Free VPN services are much sought after online. However tempting as using one may be, I recommend serious caution. While there are some legitimate free VPNs, years of experience have shown me that there are many more of dubious origin and quality.
The only free VPNs that I would consider are those that operate on a freemium model. That means you can use the service with some limitations or upgrade to a paid plan for unlimited services. Anything outside this scope is likely to be more of a threat to your data rather than protecting it.
If that sounds like a reasonable proposition, then you're in luck. I happen to have tried several of these freemium VPN brands, some of which are simply excellent.
A newbie to the VPN scene since 2019, the US-headquartered AtlasVPN has been part of Nord Security since 2021. Considered a dark horse that is lean on price, AtlasVPN delivers. Since the US is part of the 5/9/14 Eyes Alliances, you may hesitate despite AtlasVPN being a freemium VPN software. That said, they have been audited by VerSprite with no critical issues found.
Possessing more than 750 global premium Privacy Pro and streaming servers in 49 locations and supporting over six million users is impressive for a newbie.
However, AtlasVPN's free plan allows you access to three locations, namely Amsterdam (Netherlands), Los Angeles, and New York (the US). While streaming support is only available on the US free servers, all free servers support WireGuard, IPSEC/IKEV2, Private DNS, and P2P.
Aside from storing only minimal information to facilitate their services, such as payment details, they claim not to keep your activity logs. If you're a strict privacy-conscious user, this may be an issue. Also, like other free plans, AtlasVPN makes you endure ads. The free forever plan supports Windows, Android, macOS, and iOS with no speed limits and allows unlimited devices.
The in-house developed SafeSwap feature provides multiple rotating IP addresses when connecting to a single VPN server; this makes it doubly hard to trace back to you. SafeBrowse stops dubious websites, and the Data Breach Monitor is a built-in feature that monitors for any leaks in data breaches. However, these salient features, including SafeSwap are only available on AtlasVPN premium plans.
Look at Atlas VPN paid plans if you need top-notch privacy and protection. Try them out since all plans come with a 30-day money-back guarantee. You enjoy many quality features, such as accessing the over 750 speed-optimized servers, seamless 4K streaming, ad-free, AES-256 data encryption, IPSec/IKEv2, and WireGuard protocols to ensure your data is safe.
Also, you get MultiHop+ which routes your connection through several rotating VPN locations for higher security. If you are a heavy torrenting and streaming user, consider the premium plan at $1.83/month with a 3-year commitment. AtlasVPN's free plan is suited for those who need to use multiple devices at a time.
Headquartered in Switzerland, Proton was founded in 2014 by a team of scientists. Supported by FONGIT (a non-profit foundation), Proton is popularly known for ProtonMail, an end-to-end encrypted email service. Both ProtonMail and ProtonVPN started as crowdfunded projects. They are still primarily supported by the community.
Running 97 secure core servers in 67 countries, Proton has 2,555 Plus servers and free servers in three countries. All Proton VPN apps are open source and independently audited by cybersecurity firms.
The free plan by ProtonVPN is forever free and offers unlimited use of three servers in Japan, the Netherlands, and the US, a decent worldwide coverage. Unlike many others, you get unlimited bandwidth with no data caps or speed limits. ProtonVPN's free plan covers multiple platforms, including Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Chromebook, and Linux.
Proton VPN claims not to sell your data. Based in Switzerland, with some of the world's strongest privacy laws and not part of the 5/9/14 Eyes Alliances, you can be assured that your data remains secure. Also, Proton does not keep logs of your online activity. Also, ProtonVPN's free plan has no advertisements (much welcome news indeed).
The custom anti-censor protocol makes your communication look like regular traffic. Hence, you can bypass firewalls and government restrictions to enjoy more digital freedom. The good news is that the Proton VPN free plan offers the same level of security as the paid plans, including encryption standards (AES-256 or ChaCha2), Stealth VPN protocol, and a kill switch. There's also the VPN accelerator to help boost speeds.
Proton VPN enhances security by transmitting the traffic via their secure core network in privacy-friendly countries like Switzerland and Iceland. However, this feature is only available if you're a paid user. You can stream through the Proton VPN's free plan. However, they can only guarantee streaming services if you're a paid user.
The free plan limits you to only one device at a time with medium speeds. If you need more features, consider upgrading to their Proton VPN Plus plan at $5.42/month. You'll open up to more, including access to ten devices, the exclusive Plus servers, P2P/BitTorrent support, guaranteed streaming, and higher speeds (up to 10 Gbps).
Also, you can use Adblocker (NetShield) for faster speeds by blocking malware, ads, and trackers. With all plans offering a 30-day money-back guarantee, you can restfully try their services to the full. If you seldom stream and don't require blazing connection speeds, Proton VPN is a feature-rich free VPN for the top spot, thanks to its security features and unlimited bandwidth and usage.
Founded in 2016, Windscribe is based in Canada. Windscribe is self-funded and known to be one of the more decently upright free VPNs out there. Although Canada is part of the 5/9/14 Eyes Alliances, no incidents have been reported regarding its safety and privacy.
With servers in over 112 cities in 69 countries, Windscribe is known for being a great free VPN service that supports Windows and Mac computers, iOS and Android phones, TV boxes, browsers such as Chrome and Firefox browsers, and most routers.
Windscribe is another freemium service. The free plan has access to 11 locations, including the US, Canada, the UK, Hong Kong, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Norway, Romania, and Turkey. That's good server network coverage for a free VPN service. Also, Windscribe claims not to store personal-identifying logs – no connection logs, IP timestamps, or session logs, nor do they monitor your activity.
However, they store specific data such as the total amount of bytes transferred in 30 days, bandwidth reset date, and your last activity timestamp to facilitate their services. Hence, if you're strict about privacy, consider something else. Windscribe utilizes an AES-256 cipher with SHA512 auth and a 4096-bit RSA key.
R.O.B.E.R.T. is Windscribe's customizable server-side domain and IP blocking tool. Not only does it block ads, trackers, botnet C&C servers, and malware, but it also gives you faster speeds. Also, customize access rules to filter what you want to see and don’t. The free plan allows you to block malware and ads only with the capability to configure three access rules.
Windscribe's forever free plan gets you 10GB/month of data and unlimited connections. Hence, if you have many devices that need to run simultaneously, consider Windscribe. Windscribe allows you to customize for OpenVPN, IKEv2, and WireGuard VPN protocols. However, such a feature requires a Pro account.
The same applies to the port forwarding feature enabling remote access via Windscribe. With a built-in ad blocker, malware blocker, and firewall, Windscribe is a solid free VPN contender, especially if you require unlimited connections.
To unblock access to all Windscribe's available servers, enjoy unlimited data, port forwarding, geo-unblocking, and a customizable online experience, and unlock the full features that R.O.B.E.R.T. offers, you'll need to consider paying for the Windscribe Pro plan at $5.75/month with a year's commitment.
Hide.me has been in the VPN market since 2012 and is based in Malaysia. Since Malaysia is not part of the 5/9/14 Eyes Alliances, you don't have to worry about data retention laws. With servers widely distributed across the globe in Europe, the Americas, and Asia, they are self-managed without the involvement of outsiders.
Hide.me claims to be the first VPN provider to volunteer to be audited by the reputable security analyst Leon Juranic from DefenseCode Ltd; Hide.me does not store any user or activity logs. They also claim not to log your browsing behavior; all data is anonymous. Hide.me is well-known for its dedication to publishing yearly transparency reports should you wish to find out the requests for information from various sources throughout the year.
Although Hide.me has 2100 security-hardened and self-maintained servers worldwide, the lifetime free VPN version that requires no registration allows access to only five locations. Since Hide.me does not throttle your connections for both free and premium users, you enjoy fast speeds. Unlike many other free VPN services, you get 24/7 technical support, whether free or paid.
Also, you won’t see any ads, and there’s no capping your bandwidth. Hide.me’s free VPN shares the same system that caters to paid users, a plus point. That said, you are restricted to 10GB of data usage per month and can connect to only one device at a time. The good news is that Hide.me’s free version supports P2P, a feature that most others don't offer for their free plans.
Hide.me is also known for its emphasis on security with supported VPN protocols such as WireGuard (macOS, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android), IKEv2 (macOS, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android), SSTP (macOS, Windows, Linux), OpenVPN (macOS, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android), and SoftEther (macOS, Windows, Linux).
Premium users enjoy unlimited data transfer, access to all servers in over 78 server locations worldwide, connecting up to ten devices simultaneously, streaming support, dynamic port forwarding, and more. Also, all plans come with a solid 30-day money-back guarantee. With zero logs, no trackers, and no speed throttling, Hide.me gives good speeds and is great for a free VPN.
5. Hotspot Shield
Released by Dnick (former AnchorFree Inc.), Hotspot Shield came into being in 2008. With 3,200 servers in more than 80 countries, Hotspot Shield is a front VPN contender. Aside from supporting Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, and Chrome, Hotspot Shield runs on Linux, TVs, and routers.
Why Hotspot Shield?
What makes Hotspot Shield stand out is its proprietary Hydra protocol based on the OpenSSL library. Unlike other VPNs that leverage the basic OpenVPN technology, Hotspot Shield's Hydra protocol is specially designed for blazing speeds and top-notch performance. Hence, you'll face no issues when streaming, gaming, or torrenting.
Although they have an impressive 3,200 servers worldwide, the free forever plan (no need credit card) only affords you the US servers and supports Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and Chrome. You can connect only one device at a time, and there's no kill switch and anti-phishing protection for the free plan.
While the unlimited data is for the premium plans, the free plan is restricted to 2Mbps and 500MB/day. You can bypass this daily limit if you watch ads on iOS and Android.
What makes me lean towards Hotspot Shield is that the free plan enjoys the same fast speeds, military-grade encryption, Hydra, IPSec, and OpenVPN protocols, and basic VPN features ( IP Leak Protection, DNS Leak Protection, Tor over VPN, Traffic Proxy, Traffic Obfuscations, and more) as the premium plans. That said, there’s no streaming or gaming mode for free users.
Although Hotspot Shield claims to emphasize privacy, they still collect your data, although minimal, and they do so only in product-specific situations. They claim that the data collected is not connected to the user and cannot be used for advertising or marketing purposes. Also, since they are in the US (part of the 5/9/14 Eyes Alliances), you may find other options more palatable if you’re privacy-conscious.
While Hotspot Shield's free VPN plan is suited for the casual daily internet user, you’ll have to look at the Premium VPN plans if you want to unlock its full power. With access to all 3200 servers, more devices, more supported platforms, and unlimited data, you enjoy seamless streaming and gaming at all times via the paid plans.
That said, the free version offers praiseworthy features (if you can look past the ads) that make it equally enticing as a free VPN contender.
Like AtlasVPN, PrivadoVPN began in 2019. It is a Switzerland-based company. Although the company is young, its team consists of personnel with over 20 years of combined experience building and running secure infrastructure with ISPs, a unique added-value experience for a VPN provider.
Supporting Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, AndroidTV, and Amazon Fire TV with custom configuration support for routers and Linux, PrivadoVPN is a rising star.
Operating in the consumer privacy-friendly Switzerland in itself is a bonus point. Also, Switzerland isn't part of any international surveillance agreements or states, so you won't have to worry about data retention laws. Furthermore, PrivadoVPN claims never to collect personally identifiable information nor sell anything about you.
With VPN Servers in 47 countries and 62 cities, spread across the Americans, Europe, Asia Pacific, Africa, and the Middle East, PrivadoVPN has decent coverage for a newbie. Its free plan affords you 12 server locations, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the US – impressive coverage for a free account.
You enjoy the same security and protection as paid accounts. Also, your speeds are not throttled. PrivadoVPN offers streaming and 24/7 support, unlike other free VPNs, which is a plus point. Free users benefit from DNS protection, a kill switch, and others.
Also, you get 10GB of VPN data every 30 days. If you pass this data limit within 30 days, upgrade to a paid plan or connect to one of their free emergency servers. PrivadoVPN claims to offer one of the highest free data allotments and the largest number of free servers in the industry.
Although PrivadoVPN offers OpenVPN, IKEv2, WireGuard, and SOCKS5 VPN protocols, the free plan allows you access to all except the SOCKS5 VPN protocol. However, using the VPN with SOCKS5 assures your anonymity (changes your IP), and you enjoy blazing speeds since there’s no need to encrypt all transferred data.
If you wish to enjoy unlimited usage, connect up to 10 devices, SOCKS5 proxy privacy, and access the complete list of servers, you need a premium account. Also, enjoy parental control and threat protection with a paid plan. That said, with Ad Blocker, PrivadoVPN’s free plan appeals, especially if you love streaming (stay within the 10GB limit).
Final Thoughts – Should You Use a Free VPN?
Quality, reputation, features, and online safety should always come first when deciding on the best VPN service. Using a 100% free VPN is tempting, especially if budget is an issue.
However, most free VPNs come with plenty of risks; the worst is that they (supposedly safeguard you) track and sell your data. Hence, it is best to leverage free trials, money-back guarantees, or free plans from trusted and reliable VPN providers (as above).