Want the ultimate Virtual Private Network experience …without paying a penny?
VPNs are an essential app that can unlock more streaming services, hide your online activity from advertisers and your broadband provider, and protect your data from cyber crooks. But with a dizzying number of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to choose from, it can be a little daunting to know where to start. If you’ve never used a VPN before, the idea of stumping up for a 12-month subscription might be a tough sell – but thankfully, there are a number of ways to access all of the benefits of a VPN without paying.
Below, you’ll find our round-up of our favourite free VPNs as well as answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about these services.
However, it’s worth noting that many of these options place strict limits on the features available in order to prompt you to upgrade to one of the paid plans. If you’re looking to install a VPN to stream TV shows, sports fixtures and movies unavailable in your country, you’ll need to ensure that you have plenty of bandwidth. Likewise, if you’re looking to download a VPN to encrypt all of your data, you’ll want to ensure that it has a minimal impact on your internet speeds.
For that, we’d recommend opting for a paid plan to give the best impression of how a Virtual Private Network can work for you. Fortunately, all of the providers listed below offer generous money-back guarantees, from 30-days to 45-days. At any point during that time, you can claim a full refund. It means you’ll be able to enjoy the best VPN services – with the same peace-of-mind as a free subscription tier. If you want the best of the best, NordVPN is our favourite provider, as ranked in our best VPN guide.
Some services, like CyberGhost, also offer a free trial for new users – with all features unlocked, so that you’ll be able to enjoy the same experience as those with paid accounts.
If you’re interested in installing a VPN, we’d really recommend testing a provider without the limitations imposed by free accounts…
How Does A VPN Work?
New to VPNs create a secure tunnel and funnel all of your online traffic through it. This protective layer of encryption prevents bad actors on the same Wi-Fi network from peeking at the data being sent between you and the websites or online services that you’re using. This is why the IT Department at your workplace is likely pretty keen on you switching on a VPN when accessing secure systems from public Wi-Fi networks, like those found in airports and coffee shop chains.
Without encryption, it’s possible to steal data as it’s transmitted. This is known as a “Man In The Middle” attack. It’s the layer of encryption that also prevents your internet provider from working out what websites you’re visiting at any time. For those concerned about how much data advertisers have accumulated on them, a Virtual Private Network can help keep your browsing habits locked away from prying eyes.
And finally, VPNs have the ability to change your location by manually altering your IP address. For those who don’t know, each time that one of your devices connects to the internet it is automatically assigned an IP address, which includes information about the location where you’ve connected to the web. It’s the reason that a cinema chain website knows your nearest branch automatically, or Google Maps can provide turn-by-turn directions from your current location.
By switching to an IP address in a different country, these websites are tricked into believing that you’re based abroad. As such, streaming services and websites that are only available in that country will become accessible to you. Netflix, which has a different catalogue of boxsets and movies in each country – due to licensing agreements, will show you the selection of shows, documentaries and films that applies to your current IP address.
How Do You Use A VPN?
Once you’re signed up with a VPN provider, you’ll need to install their software on every device that you want to use with the Virtual Private Network. If you’ve got a home packed with gadgets that you’d like to use with the VPN, you might be better off simply installing the VPN software onto your Wi-Fi router.
This means every device on your Wi-Fi network will be routed via the VPN anyway. It’s a perfect solution for those who might otherwise fall foul of the VPN provider’s limit to the number of devices that can be signed in simultaneously.
You don’t need to be connected to a VPN all of the time, even if the software is installed on your device. All of the providers we’ve recommended include massive On/Off buttons in their apps to quickly enable or disable the encryption with a single tap. In fact, most VPN providers also offer a feature called “split tunnelling,” which lets you route certain apps or features to one IP address (you could tell Netflix that you’re currently in the United States to unlock a bigger catalogue of boxsets and movies, for example) while keeping Google Maps connected to a local server, so you can still get walking directions from your current location (and not the middle of Wisconsin…)
This isn’t available from all providers – and rarely on free subscription tiers – but it’s something to be on the lookout for as it can be a real lifesaver.
What Is The Best Free VPN?
After weeks of testing, we’d recommend ProtonVPN as the best free VPN service that you can install today. While all free subscription tiers impose some limits (to differentiate between the paid subscriptions), ProtonVPN has been pretty generous with its limitations. And you’ll still be able to enjoy a solid experience with its VPN.
ProtonVPN Free: A Brilliant Free VPN With Restrictions That Won’t Ruin Your Experience
While all free VPN accounts arrive with limitations, ProtonVPN’s are the most manageable
ProtonVPN is a well-respected provider that happens to offer a free subscription tier. And unlike some of its competitors, it doesn’t impose too many restrictions on this plan – despite the fact that you won’t have to pay a penny to start using its software. For example, while most free VPNs impose strict data limits on free subscribers in an effort to limit their costs (and push users to a paid plan), ProtonVPN doesn’t have any limit on the amount of data you can use from its network of servers.
That makes ProtonVPN a phenomenal option for those who want to stream video online, which uses a vast amount of data compared with reading text, or even searching for images. In fact, aside from gaming and video calls, streaming high-resolution video is one of data-hungry activities you can do online.
As you might expect from a completely free service, there are some limits imposed on free accounts with ProtonVPN.
First off, there are only three locations around the world available: the United States, Japan and Netherlands. So, if you’re abroad and want to spoof your location back in the UK to access services not available outside of the country, you’re out of luck with ProtonVPN Free. There are apps on both iOS and Android, Windows and Mac, which is nice. But the biggest drawback with opting for ProtonVPN’s free subscription plan is that your online traffic is de-prioritised compared to the provider’s paying customers.
That means that, when trying to watch Netflix or make a video call during peak times, you can expect to see your download speeds dwindle as ProtonVPN ensures its paying customers enjoy a buffer-free experience at your expense. That’s understandable, after all, this won’t be costing you anything, but if you’re specifically looking to install a VPN to enable streaming from around the world… it’s not ideal.
Like the best VPN suppliers, ProtonVPN has strict data protection policies and won’t log any information about your online activity or visits.
Privado VPN: A Free VPN With A Great Reputation
The free subscription from Privado VPN offers a great taste of what a VPN can do for you
If you’re looking for a free provider, Privado is a pretty compelling option. Like ProtonVPN, there are a number of limitations imposed on free users that don’t apply to its paid subscribers, however, none of these limits negate the biggest benefits of using a VPN. For example, those who want to spoof their location to another part of the world can do so with Privado’s free subscription, but there’s a limited choice of just 12 locations around the globe. That compares to 59 possible cities with a paid subscription.
Likewise, while you can install the Privado VPN app on an unlimited number of devices – even with the free subscription – you’ll be limited to a single active connection at any one time. That means you won’t be able to stream a boxset on the telly while also keeping your web browsing on your smartphone, tablet or laptop secure and encrypted, for example. Given that you’re not paying a penny for the Virtual Private Network that you’ll be using, it’s difficult to complain about that one.
And again, none of the above limitations ruin the experience of using a VPN. If you want to make sure your online banking, purchases, and web browsing is shielded from bad actors and your internet supplier, then the single connection restriction isn’t going to stop you from getting the full benefit of Privado. The VPN firm is generous enough to include its most popular cities as part of the 12 possible locations for free accounts, including cities in the United States Of America – a must-have for those who want to stream boxsets, movies and sports fixtures.
However, the reason that Privado VPN is our silver medalist, rather than the top of the podium, is the 10GB data limit imposed on free subscribers each month. Sure, 10GB is a lot of data and for those who want to use a VPN for web browsing, email and a bit of shopping, that data allowance should be more than enough. However, it scuppers your plans to binge boxsets and films back-to-back on the service.
According to Netflix, streaming video in High Definition for an hour can use as much as 3GB of data. As such, Privado VPN subscribers will only manage around three hours of video streaming each month before they reach their data limit.
While those who opt for Proton VPN’s free subscription tier might notice some sluggish loading speeds at peak times, as their traffic is de-emphasised compared to paying customers, there are no data limits that will cut users off from their boxset.
Avira’s Phantom VPN: Brilliant Service, But Restrictive Data Limits On Free Accounts
Avira’s Phantom VPN solution providers a good experience, but small data limit
There are a number of other VPN providers that offer free subscription tiers. Avira’s Phantom VPN offers a free subscription tier, with apps for iOS, Android, Windows and Mac. There’s no limit to the number of servers that you can connect to, with free Phantom VPN users able to connect to 1,400 servers across 37 countries. You can also connect with multiple devices simultaneously – like an iPhone and Windows laptop, for example. As you’d expect from a well-respected VPN provider, Avira doesn’t collect any logs or data about your activity online, so there’s no trace of how you’re using its services. So, what’s the catch?
Like Privado VPN, Phantom VPN imposes a data limit on those who don’t pay for its service. At 500MB, it’s all-too-easy to gobble through that allowance with a single YouTube video, or listening to an album online. Even those who only want to use the VPN for a bit of shopping or email might struggle to keep under 500MB across an entire month. As such, Avira’s Phantom VPN free tier feels a little more like a no-risk trial than a viable option for those who want to use a VPN without ever paying.
Want To Upgrade To A Paid VPN?
If you don’t want to navigate the various limitations and restrictions imposed on free subscriptions, we’d recommend NordVPN.
Unlike Proton VPN and Privadoo, the brilliant NordVPN – which topped our Best VPN ranking – doesn’t offer a free subscription tier. However, the company does offer a 30-day money-back guarantee to anyone who signs up. There are also customer service representatives available 24-hours a day, seven days a week who can arrange a refund if you’re not happy with the service.
Of course, NordVPN isn’t free to use. However, that does mean that you’ll be able to take advantage of the full list of features available. Without the limits found on the free subscriptions listed above, you’ll be able to truly experience what a Virtual Private Network could offer you. For example, NordVPN doesn’t place any restrictions on the amount of data that you can use with its encrypted tunnel – so you’ll be able to stream video in ultra-crisp 4K quality without worrying about a monthly allowance.
NordVPN also lets you connect up to six devices at the same time, so you won’t need to disable your secure VPN connection on one gadget to connect to another. There’s a 5,000 servers available that you can connect to with a single tap. That means, regardless of whether you want to unlock a streaming catalogue or video on-demand provider from another part of the world, access websites currently locked-away in your location …you should be able to easily find a location that works for you.