Post Update February 2017
Most will think that paid VPN services are a must for fast speeds and dependable VPN features, but after putting some of the free services to the test, all depending your needs, basic users can often get away with free services only. Obvious questions arise when looking at possibly using free VPN services. Speed limitations, data transfer caps, available servers to whether or not your privacy is really in good hands. It’s as equally important to ask yourself what it is that you actually need the VPN service to do for you.
You may be one of many users who need a VPN for to unblock sites and services that are otherwise restricted or censored in your country. Free VPN services are perfect alternatives for those on tight budgets, and while some may not be fast enough or limit your download transfers for streaming sites like Netflix, there are a few exceptions that did pretty well. Frequent travelers who do not want to use a VPN daily might find an advantage to using free services as well, since they only need the VPN between long intervals.
Next you have security and privacy. Overall, you will always be more secure on a VPN network. If you happen to be in your city or in a country abroad, using public Wi-Fi is always leaving you open to hackers or cyber criminals, and being connected to a VPN will efficiently help block attackers trying to take data off of your computer, tablet or smartphone. As far as privacy is concerned, even a free VPN service goes a long way. With that said, one important thing to factor in is the log-free policy. We can always vouch that our top paying VPN service providers will stay true to keeping your privacy safe and never keep any logs of your activity, but you cannot always expect the same transparency from all free providers.
Overall, it comes down to your needs and is usually the perfect choice for very casual users. If you can deal with limited server choices, possibly slower speeds in general or during peak times as well as limited features and traffic transfers, you can still find fairly reliable VPN services free of any cost.
Encryption remains solid with most free options, and some services only cap download speeds, while others cap usage. After testing various free services once more this year, I would high suggest to opt for a cheap VPN instead. But if you really can’t afford it at this time, or for temporary solutions, here are my top picks.
TunnelBear – Full Review
TunnelBear is a Canadian based VPN provider offering both paid and free service plans. The software is fun and grizzly bear themed, but kept very simple with an on and off switch and server selection menu to get you connected in under 10 seconds. The signup process is just as easy, and a team of helpful agents are ready to help you if needed. Service covers all important locations and a total of 13 countries.
TunnelBear’s free VPN plan allows for a limited 500MB per month of usage, but can be upgraded to 1.5Gigs free of cost by sharing the service on twitter. Speed is not capped, and overall speeds we’re great. A good choice for minimal to occasional use.
Pros: Fast Speeds – Easy Setup & Software
Cons: Capped at 500MB/month, can upgrade to 1.5Gigs free of cost. – No P2P Allowed.
SurfEasy ended up being a breath of fresh air. Simple signup process, no fuss software client, and great speeds. The service is brought by Opera Software, known for their secure web browser. SurfEasy VPN is very similar to TunnelBear as far as service plans, and is also based out of Canada. Global coverage remains small at this time with only 6 countries, but still covers key locations; US, UK, Canada, Brazil, Germany and Singapore.
All plans including the Free VPN option allows for up to 5 simultaneous connections with no speed caps. The free option only allows for 500MB per month, and by completing a few social media shares, you can increase the total usage cap to 1.5Gigs per month. A solid option for casual or daily use if not much bandwidth is needed.
Pros: No Logs – 5 Simultaneous Connections – Fast Speeds – Good Software.
Cons: Capped usage at 500MB/month, can be upgraded to 1.5Gigs free of cost – No P2P Allowed.
CyberGhost – Full Review
The Romanian based CyberGhost VPN has a very large network of more than 500 servers across 30+ countries and constantly expanding. The website is pleasing to browse and provides a server list with live stats. The multi-platform software client is rich both visually and in connection data.
On CyberGhost’s free VPN option, more than 100 servers are accessible across an impressive 15 countries; USA, UK, Czech Rep, Germany, Spain, Finland France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania and Ukraine.
The downsides of the free VPN plan are capped speeds, no P2P, and advertisement is presented on the client. Once again, free is free is free, so if you can’t afford a cheaper service, test them out and see if it does the job for you, won’t cost you nothing.
Pros: No Logs – No Usage Limits – Good Software.
Cons: Capped Speeds – No P2P Allowed
Another considerable free VPN plan is offered by Hotspot Shield. They happen to be one of the cheapest paid VPN providers, coming in at only $2.50 per month on yearly plans, and cover 9 countries: USA, UK, Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong and India. Service includes ad blocking and malware protection software.
Hotspot Shield’s free VPN plan only includes access to servers in the United States. On the upside, there are no usage limits and malware protection is included. No account signup is required, download the client and install to get started, but I did find the software to be constantly annoying me to upgrade to the paid version. However that is easily remedied. Once connected, you can neatly tuck it away on your taskbar and forget it about it.
Another negative was speed, I was getting terrible pings of over 200ms and lost about two thirds of my bandwidth. Streaming video still worked on standard quality, making it an acceptable but far from great choice for unblocking US based streams.
Pros: No Usage Limits – No Signup Required
Cons: USA Server Access Only – Slow Speeds – No P2P
TorVPN is another provider who offers a free version of their paid service, without any ads but simply limit your usage instead. While the paid service also has traffic limits, we are only covering the free version as a plausible option. Also offering proxy servers, we did not bother testing those as they usually slow down our connection too much, and don’t protect you very well. They take privacy seriously and operated under Hungarian law, adding a nice layer of privacy and freedom. They offer OpenVPN, PPTP along with other protocols for maximum compatibility. Speeds we’re overall pretty good considering it is just one main server connection hub. The one downside of it being free, is the limited 1Gig transfer rate per month, but if that’s all you need, TorVPN makes a fine choice.
Private Tunnel was previously called ShieldExchange and is a secure VPN service provided by OpenVPN Technologies themselves. Being the creators of the OpenVPN open-sourced protocol, they also now offer VPN service across Windows, OSX, iOS and Android seamlessly. They offer servers in Amsterdam, Canada, Switzerland, UK and US, and it was not hard to attain full 20Mbps speeds over file transfers and streaming. Private Tunnel is easy to use, but one big limitation to the free service is that you only get 100MB of data transfer, ever. They do not offer monthly paid services, which means your 100MB will not reset, to further use the service, you would pay for a certain amount of GB transfers. The plus side of having no monthly fees is that if you are not a heavy bandwidth user, it can be very cost effective, since your purchased bandwidth does not have an expiration date. However, it really makes Private Tunnel more of a ‘Free Trial’ than a free VPN provider, hence we had to place it last. Private Tunnel delivered a solid performance but only ideal for light users.
I hope I did not come off as bashing free stuff. I actually enjoyed testing these and trying to put myself in various situations where a free VPN could come in handy, and I thought of many scenarios. While travelling, I could quickly use a free VPN service to access sites back home for example. Or, if I only need to occasionally access geo-blocked sites, or encrypt my browsing data when sending sensitive emails. On that note, there are plenty of free secure email services to check out as well.
As mentioned above, I suggest you check out our cheap VPN provider suggestions if you can afford it. Free options all share some to many drawbacks ranging from global access, speed, and tiny usage limits providing as little as 1 hour of Netflix streaming. Depending on what need to use a VPN for, free can be the perfect tool for the job, but remains unsatisfactory for popular and daily use.