It’s one of the most common questions we receive: What are the best free VPNs out there? While we certainly hate to disappoint, we also don’t want to be disingenuous.
Simply put, it’s pretty slim pickings.
The “free” VPNs on the market today fall into three categories — free trial versions, money-back trial periods, and open-source projects.
The first will offer stripped-down versions of an established product that aim to tempt you into buying the full service, and the second will have you pay for a service upfront but offer a money-back guarantee if you don’t like it, making them technically “free” up to a point. The third option is harder to come by, and we don’t recommend seeking out these pet projects. They’re usually not stable, secure, or fast enough to rely on for day-to-day use.
Pro Tip: While they aren’t exactly free, you should still check out our list of budget-friendly VPNs in our guide to the best cheap VPNs on the market. They include some real bargains.
With that in mind, we’re going to unpack the best “free” VPNs so that you can enjoy digital security on a shoestring.
ExpressVPN leads the pack for a number of reasons. They’re one of the most secure services on the market, they’re extremely fast, and the service is shockingly simple to use. Their 30-day, money-back trial period just sweetens the deal on an already stellar service.
ExpressVPN costs a little more upfront than most VPNs, but they do offer a lengthy 30-day, money-back trial period that will allow you to determine if the service is right for you. While it’s not “free” in the strictest sense of the word, it’s a much more generous time frame than most we’ve encountered, which usually last a week — maybe two.
And we’re pretty confident you’re going to like what you find after your “free” month … perhaps, enough to continue your subscription. For one, ExpressVPN has some of the most elevated security measures we’ve seen in the industry; this is mainly as a result of their massive network of RAM-only servers.
Simply put, RAM, or random access memory, needs power to store information. Once the server is reset, any of the information stored on it is irretrievably gone. Even if Express wanted to log information from one of its users, it simply can’t. This makes them one of the most private and secure VPNs we’ve encountered.
Their performance is also worth noting. When we tested ExpressVPN, we found no significant changes in our speeds, at least not enough to notice on a day-to-day basis, anyway. They’ll hum along in the background without you ever noticing them, which is something that can’t be said for a lot of VPNs out there.
There is one tick in the “con” column, though. Express is a little on the pricey side. However, if you like them after your 30-day trial (and we think you will), you can consider signing up for a long-term subscription package that will bring your month-to-month costs way down. More information on that in our guide to ExpressVPN’s costs.
With a sleek design, a lengthy list of security features, and blazing speeds to boot, NordVPN is a rock-solid choice. And similar to ExpressVPN, they’ll let you try their service at no risk for 30 days.
NordVPN is a personal favorite of ours. For one, they’re one of the fastest VPNs we’ve ever tested, and their user interface is one of the most well designed on the market today. They offer some of the most advanced security features out there and you can put it to the test yourself for 30 days at no charge.
Let’s first talk about their performance. In our NordVPN review, we actually found that our speeds increased slightly when we were connected to the VPN. We’ve tested a ton of VPN services, and this is the first and only time we’ve seen that happen.
They’ve also got some of the best features in town — namely, VPN-into-Tor. Without getting too technical, Tor is a browsing option available for folks who take their privacy really seriously, and Nord is one of the few VPNs we’ve seen that’s compatible with Tor right out of the box. If you want to be as anonymous as possible online, this is the way to do it.
And although they offer these elevated security measures, NordVPN is still extremely user-friendly. Their UI is one of the best we’ve encountered. Everything is intuitive, sleek, and responsive. In an industry where user experience isn’t usually at the top of the priority list, Nord certainly stands out.
That said, it’s similar to the first VPN on our list in that NordVPN plans are a little pricey, but those costs can be mitigated by signing up for a longer-term service package. And we’re confident that you’re going to want to do that after your 30-day trial period is up.
Affordable, reliable, and simple, TunnelBear is a great VPN for almost everyone. They are also one of the few on the market that offer an honest-to-goodness “free” version of their product.
In our opinion, TunnelBear doesn’t get enough recognition. They’re a great service that perfectly balances user experience with digital security. They’re fast enough for most internet users, they offer protection where it counts, and they’re extremely simple to set up and use day-to-day. Overall, we really enjoyed using the service when we analyzed TunnelBear. You’re not going to get a huge list of James Bond-level security features like you’ll see with Nord, but you know what you will see? A completely free, no-strings-attached version.
While you can use TunnelBear at no cost, it does come with one caveat. You’re only going to be able to use 500 MB of data per day. When you take into account exactly how much of our lives take place in digital spaces, you’re going to burn through that pretty quickly. In fact, TunnelBear itself describes the free version as being for “testing and limited usage.”
If you select the free version, we think you’re going to get frustrated pretty quickly with that data cap, but if you like the service, making the leap to a paid subscription isn’t anything close to painful. For what you get, they’re more than reasonably priced. For more on that, check out our guide to TunnelBear’s costs.
Like we said above, the unfortunate reality is that there aren’t a whole lot of actual “free” VPNs on the market. Some services offer free versions of their product, but those will be severely limited in the number of servers available to you, the amount of data you can use, and the number of connections you can make.
The next best thing is lengthy, no-risk trial periods, like our top two picks offer. Which means you can get your money back if you don’t like the service or if it doesn’t really offer what you’re looking for.
There are a few open-source VPNs that are free, like SoftEther, which was developed as part of a master’s thesis research project by Daiyuu Nobori at the University of Tsukuba. However, you need to know a lot about networking to use such a VPN effectively, and these projects are not going to come anywhere close to the reliability, security, or speeds offered by paid services.
Here’s the thing: Most VPNs are incredibly inexpensive if you select long-term service plans. And when we say inexpensive, we mean it. We’re talking pennies-per-day cheap, here. For more information on that, check out our comprehensive VPN pricing guide.
For the most part, for a middle-of-the-road VPN on an average yearlong subscription plan, you’re going to be paying anywhere from $3 to $6 per month. When you consider the security and peace of mind offered by using a VPN, we think these prices are more than reasonable.
We absolutely get that everyone is looking for a deal on a VPN and that if you can get it for free, even better. However, the old adage “you get what you pay for” is more than apt in this discussion.
If you’re in the market for a VPN, it’s safe to assume you’re looking to protect yourself. You wouldn’t want to secure your home using a security system someone built in their garage and gave to you for free, right? No, you’d be a little skeptical of it — and for good reason. The same thought process should apply to your digital protection as well.
First and foremost, a VPN needs to be secure. Make sure the service you select is aboveboard by reading our reviews, making sure that there aren’t any known security exploits, and performing your own tests to ensure the VPN isn’t leaking DNS requests.
One of the main reasons it’s so frustrating to use lower-end VPNs is because they degrade your performance significantly. To avoid headaches, make sure you select a VPN service with a large network of sophisticated servers.
You want to make sure all of your devices are secure, so selecting a VPN with unlimited connections usually makes the most sense. Or, if you want to get really serious, you can select a VPN that’s easily installed on your router to protect any device connected to your network.
If you’re looking to torrent or use your VPN to watch geo-restricted media, select a service that offers optimizations for these activities.
The internet is an ever-changing place, so you want your VPN to keep up with the times. The most cutting-edge VPNs on the market today support the WireGuard protocol, which is quickly becoming the gold standard in the industry.
The reason you’re using a VPN in the first place is to enhance your privacy, so it’s a real gut-punch to find out your VPN is tracking you. Seek out a provider with a no-log policy that has been confirmed by a third-party security auditor to ensure this doesn’t happen.