ProtonVPN Free is private and safe
Logging Policy & Jurisdiction
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 connect to the VPN.
The connection data that is collected 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.
ProtonVPN is a trustworthy service
ProtonVPN is a very trustworthy and reputable VPN service. The VPN is provided by the same team as the highly-respected encrypted email service, ProtonMail.
Unlike many free VPNs, ProtonVPN Free does not make money by collecting and selling user data.
Instead, the VPN generates revenue from its paid VPN, with these paying customers offsetting the costs of running the free service. This business model is ideal for a free VPN, since it does not invade your privacy.
Fast speeds for a free VPN
Speed & Reliability
ProtonVPN Free performs a lot better than most free VPNs. We measured a speed loss of just 5% connecting to the nearest VPN server (UK to the Netherlands), which is the fastest local speed result of any free VPN we tested. Long-distance connections are slower, but as streaming is blocked on these servers, the slower speeds aren’t a significant drawback.
Unlike many free VPNs, ProtonVPN does not impose any data or bandwidth caps to slow you down. Our tests have measured slower speeds during peak times, though, as there are not many servers to share the load.
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 23 servers for free users, these servers are often congested — which can lead to further slowdowns and buffering.
For the fastest speeds, enable ‘VPN Accelerator’ in the app’s settings.
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. Although this is an extremely limited selection, the servers are well spread out. The biggest drawback of ProtonVPN's servers is overuse and congestion, which was more common than we've seen with other VPNs.
ProtonVPN Free’s servers are spread out as follows:
- The Netherlands: 11 servers
- US: 9 servers
- Japan: 3 servers
Speeds are reasonably fast if you’re near the three VPN server locations above, but you will experience slower speeds if you’re further away.
It’s also not possible to drill down to city-level VPN servers, which you can only do with a premium ProtonVPN subscription (with access to 61 countries, including 11 US cities).
Although the 16 VPN servers seems like a very small amount, each server is actually a load balancer that reroutes traffic to a pool of over 200 servers.
That said, the free 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 the paid service.
All the free servers are in fact bare-metal servers, physically located in the countries they claim to be, and are leased from trusted data centers that allow the VPN to maintain its minimal-logs policy.
A bad choice for streaming and torrenting
ProtonVPN is useless for streaming. Our test 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 can access YouTube and other open video platforms, as these don’t typically check (and block) for VPN connections.
If you want to unblock geo-restricted streaming content with ProtonVPN, you’ll have to upgrade to the paid plan.
The paid version of ProtonVPN consistently worked with US Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Disney+ at high speed in our streaming tests.
Not Suitable for Torrenting
ProtonVPN Free cannot be used to torrent files. The VPN provider blocks all P2P traffic on its free servers. It does this to limit server congestion and to encourage subscriptions to its premium service.
While ProtonVPN is safe and secure enough for P2P, torrenting traffic is blocked on all of its free servers.
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
We found that ProtonVPN Free does not work in China and is no good for bypassing censorship. It doesn't include any obfuscation technology, so it's also not a good choice for use in other high censorship countries, like Turkey, Russia, or the UAE.
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.
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 almost every platform. You can download the VPN on Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android. There’s a Linux GUI app, which is rare, and the VPN can be installed on specialist internet routers.
ProtonVPN Free is available on the following platforms:
As is typical, the Windows app is the most fully-featured. It offers many configurable options, including a kill switch, WireGuard, and split tunneling. The Android app misses out on a kill switch, and the iOS app has just WireGuard. The Mac version includes a kill switch but doesn’t support split tunneling.
There’s a true native VPN app available for Linux, with a full GUI, making it easy to use. None of the other free VPNs we tested had an app for this platform, making ProtonVPN the best option if you’re a Linux user.
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.
ProtonVPN Free has native apps for the following streaming devices:
ProtonVPN Free has native apps for Android TV and Chromecast with Google TV. Unfortunately, you can only get the VPN on an Amazon Firestick by sideloading it onto the device.
Like with the desktop and mobile apps, ProtonVPN’s free plan won’t unblock any streaming sites and won’t download torrent files. As a result, the VPN’s TV app is only useful for hiding your IP address, anonymizing Kodi streams, and encrypting purchases made through the TV’s App Store.
Since ProtonVPN’s free plan only allows you to use the VPN service on one device at a time, installing it at the 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.
Free version offers same robust security as premium VPN
Security & Features
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 use OpenVPN. OpenVPN is the most secure VPN protocol, so you can be sure that your personal information will be protected.
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
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 easier to use than its premium apps, as there are fewer features and settings to configure.
How to Install & Set Up ProtonVPN Free
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 new VPN users.
The only drawback is the app’s map interface, as we prefer a simple server list. Thankfully, you can collapse the app down to a single column, which helps usability.
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. You'll have to wait longer for a reply, but ProtonVPN's support team is knowledgeable and helpful.
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.
ProtonVPN Compared to Other Free VPNs
Below is a table comparing Private Internet Access to two alternative free VPN services, Windscribe and TunnelBear.
As you can see, ProtonVPN Free is one of the best free VPNs on the market. Although its streaming and torrenting performance is poor, it’s the only safe free VPN with unlimited monthly bandwidth.
Additional research by Luke Williams
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