The Best Free VPNs for 2021
The demand for VPNs is soaring, and with it, the interest in free VPNs.
Unsurprisingly, as more people are trying to work from home and keep themselves entertained, the demand for VPNs has soared. At the end of March, “VPN demand among American users peaked at 65% above average”. It’s eased off since then but remains “over a third higher than before the pandemic”.
A free VPN is always a tempting alternative to the paid options, especially if you’re on a tight budget and only plan on periodic, casual usage, but it’s important to understand that they cannot fully measure up to the paid providers.
Also, you should be aware that there are paid VPN providers which really do offer the full package, like Surfshark which can cost only $2.21 a month, so it won’t really be such a strain on your wallet.
Yes, you can get a decent VPN for free that will get the job done, but you must be willing to accept the limitations that come with using a fully-free VPN service (in cases where total anonymity is important, you might not find the airtight security you need to browse the internet safely). We will talk more in-depth about these short-comings later on in the article, but with that being said, understand that if the provider is not making you pay, you will probably end up paying in some other way.
If you don’t want to read the whole article, here’s our list of the best FREE VPNs:
- ProtonVPN – absolutely no bandwidth restrictions
- Hotspot Shield – offers 7-day free trial of paid service
- TunnelBear – extremely user-friendly with 500 MB per month free usage
Things to Consider Before you Download a Free VPN
Before you go for a totally free VPN, you might want to consider a few potential issues before using it.
If you still want to go for a free VPN, we’ve looked at the best ones available. Here, we’ll highlight their features and shortcomings, so you can make the decision for yourself.
An Almost Free VPN With All The Security Benefits of a Paid Service
Surfshark is an excellent VPN option when you don’t want to burn a hole in your pocket, but you do want optimal privacy, and anonymity from your VPN. Unlike the completely free services, a subscription to Surfshark will cost as low as $2.21 per month (for the 24-month package), and won’t have you risking your own personal security.
Surfshark also has a zero-logging policy, so you can rest assured they won’t be selling your data to any third-party bidders. The service operates an OpenVPN protocol alongside an IKEv2 protocol to keep users safe, as well as a military-grade AES 256 bit encryption.
Want to learn more? Check out our in-depth Surfshark review.
The Best Free VPNs
This little-known VPN provider may not have the reputation nor the international server network of more popular free VPNs, but when it comes to speed and security, it’s tough to beat. Although ProtonVPN has just over 800 servers in 50 countries, if you opt for the free VPN service, you’ll only be able to connect to three of them. You’ll also be restricted to medium speeds and one device but there are plenty of positives that offset those limitations.
ProtonVPN’s free VPN service gives users unlimited bandwidth so they can stream, browse, or shop online to their heart’s content. It’s also one of the most secure and transparent amongst the best free VPNs.
ProtonVPN has simple, lightweight apps that are compatible with all major operating systems and a slick user interface that makes navigation a breeze. Additional security features like the in-built kill switch and always-on option defend against dropped VPN connections and help secure your online activities when using public Wi-Fi connections.
ProtonVPN’s free VPN service is limited in terms of speed, however, so users wanting to access content on streaming sites like DisneyPlus and Netflix may need to consider an upgrade to either the basic or plus plan. To find out more about ProtonVPN, it’s limitations and capabilities, check out our full review here.
This powerful VPN gives free users 500MB per day, as opposed to Tunnelbear’s more measly offering of 500MB per month. This makes HotSpot Shield a tempting option, especially for those wanting a free VPN for streaming or torrenting.
That’s all in the past, however, and HotSpot Shield’s free VPN service doesn’t log any user activity or user data. It does have some negatives, however, including the fact that free users are inundated with advertising. The free VPN service also has a maximum speed limit of 2 Mbps, will only connect to one location in the US, and offers only limited standard definition streaming.
While security is good and Hotspot Shield has improved its no-logging policy, speeds can be sluggish and the location limits restrictive. Certainly not the free VPN for fans of Indian Premier League cricket but a good choice if you want protection while streaming or performing online banking transactions.
One of the best things about Tunnelbear is that, while it’s rather cute design may put off more computer-savvy users, your girlfriend will love it! Tunnelbear is extremely user-friendly giving the most technically challenged surfer safe access to the internet.
While the data restrictions are quite severe, limiting free users to just 500 MB per month, this is sufficient for those just wanting protection while they do their online banking and shopping. It’s not going to cut it if you want protection while streaming or torrenting, however.
Overall TunnelBear is a highly secure VPN, though users should note there have been some issues with speed. It nevertheless offers the latest security protocols and cutting-edge encryption and gives all users free rein to use any of its servers. Even those opting for TunnelBear’s limited free VPN service can install its apps onto five devices, getting five times the protection of those going with ProtonVPN’s free service.
Tunnelbear is fast and ferocious with strong security protocols and sound policies designed to protect the user and their privacy. For more information about Tunnelbear’s bare necessities, check out our full review here.
Can the Best Free VPNs Compete With Their Paid Alternatives?
A free VPN Service offers many of the same features as their paid counterparts, but for no financial cost. This makes them ideal for those on a budget or who simply want to download something for one-off use. However, while free VPN options still provide increased privacy, anonymity, and access, the difference from paid subscriptions is more than just the price tag.
In addition to usage restrictions, free VPN services often rely on low-quality connections or simply don’t have the international server coverage of a paid service, like Surfshark, for example, which boasts a phenomenal 1,040 servers in over 60 different countries. Whether you are protecting your online information or accessing blocked content, an unstable network that frequently drops out defies the point of using a VPN altogether, especially if no kill switch is featured in the product. Another drawback of using free VPN software is the lack of tech support available to consumers. Most only offer an email contact, and it’s likely you’ll have to wait for a response – which can be vexing as the products are prone to malfunctions.
For users looking to access Netflix content from overseas libraries will struggle with a free VPN service as the streaming service is relentlessly changing its restrictions. In the past, Netflix succeeded in blocking all free VPN providers, meaning internet users in certain regions have access to significantly less content than others. As the company continues to fight VPN use, it’s turned into something of a cat-and-mouse game between the streaming service and the top VPN services. According to our latest research, the most effective service to access the geo-restricted site is ExpressVPN, with their number one rival, NordVPN, coming in a close second.
These restrictions have contributed to the poor image of free VPN services and you’ll find very few featured in lists of best VPN services. However, we have an interesting alternative to propose. With many highly-rated paid subscriptions offering VPN free trial periods with complete refunds guaranteed, it’s possible to use this loophole to benefit from the platinum quality of leading providers. We recommend using these (somewhat) free VPN proxy alternatives for accessing Netflix’s full catalog, along with other channels such as Sky, Channel 4, BBC iPlayer and NOW TV.
*Please see specific brands for Netflix
Is a Free VPN Worth Getting?
The top free VPN services aren’t to be sniffed at but they’re also not in a position to compete with the best-paid alternatives.
If you want secure communications, ProtonVPN is a great choice, especially if you boost it even further by using the free ProtonMail encrypted email service.
Hotspot Shield is one of the best free VPNs in terms of streaming, but not if you hate advertising or want to stream geographically restricted content from anywhere other than the US.
Tunnelbear is user-friendly and its free VPN is one of the few that allows users access to its full server network. The monthly data limit of 500MB is highly restrictive, however, and effectively rules it out in terms of a free VPN for streaming.
For robust and reliable online protection that won’t throttle your bandwidth or reduce your connection speeds to a snail’s pace, the best VPN is, without a doubt, ExpressVPN. If you’re happy to settle for second best to save a few dollars a month, however, we recommend ProtonVPN as the top free VPN in terms of speed, security, and simplicity.