtonVPN app blocked our traffic and issued an error message. Torrenting is a feature reserved exclusively for paid subscribers. Check out our full ProtonVPN torrenting guide for more information.
Alternatively, if you need a free VPN to keep you safe while torrenting, read our full guide to the best free VPNs for torrenting.
ProtonVPN Free doesn’t work in China
To verify whether or not a VPN works in China, we rent a server physically located in Shanghai, China. This allows us to remotely make a real connection from within the country, testing whether a VPN can bypass the Great Firewall.
We found that ProtonVPN Free does not work in China and is no good for bypassing censorship in other countries that block VPNs.
Although the paid version of ProtonVPN also doesn’t work in China, it does include dedicated servers for the Tor anonymity network.
Tor randomly routes your web traffic through a network of servers and is popular in highly-censored regions. However, free users do not have access to these ‘Tor over VPN’servers.
Overall, Tor isn’t a very effective method of unblocking websites in China, but we’ve found it to work more often than a pure ProtonVPN connection. But if you need a reliable VPN for China, you’ll have to pay for it — here are our top recommendations.
Apps for all main platforms & devices
Platforms & Devices
ProtonVPN free is available on:
As is typical, the Windows app is the most fully-featured app. It offers many configurable options, including a kill switch, and split tunneling. The Android app misses out on a kill switch, and the iOS app has neither. The Mac version includes a kill switch but exclusively uses IKEv2, which is an older and less secure VPN protocol.
There’s a manual workaround available for Linux users, but this is only a command-line tool and not a true native VPN app.
ProtonVPN’s free plan only allows one simultaneous connection, so you’ll have to upgrade if you want to protect all of your devices at the same time. Alternatively, you could install ProtonVPN Free at router-level, which you can read more on in the section below.
Games Consoles & Streaming Devices
ProtonVPN Free doesn’t have any native apps for Fire TV Stick or games consoles.
The lack of Fire TV Stick app is a shame, as the VPN’s unlimited bandwidth would make it a great choice for anonymizing Kodi streams. If you’re a Fire TV Stick user, though, we suggest you take a look at these free Fire TV Stick VPN apps.
Since ProtonVPN’s free plan only allows you to use the VPN service on one device at a time, installing it at router level is a good move if you want to protect multiple devices. This includes streaming devices like Amazon’s Fire TV Stick and games consoles like Xbox or PlayStation.
You can find the full list of compatible router models on the support section of ProtonVPN’s website.
ProtonVPN doesn’t provide browser extensions for free or paid users.
If you’re looking for a free VPN with browser extensions, Windscribe is the best choice.
Free version offers same robust security as premium VPN
Encryption & Security
DNS Leak Blocking
IPV6 Leak Blocking
VPN Kill Switch
ProtonVPN is an excellent choice if you’re serious about privacy and you want to stay safe online. Users of ProtonVPN Free benefit from exactly the same level of security as its premium VPN subscribers, making it the safest free VPN available.
ProtonVPN is one of the first VPN services to publish its source code and become wholly open-source. This means ProtonVPN can be inspected by anyone, ensuring user data is not being mishandled and that ProtonVPN’s encryption and security techniques are watertight.
On top of this, ProtonVPN published a third-party security audit of its VPN service on all platforms, with all vulnerabilities being either accepted or fixed.
The free VPN comes with a range of security features, including a VPN kill switch. This prevents your true IP address from being exposed in case of an unexpected connection drop. Split tunneling is also available, allowing users to exclude some internet traffic from the VPN tunnel.
Data is encrypted using the unbreakable AES-256 cipher, and all its apps except on MacOS, use OpenVPN. OpenVPN is the most secure VPN protocol, so you can be sure that your personal information will be protected. The MacOS app uses the IKEv2 protocol only.
ProtonVPN Free also protects you against DNS and IPv6 leaks, as confirmed by our IP and DNS leak tests.
Sadly, there are a handful of features that are limited to paid users, such as ProtonVPN’s Secure Core servers. This feature increases privacy by routing traffic through multiple VPN servers, so its absence makes the free version less secure than the paid offering.
Nevertheless, thanks to its use of best-in-class encryption protocols and ciphers, ProtonVPN Free is the most secure free VPN we’ve seen and you can rely on it to encrypt your online traffic.
Easy set-up & intuitive apps
Ease of Use
How to Install & Set Up ProtonVPN Free
Getting started with ProtonVPN Free is easy and will only take you a couple of minutes from start to finish.
Once downloaded, ProtonVPN’s free apps are as easy to use as its premium apps, with fewer server locations the only noticeable difference.
We’re not used to seeing any sort of configurable options from free VPNs, so it made a refreshing change to be able to configure the VPN kill switch feature, DNS leak protection and toggle between UDP and TCP protocols.
Contextual information can be found next to most of these settings, which will be particularly helpful for VPN newbies.
Online resources but no live chat support
ProtonVPN’s customer support is far better than that offered by most of our other free providers. The only drawback is that there is no live chat, which is common among paid VPN services.
There’s an online support center that will cover basic VPN queries and troubleshooting issues, and there are also step-by-step installation guides for all supported devices, including those that need to be manually configured.
The best way to get assistance, though, is through ProtonVPN’s email support. The email support team is very knowledgeable and answered our technical questions without any problem. The disadvantage to this method is that they are slow to respond. We sometimes had to wait over three days for an answer.
Do We Recommend ProtonVPN Free?
The Bottom Line
ProtonVPN Free is one of the best free VPNs available. It comes from a highly-respected cybersecurity firm, it’s very safe to use, and all the apps are open-source. It is the number one free VPN if privacy and security is your main concern.
ProtonVPN Free is also the only safe free VPN that comes with unlimited bandwidth — so you can secure your device at all times without worrying about using all of your data. It can also be installed at router-level, allowing you to secure all of your family’s devices.
The free version of ProtonVPN has some significant downsides compared to its paid offering, though. Most notably, all streaming and torrenting activity is blocked on free servers and it comes with just three server locations. These servers are often overly-congested, too, so your connection speeds will inevitably slow down.
Overall, ProtonVPN Free is an excellent choice if you don’t want to spend a cent. Although it lacks many advanced VPN features, it’s faultless for hiding your web activity from your ISP and for securing unsafe public WiFi networks. However, if you want to unblock streaming sites and benefit from advanced security features like Secure Core servers, the paid version of ProtonVPN is worth the money.
Alternatives to ProtonVPN Free
Windscribe is our favorite all-round free VPN. Windscribe Free unblocks US and UK Netflix, and is secure enough for safe torrenting. Windscribe also protects P2P traffic with a VPN kill switch and DNS leak protection. It comes with a 10GB monthly data allowance, though, so you won’t be able to secure all of your traffic. Read Windscribe review
TunnelBear's free VPN service allows you to choose between 23 server locations, which is the most generous we've seen for a complimentary service. It's safe, secure, and easy to use, but it comes with a stingy 500MB monthly data cap. Read TunnelBear review