Paid-for VPN services - as you'll discover - do offer more than any free service. But if you aren't prepared to pay to use a VPN there are a handful of services that we can recommend. They won't suit everyone because of their limitations (which, again, we'll explain) but for occasional use such as protecting your phone when using a cafe, airport or hotel Wi-Fi, then a free VPN might offer exactly what you need.
Also, a free VPN is great place to start for anyone looking to try out a VPN service for the first time. Paid-for services rarely offer free trials, instead preferring to make you pay for a month's use and claim a refund.
Is there a completely free VPN?
Yes, there is. And you'll find five such services right here.
But if you know anything about VPNs, you'd be forgiven for being suspicious of a free one. Free VPNs are not like free antivirus software, which can be almost as good as its paid-for version. Free VPNs, on the other hand, tend to be very limited in their data allowances (called bandwidth), the choice of server locations (there are usually half a dozen or less instead of thousands) and they might also limit speed, which will mean slower internet access.
Is it safe to use a free VPN?
It can be, yes. There are rarely any differences in terms of the technology used, so you're getting the same security and privacy. However, in a few rare cases, when you use a free VPN service, you're agreeing that the company can log data and sell it to third parties. That is not the case for the five we recommend below, but if you decide to use a different service, be sure to read the Ts and Cs before you sign up.
Are free VPNs worth it?
It's possible that you are willing to live with restricted bandwidth and/or servers, especially if all you want to do is use a VPN on public Wi-Fi for security, but the meagre data allowances from most free packages mean you won't be streaming videos.
As soon as you go over the limit you'll either need to uninstall the VPN and find another free version, wait until your data allowance is renewed the following month or upgrade to the paid version of that service.
There are exceptions, though. ProtonVPN offers unlimited bandwidth for free and hide.me has recently changed its free package so when you've used up your monthly allowance you can keep using the service but you can no longer pick which server to use.
In our extensive testing of VPNs - both free and paid services - it is apparent that you will be significantly more satisfied if you spend just a few pounds or dollars a month on a service such as NordVPN, PureVPN, Surfshark or CyberGhost.
But as we said, if you haven't used a VPN service before, do try the options below to see how you get on with them. ProtonVPN is our pick of the bunch thanks to the fact it doesn't limit bandwidth or speed, but you're still severely restricted on your choice of servers and it's just for a single device. However, for free, it's hard to complain.
There are other ways to hide your IP address, but a VPN remains the best option for most people.
What's the best free VPN?
ProtonVPN is the only VPN service we know of that offers a truly free tier which isn't supported by ads, doesn't impose speed restrictions and which offers unlimited data.
The company operates a zero-logs policy - including for the free version - and in any case has data protection under Swiss laws.
There are limitations, of course. One is that you have a choice of just three servers: US, Netherlands and Japan, and you can use the account on one device only.
But this still means it's by far and away the least restrictive free VPN service and is the one we'd recommend you try first.
As a bonus, you can also have a free email account with ProtonMail.
While many free VPN offerings are very limited, Windscribe is pretty generous with bandwidth and server locations, offering 10GB of data per month and the choice of 14 servers, with no speed restrictions.
Those servers include locations in the US and UK plus Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Romania. Switzerland and Hong Kong. You don't get to use the Windflix servers which are optimised for streaming video, but you can still do that using the other servers. There's no guarantee that they'll unblock Netflix or other streaming services, but the 10GB allowance is certainly enough to watch a few videos per week.
All you have to do is provide an email address, and you can rest assured that Windscribe won't sell your data to third parties because you're using its free VPN service.
Hide.me used to offer 2GB of data per month on its free tier but has lifted that cap to 10GB with no speed restrictions.
Better still, you can continue to use the service once you hit that limit: you just won't be able to choose which server you're connected to. Speed isn't guaranteed at this point, but it will the best hide.me can offer.
No credit card is required and you don't even have to create an account. Just install the app on your phone, pick the free tier and click the Activate button.
Usefully, although there is a choice of only five servers, these include the USA, so you can browse US websites that are blocked in Europe because of GDPR restrictions.
Unfortunately, the service doesn't support US Netflix so you won't be watching shows that you can't get elsewhere.
You can use Hide.me for free on Android, iOS, Windows, macOS and there's even an app for the Amazon Fire TV.
There's more good news: Hide.me offers the same features on all plans, including its free ones. That mean it doesn't log any user activity and it also doesn't sell user data to make money.
You can read our full Hide.me review for more details.
Tunnel Bear is one of the best-known VPN services to offer a free version.
It offers servers in 20 countries, including the UK, US, Australia, Canada and more. There are apps for iOS, Android, macOS and Windows.
The difference between the free and the paid-for service is really just a restriction on bandwidth. The free service gives you 500MB per month although you can request an increase to 1GB via Twitter. Apparently, using bear-related puns will increase your chances of success.
Beyond this you can pay either monthly or annually for unlimited data.
Read our full Tunnel Bear review.
Hotspot Shield is another big name in VPN, and is also widely known for offering a free tier.
Unfortunately, it's limited in a number of ways which will likely make it less appealing than some of the other free services here.
First, although it's true that it offers 15GB of bandwidth per month, there's a secondary limit of 500MB of data per day. And that means any plans you might have had of binge-watching US Netflix at the weekend are out of the window. Video streaming is also restricted to standard definition, so you can't watch in HD.
Also, you'll see plenty of ads while using Hotspot Shield: that's how the free service is funded.
There's just one server on offer (which is a US virtual location), and you can only link one device with the free account.
Maybe the most limiting of all is that speed is a quarter of what you'll get with a Hotspot Shield Premium account, and free users have no access to tech support.
Depending on your needs, you might be happy using Hotspot Shield if 500MB per day is enough for you and you don't mind ads displayed at the top of your web browser.