Should you use a free VPN? And if so, which free VPNs are best?
Best Free VPN Services
Nowadays it seems like everything’s a subscription service. So it’s no wonder you’re looking for a free VPN download to encrypt your internet connection.
Free VPNs can be worth it if you need a cost-efficient way to keep your data secure.
That said, we don’t normally recommend free VPNs for a few good reasons.
What to choose a free VPN
Free VPN services didn’t make our list of the best VPNs overall. That’s due to common issues like the following:
- Data limits and slower connection speeds
- Fewer security features
- Fewer servers to choose from
- Ads and paywalls
Not to mention that free VPNs need to make money somehow. Some of the sketchier services might make a quick buck selling your personal info and data.
We don’t say this to scare you; there’s still a place for free VPNs. And there are some, like the ones that made our list, that are reputable and safe to use. But we still recommend paying for a VPN, if only to get the full deck of security features and apps.
If you’re up for checking out a paid VPN, here are our top two recommended services, which both come with a 30- to 45-day free trial:
- : Best overall
- : Best for torrenting
- : Best for limited data
- : Best for added security features
- : Best for VPN beginners
Data effective as of publish date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
Data effective as of publish date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
We get it if you’re still aiming to trim your bills with a free VPN. And we have five trustworthy recommendations that won’t put your privacy at risk:
ProtonVPN, hide.me, Hotspot Shield, Windscribe, and TunnelBear are our top choices for free VPNs. Each one keeps free version limitations to a minimum while still offering gold-standard security.
Let’s dig in and find out which free VPN works best for you.
Number of servers
|Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS||Unlimited||100+||View Plans|
|Windows, macOS, Android, iOS||10 GB/mo.||5 locations||View Plans|
|Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS||Unlimited||1||View Plans|
|Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS||2–15 GB/mo.||10||View Plans|
|Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS||2 GB/mo.||5||View Plans|
ProtonVPN: Best overall with no data limits
ProtonVPN is a strong choice if you’re hoping to skip a subscription fee. It stands out with its unlimited data and unrestricted speeds policy, and the free version even has servers in over 100 locations. With ProtonVPN's free VPN plan, you can also cover 10 devices. However, those servers are likely not the fastest options, so you may see speed issues.
Unlimited data and unrestricted speeds
Most free VPN services put a cap on how much data you can use. This helps them keep costs down but can be a real pain if you’re hoping to download that sales presentation over airport Wi-Fi.
ProtonVPN lets you use all the data you need—even with its free plan. And it won’t throttle your data speeds either. Although, the servers available to free plan users may not be among the fastest.
Kill switch engaged, even for free users
A VPN kill switch may sound ominous, but it’s really a useful tool when it comes to securing your connection. A kill switch blocks all internet traffic if you lose connection with a VPN server.
That means your data remains safe even if your connection gets spotty.
Most VPNs require you to upgrade to the premium service to get features like a kill switch. But not ProtonVPN.
Lacking support for streaming and torrenting
We’re guessing at least half of folks looking for a VPN hope to use it for streaming or torrenting. So Proton’s free VPN service’s lack of torrenting and streaming support is a letdown.
Other free VPNs do support peer-to-peer and streaming. So if that’s your goal, you might want to check them out instead.
Another missing item for Proton’s free version is an ad blocker. You can grab one of these VPNs known for their powerful ad blockers to keep those pesky pop-ups and trackers at bay. Or upgrade to ProtonVPN’s premium version for a very reasonable $5 a month.
hide.me VPN: Best for torrenting
Hide.me VPN offers great protection and speeds without charging you a dime. Even its free plan provides the speeds needed for P2P downloads and streaming. And though it has a 10 GB monthly data limit, it still comes with fewer limitations than other free VPNs.
P2P download support
Some free VPNs tug on the reins when it comes to your connection speeds. But not hide.me. You’re able to tackle those peer-to-peer downloads with no problem. And hide.me VPN even works with P2P apps like qBittorent and uTorrent.
Just so you know, P2P torrenting and a VPN might cause you trouble, so be cautious. P2P downloads from sources you can’t verify could end up being malware or a virus.
Wireguard, OpenVPN, and IKEv2 VPN protocols
hide.me VPN uses OpenVPN and IKEv2 protocols, and it automatically connects you with the most optimal one. So there’s not much you need to know about IKEv2 and OpenVPN other than the following:
IKEv2 might be less secure than OpenVPN, but it provides a faster connection. And yes, it’s still secure.
OpenVPN is more robust when it comes to security, but it sacrifices speed to do that.
Wireguard is a new protocol that finds a happy medium between security and speed.
Hotspot Shield: Best for limited data
Hotspot Shield’s premium VPN service is one of our favorites thanks to its zippy speeds and secure encryption standards. But its free basic service does have limitations that might shut down your streaming or gaming dreams.
A good chunk of daily data
With an unlimited data allowance on their free VPN plan, Hotspot Shield’s data limit is downright generous.
This is a great option for anyone who needs a free VPN to download large files or stream video content. For reference, even just 500 MB lets you do the following:
- Video: Stream five 30-minute episodes
- Zoom: Hop on a two-hour video call
- Music: Listen to about 125 Spotify songs
Just keep in mind that your Hotspot Shield free plan connection speed crawls along at 2 Mbps as well.
Slow-mo connection speeds and premium paywall
Along with limiting your connection speed to 2 Mbps, Hotspot Shield Basic also locks you into streaming in standard definition (SD). That is, if you can access any video content to stream. You might end up butting heads with its Premium paywall if you try to visit Netflix or Hulu.
So if you’re looking for those glorious 1 Gbps connection speeds for streaming This Is Us on Hulu, skip past Basic and go straight to Premium.
Ads—but on Android only
Other limitations to Hotspot Shield Basic include ads—but only if you’re on an Android device.
These ads are basically banners at the top of your VPN dashboard. But why the Android hate? That makes Basic look pretty shabby for anyone not on a desktop, Mac, or iPhone.
Hotspot Shield’s Premium plan costs $12.99 a month. But if you’d rather try it out first, it comes with a seven-day free trial and a 45-day money-back guarantee.
Windscribe: Best for added security features
When you look into free VPNs, chances are someone recommends Windscribe. It’s known for being the go-to free VPN thanks to its limited restrictions, though you’ll likely still run into issues with the small, 10 GB data cap if you use it a lot.
Ad and IP blockers plus a firewall
If you’re aiming for a full set of security tools, Windscribe has you covered. Its R.O.B.E.R.T. addon blocks any IP or domain you choose, so you can keep pesky pop-up ads or known no-no sites at bay.
Windscribe also comes with a built-in firewall in its desktop app, and the browser extension includes an ad blocker.
More control with split tunneling
We’re fans of split tunneling, which lets you decide which apps use your VPN and which one’s don’t.
So if you prefer to not have your Netflix stream slowed down, but do want VPN coverage when you check your bank account, you can do that. All without having to turn your VPN on and off.
Canadian headquarters could be dicey
This isn’t a rip on our friends to the North, but Windscribe is based in Canada, and that could mean serious privacy issues. That’s because Canada is part of the Five Eyes alliance.
Countries in the Five Eyes alliance agree to share digital data and intelligence. And there’s no transparency on how the alliance operates or what intelligence information it collects and why. So there could be a risk to your privacy even though you’re using a VPN.
We also want to call out that Windscribe starts with an ultra-low, 2 GB monthly data limit on its free plan. The good news is there are a few ways you can bump that up to 15 GB or more:
- Add 8 GB: Add and confirm your email address
- Add 5 GB: Log in and click the Tweet 4 Data button to Tweet and earn more data
- Add 1 GB: Refer Windscribe to your friends (you could even get a free Pro subscription)
- Check out Windscribe on Reddit for more ways to get free data
Or, if you find yourself hitting that data limit often, you can grab the cheap Pro plan for $9 a month and get unlimited data.
TunnelBear: Best for VPN beginners
We tagged TunnelBear as the best VPN for beginners thanks to its friendly, funny interface. But that doesn’t mean its features are lacking. Its free plan gets you all the same settings, servers, and functions as the paid version, minus the unlimited data.
Servers in 40+ countries
TunnelBear doesn’t list how many servers it has, but it does let you know that those servers are located in more than 40 countries. That gives even free users a chance to find a server located nearby. And nearby servers mean the best possible internet speeds while you protect your connection with a VPN.
GhostBear adds extra camouflage
The GhostBear setting might seem confusing at first since it says turning it on makes your data look like “regular internet data.” But the idea behind it is simple: GhostBear hides your use of VPN so that sites and even internet providers can’t block you from accessing certain content.
This happens most often in the US when you use a VPN to access a video game or streaming content. But in other countries, GhostBear can help citizens get past government-controlled blocks on news sites, social media, and more.
Teeny-tiny monthly data limit
The biggest upset with TunnelBear’s free version is that it comes with only 500 MB (yes, megabytes!) of data each month. That’s not a lot to work with, and it basically amounts to:
- Stream about 125 songs
- Two hours of video conferencing
- Stream five 30-minute TV episodes
We’ll also point out that TunnelBear is headquartered in Canada like Windscribe. Since Canada is part of the Five Eyes alliance, this could be a concern.
Countries within the alliance share intelligence, including digital data. There’s no transparency about how the data is collected, what data is targeted, or how it’s collected. Meaning that even with a VPN, your privacy could be at risk.
Still, TunnelBear is an excellent VPN choice whether you go free or pay the $9.99 monthly fee for premium.
Recap: Best free VPNs of 2023
These VPNs help you clean up your budget while maintaining your online privacy.
To pick our recommended free VPNs, we looked at the following features:
- Whether the VPN sells personal data
- Any time limits on free app usage
- Whether there are data limits
- Speed throttling
- Server limitations
- Number of devices and connections supported
- No logs policies
- Any additional security features
We also factored in our testing results for Hotspot Shield, Windscribe, and TunnelBear. (We haven’t yet tested Hide.me or ProtonVPN.)
Still have questions about free VPNs? We’re here to help.
Yes, a free VPN should still provide protection and keep you safe on a public network. VPNs encrypt your data so no one can intercept it and invade your privacy, not even on public Wi-Fi.
Yes, free VPNs, just like paid VPNs, may impact your streaming speed. But free VPNs may have a bigger impact on your connection speed, since some throttle your speed or connect you to servers that are farther away from your location.
We recommend HotspotShield as the best free VPN for streaming American Netflix.
Yes, some free VPNs are known to sell personal data. Some of the more notorious offenders that you should avoid include:
- Hola VPN
- Opera VPN