5 Best Free VPN Services for 2020 (100% FREE & Safe)Last Updated by Kate Hawkins on October 08, 2020
I thought that most reputable free VPNs would keep me safe online — but I was wrong. Many free VPNs are actually involved in malicious activity, which could expose you to financial fraud, identity theft, and malware.
I was also frustrated to find that many free VPNs don’t work well. Free services often have strict data caps and few server locations available. These limitations can cause slow speeds. I was disappointed that some free services didn’t let me stream or access other online platforms. The way I see it, if a VPN can’t let me access my favorite shows or games while overseas, it’s a waste — even if it’s free.
To help you avoid both dangerous and useless VPNs, I tested dozens of options and compiled this list of the best free VPNs. I was surprised that the top free service is also one of the highest-ranked VPNs on the market — ExpressVPN. You can try all of ExpressVPN’s premium features for free for 30 days, which is perfect if you only need a VPN for a few weeks. For me, this was the best way to use a premium VPN service while on vacation. If you need a more permanent solution, jump to my quick guide to the best free VPNs to choose a reliable option in less than 1 minute.
Quick Guide: The Best Free and Reliable VPNs (Updated October 2020)
- ExpressVPN: #1 VPN for fast, unlimited streaming and robust security features — free for 30 days
- Hotspot Shield: 15GB data allowance per month and always free, but lots of ads
- Windscribe: Torrenting supported with 10GB monthly data but can’t bypass Netflix restrictions
- TunnelBear: Servers in over 20 countries, but only 500MB monthly data allowance
- Hide.me: Free for life and secure with ad-free browsing but only one device connection per account
How to Choose the Best Free VPNs
While there’s no perfect free VPN, I made sure that all the top providers had good security, speeds, and performance. When evaluating a VPN for yourself, you can use this list of important criteria to pick the best option for your needs:
- Strong encryption — Make sure the VPN you select has at least AES-256-bit encryption to keep you safe from hackers, government surveillance, and other prying eyes.
- Proven ability to bypass geo-blocks — Before downloading a VPN, it’s important to know if you want to stream on Netflix or other sites. This is because not all VPNs can get around the geo-blocks used by platforms like Netflix — only the best services like ExpressVPN can do that.
- Strict privacy policies — Many free VPNs track and sell user data. That’s why it’s important that you find a service that will keep your information private from advertisers and other prying eyes.
- Reliable connections — VPNs may slow down your connection speeds. Even if it doesn’t have many server options, make sure your VPN offers fast speeds to let you access the services you want.
5 Best Free VPN Services for 2020
- Military-grade encryption with strict no-logs policy keeps you safe
- Global network of 3,000+ servers in 94 countries
- Unlimited data for endless streaming, torrenting, and gaming
- Works on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, smart TVs, routers, and more
- Unblocks Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video
- Only available for free for 30 days
ExpressVPN is the top choice as it gives you unlimited access to all its premium features — unlike other free VPNs that only offer full features if you upgrade. However, you can only use ExpressVPN free for 30 days. This is ideal if you’re going for a short trip abroad, or just want to catch up on a Netflix series unavailable in your country.
To test the service, I downloaded ExpressVPN and connected to over 50 servers in the US, UK, Japan, and more. I was impressed that it gave me fast speeds up to 48.5Mbps! I didn’t have any problems with slow loading pages, buffering videos, or lagging video games.
I could even stream my favorite shows and movies in Ultra HD. In addition to fast speeds, ExpressVPN can consistently unblock streaming platforms like Netflix US, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, and HBO Max. It can even bypass the Great Firewall of China and works in countries with strict online censorship, like the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.
Another important feature is its top-of-the-line security. For example, ExpressVPN uses RAM-based servers, which guarantees that its servers clear your browsing history whenever the power cuts off. The way RAM servers are built means that whenever they are turned on/off, the data is permanently erased.
To make sure you can really get your money back, I signed up for ExpressVPN and tested out their 30-day money-back guarantee. I used ExpressVPN for 3 weeks, then requested a refund from customer support (on live chat). I was really surprised at how easy it was to get my money back! Other VPNs that I’ve tried wasted my time trying to troubleshoot or get me to stay, but ExpressVPN processed my refund straight-away — no questions asked. The money was returned to my bank account within 5 days.
October 2020 Update: ExpressVPN has dropped prices so you can save up to 49%! This is a limited offer so be sure to grab it now before it's gone. See more deal information here.
- AES-256-bit encryption
- 500MB daily data allowance
- Consistently fast speeds
- Works on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, smart TVs, routers, and more
- Tech support available for free use
- Lots of advertising
- Can’t unblock Netflix on the free version
With a 500MB daily data limit, Hotspot Shield free has one of the more generous data allowances. You should be able to get about 15 hours of SD streaming time per month out of the limit.
During my testing, I was impressed by Hotspot Shield’s download speeds. Its patented Hydra protocol claims to “deliver unrivaled speed and performance” despite only having one US server connection for free users. The speed test I ran showed a speed of 27.5 Mbps, which was more than fast enough for bufferless streaming and gaming.
That being said, I did find a lot of annoying ads while I was watching YouTube and playing games — which was very frustrating. The free version may cost you nothing, but you’ll have to suffer through a lot of interruptions.
I thought that Hotspot Shield’s fast speeds would make it great for streaming — but I was wrong. Another big drawback is that you won’t be able to unblock Netflix and other restricted streaming services. This is reserved for Hotspot Shield’s premium users only.
If security is your main concern, Hotspot Shield’s free version has everything you need for secure web browsing. It has military-grade encryption to protect your privacy, using 256-bit encryption to keep your data safe. Hotspot Shield also doesn’t store logs and has a kill switch for your peace of mind. If you need a VPN to bypass a firewall or browse the web anonymously, this is a solid choice.
- Military-grade encryption
- 10GB monthly data allowance
- Integrated ad-blocker
- Works on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, Nvidia Shield, routers, and more
- Torrenting supported
- No live customer support
- Netflix (and other services) only available for premium users
Windscribe offers 10GB of monthly data to free users and access to servers in over 10 countries. If you’re a serious downloader, 10GB might not seem like much but I found it was enough for more than 7 full movies.
While Netflix and Hulu are reserved for Windscribe’s premium users, I’m happy to report that I unblocked Disney+ using the free US server. Even better, I could stream for approximately 10 hours in SD quality before my data ran out!
- AES-256-bit encryption
- Server connections in 20 countries
- Added security features in the free plan
- Works on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and more
- No ads at all
- Only 500MB data allowance per month
- No streaming
For a free VPN, TunnelBear offers you a huge server network to help you bypass geo-blocks easily. With locations in 20 different countries and an easy-to-use interface, you can connect to a server with just one click.
Unfortunately, the mere 500MB per month data allowance means you’ll want to upgrade before the day’s over. I started watching a movie on Netflix and the VPN stopped streaming before the movie ended. I tried to claim the extra 1GB of data by tweeting about the service — only to learn that this was a one-time gift and the next month I was back to the 500MB limit.
Owned by the security giant McAfee, TunnelBear won’t let you down when it comes to online security and privacy. It uses AES 256-bit encryption and the company has a no-logs policy to keep your activity private. TunnelBear performs annual independent security audits so you can be sure your data is fully protected when you’re connected.
- Military-grade encryption
- Torrenting on non-US servers
- 24/7 customer support
- Works on Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, routers, and more
- 10GB data allowance per month
- One device connection per account
Hide.me free gives you the option to renew your free plan each month so this VPN is essentially free for life! It does have some limitations — 10GB of monthly data, 1 device connection, and 5 server locations. But free users can also enjoy the VPN’s strong encryptions, zero-logs policy, IP leak protection, and ad-free browsing to ensure your security.
I tested all 5 server locations (Canada, Singapore, Netherlands, and 2 in the USA) and none of them could unblock Netflix or access other streaming sites. Running a speed test at my fastest location showed that Hide.me is fast enough to stream in HD — but the data allowance won’t let you stream in HD for long.
While I wouldn’t recommend Hide.me free for streaming, torrenting, or gaming, it’s a great option for keeping your data secure while browsing.
Free vs. Paid VPNs: Hidden Costs You Should Know About
There are 2 different kinds of free VPN you should know about: unlimited free VPNs, and “freemium” VPNs.
Much like the name suggests, unlimited free VPNs give you unlimited access to the server connections. And while that may seem very tempting, these services make money by logging and selling your data. A huge number of unlimited free VPNs also contain malware, viruses, and other malicious software designed to obtain your data for profit. These should be avoided.
A “Freemium” VPN is like a sample of a premium service. The VPN services will be limited (by data caps, throttled speeds, or small server numbers) in the hope that you’ll get frustrated and upgrade to the premium VPN. These VPN services don’t monetize your data — paying customers subsidize free users, sharing network resources.
Why pay for a VPN if there are safe free options?
There are free VPNs available that don’t pose security risks — but the safe options are always limited. Whether it’s capping the amount of data you can use or limiting the number of servers, safe free VPNs are designed to make you want to upgrade. It’s inconvenient, but they are legal services you can trust. The only way to get around those inconveniences is to upgrade to a premium version. That way, you can stream, torrent, and browse as much as you want while keeping your data secure.
Remember: Paid VPNs don’t sell your information for cash
Paid VPNs can vary greatly in price and the higher-end services have a huge variety of security features — kill switches, multiple connections at the same time, strict no-logs policies, and 24/7 customer care. Paid VPNs can afford to offer you all these benefits because of the revenue they generate from subscription fees. They don’t need to sell your information, which assures your security and privacy.
Side-by-Side Comparison of the Best Free VPNs
|Bandwidth Throttling||Data Cap||Server Locations||Torrenting Support|
|Hotspot Shield||✓||15GB/month (500MB/day)||1 country||✓|
No matter which free VPN you choose, you’ll have to deal with annoying data caps. If you want unlimited data and you only need a VPN for a short time, then I suggest getting ExpressVPN instead. It’s a paid VPN — but you can take advantage of the money-back guarantee and use it for free for 30 days (no bandwidth or data restrictions).
Avoid These Free VPNs Like the Plague
According to a recent study (CSRIO), 75% of free VPNs that claim to protect user privacy have at least one tracking library. Through my own research and testing, I found some shocking facts about several VPN services that I had to warn you about.
With over 5 million user installations to date, studies into Betternet have shown that it has one of the highest levels of malware among free VPNs. A test performed by Virustotal gave it an AV-Rank of 13, meaning it tested positive for malware on 13 different antivirus programs.
In addition, the CSIRO study found Betternet had 14 tracking libraries in its software. This is concerning as Betternet markets itself as a privacy advocate but logs a considerable amount of user data. This data includes general location (based on IP address), information device-specific information, and non-personal logs of domain names you visit when connected.
In the CSIRO study, Cross VPN ranked as the 5th worst VPN service for taking advantage of users. It was flagged as containing potential trojan viruses by Virustotal, who gave Cross VPN an AV-Rank of 11.
HolaVPN built a P2P server network instead of using worldwide servers, which in theory would be effective at bypassing firewalls, maintaining privacy, and masking IP addresses.
In reality, HolaVPN has been known to forward user traffic through other participating user nodes, breaking its promise that data would be kept private and anonymous. Even worse, HolaVPN was letting premium members use the bandwidth of free users. Free users would also end up with the premium users’ data on Hola’s servers. This left free users open to investigations as any online activities would be logged to their IP addresses.
Answered: Popular FAQs About Free VPNs
😅 Are free VPNs really safe?
The free VPNs I’ve recommended are safe. They’ve been thoroughly tested and researched to ensure they won’t compromise your data security when you connect. But the same can’t be said for all free VPNs, some of which have questionable privacy policies and are linked to China.
Some of the most downloaded free VPNs, like Snap VPN (10 million+ downloads) and X-VPN (5.5 million+ downloads) are owned by Chinese companies. Chinese ownership means using these VPNs could lead to data logging, tracking activity, and sharing your data with third parties.
By using one of my recommended free VPNs, you can be sure that your data is safe and your browsing activity is anonymous every time you connect.
🤑 How do free VPNs make money?
There’s always a hidden cost that allows free VPNs to make money. The most common way is by bombarding your device with pop-up ads. While it might seem harmless, all adware comes installed with trackers. Trackers keep tabs on your internet activity, which means your browsing history is no longer anonymous or private.
Free VPNs sometimes sell your data to advertisers. They keep track of sites you visit, your IP address, and data relating to your connection. This is a huge violation of your privacy and can compromise your security, depending on the data being tracked and sold.
Rarely, a free VPN will sell your data to the highest bidder — and this could mean your information in the hands of a cybercriminal. It’s not a common occurrence, but you should be aware of the potential risk when looking at free VPN services.
🤩 Can I watch Netflix with free VPNs?
Don’t waste your time with free VPNs. I tested all the best free VPNs and none of these services will unblock Netflix. Netflix is exceptionally tricky to unblock, and it costs VPN providers a lot of money and resources. If you find a rare free VPN that offers to grant you access to Netflix, then you can be sure that you’re paying in other ways.
An example is Hola VPN, which is one of the worst offenders you should avoid. It’s free but there are zero security or privacy features. Hola has even been caught (multiple times!) selling the personal data and bandwidth of its users to the highest bidder. If you want to connect to Netflix safely and stream in HD — don’t use a free service.
Luckily, the best Netflix VPNs all have 30-day money-back guarantees (like NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and Surfshark), so you can still use them for free. CyberGhost has an even longer money-back guarantee that lets you try it out for 45 days with no risk. It’s an ideal amount of time to catch up on a foreign series or watch your favorite shows while abroad.
🤓 Do free VPNs work in China?
A few free VPNs do work in China, but I wouldn’t recommend any for long-term use. There are often hidden privacy risks involved with free VPNs. Plus you’ll have to suffer through other downsides like restricted bandwidth, limited servers, and patchy customer support.
I’ve tested dozens of VPNs and even the best paid services (like NordVPN and CyberGhost) don’t work there. While some free VPNs have been successful in giving users access to the internet in China, they can lack a level of security and privacy. This means that the Chinese government may still be able to track your internet history and punish you for breaking their laws.
I wouldn’t recommend using a free VPN to access the internet in China. ExpressVPN is a great option for a reliable VPN to use in China — and you can use it for free with its 30-day money-back guarantee.
😇 Are VPNs legal?
VPNs are legal in the majority of countries in the world. Using a VPN to mask your IP address and keep your confidential data secure is legal. In some places with strict government regulations regarding the internet, like China and Russia, using non-government approved VPNs is restricted or banned. This is due to VPNs having no legal obligation to hand over user data to government bodies.
Using a VPN to perform illegal activities, like downloading and distributing copyrighted material, hacking, cyberstalking, and accessing the dark web to buy and sell prohibited items is illegal.
😎 Do free VPNs work with popular streaming sites like Disney Plus, BBC iPlayer, Hulu or Popcorn Time?
Based on rigorous testing, I couldn’t find many free (and 100% safe) VPNs with consistent access to streaming services like Disney+, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer.
A service like Popcorn Time, which lets you file share without storing anything on your device, isn’t restricted by location. But with P2P file-sharing, extra precaution should be taken to keep your information anonymous. My recommended free VPNs have military-grade encryption to secure your data — but limited bandwidth allowances won’t let you stream as much as you want to. To stream and torrent without restriction, it’s best to use a premium VPN.
🙂 What devices do free VPNs work on?
Free VPNs are available on a variety of devices, though the range is often more limited than their premium versions offer. To find out which free VPNs are compatible with your device, take a look at the following recommendations:
Use This Trick to Get a Premium VPN for Free
If you want to use a VPN for a short period of time, the trick is to sign up for a premium VPN with a money-back guarantee. Whether you’re taking a vacation abroad or want to catch up on your favorite foreign shows, a premium VPN will protect you for at least 30 days — free of charge!
NordVPN has over 5500 servers for you to connect to. You’re not limited to a handful (or in some cases, just one) server. This means no slow connections at peak times as there is no congestion. You’ll always be able to connect to a fast server and enjoy unlimited streaming and browsing without compromising your data security. NordVPN has a 30-day money-back guarantee you can use to try its service risk-free.
CyberGhost’s optimized servers make streaming easy and fast. Impressive encryption technology and IP address masking mean CyberGhost’s optimized servers can get around content blocks. Want to torrent anonymously? CyberGhost has dedicated peer-to-peer servers for anonymous file-sharing. Best of all, you can stream and torrent as much as you want with unlimited bandwidth! You can try CyberGhost for 45-days risk-free with its money-back guarantee!
CyberGhost's Latest Deal October 2020: Get an 18-month subscription for the price of the 12-month plan — which means you get 6 months completely free! Prices start at only $2.75/month. See more information on this offer here.
Choose A VPN That Won’t Compromise Your Safety
The market is flooded with free VPNs, but many of them pose serious risks to you and your data. Slow speeds, bandwidth limitations, and connection restrictions are annoying — having your data logged and sold to generate revenue compromises your data security.
The free VPNs I’ve recommended may have some limitations in terms of connections and bandwidth, but they all keep your data safe. Want all the security features without the limitations? Try ExpressVPN for 30 days risk-free and get a full refund, “no questions asked,” if you’re not totally satisfied.