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Free VPN vs. Paid VPN – Which One Should You Choose?

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A paid VPN is nine times out of ten superior to a free VPN, especially regarding functionality, ease of use, security, speed, and reliability. The free VPN can, however, offer a “lower” price. But you end up paying for that zero cost by exposing your data to advertisers and possibly hackers.

If you’re still in doubt, continue reading to learn more about the differences between free and paid VPNs to decide which is best for you.

Free VPNs vs. Paid VPNs: Similarities and Differences

Before getting complete comparisons, check the table below for the comparison criteria and a sneak peek of how free VPNs and paid VPNs matchup:

Criteria Free VPNs Paid VPNs
Encryption Weak. Leaks your internet activity to hackers, your ISP, the government, advertisers, etc. Strong. End-to-end, AES 256-bit encryption
Number of servers Less than 10 3000+
Price Free $2-$6/month
Simultaneous device connections One device at a time Multiple devices (5 - Unlimited)
Advertising and user data Free VPNs still need to make money somehow. It may show you ads or collect and sell your data to third parties. Paid VPN gets money directly from subscribers, so it doesn’t need to resort to underhand tricks.
Data coverage or usage Imposes bandwidth limitations Unlimited bandwidth
Data protection No legal obligations to protect your identity and can be obliged to store logs Keeps a strict no-logs policy
Connection speed Free VPN means more traffic, slower speeds, data transfer limits, and connection drops More servers to achieve the best connection speeds
Server countries 1-5+ 100+
Additional features Few Many
24/7 customer support No Yes

With some of the top paid VPNs in the market not costing much more than two to three dollars a month, does it give you that much more for relatively so little? 

Let’s get into the details.

Security

End-to-end AES 256-bit encryption is standard in the top paid VPNs, and they support a range of tunneling protocols, including OpenVPN. Some VPNs even go above and beyond for security by including features like Double VPN, split tunneling, kill switches, and DNS/IPv6 leak prevention.

On the other hand, many free VPNs employ underhanded security methods and unsecure (or a lack of) encryption.

Online Anonymity

A reliable paid VPN service won’t track your online activities.

Most also have strict no-logging policies, meaning your data disappears completely once it leaves your computer.

The same doesn’t apply to free VPNs, as they can easily record, track and monitor all your communications to sell to other entities. After all, they have to make their money back somewhere.

Speed or Bandwidth Limits

You won’t find speed limits and bandwidth caps with paid VPNs.

This is ideal for video streaming, torrenting, gaming, and general P2P activities.

It’s a different story with free VPNs, notorious for their intentional speed throttling, small server networks (leading to congestion), and constant ads which slow your browsing to a crawl.

Server Locations

Some paid VPNs have thousands of servers in more than 100 countries. 

This technically means you’ll get unlimited global access to sites and services to everything geo-blocked online.

Free VPN services always limit the number of servers available to you. 

They do this to prevent you from overloading their servers or to force you to upgrade to a paid plan.

Access to Streaming Services

Streaming providers are well aware of VPNs and attempt to ban them as much as possible. Only a reputable premium provider has the technical know-how and resources to consistently stay a step ahead.

vpn for hbo and other streaming services
Unblocking streaming services is a breeze with paid VPNs like Surfshark

These are your best options for watching BBC iPlayer or US Netflix (or other preferred streaming services) overseas.

Internet Censorship

Like geo-blocking, a paid VPN is your best option to bypass government-mandated internet filtering systems in countries such as China and Russia.

These paid VPNs can invest in the resources and technological know-how to get through a sophisticated firewall, but free VPNs can’t be bothered to go that far.

Customer Support

Providing excellent customer service to users around the world requires the availability of skilled personnel around the clock. Because the expense is borne by the user and is included in the plan, paid VPNs can afford to hire such customer care agents.

While free VPNs usually offer standard email support, don’t expect timely replies, if any at all.

Other Features

Many premium services like Surfshark allow you to use their service on an unlimited number of devices simultaneously with one subscription. Others like NordVPN and CyberGhost offer dedicated IPs, P2P servers, and built-in malware and ad blockers.

In contrast, free VPNs offer limited features and set restrictive data caps to force users to upgrade to a paid plan.

How Do Free VPNs Make Money?

free vpns are unreliable
Free VPNs are unreliable, as in the case of this user

VPN services, like any other service provider, must make money to stay in business. 

And, if consumers aren’t paying for it, these providers must find other methods to generate income. This is where most problems with free VPNs begin.

They mostly make money by:

  • Tracking and selling your browsing data: One of the primary ways free VPNs generate income is by selling your personal information to data brokers. They may sell information such as the sites you visit, what you buy, how long you remain online, and the type of gadget you use.
  • Bombarding you with ads: Displaying advertisements is a popular method of monetizing free services (including VPNs). However, being continually blasted with advertisements can be bothersome. Worse, some advertisements may be harmful and infect your computer/phone with malware.
  • Pushing you to upgrade to a paid version: Some free VPNs provide limited capabilities and impose data restrictions to compel customers to switch to a paying service.

When Is It OK to Use a Free VPN?

A safe and trusted free VPN service may perform well in some circumstances. 

However, I’m primarily referring to light and infrequent use.

For example, if you’re using public Wi-Fi and want extra security, even if it’s imperfect, a free VPN service is a better option than no VPN.

Free VPNs can also work if you’re overseas and want to access a geo-blocked service or site in your own country or to unblock a paid VPN site to get a subscription when browsing over restrictive networks.

Best Paid VPNs With Amazing Value for Money (+Discounts)

If you’re after a VPN with robust security, privacy, great streaming capabilities, and other advanced features to enhance anonymity at an affordable rate, the following paid VPNs are a safe bet.

ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN performs admirably in every online activity you throw at it. 

It’s not the cheapest, but when you consider its features, it provides excellent value.

They are as follows:

  • Speed: I tested this VPN, and my speeds only fell from 630Mbps to 560Mbps. So, it’s still fast enough to keep you connected and surfing without annoying latency.
  • Encryption: In addition to fundamental security methods such as AES-256 encryption, it employs perfect forward secrecy to update encryption keys regularly for additional security. Furthermore, you get a twice-audited no-logs policy, a wide range of protocols, split tunneling, and a kill switch.
  • Servers: ExpressVPN has a substantial network of over 3,000 RAM-only servers spread across 160 locations in 94 countries. Thus, you can unblock France TV on its France servers, get Crave TV over Canada servers, and access Netflix libraries in different countries
  • Streaming: Its ability to circumvent geoblocks is unsurpassed, making it the ideal VPN for viewing Netflix, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, and other streaming services anywhere.
  • Additional features: ExpressVPN includes a strict no-logs policy, compatibility with many devices (including mobile devices, PCs, smart TVs, and routers), and unrivaled ease of use.

Interested in ExpressVPN? Here are some limited-time deals to sweeten your purchase.

NordVPN

NordVPN is one of the quickest and most dependable VPNs, and its ability to bypass streaming geoblocks is excellent. Here are other reasons why it’s on this list of the best-paid VPNs:

  • Security: Beyond the basic security and privacy features, NordVPN provides Threat Protection to fend off malware and malicious You’ll also get the industry-standard AES-256 encryption, advanced features like Double VPN and Onion Over VPN, and an in-house NordLynx protocol for speed and security.
  • Speed: NordVPN features incredible speeds thanks to its WireGuard-based NordLynx protocol.
  • Servers: Besides the usual servers (5200+ servers in 58+ countries), NordVPN has specialty servers for even better online privacy and security. Its obfuscated servers will hide your VPN use, whereas the double VPN servers offer twice the server encryption, which is great for whistleblowers, journalists, and human rights activists. Other notable NordVPN specialty servers include P2P servers (optimized for torrenting) and Onion over VPN servers.
  • Simultaneous device connections: One subscription covers six devices, and you’ll be able to stream overseas content or encrypt your internet connection on your computer, Smart TV, mobile phone, or router.
  • Meshnet: The feature is particularly enticing for remote teams as it helps connect up to 60 devices over a virtual LAN.

The best part is that all these features are available at a relatively affordable price. 

You can read our NordVPN review to learn more or take advantage of the latest NordVPN discounts to test it risk-free.

Surfshark

Surfshark has gripped the VPN market by the back of the neck in recent years, offering a large service in both quality and pricing. Here are a few reasons why it shines:

  • Speed: Although it doesn’t match the speeds or the streaming performance of NordVPN and ExpressVPN, that doesn’t mean it’s a fly-by-night service. On the contrary, it unblocks all major streaming sites and loads videos without buffering or
  • Security: It comes with a malware and ad blocker called CleanWeb. Other security features include OpenVPN UDP & TCP and WireGuard protocols, a private DNS, multihop VPN, AES-256 encryption, and a kill switch.
  • Logging policy: It has a zero-logging policy, so no data is kept on you anywhere.
  • GPS spoofing: This enables you to change your IP address and your physical GPS location. However, this feature is only available on the Surfshark app for Android devices.
  • Servers: Surfshark’s 3,200+ servers are located in over 100 locations. This contributes to excellent streaming power, allowing access to Hulu, BBC iPlayer, US Netflix, Disney+, and other services. You also get obfuscated servers that jumble your internet metadata to conceal VPN usage.
  • Unlimited simultaneous connections: The most notable feature of Surfshark is its infinite simultaneous connections, allowing you to secure your devices with a single account. If your home has 20, 30, or even 50 devices you want to connect with a VPN, Surfshark can do it for less than the price of a coffee cup per month.

Grab our Surfshark deals today and get a 30-day risk-free guarantee window to test the VPN and get a no-questions-asked refund if you need it.

Can I Get Premium VPNs for Free?

It’s possible to use a premium VPN service for free – at least for a short while. 

There are two ways of doing that:

  • Trial periods: Some VPN services offer a trial period, during which you can use the tool completely for free. For example, NordVPN offers a 7-day trial for mobile users.
  • Money-back guarantees: All the VPNs in my list have a money-back guarantee, typically lasting 30 days. It’s a terrific method to try a VPN’s premium services because the money is generally returned with no questions asked.

Check out the table below for more information.

Premium VPN  Free Trial  Money-Back Guarantee Discount Offer
ExpressVPN Yes, 7 days (Mac, iOS, and Android) Yes, 30 days (All devices) Try ExpressVPN
NordVPN Yes, 7-day (Android-only) Yes, 30 days (All devices) Try NordVPN
Surfshark Yes, 7-day (Mac, iOS, and Android) Yes, 30 days (All devices) Try Surfshark

Is a Free VPN Better Than No VPN?

This is entirely dependent on the free VPN company you choose.

Some free VPNs can improve your online security without any nasty catch. 

Still, the free VPN industry is riddled with fraudulent companies that can both mishandle your personal information and fail to keep you safe.

program cannot be viewed abroad
You might not be able to bypass geo-blocking with no VPN, or a free VPN

On the other hand, your ISP and other third parties can see what you’re doing online if you don’t use a VPN. You don’t have to worry about this if you don’t mind other people seeing your internet behavior. However, not utilizing a VPN might raise your risk of a cyberattack or personal data leak, especially if you use public Wi-Fi.

A free VPN could be a good idea if you aren’t massively concerned about extra online security and just want to bypass geo-blocking.

No VPN Free VPN
Basic encryption from the HTTPS websites you use. Some form of VPN encryption for your entire traffic.
Third parties can see your site traffic. The VPN service sees and logs your entire internet traffic.
It might result in targeted ads from websites you visit. This might result in your browsing habits and data being sold to data brokers or hackers.
Interesting Reads:

Wrapping It Up

Paying for things is a bitter but necessary pill to swallow if you want the best service. While you won’t pay for a free provider in the traditional sense, you’ll pay with your privacy, security, or user experience. And sometimes, all of the above.

So, why not just use the free trial or money-back guarantee of a good paid service?

ExpressVPN remains my top recommendation, followed closely by Surfshark and NordVPN. If ExpressVPN appeals to your needs like mine, grab these exclusive discounts to get the best deal there is now!

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