The best free VPN services of 2018

The best free VPN services

1. TunnelBear

2. Windscribe

3. Hotspot Shield Free

4. Speedify

5. ProtonVPN Free

Read on for our detailed analysis of each client

 

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

At any rate, here's our pick of the best free VPNs of 2018 - out of the dozens we've tested and retested - to keep your online activity safe and anonymous. 

Remember: free VPNs cost nothing but there is usually a good reason for that. 

The obvious concern is that any VPN service needs to turn a profit, and that can potentially be achieved by selling on data to third-parties in some cases – rather defeating the whole drive for privacy in the first place.

We also reviewed more than 80 VPN (paid) providers and listed the best ones in our updated best VPN services for 2018 buyer's guide.

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The best free VPN services of 2018

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 plan 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.

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.

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 which was recently released, albeit in an unfinished 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: 25 | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 5

Easy-to-use
500MB 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 25 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.

Those on the free plan can protect up to five devices simultaneously, and are limited to 500MB of data per day, which isn’t a massive amount, but will suffice for very light or occasional usage.

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.

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 huge allowance, and certainly not as much as some other rivals you’ll see elsewhere on this page, but it’s more than some, and still enough for covering 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 

A good range of clients and unlimited bandwidth – there’s plenty to like here

5. ProtonVPN Free

You won’t be constrained by a monthly data allowance with this free VPN

Number of servers: N/A | Server locations: 3 | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 1

No monthly data limits
Great on the privacy front
One device limit
Only three locations to choose from

ProtonVPN is another provider that offers a free and paid VPN service, but the former has some very strong points, the most notable of which is that it doesn’t impose any bandwidth restrictions. In other words, you’re free to use as much data as you want every month.

There are, naturally enough, limitations for the free plan to incentivize upgrading to the paid offering. And ProtonVPN Free’s restrictions include limiting you to only one device, only three locations, and free users get a lower priority when it comes to speed compared to paying subscribers. There’s no P2P support either.

But if you can live with that, this is an impressive provider with a strict no logging policy, and you can sign up with nothing more than your email address. There aren’t even any ads on the website, let alone the client.

Speaking of clients, there are a good range of these – with native software for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, plus Android – and we found performance levels were pretty solid too. However, speeds may drop at peak times when lots of users are around and paying folks get priority; at which point you may be tempted to upgrade to a paid plan.

But clearly, with its unlimited data allowance, this is one freebie which is well worth considering.

Want to try ProtonVPN Free? You can download it here

This provider won’t throttle your connection and claims to be the ‘world’s fastest VPN’

6. Hide.me

You’re on a hiding to something with this privacy-conscious VPN

Number of servers: N/A | Server locations: 3 | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 1

Strong on privacy
No adverts or speed throttling
Limited to one device
Only three locations

Hide.me offers both paid and free VPN services, with the latter giving you 2GB of data per month to play with. There are other limits too: you can only connect a maximum of one device, and are limited to three server locations (Singapore, Canada, and Netherlands) rather than the 30 locations paying subscribers get.

On the plus side, however, this provider won’t throttle the connection speed of free users, and Hide.me further promises that it keeps no logs and stores no user data, so won’t pass on any data to third-parties in order to try and make a profit (simply because it doesn’t have any data to pass on). There are no adverts here, either.

You get native software for Windows and Mac, Android and iOS, with the Windows client being smartly designed, plus there’s 24/7 technical support (which is in place even for free users). Performance was impressive in our testing, too.

Overall, then, this is a more-than-solid free offering which tries to maintain your privacy, without too many restrictions.

Want to try Hide.me? You can download it here

Need an easy-to-use VPN with plentiful servers? You got it with SurfEasy

7. SurfEasy (Opera Free VPN)

A good argument for switching your browser?

Number of servers: 1000 | Server locations: 25 | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 5

Five simultaneous devices allowed
User-friendly client
500MB monthly data limit
Performance not so hot over longer hops

SurfEasy is a Canadian-based VPN from the same organization responsible for the Opera web browser, and indeed it’s the service which is bundled within Opera as an integrated free VPN.

There are both paid and free offerings, with the latter not restricting the amount of devices you can use – free users can hook up a maximum of five devices simultaneously, just like paid subscribers.

You also get 1,000 servers across 25 countries, and a very user-friendly Windows client. Performance is solid enough, although we found that some longer distance trips to more remote servers (i.e. the US) could be rather sluggish.

The main restriction here is a monthly data limit of 500MB, which means you won’t get very much mileage out of this VPN on a free basis, and it’s really for very light or occasional use only (or testing the service if you’re looking at signing up for a paid plan).

It’s important to note, though, that if you’re using the Opera browser with its integrated VPN, there’s no data limit here (at least for protecting your browsing activities). Which could be a compelling argument to switch from the likes of Chrome or Firefox…

Want to try SurfEasy? You can download it here

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

8. 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

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.