The best free VPN in 2024

Trusted VPN testing:

The words "best free VPN" next to a range of devices running different VPN apps.

(Image credit: Future)

Every year, each of our VPN experts spends around 3,000 hours testing VPN apps and services. That includes over 28,000 speed tests, 2,200 streaming tests, and hundreds of VPN reviews.

A free VPN is a great way to protect your devices if you can't afford a premium service. But don't think that just because a VPN is free that it's safe. Most apps on the market offer sub-par protection and harvest your data to sell on to marketing agencies.

With hundreds of apps to pick from—and almost all of them claiming to be totally unlimited—even the best free VPN services come with limitations, and are designed to be a taste of the real thing to convince you to upgrade.

Before we take a deeper look into the best free VPNs in 2024, it's important to understand why only a handful of services like Privado VPN, Proton VPN, and Windscribe offer free VPNs that you can trust.

Why I don't always recommend a free VPN

Not all VPNs are created equal, and that is even more so when it comes to a free service. Even the best free VPNs come with restrictions, and are designed to give you a glimpse of the full service so you'll consider upgrading to get the full functionality.

Because of this, these services often lock features behind paywalls, and massively reduce the number of locations you can access with a free plan. On top of that, most services won't invest in rotating IP addresses for free servers, and that means they're usually useless if you want to unblock content online.

In short, most free VPNs just can't do what a premium VPN can—but they're not supposed to. The best VPNs give you far more than most free services (despite their claims), while a free VPN is designed to give you the most basic level of protection—everything else is a bonus.

The three best premium VPNs in 2024

Paid VPNs offer so much more than their free counterparts. If you want to get the best experience but don't want to risk your cash, take advantage of money-back guarantees and see how they compare with the top free options. If you use the guarantees on my top three premium picks, you can get a month of coverage from each without losing a penny.

1. The best VPN overall: NordVPN
NordVPN continues to rank among the top VPN providers thanks to its amazing array of features, excellent streaming site unblocking, and super-fast speeds. See for yourself why this is my number one VPN and take advantage of its 30-day money-back guarantee

1. The best VPN overall: NordVPN
NordVPN continues to rank among the top VPN providers thanks to its amazing array of features, excellent streaming site unblocking, and super-fast speeds. See for yourself why this is my number one VPN and take advantage of its 30-day money-back guarantee.

2. The best VPN for beginners: ExpressVPN
ExpressVPN automates every process that most other apps would make you do manually, ensuring the fastest, safest connection possible every time. Get a second month of protection for free and see how it compares to NordVPN with a 30-day money-back guarantee

2. The best VPN for beginners: ExpressVPN
ExpressVPN automates every process that most other apps would make you do manually, ensuring the fastest, safest connection possible every time. Get a second month of protection for free and see how it compares to NordVPN with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

3. The best budget VPN: Surfsharkjust $2.29 per month30-day money-back guarantee

3. The best budget VPN: Surfshark
Surfshark offers some of the most advanced privacy tools for some of the lowest prices in the industry. Coming in at just $2.29 per month, you get a service that genuinely rivals NordVPN and ExpressVPN, for just a fraction of the price. It even comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can get a third month of free premium VPN protection, all without risking a penny.

Recent updates

After my latest VPN tests, I've removed TunnelBear as I no longer recommend it as a free service—compared to the other options out there, it's just not worth using. I've also taken AtlasVPN off of the list as the service shuts down, transferring its users over to NordVPN.

The best free VPN services in 2024

Let's deep-dive into my top free VPN picks for today.

PrivadoVPN Free VPN running on various devices

(Image credit: PrivadoVPN)

1. PrivadoVPN Free

The best free VPN—it even unblocks Netflix and iPlayer

Available on: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux | Data limit: 10 GB at full speed, then unlimited via a single 1 Mbps location | Connections: 1 | Server locations: 13 | Countries: 10 | 24/7 live chat support: Website and email

Unblocks US Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer 
10 GB full-speed data a month, plus unlimited low-speed traffic 
Super-fast speeds
Plenty of customization
Easy-to-use apps
Some features are locked behind the premium service
Subscribe if:

✔️ You want a free Netflix VPN: PrivadoVPN is one of the only free providers that can reliably unblock Netflix.

✔️ You need a fast free VPN: WireGuard encryption is accessible on PrivadoVPN's free plan, which means you get fantastic speeds no matter what.

✔️ You want premium features: most services block features behind a paywall, but not PrivadoVPN. Split tunneling, auto-connect, and kill switch functionality are included as standard.

Don't subscribe if:

❌ You need totally unlimited data: PrivadoVPN offers unparalleled performance, but only for 10 GB. After that, your speeds are seriously restricted.

❌ You want a Linux app: Linux installations only operate a command-line interface. If you need a graphical user interface (GUI), I recommend ProtonVPN.

Bottom line ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

🔒 PrivadoVPN Free is an excellent service with unblocking capabilities that blow even some premium competition out of the water. Try it for yourself and see why it's my top free VPN in 2024.

Want to know more?

Check out our in-depth PrivadoVPN review for a closer look at the service, and see why it's my top free VPN pick for 2024.

PrivadoVPN Free has been nipping at Proton's heels for a long time, and with recent updates, it's finally de-throned the long-standing Swiss champion. With a dedicated geoblocking team, it's one of few VPNs that can reliably unblock popular streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, and BBC iPlayer—most paid services can't say that.

I also love the fact that, contrary to many other freebies on the market, Privado's free option offers plenty of customization and security features. These include a kill switch and always-on VPN to protect your data at all times and cut your internet use if your VPN connection drops.

The free platform even offers split-tunneling, so you can access local services while streaming your favorite shows abroad. You can even control your encryption protocol, and switch to WireGuard for a faster, more secure VPN experience. 

Try PrivadoVPN: the best free VPN

With its 900 Mbps average download speeds, PrivadoVPN's free servers are just as fast as its paid-for ones. This knocks Proton VPN's free servers to the curb, pulling in only 520 Mbps. The higher server count also means that PrivadoVPN's servers are less likely to become congested, too.

However, if the data tap runs dry, you then get unlimited data via its "over-quota" mode, where you'll be placed on a speed-restricted server offering only 1 Mbps. While this might seem slow, it's still plenty for day-to-day internet use, and most users won't likely need more than 10 GB every month. In a recent discussion with Privado's engineers, they revealed the majority of its free subscribers only use around 4 GB of data per month—and if you really need more, the paid plan is a good cheap VPN.

PrivadoVPN is one of the only VPN providers to handle its own bandwidth and transit routes. This means you get fantastic speeds and almost no server congestion—it's a free service with a truly premium feel. 

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PrivadoVPN test results:
AttributesNotesRating
DesignModern and uncluttered, with a tasteful color scheme⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Ease of useIntuitive app with simple implementation means it's perfect for beginners⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
PerformanceThe fastest free VPN service⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
UnblockingA dedicated geo-unblocking team that doesn't just work for the paying customers⭐⭐⭐⭐
Security and privacyRobust security on paper, but no independent audit⭐⭐⭐⭐
Customer supportSupport staff are friendly, but the site could do with more content⭐⭐⭐⭐

Proton VPN interface for mobile and desktop VPN apps

(Image credit: Proton VPN)

2. Proton VPN Free

Unlimited data allowance and advocates for digital privacy

Available on: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux | Data limit: Unlimited | Connections: 1 | Countries: 1 | Support: Website, email

Unlimited data
Fast servers
Feature-packed open-sourced and audited apps 
Reliable kill switch
No choice over server locations
Subscribe if:

✔️ You want an unlimited free VPN: unlike most free providers, Proton VPN doesn't cap data usage on its free plan.

✔️ You want a free open-source VPN: Proton VPN is proudly open-source, meaning anyone can audit and verify its claims.

✔️ You want a free Linux VPN: Proton VPN offers free installation on Linux and even comes with a graphical user interface (GUI).

Don't subscribe if:

 You want to choose your location: ProtonVPN no longer lets you choose where you connect to. If you want to pick your server location, I recommend PrivadoVPN or Windscribe.

❌ You want a free torrenting VPN: if you want access to Proton VPN's P2P servers, you'll need to upgrade to the premium version. We'd recommend PrivadoVPN instead.

Bottom line ⭐⭐⭐⭐½

🔒 Proton VPN is a well-known brand with a history of fighting for digital privacy and internet freedom. While it's recently been knocked off of its throne, it's still an absolutely fantastic service.

Want to know more?

Check out our in-depth Proton VPN review for a closer look at one of the most popular free VPNs in the industry.

Proton VPN Free used to top my free VPN charts, thanks to its mix of features, power, and app quality. While it may have lost its place, it's still a remarkable service that doesn't pile on the limits and restrictions to nag you into upgrading. This is a free VPN you could use long-term.

For starters, users can use their software as long as they want as Proton comes with no data limits. That's a big plus in a market where almost all other free VPNs might allow you 500 MB to 10 GB a month at most. This also ultimately translates into better privacy as you don't have to choose where you use the VPN when data's running low. If you feel there's a risk, or you're unsure, then just get connected—Proton VPN Free is always available.

Proton hasn't punished free users by omitting key features, either. Some free providers drop the kill switch, WireGuard, and maybe even support, but Proton VPN Free has all the core privacy features you need to stay safe online.

Download this great VPN directly from the Proton website

There are still significant limits, however, as you can no longer choose where you connect to on Proton VPN's free plan. Although you can install Proton VPN on as many devices as you like, you can only connect one at a time. There's no access to Proton VPN's specialist streaming servers, no P2P support, or bonus extras such as ad and malware-blocking—to use them, you'll have to upgrade to a premium plan.

None of this prevents Proton VPN Free from doing its central job, though, and much better than most of the competition. Its well-engineered, open-source, and audited apps are easy to use, but also stuffed with useful tweaks, tools, and technologies. 

The service previously topped my free VPN speed charts but has since been knocked off of its pillar by Privado and Windscribe. Speeds of 520 Mbps are nothing to scoff at, as some premium providers aren't that fast. However, the limited number of services comes with a high potential for congestion, so those speeds may not always be available.

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Proton VPN test results:
AttributesNotesRating
DesignDark and edgy with plenty of flair⭐⭐⭐⭐
Ease of useNot the simplest design, but still fairly intuitive⭐⭐⭐
PerformanceA super-fast service, but with a small risk of congestion⭐⭐⭐⭐
UnblockingDedicated Deutsche Welle servers but few locations to choose from otherwise⭐⭐⭐⭐
Security and privacyOpen-source, audited, and reliable⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Customer supportLots of on-site support and excellent agents⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Windscribe VPN app showing server location search function

(Image credit: Windscribe)

3. Windscribe Free

Powerful and secure with a generous data cap

Available on: Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS | Data limit: 10 GB | Connections: Unlimited | Server locations: 14 | Countries: 11 | Support: Website, email

Plenty of advanced features
Unlimited simultaneous connections
Unblocks UK Netflix, BBC iPlayer
Fast speeds
Only 10 GB of data
Subscribe if:

✔️ You want unlimited simultaneous connections: Windscribe doesn't care how many devices you use, but it does give you a 10 GB data limit.

✔️ You want plenty of server locations: 14 server locations is more than any other free VPN service I recommend.

Don't subscribe if:

❌ You need more than 10 GB of data: 10 GB doesn't go as far as it used to, and if you use it to stream or torrent, it'll run out quickly. If you need a truly unlimited service, I would recommend Proton VPN instead.

Bottom line ⭐⭐⭐⭐

🔒 Windscribe offers plenty of server locations and reliable service, but lacks the speed and quality of PrivadoVPN and Proton VPN.

Want to know more?

Check out our in-depth Windscribe free VPN review for a closer look at this popular free service.

Windscribe Free VPN is a quality Canadian service whose appealing mix of features more than justifies its place in the top three.

The data allowance is a little more restricted than my two top VPNs, at a strict 10 GB a month. That's enough to protect a lot of online activity, though, and Windscribe Free VPN has its own plus point as compensation. Yet, while most free plans restrict you to only one connection, Windscribe has no limits. This means you can install and use the software on as many devices simultaneously as you need.

The network is another highlight, with Windscribe Free VPN users able to choose from 14 locations across 11 countries. That beats PrivadoVPN Free (10 countries), Proton VPN (3 countries), and many others.

Put Windscribe to the test for free

Windscribe's premium service was one of the few VPNs that maxed out the speed testing line in my latest round of tests. Thankfully, its free plan isn't holding back either, pulling in speeds of 910 Mbps over WireGuard.

Recent revamps of the apps have made them a bit more simple in their design, but I dislike how cluttered they feel. Even still, it's a step in the right direction, and the new server location search function is incredibly helpful.

There are some surprising plus points, too. Although Windscribe Free VPN doesn't include the specialist Windflix dedicated streaming servers, I found the service still successfully unblocked UK Netflix and BBC iPlayer. I like that it doesn't disregard content unblocking for non-paying customers.

Put it all together, and while Windscribe Free VPN can't quite match Proton VPN and PrivadoVPN, it gets very close, and the service could well be the right choice for some people but when you consider that all of these services are free, why would you pick anything other than the best?

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Windscribe test results:
AttributesNotesRating
DesignSimple and intuitive, albeit a little cluttered⭐⭐⭐⭐
Ease of usePretty easy to use for beginners⭐⭐⭐⭐
PerformanceFaster than Privado⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
UnblockingNot bad, but not guaranteed⭐⭐⭐⭐
Security and privacyOpen-source and reliable⭐⭐⭐⭐
Customer supportEmail tickets are quickly resolved, but no live chat makes it somewhat inconvenient⭐⭐⭐

Hide.me Windows app showing server locations

(Image credit: Hide.me)

4. Hide.me Free VPN

Expert-level privacy protection for free

Available on: Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS | Data limit: 10 GB | Connections: 1 | Server locations: 5 | Countries: 4 | Support: Website, email, live chat

10 GB of data per month
P2P support
Highly configurable
Poor connection speeds
Apps can seem complex
Subscribe if:

✔️ You want a free torrenting VPN: Hide.me is one of the few free VPNs that support P2P torrenting.

✔️ You need an anonymous free VPN: simple sign-up processes mean you can get a free VPN without revealing who you are.

Don't subscribe if:

 You want a free VPN that's fast: Hide.me had underwhelming results compared to the competition

❌ You're a VPN beginner: if you're looking for your first VPN, Hide.me has a pretty complex UI. Instead, I would recommend PrivadoVPN.

Bottom line ⭐⭐⭐½

🔒 Hide.me offers a decent free platform that's good for torrenting, but its slow speeds and limited servers make me go back to PrivadoVPN every time.

Want to know more?

Check out our in-depth Hide.me review for a closer look this popular free VPN service.

Hide.me Free VPN is a solid mid-range service that doesn't hit the mark in every area, but still has more than enough standout features to make it worth a closer look.

Installing the service gets you a decent 10 GB of data a month, and access to five P2P-friendly locations: east and west coast USA, Canada, Germany, and Netherlands. Not the best around, but enough to get by for most users, and it's useful as a torrenting VPN.

Download now on the Hide.me website

The apps have more features and customizability than most of the free competition, which is a huge benefit. Auto-connect on accessing untrusted Wi-Fi, custom DNS, split tunneling, a powerful kill switch, advanced protocol tweaks, and capable browser extensions—they're all here. Great news for experts, although others might feel this makes for a more complex and intimidating interface compared to services like Privado and Proton.

Hide.me Free VPN also supports the speedy WireGuard protocol, so you can take advantage of the latest and greatest in VPN encryption protocols. However, performance is a concern for if you use the free plan. Its paid service is one of the fastest VPN services around, but I found Hide.me Free VPN averaged only downloads of around 25 Mbps. That's significantly less than the speeds I saw from PrivadoVPN and the other top providers.

That's enough speed for browsing, streaming, and most other tasks, though, and if you'll use Hide.me Free VPN's more advanced app features, it could be the right service for you. However, when you factor in the competition, it's not really worth it when you can get so much more for nothing elsewhere.

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Hide.me test results:
AttributesNotesRating
DesignA simple design that's clutter-free, but somewhat boring⭐⭐⭐
Ease of useQuite complex for beginners⭐⭐⭐
PerformanceThe premium version maxed out my testing lines, but the free version is pretty lacklustre⭐⭐
UnblockingPretty average unblocking capabilities⭐⭐⭐
Security and privacyDecent security and plenty of features to pick from⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Customer supportGood customer support and an in-depth knowledge hub⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Hotspot Shield Free VPN on multiple devices

(Image credit: Hotspot Shield)

5. Hotspot Shield Basic VPN

Absolutely no data limits, but look out for the ads

Available on: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux | Data limit: Unlimited | Connections: 1 | Server locations: 1 | Countries: 1 | Support: Website

Unlimited bandwidth
Easy to use
Decent speeds
Single US location only
No kill switch
No email or live chat support
Subscribe if:

✔️ You need lots of data: Hotspot Shield offers a truly unlimited plan for anyone who needs more than 10 GB.

✔️ You want a fast free VPN: regularly boasting about its speed, Hotspot Shield doesn't hold back with its free servers.

Don't subscribe if:

 You want more than one server location: if you need a closer server, or just another location whatsoever, I would pick any of the others.

❌ You need a kill switch: most services come with a kill switch as standard. I don't know why Hotspot Shield is holding out on this one.

Bottom line ⭐⭐⭐

🔒 Hotspot Shield offers a sub-par service when compared to the competition.

Want to know more?

Check out our in-depth Hotspot Shield Basic plan review for a closer look at the free version of this popular premium VPN.

Hotspot Shield Basic is a popular free VPN plan with a very major plus: last year, the provider began upgrading the service to offer unlimited data across all platforms. Mac, Android, and iOS now support unlimited data, with Windows joining the party later.

In a world where most free VPNs restrict you to 10 GB a month or even less, being able to use the service as much as you like is a huge advantage. So, you might be wondering, "Why is Hotspot Shield Basic not higher up the list?"

Try Hotspot Shield for yourself

One major catch with the service is that it only allows connecting to a single US location. PrivadoVPN and Windscribe support around ten countries, while TunnelBear offers almost 50.

Usability issues and irritations include mobile apps that regularly display video ads when you connect. The Mac app has no ads but does open pages on the Hotspot Shield website every time you connect and disconnect.

One big privacy problem is that Hotspot Shield Basic doesn't include a kill switch. If the VPN connection drops, your traffic may be unprotected.

Oh, and if you experience any problems with any of this, there's no live chat or email support. You're left to browse the Hotspot Shield website and figure out a solution yourself.

This makes it difficult to recommend Hotspot Shield Basic above the competition, even with its unlimited data. But it may still be useful for simple tasks, or as an emergency backup for another provider, and it's worth checking out the service for yourself.

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Hotspot Shield test results:
AttributesNotesRating
DesignA clean and simple design⭐⭐⭐
Ease of useIntuitive apps that are easy to use but contain ads⭐⭐⭐
PerformanceDecent speeds, but nothing spectacular considering Hotspot Shield's claims⭐⭐⭐
UnblockingMediocre unblocking capabilities⭐⭐
Security and privacyLacking a kill switch is a serious problem⭐⭐
Customer supportNo live chat or email support is disappointing⭐⭐

My VPN industry rankings

Want to know how each of my free VPN picks fares against the rest of the market? check out my industry rankings below.

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VPN serviceRatingSummaryReviews
1. NordVPN⭐⭐⭐⭐½My favorite VPN overall, it's perfect for streaming, gaming, and even comes with a whole security suiteCheck out our NordVPN review
2. ExpressVPN⭐⭐⭐⭐½The best choice for beginners, and great for streaming contentCheck out our ExpressVPN review
3. Surfshark⭐⭐⭐⭐½The best cheap VPN, and also the fastest in our testsCheck out our Surfshark review
4. Private Internet Access⭐⭐⭐⭐½The best Linux VPN with a dedicated GUI for Linux, and a no-logs policy that was proven in court twiceCheck out our Private Internet Access review
5. ProtonVPN⭐⭐⭐⭐A popular free VPN service with a history of advocating for the freedom of the internetCheck out our Proton VPN review
6. PrivadoVPN⭐⭐⭐⭐The best free VPN—it even unblocks NetflixCheck out our PrivadoVPN review
7. IPVanish⭐⭐⭐⭐An up-and-coming provider that supports LinuxCheck out our IPVanish review
8. Windscribe⭐⭐⭐⭐A fast service with a popular browser proxyCheck out our Windscribe VPN review
9. CyberGhost VPN⭐⭐⭐⭐A popular and easy-to-use platform that's great for beginnersCheck out our CyberGhost VPN review
10. Mullvad⭐⭐⭐⭐Good for Linux, and you can even pay in cashCheck out our Mullvad review
11. PureVPN⭐⭐⭐⭐One of the cheapest premium VPNs on the marketCheck out our PureVPN review
12. Hide.Me⭐⭐⭐⭐A speedy service with plenty of customizationCheck out our Hide.me review
13. Atlas VPN⭐⭐⭐½A new player in the VPN industry that's already making wavesCheck out our Atlas VPN review
14. TunnelBear⭐⭐⭐½A reliable free VPN but no support for content unblockingCheck out our TunnelBear review
15. Mozilla VPN⭐⭐⭐½A well known brand with a VPN that currently underperformsCheck out our Mozilla VPN review
16. Hotspot Shield⭐⭐⭐½A fast VPN service with lots of great featuresCheck out our Hotspot Shield review
17. VyprVPN⭐⭐⭐½A reliable VPN with a dedicated protocol for bypassing even the most severe censorshipCheck out our VyprVPN review
18. Norton VPN⭐⭐⭐Known for its popular security suite with a lacklustre VPNCheck out our Norton VPN review
19. PrivateVPN⭐⭐½An excellent cheap service that offers plenty of support for streaming and torrentingCheck out our PrivateVPN review
20. AstrillVPN⭐⭐½A mid-range VPN that's popular for bypassing Chinese censorshipCheck out our Astrill VPN review
21. FastestVPN⭐⭐½Making its way up the list, but not yet living up to its nameCheck out our FastestVPN review
22. StrongVPN⭐⭐Another mid-range VPN that continues to improveCheck out our StrongVPN review
23. AirVPN⭐⭐Built by hacktivists, for hacktivistsCheck out our AirVPN review
24. Goose VPN⭐⭐An incredibly cheap mid-range VPNCheck out our Goose VPN review
25. TorGuard⭐⭐A torrent-friendly VPN that's good for accessing foreign contentCheck out our TorGuard review
26. UltraVPN⭐⭐Fast and secure with plenty of server locationsCheck out our UltraVPN review
27. Le VPN⭐⭐Lots of locations to choose from and integrated SmartDNS technologyCheck out our Le VPN review
28. VPNArea⭐⭐A mid-range VPN that struggles to hold up against the industry leadersCheck out our VPNArea review
29. ZoogVPN⭐⭐A fairly underwhelming VPN from GreeceCheck out our ZoogVPN review
30. Google One⭐⭐Google's history with and general approach to your data doesn't give us much faith in the serviceCheck out our Google One VPN review

What is a VPN?

A virtual private network (VPN) is a cybersecurity tool that protects your device from hackers, cybercriminals, and snoopers. It encrypts your data and routes it through a secure server elsewhere in the world. This lets you pretend to be in another part of the world by changing your IP address (a number that identifies your device and location).

When you put all of this together, you get a service that shields your digital privacy, and lets you unblock censored or restricted content—no matter where you are.

How I test free VPNs - VPN review methodology

My VPN reviews begin with a detailed look at the provider's website. What features do you get? How useful is the support site? Has the provider gone through an audit, and if so, what did it say? And are there any catches in the small print?

VPNs can vary hugely between platforms, so I test and compare apps on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. I look at usability, features, settings, and more, and make sure each app works as expected.

Peeking under the hood can give you very useful information about a VPN, so I also dig deeper into the Windows app, exploring the files it uses, the settings, and whether it's properly setting up your connection for the best possible privacy.

Speed matters, even for a free VPN. We test performance from a UK cloud PC with a speedy and ultra-reliable 1 Gbps connection, giving each VPN plenty of bandwidth to show me just what it can do. Then we run over 120 speed tests per provider during the course of our testing round, and our automated speed testing tools capture the data and show us every result along with a combined average. Check out our latest speed tests for PrivadoVPN below.

Providers might claim to have a kill switch, but does this really give you the protection it claims? I use various techniques to force a VPN connection to close, and monitor each app to make sure it handles each situation correctly.

The limited data on most free VPN plans means they're not ideal for unblocking streaming sites. But it's still interesting to see who delivers on the unblocking front, and who doesn't. To find out, I check whether each provider can access exclusive regional content on (depending on the available locations) US Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, and BBC iPlayer.

To find out more, check out our VPN testing methodology.

Tested by

Meet the experts behind our free VPN guide:

Andreas Theodorou Editor-in-Chief Tech Software
Andreas Theodorou

A privacy purist at heart, Andreas is a VPN expert who believes the best VPN doesn't have to be the most expensive—it's about what's right for you.

Mike Williams in the dark
Mike Williams

Mike regularly reviews our top picks, and loves looking behind the curtains to see how a VPN works in the background. If there's a skeleton in the closet, he'll find it.

Our free VPN testing ethics

With so many free VPNs to choose from, and with all of them claiming to be the best and most "unlimited" of them all, I take a very strict approach to choosing which ones make it on the list. I test VPNs every single day, and I've lived and breathed them for the past three years (nearly four).

A VPN is only included in one of my pages if it meets all of the following criteria:

  • It's a VPN I have actually tested: I wouldn't recommend something I've never had my hands on. How can I verify it works if I've never used it? I'm always testing VPNs, and always happy to consider new entries for the list, but I won't recommend a service that doesn't deserve to be here.
  • It's a reliable service: you can trust it to keep you and your loved ones safe online. This means no invasive privacy policies, no stealing your IP address, and a genuine no-logs policy is vital. Many services claim they have a no-logs policy, but their third-party partners do the tracking instead.
  • It's actually worth using: what's the point of a free VPN if you can't really use it? If it doesn't work, it's not going on the list. Likewise, if the privacy policy isn't up to scratch, or the encryption isn't good enough, or the servers are too slow, then what's the point when there are some excellent services out there offering free plans?
  • It's genuinely free: if you have to pay up-front for the service, then it's not a free VPN. VPN free trials are a whole other kettle of fish, and worth taking advantage of, but it's not right for this list.
  • It doesn't have a shady privacy policy: so many free services make their money by harvesting your data and selling it. To make this list, a VPN service must have a robust no-logs policy. That means no one will be tracking what you do online, not the VPN, nor any third party they associate with—yes I've turned providers down in the past for this.

Countless services have reached out to me in the past looking to get on this page, and they have been thoroughly ticked off when I've explained why they don't meet my standards.

In short, it comes down to this: if I wouldn't feel comfortable with my friends and family using it, how could I ask you to use it?

Should you use a free VPN?

Honestly, there isn't one easy answer to this question. It depends on what you want to use your free VPN for. If it's just about having a bit more security on your laptop or mobile when using public Wi-Fi, they can be just the ticket. Jump on the service, turn on an encrypted server connection, and crack on with your online activities safe in the knowledge that no prying eyes will be able to see your private information.

But if your main purpose is to have a streaming VPN say, or want to use it while downloading terabytes of torrent files, a free VPN just isn't going to do the trick. For starters, most of them limit you to a daily or monthly data allowance that you'll rinse through in no time at all. Most don't have the kind of easy access support or server range required to make those activities easy with a virtual private network.

Note: price doesn't always equal quality, and some of the best services cost as little as $2/£2 per month. The best cheap VPNs will give you much better performance and protection—without breaking the bank.

How to choose a free VPN

The last couple of years 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 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 one 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 providers 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? Providers are in for the money and running such a business does cost a lot, especially if it is a popular one. Some will use their free version, 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 logging and usage information to a third party that will, again, compromise your privacy.
  2. How does it protect my device? Most providers usually use a desktop application that runs in the background, encrypting your data while you surf the web. However, that only solves part of the problem. Your laptop can still be fingerprinted because of the permissiveness of tracking solutions 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 providers—this even holds true when it comes to things like free antivirus. 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 the VPN provider log anything? Make sure that your provider doesn’t store users’ internet activity. You can usually check that on the terms and conditions page or the end-user license agreement, commonly known as EULA. Sadly, plenty of 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 providers that will erase everything after your session closes and don’t keep logs.
  5. Can I sign up anonymously? Having a provider that you can subscribe to without an email address and one that accepts Bitcoin payments, for maximum privacy, is mostly the best you can expect online. Some providers also offer double hopping, where you can obfuscate your traffic further by essentially doubling down on privacy.

VPN encryption explained in infographic

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Are free VPNs safe?

Unfortunately, most free VPNs are more akin to a scam than a genuine privacy and security tool. They're more likely to give you a false sense of security and a generally underwhelming experience. What's worse, some free VPNs have even been found to sell your data for marketing purposes. Ultimately, this defeats the point of having a VPN in the first place: privacy.

As the adage goes: if the product is free, then you are the product.

The core purpose of a VPN is to secure your internet traffic and ensure your digital privacy remains intact. This is totally undermined if the VPN provider is the one doing the snooping instead.

In the most extreme instances, some VPN services are a front for malware, injecting viruses and spyware onto your device the second you download them from the app store/website. That's why it's so important to use the right VPN, especially if it's a free one.

How to get a premium VPN for free

If you're debating choosing a free or paid VPN provider, there could be a much simpler compromise than you think. Most of the best providers now offer ways to try their services absolutely free, whether that be with one of the best VPN free trials, or by methods such as a money-back guarantee. 

These trials and guarantees aren't limited to smaller providers either. In our lists, you'll find the likes of NordVPN, our top VPN provider, as well as numerous other top providers.

While you normally will still have to pay a small fee upfront to access some of these services, VPN providers ensure an easy process is in place for you to claim your money back quickly should you choose not to stick to your plan. 

Free VPN FAQs

What is the best free VPN?

Our latest round of testing saw PrivadoVPN continue to be the best free VPN currently available. Despite this, if you need unlimited data, we would recommend instead opting for Proton VPN, however, Proton comes with server location restrictions which could limit its value depending on how you want to use your VPN.

Is there a 100% free VPN?

While many VPNs claim that they're 100% free and unlimited, no VPN ever truly is. More often than not, these supposedly free services are just mining you for your data, meaning you're still paying a cost, even if it isn't financial. Even the best free VPNs have limitations to tempt you into upgrading to their premium service. A more dire scenario could also be that the VPN could be a fake app designed to infect your device with a virus. 

Are there any fake VPNs?

VPN scams are becoming increasingly prevalent. The idea of a secure online connection for a reduced cost, or no cost at all, can leave many vulnerable to scams on even the most reputable app stores. Any VPN services we recommend, both free and premium, are all extensively tested by the TechRadar VPN team and other leaders in the industry, so you can try and buy with confidence that what you're downloading does exactly what it says on the tin.

Why is a free VPN good?

Free VPNs are the perfect way for people who can't afford a premium service to protect themselves online and access foreign content in the face of oppressive censorship. But with the vast array of questionable services that exist, it's hard to know what VPN you can trust. That's why we've highlighted the best free VPNs in this article—to show you the reality of free VPNs, and how they differ from their premium counterparts.

Paid VPN vs free VPN - which should you choose?

That depends on what you need. If you want just a basic level of protection and you don't have any budget to spare, a reliable and proven free VPN (like the ones above) are a great way to keep you safe without costing a penny. However, if you want to unblock foreign content reliably, get the best speeds, and don't want to have to deal with data caps or server restrictions, then a premium VPN can't be beat. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned VPN veteran, only you know which will suit your needs best. Just remember that not all free VPNs are safe, even fewer are actually worth using, and if you're going to use a free one, you may as well use the best.

Edited by
River Hart Tech Software Editor
Edited by
River Hart

River has been reviewing and analyzing VPNs for the past four years and uses their digital privacy expertise and advocacy to support the cybersecurity content on TechRadar. Whether it's breaking news pieces, reviews, deals, or buying guides River lends their knowledge to help you find genuine answers, rather than the usual, thinly-veiled marketing that lurks in so many corners of the internet.

Disclaimer

We test and review VPN services in the context of legal recreational uses. For example:
1. Accessing a service from another country (subject to the terms and conditions of that service).
2. Protecting your online security and strengthening your online privacy when abroad.
We do not support or condone the illegal or malicious use of VPN services. Consuming pirated content that is paid-for is neither endorsed nor approved by Future Publishing.

Andreas Theodorou
Editor-in-Chief of Tech Software

Andreas has been with TechRadar as Future PLC's Editor-in-Chief of Tech Software since March 2023, supporting content and teams on VPNs, antivirus, and other cybersecurity tools. He's previously written for and led content at ProPrivacy, Business2Community, and The Tech Report. After completing a Master of Research degree, Andreas fell in love with all things cybersecurity; combining his passions to help expose the prevalence of ad tech in the charity sector and raise awareness of digital privacy around the world.

With contributions from