Want the best VPN experience but don't want to drop a dime? There are a number of free services we can recommend with peace of mind that will give you a taste of the kind of security, privacy, and streaming benefits you can expect from this innovative piece of software. That said, when looking for the best free VPN provider, we always encourage our readers to err on the side of caution.
Of course, it seems obvious for us to advise you not stray from our top five free VPNs below, but there is an important reason for this. While some of the below free plans come with their limitations in order to tempt you into splashing the cash and paying, these free VPN are funded by their paid-for counterparts, giving reassurance that their services are actually safe and secure to use.
Alternatively, where free VPNs aren't funded by their subscribers, there is a big question mark over how these services can maintain their infrastructure. Often, the case is by selling your data to third parties - ergo, not so private.
That's unlike the free options in our guide. While they may offer limitations on certain features or data allowances, these free VPNs are a great way to give the software a go before you fully invest. And if you want to skip to the best, you needn't pay more than $2.50 a month for the honor with our top 3 VPN overall directly below.
Today's best overall VPNs
1. ExpressVPN – the best VPN service in the world
From all our testing, we've concluded that our #1 choice is ExpressVPN. It lets you forget any security concerns, and has the benefit of 24/7 customer support, guaranteed access to Netflix US and other streaming services, almost constant uptime, and a 30-day money back guarantee (no questions asked) if you change your mind. T3 readers can also bag 3 months extra free with an annual plan. Not bad if you ask us.
2. NordVPN – top-class VPN that's hot on security
A huge name on the scene, NordVPN has long been a strong contender. It doesn't quite rival ExpressVPN on features, but if you're looking for a very happy medium, it's the one to check out. Plus its monthly rates are hardly going to break the bank.
3. Surfshark - feature packed but affordable
You don't have to pay through the roof to get a good VPN - Surfshark is proof of that. With a range of great features, streaming service unblocking capabilities, you can subscribe for under $2.50 a month.
The best free VPN downloads 2023:
When put through our rigorous testing in search of the best free VPN, it was ProtonVPN that cinched the top spot, climbing up the list as the most competent service.
While you will have to register to gain access to the free service, one of the most exciting elements of ProtonVPN is it comes with an unlimited data package. This means you'll be able to use it without being careful about the amount of gigabytes used per task. Admittedly this would make it an ideal free option for a streaming VPN. However, with ProtonVPN you can only benefit from its great track record of streaming unblocking when opting for its Plus plan.
For a free service, there are also a handful of decent features including Auto-Connect, custom DNS servers, Split Tunneling, and IPv6 encryption. While a more limited list than you'll find on its other plans, this is a great starting point. Better still, while there may be concern around VPNs that only offer a free tool, with subscriptions for ProtonVPN available, you should feel a lot safer that your data is in good hands.
Offering a straight forward app to boot, ProtonVPN definitely offers one of the more fully-fledged experiences when it comes to a free VPN - though it's nowhere close to what a premium VPN can offer. Luckily its paid-for plans offer one of the best experiences of a VPN, making this a great stepping stone before you choose to fully commit.
If you're after a VPN that gives you a real taste for its full-fat product, Hide.me might just be the option for you, with its incredibly generous free VPN experience. While not quite ProtonVPN's unlimited data levels, Hide.me gives users 10GB a month to blitz through, a swish interface, and plenty of features to play around with.
No sign up is required to use Hide.me's free VPN. Simply install and benefit from a ton of great features, from its Kill Switch to split tunneling, 'Stealth Guard' which blocks connections when your VPN isn't connected, as well as a range of protocols.
While it did take around 12 seconds to connect, speeds proved decent at 100Mbps. What's more, the interface is clear and easy-to-use, giving users the option to customize its server list and mark favorites for future use.
While we did experience some issues with crashing when auto connecting, as well as reversing the Kill Switch once it had been triggered, these are feature that were easy enough to iron out. If nothing else - it proved Hide.me was working and doing what it needed to do to sustain security of our data.
PrivadoVPN offers a powerful free VPN with a network of servers that sits on the bigger side than most of its other free peers. While admittedly not huge, its 8 servers stretching across 12 locations around the world certainly gives the likes of Hotspot Shield a run for its money with its dismal single server.
With some of said servers based in the UK, US, and Canada, too (as well as Germany, France, Mexico, and the like) this is certainly a great start. Add this to its very healthy 10GB of data, users should be able to see themselves able to stretch the allowance from month-to-month, able to carry out various tasks while enjoying the added protection a free VPN looks to give.
You'll need to sign up to use PrivadoVPN's free tool, though you won't have to offer up any payment details. Once you've installed, you can make the most of a few features, as well as configuration options. The free plan allows you to choose between IKEv2, OpenVPN, and WireGuard protocols. Added protection comes in the form of its Kill Switch, as well as Auto Connect.
Connection times were a little slow, averaging around 15 seconds and speeds once connected could be quite slow at times.
The app itself was easy-to-use and fairly nice to look at, though we would like the inclusion of customizing lists and notifications to better meet user needs.
Offering a fast VPN experience in both its free and paid-for products, Hotspot Shield is a great choice if you want to improve the overall performance of your connection.
While you will be limited to a measly 500mb using the desktop app version, Chrome comes with unlimited data, allowing you to use the free VPN without having to ration your monthly allowance.
Some will also appreciate the fact you can make the most of the free service without having to enter any of your details, including even an email address.
It also has a bunch of nifty features, both on its desktop and Chrome client. On desktop, you'll be able to log speed tests, as well as viewing latency and loading data charts. On Chrome, Sword offers a fake activity tracker, while you can also make use of both its ad and tracker blocker, and much more.
That said, Hotspot Shield's free service is somewhat limited compared to others. While it has a great client and - even in its free service - offers brilliantly fast speeds, we were unable to unblock Netflix, immediately told this was a premium feature. However, if you're after a VPN for those security extras and great speeds, Hotspot Shield's free service is one of the better choices.
A great choice for beginners to the world of VPN, TunnelBear offers an adorably simple interface that makes VPN seem that bit less daunting, with an easy set-up, too.
With TunnelBear we didn't come across any serious roadblocks, able to use seamlessly with all features available on the free version. That said, unlike Hotspot Shield, you are very much limited to the 500MB allowance each month, which many will breeze through far too quickly.
In terms of features, you'll be able to mark any trusted networks, as well as utilising TCP to override any stable connections. There's also the choice of launching at startup on your computer, as well as the GhostBear tool.
Admittedly it won't be the best for those looking to stream with the very small data allowance, or, indeed, those looking for a stepping stone into a more feature-packed VPN service. However, TunnelBear doesn't limit you to a few server choices, offering the same list as in its paid-for service of over 1,000 servers across the globe, offering exceptional speeds of 80Mbps.
Is a free VPN safe?
A free VPN can be a half-decent tool for short term use, or as a stepping stone to a full-fat, paid-for VPN. That said, when it comes down to whether they're as safe as a premium VPN, the answer is simply, no.
When a product is completely free - especially one that's prime function is to offer security - you have to question how a company can fund the kind of infrastructure required to keep your personal information safe, let alone continue running in the first place.
Put simply, you'll pay with your data if you don't pay with your money.
Should I pay for a VPN?
When it comes to our professional opinion, subscribing to a VPN service is definitely the way to go to actually benefit from all that a fantastic VPN can offer you; from security, to performance and streaming. With so many fantastic cheap VPN options out there, too, money needn't be an issue.
Paying for your VPN can give you the reassurance your personal data is in safe hands, as well as stripping you of any of the limitations a free VPN poses. You'll have unlimited data and the option to load your VPN onto a number of devices rather than just the one. You'll also have free rein of a service's server list and features.
Still cautious? Our top recommendation, ExpressVPN comes with a 30-day money back guarantee, allowing you to trial it risk-free. Alternatively, Surfshark is our budget-friendly VPN of choice, feature-packed and affordable.
What is the difference between paid VPN and free VPN?
There are a lot of differences between a paid-for VPN and its free counterpart. As previously mentioned, free VPN services come with limitations, both on data and the features you can use when you haven't handed over your card details. You should also treat a free VPN with caution where security is concerned, without the money behind it to carefully handle the sensitive information of its users.
Meanwhile, with a paid-for VPN, you'll get the premium experience with a long feature list, the ability to potentially unblock your favorite streaming services like Prime Video and Disney Plus. Want an iPlayer VPN? You'll have to pay for that.
Which is the best free VPN?
ProtonVPN sits at the top of our best free VPN buying guide, offering unlimited data on its free service, as well as servers across three locations with multiple servers. That said, when loading Netflix, it only allowed us to watch Netflix Originals. For those travelling and looking to access a full Netflix library, then, you'll be limited in what you can binge when not in the country.
Of course, there are drawbacks to a free VPN and this is just one of them. If you're after the very best experience when it comes to a VPN, you are better off paying and finding the one most suitable for your device.
With most offering a trial period with their money-back guarantees, why not try the likes of ExpressVPN, which takes the title as the best of the best across many of our VPN buying guides?
Are free VPN tools illegal?
There are digressions across the laws on the use of VPN - both paid-for and free - in differing territories, especially in country's like China. However, for the most part, the use of a VPN is not illegal. Offering its users an extra layer of security, as well as optimising performance of elements like bandwidth, a VPN is completely legal to use.
That being said, this shouldn't be taken as a shield against any illegal activity they could potentially be used for. If you happen to be using a VPN for piracy, for example, you're still committing an illegal act and risk prosecution.
What's more, while many paid-for VPN services promote a no-logging policy, that isn't to say your information isn't completely safe from scrutiny. If the likes of the government or FBI want to take a look at what you've been up to, many VPN providers will be obligated to pass this information over. It's also worth repeating that this kind of anonymity rarely stretches to free VPN services, with your information likely to be the currency used to keep the VPN going.
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