6 Best Free VPN Services for 2021 (100% FREE & Safe)Last Updated by Kate Hawkins on April 05, 2021
I thought it would be easy to find a free VPN — but I was wrong. Most free VPNs have limited data, slow speeds, and only a couple of server locations. I was even more disappointed to find that some free VPNs can’t even unblock content abroad. The way I see it, if a VPN can’t let me access my favorite shows or games, it’s a waste (even if it’s free).
Worse still, I discovered that many popular free VPNs have shady business models. You can’t just download any free VPN onto your device, or you could risk exposing yourself to malware, trackers, identity theft, and even financial fraud.
To help you avoid both dangerous and useless VPNs, I ran extensive tests and ranked the top free VPNs for April 2021. I found the best option is to use ExpressVPN risk-free for 30 days with the money-back guarantee — you’ll have unlimited access to every premium feature. If you need a more permanent solution, I also shortlisted 5 additional free VPNs with no time restrictions.
Quick Guide: Best Free VPNs That Still Work in 2021
- ExpressVPN — #1 VPN with unlimited data, strong privacy policies, and fast streaming and torrenting. Try ExpressVPN risk-free with its 30-day money-back guarantee.
- Hotspot Shield — Excellent speeds with 15GB of free data every month, but can’t unblock Netflix and shows some ads.
- ProtonVPN — Unlimited data servers and extremely polished desktop and mobile apps, but only 3 server locations.
- TunnelBear— Allows server connections in 20+ countries (US, UK, and more), but only good for browsing with 500MB monthly data allowance.
- Hide.me — 10GB of data each month, but only supports 1 device connection and can’t unblock streaming platforms.
- Windscribe — No-logs VPN with 10GB of free data for browsing and light torrenting, but no access to Netflix or Hulu.
6 Best Totally FREE VPNs — Tested April 2021
- Military-grade encryption with strict no-logs policy keeps you safe
- Global network of 3000+ 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 has a 30-day money-back guarantee
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 when you sign up with the 30-day money-back guarantee. It’s a “no questions asked” refund policy, which I even tested myself. 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.
April 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.
- Located in Switzerland with military-grade encrypted servers
- Unlimited data servers for endless monthly usage
- Works on Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS
- Ad-free interface
- Only 3 server locations available
- Torrenting and streaming unsupported
ProtonVPN is the only VPN on this list with unlimited bandwidth, meaning you can stay connected all day without worrying about running out before the month is up. This is ideal if you’re a power user and download heavily or watch lots of video content.
I was impressed by its fast download speeds with nearby servers in the Netherlands, reaching over 130Mbps. This is overkill for simple browsing but even sufficient for heavy video streaming and downloading. Since you only get access to 3 server locations (United States, Japan, and the Netherlands), your own performance will depend on how close you are to the server.
As a free user, you’re also restricted from using the Secure Core, Tor, or premium servers. This means that if you try to connect to the available free servers at peak hours you may find that they’re congested and slower than normal. However, in my few weeks of using ProtonVPN, I only noticed this a few times.
Officially, you can’t use ProtonVPN for unblocking streaming services. However, I could unblock Netflix Netherlands in my tests, which worked with minimal buffering and in high quality. I wasn’t able to access other streaming services, but I was glad to see that streaming platforms like YouTube worked smoothly.
ProtonVPN is also highly secure, using multiple advanced encryption protocols to keep your data safe. Its servers are also fully encrypted to protect them from attacks by powerful groups like governments.
- 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.
- 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. Although I was happy to find that I could unblock Disney+ using the free US server, Netflix and Hulu are reserved for Windscribe’s premium users. I could stream for approximately 10 hours in SD quality before my data ran out, which is good for a free VPN but unlikely to last you the whole month.
“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 risk-free for 30 days (no bandwidth or data restrictions).
How I Tested & Ranked the Best Free VPN in 2021
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.
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 money-back guarantees. CyberGhost has the longest 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 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 risk-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. 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!
CyberGhost is a secure VPN with a huge global server network for reliable connectivity at all times. It uses cutting-edge encryption to protect your privacy and doesn’t store logs.
I particularly love its dedicated torrenting and streaming servers. Every server is pre-configured for blazing-fast speeds and powerful security — all you have to do is click on the server to connect. it’s also worth noting that you can use CyberGhost on up to 7 devices at once, making it both cost-efficient to share or simply a great way to protect all of your devices.
You can try CyberGhost with its money-back guarantee for 45 days. I’ve tested this policy by signing up for a month and then contacting customer support through the 24/7 live chat. The agent was helpful and quickly approved the request within minutes, and the money returned to my account within a week.
April 2021 Update: CyberGhost has dropped prices for a limited time to a crazy $2.25 per month for the 3-year plan (you can save up to 83%)! This is a limited offer so be sure to grab it now before it's gone. 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 risk-free and get a full refund, “no questions asked,” if you’re not totally satisfied.