VPNs encrypt your internet traffic, allow you to browse websites anonymously and mask your location so you can access region-restricted content. While there are some VPNs that are entirely free, these typically make money by selling your data to third parties, and they provide weaker encryption that could leave you exposed. However, some paid VPNs also offer free plans, providing many of the same features and protections as the premium version but with slower speeds and fewer server options.

Is it good enough to have a free VPN? Are paid VPNs worth it? The answer, of course, depends on the VPN itself and what you plan to use it for. This article compares free VPNs vs. paid VPNs in general before describing some of the best options and features available in each category.

For more information about what VPNs are and how they’re used, read What Is a VPN? Definition, How It Works and More.

Free VPNs vs. Paid VPNs: Comparison

Common featuresFree VPNsPaid VPNs
Monthly bandwidth capOften limitedUnlimited
Supported devices1 per account5 or more
Server optionsLimitedWorldwide servers
SpeedSubject to throttling and latencyFaster and more reliable

Free VPNs: Standout features

The three providers below offer legitimate VPN services with both free and paid plans. These standout features are available to free users.

  • TunnelBear: If your VPN connection gets disrupted for any reason, TunnelBear blocks all unsecured traffic until it’s safely reconnected.
  • ProtonVPN: Connect to the Tor anonymity network over VPN and visit .onion sites from your regular browser.
  • Hide.me VPN: Free users get unlimited data with restricted speeds.

While many free VPNs, including TunnelBear, cap your monthly bandwidth, both ProtonVPN and Hide.me VPN offer unlimited bandwidth. TunnelBear and ProtonVPN offer more freebie security features than Hide.me VPN, but all three protect your privacy by not collecting (or selling) any logs from your connection sessions.

Paid VPNs: Standout Features

These paid VPN apps offer additional features especially for premium users.

  • NordVPN: Dark Web Monitoring alerts you if your personal information is found for sale on the dark web.
  • Surfshark: Dynamic multi-hop allows you to connect via two VPN servers for an additional layer of security.
  • ExpressVPN: Includes a password manager that securely stores and autofills credentials for safe and convenient access.

These premium VPN services offer unlimited bandwidth without speed caps on multiple devices. They provide a larger pool of servers to connect to in more locations, distributing the load for improved performance. Plus, these VPNs all come with additional threat protection to block malware, trackers, and ads.

Need help getting started with your new VPN? Read our guide How to Use a VPN: 4 Easy Steps to Get Started.

Free VPN pros and cons

Pros of Free VPNs

  • Anyone can download and use them without a credit card.
  • You can try out different providers and features risk-free.
  • Enhanced Internet security and privacy.

Cons of Free VPNs

  • Often come with bandwidth or speed caps.
  • Limited server options which may increase latency.
  • Some features are locked behind a paywall.

Paid VPN pros and cons

Pros of Paid VPNs

  • Unlimited bandwidth and greater speeds.
  • More server choices to access regional content and avoid latency.
  • Includes additional security and privacy features.

Cons of Paid VPNs

  • Requires a monthly or yearly fee.
  • Not all paid plans offer the same features.

Learn more about different kinds of VPNs by reading 4 Different Types of VPNs & When to Use Them.

Should your organization use a Free or Paid VPN?

As an organization, you should avoid any VPN service that’s entirely free because they will likely sell your data. However, free versions of premium VPNs are typically safe to use. When looking at both free and paid VPNs, it’s important to choose one that does not collect or save any logs from your connection session, because these logs could be sold to third-parties or—in extreme cases—turned over to authorities.

Some free VPNs have bandwidth caps—often around 2 GB per month—which limit your activity. However, the free versions of both ProtonVPN and Hide.me VPN offer unlimited monthly bandwidth, but with restricted speeds. You’ll have fewer server options with a free VPN, which means the load on each server will be higher and might cause latency. Plus, you may not be able to access content in the specific region you’re looking for.

Paid VPNs typically offer unlimited bandwidth with higher speed caps. You’ll also have access to a greater server selection so you can access all the streaming content you want with less latency. Many paid VPNs also have extra features for premium users, such as threat protection services, dedicated IP addresses and ad blockers.

Free versions of premium VPNs are typically safe to use and often provide enough bandwidth and functionality for home users. Paid VPNs provide better speed and performance, as well as additional security features that make them worthwhile for privacy-minded individuals and organizations alike.

For more help choosing the right VPN for your organization, read about the best VPNs for SMBs or the best VPNs for enterprise.

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This is your go-to resource for the latest news and tips on the following topics and more, XaaS, AWS, Microsoft Azure, DevOps, virtualization, the hybrid cloud, and cloud security. Delivered Mondays and Wednesdays