Free vs paid VPN: how to choose your service

Can you get everything you need from a free VPN or should you pay for the premium option?

free vpn vs paid vpn
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Anything free can be a great find. But, also like many such items, you could get the very best VPN by paying for the full version. So, the question is do you actually need to pay for that VPN or can you get all your needs covered by a handy free VPN option?

Pricing is the main difference, starting at - you guessed it - free, and progressing to a few quid per month on average.

So why pay? Many free VPN options are limited when it comes to the amount of data you get. So if you want to stream 4K Netflix then you might struggle with a free option. That said, there is one that has no limits but then speed is the thing that gets throttled – but more on that below.

A free VPN is a top option for those that want it for limited use – perhaps to check a map or certain website while on holiday (but in a secure online environment). But for those that want to check emails in bulk, stream music and watch online video – a paid VPN is ideal.

Keep reading, as we tell you more about the ongoing battle between premium and free VPN services.

How much data does a free VPN offer?

The short answer varies massively! Sorry, no black and white here. 

So take our favourite free VPN service, for example, Hotspot Shield. It provides a stable speed offering, and has one of the more generous offerings when it comes to data - 500MB per day. That's not a small amount for browsing websites, but very little if you want the best Netflix VPN to binge your favorite streaming service. That's 15GB a month but limited to 500MB per day. Not all services limit you like this though.

Windscribe offers a lower 10GB data allowance but it's spread over the month so you can use that as you need. Tweet about the service and you'll get an extra 5GB, and each time you refer a friend you get an extra 1GB also. 

What's good about a free VPN?

Free or not, you're still accessing secure servers. This means that your IP address, location and identity will be hidden. This means you stay anonymous online as well as more secure than using an open connection.

What are the problems with a free VPN?

Aside from the data limit there is also the issue of connection speed. The result of not being able to select the server you need is often spotty speeds. You could get lucky and have a really great connection at a local server. But you could end up connecting to a slower server that's really far away and struggles with speed. 

With many of the free services you'll have to put up with ads. Indeed, nothing is ever really free, as they say. But if you don't mind pop-ups then this could be a good option to save you a bit of money and still get you the security of a VPN.

So what does a paid VPN get me?

You'll not only get all the security of an encrypted connection but also unlimited data. That means you could be abroad and still watch all your favourite Netflix or Amazon Prime shows without worry of running low on your data allowance. 

The other important thing to keep you need to know is that you'll be able to select the server that you want. This is a huge advantage as you could connect to BBC iPlayer while you're in the US, say. This is also really helpful if you're somewhere like Iraq or China where VPN use is restricted and you may need to try a few server locations to actually get online.

You'll also, likely, get much faster speeds by using a paid-for VPN.

And when you consider that some of the options from our list of highly recommended list that start for less than $2/£2 per month, it's easy to see why T3 would always recommend you go for a better product.

What is the best VPN out there?

ExpressVPN, in all our testing, comes out on top time-after-time. It's fast, secure, has superb customer service with 24/7 live chat, gets you Netflix abroad, supports torrents and works on five devices at once with lots of clients to suit all sorts of tech. The pricing is average but what you get is anything but that.

Luke Edwards

Luke is a former freelance writer for T3 with over two decades of experience covering tech, science and health. Among many others Luke wrote about health tech, software and apps, VPNs, TV, audio, smart home, antivirus, broadband, smartphones, cars and plenty more. In his free time, Luke used to climb mountains, swim outside and contort his body into silly positions while breathing as calmly as possible.