Updated January 15, 2019
Both ordinary people and organizations rely on VPNs for a number of reasons. A secure connection to a shared network; keeping up to date with sports, news, and popular TV shows, accessing console exclusives or P2P sharing. The reasons are endless.
But online safety and anonymity is what everyone expects VPNs to provide. Some are really good at it too. The level of technology services are working with means that we’re now more protected against snooping than ever.
Although some services are more expensive than others, there are a lot of free ones out there too; some better than others. But choosing one that gives the right level of protection and performance is going to be difficult. Although you’re saving money, you won’t get the performance you’re bound to expect from it.
And you won’t experience anywhere near the benefits a paid user would, even if you choose one of the better names.
Another thing to consider is that the app you’ve installed might not be one you can trust. Some will use your data against your will, operate on a peer-to-peer format, and many don’t offer the level of encryption you would expect.
Main issues that users face with free VPNs
Limits and restrictions on data usage: It’s worth keeping in mind that many of these providers will have usage restriction – some of which go as low as 500 MB – and it’s common for them to intentionally slow your connection to encourage you to use its paid service. If you’re only going to be using it for a short period, you should know that most of the best providers offer a money-back guarantee for up to 30 days.
Privacy risks: There are hundreds of VPN apps out there, and when you’re choosing a free service, there’s a good chance you may stumble upon some that are hosts to malicious and invasive activity. Many are known to contain malware, sell your information to third parties, and use tracking libraries to store all your browsing information. Many mobile apps also want access to private material such as text messages and email.
And a number of free VPN apps have been found to not provide any level of data encryption at all.
If You Really Have to Use a Free VPN, Here Are the 10+ That We Recommend
If you’re unable or unwilling to pay for premium VPN services, below is a list of free VPNs that you may find useful. It’s worth noting, though, that paid services offer the quality you look for when seeking out a provider.
TunnelBear is probably the best free service available. It doesn’t keep logs and allows 500MB of bandwidth usage per month, meaning that you can upload or download a maximum of 500MB of data in a 30-day window.
It has servers based in multiple countries, and its simple-to-use interface means users benefit from simple server switching.
The provider offers two other interesting features. One is GhostBear, a feature that encrypts your data in a way that makes it appear as if it’s regular data that hasn’t been encrypted by a VPN. This is a highly useful tool if you’re in a country where using VPN can get you in trouble with the law. The second feature, VigilantBear, ensures that your online activities are private when you disconnect and reconnect to a server.
By simply tweeting about the service, you can upgrade your monthly allowance to 1GB. It has an extension for Chrome and Opera browsers, and has apps for all major platforms: iOS, Android, MacOS, and Windows.
With Hide.me, users get 2GB of free data per month. However, you only get access to servers in Singapore, Netherlands, and Canada on the VPN’s free version, which isn’t exactly ideal. All three servers support P2P file sharing, though, so there’s that.
When you open the button labeled “Details”, the VPN client displays information about your connection, such as the IP device you’re currently using and where the physical server is located. This service, like most others, supports Android, iOS, MacOS, and Windows devices.
While it might not be suitable for long-term use, 2GB of free VPN usage is good for public WiFi spots like those at hotels, on trains or in airports.
This service offers a generous 10GB of monthly data, has servers in 11 locations, and supports all major device platforms. Unfortunately, this only applies to the free service when users submit their email address. Whatever the reason for this is—however dubious—doing it will get you the full 10GB. To give you great speeds, Windscribe automatically connects you to the fastest server, but you can select whichever server you want from the list at any time.
In the event that your VPN connection drops for one reason or another, this service terminates your connection to ensure that your IP address doesn’t leak – using what’s known as a kill switch. This comes in handy when you’re using a public Wi-Fi connection.
Additional features by Windscribe include the ability to switch your connection type between TCP and UDP and being able to change your port number. Furthermore, you can connect through an HTTP proxy server, launch Windscribe on startup, and alter your API resolution address. On the downside, this provider only allows you to connect to only one device at a time.
The VPN services supports Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, and Linux. It has browsers browser extensions for Firefox, Opera, and Chrome. You can manually set it up to select routers and standalone VPN clients.
If you prefer to manually enter VPN details, this is the perfect service. All you need to do is copy the VPN server address that is displayed on the site website and enter your username and password. Alternatively, you can download the OpenVPN profile and open the OVPN files. You need to enter your login details in this case too.
Unlike the free VPN services mentioned in this list so far, this gives users the most enhanced configuration capabilities, but it doesn’t offer its own VPN-client, so it’s all got to be done manually.
Free VPN Programs that Require Manual Installation
The following are platforms or programs that you can use to connect to a VPN server to which you have the details needed to connect. As such, none of them have a VPN client software like most of the other VPNs in this list.
- OpenVPN. This is an open source VPN client that is based on SSL. Once you install it on your device, you are required to import the OVPN files that have the configuration settings. Then you can select the server you wish to connect to instantly launch the VPN.
For Windows, right-click the OpenVPN icon located in the system tray, select “Import file”, and choose the relevant OVPN file. Next, right-click the icon again and select the server you want then click “Connect”. Once you enter your login credentials, you’re ready to browse securely and privately. This client runs on all platforms and the configuration process is more or less the same.
- This program enables you to make a P2P, client-server, or hybrid network. It supports MacOS, Windows, and Linux.
- FreeS/WAN. This is an IKE and IPSec VPN designed for Linux.
- Tinc. This software allows you to make a VPN using a low-level network/daemon device configuration. It’s aimed at Unix/Linux systems though it also supports Windows. It uses LZO or ZLIB to compress traffic, but this is an optional feature. Encryption is done using OpenSSL or LibreSSL. It is operated through a command line.
- Windows Explorer. Windows has a built-in VPN server client that you can configure through the Control Panel. Go to >> Network and Internet>> Network and Sharing Center >> Set up a new connection or network >> Connect to a workplace. Select Use my Internet connection (VPN) on the next screen to enter the server address of the VPN to which you want to connect.
- Android and iPhone. Manually set up a VPN on an Android device by going to Settings >> More Networks >> Android supports IPSec and L2TP. For iPhone, go to Settings >> VPN >> Add VPN Configuration. iOS supports L2TP, IPSec, and IKEv2.
The important thing to remember is that you’ll always have to sacrifice something if you’re not willing to pay for the service. Some might offer a large amount – or even unlimited – traffic, or connection to their servers based worldwide, but there’s a lot that you won’t get. Enhanced security features such as DNS leak protection, an automatic kill switch, and a 256-bit encryption; the best level of performance through a connection to thousands of worldwide servers, unlimited bandwidth and no throttling; as well as access across multiple platforms and devices simultaneously.
If you’re considering a free VPN – or any VPN at all – then you’re aware of the need to be safe online.
Just know that using a free VPN comes at a cost. And in many cases, the level of protection and performance they provide; compared to what you expect from them, it means they’re often flawed.