It makes sense when approaching something completely new to you to try before you buy. When it comes to the best VPN, sometimes seeking out a free VPN is a great starting point for getting a feel for the software before taking the plunge to a paid-for, premium service. We're bringing you our list of the best free VPN available to download onto your device right now, with pros and cons of using these freebies.
The best free VPN can be a great gateway into using a VPN, though it's important to note they do come with their limitations. Often you will be faced with a fairly stingy data allowance with many features - namely those around streaming - locked to paying customers only. More critically, security is incomparable to that of a paid-for service, where infrastructure is funded and therefore can actually deliver on both its security and respective no-logging policies.
Meanwhile, you should be cautious of a free VPN potentially selling your data to third parties to upkeep the service, as well as likely being inundated with ads on the client.
If you simply want a VPN in the interim, or want to have a tinker before you fully invest, there are certainly perks to a free VPN. Make sure you load up from the best of the bunch with our guide to the best free VPN providers below.
Today's best overall VPNs
1. ExpressVPN – the best VPN service in the world
From all our testing, we've concluded that our #1 choice is ExpressVPN. It lets you forget any security concerns, and has the benefit of 24/7 customer support, guaranteed access to Netflix US and other streaming services, almost constant uptime, and a 30-day money back guarantee (no questions asked) if you change your mind. T3 readers can also bag 3 months extra free with an annual plan. Not bad if you ask us.
3. Hotspot Shield - a reliable and vast performer
After a reliable service? Hotspot Shield just might be the one for you, offering a consistent performance across the board with excellent security features, competent speeds, and affordable payment plan options.
The best free VPN downloads 2021:
When put through our rigorous testing in search of the best free VPN, it was ProtonVPN that cinched the top spot, climbing up the list as the most competent service.
While you will have to register to gain access to the free service, one of the most exciting elements of ProtonVPN is it comes with an unlimited data package. This means you'll be able to use it without being careful about the amount of gigabytes used per task. Ideal if you'd hoped to bypass geo-restrictions with a streaming VPN, you can binge without rationing your monthly allowance. The world - or at least the Internet - is your oyster.
Keen streamers will be able to access Netflix, albeit limited to its library of Netflix Original shows with multiple servers across three locations in the US, Japan, and the Netherlands. This means those looking to get access to a foreign Netflix library will have no such luck.
For a free service, there are also a handful of decent features including Auto-Connect, custom DNS servers, Split Tunneling, and IPv6 encryption. While a more limited list than you'll find on its other plans, this is a great starting point. Better still, while there may be concern around VPNs that only offer a free tool, with subscriptions for ProtonVPN available, you should feel a lot safer that your data is in good hands.
Offering a straight forward app to boot, ProtonVPN definitely offers one of the more fully-fledged experiences when it comes to a free VPN - though it's nowhere close to what a premium VPN can offer.
Offering a fast VPN experience in both its free and paid-for products, Hotspot Shield is a great choice if you want to improve the overall performance of your connection.
While you will be limited to a measly 500mb using the desktop app version, Chrome comes with unlimited data, allowing you to use the free VPN without having to ration your monthly allowance.
Some will also appreciate the fact you can make the most of the free service without having to enter any of your details, including even an email address.
It also has a bunch of nifty features, both on its desktop and Chrome client. On desktop, you'll be able to log speed tests, as well as viewing latency and loading data charts. On Chrome, Sword offers a fake activity tracker, while you can also make use of both its ad and tracker blocker, and much more.
That said, Hotspot Shield's free service is somewhat limited compared to others. While it has a great client and - even in its free service - offers brilliantly fast speeds, we were unable to unblock Netflix, immediately told this was a premium feature. However, if you're after a VPN for those security extras and great speeds, Hotspot Shield's free service is one of the better choices.
Already offering a fairly generous 2GB of data a month, by verifying your email with Windscribe you can get a total of 10GB to use with this free VPN, which - again - sits as one of the more exciting aspects of this tool.
Offering both its client and a Chrome extension, Windscribe's interface is fairly straight forward and intuitive to use - though you may find a bit of back and forth when setting up.
It also has one of the bigger selections of servers with up to eleven to choose from, unblocking Netflix with no visible problems. While connection speed can be slow, this feels fairly secondary when you consider you're not paying a penny for the service.
In terms of features it offers, there is ad, malware and tracker blocking lists, as well as auto-connect, and the ability to configure your settings, including choosing protocols and types of encryption.
When it comes to your online security and having complete transparency, you'll appreciate Speedify and its logging policy, which is presented when signing up for the free service. That said, you will have to scroll and click around a bit to navigate your way to the free product.
Swooping in at third place, Speedify is the only free VPN on our list which offers its users the same extensive list of servers as its paid-for counterpart. This means you can hop between over a thousand servers across over 50 locations around the world. Accessing foreign streaming libraries is possible then, able to unblock the likes of Netflix with no issue.
Pledging to speed up your Internet connection, we found this to be true with server connections quick and overall performance great.
Sitting in the mid-tier, Speedify offers an allowance of 2GB a month. While not the worst, it's not a lot, especially if you plan to do a lot of heavy duty tasks like streaming and gaming. That said, from a security perspective, Speedify is a decent free VPN choice with features like a specific streaming mode, channel bonding, and secure encryption.
A great choice for beginners to the world of VPN, TunnelBear offers an adorably simple interface that makes VPN seem that bit less daunting, with an easy set-up, too.
With TunnelBear we didn't come across an serious roadblocks, able to use seamlessly with all features available on the free version. That said, unlike Hotspot Shield, you are very much limited to the 500mb allowance, which many will breeze through very quickly.
In terms of features, you'll be able to mark any trusted networks, as well as utilising TCP to override any stable connections. There's also the choice of launching at startup on your computer, as well as the GhostBear tool.
Admittedly it won't be the best for those looking for a free Netflix VPN with the very small data allowance. However, TunnelBear doesn't limit you to a few server choices, offering the same list as in its paid-for service of over 1,000 servers across the globe, offering exceptional speeds of 80mbps.
Are free VPNs safe?
A free VPN can be a half-decent tool. That said, when it comes down to whether they're as safe as a paid-for VPN, the answer is simply, no. When a product is completely free - especially one that's prime function is to offer security - you have to question how a company can fund the kind of infrastructure required to offer the kind of technology needed to keep your personal information safe, let alone continue running in the first place. Put simply, you'll pay with your data if you don't pay with your money.
Should I pay for a VPN?
When it comes to our professional opinion, subscribing to a VPN service is definitely the way to go to actually benefit from all that a fantastic VPN can offer you, from security, to performance and streaming. With so many fantastic cheap VPN options out there, too, money needn't be an issue.
Paying for your VPN can give you the reassurance your personal data is in safe hands, as well as stripping you of any of the limitations a free VPN poses. You'll have unlimited data and the option to load your VPN onto a number of devices rather than just the one. You'll also have free rein of a service's server list and features.
Still cautious? Our top recommendation, ExpressVPN comes with a 30-day money back guarantee, allowing you to trial it risk-free. Alternatively, Surfshark is our budget-friendly VPN of choice, feature-packed and affordable.
What is the difference between paid VPN and free VPN?
There are a lot of differences been a paid-for VPN and its free counterpart. As previously mentioned, free VPNs come with limitations, both on data and the features you can use when you haven't handed over your card details. You should also treat a free VPN with caution where security is concerned, without the money behind it to carefully handle the sensitive information of its cutters.
Meanwhile, with a paid-for VPN, you'll get the premium experience with a long feature list, the ability to not only unlock Netflix, but also other streaming services like Prime Video and Disney Plus. Want an iPlayer VPN? You'll have to pay for that.
Which is the best free VPN?
ProtonVPN sits at the top of our best free VPN buying guide, offering unlimited data on its free service, as well as servers across three locations with multiple servers. That said, when loading Netflix, it only allowed us to watch Netflix Originals. For those travelling and looking to access a full Netflix library, then, you'll be limited in what you can binge when not in the country.
Of course, there are drawbacks to a free VPN and this is just one of them. If you're after the very best experience when it comes to a VPN, you are better off paying and finding the one most suitable for your device, whether you're after the best iPhone VPN, Android VPN, or you want the best fast VPN.
With most offering a trial period with their all your money back guarantees, why not try the likes of ExpressVPN, which takes the title as the best of the best across many of our VPN buying guides?
Are free VPNs illegal?
There are digressions across the laws on the use of VPN - both paid-for and free - in differing territories, especially in country's like China. However, for the most part, the use of a VPN is not illegal. Offering its users an extra layer of security, as well as optimising performance of elements like bandwidth, a VPN is completely legal to use.
That being said, this shouldn't be taken as a shield against any illegal activity they could potentially be used for. If you happen to be using a VPN for piracy, for example, you're still committing an illegal act and risk prosecution.
What's more, while many paid-for VPN services promote a no-logging policy, that isn't to say your information isn't completely safe from scrutiny. If the likes of the government or FBI want to take a look at what you've been up to, many VPN providers will be obligated to pass this information over. It's also worth repeating that this kind of anonymity rarely stretches to free VPN services, with your information likely to be the currency used to keep the VPN going.