From the images of its underground Swiss data centers to its regularly updated Transparency Report and Warrant Canary on its website, ProtonVPN definitely wants users to feel safe using its product.
But do ProtonVPN’s claims of “transparency,” “honesty,” and “security first” add up? Do free customers get the same level of online security and privacy as premium subscribers?
We’ve tested every aspect of ProtonVPN’s free service to answer those questions, as well as these:
- Is ProtonVPN Free safe?
- Does ProtonVPN Free work with Netflix?
- How fast is ProtonVPN Free?
- Is it a good VPN?
- Can you torrent using ProtonVPN Free?
If you’re interested in finding out more about the paid-for version of ProtonVPN, click here to read our comprehensive, unbiased review.
Before we go into the details here’s a sneak peek at ProtonVPN Free’s pros and cons:
ProtonVPN Free Pros & Cons
ProtonVPN Free Key Summary
|Top Download Speed||59Mbps|
|Logging Policy||Anonymous Server Usage Data|
|IP, DNS or WebRTC Leaks||No|
|Jurisdiction||Switzerland (Privacy Haven)|
|IP Addresses||Not disclosed|
|Works in China||No|
|Support||Email & Online Resources Only|
Often free VPNs are frustratingly slow, but ProtonVPN proved otherwise. Before we reveal how well ProtonVPN did in our speed tests, let’s take a look at who’s behind the VPN and its logging policy.
About & Logging Policy
Who is ProtonVPN Free?
ProtonVPN was founded in 2007 and is operated by ProtonVPN AG. It has close ties to Proton Technologies AG, the company that owns encrypted email service ProtonMail.
ProtonVPN AG is based in Geneva, Switzerland, meaning its users are protected by some of the world’s strongest privacy and data protection laws.
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
This means that nothing you do while connected to ProtonVPN Free can be linked back to you.
Speed & Reliability
Pretty quick for a free VPN
Proton VPN Free is pretty fast for a free VPN, and there are no data caps to slow you down either. However, we have experienced slower speeds during peak times, as premium users are granted priority.
While a speed loss of around 36% connecting to the nearest VPN server (UK to the Netherlands) isn’t that fast in comparison to the top paid-for VPNs, ProtonVPN is still quick for a complimentary service.
Speed results from our physical location in London (100Mbps fibre optic connection) to a Amsterdam test server.
Before using ProtonVPN Free:
When connected to ProtonVPN Free:
Download speed without ProtonVPN Free: 93.78Mbps
Download speed with ProtonVPN Free: 59.77Mbps
Our download speed loss when ProtonVPN Free is running: 36%
Speeds do take a hit if you’re connecting to VPN servers further away from your physical location – we experienced a 78% drop-off connecting from the UK to the US.
Here are the average speeds to expect from the UK to ProtonVPN’s other free VPN servers:
- USA: 21Mbps (download) & 15Mbps (upload)
- Japan: 19Mbps (download) & 15Mbps (upload)
While ProtonVPN’s speeds on nearby servers are sufficient for streaming and torrenting, these services aren’t supported on the free apps.
To find out how we test VPN speeds you can look at our How We Review VPNs page.
Limited to three VPN server locations
The free version of ProtonVPN only allows you to access three different VPN server locations – Japan, the Netherlands, and the US.
While this may not be a problem for users nearby to the free VPN servers, those elsewhere in the world will naturally experience slower speeds when using ProtonVPN Free.
There are a total of eight individual VPN servers available to free users, a very small number which will also slow down speeds at peak times.
It’s 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 42 countries worldwide.
While ProtonVPN does not have any virtual servers, it does rent some of the bare-metal servers in its network. ProtonVPN leases these servers from trusted data centers that allow the VPN company full access in order to ensure its minimal logs policy is maintained.
Streaming & Torrenting
Bad choice for streaming and torrenting fans
As it’s not possible to connect to a VPN server in the UK, you won’t be able to watch BBC iPlayer. ProtonVPN Free won’t work with Hulu, either.
If you want to watch Netflix and Hulu using ProtonVPN you’ll have to upgrade to a premium subscription (Plus and Visionary plans).
While ProtonVPN is safe and secure enough for P2P, it doesn’t support torrenting on any of its free VPN servers – this is a feature reserved exclusively for paid subscribers (Basic, Plus and Visionary plans).
Doesn't work in China
ProtonVPN Free is no good for bypassing censorship in countries that block VPNs, least of all in China.
Not only does ProtonVPN Free operate on OpenVPN, the protocol that’s easiest for the Great Firewall’s censors to detect and block, free users also don’t have access to the Secure Core servers.
Secure Core is designed to provide an additional layer of obfuscation by routing traffic through multiple VPN servers, but even then it’s not always enough to get past China’s censors.
If you need a reliable VPN for China, you’ll likely have to pay for it – here are our top recommendations.
Platforms & Devices
Custom VPN apps for main platforms & works with routers
Games Consoles & Streaming Devices
ProtonVPN Free doesn’t have any native apps for streaming devices or games consoles, but there is a workaround for those wanting to protect these devices.
Since the ProtonVPN Free plan only allows you to use the VPN service on one device at a time, installing it at router level could be a huge advantage if you wish to protect multiple devices, including streaming devices like Amazon 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, check out Windscribe.
Encryption & Security
Free version offers same robust security as premium VPN
DNS Leak Blocking
IPV6 Leak Blocking
VPN Kill Switch
Please see our VPN Glossary if these terms confuse you and would like to learn more.
Users of ProtonVPN Free benefit from exactly the same level of security as its premium VPN subscribers, making it one of the safest free VPNs around.
The desktop app runs exclusively on OpenVPN, the most secure VPN protocol, so you can be sure that your personal information will be protected. Encryption is via top cipher AES-256. The mobile apps use IKEv2, which is also very secure.
The VPN kill switch feature is absolutely essential, as it 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.
ProtonVPN Free also protects you against DNS and IPv6 leaks, as confirmed by our independent leak tests.
Unfortunately, there are a handful of features that are limited to paid users, such as ProtonVPN’s Secure Core servers, which increase privacy by routing traffic through multiple VPN servers. ProtonVPN Free also lacks servers optimized for use with Tor.
Nevertheless, it’s one of the most secure (and safe) free providers we’ve seen.
Ease of Use
Easy setup & intuitive custom apps
How to Install & Set Up ProtonVPN Free
Getting up and running with ProtonVPN Free is super easy and will only take you a couple of minutes from start to finish.
Once downloaded, ProtonVPN’s free apps are exactly as easy to use as its premium apps, with fewer server locations the only noticeable difference.
Unlike many free VPNs, which come with restrictive data caps, ProtonVPN gives free users unlimited bandwidth.
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.
Plenty of online resources & intermittent live chat support
ProtonVPN Free’s customer support is far better than that offered by most of our other free providers, but it hasn’t got a patch on premium services as there’s no live chat.
There’s an online support center that will cover basic VPN queries and troubleshooting issues (use the search bar to navigate), and there are also step-by-step installation guides for all supported devices, including those that need to be manually configured.
ProtonVPN has email support too and it’s helpful, if pretty slow, making it fairly easy to get the assistance you need.
The Bottom Line
Do We Recommend ProtonVPN Free?
If you’re looking for a free VPN we absolutely recommend ProtonVPN. It’s very safe to use and comes with unlimited data, which means that you can protect as much or as little of your online activity as you want.
There are some drawbacks, like the limit of three server locations and lack of streaming and P2P support, but ProtonVPN should be a top choice for those seeking high levels of privacy without spending a cent.
Alternatives to ProtonVPN Free
TunnelBear's free VPN service allows you to choose between 22 server locations, which is the most generous we've seen for a complimentary service. It's safe, secure, and easy to use, too. Read TunnelBear Free review
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