Andrey Doichev

Andrey is a VPN enthusiast who analyses and tests different VPN Software. In this article, he compares best free VPN services.

free vpnWho likes FREE VPN Software?

I sure do. And I reckon you do too!

In times where ISPs can sell your Internet browsing history to the highest bidder, Internet privacy has become an imperative.

We all know that.

What better way to protect ourselves, than to do it 100% free of charge? Why should we add yet another monthly payment to our bills, no matter how small it is?

I certainly could use a bit of “free” in my life.

When it comes to protecting your data, the best paid VPN providers all claim that their services are better than their free competitors. I’m going to play devil’s advocate and put those claims to the test.

We did all the heavy lifting and went on to compare the best free VPN services with the best paid VPN services to see just how much they differ.

Do paid VPN providers warrant me paying $10 a month? How seriously do free VPNs really take my safety?

Let’s see if “Free VPN” really is too good to be true.

 

Best 7 Totally FREE VPNs (+ Reviews)


VPN Service Cost Data Cap
Download Speed Servers Rating + Usability
1. ProtonVPN FREE No Data Cap 53.46 mbps 3 Countries ★★★★
2. HotSpot Shield FREE 500MB/day 56.82 mbps 20 Countries ★★★★
3. WindScribe FREE 10GB/mo 25.61 mbps 8 Countries ★★★
4. Hide.Me FREE 2,000MB/mo 45.69 mbps 3 Countries ★★★
5. Tunnelbear FREE 500MB/mo 15.09 mbps 3 Countries ★★
6. Avira Phantom FREE 500MB/mo 6.98 mbps 20 Countries ★★
7. Betternet FREE No Data Cap 3.63 Mbps US Only

1. ProtonVPN: No Data Cap, Best (FREE) VPN

ProtonVPN Free VPN

ProtonVPN is one of the newest VPN providers in the industry, Proton AG are a group of CERN & Harvard scientists and privacy advocate, set out to change the world of cyber security forever.

Data Cap

Following their earliers successes with innovating and disrupting the privacy industry, ProtonVPN continue their effort by imposing no bandwidth caps on your traffic!

That’s right – you can use it as much as you want.

ProtonVPN Connection Speeds

ProtonVPN download speed

  • Ping: 66 ms
  • Download: 54.46 Mbps
  • Upload: 37.86 Mbp

Certainly good enough speeds for a free plan – with no data cap.

With free plans it’s either low data cap and super-fast speeds, or no data cap and extremely slow speeds. Seeing such fast speeds, without a data cap is certainly refreshing!

Important: Don’t expect these speeds to last. As Proton becomes more and more well-known and used throughout the globe, speeds for free users will suffer.

Free Plan Conditions

As a free user, you will have access to servers in Netherlands, USA Switzerland and Japan. All in all about a half a dozen servers. None of those are enabled for geo-circumventing (Netflix) or P2P optimized (torrenting).

Next to only one max connection, you won’t have access to any of their unique features such as high-priority servers, their Secure Core, Tor integration etc.

Privacy

Situated in Switzerland and with so many privacy accolades under their belt, Proton is 100% the single most privacy-conscious VPN provider in the world – 0 logging!

Connection Client

Being a very new VPN service, Proton have yet to develop standalone clients for operating systems other than Windows.

ProtonVPN Client

For Mac, iOS & Android you will have to go through a lengthy 3rd party software installation and configuration process and won’t be able to make use of many ProtonVPN features.

Do I recommend ProtonVPN?

As a free VPN service? 100%.

Get in while they are still new and haven’t changed their terms. Even if you’re using a Mac, the workaround is worth the unlimited bandwidth and top free VPN speeds.

Pros: No data cap, decent download and upload speed
Cons: No app for Mac, iOS and Android (3rd party software installation is required)

 

2. Hotspot Shield VPN: 500MB/day Data Cap, 20 Countries (FREE)

Hotspot Shield VPN Review

One of the oldest public VPN providers, Hotspot Shield was created by the US company AnchorFree.

Neither the fact they are based in the USA nor that they backed by $52 million financing by Goldman Sachs makes me feel very safe.

Data Cap

Until very recently Hotspot Shield did not impose any bandwidth limits on their free users. You were instead monetized by being displayed ads.

That said, in June 2017, Hotspot implemented the following data caps:

  • AndroidData Cap is 256MB per day and resets every 24hrs.
  • DesktopData Cap is set to 750MB per day and reset every 24hrs.

At 500MB, you will lose access to video sites for 24 hours and will be prompted to “share Hotspot Shield with 10 friends to restore access”

Hotspot Shield VPN Connection Speeds

  • Ping: 66ms
  • Download: 56.82 Mbps
  • Upload: 30.95 Mbps

For a free plan that has been offered for over a decade and used by presumably millions of users, just wow!

Absolute fantastic free VPN speeds.

Free Plan Conditions

Hotspot Shield were mindful not to share too much about their free plan on their website, instead baiting you into just “giving them a go”.

As a free user, you will have access to 20 of their locations (US, UK, JP, IN, AU, CA, CN, TR, UA and more) and limited access to their features such as geo-circumvention and basic malware protection.

Privacy

Hotspot clearly state in their prominently displayed Privacy FAQ that they do not log or store any user data.

Hotspot Shield Software

Connection Client
The client is a bit more clunky than I’d like. It looks unpolished and isn’t as intuitive as other clients.

The ads which display don’t really help the situation. At least it’s supported on all major (Win, Mac, iOS, Android) operating systems and even some browsers (Chrome)

Do I recommend Hotspot Shield?

Yes, with a caveat.

For very basic users, who are in need for safe and anonymous browsing, not looking to watch videos, Hotspot Shield are a solid choice.

Pros: Good download and upload speed, works on all devices.
Cons: Data cap limitations.

 

3. Windscribe VPN: 10GB/mo Data Cap, 8 Countries (FREE)

Windscribe Free VPN

Similar to ProtonVPN, Windscribe are a new-ish Canadian VPN provider founded in 2015.

Data Cap

In a move to gain popularity as they establish a userbase, Windscribe offer you a very generous 10GB of bandwidth for you to use as you see fit. If you tweet them out, you will receive another 5GB.

Windscribe VPN Connection Speeds

Windscribe speed perfromance

  • Ping: 75ms
  • Download: 25.61 Mbps
  • Upload: 5.93 Mbps

For a free VPN, these speeds are nothing to scoff at. Where I’m concerned is that nowhere on the site do they mention that they reduce speeds for free users.

This almost always means; these are max speeds. Once we regard the above results as max speeds across all plans, things don’t look so rosy all of a sudden.

Free Plan Conditions

As a free user, you will receive access to some features such as Windscribe’s built in firewall & adblock as well as P2P capabilities – but no OpenVPN Configs and the array of other Pro features.

Server-wise, you can connect to one of their 8 out of 46 locations: United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Hong Kong, France, Germany, Luxembourg & the Netherlands.

Privacy

Windscribe are clear and straightforward. Not do they not log and store any of your VPN data, you can sign up to their services without email and pay via bitcoin anonymously.

If that’s not taking privacy to an extreme, what is?

Windscribe VPN client

Connection Client

Windscribe’s app (available on Win, Mac, iOS & Android) is minimal, sleek and intuitive to use.

Do I recommend Windscribe?

I’m very much on the fence.

Many features, but few offered to free users. Abundance of locations, torrenting possible and a huge data cap.

I do love their progressiveness and innovative nature, if only their network speeds would be about twice as fast, I would have ranked them much higher!

Pros: 100% Free, Zero logging, Max connection speeds, 8 different server locations, Ad block + Firewall
Cons: Data Cap (albeit huge), 1 simultaneous connection max.

 

4. Hide.me VPN: 2,000MB/mo Data Cap, 3 Countries (FREE)

Hidem vpn review

Founded back in 2011 by Malaysian eVenture Limited, Hide.Me is a fairly popular and well-known VPN service.

Data Cap

Next to their $5 and $10 plan, they offer a “free forever” option. Unlike our favorite free providers, Hide.Me unfortunately restricts your bandwidth to a 2000MB monthly maximum.

Hide.Me VPN Connection Speeds

hide.me performance

  • Ping: 61ms
  • Download: 45.69Mbps
  • Upload: 28.6Mbps

Things look a lot rosier when it comes to Hide.Me’s connection speeds. These are more than adequate speeds for a free plan. Then I remembered – fast speeds mean little with a data cap like theirs.

Free Plan Conditions

You’re offered a choice of only 3 locations (Netherlands, Singapore & Canada). None of those servers are geo-block optimized, meaning they are unlikely to circumvent Netflix restrictions.

What disappointed me more is their protocol policy on free plans. No OpenVPN. A controversial choice I strongly disagree with. Free or not – there is no compromise for maximum security, if you have the capabilities.

Privacy

Clearly stated and leaving no room for interpretation – absolute zero logging.

Hide.me VPN software

Connection Client

Their software client is more than acceptable. The straightforward, minimal client (Windows, Mac, iOS & Android) gives you a glimpse of what you can expect should you chose to convert to a paying customer.

And, of course, that was their goal from the get go!

Do I recommend Hide.Me?
No.

Hide.Me’s free plan is nothing more than a marketing ploy. It’s just meant to give you a taste of what they can do. With their 2GB data cap, extended use is impossible.

If you’re using their free plan to test them out, go right ahead, for everybody else – don’t waste your time.

Pros: 100% free, zero logging, no ads and a good client.
Cons: Data cap, only 3 server locations, 1 connection max.

 

5. Tunnelbear: 500MB/mo Data Cap, 3 Countries (FREE)

Tunnelbear VPN review

Without a doubt the cutest VPN service, the Canadian Tunnelbear Inc have been making the round ever since their 2011 inception.

Data Cap

A strong emphasis on putting forth an extremely beginner friendly VPN service, Tunnelbear offer you a monthly 500MB free data to test out their servers

PS: Hit them up on twitter, tell us we sent you and they’ll throw in another 1GB in free data!

The first thing you should think of when you see such a low data cap is “this isn’t meant for regular use; they are trying to sell me”.

You’d be right of course. This is all marketing. Which make the following very, very strange.

Tunnelbear VPN Connection Speeds

  • Ping: 98ms
  • Download: 15.09 Mbps
  • Upload: 7.49 Mbps

Clearly, a very unimpressive result. Say goodbye to productivity and hello to headaches and frustrating buffering.

Free Plan Conditions

Tunnelbear are minimal to a fault – their website provides almost no information. No protocol, encryption, max connections, servers & countries or bandwidth info! The almost hidden “20+ countries” is about the extent of what they deem worth sharing

Privacy

At least they had the sense to lay out their privacy policies in which they clearly and fully state the extent of their information collecting – absolutely zero IP and data logging.

Tunnelbear VPN client

Connection Client

Their Tunnelbear client, available on Mac, Windows, iOS and Android, is very simple to use and further builds on their ideals of less is more. The free app even provides some basic options like a kill switch!

Do I recommend Tunnelbear?

No.

All in all, while they have done everything right, their speeds and low data cap make this a poorly executed marketing trick and nothing more.

If you’re looking for a long term free VPN, Tunnelbear is not what you’re after!

Pros: 100% free, zero logging, works on all devices.
Cons: Data cap, very slow connection speeds, no torrenting allowed.

 

6. Avira Phantom: 500MB/mo Data Cap, 20 Countries (FREE)

AviraVPN reviewA subsidiary of famous German antivirus company Avira, Phantom is their new VPN.

Data Cap

Should you decide $5.95 a month isn’t a price you’re willing to pay, Phantom is offering you a 500MB data cap per month for you to use free of charge.

Avira Phantom VPN Connection Speeds

  • Ping: 41ms
  • Download: 6.98 Mbps
  • Upload: 9.02 Mbps

Avira Phantom VPN performance

Not a surprise for such a massive corporation, it seems like Avira didn’t put in enough effort to ensure fast speeds.

Free Plan Conditions

With low data caps and abysmal speeds, Avira instead banked on converting you by showcasing many of their premium features.

DNS leak protection, geo-block circumvention and over 20 server locations will be available to you as a free user.

Privacy

As should be expected, Avira do not track anything other than the amount of data you consume as a free user. No IP logging or websites tracked.

Avira Phantom Software

Connection Client

Offered to all major operating systems (but only the latest versions), Phantom’s connection client is both straightforward and easy to use.

Do I recommend Avira Phantom?

No.

A bottom shelf data cap and some of the slowest speeds around, what could you possibly do with Phantom?

With so many better options around, Avira have a lot of catching up to do.

Pros: 100% free, zero logging, works on all devices.
Cons: Very slow connection speed, small data cap

 

7. Betternet: No Data Cap, US Servers only (FREE)

betternet reviewFounded in 2015 by Canadian Betternet Technologies Inc, Betternet used to be a “free only” VPN which has recently switched over to a premium model.

Data Cap

One of Betternet’s “Free forever” promises went hand in hand with their lack of data capping. The way they monetized their users (ads) allowed them to offer unencumbered use of their networks.

This hasn’t changed! You can use Betternet’s VPN for as much and as long as you want – no data caps, hooray!

Betternet VPN Connection Speeds

  • Ping: 64 ms
  • Download: 3.64 Mbps
  • Upload: 12.41 Mbps

Oh, here’s the catch then – the VPN is practically useless. Their was so slow, even on repeated speed tests attempts we could not get an upload measurement.

Free Plan Conditions

As a free user, you do not seem to have a choice of servers. Should you attempt to change the server location, you will be greeted with a “Upgrade now!” page.

In our tests, Betternet defaulted to connecting us to a US server.

Additionally, Betternet do not seem to have implemented many features for their free users such as kill switches, DNS leak protection etc.

Privacy

Betternet do not collect, log, store or share any identifiable personal information. This translates into a no logging policy as with most other VPN providers.

Betternet VPN Software

Connection Client

Perhaps one of the simplest clients for free users, void of even mandatory user login, Betternet’s software is a breeze to use.

Betternet clients are available for Mac, Windows, iOS, Android as well as for both Chrome and Firefox

Do I recommend Betternet?

No.

Absolutely not. With less than 1% efficiency, just forget streaming video or torrenting anything bigger than a song file. Waste of your time.

Pros: 100% free, zero logging, works on all devices.
Cons: Slowest connection speed, no torrenting is possible

 

The Flaws of (Many) “Free” VPNs

Thanks for having the prudence and desire to protect your data. You’re already way ahead of the curve and well on your way towards worry free Internet browsing!

Identity theft, drained bank accounts, defamation – just a tidbit of the misery that thousands of people undergo every year because their data has been taken advantage of by hackers and scammers.

Ugh, no thank you…

While you’re on the right track with using a VPN to avoid exposing your sensitive information, using a free service to do it is as counterproductive as mopping your driveway during a hurricane.

Once things go south, a free VPN will cost you a hundred times more than you would ever have saved.

1. FREE VPNs might log and sell your data

If there’s one thing you must know, it’s that there’s no free in business.

Not truly. In fact, that’s the very first lesson Harvard economics students are taught in their 101 class: there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

You don’t think businesses actually provide you a service free of charge out of sheer compassion do you? Youtube, Facebook, Google Search, Instagram, Reddit. What do all of these have in common? They’re free!

And what do they sell? Nothing! Right? Wrong. They sell YOU.

If you don’t have to pay for a product, you are the product.

In short, free VPN can service can sell your data. Please be sure to read their TOS before downloading/installing/connecting.

2. FREE VPNs throttle your speeds a lot

Oh, you didn’t really think free VPN services would provide you access to the full power of their servers?

I mean, really, just because you’re not paying for the servers, doesn’t mean they aren’t. They still have to pay for all the server upkeep and maintenance. The more you use their network, the higher the costs.

They want as much of our data, as cheaply as possible. Of course they’re going to throttle you.

In fact, in our tests, the average free VPN download speed was 15 Mbps, and that’s with our 100Mbps raw connection.

It’s done on purpose too. Some do it to simply keep their costs as low as possible. While others use it as an incentive for you to upgrade to their paid options. Get comfortable with slower speeds than usual – it’s unfortunate when using a free VPN.

3. No support available for FREE VPNs

I don’t know about you, but the first time I had to install and use a VPN I had a few questions.

Tunnel protocols, TAP Drivers, TCP vs UDP, RSS vs ECC Handshakes etc. Networking isn’t exactly something you pick up during your lunch breaks.

Well, forget having any of those answered by your free VPN service. They couldn’t care less about you and your questions. Good luck figuring it out on your own, that’s their motto.

 

What are Free VPN alternatives?

Here are two alternatives to free VPNs that have similar functionality.

1. Proxies (no encryption)

What is Proxy

Imagine proxies as being VPN’s smaller, less talented brother. They’re a perfect alternative for budget conscious Internet users who aren’t concerned with having an iron-clad wall between their personal data and the outside world. Both free and paid proxies are available.

Proxies act as a buffer between your traffic and the network you’re trying to access. Instead of connecting directly to the network you’re trying to access, the proxy will relay, re-route and bounce your data packets through anonymous servers before sending it off to your target network.

That way the origin of said data packets, your IP address, is hidden and inaccessible to the target network. Your traffic will appear to come from the proxy server, effectively negating any attempts at snooping out who you are via your IP addres.

There are of course drawbacks of proxies.

  • Lack of functionality

While VPNs will protect and encrypt all of your outgoing data, Proxies function on a per application basis. In other words, while your Internet browser may be connected to a proxy, your Skype, bittorrent or online gaming will be just as vulnerable as usual because their traffic won’t be routed via the proxy. You’ll have to set up proxies for each and every application which communicates online.

  • Slow speeds

The nature of a proxy, routing your traffic around the world before it arrives at its destination, adds a lot of latency. Additionally, if you’re going for a free proxy server, expect it to be under heavy use from people around the world, further increasing connection speeds.

You should expect abysmal connection speeds, similar to a free VPN.

  • Low security

A proxy’s main function isn’t to protect you from attacks. VPNs are the solution for that.  Proxies won’t encrypt your traffic between your system and the proxy server. Anyone with access to your data, your ISP or a hacker, will be able to see everything you’re doing.

Proxies do add an additional layer of security to your browsing but it’s a pretty thin one.

If you want to learn more about proxies, make sure you check out our comprehensive Proxy vs VPN comparison article.

2. TOR (slower than VPN)

What is TOR?

TOR, named after the original project “The Onion Router” is a free software which anonymously connects you to a volunteer-operated network of servers. This enables you to be assigned a new IP address, on the same basis as a VPN client.

Here’s TOR and VPN compared.

It works in a similar way to proxies but with the added benefit of being a decentralized system. TOR is preferred over proxies as your data will be encrypted and securely relayed through the network.

Due to its security benefits, TOR is preferred over proxies and used by journalists and activists to circumvent government censorship and restrictions.

However, TOR tends to be slow.

These long loading times are predicated on the inefficient and long-winded routes that your data packets are sent on, relayed from server to server, until they finally hit their destination. This, of course, is all done in the name of safety.

Make no mistake, TOR isn’t entirely foolproof. Certain software vulnerabilities and website admin errors can be and are exploited by government agencies.

Conclusion – Is FREE VPN Worth it?

As with most things in life, the old adage you get what you pay for holds true here. Especially so when it comes to the vital aspect of cyber security. You simply can’t afford not to take this seriously.

If you’re satisfied with the sloth speeds of TOR or overused proxy servers, more power to you and we admire your patience.

It’s much better to go with best premium VPNs, such as PIA or ExpressVPN.

Either way, you’ve got to do something. Don’t leave you and your family exposed to the dangers of the internet.

Which FREE VPNs have you used? Leave your comments, questions and feedback in the comment form below.

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    • Hi Arthur,

      Good point. Though, Opera VPN is built-in VPN inside browser and for using a VPN you’ll need to use their browser. Which keeps things kinda a limited..

    • Hey Damian – good question. We didn’t list Betternet as “Best free VPN” as it’s just too slow. We did several performance tests and the download speed was below 5 Mbps. In our opinion, this is just too slow for proper use. It’s good for hiding your IP address, but not much else.

      If you’ve had other experience with Betternet – let me know 🙂

  1. Thanks for the list and detailed analyses. I’m thinking of trying out CyberGhost (currently using NordVPN which is pretty expensive). Do you think CyberGhost VPN is suitable for abroad use? I’m located in the US, but I’m travelling a lot hence the reason I need a reliable, cheap (preferably free) VPN client. Any thoughts?

  2. You say that no business is free and that these free VPNs would sell “US” as their product? So if that is true that means they could be selling our browsing history to the highest bidder i.e. the government,ISP,FBI etc… which is what people are really trying to prevent in the first place. SO then what is the point of actually using a free VPN?

    • Hey Eden!

      Aha! You just hit the nail on the head – using free VPNs is always a gamble. The only free VPNs you should even consider using are those that offer free plans in addition to premium plans. Those are legit and trusted providers who have chosen to offer you a free plan as their first step of convincing you they are worth paying for.

      The downside on most premium VPNs who also offer free plans is that you’re usually restricted to a small amount of bandwidth and/or slow speeds. Still, there are some (few and far between) who are both trusted providers AND are generous with their restrictions!

      I’m currently editing this article and the new version should go up in a few days. Check back soon to see exactly which VPNs are a) trusted and b) offer free plans worth using!

      Hope that makes things clearer 🙂

      Andrey