The best free VPNs
When you surf the web, you practically always leave behind a digital fingerprint thanks to your IP address. Ad and other such trackers then do the rest to threaten your privacy. Nobody is anonymous.
This is where VPN providers come into play. So, what is a VPN all about I hear you ask? Well, a VPN service masks your IP address thereby making you invisible. Nobody can then tell which websites you’ve visited, with ad trackers also drawing a blank – even if you don’t have an ad blocker installed. To achieve this feat, VPNs (or to give them their full name: Virtual Private Networks) establish an encrypted connection (or “tunnel” as the experts call them) between your computer and a VPN server. This server can be located in any country. This means that if you surf via a US server, you also get a US IP address and can then use all the services offered in that country as if you were actually there. In a nutshell: The greater the number of VPN servers that are available, the greater your anonymity.
You can install a VPN service either in the form of a computer program or smartphone app. If your VPN service is from a good provider, all it usually takes is a click or a tap and you’re up and running. While there are now many VPN providers to choose from, each service varies considerably in terms of speed, ease of use, and security. Most products are also paid-for products without any free options. However, a few providers additionally offer free VPN services that, while somewhat stripped down compared to their pro counterparts, can be used indefinitely for nothing. Here are a list of the best free VPN services out there.
In its free-of-charge form, this cute little bear of a VPN offers all the functions of its big bear pro sibling, but with the data limit set at 500 MB per month and the free subscription buried a bit on the website. TunnelBear offers a choice of 22 server locations “from” which you can surf. And besides the desktop version, you can also get an app for your mobile devices that offers strong 256-bit AES encryption and regular security audits of the apps. However, you can’t use it for streaming content.
What the experts say: PCMag likes the pleasing design and security aspects, but felt 22 locations is too few.
Avira Phantom VPN
The stand-out feature about Avira’s free VPN is that you can use the service on an unlimited number of devices (Windows, Mac, Android, iOS). What’s also somewhat unique for a free version is that you can access all the countries and VPN servers. The VPN unblocks geoblocked content from a range of streaming services such as Netflix, HBO, and others without a problem, it includes strong encryption, it offers ad blocking, and it works at full speed. The service’s “No Logs” policy is pretty self-explanatory, just like its kill switch – although you only get that with the Windows version. Free users are, however, limited to 500 MB of data a month, which increases to 1 GB of data per month if you register by email. If you want to give the pro version a go, you can try it out free for 7 days with unlimited data. You also get a 30-day money-back guarantee should you feel the service isn’t for you despite putting it through its paces.
What the experts say: Heise gives the thumbs up to the wide range of VPN servers and privacy features. It also likes the monthly cancellation option with the pro version. vpnMentor is happy to report that the VPN successfully unblocks Netflix and is easy to use.
As the name suggests, Hide.me encrypts your communication and doesn’t save any log files. The app is available for your desktop computer and smartphone, and comes with a 2 GB monthly data limit. That said, with the free trial version you’re limited to one simultaneous device connection and you only have three regions to choose from (Singapore, the Netherlands, and Canada). But it isn’t all doom and gloom as even with the free tier you don’t have to suffer connection throttling or ads.
What the experts say: vpnMentor says that using Netflix with the free tier is not possible at the moment. They like the fact that there are apps for almost all major platforms.
Hotspot Shield Free VPN
Hotspot’s free VPN offers a daily data limit of 500 MB, which is much more on the generous side compared to other providers. That said, you can’t choose the server location – this, rather important, feature is something you only get with the paid plan. Despite that fact, the service offers strong connection encryption and the VPN is easy to use. Streaming isn’t all that good when using hotspots, the maximum number of connected devices is restricted to one, and the constant stream of ads in the free version is somewhat annoying.
What the experts say: TechRadar likes the generous free data volume, but disliked the drop in performance when using the service.
At first glance, ProtonVPN Free is a dream come true with its uncapped data limit. However, with the free plan you only get three countries to choose from (Japan, Netherlands, and the US) and the maximum number of connected devices is limited to one (Windows, Mac, Linux, or a mobile device). The provider’s focus is on delivering log-free surfing with comprehensive privacy. That said, user guidance is complicated, which may put off newbies.
What the experts say: Techradar is impressed by the clear no logging policy, but warns against considerably varying speeds and the lack of P2P support.
For torrent users, the biggest drawback of the free version of SecureVPN is the lack of P2P support. Apart from that, the free plan also sets a lot of limits with a data cap of 1 GB a month and VPN sessions restricted to 20 minutes – after which time you’ll need to reset your session. The maximum number of connected devices is also limited to one (Windows, Mac, or a mobile device). Despite all these downsides, it doesn’t throttle back on data transfer speeds and even has the same level of encryption as the premium plan.
What the experts say: Cloudwards rates the service highly for its speed and great customer service. What it rated with low scores is its security and lack of a dedicated client.
Shellfire also offers a free VPN service with an uncapped data allowance. However, there are restrictions with the free account such as instead of the premium version’s 256-bit encryption, you have to make do with 128-bit. Speed is also restricted to 1 MBit/s and your choice of server is limited to two countries (Germany and the US). All these factors hobble the free trial version somewhat. However, if you want to give the premium version a spin, you can do so free for 14 days.
What the experts say: Cloudwards recommends the VPN for its unlimited traffic. What it didn’t like was the lack of a kill switch and interoperability issues with antivirus solutions.
Speedify also offers a fully-fledged free VPN with 10 GB of data per month and over 50 server locations – the latter being ok, but others often offer more VPN servers. As the name suggests, Speedify uses two connections (Wi-Fi and cellular), which is designed to achieve a more robust and fast VPN connection. According to the provider, security is also ensured when surfing public Wi-Fi hotspots. In addition, the number of servers it offers is over 200.
What the experts say: PCWorld finds the dual-channel bonding method achieves strong upload results, but weaker download performance.
Windscribe’s highlight has to be its generous data allowance, with the free version offering 10 GB a month with unlimited simultaneous connections. While the number of countries is limited to 10 with the free plan (you get around 60 with the pro plan), Windscribe will offer you static IP addresses if you want (among other benefits, having a static IP address means that it’s far less likely to ever be blocked than a typical dynamic IP address). The app is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and mobile devices. The pro plan also includes unlimited data.
What the experts say: Tom’s Guide rates Windscribe as one of the best free VPNs with a large data allowance and integrated ad blocker. What frustrated them were the Windows desktop software and the platform support, which was not the most comprehensive.
This article is also available in: German