The Best Free VPNs of 2020

You don't have to spend a penny to encrypt your web traffic with a VPN.

By
&
Aliza VigdermanGabe TurnerChief Editor
Last Updated on Sep 9, 2020

We can cite dozens of reasons why getting a VPN subscription is a worthwhile investment, but that doesn’t change the fact that a paid VPN just isn’t for everybody. If you’re looking for a free VPN service that can take your digital security up a notch, keep your personal data private, and protect your computer or mobile phone from the prying eyes of hackers, this review is especially for you.

Our Top Picks

Best Free VPN with Unlimited Data Usage

ProtonVPN

Editor's Rating
8.5
/10
ProtonVPN is the only one on this list that allows unlimited data usage. With its strict "no logs" policy and ability to work across all major desktop and smartphone operating systems, the ProtonVPN is hands down one of the best VPNs we've ever used for free.

Best Free VPN for the Security-Minded

Windscribe VPN

Editor's Rating
8.7
/10
Windscribe is more than just a VPN. It has a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera that blocks adware and malware, while the desktop client for Windows and Mac has a firewall that prevents all connectivity outside the VPN tunnel.

The Best Free VPNs of 2020

Side-by-Side Comparison of the Best Free VPNs of 2020

ProtonVPNWindscribeTunnelBearHotspot Shield
Works onWindows, Mac, Android, iOS, and LinuxWindows, Mac, Android, and iOS with browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and OperaWindows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux with browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and OperaWindows, Mac, Android, and iOS
Data Usage LimitUnlimited2 GB per month or 10 GB if you login and confirm using your email address500 MB per month500 MB per day, refreshes every 24 hours
Connection Speed LimitsNo speed limit, but prioritizes connection of premium usersNo speed limitNo speed limit2 Mbps
Server Locations3 locations (USA, Netherlands, and Japan)10 locations (USA, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Switzerland, the UK, and HongKong)Over 20 locationsUS-based server location only
Split TunnelingYes (Windows and Android clients only)Yes (Android app only)Yes (Android only)No
5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, or 14 Eyes MemberNoYesYesYes
Limitations of Freemium Version-Three server locations
-One simultaneous connection
-Lower speed priority than premium users
-10 GB data usage per month
-Netflix works in the US and the UK only
-500 MB data usage per month
-No Netflix access
-Up to five simultaneous connections
-500 MB daily data usage limit
-Up to five devices only
-One simultaneous connection only
-2 Mbps speed limit
-One server location (US)
Premium Subscription Pricing-ProtonVPN Basic: $5 monthly or $48 yearly
-ProtonVPN Plus: $10 monthly or $96 yearly
$9 monthly or $49 yearly$9.99 monthly or $59.88 yearly$12.99 monthly or $95.88 yearly
Read ReviewProtonVPN ReviewWindscribe ReviewTunnelBear ReviewHotspot Shield Review

A Closer Look at the Best Free VPNs of 2020

  • 1. ProtonVPN - Best Free VPN with Unlimited Data Usage

    Editor's Rating
    8.5
    /10
    What We Liked:
    • No data usage limit
    • Strict “No Logs” policy
    • Intuitive user interface
    • Works across all major operating systems (Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS)
    What We Didn’t Like:
    • Server locations limited to the U.S, the Netherlands, and Japan
    • One simultaneous connection only
    • Connection speed priority for premium users
    • No other way to contact support besides email support tickets

    Unlimited Browsing, Streaming, and Downloads

    The most common limitation we’ve encountered while testing free VPNs was the data usage limit, which is why we love the fact that the ProtonVPN had no such restrictions. We browsed, streamed, and downloaded all we wanted while our MacBook Pro remained connected. On top of that, our Internet speed didn’t drop that much. We had no problem watching Netflix and playing online games, except of course during peak hours. The ProtonVPN gives higher speed priority to paying customers as an incentive, so as users of the free version, our connection slowed down as the traffic increased, but it was still manageable.

    Strict “No Logs” Policy

    ProtonVPN’s main servers are located in Switzerland, which is a good thing because Switzerland has strict data privacy laws in place.1 Switzerland is also not a member of the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, or 14 Eyes international surveillance alliance, so the U.S. government cannot force ProtonVPN to give up its users’ data. The funny thing was, there’s no data to give up in the first place. The company has a strict “no logs” policy. They didn’t log our browsing activity or any information about our VPN connection. The only information they stored was a single timestamp of our more recent login for our account’s security. That’s hardly an identifying data, so we had no qualms with them logging it. They did, however, store our account information locally on their servers, like our email address, support requests and reports, and payment information once we decided to spring for the premium version, which they claimed to have deleted when we canceled our subscription. This is all normal, though, and believe us, we’ve read a ton of VPN privacy policies!

    ProtonVPN Privacy Policy
    ProtonVPN Privacy Policy

    Three Server Locations, One Simultaneous Connection

    One of the most important questions we asked ourselves while testing free VPNs was, “Can we live with its limitations?”. Fortunately, ProtonVPN’s limitations barely bothered us. First, there were only three server locations— Japan, the Netherlands, and the United States— which meant that we had fewer options to choose from once those servers started filling up with paying users; however, that wasn’t a problem when we connected to a New York server. Second, we were only able to connect one device at a time. If we were already browsing using our smartphone, we couldn’t use ProtonVPN on our laptop to watch Netflix. That was a little harder to bear, but again, we were using the free version so we can’t complain. And while we’re tech-obsessed, we usually only use one device at a time, anyway.

  • 2. Windscribe - Best Free VPN for the Security-Minded

    Editor's Rating
    8.7
    /10
    What We Liked:
    • At least 10 server locations for free users
    • Adware and malware blocker with the browser extension
    • Desktop client includes a built-in firewall
    • Split tunneling on the Android app
    What We Didn’t Like:
    • Based in Canada, a Five Eyes alliance member
    • Logs more data than the bare minimum
    • 10 GB per month data usage limit
    • Live chat support through an automated bot

    Worked On Desktops, Smartphones, and Browsers

    Windscribe worked on just about any device we used at home. There were desktop clients for Windows, Mac, and Linux, apps for iOS and Android, browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera, and even an app for our Amazon Fire TV. Now that’s impressive, but let’s go back to the basics. We used Windscribe mostly on our MacBook Pro. The desktop client connected all our apps to the VPN tunnel, while the Windscribe extension we installed on our Chrome browser only encrypted our browser activity. That was helpful because, given the 10 GB per month data limit, we used Windscribe mostly to browse the Internet. If, for instance, we wanted to Google something while on a Skype call, we could simply connect our browser to Windscribe without having to connect Skype and all our other desktop applications.

    Pro Tip: You can get additional data allowance by tweeting about Windscribe, referring friends, or hanging around Windscribe’s official Subreddit.

    Ads, Tracking, and Social Network Blocking

    There was another advantage to using the Windscribe browser extension: it included ad-tracking and social network blocking. These three features made our online browsing experience with Windscribe a lot more enjoyable and private. It blocked all ads, tracking malware, and social media widgets of websites we visited that could be used to track our browsing activity. You know those Like, Tweet, and Share widget buttons that appear on various websites? Turns out, they were tracking our browsing data even though we hadn’t clicked on any of them.2 Windscribe blocked those widgets so that we could browse the Web without being tracked by Facebook, Twitter, or any other social networks (though we could still access our social media accounts). That just goes to show how serious the company is about keeping its customers’ online activity private.

    Windscribe Data Logging Policy
    Windscribe Data Logging Policy

    Data Logging Policy

    As far as logging data goes, Windscribe didn’t keep track and store any identifying data such as our real IP address and the websites we visited while connected to the VPN. However, they did log a little more information than the bare minimum, including the amount of data we’ve used during our sessions and the times of our connections. That’s a little bit concerning, but to be fair, Windscribe’s data privacy policy requires them to discard such data as soon as we disconnected from the service. The only records they kept were the number of parallel connections at any given time and a counter of our data usage within a 30-day period to help us keep track of our data usage limit and to prevent abuse and account-sharing.

  • 3. TunnelBear - Best Free VPN for Beginners

    Editor's Rating
    8.8
    /10
    What We Liked:
    • Easy to use and intuitive user interface
    • Over 20 server locations for free users
    • Up to five simultaneous connections
    • Works across all major operating systems (Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS)
    What We Didn’t Like:
    • Based in Canada, a Five Eye alliance member
    • No Netflix access
    • No phone or live chat support
    • 500 MB per month data usage limit

    Fun and Easy To Use

    Most VPNs have a serious vibe going on with their user interface, but TunnelBear took a different approach with its intuitive yet fun and easy to use user interface. It connected to the encrypted tunnels with one click of a button, and once connected, the application showed us our server location through a virtual map. That was incredibly helpful because choosing a server location closest to our physical location usually yielded faster upload and download speeds. Whenever we felt a slowdown, we simply clicked on the “tunnel”, an icon representing TunnelBear’s server locations, closest to us to get a better connection.

    FYI: FYI: TunnelBear offers over 20 server locations to choose from, all of which are accessible even to free users.

    Up To Five Simultaneous Connections

    Although TunnelBear is a free VPN, it allows up to five connections at any single time. In fact, on several occasions, we used it to encrypt our MacBook Air, Android smartphone, and iPad while they were all connected to a public library Wi-Fi network. And that’s another advantage of the TunnelBear as a free VPN: it worked across all major operating systems for desktop and mobile, including Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS. Like Windscribe, it also had browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera, which allowed us to encrypt only our browsing data rather than encrypting our laptop or smartphone’s entire online activity.

    The TunnelBear App
    The TunnelBear App

    20+ Server Locations

    While other VPNs limit the number of virtual locations accessible to free users, we loved that TunnelBear let us connect to over 20 different server locations. It allowed us to choose a server closest to us for faster speeds and to switch over to different servers if our current connection wasn’t good. And for those like us who aren’t geography buffs, TunnelBear’s interface makes it a lot easier to visualize the location of the servers, thus making it easier to find other close proximity servers in case the closest one doesn’t yield good speeds.

  • 4. Hotspot Shield - Best Free VPN for Windows and Mac Users

    Editor's Rating
    8.6
    /10
    What We Liked:
    • Generous 500 MB data usage allowance per day
    • Works on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS
    • Doesn’t log browsing activities
    • Up to five devices per account
    What We Didn’t Like:
    • Only one simultaneous connection allowed
    • US-based servers only for free users
    • 2 Mbps speed limit
    • Based in the US, a Five Eye alliance member

    500 MB Daily Data Usage Limit

    Hotspot Shield did limit our data usage, but they were more generous than most other free VPNs. The data allowance was refreshed every 24 hours, giving us 500 MB of bandwidth to consume every day. That’s about 15 GB per month, provided that we max out our allowance daily. However, unused data didn’t roll over to the next day, so if we used only 400 MB in one day, we would still only receive 500 MB the next day. The daily limit made sense as it helped us control our data usage. Instead of giving us 15 GB per month, which frankly, we could blow through in just a week or so, it limited our daily usage so we’d still have bandwidth left towards the end of the month. Now that’s just smart.

    Works On Up to Five Devices

    We’ve been able to login using our Hotspot Shield account using five different devices. It worked on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, so whether we were in the office working on our MacBooks, at a coffee shop browsing on our smartphones, or at home with our Windows PC, we had access to Hotspot Shield. Only one device connected to Hotspot Shield at a time, though, but it was easy enough to switch between devices thanks to the VPN’s fast connection times. We usually got connected to a VPN tunnel in under 5 seconds, which is impressive for a free VPN.

    Hotspot Shield Windows Kill Switch
    Hotspot Shield Windows Kill Switch

    No Ads on Windows and Mac Clients

    Most free VPNs generate revenue by injecting ads into the websites we visit, and while Hotspot Shield did that in the past, they recently changed their policy and only placed ads in their mobile apps. Also, instead of injecting the ads into websites, Hotspot Shield only showed us short ads after we connected and disconnected our mobile phone VPN. Of course, it’s never fun to see ads, but with a freemium VPN with a generous data usage allowance, going through a couple of ads every session didn’t hurt.

Our Video Review

If you liked our list, be sure to also check out our video review of the best free VPNs. It has additional information about our top picks and you’ll get to see our featured free VPNs in action as well.

Methodology: How We Tested Free VPNs

That’s pretty much it for our list of the best VPNs you can access for free. But if you want to explore your options yourself, here’s an insider’s look at our review process and what we look for in VPNs, whether free-to-use or otherwise.

Speed

First of all, we want our VPN to protect our privacy without making much of an impact on our browsing experience, particularly our Internet speed. Almost any VPN we’ve ever tested slowed down our connection, but ideally, the difference should not exceed 40 percent in any of the speed categories— namely, the latency (ping), download speed, and upload speed.

We tested free VPNs using Speedtest by Ookla. To make the results uniform, we connected only one device to our router at a time, and then we took a speed test using the device without the VPN. We then performed a second speed test, this time with the VPN. We logged the results and computed the difference between the latency, download speed, and upload speed in terms of a percentage. We performed the tests both on our Mac and Windows computers.

Keep in mind that speed test results don’t always tell the whole story. There are a number of other factors that may affect the results, like our proximity to the server, the current online traffic of both our Internet Service Provider and the VPN, and the device we used, just to name a few. So while we try to keep our test results as accurate as possible, we don’t fully rely on the speed alone to determine our top picks.

Security

VPNs are mostly used to preserve personal data online by encrypting the user’s web traffic, which usually contains identifying data that could compromise a person’s identity and online activity history if it falls into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, while most VPNs do encrypt web traffic, there are some that collect other kinds of metadata that they sell to third parties to turn a profit.

That’s especially true with free VPNs. As they say, “if you’re not paying for a product, you are the product.” To see which VPNs do that and which ones don’t, we looked into their privacy policies and checked which kinds of data they collect and store. There are some, like ProtonVPN, that have strict logging policies, but there are also others that store some types of data but immediately delete everything as soon as you disconnect. Both are acceptable, but ideally, we want our VPN to not collect any data at all aside from the bare minimum needed to uphold our account.

We also looked at each VPN company’s legal obligations to share customer information with the government. Companies based in member countries of the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes international surveillance alliance are particularly risky because their government could force them to hand over customer information. While we won’t go as far as to avoid them, we want our readers to know the risks.

On the more technical side of things, we tested for DNS and WebRTC leaks using online tools. We can see if the VPN has a DNS leak by comparing our IP address with the IP address that appears on the DNS Leak Test website.3 A similar method applies to WebRTC leaks, which we test using ExpressVPN’s online tool.4

Features

The VPN’s performance also matters to us. We are always on the lookout for useful VPNs features. For instance, we checked if the VPN has a kill switch, which stops all online activity in the event that the VPN fails. This feature ensures that no data is leaked to the ISP. Split tunneling is another useful feature as it allows devices to connect to the Internet through two different tunnels. One tunnel is protected by the VPN, while the other connects to a public network as if there’s no VPN. This feature is useful for multi-tasking and it creates faster speeds as it allows lower bandwidth. Finally, we gave special credit to VPNs with multi-hop or at least double-hop connections, as they encrypt data several times as it hops through different servers.

Subscriptions

For this review specifically, we didn’t put much weight on the pricing, given the subject matter. However, we’d like to note that all four free VPNs on our list have paid versions. We base our assessment on a number of factors, including the features the VPN offers and the pricing of competitors. In our experience, paid VPNs could cost as low as less than a dollar per month, but the more expensive ones could cost up to $15 per month.

Customer Support

No matter how tech-savvy we are, we still run into issues we can’t troubleshoot ourselves, so we also like to know how easy (or hard) it is to contact the VPN company’s support team. Email support is not the most ideal for us because most companies are slow to respond to email support tickets. We prefer companies with live chat or phone support, and if those channels are available 24/7, even better.

Apps

Finally, we looked into both the Android and iOS app of the VPN, focusing on its functionality. Is it easy to use? Does it work well? What are other users saying about the app? We also read customer reviews and compare their observations with ours to see if any patterns emerge.

FAQs About Free VPNs

  • What are the best free VPNs of 2020?

    The best free VPNs of 2020 are ProtonVPN, Windscribe, TunnelBear, and Hotspot Shield. ProtonVPN particularly stands out because of its strict logging policy and unlimited data usage, while Windscribe is a great option for security-minded individuals.

  • Can free VPNs bypass geographic restrictions?

    Most free VPNs can bypass geographic restrictions, but for best results, we recommend free VPNs with servers in more than 10 locations.

  • What are the limitations of free VPNs?

    The limitations of free VPNs often include data usage limits, speed capping, and limited simultaneous connections. Some VPNs may also limit the number of server locations you can access.

  • Are free VPNs safe?

    Not all free VPNs are safe, which is why we recommend getting a free version of a reputable paid VPN rather than downloading a VPN advertised as 100% free.

Citations
  1. The Federal Council. (1999). Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation.
    admin.ch/opc/en/classified-compilation/19995395/index.html

  2. The Federal Council. (1999). Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation.
    admin.ch/opc/en/classified-compilation/19995395/index.html

  3. dnsleaktest.com. (2020). DNS Leak Test.
    dnsleaktest.com/

  4. Express VPN. (2020). WebRTC Leak Test.
    expressvpn.com/webrtc-leak-test