5 Best Free VPN Services for 2021 (100% FREE & Safe)Last Updated by Kate Hawkins on January 25, 2021
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: Best Free VPNs That Still Work in 2021
- ExpressVPN — #1 VPN with unlimited data, strong privacy policies, and fast streaming and torrenting (but only free for 30 days)
- Hotspot Shield — Excellent speeds with 15GB of free data every month, but can’t unblock Netflix and shows some ads
- Windscribe — No-logs VPN with 10GB of free data for browsing and light torrenting, but no access to Netflix or Hulu
- TunnelBear — Allows server connections in 20+ countries (US, UK, and more), but only good for browsing with tiny 500MB monthly data allowance
- Hide.me — 10GB of data each month, but only supports 1 device connection and can’t unblock streaming platforms
How to Choose the Best Free VPNs
It’s important to be careful when choosing a free VPN. Any VPN can be listed on the app store with positive reviews, but that doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous. That’s why I strongly advise you to consider the below points when evaluating a free VPN.
- Business model — You don’t want your free VPN to make money at your expense. Some shady VPNs fill their app with ads, trackers, or malware (sometimes all 3!) to secretly collect and sell your private data.
- Restrictions — Free VPNs often have limitations due to lack of resources and funds. This could include slow speeds, finite bandwidth, overcrowded servers, zero torrenting support, and no access to streaming platforms like Netflix.
- Security — Look for at least AES-256-bit encryption and tunneling protocols like WireGuard, OpenVPN, and IKEv2. Avoid protocols like L2TP/IPSec and PPTP, which are outdated and frankly shouldn’t be used anymore.
5 Best Totally FREE VPNs — Tested January 2021
- 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 isn’t normally free, so you might be wondering why I’m listing it as the #1 VPN. The reason is that ExpressVPN gives you unlimited access to all its premium features for free for 30 days (unlike other free VPNs that only offer full features if you upgrade). This makes it ideal if you’re going for a short trip abroad, or just want to catch up on a Netflix series unavailable in your country.
All you have to do is sign up for the 30-day money-back guarantee, which has a “no questions asked” refund policy. I even tested it myself to make sure it really works. I used ExpressVPN for 3 weeks, then requested a refund from customer support over 24/7 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 immediately. The money was returned to my bank account within 5 days.
This makes ExpressVPN tough to beat. In my tests, I 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.
January 2021 Update! ExpressVPN has dropped prices for a limited time to a crazy $6.67 per month for the 1-year plan (you can save up to 49%) + 3 months free! This is a limited offer so be sure to grab it now before it's gone. See more information on this offer 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. Hide.me only offers 10GB of monthly data anyway, so it’s not a good option for watching shows or movies. However, I was happy to see that my speeds were consistently fast and averaged 19-20 Mbps.
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.
“Freemium” vs Free VPNs: Hidden Costs You Should Know
A freemium VPN is like a sample of a premium service. It’s offered by reputable VPN companies who let you try the free version with some limitations, in order to promote the paid plan. You can trust freemium VPNs not to sell your personal data — they won’t risk ruining their reputation and losing the trust of paying customers. However, you’ll face the hidden cost of limited data, slow speeds, and restricted server locations. This is done in the hopes that you’ll get frustrated and eventually upgrade to the premium VPN.
When a free VPN doesn’t promote its premium version or show ads, your data is probably being sold to third parties. Your free VPN might even contain malware designed to mine your data for profit. In my opinion, this is the highest price you’ll pay as your private information and sensitive files could easily be stolen by cybercriminals.
When is a freemium VPN a good option?
Freemium VPNs are best for casually browsing the internet, checking emails, and online banking. A freemium VPN will offer:
- Good security with military-grade encryption and strong protocols. Freemium VPNs often share the same infrastructure as their premium counterparts, so you’ll be well-protected.
- Basic privacy so you can hide your IP address and location from third parties, like your Internet Service Provider (ISP), governments, and hackers. However, you might find that some non-identifying data is still logged by the VPN provider.
- Servers in select countries like the US, although some freemium VPNs have servers in the UK, Singapore, Netherlands, and Canada as well.
When is a paid VPN a better option?
If you don’t want to deal with the limitations of a freemium VPN, it’s worth upgrading to a paid service. Paid VPNs have:
- Torrenting support with unlimited bandwidth. Some paid VPNs even have a SOCKS5 proxy and port forwarding for faster speeds.
- Access to streaming platforms like Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, and more. While a couple of freemium VPNs do offer sporadic access to streaming sites, you won’t get very far with the tiny data allowance.
- Strict no-logs policy that’s been proven in real-world scenarios or through independent audits.
- Advanced privacy and security features, such as anonymous sign-up options, specialty servers (like multi-hop and Tor over VPN), and ad blockers.
- 24/7 customer support over live chat and email.
- Money-back guarantee for easy refunds if you’re not completely satisfied.
Side-by-Side Comparison of the Best Free VPNs
|Monthly Data||Server Countries||Torrenting Support||Device Connections|
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
The sad truth is that you can’t always trust Google Play or Apple App Store ratings. Even if you find a VPN with many downloads and positive user reviews, it could still be malware. In fact, a recent study by research agency CSIRO found that 75% of free VPNs have at least 1 tracking library — despite claims to protect user privacy.
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?
Unfortunately, most free VPNs aren’t safe. At best, your private data is collected by trackers while your device is bombarded with pop-up ads. At worst, you could infect your device with malware and expose your sensitive files to hackers. The reality is that there are only a few trustworthy free VPNs — and I’ve listed them above.
🤑 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?
Not many VPNs unblock streaming platforms for free — it costs a lot of money and resources. Only Windscribe unblocks Disney+ for free, but you’re restricted to just 10GB of data per month. If you’ve found a VPN offering you unlimited free access to Disney+, BBC iPlayer, and Hulu, then you’re probably paying in other ways. For example, shady VPNs like Hola have been caught exposing the private data of its users and selling their bandwidth.
A site like Popcorn Time can be accessed from anywhere, so you don’t need a free VPN to unblock it. However, Popcorn Time hosts a lot of pirated content, which is illegal in most parts of the world. You could receive copyright fines or even imprisonment if you get caught by the authorities, who can track down your physical location through your IP address. That’s why it’s essential to choose a trustworthy VPN with a strict no-logs policy and military-grade encryption for Popcorn Time.
🙂 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.
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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!
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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.