The Best Free VPN in 2021 for Security, Speed & Streaming

I can’t put a price on my privacy, but I can certainly try to keep the cost down. There are lots of free VPNs available, but many of them can be dangerous. So although you might be a little strapped for cash, it’s important to err on the side of caution. To point you in the right direction,  I’ve put together a list of the best free VPN services.

Aside from the dangers of some free VPNs, many often come with several limitations, such as a data cap, slow speeds and poor streaming capability — which is a real pain in the, erm, popcorn. That’s why it’s important to consider what your reasons are for using a VPN, alongside improving your online privacy and security.

best free vpns streaming issues
There’s nothing worse than a buffering screen when you’re trying to watch your favorite movie.

Thankfully, a few of the best VPN providers offer a limited free plan. OK, so you won’t benefit from some of the premium features listed by the service, but many still tick a good portion of the “must-have” boxes. I’ve found a few free VPN services that will keep my connection secure, honor my privacy, and, sometimes, have enough punch to allow more power-hungry activities, such as streaming. 

In this article, I’ll talk about what features you should look for in a free VPN, as well as recommend five of the best free VPN services. If you need a quick answer, though, Windscribe is my top pick.


How to Choose the Right Free VPN

To choose the right free VPN, you should consider your primary use case. For instance, if you want to access content in a specific country, you need to make sure the VPN has servers in that country. If streaming is a priority, the VPN needs to be able to access your chosen streaming service. 

After you identify which are most important to you, choose a free VPN that includes those features. You can find my top five recommendations for a free VPN service below, but I’ll also give a more detailed description of each afterward.

  1. Windscribe — Strong security, unlimited connections, 10GB data per month, great for streaming.
  2. Hide.me — Solid privacy, 10GB per month, easy to use, not great for streaming.
  3. TunnelBear — Five connections, use of all servers, 500MB per month, slower.
  4. ProtonVPN — Unlimited data, unblocks streaming services, capped speeds, easy to use.
  5. Hotspot — 500MB per day, limited streaming performance, collects data, slow.

Before I explain these VPNs more thoroughly, let me explain what to look for in a quality free vpn service.


What to Look for in the Best Free VPN Services

In this section, I’ll talk about everything you should look for in a free VPN and how to choose the right one for you. I’ll include red flags to look out for, limitations you should consider, and features that should be included as standard.

Virtual private networks (VPNs) come with a bunch of features, even the free ones. So let’s take a peek at some of the most important features you should seek out.

Security

One of the most important features I look at is a VPN’s security. Without strong security, there’s no way a VPN can do its job properly. Some free VPNs have been known to advertise such protection, but not actually provide it. Plus, a free VPN provider might not give you the option to change much in its security settings.

I’m mostly looking for a decent level of protection, such as the industry-standard AES 256-bit encryption. Ensuring that the VPN doesn’t experience DNS, IP or WebRTC leaks is also essential. 

How do I know a VPN is secure? Well, a simple way to check is to jot down your actual IP address, pick a VPN server and connect to it, and then use an IP checker tool to ensure your true information is hidden. You should see a different IP address, and the location should be that of the VPN server you chose. 

Privacy

Privacy kinda flows into the security area, but there’s a little more to it. I always make sure a VPN has a bullet-proof no-logs policy. Having such a policy means that no matter what I do online, there’s no record of it, and nothing can be traced back to me. I remain totally anonymous. Privacy policies vary, so make sure that either no information is kept or that what is kept is not identifiable to you.

Speed

I can’t stand sluggish internet speeds. Some VPNs are fast enough that you won’t notice much difference, but many free VPNs suffer from slower speeds. Using a VPN will affect your connection speed anyway, but choosing a VPN that’s fast can help.

Servers

VPN server networks vary significantly, but it’s a good idea to check how many servers are available and where they are located. For instance, if you want to access content or services in the U.S., the VPN needs to have U.S. servers. Also, the higher the number of servers available, the better chance you have of connecting to a good one.

Data Cap

Many free VPNs have a data limit. The amount of data allocated varies, but it’s important to understand that you will no longer be able to use the VPN once you reach the limit. Some online activities consume more data than others, such as downloading, torrenting and streaming, so how quickly you use up the allowance will depend on what you do.

Streaming Capability

Even paid VPNs can struggle to unblock streaming services, so finding a free VPN for streaming is quite a task — though not impossible. Although there are lots of streaming platforms around, I tend to focus on the major ones when testing VPNs. After all, if a VPN can crack the Netflix proxy error code or the block on Disney Plus, it’ll likely get into other streaming services, too.

A good free VPN for streaming should unblock the desired service consistently and have good enough speeds to allow a decent resolution — though this usually butts into the small data cap.

Devices and Connections

Ensuring device compatibility is key. Most VPN providers have apps for major platforms like Windows, macOS, Android and iOS. You may also want to look at the number of allowed simultaneous connections if you’re going to protect more than one device. 

Ease of Use

Your chosen VPN service should be easy to use, allowing you to install and connect via the VPN quickly and easily. There’ll likely be a settings menu, but you may not have much choice in that department given that the VPN is free.

Customer Support

You never know when you might come across an issue, big or small, and having decent support at the ready makes a ton of difference. Support can come in the form of a knowledgebase, ticket system, collection of guides, forum, live chat, and email or phone support.

Some VPNs come with the whole support party, whereas others only have a couple of options. Make sure you pick one that suits your needs.


1. Windscribe: The Best Free VPN Provider

best free vpns windscribe
Windscribe’s free plan is secure, includes 10GB of data per month and can get into streaming services easily.

PROS

  • Great security & privacy
  • Generous data cap
  • Unlimited simultaneous connections
  • Accesses most streaming services easily

CONS

  • Occasionally slow speeds
  • Few hoops to jump through for the full data allowance

Windscribe’s free plan is the best one you can get. You get a 2GB monthly data allowance by default, but you can increase it to 10GB straight away by entering your email address when you sign up. Plus, there are other ways to increase it a little more, such as by tweeting about Windscribe.

In addition to offering a generous data limit, Windscribe has my back when it comes to protection. It ensures my connection is safe by providing top-notch security and a decent privacy policy. Its privacy policy does state that some information is collected, but none of it is identifiable. 

You can use Windscribe on many devices, such as Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, and its interface is easy to use. Plus, Windscribe lets you connect as many devices as you want simultaneously, which is rare even with paid plans.

Customer service is good enough, starting with its live chatbot “Garry.” Garry will point you to relevant self-help guides first, but if you need to speak to a human, you can simply type “agent” into the chatbox to get transferred. You can also search the dedicated Windscribe subreddit.

Free Streaming for the Win

Something I absolutely love about Windscribe is that I can stream on its free servers. It easily unblocks major streaming services, even wiggling past the notorious Netflix error code. OK, so I sometimes have to switch to a different server because it just doesn’t work. But for the most part, it works brilliantly.

Speaking of servers, Windscribe has a network with a decent number of free-to-use servers. That includes servers in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Hong Kong and multiple European countries. Its speeds can be a little slow on different servers, but for the most part, it’s fine.

If you try Windscribe and like it so much that you decide to dive into its paid version, you have two options; the full Pro plan or the cheap “build a plan” option. Its full plan will grant you access to all of its server locations, as well as unlimited data. 

A cheaper option is to build your own plan by adding server locations for $1 each per month. The minimum spend is $2, so you can either choose two locations or add unlimited data for $1 per month. Whichever paid option you choose, there’s a three-day refund window. 

Check out Windscribe’s free plan and pricing here or read the full Windscribe review.


2. Hide.me

best vpns hide.me
Hide.me is dedicated to privacy, but it struggles when it comes to speed and streaming services.

PROS

  • Advanced options
  • Solid privacy policy
  • Easy to use

CONS

  • Occasionally slow speeds
  • Limited streaming capability

Hide.me is a great VPN, though it’s not high on my list of paid options due to its price — I’d much prefer to invest in my favorite service, ExpressVPN. Still, Hide.me has a great free plan, so it deserves a place on this list. 

Just like Windscribe, Hide.me gives you a 10GB per month data allowance — though you don’t need to jump through any hoops to get it. You can use it on many devices, like Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, and it’s easy to use. A significant difference, though, is that Hide.me lets you connect only one device at a time.

Hide.me’s speeds aren’t bad, and I’ve found them acceptable for everyday tasks. That said, its speeds seem to suffer when connecting to a distant server. The full server network includes more than 1,800 servers in over 50 countries, but the free version only has access to five locations. 

On top of that, it’s not the best choice if you want to stream because it struggles to unblock Hulu and Amazon Prime Video. If you want to watch Netflix U.S. or BBC iPlayer, it should be fine.

Security, Extra Features and Ease of Use

OK, maybe I’m not painting a great image of Hide.me, so let me point out its best features. 

For top security and privacy at no cost, Hide.me is a great choice. Not only does it have strong security to keep you safe online, but it also has an independently audited privacy policy to prove that your privacy is safe, too. 

Plus, Hide.me includes lots of options in its settings menu that you can tweak even if you’re a beginner. You have access to a DNS leak test, and can contact customer support through the app.

If you like Hide.me and want to upgrade to the paid plan in the future, beware of its high price. There is a 30-day money-back guarantee, though.

Check out Hide.me’s free plan and pricing here.


3. TunnelBear

best free vpns tunnelbear
TunnelBear’s free plan includes five connections and all servers, but it has a small data allowance.

PROS

  • Easy to use
  • 5 simultaneous connections
  • Use of all servers
  • Extra features

CONS

  • Small data allowance
  • Mediocre speeds
  • Limited streaming capability

TunnelBear’s free plan has been around for a long time, and it was a solid favorite until Windscribe strutted its stuff. Still, it’s a great option if you don’t mind the much lower 500MB per month data allowance. Like Windscribe, TunnelBear allows you to increase the allowance to 1GB per month by tweeting about it, but it’s still a tenth of what you can get with Windscribe.

On the more impressive side, TunnelBear ensures your protection by providing strong encryption at the standard AES 256-bit with a few protocols to choose from. It has a solid no-logging policy, and if that’s not enough, TunnelBear publishes regular independent audits to support its claims.

You can install it on most devices, and all TunnelBear plans allow up to five simultaneous connections — including the free version. You also get the use of its full server network on the free plan, which is spread across more than 40 countries. That said, its speeds are mediocre and can get slower over long distances. 

Plus, when it comes to streaming, TunnelBear is a bit of a mixed bag. It can get into HBO Max and U.S. Netflix — even if a little inconsistently — but it completely struggles with the likes of Amazon Prime Video and BBC iPlayer. With TunnelBear’s small data limit and slow speeds, I’d stick with Windscribe.

Great Interface and Extra Features

One of TunnelBear’s strongest points is its interface. Choosing a server is super simple; you can either click on the country you want using the handy map-style interface — a.k.a. the cute way because of the little bear graphic — or you can take the boring route and choose a server from the dropdown list.

TunnelBear also boasts some advanced features, such as VigilantBear, which acts as a kill switch; GhostBear, which completely hides the fact that you’re using a VPN; and split tunneling (although it’s only available on Android). You can also set TunnelBear to recognize and trust specific networks and set it to automatically “turn on” when you connect to an unknown network, such as public WiFi.

TunnelBear is a good VPN with a feature-filled free plan, but its small data allowance lets it down. If you want to jump to its paid plan, though, it’s inexpensive. However, something to keep in mind is that, unlike other VPNs, TunnelBear does not have a money-back guarantee. If you want a refund, you have to request it, and TunnelBear gets to decide if you receive one.

Check out TunnelBear’s free plan and pricing here.


4. ProtonVPN

ProtonVPN works with netflix
ProtonVPN doesn’t have a data cap and unblocks streaming services, but its slow speeds are a letdown.

PROS

  • Unlimited data on all plans
  • Easy to use
  • Excellent streaming capability

CONS

  • Slow speeds, especially on the free plan
  • No live chat

ProtonVPN looks like the perfect free VPN service on paper, and don’t get me wrong, it is good, but it’s a perfect example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. You see, the free version of ProtonVPN offers an unlimited data allowance, which I’ve only seen provided to paying users before. But before you jump straight in, it’s a good idea to know how good the rest of the service is.

If we look at its ability to unblock streaming services, it’s a winner because it can get into them quite easily. However, its speeds are a complete letdown. They’re not great on the paid plan, and the free version is worse because the speeds are capped. Overall, it’s not a great streaming VPN.

If you need help, you can use the handy online knowledgebase or email the support team, but ProtonVPN doesn’t offer a live chat option. That, and the fact that email support can be slow, tells me there’s room for improvement.

Servers and Security

Now that I’ve finished with all the doom and gloom, I’ll get onto ProtonVPN’s good bits. For starters, its security is excellent, and it has a solid no-logs policy. Paid users get extra security features, such as Secure Core servers and ProtonMail, and it’s great as a quick choice for a secure VPN connection.

ProtonVPN has more than 1,200 servers in 55 countries, but the free plan limits your options to 23 servers in three countries. That’s better than some but only gives you three countries to choose from, including the U.S., Netherlands and Japan. Plus, you’re limited to one connection on the free plan even though you can install ProtonVPN on many different device types.

If you decide to upgrade to a paid plan, there are three to choose from, and all come with unlimited data. The Basic plan allows two simultaneous connections and more than 350 servers in over 40 countries. It also has better speeds, an ad blocker and P2P servers.

Then there’s the Plus plan, which includes the use of the entire server network, the fastest speeds and up to 10 connections. It also includes the use of its Secure Core servers and Tor over VPN, which offer better protection. 

The last option is its Visionary plan, which is the same as the Plus plan, but with the addition of ProtonVPN’s encrypted email service, ProtonMail. All of its paid plans are covered by a 30-day money-back guarantee, so there’s nothing to lose. 

Check out ProtonVPN’s free plan and pricing here.


5. Hotspot Shield

hotspot different countries
Hotspot Shield offers 500MB of data per day but has capped speeds and collects user information.

PROS

  • Extra features included in the free version
  • 500MB per day data limit
  • User friendly

CONS

  • User information collection
  • Capped speeds
  • Only one free server & one device connection
  • Limited streaming capability on the free plan

Hotspot Shield’s free plan has a pretty generous data allowance of up to 500MB per day — not 500MB per month like TunnelBear. It also hypes up its own service by saying it’s the fastest with military-grade encryption, but, erm, I’m not so sure about that.

Security-wise, it’s not bad. It offers the industry-standard encryption rate, but it doesn’t offer the use of OpenVPN. Instead, it has its own proprietary protocol called Catapult Hydra, which is supposed to be similar to OpenVPN, but I can’t confirm that. On the plus side, Hotspot Shield passed my DNS leak tests, which is great.

Its privacy is another questionable area, and Hotspot Shield doesn’t shy away from the fact that it collects user data. It can collect information about your connection, bandwidth usage, location and device type. None of the data is supposedly identifiable, but it’s still cause for concern. The free version is even worse, popping ads up here and there and selling data to third parties. 

Still, it has lots of extra features included on the free plan, such as a kill switch, split tunneling and auto-connection features. Hotspot Shield also provides malware and phishing protection, but that’s only available on the paid plans. 

Streaming, Usability and Support

When it comes to streaming, Hotspot Shield can get into the major streaming services easily. Annoyingly, though, the free plan is limited in this capability. That’s likely because the free plan is also limited to one server location in the U.S., whereas the paid plans have 3,200 servers in more than 80 countries. Speeds are pretty good on paid plans, too, but the free version is capped at up to 2 Mbps. 

Customer support is available through email 24/7 and an online knowledgebase. Users on paid plans have access to 24/7 live chat too.

It’s easy to use, and most devices are supported, though you’ll need the paid plan to install it on “premium” devices, such as a smart TV. The free version allows one connection, while the paid plans allow more.

There are two paid plans available, and both have unlimited data. The Premium plan allows up to five simultaneous connections, and the Premium Family plan allows up to 25. There’s a free seven-day trial of the Premium version if you want to try it, and there’s also a 45-day money-back guarantee.

Check out Hotspot Shield’s free plan and pricing here.


Other Free VPNs to Consider

As I said, there are a lot of free VPN services around, but I can’t recommend all of them. If I had to pick more VPN services for this list, the only other one I can suggest is Speedify — though I season that suggestion with a pinch of caution. 

best free vpns speedify
Speedify is a promising free VPN option feature-wise, but it doesn’t prioritize security and privacy.

Speedify is a pretty good VPN service that may climb up in my rankings over time. You get a 2GB per month data allowance that can be used on one device. Plus, it’s easy to use  — and it’s specifically aimed at mobile users — and it can get into most streaming services, too. 

The downsides, though, are that security is there, but it’s not prioritized: it keeps logs of your IP address and location. Plus, its speeds are slow, despite its name.


Free Trials and Money-Back Guarantees: How to Get a Premium VPN for Free

Although the likes of Windscribe are kind enough to offer a decent-sized slice of security for free, let’s face it: paid VPNs come with so much more. But if you’re totally cash-strapped, how can you get a premium service for free or at least try it to make sure you like it? Well, many VPN providers include money-back guarantees, and some even offer a free trial period.

ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN is the top dog of the VPN world, providing top-notch security and privacy, the fastest speeds and an excellent streaming experience. Don’t just take my word for it, though. You can use its 30-day money-back guarantee as a free trial to find out for yourself. Read more about it in my full ExpressVPN review.

NordVPN

NordVPN is another favorite of mine — and it’s also a little more pocket-friendly. It ensures your security, doesn’t keep logs, and gets you into streaming services without a hitch. Plus, it comes with extra security features, making it a great choice for torrenting. Like ExpressVPN, there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee for peace of mind. Read more in my full NordVPN review.

CyberGhost

If streaming is not on your agenda, but you still want to stay secure online, then CyberGhost is a great option. It comes with extra features, such as NoSpy servers that sit outside the 14 Eyes, and it even has a free seven-day trial available (24 hours on desktop). 

Plus, if you want more time, there’s a lengthy 45-day money-back guarantee in place for long-term plans (14-days on the monthly plan). Read more in my full CyberGhost review.


Final Thoughts

There are plenty of free VPNs out there, but you should approach them with caution. Only download one from a reputable company to ensure complete protection for your sensitive information. It’s also important to think about the main reason you want a VPN to ensure that you choose one with good enough features. 

For a great all-around option that’ll keep you safe online and protect your privacy, I recommend Windscribe. It’s the best free VPN you can get. On top of it providing industry-standard protection, Windscribe also provides a generous 10GB per month data allowance, good speeds and a decent number of server locations. Plus, its free servers perform well for streaming, and you can have unlimited simultaneous connections. 

Have you used a free VPN? Which one did you choose? Have you ever used a bad free VPN? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section. Thank you for reading.

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