What’s the best free VPN for most people?
Many VPN providers offer a free VPN service, either on a try-before-you-buy for a limited time basis, or on a capped data plan, in which case you’ll be asked to start paying once you exceed a (usually low) bandwidth limit. So which free VPN download is the best?
Everyone is increasingly aware of online privacy issues and this – along with the urgent need to watch the U.S. Netflix library – is driving VPN adoption at a massive rate.
Unfortunately, many free VPN services – particularly on mobile platforms – are riddled with targeted advertising, DNS leakage issues and excessive permissions requests, while for desktop platforms, it can be a challenge to find any reputable free VPN providers.
To make choosing a free service less confusing, here are six of the best cross-platform VPN services that you can use at no cost whatsoever. Almost none of them work for BBC iPlayer and Netflix, but streaming services such as YouTube, Shudder and Crunchyroll all use less stringent geo-locking systems that these services should work nicely for.
- Free vs paid VPNs, price, quality and security – what you need to know
We’ve summarised the best below, but you can read on to discover our fully comprehensive reviews and tests:
- Fastest on test: Windscribe Free
- Best unlimited data: ProtonVPN Free
- Best for streaming: Opera
- Best for convenience: Kapersky Secure Connection Free
- Best for ease of use: Tunnelbear Free
- Best for iPlayer: Okay Freedom Free
1. Windscribe Free
The fastest free VPN in our latest round of testing
Unlimited simultaneous connections | Clients for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, Blackberry, Fire TV, Nvidia Shield, Chrome, Firefox, Opera | 10GB a month free (extra 4GB with a tweet)
- Generous monthly data cap
- Quick transfer speeds
- Transparent no-logging policy
- Clear information on connecting other devices without dedicated clients
- Some rivals are unlimited
Canada-based Windscribe was the fastest free service we tested and comes with a general 10GB monthly bandwidth allowance, with an extra 4GB available for tweeting about the service. Clients are available for all major operating systems and Windscribe also provides information on setting up the service on other devices such as routers.
Free users get access to endpoints in 10 countries – the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Switzerland, the UK and Hong Kong. You don’t get access to specialist video streaming servers, but we were very impressed by the general performance of Windscribe’s free endpoints.
Windscribe was among the best-performing VPNs in this batch of tests, with fast download speeds of 8.12MB/s (64.96Mbit/s) from a UK endpoint and 7.93MB/s in the US, although its Netherlands server was a little slow this time at 5.59MB/s.
The service has a wide range of security features, a clear no-logging policy and regularly updates a transparency report showing how many data requests it’s received from law enforcement. Due to the aforementioned no-logging policy, Windscribe notes that: “Exactly zero requests were complied with due to lack of relevant data.”
It’s one of the fastest free services you can hope to find, with support on every major platform and plenty of convenience features like browser proxy plugins. It’s a top choice if you need a free VPN.
Score: 5 / 5
- Read our full Windscribe review
- Buy now: Windscribe from $3.70 (£2.80) a month
2. ProtonVPN Free
Best unlimited free VPN
Clients for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS | Clear information on connecting other devices without dedicated clients
- Unlimited data for free
- Clear no-logging policy
- Speeds are sometimes slow
ProtonVPN, based in Switzerland, is unusual in that it offers unlimited bandwidth to its free subscribers, on one device at a time. But the downside of that is that its free servers are often busy, which can reduce your transfers speeds.
Free users only get access to endpoints in three countries: the US, the Netherlands and Japan. You also won’t get access to the P2P, Tor, secure streaming and Secure Core servers available to paying subscribers.
We tested our UK reference download from ProtonVPN’s Dutch endpoint, which gave us a download speed of 1.96MB/s. The best speed we saw when downloading from a reference server in the Netherlands was 3.91MB/s, while downloads from US servers via ProtonVPN’s US endpoints maxed out at 1.72 MB/s. These speed test results were all below average for the group.
Clients are available for all major operating systems, along with detailed instructions on setting up to service on devices such as routers and NAS boxes. However, no browser proxy plugins are currently available.
ProtonVPN is very transparent about how it operates. It clearly details any requests it gets from law enforcement agencies. As a no-logging service, it notes that it has no data to provide.
Its wide range of supported platforms and unlimited bandwidth makes ProtonVPN a must-have in your free privacy arsenal, although you should fire up rival Windscribe if you need faster download speeds for something in particular.
Score: 4.5 / 5
- Read our full ProtonVPN review
- Buy now: ProtonVPN from £3.06
Best free ‘VPN’ option for streaming – though it’s not really a VPN
No data caps | Built into Opera browsers for Windows, macOS, Linux, and Android
- Unlimited usage
- Fast transfer speeds
- Provides US Netflix access
- Clear no-logging policy
- Web proxy rather than a true VPN
- Limited range of endpoints
We don’t usually include Opera in our VPN tests because it’s not a true VPN: it’s just a web proxy, which means that only the HTTP and HTTPS traffic within the Opera browser is sent through an encrypted connection – everything else on your computer continues to use your normal Internet connection.
However, that’s enough for some people and can be useful for anyone. It can help maintain your online privacy if used appropriately, is entirely free and very easy to use. It can also dramatically improve download speeds, particularly for Europeans accessing US content.
Endpoints are located in a number of different countries, but you only choose the continental region; Asia, the Americas or Europe. We were able to watch US Netflix via the Americas connection, though.
Opera’s performance in our speed tests was quick across the board, but its US download speed of 8.19MB/s was around 1MB/s faster than our reference speed without a VPN connection. Its European endpoint gave us download speeds of 5.27MB/s from the UK and 6.36MB/s from the Netherlands.
You have to enable the VPN in the browser’s settings, and you can also select whether you want to continue seeing search results for your real location or the IP address you’re proxied to.
Opera’s VPN service uses the Norwegian company’s own server infrastructure and explicitly states that it does not log any information about your browsing activity or the IP address you connect from.
Opera is a great browser, based on Chromium, but lighter than ubiquitous rival Google Chrome. The integrated VPN/proxy is a convenient and extremely worthwhile addition to an already excellent piece of software.
Score: 4 / 5
4. Kaspersky Secure Connection Free
A convenient, but limited, free VPN
200MB per day free (300MB with registration) | Connect unlimited free devices | Supports OpenVPN | Clients for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS
- Up to 300MB a day free
- No registration required
- Only a single endpoint location
- Limited device support, configuration and privacy options
- No kill switch
Kaspersky Secure Connection’s free tier is one of the most convenient VPN clients we’ve seen for a desktop computer: you can just install it and connect, although free users only get access to a single endpoint in Ukraine.
You can connect an unlimited number of devices and you get a relatively generous data allowance 200MB a day, going up to 300MB if you register for an account. In our speed tests, Kaspersky’s throughput – all from the same Ukrainian endpoint – was 4.56MB/s from the UK, 5.87MBs from the Netherlands and 3.49MB/s from the US.
Although Kaspersky is headquartered in Russia and Switzerland, its VPN service uses AnchorFee’s HotSpot Shield VPN infrastructure. This is a no-logging service, but privacy groups have raised concerns about user activity monitoring in order to deliver targeted advertising.
On top of that, the client lacks a kill switch to automatically disconnect your from the internet if your link to the VPN drops: a major privacy risk.
300MB a day adds up to a generous 9GB a month, but splitting it into a daily allowance makes it less useful than it might be. But the fact that Secure connection works without registration as soon as you install it means that this is a particularly good VPN to service to bear in mind if you need one in a hurry and don’t want to have to enter any account details.
Score: 3 / 5
- Read our full Kapersky Secure Connection review
- Buy now: Kaspersky Secure Connection from £3.99 a month
5. TunnelBear Free
An easy to use free VPN with a not exactly generous free tier
500MB per month free (1GB with a tweet) | Connect up to 5 devices | Clients for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Opera, Firefox, Chrome
- Wide range of endpoints
- Provides access to US Netflix
- Clear no-logging policy
- Maximum 1.5GB per month
- Poor performance from most international endpoints
Canadian VPN provider TunnelBear has a very popular free tier. You need an account to connect to the service, but it’s reputable and has a clear no-logging policy. However, you only get 500MB of data per month, which you can increase by an extra 1GB if you post about the service on Twitter.
It’s handy in that it’s provided as a single block of data that you can use at any time, but TunnelBear’s maximum of 1.5.GB – just 500MB if you don’t want to promote them on Twitter – isn’t very generous when compared to rivals such as Windscribe and ProtonVPN.
On the plus side, TunnelBear gives free users access to all its standard endpoints in 22 countries; the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Germany, Japan, Ireland, Spain, France, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia, Singapore, Brazil, Hong Kong, Denmark, Norway, Mexico, India, New Zealand and Romania.
We were pleased to find that we could access US Netflix via TunnelBear’s endpoints, but you won’t get much HD streaming done in 500MB or even 1.5GB.
Connecting to a UK endpoint, we downloaded content from a server in London at 4.61MB/s; our Netherlands test came in at 4.2MB/s – both around average for free services – while a US endpoint and server combination achieved 1.81MB/s.
Clients are available for Windows, macOS, iOS and Android, with extensions for the most popular browsers. OpenVPN configuration files are supplied for Linux users, but the service does not currently support devices such as routers.
TunnelBear is reliable and easy to use, but its bandwidth cap means there are few compelling reasons to use it in favour of its more generous rivals.
Score: 3 / 5
- Read our full TunnelBear review
- Buy now: TunnelBear from $9.99 (£7.60) a month
6. Okay Freedom Free
A good free VPN for Windows devices that gives you access to iPlayer
2GB per month for a single device | Windows client only
- No registration required
- 19 countries available to free users
- Provides international iPlayer access
- Clear no-logging policy
- Only 2GB per month
- Client behaved oddly on Windows 10 Professional
Brought to you by German security company Steganos, Okay Freedom shares its infrastructure with the Steganos Online Shield VPN service. You don’t get that much data: just 2GB per month for a single device.
It’s supported by advertising, but Steganos anonymises connection data and keeps no logs of IP addresses assigned to users. You don’t even need to create an account to use the service.
Unusually, free users get access to all 19 of Okay Freedom’s endpoint countries; Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the U.S. We were even able to watch BBC iPlayer without detection while connected to a UK endpoint.
The service isn’t going to break any speed records, but, it’s fast enough for browsing and streaming. We saw throughput of 3.93MB/s from its UK endpoint, 3.45MB/s from the Netherlands and 1.57MB/s from the US.
The client behaved a little oddly on our Windows 10 Professional test systems. We could connect perfectly well using the notification area icon’s right-click menu to select our endpoint, we could access settings and the VPN worked as intended.
However, once we connected, a larger client window showed our connection, but the space where we expected a button to enable and disable it was blank, so we had to use the notification area controls to disconnect, too.
Issues like this mean that Okay Freedom isn’t entirely novice-friendly, and we’d like more free bandwidth, but 2GB that you can use when and where you need, without logging in or creating an account is definitely useful.
Score: 2.5 / 5
How we test each free VPN
For this free VPN service test, we’ve used a cut-down version of our full-scale download speed tests we use to rank our Best VPNs, using smaller files of around 60MB and only testing HTTP throughput.
This means that we can accurately compare services that have a bandwidth cap, but has slightly reduced average download speeds across the board.
As ever, data transfer tests only ever represent a snapshot of performance from a single endpoint server at a specific time, although we can refer back to the results of previous tests to obtain a broader picture of how a given service has evolved.
In all cases, we’ve recorded the best speeds we were able to obtain for each provider during our test period.
Find out more about how we test stuff here.
K.G. Orphanides is a writer and developer whose areas of expertise include internet security, VPNs, Linux for the desktop, small-scale game development, software preservation and computer audio techno…
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