Free VPN vs Paid VPN: which one should you choose and why?
We’re all spending more and more time on the Internet, so staying secure online has never been so important. Using a VPN is, therefore, a very sensible idea because it will protect your identity by encrypting your network. Whether you’re at home, at work, or even using public wifi – your data will be kept completely private.
But with so many options in the market, it can be difficult to decide which VPN to choose. And with so many free solutions available, plenty of people looking to download a VPN might be tempted to opt for one that won’t cost them anything.
But are free VPNs too good to be true? Or will you be compromising your security to save money? Read on to find out all the truth about free vs paid VPNs, and decide for yourself.
Why are there free VPNs?
VPNs vary dramatically in price, and, as with most long-term subscriptions, cheaper options can often seem more tempting. By extension, a solution that will encrypt your data and keep you safe online without costing you a cent sounds too good to be true.
When choosing a free VPN, you could opt for a freemium, which is a basic version of a provider’s paid-for solutions. Or you could pick a completely free provider that doesn't offer any paid subscription plans.
Generally speaking, a freemium would be a much safer choice because they use strong encryption and robust security measures. But they are much more limited and offer far fewer servers than their premium counterparts. VPNs offered by completely free providers, on the other hand, generally offer you access to a wider range of servers and features. However, they often compromise privacy for money by selling customer data to third parties.
Having said all this, using a free VPN might be appropriate for occasional light use. But there are a lot of risks involved, which we’ll discuss in the next section.
The risks of using a free VPN
As we’ve mentioned, using a free VPN could actually do your security more harm than good and therefore defeats the main purpose of using one. Here, we’ll explain some of the biggest risks of using a free provider:
Sell browsing data
Like all companies, free VPN providers need to make money. And if they’re not charging their customers, they need to find alternative means of generating revenue. Plenty of free providers are open about sharing session data with advertisers, who can then target you with ads.
Once these third parties have access to your private information, they can harvest your data. This will compromise your privacy, which will make your data less safe than it would be without a VPN.
Weak security and encryption
Running a secure network with sophisticated encryption and a range of high-quality international servers is an expensive business. So it’s no surprise that free providers usually cut corners and offer weaker security.
Therefore, unlike their paid-for competitors, lots of free providers use weak encryption and unreliable security measures. This can make it easy for the encryption to be deciphered by cyber criminals and spy agencies, such as the US NSA.
Wifi throttling and slow speeds
Using a free VPN can slow your Internet speeds because it reroutes your traffic. But poor-quality or free VPNs can dramatically slow your speeds, often by 50% or more.
That’s because free VPNs have fewer servers, which means that more users have to share a single server, allowing it to become overloaded. Some of these servers may even be loaded with malware that will throttle your Wi-Fi and drain your bandwidth.
As you might expect, free VPNs offer very limited features in comparison to paid-for options. This will restrict what you can use the VPN for. An example of this is the small number of poor-quality servers that aren’t strong enough to unblock region restrictions on streaming services, such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer, or Hulu.
On top of this, they often impose data caps, so you can only use them lightly before running out of bandwidth.
Puts at risk of malware and DNS attacks
One of the most concerning traits of a free VPN is that it can contain malware that causes damage to your privacy and perhaps even to your devices. By using a free solution, you’re at a higher risk of being exposed to ransomware and malware that could steal sensitive information, such as security details and bank logins.
It can also compromise your security by leaving you vulnerable to DNS attacks.
Why are paid VPNs worth the price?
Using a free VPN will almost always work out to be a false economy, as it will struggle to deliver what you need while risking your privacy and security. Therefore, paying a small monthly subscription fee for a premium VPN will prove to be a much safer option.
Here, we’ll explain all the benefits of using a reputable paid provider.
Strong security and encryption
Premium providers offer genuinely strong security that will keep your data completely hidden while you’re online. The best providers offer end-to-end AES 256-bit encryption, along with a range of tunneling protocols to ensure your sensitive information can’t be viewed by any third party without your permission.
On top of this, paid-for solutions tend to come with a whole suite of additional security features, such as split tunneling, kill switches, and leak protection. Some of the more reputable ones even operate strict zero-logs policies to give you complete peace of mind that no one will ever be able to hack your data.
Unlocks services, streaming, bypasses geo-restrictions
Most streaming services use sophisticated technology to detect and block VPN traffic. Therefore, you need to use a VPN with a large range of strong and secure servers that can successfully disguise your IP address to make it appear as though you’re inside that location.
Paid VPNs tend to offer a lot more servers, and the servers it does have will usually be strong enough to unblock any region-restricted content you want, including BBC iPlayer, various Netflix libraries, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and more.
Features and servers
VPNs are like most products in that you get what you pay for. And that means that paid-for options come with far more servers in a much wider range of locations worldwide. This will give you endless options for accessing geo-blocked content from around the world and help you to access sites and services from back home while you’re traveling.
Great for torrenting
Another helpful feature of paid-for VPNs is that most of them offer support for torrenting, which will allow you to torrent while remaining safe online. And encrypting your traffic will also prevent your internet service provider (ISP) from being able to track what you’re doing. This means that it won’t be able to throttle your speeds.
Speaking of speeds, one of the most frustrating things about using a free VPN provider is that it will almost certainly slow your Internet speeds. A paid-for provider, on the other hand, will usually use a protocol, such as WireGuard, to deliver fast and reliable speeds.
These will allow you to perform bandwidth-intensive activities, such as streaming movies and playing games without you having to deal with any buffering.
Premium paid VPNs
- NordVPN – the best paid VPN overall
- Surfshark – best value for money VPN
- IPVanish – inexpensive all-around VPN protection
To find the best paid-for VPNs, we tested out a range of providers against a range of criteria, including security, speed, and the ability to unblock location-restricted content. We also compared prices to ensure they offer good value for money.
1. NordVPN – the top paid VPN provider
|🌎 Based in:||Panama|
|🖥️ Servers/countries:||5,800+ servers in 60 countries|
|🍿Streaming sites:||Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Disney+, and more|
|🔥Current deal:||Get NordVPN with 68% OFF + 3 months FREE!|
No matter your reasons for wanting to use a VPN, NordVPN is our number one choice. It has an outstanding fleet of more than 5,800 servers in 60 countries from all over the world, giving you no end of options for unblocking region-restricted sites and services.
When putting it to the test, we were able to use NordVPN to unblock all our favorite geo-blocked content, including BBC iPlayer, Hulu, ESPN, and international libraries of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney Plus with a 100% success rate.
More importantly, though, NordVPN is the most secure VPN we’ve ever used, offering top-tier AES-256 encryption, along with a customizable kill switch to keep your traffic completely hidden, even if your VPN connection drops. And it supports torrenting.
Better still, it has an independently audited zero-logs policy, which means that no record of your data is being kept by your provider. This should provide you with total reassurance while you’re browsing.
This provider also delivers fast and reliable speeds thanks to its own tunneling protocol, NordLynx. When testing it out, we consistently experienced zero buffering when streaming geo-blocked TV shows from around the world.
If you want to try out NordVPN, it offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. So you could actually use it for a whole month before you commit to a long-term payment plan. Once that’s expired, plans start from just $3.19/month. And if cost is important to you, be sure to use one of our exclusive NordVPN coupon codes to guarantee you’re getting the best possible price!
Read our in-depth NordVPN review to find out everything you need to know.
2. Surfshark – affordable top-notch VPN
|🌎 Based in:||The Netherlands|
|🖥️ Servers/countries:||3,200+ servers in 100 countries|
|🍿Streaming sites:||Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, and more|
|🔥Current deal:||Get 82% OFF Surfshark + 2 months FREE|
If getting good value for money is important to you, Surfshark is one of the best options you can find because you get loads of fantastic features for a very reasonable price. First things first, it boasts a secure fleet of over 3,200 servers in 100 countries worldwide, which will help you unblock endless content from all over the globe. This will be particularly helpful if you’re traveling.
Whenever we’ve tested it out, Surfshark has never struggled to bypass geo-blocks on any streaming service we’ve tested it on. That includes ESPN, Hulu, and YouTube TV, in addition to different libraries of Netflix.
But one of Surfshark’s main selling points is its speed: it’s the fastest VPN we’ve ever had the pleasure of using. This makes it the perfect solution for delivering buttery-smooth streaming from anywhere.
But beyond this, Surfshark also provides robust security that’s more than capable of allowing you to remain completely anonymous while you’re online. Its features include AES-256 encryption, DNS leak protection, a kill switch, and two-factor authentication. For enhanced privacy, Surfshark implements a strict no-logs policy.
And as if all this wasn’t good enough, you also get unlimited simultaneous connections, so you and all your family can use it at the same time. It also offers support for torrenting.
To allow you to try before you buy, Surfshark offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can use it for a whole month before deciding if you want to pay for it. And speaking of which, subscriptions start from a very reasonable $2.30/month. And as if that price point wasn’t tempting enough, we’ve got exclusive discounts for Surfshark to help you get some money off!
Not sure if this is the provider for you? Check out our Surshark VPN review to learn more.
3. IPVanish – unlimited simultaneous connections VPN
|🌎 Based in:||United States|
|🖥️ Servers/countries:||2,200+ servers in 52 countries|
|🍿Streaming sites:||Netflix, BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Disney+, and more|
|🔥Current deal:||Get 75% OFF IPVanish!|
If this guide has convinced you of the benefits of using a reputable VPN, IPVanish is one of the most reliable providers on the market. It offers a secure selection of more than 2,200 servers in 52 countries from around the world. And although this isn’t as many as the other providers on this list, it’s still considerably more than you’d ever get with a free solution.
And the servers it does have are incredibly secure. In fact, when we used it to unblock location-restricted content, it never once let us down. It was able to bypass geo-blocks on BBC iPlayer, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video within seconds.
Elsewhere, IPVanish offers impressive security that will guarantee your private information will be safe while you’re online. On top of AES-256-bit encryption, it also has a SOCKS5 proxy, a customizable kill switch, and DNS leak protection.
It also delivers consistently fast, reliable speeds that won’t slow you down while you’re streaming. And it comes with unlimited simultaneous connections, so you can use it on all your devices at once. You can even use it for torrenting.
If you’d like to test it out, IPVanish offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can try it out before you commit. After this, prices start at just $2.99/month. And be sure to check out our exclusive IPVanish deals to ensure you’re getting the best possible price.
Do you still need convincing? Take a look at our IPVanish review for more information.
Free vs paid VPN comparison
As we’ve discussed, free VPNs are much more limited than paid-for providers and are much less secure. To help illustrate this, we’ve pulled together a table to show what free VPNs generally offer compared with what you can expect from a high-end VPN, such as the ones recommended above:
|Feature||Free VPN||Paid VPN|
|Onion over VPN||❌||✅|
How to pick the right VPN
When looking for the best VPN, it’s most important to choose a provider that offers strong security features to protect your sensitive online information. So, be sure to look for a solution that comes with the next-gen encryption, as well as leak protection, and a kill switch.
On top of this, be sure to find a VPN that has a large fleet of secure international servers that are capable of spoofing your location so you can access geo-blocked sites and services from anywhere. You’ll also need to check that it can deliver fast speeds that won’t slow you down while you’re online. NordVPN offers all of this and more, so it’s our number-one choice. It’s out top choice provider, which offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can try it for free without any risk.
Truthfully, you’re very unlikely to find a free VPN that will tick any of these boxes, let alone all of them. And because your privacy and security are too important to compromise on, we’d strongly recommend paying a small monthly subscription for a reliable VPN that will keep you safe from cybercriminals.
Has this guide helped you decide which VPN to choose? If you need any extra help, be sure to send us a message using the comments section below and one of our experts will reply.
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Should I use a free VPN?
We don’t recommend using a free VPN because it could compromise and even harm your online security by selling your data to third parties and leaving you vulnerable to malware. Instead, we’d suggest using a reasonably-priced paid option, such as NordVPN, to keep your data safe while you’re online.
Is it worth paying for a VPN?
Yes, paid-for VPNs are a lot safer than free VPNs because they use sophisticated encryption, as well as secure servers to keep your information hidden from hackers. Also, they have much larger fleets of servers, which will be strong enough to bypass geo-blocks on region-restricted content.
Do paid VPNs sell data?
Technically, yes. Both free and paid VPNs have been known to sell user data and potentially track your Internet activity. For this reason, we recommend choosing only those premium VPN providers that ensure your privacy and implement strict no-logs policy, such as NordVPN or Surfshark.
Which is the best-value VPN?
Throughout our testing, NordVPN consistently performed best for security. And, at only $3.19/month, you get a lot for your money. Alternatively, Surfshark is a cheaper option that still offers strong privacy features, as well as unlimited simultaneous connections and the fastest speeds around.