ProtonVPN Free vs. Paid (2021) – Is It Worth Paying for This VPN? Let’s Find Out

Unlike digital security, digital privacy is all about keeping your online activities and identity anonymous. Besides security features, the best VPN for privacy offers a strict no-logs policy as an assurance it won’t collect, store or share connection logs or the trail of your digital footprint.

Free VPN vs Paid VPN: Get Your Money’s Worth in 2023

Free VPN vs Paid VPN

While you might be tempted to pick a free VPN when you’re on a tight budget, this could potentially jeopardize your personal data and security. Our free VPN vs paid VPN guide dissects the risks surrounding free services and compares them to paid VPN services.

It’s normal for consumers to be attracted to freebies. When it comes to free VPN vs paid VPN, the “zero price effect” often sways the decision of first-time buyers. However, when it comes to cybersecurity, using 100% free VPN software could be a detriment to your personal data and privacy.

Fortunately, in addition to trustworthy paid VPN options, there are a handful of reliable “freemium” VPNs offered by companies that have great track records of robust security and privacy.

Key Takeaways:

  • Most free VPNs don’t have trustworthy security and privacy features; most have not undergone independent security audits. Even the best free VPN options come with restrictions.
  • If you want to use the internet risk-free, get one of the premium VPNs, because they deliver excellent security and privacy. ExpressVPN is the best paid VPN service.
  • However, if you’re still leaning toward a free VPN, consider a freemium VPN like Windscribe or ProtonVPN, as they deliver top-notch security and privacy.

In this guide, we’ll discuss how free VPN services differ from paid VPNs in terms of security, privacy, usage limits, connection speed and more. We’ll show you the security and privacy risks these services pose to your personal information. Keep reading to learn when using a free VPN is justifiable and find out the best paid VPN options and free VPNs to use.

    What Is the Best Free VPN?

Windscribe is one of the best free VPN options. It’s one of the fastest VPNs, offers unlimited simultaneous connections and comes with advanced security features. However, you only get 10GB of monthly data and can access servers in only 10 countries.

ExpressVPN is the best paid service, thanks to its all-around performance. Even though it comes in second after NordVPN on the speed front, it perennially ranks as the best VPN in most of our categories, like gaming and streaming.

Yes, there are 100% free VPNs — VPNs that don’t ask you to pay for monthly or yearly subscriptions. However, these VPNs have to make money somehow. If they don’t also have a paid VPN service, they may turn to unscrupulous activities such as selling your data to turn a profit.

This is the crux of the free vs paid VPNs discussion. If you’re wondering why you should pay for a VPN when there are numerous free VPNs, you’re not alone.

Free VPN vs Paid VPN Services

There are hundreds of free VPNs out there, with the vast majority geared toward mobile users. We tested most of these free VPN services to find out how they stack up against the best VPN providers.

Pricing: How VPNs Make Money

All VPN companies need financial resources to keep their operations sailing along. That means the VPN provider has to generate income somehow. Premium VPN services collect money from subscription fees, which is enough to keep the company running and turning a profit.

Freemium VPNs, like Windscribe and ProtonVPN, use the free plan to entice users toward their paid plans. However, completely free VPNs don’t charge you a penny. That begs a question: What price do you pay for using a free VPN?

A few VPNs might ask for donations. Other free VPN providers may also serve up targeted ads in the app. However, some free VPNs will collect your personal information and sell it to third parties to make money.

Privacy: Do Free VPNs Sell Your Data?

Unlike digital security, digital privacy is all about keeping your online activities and identity anonymous. Besides security features, the best VPN for privacy offers a strict no-logs policy as an assurance it won’t collect, store or share connection logs or the trail of your digital footprint.

Additionally, top-tier virtual private network providers like ExpressVPN and NordVPN have undergone third-party audits to guarantee privacy and security, including finding and patching up errors that could cause their infrastructure to accidentally store user data.

Many fully free VPNs don’t state their logging policy, and they gather user data to varying levels, including details about the websites you visit, your real IP address and more. Some sell it on data marketplaces or use it for commercial purposes.

Facebook’s Onavo Protect is a good example. Facebook lured mobile users into using its now-defunct free VPN service; little did subscribers know the VPN was a data-mining tool for the social media giant. Instead of safeguarding user privacy, the free service harvested valuable information that Facebook used for commercial interest.

Betternet, which is owned by Aura (Hotspot Shield’s parent company), has also been embroiled in controversy. In 2016, a report showed how the free VPN service was one of the VPNs with the highest number of embedded third-party trackers. These are not isolated cases of privacy violation; it’s a fair reflection of the privacy dangers that free VPN services pose.

Free VPNs: Privacy and Online Security Risks

Here are the most common security and privacy risks of free VPNs:

  • They might collect user data and sell it to third parties: advertisers, data brokerage companies or government agencies.
  • Free VPNs use embedded third-party trackers to create a complete profile about you before bombarding you with digital ads.
  • Some free VPNs could be infected with malware.
  • Free VPNs may allow surveillance and government agencies to monitor user activities.

Security: Are Paid VPNs More Secure?

Online security is all about protecting your personally identifiable information: name, address, email address, credit card number, IP address and more. The most secure VPNs transmit your internet traffic via an encrypted tunnel to keep your data away from hackers, advertising agencies and other snoopers.

However, the availability of security features like secure protocols, encryption, a kill switch and DNS leak protection doesn’t always translate to a secure VPN service. The way these features function within the VPN infrastructure has a huge bearing on the VPN’s security posture.

This is the reason why you should always go for VPN services that are certified by independent security firms via rigorous security audits. Most free VPNs lack the key security features, and those that come with the basic tools rarely undergo independent security audits.

According to a recent ProPrivacy report, 40% of free VPN providers on the Google Play Store have personal data leaks. We examined a number of VPNs mentioned in this report, and most of them don’t say the protocols or encryption standards they use. You can read our worst free VPNs guide to see other VPNs you should avoid.

Data breaches are a normal occurrence with free VPN services. In August 2022, Cybernews uncovered a massive data set containing 25 million records of email addresses, passwords, payment information and names of free VPN users.

In comparison, there are only a few isolated cases of data breaches involving paid VPN services, proving they are more secure.

Limited Features With Free VPNs

In addition to having limited security features, many freemium VPNs limit other features. While the freemiums provide excellent security and privacy, the providers impose usage limits to entice you into paying. They will either limit your monthly data, internet speed or the number of servers you can access, so the free plan doesn’t meet all your needs.

For example, Windscribe’s speed is excellent for streaming movies. However, the 10GB data limit has been enforced to upsell binge-watchers to a paid plan. The service also limits you to 10 server country locations.

However, that’s better than ProtonVPN, which limits the free plan to three server locations and restricts speeds. It also limits you to one VPN connection, whereas many paid VPN providers offer at least five or six simultaneous connections.

Speed: Are Paid VPNs Faster?

Many free VPN providers have limited performance on the speed front. That’s because most free VPN services don’t have the up-to-date infrastructure to facilitate fast connection speeds. You’ll likely be disappointed with a free VPN when streaming, gaming, torrenting or engaging in any other data-heavy online activity.

Even those that come with the latest infrastructure place a soft limit on your connection speeds to upsell you on paid plans. For example, ProtonVPN has fast download speeds and may be a safe bet for speed-intensive activities — at least if you’re on a paid plan. If you’re on the free plan, it puts you on “middle” speeds (in favor of paid users).

Windscribe is an exception, as it doesn’t limit your connection speeds or bandwidth. If it were not for the data cap, it would be great for streaming, gaming and other speed-intensive activities.

Streaming Services: Can Free VPNs Unblock Netflix?

Accessing geoblocked streaming is one of the principal reasons consumers buy VPNs, so it’s no surprise that the majority of VPNs are designed to unblock popular streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Max and more.

However, streaming services try to block IP addresses from VPN providers. It takes a well-maintained VPN infrastructure and a frequently updated pool of IP addresses for a VPN to stay ahead of streaming geoblocks. Unfortunately, most free VPN services fail in that regard.

As a result, many free VPNs struggle to unblock streaming services. Even if you find one that can unblock Netflix now, its success rate might dwindle over time as the streaming sites’ detection system continuously blocks its IP addresses.

Our best free VPNs, Windscribe and ProtonVPN, are great at unblocking streaming sites — it’s no surprise they’re the best Netflix VPNs. However, the latter struggles with middling speeds, whereas the former is crippled by the 10GB data limit.

If you want to consistently unblock your favorite streaming service and enjoy watching movies and TV shows without interruption, the best streaming VPNs are the way to go. Besides their excellent ability to evade detection by streaming services, the VPNs offer excellent speeds and unlimited bandwidth for an enthralling streaming experience.

Do All Paid VPNs Work Well?

Paid VPNs abolish limitations and deliver excellent security and privacy. Does that mean that all paid services work well? Not always, but most paid VPNs offer solid security and privacy. You’ll only find isolated cases of premium VPNs that have had data breaches.

Beyond that, paid VPNs record serviceable speeds. Some, such as NordVPN and ExpressVPN, are super fast, as you can see in our speed comparison guide. Others don’t match these lightning speeds, yet they still cut it for most internet activities, from casual browsing and streaming to gaming and remote working.

Keep in mind that we don’t expect perfection from every VPN service. For this reason, don’t rule out a paid VPN service if you spot a few gripes here and there. If a VPN service gets the job done without compromising your security and privacy or draining your pockets, it’s worth a shot.

The 3 Best Paid VPNs

If you’re after a VPN with robust security, solid privacy, excellent streaming capability and advanced features to bypass censorship, the following paid VPNs are a safe bet.

1. ExpressVPN

  • Excellent security & privacy
  • 3,000 servers in 94 countries
  • Unrivaled streaming ability

ExpressVPN is an excellent VPN service that excels in any online activity you throw at it. It’s incredibly fast; this, coupled with its unparalleled ability to bypass geoblocks, makes it the best VPN for streaming Netflix, Max, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer and other services.

It’s relatively expensive, but when you consider the features in its arsenal, it offers great value for the money. Beyond the basic security tools, it uses perfect forward secrecy to regularly change encryption keys for extra protection. In addition, with the TrustedServer technology, all its servers wipe your browsing data with every reboot to enhance online privacy.

Other reasons we like ExpressVPN include ease of use, a strict no-logs policy and compatibility with all devices: smart TVs, mobile devices, PCs, routers and gaming consoles. Read our ExpressVPN review to learn more, or use it free for 30 days with the money-back guarantee.

ProtonVPN Free vs. Paid (2021) – Is It Worth Paying for This VPN? Let’s Find Out!

If you check our hands-on ProtonVPN review, you’ll see that we had plenty of positive things to say about this capable VPN service. And since you’re reading this article, you already know that ProtonVPN offers both free and paid versions. Naturally, this raises the question of whether it’s worth paying for this VPN? With that said, we wish you a warm welcome to our ProtonVPN free vs. paid comparison!

We’ll dive in-depth into comparing ProtonVPN’s free and paid plans, helping you decide which of those is better suited for your needs. However, before we do so, we bring you a handy and quick overview of ProtonVPN’s free and paid plans, which you can check just below.

Download Center ProtonVPN Dashboard

First, let’s check the differences between ProtonVPN’s free and paid plans regarding the platforms and devices they support and the number of simultaneous connections they offer.

Privacy-Related ProtonVPN Features

Next, let’s look at the basic and more advanced features that ProtonVPN provides to its free and paid subscribers. Check the following table for a quick comparison.

ProtonVPN Number of Servers

Managing a vast network of servers comes at a cost, which is why free VPNs typically limit your access to their server network. That’s the case with ProtonVPN as well, as you can see below.

Highlighted Performance Features of ProtonVPN

One of the main characteristics of free VPNs is their bandwidth/speed limitation. They’re forced to impose those limits to cut their costs and preserve their servers’ performance.

Listing Prominent Features of ProtonVPN

If you’re looking for a free VPN to streaming online media and download torrents, you’ll want to read this segment carefully. Here’s what you need to know.


Of course, even if you don’t pay for a VPN, you’re still entitled to its customer support. With that said, we’ve made sure to include the customer support segment in our ProtonVPN free vs. paid comparison.

Comparison of Prices Between ProtonVPN Paid and Free Plans

Finally, we come to the most differentiating factor when comparing ProtonVPN’s free and paid plans. And yes, we’re talking about their pricing. Here’s what you need to know.

Screenshot of ProtonVPN

Based on everything said so far in our ProtonVPN free vs. paid comparison, the conclusion is clear. This VPN offers one of the best free-of-charge subscriptions out there. However, it’s suitable enough only for basic Web browsing and if you don’t care about downloading large files, streaming online media, gaming, or torrenting.

In other words, if you needs are very basic, ProtonVPN’s free plan will meet all of them. Still, we also think it’s worth paying for ProtonVPN, as it brings a complete solution to protecting your privacy at affordable pricing ranges. To learn more, head over to ProtonVPN’s website.

That would be all for our ProtonVPN free vs. paid comparison. If you have any questions for us, make sure to post them just below. And finally, thank you for reading!