We review vendors based on rigorous testing and research but also take into account your feedback and our affiliate commission with providers. Some providers are owned by our parent company.
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vpnMentor was established in 2014 to review VPN services and cover privacy-related stories. Today, our team of hundreds of cybersecurity researchers, writers, and editors continues to help readers fight for their online freedom in partnership with Kape Technologies PLC, which also owns the following products: ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, and Private Internet Access which may be ranked and reviewed on this website. The reviews published on vpnMentor are believed to be accurate as of the date of each article, and written according to our strict reviewing standards that prioritize professional and honest examination of the reviewer, taking into account the technical capabilities and qualities of the product together with its commercial value for users. The rankings and reviews we publish may also take into consideration the common ownership mentioned above, and affiliate commissions we earn for purchases through links on our website. We do not review all VPN providers and information is believed to be accurate as of the date of each article.
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vpnMentor was established in 2014 to review VPN services and cover privacy-related stories. Today, our team of hundreds of cybersecurity researchers, writers, and editors continues to help readers fight for their online freedom in partnership with Kape Technologies PLC, which also owns the following products: ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, and Private Internet Access which may be ranked and reviewed on this website. The reviews published on vpnMentor are believed to be accurate as of the date of each article, and written according to our strict reviewing standards that prioritize professional and honest examination of the reviewer, taking into account the technical capabilities and qualities of the product together with its commercial value for users. The rankings and reviews we publish may also take into consideration the common ownership mentioned above, and affiliate commissions we earn for purchases through links on our website. We do not review all VPN providers and information is believed to be accurate as of the date of each article.

Free VPN vs Paid VPN — Which Option Is Better in 2024?

Keira Waddell Updated on 19th April 2024 Fact-checked by Christine Johansen Senior Writer

No one ever wants to pay for something if they can get it for free. Of course, this raises some questions. What’s the difference between free and paid VPNs? Are premium services really necessary to protect your sensitive online data, or will a free option do the job?

My team and I tested 50+ free and paid VPNs to compare the key differences. We compared security and privacy policies, speeds, streaming abilities, customer support, and more to find out which services are reliable, safe, and worth the cost.

Ultimately, if you care about your online safety, paid VPNs are the better option, but there are some situations when free VPNs will suffice. Overall, ExpressVPN came out on top thanks to its large server network, fast speeds, unlimited data, and commitment to user privacy and security. It’s a paid service that you can try totally risk-free since it has a 30-day money-back guarantee. If you’re not satisfied, getting your money back is easy. Editors' Note: ExpressVPN and this site are in the same ownership group.

Try ExpressVPN Risk-Free >>

Why Some VPNs Are Free and Others Are Not

The best VPNs provide you with strong privacy protection online and shield you from cyber threats. So, it’s not surprising that people are tempted by a service that provides these features for free.

The problem is that running a reliable VPN service isn’t free. Managing a global server network, developing client apps, and providing user support are just starting points for a successful and reliable VPN. While paid VPN services make their money from subscription fees, providers of free VPNs have to generate income somehow.

In some cases, they do so by limiting the features available in the free service to encourage users to upgrade. Meanwhile, they’re still making income from their unlimited premium service. These services (referred to as “freemium”) are generally safe and are a much better option than completely free VPNs. If you only need a VPN occasionally for privacy, a limited freemium VPN might work fine for you.

However, you should be more wary of VPN providers that promise a complete, unlimited service at no cost. Some free VPNs can compromise your privacy and security to make money. That's the absolute last thing you want from a VPN.

I always recommend avoiding risky, completely free services and getting the most out of the ones you can trust. So, if you’re on a budget, it’s better to get a premium, paid VPN offering a free plan (freemium service) or a money-back guarantee.

What Are the Differences Between Free and Paid VPNs?

I’ve looked at the most important features of VPNs and analyzed the main differences between paid and free VPNs below.

Security and Privacy

When it comes to security and privacy, paid VPNs undoubtedly surpass free VPNs. They invest subscription revenues into high-end security features for safer and more private connections.

Paid VPNs support military-grade AES 256-bit encryption and offer secure tunneling protocols, including OpenVPN and WireGuard. While some top VPN providers keep partial anonymized connection logs, they typically maintain strict no-logs policies. This means premium VPNs don’t track or store your online activities, keeping your identifiable data private and out of the wrong hands.

In contrast, many free VPNs use unreliable security measures and weak encryption. This poor protection means that your data can be easily deciphered by hackers and obtained by spying agencies like the 5/9/14 Eyes Alliance.

A common way for free VPNs to make money is by sharing your session data with advertisers, resulting in blitzing you with ads. When third parties can access your private information and harvest your data, your online privacy is compromised, defeating one of the most important purposes of using a VPN.

Some free VPNs (like Hola VPN) operate as P2P networks. They send your data through another user’s device while routing someone else’s traffic through yours. This immediately puts you at risk of malware and DNS attacks. Even worse, some free VPNs can hijack your browser and redirect you to partner websites without your consent.

However, there are some safe, free VPNs that won’t compromise your privacy — they’re often the free versions of premium VPNs. So even though they limit you in other ways, at least you can rest assured that your data is safe.

Speed and Data Allowance

Free VPNs often impose data caps and may throttle connection speeds to manage their limited resources, which can significantly hinder your internet experience. This makes engaging in data-intensive activities like streaming, gaming, or downloading large files frustratingly slow. Plus, your connection will be further slowed down if the free VPN bombards you with ads.

Use of any VPN involves some loss of speed due to the encryption process, but with the best paid VPNs, you should hardly notice it. Paid VPNs usually offer unlimited bandwidth and much faster speeds thanks to their extensive server networks optimized for various online activities. This makes them a far better choice for users seeking uninterrupted and fast internet access​​​​.

Fortunately, slow speeds are only an annoyance, not a threat to your security or privacy. If you just need to send a confidential email from a WiFi at a café, a little patience and a trustworthy free VPN will serve you well.

Streaming

For streaming enthusiasts, the difference between free and paid VPNs is night and day. Many VPNs (even those that are paid) struggle to work with streaming services like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Prime Video, Sky Go, DAZN, and Disney+.

So most free VPNs don’t even stand a chance to work with popular platforms, and they get easily detected. Those that do work usually don’t provide fast enough speeds to stream without excessive buffering. Plus, they often impose strict data restrictions (sometimes as little as 500MB per month) that won’t even let you finish a whole episode.

However, the best premium VPNs are compatible with common streaming services and are fast enough for HD streaming. Plus, any premium VPN will offer unlimited data, so there’s no stopping you from binge-watching your favorite local content.

However, it is important to note that while VPNs can technically give you a different IP address, hypothetically letting you access geo-blocked streaming content, doing so goes against most platforms’ terms and conditions and could even be considered copyright infringement. The team and I don’t condone this. So, make sure you’re aware of local laws and regulations before using a VPN.

Server Network

Paid VPNs give you unlimited access to their entire server networks, which often consist of thousands of servers spanning across 100+ countries. More servers mean you have access to more IP addresses, and it will typically give you better speeds since you’re less likely to be slowed down by over-congestion.

Some premium VPNs even offer optimized or specialty servers that you can use for different activities, like streaming, gaming, or torrenting.

On the other hand, free VPNs typically offer a limited number of servers, which can lead to overcrowded servers and slower speeds. Some free options offer a decent number of server locations, though. Either way, fewer servers won’t hinder your online security or privacy, so a free or freemium VPN might do it for you.

Additional Features

Paid VPNs often come with a plethora of additional features. Most premium VPNs offer features like split tunneling, which allows you to route some traffic through the VPN while letting the rest access the internet directly. They also offer kill switches that will disconnect you from the internet if your VPN connection suddenly drops.

Some offer advanced security features like obfuscation, MultiHop servers, and built-in malware and ad blockers, enhancing your online experience, security, and privacy​​​​​​.

Conversely, free VPNs typically come bare bones. They don’t offer too many customization options, ad and malware blockers, or specialty servers — sometimes, not even a kill switch. That said, if you just need basic security, a free VPN offering simple protection could work just fine for you.

Best Paid and Free VPNs in 2024

1. ExpressVPN — Consistently Fast Speeds for All Online Activities

Best Feature Uncapped bandwidth offering the fastest speeds of any VPN I tested
Server Network 3,000 servers in 105 countries ensure you always have a reliable connection
Free Plan or Money-Back Guarantee Tried-and-tested 30-day money-back guarantee on all plans
Works With Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Max, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and more
Editors' Note: Expressvpn and this site are in the same ownership group.

ExpressVPN's proprietary Lightway protocol stands out for its exceptionally fast speeds. It’s designed for speed and reliability, ensuring an uninterrupted connection. I was impressed when I tested its speeds on the New York server (nearly 5,000km from my location in London), as I only recorded a drop of 6%. Most VPNs suffer drops of over 20% over these distances.

Its no-logs policy ensures that it does not keep any record of your online activities. Plus, its TrustedServer technology (RAM-only servers) means all data is wiped with every reboot, providing an additional layer of security. It’s based in the privacy-friendly British Virgin Islands, which is outside of the data-sharing 5/9/14 Eyes Alliance.

ExpressVPN’s use of AES 256-bit encryption and perfect forward secrecy ensures top-notch online security. These features effectively shield your internet traffic from interception and surveillance by making your data practically impossible to read. Additionally, its kill switch feature automatically cuts your internet connection if the VPN drops, preventing any data leaks.

Its price might be seen as a drawback compared to free VPN options, with prices starting from $6.67/month. However, it regularly offers subscription plan savings — you can currently get 49% off. Plus, ExpressVPN offers a trustworthy 30-day money-back guarantee. Mobile users can also test its features with a 7-day free trial.

Useful Features

  • Great device compatibility. ExpressVPN works across a range of devices, including smartphones, tablets, and computers. It even has a native router app, so you can protect all your internet-connected devices with a single VPN service. You can find detailed guides on its website for setting this up.
  • 8 device connections. It allows you to connect up to 8 devices simultaneously, which is especially beneficial for households with multiple gadgets.
  • P2P support. ExpressVPN allows P2P file sharing across its entire server network. This means you can engage in torrenting activities securely and with high speeds, a feature often unavailable with free VPN services.
  • 24/7 live chat support. It provides round-the-clock support to assist you with any issues you might encounter, which is rare among free VPN providers. The support team was responsive and resolved my issues within a few minutes whenever I got in touch.
ExpressVPN Offer May 2024: For a limited time only, you can get an ExpressVPN subscription for up to 49% off! Don't miss out!

2. CyberGhost — User-Friendly Interface Lets You Connect Without Hassle

Best Feature Simple apps make it easy for anyone to get connected in no time
Server Network 11,690 servers across 100, including specialty servers
Free Plan or Money-Back Guarantee Legitimate 45-day money-back guarantee on long-term plans, 14 days on the shortest plan
Works With Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Max, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+
Editors' Note: CyberGhost VPN and this site are in the same ownership group.

CyberGhost offers an easy-to-use app, so it’s ideal for all levels of users. Its intuitive interface lets you connect to the VPN with just one click, thanks to its Best server location feature that automatically finds the fastest server for you. During my tests, I downloaded the VPN to my Windows laptop and connected in less than 4 minutes.

The specialty servers for reliable streaming, gaming, and torrenting are neatly organized in separate tabs. They provide great speeds and stability for these activities, with low latency, to ensure smooth connections. From London, I tested its optimized servers for UK Netflix and Disney+ UK and got an average speed drop of just 5%. This let me stream in UHD without hesitation.

CyberGhost also offers lots of customizable features to enhance your online experiences. Automatic WiFi protection secures your connection when you join new WiFis, protecting you from threats on unsecured networks. Smart rules let you set conditions for how and when the VPN connects. I set it up to launch my Netflix app when I connect to the optimized Netflix UK server.

One downside is that there’s a shortened money-back guarantee on its short-term plans — only 14 days. However, CyberGhost offers a very generous 45-day money-back guarantee on its long-term plans, which you also get at a discounted rate of 83%.

Useful Features

  • NoSpy servers. These are designed to provide an extra layer of privacy. They are directly managed by CyberGhost from its Romanian headquarters, minimizing the risk of outside interference.
  • Block Content. It comes equipped with blocking features that keep you safe from malicious websites, ads, and online tracking. This was effective in blocking 79% of ads during my tests, improving my browsing experience and privacy at the same time.
  • Robust encryption. CyberGhost uses AES 256-bit encryption to secure your online activities. This ensures that your personal information is protected from hackers and unwanted third parties.
May 2024 Deal: CyberGhost is currently offering 83% off its most popular plan! Take advantage of this offer now and save more on your CyberGhost subscription.

3. Proton VPN — Browse Securely As Much As You Want With Unlimited Data

Best Feature No data caps lets you browse to your heart’s content
Server Network 100+ servers in 5 countries, which is generous for a free VPN
Free Plan or Money-Back Guarantee Forever-free plan (freemium service)
Works With Netflix (originals), YouTube, Spotify, Facebook, Instagram, and more

Proton VPN is my top-recommend free VPN, as it offers unlimited data. Unlike many free VPNs that impose data caps, Proton VPN ensures you can continue your online activities without getting disconnected. During my tests, I was able to binge a whole Netflix Originals season without interruptions.

Proton VPN also adheres to a strict no-logs policy. The company is based in Switzerland, a country known for its strong privacy laws. Unlike some free VPNs, it does not track or record your internet activities, offering peace of mind that your online behavior remains private and secure.

Unfortunately, it does come with limitations. Even though it’s not the smallest server network of free VPNs I’ve come across, it only offers servers in 5 countries (the US, the Netherlands, Japan, Romania, and Poland). It also doesn’t work reliably with too many streaming platforms. Still, it’s one of the most privacy-friendly free VPNs out there, so it’s great for basic security.

All you need to provide to use the free plan is an email address and password. It also offers a 7-day trial of its premium plan, allowing you to test its advanced features, such as improved streaming capabilities and torrent downloads. This makes it much easier to decide whether upgrading to a paid plan is worth the investment.

Useful Features

  • Speed Accelerator. Proton VPN's Speed Accelerator automatically selects the fastest server available and optimizes your speeds. I was impressed by its fast speeds during my tests. My speeds only dropped an average of 6% when connected to local servers throughout the UK.
  • Solid security features. As well as AES 256-bit encryption, its free version even offers a kill switch, which is a rarity for free VPNs.
  • Easy to use. Proton VPN boasts an intuitive interface that makes it straightforward for anyone to use. Setting up and connecting to a server is a simple process. After downloading the app to my Windows laptop, I was connected in less than a minute.

4. Avira Phantom VPN — Unlimited Connections to Protect All Your Devices for Free

Best Feature Safeguard your entire household for free
Server Network 49+ locations on the mobile app
Free Plan or Money-Back Guarantee Forever-free plan
Works With Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, and more

Avira Phantom VPN offers unlimited device connections, so it’s a great option for large households or people with multiple devices. I downloaded the app to my iPhone, Windows laptop, and tablet. While I didn’t experience large slowdowns when they were all connected, the data cap prevented me from protecting these devices for very long.

Its free mobile app boasts a large server network with 49+ locations worldwide. This extensive network ensures that you enjoy good speeds by connecting to a server close to your physical location. On the other hand, its desktop app only lets you connect with the Nearest Location feature, this is quite useful if speed is a big concern.

The biggest drawback of Avira Phantom VPN's free plan is the data limit of only 500MB per month (or 1GB if you provide your email). This limitation will heavily restrict your streaming, downloading, and extensive browsing, which requires more data.

Luckily, Avira Phantom VPN offers a 7-day trial of the premium version on mobile devices, which includes unlimited data.

Useful Features

  • Supports torrenting. Avira Phantom VPN’s free version allows for P2P file sharing across its network. Many free VPNs restrict torrenting activities, so having this capability sets it apart from competitors.
  • Good speeds. While it was the slowest of the VPNs on this list, with an average drop on local servers of 22%, I was still pretty impressed. I didn’t notice a big dip in the performance, and I’ve used free VPNs that have dropped my speeds by more than 80%.
  • Works with Netflix. Our global team of testers reported positive results when streaming from the US, Canada, and Italy. Our colleagues in the US also reported that it performed well with Hulu and Disney+. Unfortunately, the data cap is pretty limiting as it restricts you to around 1 hour of streaming per month.

Editors' Note: Intego, Private Internet Access, CyberGhost and ExpressVPN are owned by Kape Technologies, our parent company.

Quick Comparison Table: The Difference Between Free and Paid VPNs

I created the following table highlighting the key differences between the free and paid VPNs I shortlisted. It compares pricing, server networks, data limits, speeds, simultaneous devices, kill switch availability, and customer support services to give you a better understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of paid and free VPNs.

Lowest price Server network Data limits Speeds (average drop on local servers) Device connections Kill switch 24/7 live chat support
🥇ExpressVPN $6.67/month 3,000 servers in 105 countries Unlimited 4% 8 Yes Yes
🥈CyberGhost VPN $2.19/month 11,690 servers in 100 countries Unlimited 6% 7 Yes Yes
🥉Proton VPN Forever-free (paid version from $4.49/month) 100+ in 5 countries Unlimited 6% 1 Yes No
Avira Phantom VPN Forever-free (paid version from $3.92/month) 1 location on desktop, 49+ locations on mobile 500MB per month (1GB if you provide your email) 22% Unlimited No No

Tips on Choosing the Best Free or Paid VPN

I considered the following features to differentiate between the best free and paid VPNs. You can use these criteria to help make your own decision.

  • Pricing and free trials. The cost of a VPN is always one of the most important factors. I made sure that the paid VPNs I recommend offer great value. Free trials also allow you to assess the VPN's performance and features without commitment. Plus, using a trustworthy money-back guarantee is also a great way to try it out before committing.
  • Server network. A vast server network means more IP address options and typically better speeds due to closer servers. Free VPNs typically offer fewer options than premium VPNs, which can be problematic if you’re looking for a server in a specific location.
  • Data limits. Data caps are a common limitation in free VPNs, restricting the amount of data you can use per month. In contrast, paid VPNs usually offer unlimited data, making them suitable for high-bandwidth activities like secure streaming, gaming, and downloading.
  • Speeds. Speed is crucial for a seamless online experience. I tested VPNs by comparing download and upload speeds with and without the VPN connection across several servers. Significant speed reduction can impact streaming, gaming, and browsing activities.
  • Security. Security features protect against online threats and data breaches. I examined the types of encryption, the presence of a kill switch, and IP/DNS leak protection to ensure robust security measures are in place. There are some free VPN options that offer robust encryption, but many free options pose security risks.
  • Privacy. The privacy policy is a cornerstone of any VPN service, detailing how your data is handled. Look for VPNs with a strict no-logs policy to ensure that your online activities aren't recorded or shared.
  • Customer support availability. Reliable customer support is essential, especially when you encounter issues. I assessed the availability of support through live chat, email, and support documents, considering response times and the quality of assistance provided. Unfortunately, a free VPN with access to live chat support is hard to come by.

FAQs on Free VPNs vs Paid VPNs

What does Reddit say about free VPNs vs paid VPNs?

Reddit users generally agree that paid VPNs offer better security, privacy, and speeds than free VPNs. The general consensus is that free VPNs can be useful for casual browsing but fall short for activities requiring more robust security or high bandwidth. However, some users mention finding trustworthy free VPNs that meet their basic needs without cost.

Ultimately, it depends on your needs — you may find a limited freemium VPN that does just what you need. However, for top-notch security, unlimited data, fast speeds, and access to global server networks, you’ll be better off choosing a low-cost premium VPN with a money-back guarantee.

Are paid VPNs worth it?

Yes, paid VPNs are worth it if you prioritize privacy, security, and performance. Plus, you can often make use of free trials and money-back guarantees if you’re not ready to make the financial commitment.

Paid VPNs typically offer stronger encryption, no data caps, and support for streaming and torrenting. While the cost is a consideration, the benefits of enhanced features and peace of mind often justify the investment.

Is a free VPN better than no VPN?

It depends. I’d always recommend using a freemium VPN (a free version of a premium service) rather than a completely free VPN, as these are generally safer. A free VPN may be better than no VPN for basic web browsing, offering a layer of privacy and security. However, there are some dangerous free VPNs out there that could expose you to malware or sell your data to third parties, so make sure to do some research before downloading one.

For sensitive activities, a free VPN may not provide sufficient protection due to weaker encryption and the potential for data logging. Always exercise caution and choose reputable providers.

Can I get a free VPN without paying first?

Yes, you can get a free VPN without paying first. Many reputable VPN providers offer free versions of their services with limitations, such as data caps or fewer server options. Some offer trial periods for their premium services, allowing you to test the full features before committing.

While it does require payment upfront, making use of a money-back guarantee is a great way to test out a VPN before making a financial commitment. Most paid VPNs over a refund policy of 30 days, letting you try it out for 4 full weeks.

What are the disadvantages and risks of using a free VPN?

This can include limited data and speeds, potential logging of your data, and targeted ads based on your browsing history. Free VPNs may also lack the resources to update their security protocols, leaving you vulnerable to cyber threats. If you’re concerned about your online safety, it’s best to opt for a paid VPN for the best safety and functionality.

Get the Top Paid VPN Risk-Free

While free VPNs might seem appealing due to their cost-free nature, their limitations and security risks often render them a less desirable option. Free services can't match the performance of paid alternatives, which offer more reliable connections and robust security features. Fortunately, there are quality VPNs available that provide dependable service at a low cost.

I recommend ExpressVPN as the best choice when comparing free and paid VPNs. Its extensive server network, exceptional speeds, unlimited data, and unwavering commitment to user privacy and security make it stand out. Moreover, it comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, ensuring there's no risk in trying it out to see if it meets your needs for online privacy and security.

To summarize, the best paid and free VPNs for 2024 are…

Rank
Provider
Our Score
Discount
Visit Website
1
medal
9.9 /10
9.9 Our Score
Save 49%!
2
9.7 /10
9.7 Our Score
Save 83%!
3
9.2 /10
9.2 Our Score
Save 55%!
4
5.9 /10
5.9 Our Score
Save 40%!
Privacy Alert!

Your data is exposed to the websites you visit!

Your IP Address:

Your Location:

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The information above can be used to track you, target you for ads, and monitor what you do online.

VPNs can help you hide this information from websites so that you are protected at all times. We recommend ExpressVPN — the #1 VPN out of over 350 providers we've tested. It has military-grade encryption and privacy features that will ensure your digital security, plus — it's currently offering 49% off.

Visit ExpressVPN

We review vendors based on rigorous testing and research but also take into account your feedback and our affiliate commission with providers. Some providers are owned by our parent company.
Learn more
vpnMentor was established in 2014 to review VPN services and cover privacy-related stories. Today, our team of hundreds of cybersecurity researchers, writers, and editors continues to help readers fight for their online freedom in partnership with Kape Technologies PLC, which also owns the following products: ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, and Private Internet Access which may be ranked and reviewed on this website. The reviews published on vpnMentor are believed to be accurate as of the date of each article, and written according to our strict reviewing standards that prioritize professional and honest examination of the reviewer, taking into account the technical capabilities and qualities of the product together with its commercial value for users. The rankings and reviews we publish may also take into consideration the common ownership mentioned above, and affiliate commissions we earn for purchases through links on our website. We do not review all VPN providers and information is believed to be accurate as of the date of each article.

About the Author

Keira is an experienced cybersecurity and tech writer dedicated to providing comprehensive insights on VPNs, online privacy, and internet censorship.

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