The best free VPN of 2017

The best free VPN services

1. TunnelBear

2. Windscribe

3. Hotspot Shield Free

4. Speedify

5. PrivateTunnel

Read on for our detailed analysis of each client

Can you get a good for VPN free? You actually can if you are happy with the limitations that VPN services that don't charge anything upfront usually come up with. 

Anyway, here's our pick of the best free VPN of 2017 to keep your online activity safe and anonymous. Remember Free VPNs cost nothing but there is usually a good reason for that.

TunnelBear is incredibly simple to use – just switch it on and choose a location, and your internet traffic will be re-routed via that node
(Image: © Tunnelbear)

1. TunnelBear

Protecting your identity doesn't get easier than this – TunnelBear is the best free VPN around

Number of servers: ~1,000 | Server locations: 20+ | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 5

Really user-friendly
Both mobile and desktop clients
Not many options or settings

TunnelBear might have something of a cutesy design, but it's a serious free VPN. There are free and paid-for subscriptions to choose from. The only restriction with the free one is that you are limited to 500MB of traffic each month.

This isn't a huge amount, so you won’t be able to use TunnelBear all of the time without paying, but it's great for those times when you feel like you need a little extra protection.

Performance is impressive and ease of use is second to none. In all likelihood you won’t need to change any of the default settings, and the automatic connection option should work fine, but you can manually choose from one of 20 countries as your adopted location. Delightfully simple and reassuringly secure, TunnelBear is certainly one of the best free VPN's for all your devices. 

It’s also interesting to note that TunnelBear recently tuned up its privacy policy, so the VPN now collects even less data on users – removing the need to supply a first name to sign up, and ditching its record of the user’s number of total lifetime connections.

TunnelBear offers a range of paid-for plans that remove the restrictions associated with the free plan, like the download limit, the numbers of countries available and the amount of connected devices.  

Techradar has secured an exclusive deal from TunnelBear that gives you all this for as little as $4.99 per month, that's a whopping 58% saving.

Windscribe is a new name on the block, but its data cap and emphasis on privacy make it a winner

2. Windscribe

Super secure, with a very generous data cap, Windscribe is a top-notch free VPN

Number of servers: N/A | Server locations: 8 | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 1

10GB of data per month
Sterling privacy policy
No Android client

Windscribe is a relative newcomer to the free VPN scene, but its generous data allowance and commitment to protecting your privacy make it the best around. The free service gives you 10GB bandwidth per month as standard, and lets you choose from eight remote server locations.

You only need to create a username and password to sign up (an email address is optional, but might prove handy if you forget your password). Windscribe doesn’t store connection logs, IP stamps, or visited sites; when you’re actively connected to a server it stores your username, the VPN server you’re connected to and the amount of data transferred, but this is erased within three minutes of the session ending.

The 10GB data allowance is enough to make Windscribe’s free service a practical option for everyday browsing (though not heavy downloading or streaming), and there are several ways to boost it even higher. 

Tweeting about the service will earn you an extra 5GB, and you’ll get 1GB each time you invite a friend to join. As an added perk, if anyone you’ve referred decides to upgrade to a Pro subscription (starting at US$7.50 per month billed annually), you’ll get the unlimited plan as well and far more servers (47 in total).

If that isn’t enough to tempt you, there’s even a built-in adblocker and firewall. Give it a try today – we think you’ll be impressed. Note that there is an Android App available, albeit in an unreleased state at the time of writing.

Want to try Windscribe? You can download it here

Exclusively for TechRadar readers, Windscribe is offering an annual subscription to its Pro service for only $29. Click here or use Promo Code WSRADAR1at checkout.

Hotspot Shield Free is extremely easy to use, and offers a generous data allowance

3. Hotspot Shield Free

If you use public Wi-Fi regularly, this is a great free VPN for protecting your privacy

Number of servers: N/A | Server locations: 1 | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 5

Easy-to-use
750MB daily data allowance
Performance can suffer a bit
Limited configuration options

Hotspot Shield Free is one of the better known names in this roundup, and another of the best free VPNs around today.

You can choose to anchor yourself to one of 20 countries if you pay for the Elite version of the app, and this should enable you to access just about anything you want; in the free version, you're limited to locations that Hotspot Shield chooses for you.

Hotspot Shield Free offers the option to have the free VPN automatically enabled whenever you connect to a wireless network that is deemed 'unsafe', the program offers peace of mind for those who work away from the home or office a lot. Online performance does seem to suffer a little when Hotspot Shield is enabled, but the bandwidth limit of 750MB per day is generous.

Note: Hotspot Shield’s free VPN offering has recently come under fire from the Center for Democracy & Technology, a pro-privacy non-profit organisation. The CDT has claimed that this provider intercepts and redirects traffic to partner websites which include online advertising firms. Hotspot Shield has denied these allegations and said that it was “dismayed that the CDT did not contact us to discuss their concerns”. Check here for the full lowdown on this controversy.

The latest we’ve heard is a clarification which comes via Ars Technica, in which a spokesman for Hotspot Shield noted: “The free version of our Hotspot Shield solution openly and clearly states that it is funded by ads, however, we intercept no traffic with neither the free nor the premium version of our solutions. Our users’ online privacy has always been our absolute priority.”

Want to try Hotspot Shield Free? You can download it here

This is the 'Top Gun' of free VPNs, satisfying your need for speed

4. Speedify

Want a secure yet speedy connection? Then look no further

Number of servers: 30+ | Server locations: 20+ | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 5

Nifty performance boosting tech
Solid on the privacy front
Only 1GB monthly data allowance
Software has few low-level controls

Speedify, as the name suggests, has one main aim as a VPN provider: to ensure that while you benefit from encryption, your internet connection remains as speedy as possible.

To that end, the service will make use of all available internet connections to get the best possible performance, potentially combining, say, an Ethernet connection (fixed broadband) with a tethered mobile 3G/4G connection. Even if you only have one type of internet connection, the firm claims its turbocharging technology will still help speed things up.

As well as the promise of better performance, Speedify operates a clear no logging policy, meaning it doesn’t monitor your internet traffic. And it offers clients for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, and access to over 30 VPN servers.

The free plan boasts full access to those servers (just as with the subscription options), the only restriction of the free offering being that you’re limited in the amount of data you can download.

Free users get 4GB of data for the first month, but that drops to 1GB during subsequent months. That’s not a massive amount, and certainly not as much as some other rivals you’ll see elsewhere on this page, but it’s still enough for some basic surfing and email duties.

And this VPN provider is definitely worth a look on the performance front, as during our testing, the aforementioned speed-granting technologies did actually prove themselves to have a positive effect.

Want to try Speedify? You can download it here 

PrivateTunnel is a free VPN that offers protection for all of your devices - both desktop and mobile

5. PrivateTunnel

A free VPN that’ll keep your data and identity safe on any PC or mobile device

Number of servers: N/A | Server locations: 9 | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 3

Wide range of clients
Simple to use
Limited choice of locations
Inconsistent performance at times

Like some of the other tools featured in this roundup, PrivateTunnel is available for a number of platforms – specifically Windows, Mac, Android and iOS. Another characteristic shared with many of its contemporaries is the existence of a limited, free package in addition to paid-for subscriptions. Well, sort of. Rather than offering a traditional monthly subscription package, you are instead provided with 200MB of non-expiring data to use as you want. 

When this runs out, you can purchase more data in bundles of 20GB or 100GB. If you feel that you'd like to use PrivateTunnel all the time, you can opt for a $30 per year package which give you unlimited data – see the 200MB as something of a taster session to see if you like everything.

As a VPN, PrivateTunnel works fairly well, although connections can be a little temperamental at times. It's all very easy to use, so there's little reason not to take it for a test drive. 

Want to try PrivateTunnel? You can download it here

Free VPN tool freelan gives you total control over your connection, but its somewhat tricky setup means TunnelBear and Hotspot Shield Free are better choices for novice users

6. Freelan

A free VPN for experienced users who are comfortable with the command line

Number of servers: N/A | Server locations: N/A | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: N/A

A very different approach
Hugely flexible
No graphical UI
Definitely not for novices

The installation of Freelan is a little disconcerting for the uninitiated. Rather than just installing a regular program, the software installs new network drivers that take control of your web traffic. That's not a problem, but it's something that's worth pointing out right from the start.

Freelan is an open source tool and is free in absolutely every regard, but getting it set up can be tricky, particularly for novices. For more advanced users Freelan has a great deal to offer, but you should not expect your hand to be held every step of the way as well the likes of TunnelBear.

For most people this is going to be a program to avoid, but for the curious, the more technically-minded (there's no graphical user interface, so you'll be controlling it via the command line) and those who want to be in absolute control, it's ideal. 

Want to try Freelan? You can download it here

How to choose a free VPN: 5 must-ask questions

The last 12 months have witnessed the rise of global threats to individual privacy with long maintained rights to anonymity and net neutrality being undermined with a cloak of legitimacy.

While VPN - virtual private networks - are not the panacea to being safe, secure and private on the internet, it is an essential component of the arsenal for individuals inclined to seek these liberties.

If you don’t have a VPN service yet, you can grab one for free, without having to pay a single penny for one. Just be careful though as not all free VPN services are created equal and some might even compromise your security.

Here are five questions you need to ask yourself before you download and install one.

 1. What is its business model? VPN providers are in for the money and running such a service does cost a lot especially if it is a popular one. Some, like Tunnelbear, will use free, just like Dropbox, as a marketing tool to entice potential customers to move to a paid version once they are happy with the free one. Most however will sell user data or provide a service to third party that will, again, compromise your privacy.  

 2. How does it protect my PC? Most VPN services usually use a desktop application that runs in the background encrypting your data while you surf the web. However, that’s only solves part of the problem. Your laptop can still be fingerprinted because of the permissiveness of tracking solutions that can be found on almost all websites online. A few, including WIndscribe, have a more holistic approach by integrating the equivalent of a super ad-blocker

3. What do I lose by going free? Usually one can expect a free product to have some corners cut and that is indeed the case for all VPN providers. Some offer more free bandwidth than others, major locations and even ad blocking, P2P and firewall with an easy paid for upgrade path that unlocks unlimited bandwidth with more locations and OpenVPN Configs.

4. Does your provider log anything? Make sure that your provider doesn’t store users’ internet activity. You can usually check that in the terms and conditions page or the end user license agreement, commonly known as EULA. Sadly, a lot of VPN providers prefer to frustrate end users with long T&Cs or privacy statements that often hide significant details about how they operate. On the other end of the spectrum are VPN services that will erase everything after your session closes and don’t keep logs.

5. Can I sign up completely anonymously? Having a VPN provider that you can subscribe to without an email address and one that accepts Bitcoin payments, for maximum privacy, is pretty much the best you can expect online.  Some services also offer double hopping where you can obfuscate your traffic further by essentially doubling down on privacy.