Are “Free” VPNs Really Free? (Plus 100% Free Options)


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If you search for “free VPN” or “free VPN in….” online, all kind of products and websites come up in the search results, but from what I’ve seen, it’s a confusing and contradictory mess. Are all VPN’s advertised as free actually 100% free? Or is there usually some kind of catch?

Many VPNs are advertised as “free” merely because they offer a 30 day refund guarantee, but still require upfront payment to get access. There are only a select handful of VPNs which are actually 100% free with zero upfront cost to use.

In other words, yes, there’s often some kind of catch or deceptive marketing used when promoting a lot of these “free” VPNs. In this article we’ll try and navigate readers through this mess, firstly identifying “free” VPNs that aren’t actually free, before moving on to pick out some genuine options of VPNs that really are 100% free, with zero upfront cost to start using them.

However, as with everything free, there’s usually limitations, and most times by using the free versions of VPNs, you are usually giving something up. We’ll try to cover the positives and drawbacks of all the 100% free VPNs we could find.

Some “Free” VPNs That Are Not Actually Free

It has to be said that there are a lot of deceptively advertised VPNs in search results, that are labelled as free that actually aren’t. Sometimes search results are titled as “free” but they actually aren’t when you click and check the plans.

Another sneaky tactic some VPNs are using is to describe their VPN as “free” simply because they have a 30 or 60 day money back guarantee, therefore you can try the product and get your money back, effectively making it “free”. But that doesn’t fit my definition of free. For something to be totally free, there has to be zero upfront cost.

Let’s list some of these VPNs that use clever word trickery, or advertise VPNs are free when they aren’t:

  • PureVPN – Sometimes advertised as a “free” VPN download, but it’s not free to use – a paid subscription is required. They do have very close to a free plan – you can currently trial their product for 7 days for $0.99 – but all plans are paid.
  • ExpressVPN – Sometimes shows up in search results as “free”, because they offer a 30 day refund guarantee, but they don’t have a free version of their service – upfront payment is required.
  • In general watch out for the words “try risk free”; this doesn’t mean it’s free. This usually means they have a money back guarantee, but still have to pay initially to start using the service.
  • Frustratingly, some of the free VPNs we’ll cover below also show up in “free VPN for ….” searches, when their free versions either don’t allow you to select the server, or they don’t have servers in that country on their free versions.

100% Free VPN Option #1 – ProtonVPN Free Version (Unlimited)

ProtonVPNs free version has to come first on the list because it ticks all the boxes a free VPN could realistically be expected to tick – it’s 100% free to download and use, and has totally unlimited use.

Here are the main benefits of ProtonVPN’s free version:

  • Totally unlimited use
  • Has multiple servers in 3 locations – Netherlands, Japan and USA.
  • Strict no logs policy.
  • Fast, reliable servers. Even the free version has always worked well when I’ve used it.
  • Based in Switzerland with a strong commitment to privacy (like their ProtonMail service).
  • Even the free version looks, feels and operates like a proper VPN service (it’s not a browser add-on – it’s a full on proper VPN software)
  • You can upgrade to the Premium version with more countries/servers for a very competitive price

Click here to get started with ProtonVPN, and select their Free Plan.

It’s a legitimate VPN service, where you download their software and load it up, select your server and go. It covers all browsers you use and is not just built into one browser, so you get comprehensive protection once you enable it.

Many users may need to look no further than this to get everything they need from a free VPN. Nevertheless, we’ll also cover some other options, though they can’t quite match up to ProtonVPN.

100% Free VPN Option #2 – Hide.me Free Version (10 GB monthly data)

The second best option I could find is Hide.me’s free version, which also specifically has a 100% free to use VPN, and has a 10 GB monthly data allowance. This can’t quite match ProtonVPN’s unlimited use, but it’s still a generous allowance for a free VPN, and you can go quite far with this.

Here are the key benefits of Hide.me:

  • Totally free to sign up, with only an email required and no other personal details
  • Free version offers servers in 5 locations – Netherlands, Germany, Canada, USA West and USA East.
  • 10 GB monthly data allowance on the free version. This is very generous for a free VPN. Once you breach this, you won’t be disconnected, but will connect to a random free server instead.
  • Strict zero logs policy, including on the free version. No user data collected or stored.
  • Fast servers
  • Paid version also offers competitive plans.

Click here to get started with Hide.me, and select their Free plan.

It’s a great option if you specifically want a VPN that can give you a masked IP address, but on the downside, the free version doesn’t offer any streaming support, so you might not be able to get it to work with streaming services like Netflix (you might do with some persistence, but no way close to guaranteed). You might get better luck trying ProtonVPN for this, because they have many more free servers to try and get a streaming service working with.

However, 10 GB per month (around 300 MB/day) is a very generous allowance and can literally sort a basic internet user’s entire monthly needs.

Here’s what you could reasonably do on Hide.me Free plan:

  • For just basic browsing and logging into your emails once or twice daily, plus some social media, it could literally be fine for an entire month. I think you could stay within a 300 MB/day allowance quite easily.
  • If you’re also watching YouTube, then it does use a lot more data, but you’ve still got some room with a 10 GB monthly allowance. For example, you could watch one or two 10 minute YouTube videos daily, plus basic browsing, and you’d probably still stay within your limit over a month.
  • If you want to watch more or longer YouTube videos, or some other streaming, especially in HD, then you will struggle to stay within the allowance. Consider ProtonVPN above, or go for a Premium VPN with unlimited use instead.

100% Free VPN Option #3 – HotSpot Shield Free Version (15 GB monthly data)

Hotspot Shield are next on the list, primarily because of their generous data allowance again, beating even Hide.me’s allocation

Here are the main features and benefits of Hotspot Shield VPN

  • Fast servers – ranked as the world’s fastest VPN by Speedtest
  • Free version has a server in the USA. Overall, they have virtual servers in 115+ locations worldwide.
  • Free version offers 500MB of daily data (around 15 GB/month)
  • 7 day trial of their Premium version also available (payment info required)

 

Click here to get started with Hotspot Shield VPNs Free Version

However, there are some negatives to Hotspot Shield’s free version:

  • Based in the US, which is privacy unfriendly in terms of data collection and surveillance.
  • Ads are displayed on the free version.
  • Not a zero logs VPN. Some user data is collected, especially on the free version.
  • The free app also shares information with advertisers.
  • Doesn’t work with US Netflix.
  • Limited customer support.

Therefore, like several of the free VPN’s this one gives you a high data allowance, but trades off a bit of privacy for that. If 100% anonymity and privacy is what you’re looking for, this isn’t the best option.

100% Free VPN Option #4 – PrivadoVPN (10 GB/month)

Next is a similar option to Hide.em’s free offering. PrivadoVPN operate on a similar model, also offering a free version with servers in 8 countries, plus 10 GB/month usage.

Here are some features of PrivadoVPN free version:

  • 10 GB data use per month on the free plan
  • Free servers in 8 countries and 12 locations – USA (New York, Washington DC, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles), UK Germany, Netherlands, Canada, Mexico, France, Switzerland.
  • Strict zero logs policy, even on the free version
  • Based in Switzerland with strong privacy laws
  • 1 connection allowed on free version
  • Apps for all major devices.
  • Email address only required to get free version.
  • Paid plans start at $5/month for a 12 month subscription.

Click here to get started with PrivadoVPN – go to their Pricing page and select their Free Plan.

It’s a great option to combine with the Hide.me option we covered above, plus the one one we’re about to cover next. Switzerland, Mexico and France and UK are also 4 good free server locations that it’s quite hard to get with other free VPNs.

100% Free VPN Option #5 – Windscribe (10 GB/month)

This is the third option that operates almost exactly the same as Hide.me and PrivadoVPN – they have a free version with 10 locations and 10 GB/month usage.

Here are some features of Windscribe free version:

  • 10 GB data use per month on the free plan
  • Free servers in 10 countries USA, UK, Canada, Hong Kong, Germany, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Norway, Romania.
  • Strict zero logs policy, even on the free version
  • Canadian based company.
  • Unlimited connections allowed even on free version
  • Apps for all major devices.
  • Only an Email address required to get free version.
  • Paid plans start at $4/month for a 12 month subscription.

Click here to get started with Windscribe– go to their Features page and select their Free Plan.

Once again, it’s a great option to combine with Hide.me and PrivadoVPN, and you can keep adding up those 10 GB/month quota to get to a very healthy data cap  between them. UK, Hong Kong, France, Switzerland, and especially Norway and Romania, are also good free server locations difficult to find without paying for Premium VPNs.

100% Free VPN Option #6 – Tunnelbear Free Version (500 MB monthly data)

Now let’s cover an option that is pretty much the opposite of Hotspot Shield covered just above – it’s a really secure, confidential VPN, but has very limited data.

Click here to visit Tunnelbear’s site. Click the Tunnelbear logo on the top left to go back to the homepage, and click on “Plans”. If you sign up for the Free account, you get 500 MB of data to use each month.

On the positive side, like ProtonVPN and Hide.me, Tunnelbear is a proper looking and proper feeling VPN service, even on the free version. It’s not a cheap looking VPN built into a browser that’s almost a proxy/VPN hybrid – it’s a full software program you load separately, and that gives you protection on all browsers once it’s enabled.

On the plus side, it also has servers in 49 countries, all of which can be used on the Free version:

This is the best location/server choice you’ll get from ANY fully secure free VPN service, by far.

However, the big problem is the low data allowance. Here’s what you could realistically do with Tunnelbear Free’s 500 MB monthly allowance:

  • Perfect for short term holiday use (eg. 1-2 weeks or less somewhere), just logging into your emails once or twice a day, making purchases etc. Any more than 1 week away you might need a Premium service (see last section).
  • Very light, basic browsing (emails, shopping, directions, news etc), but you will see your 500 MB/month quote drain quickly – just 16/17 MB per day for a month.
  • Anything where you really need a secure connection – making payments, logging into sensitive accounts, entering any other personal information – I’d use the Tunnelbear VPN, ProtonVPN or Hide.me, not a shared VPN like Hotspot Shield, Opera or UrbanVPN we’ll cover below.

Here’s what you can’t really use Tunnelbear free for:

  • Videos/streaming services/YouTube – uses too much data as indicated above. You’ll run out of your allowance very quickly
  • Social media – might get away with a really small amount, but again it can use up more than you might think.

100% Free VPN Option #7 – UrbanVPN (Unlimited)

This is a more unique option. UrbanVPN pride themselves on being a totally free, peer to peer VPN service, using the connections of users to re-route traffic. It’s like the users are each acting as VPN’s for the other users, almost like a crowd-funded VPN service.

They’ve got servers in 80+ countries at present, and use of all these servers is unlimited and free.

Click here to get started with UrbanVPN

Here are the main benefits of UrbanVPN:

  • Totally free to use
  • No need to set up any account or provide any details – just download the program/app and get started.
  • Totally free and unlimited server use.
  • Available for all major browsers, devices and operating systems.

But unfortunately, there are some negatives to the service:

  • There are some reviews that report slow and unreliable servers (unfortunately, this is to be expected on free services)
  • An ambiguous privacy policy that doesn’t make it exactly clear how your data is collected, used or stored.
  • Zero customer support if the service goes down or you have difficulties (again to be expected with a free service)
  • It’s just difficult to know exactly how secure your data is, or where it’s going. Ultimately, security and privacy and too much up-in-the-air with a peer to peer service like this. It’s the same reason I don’t use the Opera browser VPN for logging into really important accounts – I don’t like using generic shared IP address proxies/VPN’s, even if they claim to be “VPN’s”. You don’t know where your data is going, and they don’t offer the same level of security and privacy as a Premium VPN.

UrbanVPN is definitely NOT a 100% confidential, zero logs VPN:

However, it’s true that not all VPN users are super bothered about privacy; they just want to have an IP address in a certain country to access certain content.

Here’s what UrbanVPN could be good for:

  • Video streaming on sites like YouTube (because bandwidth is unlimited), as long as your connection is good enough for it.
  • Possibly logging into streaming services that require an IP address in a certain country, provided you are happy entering login details on a shared/P2P VPN. However, be aware that these free, shared VPN services RARELY consistently work for unlocking major streaming sites like Netflix or Disney Plus. Even some Premium VPNs struggle to consistently do this, so free VPN’s have even less chance. You might have some success, but I’d keep your expectations low overall, and try a Premium VPN if you’re having trouble.
  • Social media account possibly, again if you’re OK with this. Personally I’d only do this if my passwords for these accounts wasn’t used for any other account.

Whatever you’re doing, just be aware of the privacy policy, and that your personal data and browsing history can still be collected whilst using the UrbanVPN service.

100% Free VPN Option #8 – UFO VPN (Free & Unlimited)

UFO VPN is another service that runs on a very specific model, offering a free version of their service but random location choice

It took a while of poking around in the menus to find the free version, but it is possible to download and run it for free.

Here are the main benefits to UFO VPN

  • Their free version is totally free to use – zero upfront cost
  • No need to sign up or enter any details – just download and boot up the free version. Good for anonymity.
  • Unlimited data use as far as I can tell, even on the free version
  • Competitively priced Premium plans.

However, there’s some real drawbacks to UFO VPN’s free version:

  • There’s ads on the free version
  • You cannot select the location/server on the free version. It connects you to a random server automatically. This makes it useless for anyone who wants to pick a specific country. Is a major negative
  • Changing location requires you to disconnect for 15 minutes.
  • Problems with privacy and disclosing customer details in the past, despite claiming to be a zero log VPN.
  • Customer support not reported to be great.

However, if you aren’t actually bothered about which country or IP address you get, then UFO VPN can be a perfect solution. It is a really good free option for casual VPN users, not super serious.

Click here to get started with UFO VPN’s Free Version

100% Free VPN Option #9 – Opera Browser VPN (Free & Unlimited)

This is more of a hybrid between a proxy and a VPN, but could still just about be classed as a VPN, because it still masks your IP and location and anonymizes your browsing to whatever sites you visit.

The free Opera Browser has a built in VPN that is also totally unlimited and free to use. You just need to enable the VPN from within the browser settings (Settings….Advanced….Privacy & Security), and select your location (there are 3 to choose from – Europe, Americas and Asia):

From then on, all your browsing specifically on Opera only (not other browsers you might have open) runs through their proxy/VPN, masking your real location and IP address. The Europe VPN most often localizes to Sweden/Switzerland, Americas to South America and Asia to Singapore from memory.

It’s an excellent basic VPN to change your location and IP address, is totally free and has no bandwidth caps – you can use it as much as you like.

On the downside, connection speeds can be slow sometimes, plus it is not a fully fledged, 100% private VPN. It’s more rudimentary, and as with all shared proxies/VPNs, you don’t know where your data is really going, and what Opera is/is not collecting regarding usage. Also it covers the Opera browser only and isn’t a full-on VPN software that protects all browsing on your device. Because it’s a shared VPN, Google doesn’t like it and you’ll often see a lot of Captchas that you’ll need to complete to use search engines.

However, it’s a perfectly usable basic VPN for casual streaming and browsing. However I wouldn’t enter really sensitive personal details or make transactions over it (use a proper, full-on VPN for that, not a shared VPN/Proxy hybrid).

100% Free VPN Option #10 – Switcherry VPN (Android)

Our last option is great specifically for users who want a free VPN app for iOS/Android devices. Switcherry VPN offer a free version of their VPN as an app with a USA server.

Here are the benefits:

  • Totally free to sign up and use
  • Unlimited use
  • No ads, even on the free version
  • One touch connection
  • Fast speeds

And the drawbacks:

  • Free version has only a USA server. Need the Premium to get other locations.
  • More of a VPN/proxy hybrid, like UrbanVPN or Opera VPN. Not really a full fledged VPN program.

Again, this is better for casual VPN users and probably not recommended for super serious or security conscious users.

Click here to get started with Switcherry VPN’s free version

Ranking Your Free VPN Options

Which free VPN option is the best for you depends on what your priorities are. Let’s rank the 100% free options we’ve covered by a couple of key criteria.

Data UseProtonVPN (Unlimited) is your best option. Opera VPN and UrbanVPN are also unlimited, but are not full-on 100% secure and private VPNs with zero logs. Hide.me, PrivadoVPN and Windscribe (all 10 GB/month) and Hotspot Shield (500 MB/day) also have generous data caps.

Server ChoiceTunnelbear wins outright here, with 49 countries available (but very limited data at 500 MB/month). UrbanVPN has 80+ locations, but isn’t really private. PrivadoVPN and Windscribe are decent, with 8 and 10 countries respectively, including some more unique ones like France, Hong Kong, UK and Switzerland Hide.me comes next, with only 5 countries, then ProtonVPN and Opera VPN with 3 countries. UFO VPN is the worst because you cannot manually select the location/server on the free version.

PrivacyProtonVPN, Tunnelbear, Hide.me, PrivadoVPN and Windscribe stand out as being proper looking, proper feeling VPN programs that are 100% private and confidential (zero logs), even on their free versions. Hotspot Shield, UrbanVPN and Opera VPN trade off a little privacy to allow for unlimited free use, so are less favorable options if privacy is your main concern.

Streaming – Unfortunately, getting free VPNs to consistently work with streaming services like Netflix is hard, but ProtonVPN gives you the best chance, followed by UrbanVPN with it’s multiple locations. Opera VPN you have no chance unfortunately (it’s too rudimentary). All the others have limited data so aren’t viable for lots of streaming anyway.

OverallProtonVPN would be my first choice, with 100% privacy and unlimited use, closely followed by Hide.me, PrivadoVPN or Windscibe (depending on what server location you want). Tunnelbear also ranks high if you just need a secure VPN with very limited use. Hotspot Shield would come next, with good data allowance, but Opera VPN, UFO VPN and UrbanVPN would just be for casual use and not for entering any serious or sensitive data on. If you’re looking specifically for a VPN app (iOS/Android), and don’t mind only having USA servers, then Switcherry VPN is a good option.

ProviderFree Server LocationsData LimitMore Info
ProtonVPN3 (USA, Amsterdam, Japan)UnlimitedSee here
AtlasVPN3 (USA East, USA West, Amsterdam)UnlimitedSee here
TurboVPN4 (USA, Germany, Singapore, India).UnlimitedSee here
Hide.me5 (Netherlands, USA*2, Germany, Canada)10 GB/monthSee here
PrivadoVPN8 (USA, UK, Canada, Germany, France, Netherlands, Switzerland, Mexico)10 GB/monthSee here
Windscribe10 (USA, UK, Canada, Hong Kong, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Romania, Denmark).10 GB/monthSee here
Tunnelbear49500 MB/monthSee here

Oliver

Online gamer and general home networking enthusiast. I like to create articles to help people solve common home networking problems.

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