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The best free VPN

You should really be paying for a VPN, but these free tiers and trials are solid for the short term.
The best free VPN Credit: Haley Henschel / Mashable

Another good VPN for streaming or travel
Pros & Cons
The Good
Issues quarterly transparency reports Up to 45-day money-back guarantee Free trial (up to seven days, depending on the platform) 24/7 support via email and live chat Clean app design Kill switch Up to 7 simultaneous connections Massive server network Affordable long-term plans
The Bad
Only just started conducting regular audits (and you have to jump through hoops to read them) No multi-hop connections Split tunneling only available on Android Switching servers prompted reCAPTCHA in testing Parent company has a shady past
The Bottomline
Best free VPN
Pros & Cons
The Good
Transparent, easily understandable privacy policy Regular security audits and transparency reports (available for anyone to read) Decent free version for occasional use Simple, adorable interface is very beginner-friendly Kill switch ("VigilantBear") Unlimited simultaneous connections with paid plan Split tunneling ("SplitBear") available on all platforms
The Bad
No money-back guarantee or on-demand support Not available on a ton of platforms No multi-hop connections Small server network compared to its competition Couldn't unblock regional content in testing
The Bottomline

In the realm of cybersecurity, "best VPN" and "paid VPN" are effectively synonyms. VPNs (aka virtual private networks) that are completely free to use do exist, but it's reasonable to assume that using one means maybe having your data logged and sold (or leaked) or downloading an app bundled with malware. They need to keep the lights on somehow.

A general rule of thumb is that paid, premium VPNs are the safest and most reliable VPN services out there (and we've got our own favorites). But there is a small loophole for cash-strapped users here, which is that some premium providers offer free tiers and trials. They're typically more limited than their paid counterparts, with usage restrictions and fewer server options, but they're at least protected by the same private practices (including no-logs policies). For users who are interested in trying a VPN for the first time or those who need one for infrequent, short-term use, they can be handy tools.

Read on for Mashable's guide to the best free VPNs that we've tried ourselves.

CyberGhost VPN

Another good VPN for streaming or travel

The good
Issues quarterly transparency reports Up to 45-day money-back guarantee Free trial (up to seven days, depending on the platform) 24/7 support via email and live chat Clean app design Kill switch Up to 7 simultaneous connections Massive server network Affordable long-term plans
The Bad
Only just started conducting regular audits (and you have to jump through hoops to read them) No multi-hop connections Split tunneling only available on Android Switching servers prompted reCAPTCHA in testing Parent company has a shady past
The Bottomline
Specs
  • Pricing: $12.99/month, $41.94/6 months, or $56.94/2 years + 4 extra free months

Read Mashable's full review of CyberGhost VPN.

Who it's for:

If you care about speed and location spoofing more than anything else, CyberGhost VPN has a gigantic server network that should make it easy to find a fast, dependable connection almost anywhere. Note that it's significantly cheaper than ExpressVPN if you opt for a longer-term plan, but its privacy practices pale in comparison. (It's also owned by Kape.)

Why we like it:

The closer a VPN server is to your actual location, the faster your connection is going to be. With CyberGhost, you should never find yourself stuck in a no man's land: It lays claim to the largest server network out of all the VPNs I've tried, boasting more than 11,500 locations worldwide. That includes specialty servers optimized for streaming, torrenting, and gaming, which only allow traffic for their respective activities.

I tested CyberGhost out of my home in Chicago, and found its list-based app clean and intuitive. It was quick to get me online, reliable when I was browsing, and adept at unblocking regional content. Its servers never improved my connection speeds —?no VPN can — but using it felt like I didn't have a VPN running at all... well, most of the time. I got prompted to complete a reCAPTCHA every time I switched CyberGhost servers, which meant Google could tell I was using a VPN. This suggests that the servers I used were crowded, but since I personally didn't notice any slowdowns, I just consider it a slight hiccup. If you want to see if you run into the same issue, CyberGhost offers a free trial (up to seven days long, depending on the platform) and an industry-leading 45-day money-back guarantee.

Feature-wise, CyberGhost only offers split tunneling on Android. Multi-hop is a no-go.

I don't love the fact that CyberGhost only just started completing regular independent audits, and that you can only get a copy by requesting it via email, filling out a contact form, or by creating a CyberGhost account. Security wonks may pass on it simply because it's owned by Kape. But CyberGhost deserves a teensy bit of credit for issuing transparency reports longer than anyone else (since 2011). As of 2019, they come out quarterly.

TunnelBear

Best free VPN

The good
Transparent, easily understandable privacy policy Regular security audits and transparency reports (available for anyone to read) Decent free version for occasional use Simple, adorable interface is very beginner-friendly Kill switch ("VigilantBear") Unlimited simultaneous connections with paid plan Split tunneling ("SplitBear") available on all platforms
The Bad
No money-back guarantee or on-demand support Not available on a ton of platforms No multi-hop connections Small server network compared to its competition Couldn't unblock regional content in testing
The Bottomline
Specs
  • TunnelBear Free: Free!
  • TunnelBear Teams: $5.75/user per month
  • TunnelBear Unlimited: $9.99/month, $59.88/year, or $120/3 years

Read Mashable's full review of TunnelBear.

Who it's for:

TunnelBear is an easygoing VPN with a restricted but workable free tier that's good for short-term, occasional use. It's also a good pick for those who didn't know what "VPN" stood for prior to reading this guide: The TunnelBear app is extremely easy to navigate and jargon-free.

Why we picked this:

McAfee's TunnelBear democratizes the VPN experience, forgoing supplementary security features and convoluted industry lingo in favor of a charming, basic app. (It'll underwhelm power users, but VPN beginners should find it refreshingly approachable.) Users can connect to servers by sending a little bear to yellow pipes on its posterized map interface — pretty cute — or by selecting locations from a list. It was reliably fast in testing, but I'd only recommend it for casual browsing (not traveling or streaming): TunnelBear's network is on the smaller side and can't unblock regional content. Split tunneling is available on all platforms, though it's usually limited to web- or app-based traffic, not both. There's no multi-hop.

TunnelBear gives users the option of signing up for a free tier, which includes one simultaneous connection, country-level server selection, and 2GB of browsing data per month. Per a TunnelBear rep, free users are subsidized by the provider's paid subscribers and covered by the same no-logs policy. (There's also no credit card required to sign up; some premium VPNs' free trials mandate it.) If you decide to upgrade, a paid Unlimited plan unlocks unlimited bandwidth, unlimited simultaneous connections, and city-level server selection. However, users should be mindful that TunnelBear doesn't offer any sort of money-back guarantee, and refunds are only available on a case-by-case basis.

TunnelBear gets special props for its commitment to transparency, having been the first consumer VPN to publish a third-party audit of its infrastructure and technologies back in 2017. It's done one every year since, and the seventh and most recent one was published in February 2024. (You can read it in full without an account.) The company also posts

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