If you look at any VPN provider’s website, they are often bombarding with all of the features and benefits of their services, but is unlimited use one of them? Do VPNs tend to offer unlimited data use with their services? Or is there some sort of data cap or quota?
As is usual with these questions, the answer is “it depends”, but there’s still quite a clear dividing line on whether you’re paying to use it or not:
As a general rule, Premium VPNs always offer unlimited data use. However, free VPNs are more mixed, with some offering unlimited data and others imposing a data cap, often of 10 GB/month. ProtonVPN, AtlasVPN and TurboVPN are three notable free VPN services that also offer unlimited data use.
Therefore, for paid VPN subscriptions, you’ll always get unlimited data use. For free VPNs, it varies, but you can get unlimited free VPNs, but server choice is always much more restricted than with Premium plans. In general, you are trading off server location choice versus data use with most of the free offerings. You can either get unlimited data, but only 2 or 3 server locations, or slightly more locations (5-10) with some sort of monthly data cap with a free VPN.
Let’s look at the entire issue of VPNs and data limits in more detail – we’ll cover both free and premium VPNs for a complete picture.
Premium VPNs Always Offer Unlimited Data
Let’s cover the easy, straightforward stuff first – all Premium VPNs offer unlimited and un-metered data use. It is an industry standard across the VPN market that paid-for VPNs do not limit customer data use. You can do as much browsing and streaming as you like with a Premium VPN.
You will see this selling point prominently advertised on many VPN websites for their paid plans – unlimited bandwidth/servers, un-metered/uncapped data etc. will appear on the homepage and sales page of most VPN websites now.
Any VPN which didn’t offer unlimited use on their paid subscriptions would quickly fall off the VPN market. It’s an expected feature that they all need to provide. I have noticed that a few services don’t prominently advertise unlimited data, but they still offer it. It’s just a marketing oversight on their part. But almost all Premium VPNs offer and advertise this feature heavily.
Here’s one VPN’s sale page:
And another one:
Or look for the Unlimited/Infinity sign on their features page:
Sometimes it’s on their Servers page – look for selling points like “X high speed, unlimited servers in Y countries”, or similar. But the unlimited data use is usually made pretty clear. If you’re uncertain, open up a live chat with the provider and check, but any paid-for service should be offering unlimited server use, otherwise skip over it and move to another one. I’m not aware of any Premium VPN that doesn’t offer unlimited server use on it’s paid plans.
Caveat – A very slight qualifier to this generic statement is that you will find very specific clauses buried in the Terms and Conditions/Use Policies of some VPNs that sometimes data use can be capped if it’s considered really ridiculously excessive, to the point where you’re using more data on one account than tens or hundreds of thousands of other users combined.
This is much the same as the “Fair Use Policies” many internet providers have, where they can cap data use even on packages marketed as “unlimited” if data use is really excessive to the point where it begins to affect other users.
The same can be true with some VPNs, but to put this in perspective, you’d have to be using really ridiculous amounts of data over a prolonged length of time to trigger these Acceptable Use Policies. Basically, you’d have to be running a large scale file sharing operating over a VPN’s servers to trigger this. Normal usage – even very high levels of HD streaming – will not trigger these policies if it’s in line with the normal expected use of VPN servers.
If you’re running some kind of industrial scale file sharing operation, such as a new version of The Pirate Bay, and sending all your data over VPN servers, then you’ll likely have a problem, but using VPNs for piracy or other illegal activities is against most VPN’s Terms of Service anyway, so you’d have no room for complaints in this case.
Bottom line – For all normal, reasonable use, data on Premium VPNs is unlimited and uncapped.
Free VPNs Do Not Always Offer Unlimited Data
Now let’s turn to the more mixed case of free VPN offerings. Some of these do also offer unlimited data, but some also have monthly data caps.
However, all free VPNs offer much more limited server location choice than Premium VPNs. Therefore, with free VPNs, you may sometimes have unlimited data, sometimes not, but you’ll always only usually be able to select an IP address in a handful of locations around the world.
Let’s break this down into unlimited and limited free VPNs:
Unlimited Free VPNs:
- ProtonVPN – Unlimited data, 3 free server locations
- AtlasVPN – Unlimited data, 3 free server locations
- TurboVPN – Unlimited data, 4 free server locations
Limited Free VPNs:
- Hide.me – 10 GB/month, 5 server locations
- PrivadoVPN – 10 GB/month, 12 server locations (8 countries)
- Windscribe – 10 GB/month, 10 server locations
- Tunnelbear – 500 MB/month, 49 server locations.
We’ve compared these limited and unlimited VPNs in a table below:
|Provider||Free Server Locations||Data Limit||More Info|
|ProtonVPN||3 (USA, Amsterdam, Japan)||Unlimited||See here|
|AtlasVPN||3 (USA East, USA West, Amsterdam)||5 GB/month||See here|
|TurboVPN||4 (USA, Germany, Singapore, India).||Unlimited||See here|
|Hide.me||5 (Netherlands, USA*2, Germany, Canada)||10 GB/month||See here|
|PrivadoVPN||10 (USA, UK, Canada, Germany, France, Netherlands, Switzerland, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina)||10 GB/month||See here|
|Windscribe||10 (USA, UK, Canada, Hong Kong, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Romania, Denmark).||10 GB/month||See here|
|Tunnelbear||49||500 MB/month||See here|
Therefore, as with most free versions of anything, there’s almost always some kind of tradeoff in terms of what you get versus what you miss out on compared to the Premium versions.
You either get unlimited data, but very limited server selection (eg. ProtonVPN), or a data cap, but slightly wider server selection (eg. PrivadoVPN). Tunnelbear stand out as an exception, with a really low data cap on their free version, but excellent server selection (49 countries). Therefore if you need a server in a very specific country just for a very short time to do basic browsing and transactions, this option can be really useful.
But to get the best of everything (unlimited data use and maximum server choice), you’ll always need a paid VPN subscription.
USA users are in luck though, as ALL free VPNs, including unlimited ones, seem to have at least one server in the USA. Therefore you can always get unlimited VPN data if you want your IP address to be in the United States (Netherlands is also a very common location for free VPN servers).
And then we have a few more rudimentary unlimited free “VPN” options, but that are arguably not really watertight VPNs because they don’t have the same privacy and data protection as other VPNs:
- Opera Browser VPN – Free unlimited use, 3 server locations (Europe, Americas, Asia), but more of a proxy/VPN hybrid – can’t be sure of data privacy and protection.
- UrbanVPN – Free peer-to-peer shared VPN with unlimited servers in 80+ countries, but definitely NOT a fully 100% confidential VPN service. User data is collected – they openly state this in their T&Cs.
- DewVPN – Free peer-peer-peer shared VPN service based in the British Virgin Islands. Free, unlimited servers in 50+ countries,
But again I wouldn’t personally use free peer-to-peer VPNs for really serious, privacy sensitive stuff. Despite any “zero-logs” claims, you don’t know where your data is going with these shared VPNs that are arguably more of a proxy/VPN hybrid. My recommendation would be to go for a Premium VPN, or a reputable free VPN like ProtonVPN.
A Guide on Data Use For Limited VPNs
For users that are on a free VPN with some kind of monthly data cap, let’s give an idea of what you can expect to do at different data limits.
Here’s a rough estimate of what different common online activities consume in terms of bandwidth.
- Basic browsing – Doesn’t use much – 10-20 MB per hour. All packages can handle this.
- Social media – Uses a bit more – 100-150 MB per hour.
- Multiplayer Online gaming – 50-60 MB per hour.
- YouTube Video (10 minutes):
- 480p – 80 MB
- 720p (HD) – 250 MB
- YouTube video (1 hour)
- 480p – 500-700 MB
- 720p (HD) – 1.5-2 GB
- You can change YouTube video quality using the settings cog in the bottom right of videos.
- Netflix movie
- SD – 700 MB per hour.
- HD – 3 GB per hour
- Ultra HD – 7 GB per hour
- See here for source plus how to change Netflix data usage settings. Also remember that free VPNs likely won’t unlock streaming services (see next section).
A lot of limited free VPNs have a 10 GB/month data cap, which equates to around 300 MB/day – a very decent allowance.
Here’s what you could realistically do with that sort of data cap:
- 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 or another unlimited free VPN option, or go for a Premium VPN with unlimited use instead.
- Be aware you can also combine a couple of the VPNs with 10 GB data caps together (eg. use PrivadoVPN, Hide.me and Windscribe’s allowances separately for a monthly total of 20-30 GB data).
Tunnelbear is more of a unique free VPN option, with more server choice but a VERY low monthly data cap of just 500 MB/month. Because of that, it’s only really good for basic use; here’s what you can do with that sort of data:
- Perfect for short term holiday use (eg. 1-2 weeks or less away), 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 and not a shared VPN like UrbanVPN we’ll cover below.
- You can use it to keep your connection secure whilst signing up for an unlimited, Premium VPN service that’ll serve you better long term (see section at the bottom).
- However, you can’t use such a low data allowance for videos or large scale browsing/social media – you’ll use it up very quickly with modern browsing data consumption.
VPN Data Use On Mobile Devices
Pretty much all VPNs do offer their program as an app to use on mobile and tablet devices, but does this change anything regarding data use? Can you for instance bypass mobile data caps by using a VPN?
The straightforward answer to this is no:
Using a VPN does not allow you to bypass mobile data limits, since whilst the content of the browsing is concealed by a VPN, your cell provider can still track the total amount of data sent and received on your mobile device.
Therefore if you’re using a limited or unlimited VPN on mobile, you’re still restricted by whatever data cap is on your mobile plan if applicable, as well as whatever data limit the VPN has, if applicable. A VPN doesn’t allow you to get around that.
Here’s a quick summary of mobile VPN data use:
- A VPN app will work perfectly fine on a mobile and using cellular data. Open up the VPN app and connect to a server to hide your browsing and IP address.
- When using a VPN, your mobile provider will still be able to track the total amount of data used, but the exact details of your browsing and location are concealed.
- However, using a VPN does use slightly more cellular data versus not using it, estimated at somewhere between 4-20% higher data use over a VPN connection.
- When possible, disable mobile data on your phone and connect to your local Wi-Fi router/network instead for unlimited data, which gets rid of this issue of eating away at mobile data allowances on a VPN.
See this excellent article, which covers these points, plus the entire topic of mobile data use and VPNs, in more detail.
VPN Data Use & Split Tunneling
Another handy feature that an increasing number of VPNs are offering now is so-called Split Tunneling, which allows you to divide browsing between VPN and non-VPN connections whilst having the program enabled, to better save data use on browsing that isn’t so privacy-essential.
Enabling Split Tunneling basically allows you to specify some connections to NOT be routed through the VPN servers, and instead be left unprotected, whilst other are left on a standard VPN encrypted connection.
Using this, for example, you could leave more security essential things like email, account logins, banking and other transactions on a VPN connection, whilst you leave other connections/browsers unprotected through the Split Tunneling feature, which means they WON’T eat up your VPN or mobile data allowance (could be especially handy for YouTube and other streaming).
Before this feature, it was either/or, binary selection for VPNs – either all your browsers/connections were over a VPN, or none of them were, once you’d enabled the program. Split Tunneling allows more nuance and choice as what specific online activity you want to be protected, and what doesn’t matter so much to you, to save on VPN data use.
The way it’s implemented varies slightly across different VPN programs, but if you are on some kind of data cap with your VPN or mobile carrier, look for a Split Tunneling feature in your VPN’s interface, and follow the instructions to activate it if not all your connections strictly need to be VPN protected and you need to save data.
Free VPNs And Streaming
It’s possible some readers are searching this query because they want to know if they’ll have enough data to use a free VPN to access streaming services like Netflix or Disney Plus. We don’t want to spoil anyone’s day, but let’s give you a bottom line answer on this:
Free VPNs almost always will not give you access to streaming services, since the free servers usually lack the server sophistication and obfuscation necessary to fool streaming platforms like Netflix. To reliably access streaming services, you almost always need a Premium VPN.
Of course, there’s no harm in trying – very occasionally, with some persistence, you might get a free VPN to work with unblocking a streaming service. But it’s not something to bank on happening regularly.
Moreover, even the Premium servers with some VPNs don’t reliably and consistently work in allowing access to streaming platforms. There’s a cat-and-mouse battle going on between the VPN providers and streaming platforms, who keep detecting and blocking VPN IP addresses.
Therefore, you do need to be picky when choosing a VPN if streaming is what you’re looking to do in particular.
ExpressVPN, NordVPN and ProtonVPN are services with a good reputation for providing access to streaming platforms in a number of countries, so these are the ones to check out if Netflix-and-chill is what you’re wanting a VPN for.
Other Limitations Of Free VPNs
As the saying goes, you get what you pay for, so here are some other limitations of many free VPNs that will encourage many users to upgrade to paid plans, besides the data cap on some that we’ve already covered:
Allowed Devices/Connections – Premium VPNs tend to offer anything from 5-10 (and sometimes even unlimited) simultaneous connections/devices per account. Free VPNs tend to only offer use on 1 device at a time.
Server choice – Already largely covered – can usually only select from a few IP locations. However, PrivadoVPN and Windscribe are two good free options, with 10-12 locations still to choose from. Paid VPNs offer servers in 40-100 countries, and up to several hundred different locations, and up to several thousand servers.
Streaming – See section above – a free VPN will almost never unblock streaming services. Paid plans needed for that from specific providers.
Server speeds – We’ve already covered the data amount (bandwidth) limitations of some free VPNs, but some of them may also openly cap server speeds (TurboVPN limits free servers to 2 Mbps), or you will sometimes notice their free servers are just slower than Premium ones in terms of downloading, page load speeds, etc. This is to be expected – VPN companies aren’t going to put the same resources into maintaining their free servers as they do their paid ones. In fairness, I’ve also never personally had this affect me to the point where the free VPN server was useless. I’ve always been able to play YouTube videos fine on free VPNs for example, as long as I pick a server reasonably near me.
Data Protection – Almost all Premium VPNs have strict zero-log policies, meaning no user data is collected or stored, but with free VPNs, it’s harder to be sure of this. ProtonVPN, PrivadoVPN and Hide.me are 3 good free options, who specifically state on their site that they zero-log policy is also fully upheld even on their free versions.
Ads – Some free VPNs will display ads on the service to recoup some costs – you’ll need a paid plan to get rid of these. ProtonVPN don’t though, even on their free version.
Customer Support – Premium VPNs now offer 24/7 live tech supports, often via live chat. With free VPNs, support will be either more limited and slower, or non-existent.
See our article on the differentiating factors between VPNs for more on each of these and other points of difference between different VPNs and between free and paid ones.