Best Free VPNs for 2022
Although you will likely have to pay to get all the premium features of the best VPN services, there are many free options available that go a long way towards protecting your internet traffic. If it was money that prevented you from getting a VPN, then you should try one of these free services.
What is a VPN?
A VPN creates an encrypted connection (often referred to as a tunnel) between your computer and a server controlled by the VPN company, and then passes all network activity through that protected connection. This means that your ISP and anyone else watching you will not be able to see what you intend to do or track your online activity.
VPNs can help improve your privacy online, but they have limitations. Once your traffic exits the VPN server, it can be monitored and possibly intercepted – especially if you’re connecting to sites that don’t use HTTPS. It is also possible, albeit difficult, to use complex timing algorithms to predict when and where you leave the encrypted tunnel. Advertisers also have a myriad of tools at their disposal to track you online, so we recommend a standalone tracking blocker and a privacy-focused browser, like Firefox.
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VPNs will also not protect you from every danger that haunts the web. We also highly recommend using a password manager to create unique and complex passwords for every site and service we use, enable two-factor authentication wherever available, and use antivirus software.
Paid VPN vs Free VPN
Very few VPNs offer a truly free option. Alternatively, many companies offer time-limited trials or money-back guarantees. However, the VPNs listed in the table above offer completely free subscription tiers. They’re not the only ones, but they are the best we’ve reviewed so far.
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However, every VPN listed places it some Limitations of its free version. Some services limit the amount of bandwidth you can use in a given period. Some keep the number of simultaneous connections low, generally to one or two. Some limit you to certain servers, which means you can’t jump to the best performing server or easily spoof your site—more on this below. Tunnelbear VPN is a noteworthy exception, as it allows free users to access all of its servers.
Paying for a VPN subscription usually unlocks all of these features, and often adds extra locales that aren’t available on the free tier. You get all the servers in all the locations, and the service usually also provides more simultaneous connections. Kaspersky Secure Connection VPN is one exception to this model as it offers unlimited number of connections in its free level.
Since free VPNs are very limited, you will likely encounter some performance issues. In general, this is the result of the limited servers that users can access for free. ProtonVPN is the only VPN we’ve reviewed so far that hasn’t put a limit on a user’s bandwidth. Hotspot Shield VPN goes the other way, providing 500MB of bandwidth per day but limiting you to speeds of just 2Mbps. Hotspot Shield VPN also monetize free android users with ads.
Use a free VPN to watch Netflix
VPNs can bypass oppressive censorship by connecting to a VPN server outside the control of tyrants, but the same ability can also be used to access streaming content that is not available in your country. Abroad, Netflix subscribers watch different shows and movies that are not shown within this US. That’s because Netflix has specific deals to distribute this content in different regions.
Netflix isn’t the only service that can be fooled. MLB and BBC have different streaming arrangements for different regions. There are many other examples and many of them – especially Netflix – will try to prevent the use of a VPN to force those regional streaming deals.
This is especially difficult for free VPN users. Most free VPNs limit the servers you can use, which means you have fewer options (if any) to spoof your location. Free users will also find it more difficult to jump to a different server in search of unblocked access or better speeds. One option to get around the Netflix ban is to buy a static IP address, which will definitely require a paid VPN subscription in addition to the cost of the fixed IP.
In short, watching streaming services like Netflix with a VPN is difficult, and doing it with a free VPN is even more difficult.
trust and technology
Free VPNs have some historical perks, as not all VPN service providers turn out to be good representatives. Some VPNs may have inappropriate, if not outright malicious, practices. Figuring out who’s up and who’s not is especially difficult with VPNs, as much of their operations are invisible to the outside world.
Unfortunately, this documentation can sometimes be difficult to read, perhaps on purpose. As part of our review process, we send out surveys to each VPN service, seeking to register companies on certain privacy issues. We rely on companies to act in good faith when we ask them questions, and outside researchers have to discover companies that don’t.
In general, we prefer providers that use WireGuard, OpenVPN, or IKEv2, which are all relatively new technologies. OpenVPN has the advantage of being open source, thus it was chosen for any potential security vulnerabilities. WireGuard is the clear successor to open source VPN protocols, which can greatly improve VPN speeds.
Some VPNs have also undergone extensive third-party audits to prove their reliability. This is not a guarantee that the company is doing a good job, as it often sets auditing standards. But purposeful scrutiny is a good sign. TunnelBear, for example, has committed to issuing external audits every year, and it has delivered on that promise.
What is the best free VPN?
Every free VPN has some cadence, but ProtonVPN offers the most flexibility. A free account with ProtonVPN will limit you to only three VPN server locations, and one connection at a time. ProtonVPN lists the speed of the free version as “medium,” but you don’t get throttled. You are only competing with more people against fewer servers, which can mean worse performance. P2P is not allowed in the free tier of ProtonVPN.
These are significant limitations, to be fair, but at least your bandwidth is unlimited. You can browse as much and as much as you want with ProtonVPN, without spending a single cent. Upgrading to a paid account costs $5 per month and eases many restrictions. The $10 per month Plus account is still a good deal by VPN standards and offers all the perks that ProtonVPN has to offer.
How to Choose the Right Free VPN Service
There are a lot of differences even between free VPN services, so it’s a good idea to try a few and see which one you prefer. A great VPN service should be easy to use and understand, and you should not put in too many barriers, even when using a free subscription. We highly recommend trying out a few services until you find the one that works for you, especially before you take the plunge and pay for a VPN.
(Editors’ note: Although they may not appear in this story, IPVanish and StrongVPN are owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag’s parent company.)