Free VPN vs. Paid VPN — Which One Should You Pick?
Most digital security experts will tell you to avoid completely free providers. These services are often followed by a reputation for being unsafe. Yet, free VPN providers don’t seem to be losing their popularity. In fact, there seem to be more free VPN services than ever before. So, why should you go for a paid VPN?
Well, paid VPN products come with a long list of advantages. From better performance to stronger online security features, more servers, and many other perks. If you’re a beginner VPN user, you might find it hard to determine which side of this free vs. paid VPN debate you should stand on.
Luckily, you’ve come to the right place. In this comprehensive comparison page, I’ll go over everything free and paid VPNs offer to help you decide which you should pick. Are paid VPNs worth the subscription price, or are free VPNs competent enough to do the job? Here’s the info that will help you decide.
Best Paid VPNs:
- NordVPN – Best overall VPN with advanced security features.
- Surfshark – Affordable yet feature-rich VPN.
- PrivateVPN – Excellent VPN with reliable performance.
Best Free VPNs:
- AtlasVPN – Offers a generous free plan.
- ProtonVPN – Trusted free VPN provider that is known for its privacy.
- HotspotShield – Free VPN with a user-friendly interface.
What Is a Free VPN?
Free VPNs offer basic Virtual Private Network functionality without requiring a subscription or payment. They are typically available as downloadable software applications or browser extensions that can be installed on various devices.
How Do Free VPNs Make Money?
If free VPN providers don’t charge you for their services, it’s entirely legitimate to pose the question, how do they stay in business without any subscription fees? Here are several ways how these providers monetize free services:
- Tracking and Selling Your Browsing Data — The most worrying way some free providers make money is by collecting browsing data, such as browsing habits, device information, and IP addresses. They then sell this data to third-party companies for marketing or analytics purposes. Needless to say, such free VPN companies are best avoided.
- Including Ads In Their Apps — Free VPNs often display targeted ads within their applications or browser extensions. These advertisements can be in the form of banners, pop-ups, or sponsored content. Advertisers pay the VPN provider to display these ads to their user base. Even worse, sometimes, these ads can include malware.
- Affiliate Programs — Some free VPNs participate in affiliate programs where they earn a commission for referring users to other products or services. This can include promoting antivirus software, browser extensions, or other VPN services.
- Working On a Freemium Model — Lastly, the most upright way free VPN services can stay in business is to simply incentivize their users to sign up for premium VPN plans. They offer a free version with limited features and unlock full features such as unlimited data or more VPN server options when you get a paid subscription.
Pros and Cons of Free VPN Providers
- No Cost — The most apparent advantage of free VPN services is that they don’t require any financial commitment. They offer basic VPN functionality without requiring a subscription fee, making them an accessible option for users on a tight budget.
- Easy to Get Started — Free VPNs typically have simple setup processes and user-friendly interfaces, making them easy for beginners. They often provide straightforward applications or browser extensions that can be installed and activated quickly.
- Limited Performance — When using a free VPN, you will have to accept that it will offer greatly limited features compared to its paid counterparts. They may have a restricted number of server locations, slower connection speeds due to overcrowded servers, and data caps that can impact your browsing experience.
- Lacking Online Security and Privacy Features — Free VPNs may not employ robust encryption protocols or security measures, leaving your data vulnerable to interception or unauthorized access. Some free VPNs have even been associated with malware or other malicious activities.
- Inconsistent Streaming and Geo-Unblocking — Free VPNs often struggle to bypass geo-restrictions imposed by streaming platforms like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, or Hulu. Even if they work initially, these services actively block VPN servers, resulting in limited access to the desired content.
- Limited Customer Support — Free VPN services typically provide minimal or no customer support. If you encounter issues or require assistance, you may not receive prompt or reliable help.
Pros and Cons of Paid VPNs
- Enhanced Security and Privacy — Paid VPN providers offer advanced encryption protocols and robust security features to ensure the protection of your online activities. They often have strict no-logs policies, meaning they don’t store your browsing history or personal data, providing a higher level of privacy.
- Faster Speeds and Reliable Performance — Paid VPNs generally have larger server networks with optimized infrastructure, resulting in faster speeds and more stable connections. This is particularly important for activities such as streaming, gaming, or downloading large files,
- Wide Range of Server Locations — Paid VPNs typically offer a vast selection of server locations across multiple countries, allowing you to bypass geolocation restrictions and access content from different regions. This can be especially beneficial for streaming services or accessing region-specific websites.
- Customer Support — Many paid VPN providers provide dedicated customer support with various channels, such as live chat, email, or phone support. Their support teams can assist you with any technical issues or concerns you may encounter, ensuring a smoother VPN experience.
- Additional Features and Flexibility — Paid VPNs often come with additional features like split tunneling, dedicated IP addresses, ad blockers, or malware protection. These features provide added flexibility and customization options to tailor your VPN experience to your specific needs.
- Reliability and Trustworthiness — Paid VPNs have a reputation to uphold and regularly invest in maintaining their infrastructure and security measures. They adhere to high standards of user privacy and data protection, with the top paid VPNs engaging in public and transparent audits.
- Cost — Premium VPNs require a financial commitment. Subscription fees can vary depending on the provider and the chosen plan, which may be a barrier for users on a tight budget. Still, this is the only negative aspect following a long list of advantages paid VPN services have over their free VPN counterparts.
Free vs. Paid VPN Comparison Table
There’s a lot of important information to remember in the context of free VPN vs. paid VPN services. To make this comparison a bit easier to digest, I’ve made a detailed comparison table highlighting key differences between free and paid VPN services:
|Free VPN Providers||Paid Services|
|Cost||Free||Subscription-based with varying price plans|
|Data Privacy||Data collection and selling||Strict no-logs policy|
|Security||Limited encryption protocols||Strong encryption and robust security measures|
|Server Network||Limited server locations||Extensive server network with global coverage|
|Performance||Slower speeds and congestion||Faster speeds and optimized server infrastructure|
|Customer Support||Minimal or no support||Dedicated customer support channels|
|Features and Options||Limited functionality||Advanced features (split tunneling, dedicated IPs, etc.)|
|Streaming and Geo-blocking||Inconsistent bypassing of restrictions||Reliable access to geo-restricted content|
|Advertisements||Ad-supported or upselling||No advertisements or upselling|
The 3 Best Paid VPNs – our detailed list:
If you decide on a paid service, it’s hard to pick a better provider than NordVPN. This Panama-based provider’s product offers all-around top-quality to meet all of your online requirements. It offers over 5,700 servers, the most of any VPNs on this list, free or paid.
NordVPN is also my top-performing pick in terms of connection speed. It’s faster than my second and third selections by about 10%. This is because this paid VPN uses a proprietary NordLynx protocol, arguably the fastest encryption protocol in the industry.
Naturally, as one of the best in the business, NordVPN is also a very secure VPN service. It protects your digital security with a Threat Protection feature and a Dark Web Monitor. It also includes advanced features such as split tunneling, Double VPN, SmartDNS, and more.
It is a bit more expensive than the other two premium VPN providers on my list. Also, it only allows six simultaneous connections per plan. However, if you want the best paid VPN money can get, NordVPN is well worth the subscription money.
Apart from NordVPN, I find Surfshark to be the best paid VPN service in the business. It offers some of the fastest speeds around, with over 3,200 servers in 100 countries. It doesn’t have an in-house protocol like NordVPN but supports the trusted WireGuard protocol.
Surfshark ticks all of the boxes of what a paid VPN should look like. It includes impressive security features like CleanWeb, Bypasser, and Camouflage Mode. It boasts private DNS on each server and has a strict no-logs policy, which has been audited and verified.
Despite coming in second place, Surfshark has some advantages over NordVPN. It supports unlimited devices per plan, completely topping NordVPN in this regard. It is also a more budget-friendly option than NordVPN long-term. This is particularly important to keep in mind if you want a premium VPN that doesn’t break the bank.
PrivateVPN is the best VPN service for casual VPN users who want a premium provider and value simplicity and reliability in their service. It’s the most reliable VPN I’ve ever tested, with a fantastic 99.98% uptime. This makes it a great pick for streaming, gaming, and any other activity that requires stable and fast connections.
PrivateVPN doesn’t excel in any field in particular compared to NordVPN or Surfshark. But, it has great fundamentals across the board and is a very sound service overall. It offers above-average speeds and covers over 200 server locations.
PrivateVPN’s apps are very intuitive and enable you to use them in Simple or Advanced View. This provides a great deal of customizability based on how precisely you want to fine-tune your service. You can connect up to ten devices, which provides you with more flexibility than you can get with NordVPN.
The 3 Best Free VPNs
1. Atlas VPN
After reviewing and comparing dozens of free services, I’ve found Atlas VPN to be the best free VPN provider you can sign up for in 2023. Atlas VPN’s free service delivers great Internet speed and three free VPN server locations. All three servers are P2P friendly, and two of them are optimized for streaming services, allowing you to access sites like Netflix and the BBC iPlayer without issues.
What makes Atlas VPN stand out from other free VPNs are its outstanding security and privacy features. This VPN company has passed multiple audits over the years and has a strict no-logs policy. It has a reliable kill switch that offers IP and DNS leak protection. It also supports the WireGuard protocol and uses strong 256-bit VPN encryption.
Still, Atlas VPN isn’t the best free VPN in every regard. It can’t compare to Proton VPN’s fantastic offer of unlimited bandwidth, as this service only offers 5 GB per month. However, it offers unlimited simultaneous connections.
2. Proton VPN
Proton VPN’s free version is a solid contrast to what my previous pick offers. Unlike Atlas VPN, Proton VPN doesn’t let you have unlimited simultaneous connections per plan. With a free plan, you can only connect one device per account.
On the other hand, it doesn’t limit your online activity in any way, as it’s one of the few free VPNs to offer unlimited Internet traffic. Similarly to Atlas VPN, this provider also offers servers in three countries. However, its servers cover more locations, as you can pick between multiple servers in the US. In total, you will have over 60 servers at your disposal.
That said, Proton VPN’s free plan is noticeably slower than Atlas VPN’s. Although you get unlimited access in terms of total monthly data, the speeds are average. Plus, you don’t get access to any sophisticated features to protect your online activity.
3. Hotspot Shield
Like the previous two free VPN companies, Hotspot Shield is technically a freemium provider that offers both free and paid plans. And, compared to my two selections above, it even has some advantages that might sway you to pick it over Atlas VPN or Proton VPN.
Hotspot Shield’s free VPN plan offers great freedom and usability without any financial attachments. You get over 800 servers and upgradable bandwidth limits, two factors you’ll rarely find in a trusted free VPN service provider. The only factor that might be slightly limiting is that you can connect only one device per VPN subscription.
Of course, if you decide to upgrade to a paid version, you can get a boost on nearly all fronts. Your maximum VPN connection speed and total number of physical servers will remain the same. However, you can unlock over a hundred more virtual locations, optimized streaming and gaming features, and up to 25 connections (depending on the plan).
Free VPN vs. Paid VPN FAQs
Should I use a free VPN service?
Using a free VPN isn’t inherently damaging, but it can come with certain trade-offs. While it can provide some level of privacy and security, free VPNs often have limitations, such as restricted features, slower speeds, and potential privacy concerns.
Is NordVPN free?
No, NordVPN is not a free VPN service. However, this industry-leading VPN provider offers money-back guarantees on all of its plans. This is a great way to test what this premium service provider offers without having to risk any money.
Are free VPNs safe?
Free VPNs can pose potential risks to user privacy and security. Some free VPNs sell browsing data, compromise encryption protocols, or engage in malicious activities. If you want maximum privacy and security, opt for a reputable paid VPN service.
Do free VPNs work with Netflix?
While a free VPN might occasionally bypass Netflix’s detection and allow you to access content from different regions, I should note that this can be unreliable and won’t work consistently. If you want to stream regularly, a free service is not the best pick.
Is a free VPN better than no VPN?
Using a free VPN service can be better than using no VPN service at all. However, it primarily depends on your needs. A free VPN will help you avoid geo-restrictions and encrypt your data. At the same time, it might log and sell your data.
Summing It Up – How to Make the Right Choice
When comparing free VPN vs. paid VPN offers, you should take your specific needs and priorities into consideration. While free VPNs may be appealing due to their cost, they often come with limitations and potential risks. Paid VPNs, on the other hand, offer several advantages that may better suit your requirements.
This is why it’s crucial to consider factors such as security and privacy features, total bandwidth and server numbers, and any additional features you might emphasize. This will help you make an informed decision when selecting the right VPN for your needs.
If you want to lock up your sensitive data and obtain top-quality performance, I recommend NordVPN as the best VPN you can get. Plus, its 30-day money-back guarantee allows you to try it out for an entire month, risk-free.