The best free VPN services in 2023

You should always know what VPNs actually do behind the scenes, though. In simple terms, they encrypt all your traffic, hiding it from your ISP, and can virtually relocate you by sending you through one of their own servers anywhere in the world. That all costs money, so it’s well worth being aware of how your free VPN is funded. Pick the wrong provider and you may be doing yourself more harm than good.

Best Free VPN for 2023: Affordable Risk-Free Privacy

Using a free VPN can be risky. But you don’t have to compromise your privacy with a free version of a premium VPN service.

Attila Tomaschek

Attila is a Staff Writer for CNET, covering software, apps and services with a focus on virtual private networks. He is an advocate for digital privacy and has been quoted in online publications like Computer Weekly, The Guardian, BBC News, HuffPost, Wired and TechRepublic. When not tapping away on his laptop, Attila enjoys spending time with his family, reading and collecting guitars.

Expertise Attila has nearly a decade’s worth of experience with VPNs and has been covering them for CNET since 2021. As CNET’s VPN expert, Attila rigorously tests VPNs and offers readers advice on how they can use the technology to protect their privacy online and

Rae Hodge Former senior editor

Rae Hodge was a senior editor at CNET. She led CNET’s coverage of privacy and cybersecurity tools from July 2019 to January 2023. As a data-driven investigative journalist on the software and services team, she reviewed VPNs, password managers, antivirus software, anti-surveillance methods and ethics in tech. Prior to joining CNET in 2019, Rae spent nearly a decade covering politics and protests for the AP, NPR, the BBC and other local and international outlets.

Attila Tomaschek ,
Sept. 5, 2023 5:00 a.m. PT
12 min read
Best free VPN
See at ProtonVPN
Best overall VPN with a free trial
See at ExpressVPN
Best cheap VPN with a free trial
See at Surfshark
Most platform-compatible VPN with a free trial
See at NordVPN
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Not everyone wants to subscribe to a VPN and pay a monthly or yearly fee. That’s why the idea of using a 100% free VPN is tempting. But it’s nearly impossible to find a free VPN service that doesn’t compromise on performance and usability. Free VPNs could be loaded with malware or sell your data, plus they typically limit the amount of data you can use, and they aren’t likely to be as fast as a paid premium service. But if you want to save money, there are several reliable VPN service providers that stand up to our years of rigorous testing. That said, the only free VPN CNET recommends at this time is Proton VPN’s free tier because it’s secure, works well and doesn’t impose limits on speed or usage.

Using just any random free VPN can come with plenty of risks. It isn’t worth it to settle for an unsafe free VPN just to save a few bucks each month. That’s why we recommend taking advantage of free trials, money-back guarantees or free subscription tiers available from our list of trusted VPN providers. When choosing a VPN service, you should always put quality and your online safety before cost. With that in mind, all our top recommended VPN services offer either a 30-day assessment trial or a free version of the paid service.

Best free VPN services in 2023


Best free VPN

Proton VPN’s free tier is the only truly free VPN we’ve encountered that’s worth using. True, it lacks support for torrenting and doesn’t include all the bells and whistles as its paid subscriptions, but Proton VPN’s free tier is secure and doesn’t put limits on speed, data or usage time like most other free VPNs do. And Proton VPN doesn’t track you or serve you ads like other free VPNs do. We were even able to access Netflix using Proton VPN’s free servers. Free users get access to servers in three countries (US, NL and JP) and can connect one device at a time.

How we test free VPNs

When we evaluate a free VPN, the main thing we look at is how safe the VPN is to use. In other words, we want to be as certain as possible that the VPN isn’t logging user data or selling it to outside parties and we want to ensure that the encryption the VPN employs is up to industry standards. We test for leaks and to see if privacy features like a kill switch work properly. We also evaluate how useful the free VPN is for the average user, in a practical sense. Is it fast enough for general browsing? Does it allow for streaming? Does it have data or usage limitations? A good free VPN is safe to use and is actually useful because it doesn’t impose overbearing limitations that render it essentially ineffective as a VPN.

Other VPNs we tested

The additional VPNs listed below aren’t free VPNs in a traditional sense. Rather, they’re all top-class VPNs that offer free trials and money-back guarantees so you can try them risk-free for a limited amount of time.



Best overall VPN with a free trial

  • Latest tests: No leaks detected in 2022 tests, 18% speed loss in 2023 tests
  • Network: 3,000-plus servers in 160 locations across 94 countries
  • Jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands
  • Price: 5 simultaneous connections for $13 per month, $60 for six months or $100 for a year (current discount: 3 months free). 2-year subscriptions available.

Thanks to its overall performance and impressive security, ExpressVPN is our current Editors’ Choice VPN. Like NordVPN, Express doesn’t have a standard trial period, but it does offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. It also currently has an offer for three months free, or 15 months for the price of 12. This is the best VPN for providing strong data protection through best-in-class encryption. However, there is one caveat: If you sign up for ExpressVPN by downloading the app on an iOS or Android device, you’ll be offered a seven-day free trial there. This only works in certain countries, including the US. It works on all kinds of operating systems.


Best cheap VPN with a free trial

  • Latest tests: Zero data leaks in 2022 tests, 40% internet speed loss in 2023 tests
  • Network: 3,200-plus in 100 countries
  • Jurisdiction: Netherlands
  • Price: Unlimited connections for $48 for the first year (then $60 annually) or $13 per month. 2-year subscriptions available.

Surfshark boasts an impressive suite of privacy and security features, unlimited simultaneous connections, easy-to-use interface and expansive global network. We’re particularly interested in the rollout of its Nexus network, whose Dynamic MultiHop, IP Randomizer and IP Rotator functions can give you a few extra layers of protection while you use the VPN. Surfshark’s significantly cheaper price earned it CNET’s Editors’ Choice for Best Value VPN. Surfshark offers a 7-day free trial if downloaded through the App Store or Google Play store. Like ExpressVPN and sister company NordVPN, Surfshark also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.


Most platform-compatible VPN with a free trial

NordVPN is a die-hard heavy-hitter and one of the most recognized brands in the virtual private network field. Its two-year plan costs more than Surfshark but less than Express, and it has an enormous network of servers that’s constantly getting faster and more secure. It’s also easily the most reliable and best freemium VPN we’ve tested.

Factors to consider in a free VPN


The primary consideration for any VPN should be privacy. If a free VPN is unable to sufficiently protect your online privacy, then that VPN is useless. At a minimum, your VPN should employ industry standard AES 256-bit encryption along with offering basic privacy protections like a kill switch, DNS leak protection and a no-logs policy. Those basic standards should be included in any free VPN you’re considering. For critical privacy needs, you’ll also want a VPN provider that is based in a privacy-friendly jurisdiction and has a RAM-only server architecture. Also, look for a VPN that undergoes regular third-party security audits, as audits can help bolster trust in the VPN’s ability to protect its users’ privacy. It’s important to do your research and make sure the company behind the free VPN you’re considering is legitimate and isn’t tracking and selling your data.


The speed of your VPN can have a major effect on activities like streaming, downloading, video conferencing, gaming and general web browsing. To keep things running as smoothly as possible, you’ll want to look for a VPN that will have as minimal an impact on your regular internet speeds as possible. Many free VPNs put limitations on speeds, but there are some — like Proton VPN — that don’t. In such cases, you can actually achieve decent speeds.


A good free VPN should run smoothly and be easy to use regardless of your technical expertise. It should also be free of severe limitations that prevent it from doing what you need it to do.


What’s the best free VPN?

Proton VPN’s free tier is the only free VPN we’ve come across so far that’s worth using. It costs a lot of money to operate a VPN, and free VPN services usually make up for the lack of subscription revenue by selling user data. And in addition to being limited in usability and light on security, many free VPNs are fronts for malware distribution, which is why it’s generally best to avoid them. However, Proton VPN’s unlimited free tier is fast, secure and can be used for most online activities, including streaming Netflix. But if you’re on a budget and want access to a premium VPN solution, you can also take a look at our picks for the best cheap VPNs.

Why use a trial instead of a free VPN?

Staying in the arena of trusted providers by test-driving free versions of secure products may seem cumbersome, but with a VPN market this competitive, there’s no better way to find the right fit for you. And it’s better than handing your logins and browsing history to an untrustworthy entity.

Why you shouldn’t use a free VPN

1. Free VPNs simply aren’t as safe

Free VPNs can be very dangerous. Why? Because to maintain the hardware and expertise needed for large networks and secure users, VPN services have expensive bills to pay. As a VPN customer, you either pay for a premium VPN service with your dollars or you pay for free services with your data. If you aren’t ordering at the table, you’re on the menu.

Some 86% of free iOS and Android VPN apps — accounting for millions of installs — have unacceptable privacy policies, ranging from a simple lack of transparency to explicitly sharing user data with Chinese authorities, according to two independent 2018 investigations into free VPN apps from Top10VPN. Another 64% of free VPN app offerings had no web presence outside of their app store pages, and only 17% responded to customer support emails.

In June 2019, Apple reportedly brought the hammer down on apps that share user data with third parties. But 80% of the top 20 free VPN apps in Apple’s App Store appear to be breaking those rules, according to a June update on the Top10VPN investigation.

In 2021, 77% of apps were flagged as potentially unsafe in the Top10VPN VPN Ownership Investigation — and 90% of those flagged as potentially unsafe in the Free VPN Risk Index — still posed a risk.

“Google Play downloads of apps we flagged as potentially unsafe have soared to 214 million in total, rocketing by 85% in six months,” the report reads. “Monthly installs from the App Store held steady at around 3.8 million, which represents a relative increase as this total was generated by 20% fewer apps than at the start of the year as a number of apps are no longer available.”

On Android, 214 million downloads represent a lot of user login data, culled from unwitting volunteers. And what’s one of the most profitable things one can do with large swaths of user login data?

2. You can catch malware

Let’s get this out of the way right now: 38% of free Android VPNs contain malware — despite the security features on offer, a CSIRO study found. And yes, many of those free VPNs were highly rated apps with millions of downloads. If you’re a free user, your odds of catching a nasty bug are greater than 1 in 3.

So ask yourself which costs less: a secure VPN service for about $100 a year, or hiring an identity theft recovery firm after some chump steals your bank account login and Social Security number?

But it couldn’t happen to you, right? Wrong. Mobile ransomware attacks are skyrocketing. Symantec detected more than 18 million mobile malware instances in 2018 alone, constituting a 54% year-over-year increase in variants. And in 2019, Kaspersky noted a 60% spike in password-stealing Trojans.

But malware isn’t the only way to make money if you’re running a free VPN service. There’s an even easier way.

3. The ad-valanche

Aggressive advertising practices from a free plan can go beyond getting hit with a few annoying pop-ups and quickly veer into dangerous territory. Some VPNs sneak ad-serving trackers through the loopholes in your browser’s media-reading features, which then stay on your digital trail like a prison warden in a B-grade remake of Escape from Alcatraz.

HotSpot Shield VPN earned some painful notoriety for such allegations in 2017, when it was hit with a Federal Trade Commission complaint (PDF) for over-the-top privacy violations in serving ads. Carnegie Mellon University researchers found the company not only had a baked-in backdoor used to secretly sell data to third-party advertising networks, but it also employed five different tracking libraries and actually redirected user traffic to secret servers.

When the story broke, HotSpot parent company AnchorFree denied the researchers’ findings in an email to Ars Technica: “We never redirect our users’ traffic to any third-party resources instead of the websites they intended to visit. The free version of our Hotspot Shield solution openly and clearly states that it is funded by ads, however, we intercept no traffic with neither the free nor the premium version of our solutions.”

AnchorFree has since offered annual transparency reports, although their value is still up to the reader. More recently, however, HotSpot Shield was among just a handful of VPN apps found to respect users’ refusal to permit ad-tracking. In a November 2021 study from Top10VPN, just 15% of free VPN apps respected iOS users’ choices when they declined voluntary ad-tracking. The rest of the free VPN apps tested by Top10VPN simply ignored users’ Do Not Track requests.

Even if possible credit card fraud isn’t a concern, you don’t need pop-ups and ad-lag weighing you down when you’ve already got to deal with another major problem with free VPNs.

4. Buffering. buffering. buffering

One of the top reasons people get a VPN is to access their favorite subscription services or streaming site — Hulu, HBO, Netflix — when they travel to countries where those companies block access based on your location. But what’s the point in accessing the geo-blocked video content you’ve paid for if the free VPN service you’re using is so slow you can’t watch it, despite a good internet connection?

Some free VPNs have been known to sell your bandwidth, potentially putting you on the legal hook for whatever they do with it. The most famous case of this was Hola VPN, which was caught in 2015 quietly stealing users’ bandwidth and selling it, mercenary-style, to whatever group wanted to deploy the user base as a botnet.

Back then, Hola CEO Ofer Vilenski admitted they’d been had by a “spammer” but contended in a lengthy defense that this harvesting of bandwidth was typical for this type of technology.

“We assumed that by stating that Hola is a [peer-to-peer] network, it was clear that people were sharing their bandwidth with the community network in return for their free service,” he wrote.

If being pressed into service as part of a botnet isn’t enough to slow you down, free VPN services also usually pay for fewer VPN server options. That means your traffic is generally bouncing around longer between distant, overcrowded servers, or even waiting behind the traffic of paid users.

To top it off, subscription streaming sites are savvy to those who try to sneak into their video services for free. These services routinely block large numbers of IP addresses they’ve identified as belonging to turnstile-jumping freeloaders. Free VPNs can’t afford to invest in a long list of fresh IP addresses for users the way a paid VPN service can.

That means you may not even be able to log into a streaming service you’ve paid for if your free VPN is using a stale batch of IPs. Good luck getting HBO Max to load over that VPN connection.

5. Paid options get better all the time

The good news is that there are a lot of solid VPNs on the market that offer a range of features, depending on your needs and budget. You can browse our ratings and reviews to find the right VPN software for you. If you’re looking for something mobile-specific, we’ve rounded up our favorite mobile VPNs for 2023 .

If you’d like a primer before deciding which service to drop the cash on, we have a VPN buyer’s guide to help you get a handle on the basics of VPNs and what to look for when choosing a VPN service.

The best free VPN services in 2023

These are the best free VPNs – but can they match paid providers?

best free VPN

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Free VPN services seem like the perfect solution, especially if you’re new to online privacy. Compared to the very best VPNs – which require payment – all you need to get started with a free VPN is an email address and no credit card details.

You should always know what VPNs actually do behind the scenes, though. In simple terms, they encrypt all your traffic, hiding it from your ISP, and can virtually relocate you by sending you through one of their own servers anywhere in the world. That all costs money, so it’s well worth being aware of how your free VPN is funded. Pick the wrong provider and you may be doing yourself more harm than good.

The best free VPNs are typically ‘freemium’ versions of paid services. You’ll get limited features and potentially some data limits, but you can trust they’re safe and secure. If you’re planning on using your VPN for streaming or 24/7 privacy protection, we recommend one of our top paid providers linked below. However, for infrequent users, one of the quality free VPNs listed further down this page might be all you need.

The best providers overall

The three providers below – ExpressVPN, Surfshark and NordVPN – are our highest-ranked VPNs overall. While they are paid products, they include 30-day money-back guarantees, which allow you to trial them risk-free for a month. Don’t think it’s worth your money? Just claim a full refund – no questions asked.

1. ExpressVPN – Trial our #1 VPN risk-free for 30 days
ExpressVPN is our #1 VPN for a reason. It offers class-leading privacy features, unblocks tons of streaming sites, and has intuitive apps on a huge range of devices. It even includes an excellent password manager to keep everything secure.

TechRadar readers who sign up to the 12-month plan will get 3 months free as well as 1 year of cloud backup courtesy of Backblaze. Plus, if you’re not sure, you can test it out risk-free with its 30-day money-back guarantee.

2. Surfshark – The best cheap VPN performs well
Surfshark offers an appealing combination of bargain pricing, tons of privacy features, and fast, reliable connections. You’ll also be able to use one subscription on unlimited devices, and its streaming performance is unbeatable for the price.

For those looking for a cheaper alternative to ExpressVPN, Surfshark is a great choice – and you’ll also have a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can give it a test drive.

3. NordVPN – Security-focused VPN giant
NordVPN is the world’s most famous VPN for a reason. With over 5,000 servers worldwide, seriously secure apps, plus appealing extra features like Meshnet and Double VPN, it’s an excellent privacy package.

In terms of price it sits between ExpressVPN and Surfshark, and it often offers short-term price discounts. Just like our other two recommended providers, NordVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can try before you commit.

Are free VPNs safe?

It all boils down to which free VPN you choose. While there are a few decent ones, they’re vastly outnumbered by dubious, ad-filled apps with no background and no privacy policies. What’s more, these could be harvesting your data – exactly the opposite of what you want from a VPN.

That’s why we’ve taken the time to review tons of free VPN services, both good and bad. We know exactly where popular providers impress and disappoint, and with that knowledge we’ve pulled together this comprehensive guide on which we consider safe to use.

The best provider for you should be fully tested and proven to be secure, but your decision will also depend on what you’re looking for from your free VPN. For example, those looking to stream overseas Netflix will likely need PrivadoVPN, while those looking for unlimited data may prefer Proton VPN. So, all you need to do is keep scrolling to learn more and make your choice.

August 22, 2023 update notes

The free VPN landscape is pretty stable at the moment, with our top picks maintaining excellent performance. PrivadoVPN is still remarkably good for unblocking streaming content, and Proton VPN Free is still a very reliable option for those who want unlimited data and a more established name.

We’ve also double-checked all the numbers and data to ensure you’re getting the most accurate information so you can make the right decision.

Our complete list of the best free VPNs

1. PrivadoVPN Free

The best free VPN available today

Countries: 10 | Server locations: 13 | Maximum devices supported: 1 | Available on: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux | Data limit: 10GB per month (+ slow unlimited data) | 24/7 live chat: No, FAQ and email available

Exclusive Offer
Unlimited data, with 10GB at full speed
Able to unblock Netflix and other streaming sites
Impressive connection speeds
Simple yet intuitive apps
Mobile apps aren’t hugely powerful
Only one device allowed per plan
Reasons to sign up:

✔️ You’re looking for a free Netflix VPN. From our testing, PrivadoVPN is the only free VPN to reliably unblock Netflix (and others).

✔️ You want plenty of privacy features. While PrivadoVPN imposes some limits, all the essentials like split tunneling and a kill switch are available for free and paid users alike.

✔️ You’ve got a need for speed. Topping out at around 350Mbps, Privado is hot on the heels of many paid VPNs, let alone free providers. In real life terms, this means you won’t ever notice it’s on.

Reasons to avoid:

You need genuinely unlimited data. While Privado does technically offer unlimited usage, if you use more than 10GB in a month you’ll be restricted to a single ’emergency server’ with very low speeds.

You demand excellent mobile apps. Although they’re stable and work perfectly, PrivadoVPN’s mobile offerings lack the refinement of some rivals.

Final score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

When compared to paid providers, PrivadoVPN Free falls a little short, but for a totally free VPN it’s absolutely unbeatable. Its streaming performance has to be seen to be believed, and for day-to-day privacy usage it’s seamless. Absolutely worth a try.

Newcomers to the VPN industry tend to take some time to grow, but despite only being founded in 2019, PrivadoVPN has quickly become a powerful and well-known provider. In our hands-on PrivadoVPN review we found the paid service to be quite impressive, but what really stands out is the PrivadoVPN Free plan.

First and foremost, PrivadoVPN Free offers all the essential privacy features you need to stay safe online. A kill switch blocks any traffic getting through if the VPN loses connection, and split tunneling lets you route some apps through the VPN while excluding others. It’s a fast VPN too, topping out at around 350Mbps in our testing.

At its core, PrivadoVPN is built around AES-256 encryption, which is the industry standard. In short, even if your traffic is intercepted it’ll be totally unreadable. OpenVPN and WireGuard protocols are both available, and while most users will now use the swift and secure WireGuard, it’s nice to have OpenVPN as an option.

When comparing it to the competition, one of the few places PrivadoVPN falls behind close rival Proton VPN is its limited data cap. Proton sets no data limits, while Privado caps full-speed connections to 10GB a month. However, if you go over this you’ll still be able to browse – albeit restricted to a sluggish 1Mbps.

PrivadoVPN’s party piece, however, is its incredible streaming performance. Free VPNs typically restrict this kind of unblocking power to their paid plans, but in our testing we found that Privado’s free plan is capable of accessing US Netflix from around the world, and could also gain access to streaming sites like BBC iPlayer.

You’ll get a generous spread of server locations too, with 13 cities located in 10 countries, including the US, UK, Canada, France, and more. That’s better than Proton VPN’s 3 locations, but can’t match paid providers like ExpressVPN or Surfshark, which boast 100 or more.

It’s worth noting that while PrivadoVPN has a robust zero-logging policy, this is yet to be proved by an independent audit. This is apparently due to the disruption an audit can cause, and as a new service, Privado is intent on developing further before sacrificing a significant amount of time to an audit.

For a free VPN, PrivadoVPN Free offers the most comprehensive package on the market. With the only real limitations being restricted fast data, a smaller number of servers and only a single device being allowed on each plan, it’s well worth a try – especially if you’re after a Netflix VPN for free.

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PrivadoVPN Free: key review metrics

Attributes Comments Rating
App design Smart, simple design that’s appealing on desktop and mobile. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Privacy and security Industry-standard encryption and must-have features like a kill switch, plus a good zero-logging policy. However, the lack of an audit is a minor negative. ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Ease of use The apps are well laid out, which is perfect those new to VPN, but it’s easy to access settings for more experienced users to customize features. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Performance Faster than many free VPNs – but lags a little behind paid providers. ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Unblocking Quite simply unrivaled unblocking power when it comes to free VPNs. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Support Capable support agents, but website lacks in terms of detailed articles. ⭐⭐⭐⭐