This may be the cheap VPN you’ve been waiting for if privacy isn’t a major concern.
To VPN or not to VPN? That’s a question I get asked a lot.
Hola VPN, an Israel-based “freemium” provider that’s been around since 2012, has an answer I like a lot: internet freedom.
This isn’t the first time a VPN provider has sounded the bells of freedom. When I reviewed VyprVPN I found a similar mission front and center, and it got my attention. Any company out to reclaim the web from the clutches of data-sucking internet service providers (ISPs)1 and nosy governments is a friend of mine, particularly if they have the privacy chops to back up their claims.
When it comes to VPNs, I’m also looking for something with a tempting price tag I can flip on and leave running in the background without any headaches and enough goodies under the hood to take care of my daily needs for work and entertainment.
How does Hola stack up? Let’s take a look at Hola VPN’s features, security, performance, pricing, and more.
Pro Tip: If you’re on the hunt for a privacy-minded VPN, always check out a company’s logging stance. Providers that advertise a “no logs” policy don’t keep tabs on what you’re doing when you’re using their VPNs. That’s what you should be aiming for.
Hola is not your average VPN. First and foremost, it uses peer-to-peer (P2P) connections like a torrent client, not a network of servers. The company claims the money it saves from operating without servers is what allows it to offer its service for free.
FYI: Peer-to-peer internet (P2P) connections travel through user networks like home Wi-Fi or cellular connections. They’re not technically dangerous; hackers aren’t sitting around with nets scooping up our data. (Our data is encrypted, so they really can’t.) But P2P VPNs like Hola VPN use our computing power and resources to a limited degree, just like when we’re downloading a torrent.
Hola’s P2P architecture is also what makes it super fast without the need for rocket-fueled technology like WireGuard under the hood. Hola basically piggybacks off all those linked IPs like a torrent with thousands of seeders. We’ll dive deeper into how it works and what it means for your security below.
If you’ve gotten spoiled by, say, an all-in-one NordVPN subscription with its slick, seamless apps, you’re not going to get that with Hola VPN. Hola’s desktop app — especially the Mac app — is completely stripped down, with limited mobile options.
How much does this no-frills VPN cost? Good question. You can technically use Hola for free, which is always a tempting carrot. But how much you can use gratis or if Hola VPN will be enough for you requires a bit of explanation.
Did You Know? Hola VPN claims it has 160 million users worldwide. If true, that’s a lot of IP power!
Getting started with Hola was a bit of a mess because of one small snafu. I’ll lead you through my experience in case you run into the same problem and need a quick fix. It’ll only take a second.
After I signed up for my premium monthly plan ($14.99), I downloaded and installed the Hola Mac desktop app. So far, so good. The trouble started when I tried to take my new Hola VPN subscription out for a test drive.
Pro Tip: $14.99 is kind of steep for a monthly VPN plan, but Hola has some other pricing options we’ll get into below. If you’re curious about what an average VPN costs, here’s a list of the best VPNs on the market and their subscription fees.
Instead of ending up on my Hola VPN dashboard, this screen (see below) popped up like a brick wall.
It was a log-in screen (masquerading as a user agreement), but there was no log-in option! Instead, I had two choices: use the free version (no, thanks) or buy a plan (I’d already bought one).
An instant email response from Hola support — the company’s chat was down — confirmed that this was a glitch in the user interface. The fix? Click “Get limited free VPN.”
Hola eventually recognized my subscription, but it wasn’t a fabulous intro to my new VPN.
FYI: Not all VPNs have great cross-platform support. They may have awesome Windows apps, for example, but offer lackluster experiences for Mac users, or vice versa. Always check out what a potential VPN provider offers for users with your particular devices.
|Monthly||Free||$14.99 per month||$29.99 per month|
|Yearly||Free||$7.69 per month||$19.99 per month|
|3 Years||Free||$2.99 per month||$7.99 per month|
Let’s tackle the elephant in the room first: What exactly do you get with Hola’s free plan?
Not much, it turns out. Hola gives you 30-minute blocks. When you use your 30 minutes, you have to wait an hour or so to surf securely again. Most free VPNs feature a data limit. TunnelBear’s free plan, for example, gives you 500 MB of browsing per month.
Is Hola’s free plan viable? Possibly, but only if you’re using a VPN for light and sporadic torrenting. If you want your VPN to be running 24/7, which I recommend, you’ll have to upgrade to one of Hola’s premium plans.
Looking at the figures above, it makes sense to go with a multiyear plan. Most big-name VPNs offer discounts for long-term investments, ranging from fire-sale pricing like Surfshark’s $2.05-per-month two-year subscription to NordVPN’s monster VPN, password manager, and cloud storage plan for $5.29 per month. (Here’s my full NordVPN review for all the nitty-gritty on that.) Hola’s premium plan is smack dab in the middle.
The question, of course, is: What do you get for $2.99 per month? Here’s a quick breakdown.
Did You Know? The company you buy your internet from (your ISP) can legally monitor your browsing history and sell it to whoever it wants, courtesy of 2020’s USA Freedom Act.2 That’s exactly what they’re doing if you don’t use a VPN to keep your digital footprint private.
I’m a fan of minimal VPN apps. I don’t need NordVPN’s pretty blue geo pins or TunnelBear’s tunnel-diving bears to make my experience complete.
I do need a few things, however, in the following order. I need an auto-connect feature because sometimes I forget to turn on my VPN before I’ve had my morning coffee. I need split tunneling, which lets me do my online banking (without my VPN because my bank won’t allow me to connect to its server with a VPN) while I’m surfing the web (with my VPN). And I like to be able to see if my New York connection is slow so I can switch to, say, Washington or Chicago.
That’s what I need. My Hola VPN Mac app gave me none of that. What I did get was a pocket-size controller (see above) with a list of 40 countries and an on/off switch. Granted, the fact that Hola runs on user nodes, not servers, makes checking server connections moot. Still, I wouldn’t typically invest in — let alone leave the house with — a VPN that doesn’t auto-connect.
For VPNs with a richer feature set, I recommend checking out IPVanish plans. They’re pretty cheap and IPVanish really goes to town with the kinds of connection customizations that make life easier and more secure. ExpressVPN subscriptions are a bit pricier, but the higher price tag may be worth it if you’re looking for a flawless, feature-rich, easy-to-use desktop app.
Pro Tip: Another must-have for a lot of VPN experts is a kill switch. It sounds like the name of a straight-to-DVD Steven Segal movie, I know, but it’s actually quite useful. A kill switch cuts your internet when, for whatever reason, your VPN stops working. Without a kill switch, you could be surfing the web unprotected for hours or days without realizing it.
There is no Hola VPN app for Android users like yours truly, unless you’re on a Samsung or Huawei. If you have one of those phones or you’re running iOS or Windows, Hola has a dedicated app with possibly more features than my bare-bones Mac desktop app.
But don’t expect much. Hola seems to have discontinued its auto-connect feature, the only real premium feature it advertises.
The one place you can find a bit more customization with Hola was the last place I expected to find it: the Hola VPN Chrome browser extension. Let’s check that out.
If you’re on Chrome or Windows (this won’t work for Safari or Firefox), the Hola extension is a snap to download and install. Once installed, it works on a site-by-site basis. For instance, once I logged in to my Netflix account (check out the screenshot above), Hola gave me the option to switch countries.
Netflix worked just fine. I clicked on the country I wanted (U.K.), powered up my VPN, and Hola connected at lightning speed with no buffering.
In the extension settings panel, I also found a few semi-useful preferences and one puzzling one. Let’s start with the semi-useful. Hola VPN gave me the option to handpick any other websites or subscription services besides Netflix I wanted to unblock and to kill all pop-ups.
I’d never say no to a pop-up blocker, but if it was up to me I’d trade it for a malware blocker. Plenty of affordable VPNs give you this tool. IPVanish is one of the best. (I put its bugware to the test in my hands-on IPVanish review.) For more advanced users, I recommend a Windscribe subscription, which comes with some very sophisticated malware-blocking features.
The one head-scratching feature I found in the Hola browser-extension settings panel was the option to deactivate logging. In case you’re new to VPNs, logging — in which companies keep records of what you’re doing while you’re using your VPN — is highly frowned upon. So why was Hola giving premium users the option to “opt out” of logging? Or why was Hola logging to begin with? To answer that question, we’ll have to take a brief detour into Hola’s questionable privacy stance.
Pro Tip: You don’t technically need a VPN to put the kibosh on ISP data surveillance. Mozilla’s Firefox browser has a nifty feature hidden in Preferences > General that allows you to encrypt your DNS requests (the websites you ask your browser to find for you). It’s called DNS over HTTPS.3 Just toggle it on and your requests become gibberish. That’s for desktop searches; setting it up on your phone is a little trickier.
Earlier we took a quick look under Hola’s hood and found that it doesn’t use a network of servers. It routes user traffic through thousands — if not hundreds of thousands — of nodes, which are the networks (Wi-Fi and cellular) of the individuals who use the service.
On the surface, this is great for privacy. No servers means nothing to collect. That’s the way it should work, but that isn’t the case with Hola.
If that sounds like an invasion of privacy, consider all the data we have circulating on Facebook. According to Hola, it has access to all of that too.
Bottom line? As far as logging policies go, Hola’s is one of the worst I’ve seen.
FYI: Most VPNs we review have much stronger privacy stances than Hola. Switzerland-based ProtonVPN, for example, is one of the top names in surveillance flouting. Here’s a complete breakdown of ProtonVPN’s pricing. For a more general crash course in VPN security features and all the other protection VPNs give you, check out our complete 2023 VPN buyer’s guide.
It was impossible to get an accurate read on how Hola VPN was performing because whatever combination of servers and user nodes it was using to give me the most efficient connections was all hidden in a black box. I can say this: I had no difficulties streaming Netflix or downloading a few large files while connected, and connections were instantaneous.
Peer-to-peer connections are a neat solution to the thorny problem of VPN server security. Our individual traffic disappears in the nonstop flow of thousands of fellow users, so we become anonymous — in theory. But according to Hola’s own policies, it’s still keeping tabs on us. If privacy is your main concern, that’s probably going to be a dealbreaker.
That said, if you’re a gamer or you’re doing a lot of heavy downloading or torrenting and you need a quick, secure connection and aren’t too concerned about privacy, Hola VPN may be a solution for you. Its multiyear plans are pretty cheap, customer support is good, and you’ll be up and running in minutes.
Yes, but with this caveat: Connecting to the web with Hola may be secure, but Hola logs your web activity, making it safe but not private.
Yes, if you purchase a three-year plan (at $2.99 per month), Hola VPN is at the cheap end of the spectrum.
Yes, but the bulk of your traffic will be routed through Hola’s P2P user network.
Yes, you can use Hola for free in 30-minute blocks.
With Hola’s Premium plan you can connect simultaneously on up to 10 devices. The Ultra plan gives you 20 devices.
Federal Trade Commission. (2021, Oct 21). FTC Staff Report Finds Many Internet Service Providers Collect Troves of Personal Data, Users Have Few Options to Restrict Use.
Rescorla, Eric. (2020, May 22). The USA Freedom Act and Browsing History. The Mozilla Blog.
Firefox Help. (2022). Firefox DNS-over-HTTPS.
Hola. (2022). Help center.
With a decade of experience as a journalist, Derek Prall has been covering cybersecurity for seven years. He has spent more than 1,000 hours researching digital privacy and has covered almost 100 topics related to VPN and identity theft protection. Previously, Derek has covered tech issues at American City & County magazine, where he won numerous national awards for his cybersecurity coverage. His areas of expertise included network security, big data analytics, and AI applications in public safety. Derek graduated with dual bachelor’s degrees in English and Communications from Furman University and now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife and two cats.