When typing away at the local cafe using public Wi-Fi, your connection and data aren’t as secure as you may think. Even at home, you might not have the best security possible. Right now, virtual private networks (VPNs) are some of the best tools individuals and organizations can use to keep their identities and data safe on the internet. You need the best free VPNs in 2023 and beyond to protect yourself on a budget.
Paid VPNs often offer more features and better benefits for their customers, but many services protect and serve with no fees. However, there are a few rotten eggs out there, with invasive advertising and selling your browser data to third parties. This list comprises the most reliable free VPNs for most any user.
NordVPN is one of the most widely known VPN providers, if only because their marketing budget seems to top most of their peers. Still, they back up their ubiquity with a stable, frequently updated, well-liked VPN service. You can use NordVPN to hide your browsing history from your ISP and even get through geography-based content restrictions.
One of the only things reviewers mention negatively is the need for more transparency regarding some of its third-party partners. However, you can connect up to six devices to the VPN simultaneously, which is pretty good for a free service.
The free subscription tier available from ProtonVPN provides connectivity for a single device and you can choose from three different server locations.. Better yet, their apps are audited by third parties and include various advanced features. Though many VPNs omit essential elements for free users, Proton offers secure privacy to all. The paid levels add additional device support and myriad servers worldwide
The company is based in Switzerland and is well-respected in the industry for its technological prowess and the stability of its services. Like the others on this list, ProtonVPN supports various operating systems across both mobile and desktop. However, access is limited to the U.S., Netherlands and Japan, so it’s not the best free VPN for everyone across the board. Additionally, only one device can connect to it at a time.
You might dismiss TunnelBear initially due to its cutesy mascot and iconography, but this provider doesn’t skimp when it comes to VPN non-negotiables. Third-party audits continue to confirm claims about the company’s security bona-fides. As another plus, their service offers multiple connection points.
Whereas you could realistically use ProtonVPN indefinitely as a daily driver without paying, you’ll run up against TunnelBear’s relatively unimpressive 500-megabyte data limit fairly quickly, leaving you reaching for your wallet. TunnelBear apps feature user-friendly designs and support almost any modern device.
4. Privado VPN
Privado also has a data limit, but its heftier amount of 10GB per month is fair for many internet users. The VPN also has a backup emergency server for low-speed traffic if you do run out of data.
Incredibly, Privado offers connections in nine countries, including the UK. People looking to watch international versions of streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ can find Privado as their best free VPN option.
Like Proton, Privado only supports one connection at a time. The app interface is also sparse, making it confusing to navigate at times.
5. Hide.me VPN
Hide.me matches Privado with its impressive 10GB per month data limit. It’s also accessible for five server locations and is properly audited. For peace of mind, Hide.me does not require credit card information when signing up. However, if you decide to spring for the paid subscription, the price is higher than most.
Windscribe is a feature-rich VPN provider that raises the bar for free subscription tiers. This VPN service reaches 14 locations across 11 countries, making it ideal for many streamers and international users. You can also enjoy many simultaneous connections. Like the previous entries, Windscribe offers 10GB per month.
It also has a unique browser extension that expands its feature set with malware and ad blocking, and a firewall on the desktop version. Some reviewers take mild exception to the company’s “more than the bare minimum” stance on user data collection, but Windscribe stands firm that it does so only to limit account sharing.
The Obligatory Warning Against Free VPNs
There are lots of free and paid VPN providers out there — lots and lots, actually. Unfortunately, many of them aren’t worth your time or trust. One study found almost 40% of Android-based VPNs contain malware or another harmful software element. Fly-by-night companies without third-party audits, a respected history of ethical software development and a clear commitment to conscientious data stewardship aren’t worth your time.
When Even the Best Free VPNs Might Not Be Worth It
Here’s a distinction worth making — a company that offers only free VPN services is highly suspect. How would they make any money except by capturing and selling user data? This defeats the purpose of using a VPN in the first place.
On the other hand, those offering a free tier along with paid subscriptions are more likely to be on the up-and-up. ProtonVPN, NordVPN, TunnelBear and the other providers here maintain their revenue stream — and their ability to provide a solid product — with paid subscriptions. However, they still allow free-tier users to see what the service is all about and test its compatibility with their devices.
Use Your Discretion When Finding the Best Free VPNs
Above all else, use your discretion. Plenty of people are itching to capitalize on the popularity of VPNs without doing the proper work to ensure they’re safe. Additionally, criminals could trick you into downloading their product and install malware onto your devices. The best free VPNs are often paid ones that offer a free tier of access rather than one that’s free from the get-go.
Start with our roundup here and then read reviews from technology experts whose judgment you respect. Back away if anything looks suspicious or sounds too good to be true. You’ll find the service you need quickly and the best free VPN for your computing needs.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on March 26, 2023 and was updated April 28, 2023 to provide readers with more information.
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