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Best free VPN of 2023: It’s important to choose wisely

Friday November 17, 2023. 08:30 PM , from PC World
Best free VPN of 2023: It’s important to choose wisely
Virtual private networks (VPNs) are one of the most effective ways to stay safe online. They allow you to stay anonymous and get past region blocks on certain websites such as Netflix or other streaming services. However, you usually have to pay for a subscription in order to use a VPN and you don’t always want to add an extra monthly expense to an already tight budget. That’s where free VPNs come in. They can provide you with a similar level of security for virtually—pun intended—nothing. But not all free VPNs are built the same.

With many free VPNs you’ll encounter unexpected restrictions such as speed constraints, a bandwidth cap, or a limit to the countries you can access. These limitations can add up making the experience of using a free VPN feel pointless. That’s why it’s important that you choose the right free VPN service based on your own needs.

While we advise that you opt for a premium VPN, such as those in our roundup of the best VPNs, we understand that sometimes you just need quick and easy basic protection without having to pay for yet another service. Therefore we’ve curated a list of the best free VPNs around. We lay out any restrictions they may impose and what activities they’re best used for—streaming, torrenting, browsing, etc. Following our recommendations you can read about what to look for in a free VPN and how we test.

Updated 11/17/2023: To include new information about VPN based on our latest updated review of the service. It still remains one of our top free VPN picks and you can read more about it in the summary below.

Windscribe – Best free VPN


Simple setup

Good performance

Great free plan


Tricky security track record with 2021 server incident

Slow loading of browser extension

Price When Reviewed:

£9.00 per month

Best Prices Today:

£9.00 at Windscribe

The Windscribe VPN service seems to get better and better each time we review a new version. It not only has an excellent Pro version that is reasonably priced, but it has a stand-out free service as well. What makes Windscribe’s free service really stand out is all the perks. You get a maximum 10GB of bandwidth per month and no device limits. To get that bandwidth you need a confirmed email address. If not, you’re stuck at 2GB per month.

The free service offers 10 regional connections including the U.S., Canada, UK, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Netherlands, Switzerland, Norway, and Romania. It also has a ton of privacy features such as blockers for site notifications and “we use cookies” banners, WebRTC leak protection, location spoofing, user agent rotation, and more.

The service is also extremely easy to use with a simple setup and solid performance for a free VPN. We not only recommend the Windscribe free service on its own, but also as an easy way to get to know the service before committing to a paid tier with premium features.

Read our full

Windscribe Pro review

CyberGhost VPN – Best free VPN browser extension


Easy-to-use interface

Independently verified no-log policy

Seriously impressive server spread


Lacks some common features such as multi-hop and double VPN

Server speeds are hit-or-miss, especially in Asia

CyberGhost VPN provides an excellent VPN with plenty of servers optimized for different tasks such as gaming, streaming, and torrenting. While the premium service, with access to all of its 9,000-plus servers and additional security features, is a paid option, CyberGhost also has a great browser extension that it offers for free. If you have either Chrome or Firefox you can download the extension without having to pay anything and enjoy access to a limited number of the VPN servers for free—currently sitting at eight servers in four countries.

Additionally, you are able to connect and use these VPN servers without having to worry about bandwidth limits or data capping. Unfortunately, in our tests we found that the servers we used in the browser extension were not able to successfully unblock streaming servers. However, if you start using the free browser extension and decide you like CyberGhost, you can always opt for a premium membership, which can be as low as three dollars a month for a long-term plan.

Read our full

CyberGhost review

ProtonVPN – Best free VPN for speed


Fantastic speeds

Easy-to-use multi-hop feature

Supports TOR over VPN connections



Best Prices Today:

$96 at ProtonVPN AG

If you’re looking for speed and excellent privacy in a free VPN then ProtonVPN is an excellent choice. There are some big limitations with this service, but thankfully no limitations on speeds.

Instead, ProtonVPN limits you to one device connection at a time, and you only get three countries to choose from including the U.S., the Netherlands, and Japan. Still, that’s a good deal, making this a very useful free VPN.

ProtonVPN is the second-fastest VPN in our tests making this the one you want if speed is important to you.

Read our full

ProtonVPN review – Best for speed runner-up


Good option for streaming

Better than average overall speeds

Lots of power user options for customization

Free version available


Third-party audit not updated since 2015

Speeds were inconsistent in our tests

Not the easiest VPN for beginners

Best Prices Today:

$59.95 at Hide Me offers a solid paid VPN service and the company is generous enough to provide the full premium feature set in their free version as well. Its server speeds are a bit inconsistent, but overall they are pretty fast and rank within the top 20 of all—paid or free—VPNs that we’ve ever tested. That makes it plenty speedy for the typical use cases for a free VPN. When you use’s free service you’re limited to 10GB per month and one device at a time, as well as eight region choices including Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, U.S. East, and U.S. West.

Read our full review

TunnelBear – Best free VPN for get-in, get-out chores


Fun and easy-to-use interface

Reliable security features

Unlimited simultaneous device connections


Lacks some advanced features for power users

Customer support not the most helpful

Not a good option for torrenting

Best Prices Today:

$59.88 at TunnelBear

We’ve always liked TunnelBear. It’s simple to use, affordable, and the speeds are fine. In our speed tests, TunnelBear was outside the top 10, but its speeds were still good enough for most browsing or online tasks.

That’s more than enough for what this free VPN would be suited for, since you will only get a maximum of 500MB per month with the free version. The idea is to provide a trial for testing out the service before making a bigger commitment. Thankfully, beyond the data limit, the free version of TunnelBear puts no restrictions on what features are available so you’re able to experience the full application for no charge.

The data limit won’t allow you to stream or play games for the most part, but it’s enough for quick hits when you’re on the road for checking email, or some basic web browsing. Plus, TunnelBear keeps track of your bandwidth usage so you can see when you’re getting too close to the limit.

Read our full

TunnelBear review

What to look for in a free VPN

Choosing a free VPN is a question of weighing the trade-offs with each service. Do you want unlimited bandwidth, but a restriction on devices? Or is it preferable to have more devices but deal with a bandwidth limit?

One thing you definitely want to avoid is a VPN that is ad supported. Ads expose you to tracking by the company delivering ads, which is probably something you don’t want. You also want to stay away from any deal that suggests you can get a VPN by “sharing” your bandwidth like we saw with the Hola VPN scandal back in 2015. You also want to watch out for any VPNs you’ve never heard of, or that haven’t been reviewed much by third parties.

After that, you want to consider the usual issues such as the privacy policy, Netflix support, operating system support, and the countries that you’re looking for.

How we test VPNs

All VPNs are tested on a Windows machine with an Ethernet connection. Our approach is not to show you actual speeds, since those can vary based on any number of factors like your ISP, time of day, device quality, and so on. Instead, we show the average bandwidth loss as a percentage since there’s always going to be bandwidth loss with VPNs.

Each VPN is tested over three days. On each testing day, we first take the base speed with no VPN active. Then we test the speeds in five different countries three times each. Once all the testing is done we create a global average and compare that to the average base speed, and then express the drop in bandwidth as a percentage for the reasons we mentioned above.

Free VPNs aren’t a top recommendation, but if you’re going to go that way we’d strongly suggest the five VPNs mentioned here.

What is a VPN?

A VPN, or Virtual private network, is a way to encrypt your internet traffic and disguise your identity while browsing the internet. Through a VPN provider, you connect to their anonymized server with end-to-end encryption which redirects all of your traffic through that intermediary server thereby looking to outside viewers as if your location is that server itself.

Additionally, VPNs allow you to connect to servers all across the world. So if you are looking to access location restricted content, such as streaming services, you can gain access via connecting to the appropriate country’s server.

How does a VPN work?

A VPN hides your IP address by redirecting it through a intermediary server hosted by the VPN provider. To anyone watching, the VPN server then becomes the source of your traffic instead of your own IP address. These remote servers can not only be in your own country, but they can also be located in different countries around the world. All of your network traffic from your computer to the VPN is sent over a secure and encrypted connection. 

While browsing the internet and connected to a VPN, the VPN acts as a middleman between your computer and a website. Your computer sends a request to the VPN which then passes it on to a website. The website in return sends its response back to the VPN which forwards it through the secure connection back to your computer. All of the traffic rerouted through the VPN appears as if it is coming through their server rather than your own computer. This keeps your ISP and other third parties from potentially snooping on your internet activity.

Are VPNs legal to use?

Absolutely! In most countries, including the United States, it is perfectly legal to use a VPN. You might notice that some websites try to block VPN connections, but they are still okay to use. Please note, while using a VPN is legal, some of the activities done while using a VPN might be illegal. Activities such as downloading pirated copyrighted content or accessing dark web markets are both illegal with and without a VPN.


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