Whatever anyone says to convince you otherwise, you do not have to pay for a VPN. It's true that a paid service may offer more server locations, greater bandwidth and faster performance, but all VPNs free and paid can help protect you online and allow you access to blocked sites.
With so many VPNs out there, choosing which to use - especially if you don't want to pay for it - can be confusing. We've tested all the most popular free VPNs to help you understand which is going to do the best job and offer you the most in return for, well, nothing.
If your needs from a VPN are basic, read on for advice on the free VPNs you can trust.
Free vs paid VPN
If you know anything about VPNs, you may be suspicious of a free offering. Unlike free antivirus software, which can be surprisingly good, you typically have to pay for a VPN service to get something usable.
In general, free VPN packages tend to be very limited in their data allowances (called bandwidth), the choice of server locations (typically none in the US or UK) and they might also throttle performance. There are usually fewer security features on offer and in some rare cases, by using the free tier of a VPN service, you're agreeing that the company can log data and sell it to third parties. That can be the price of free, so be sure to read the Ts and Cs before you sign up.
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 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.
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 a month on a service such as NordVPN, PureVPN, Surfshark or CyberGhost.
That said, if you haven't used a VPN service before you might want to try one of the options below just to see how you get on with it. ProtonVPN is our pick of the bunch thanks to the fact it doesn't limit bandwidth or speed, but you're still restricted on your choice of servers and it's just for a single device. However, for free, it's hard to complain.
For alternatives, read our guide to the best paid-for VPN services.
Plus, know that 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 offers a reasonably generous 2GB of data per month on its free tier.
To get that allowance you have to sign up for an account with your email address, but since you can get a new email address for free in just a couple of minutes, you can remain anonymous.
Usefully, although you're limited to 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.
If you choose not to enter any details whatsoever, you can still use Hide.me for free, but bandwidth is restricted to just 500MB of data per fortnight and there are just three servers you can use whose locations are in the Netherlands, Singapore and Canada.
You can use Hide.me 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.
The Opera web browser now includes a VPN client. Unlike other browsers, this isn't an extension or add-on: it's part of the browser.
This does mean you're lacking overall privacy if you access the internet outside of that browser, but it really is free, so you're not limited on the amount of data you use per month and you won't have to pay for a subscription. The main problem is that it's really more of a proxy service than a full VPN so, again, if you're concerned about absolute privacy, you'll want to opt for one of the other services here.
To use the VPN in Opera you have to go to the O menu, then Settings, then Privacy & Security and toggle the free VPN on.
Read about more browser VPNs here.