Free Windows VPNs: are they worth downloading and which ones are good?

Hellen Wadman

If you’re concerned about your online privacy or have ever been frustrated when trying to access certain types of internet content only to find it’s not available in your region, then using the best VPN is the solution. VPN stands for virtual private network, and when you use one, all […]

If you’re concerned about your online privacy or have ever been frustrated when trying to access certain types of internet content only to find it’s not available in your region, then using the best VPN is the solution.

VPN stands for virtual private network, and when you use one, all your data travels along an encrypted tunnel, keeping it secure and private from anyone who might be snooping on your connection.

If you’ve never used one before, you might be looking for a free VPN to test the waters with. In this guide, we explain the pros and cons of using a free Windows VPN and present some options worthy of your consideration.

If you want to see the best free Windows VPNs right away, click the ‘Jump To’ tab at the top of the page. If you want to learn a little more, just keep scrolling.

How does a free Windows VPN work?

A VPN is a piece of software that you install on your computer. Normally, when you connect to the internet, you use an unencrypted connection provided by your ISP. When you use a VPN, you connect to one of the VPN provider’s private servers with an encrypted connection. 

This means the data you download and upload is safe from prying eyes and, in addition, your IP address is hidden, which adds another layer of protection and can help you get around geo-blocking restrictions.

Good VPN providers offer a large selection of servers in countries around the world. If you’re trying to access geographically restricted content, then simply connect to a server in the relevant country. However, free Windows VPNs will usually have a smaller choice of locations than paid VPNs, and the latter also tend to offer faster speeds and more advanced features.

Of all the VPNs we discuss in this article, ExpressVPN would be our choice – while it does require a payment upfront, the 30-day money-back guarantee acts like a free trial. In that time, you’ll get unlimited data, access to all Express’s servers, world-class speeds and more. Perhaps after the  trial you’ll claim your refund, but after using such a great service, we wouldn’t blame you if you stayed on – sign up on Express’s website to get started now.

The downsides of free Windows VPNs

Many VPN providers offer free versions of their software with limitations or restrictions so you get an idea of what it can do, but you will likely need to pay for a subscription to get all the benefits.

One of the most common ways in which free versions are restricted is in the number of locations to which you can connect. You might have to upgrade to a paid plan to get the country you want, and this also means that what servers are available may become crowded and slow at peak times.

Other common downsides are that speeds may not be as fast as the paid versions, security and privacy policies might not be up to scratch, and there are precious few working free Netflix VPNs that you can rely on to access geo-blocked content.

free Windows VPN - Hotspot shield

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

How can you get a free Windows VPN?

There are three main ways in which you can get yourself a free Windows VPN. Some VPN providers offer completely free versions of their software, others offer a VPN free trial, and some offer money-back guarantees.

As mentioned, the completely free versions of the software usually have limited features or other restrictions which make them OK for those who just want to test the apps out, or who only require basic features.

Free trials will usually give you access to the full range of features that a VPN provider has to offer, but the trial periods can often be too short for you to fully assess how well the VPN performs.

Downloading a VPN from a provider that offers a money-back guarantee may be your best way to fully assess a VPN. You’ll usually have at least a month to test out the service (with absolutely no restrictions) to make sure that it’s the perfect VPN for you. Then, if you’re not completely satisfied, you can walk away and claim a full refund, meaning you haven’t paid a cent.

BEST FREE WINDOWS VPNS

30-day money-back guarantee + 49% off and 3 free months
For the best service on the market, we’d wholly recommend ExpressVPN. It’s a perfect combination of simplicity and power, which makes it great for users of all experience levels. Plus, Tom’s Guide readers can claim three month free, which works out at 15 months for the price of 12. View Deal

The best free Windows VPNs

Hotspot Shield free windows vpn

1. Hotspot Shield

Generous data limits and private browsing

Military-grade encryption

Decent speeds

Useful apps

Limited data

Only one server location

Hotspot Shield is a free Windows VPN that offers a generous data limit and military-grade encryption, plus it claims not to log any identifying information of its users. There is also a completely free version of the software whose cost is paid for by premium subscribers – and the paid version delivers some of the fastest connection speeds out of any VPN we’ve tested.

There are some ads in the free version, and even if it’s generous, 500MB per day will run out at some point. But that’s the point – Hotspot Shield wants you to upgrade, and giving you a restricted taste of a good service is a proven way of making you do that. Another example is the fact that you’ll only be able to connect to a single US-based server, and upgrading will give you access to thousands of servers in over 80 locations.

However, for a free service, Hotspot Shield is definitely one of the best free Windows VPNs available.

Sign up now on Hotspot Shield’s website

2. ProtonVPN

No data limits makes for a real contender

No data or speed limits

No ads

No logging

Servers in only three countries

Only one device at a time

Like Hotspot Shield, ProtonVPN offers both free and paid versions of its software – and for a free product, it has a lot going for it. There are no speed limits, no ads, and no logging of your activity. In addition, you can download as much data as you like each month, which is almost unheard of for free Windows VPNs.

To give you a reason to upgrade to the paid version there are, of course, limitations to what the free version can do. It can only be used on one device, there are servers in only three countries, there is no P2P support, and speeds may drop at peak times. However, as a truly free service for casual users, ProtonVPN delivers serious power.

Sign up now on ProtonVPN’s website

The best free trial Windows VPNs

Expressvpn best free windows vpn

(Image credit: ExpressVPN)

1. ExpressVPN

The best overall VPN for Windows

3,000+ servers in 94 countries

Fast performance

Excellent support

No-quibble guarantee

More expensive than some

ExpressVPN isn’t completely free, but it does have a 30-day money-back guarantee which means you get to experience all the benefits the software has to offer without restrictions. And there are a lot of those benefits, including a huge network of servers, fast speeds, the ability to unlock any streaming service you care to mention, advanced security, and excellent support.

In fact, ExpressVPN offers more quality and features than just about any other VPN, and it’s our pick for the best overall Windows VPN. You’ll also find that the apps (available for a huge range of devices) are super simple to use, but if you want to tinker, there are tons of settings to change, too – including a selection of protocols, a kill switch and split tunneling.

If you want to test drive the best service on the market today, we’d highly recommend ExpressVPN – and with that 30-day guarantee, you’ll have plenty of time to make up your mind on whether it’s worth the outlay or not.

Sign up now on ExpressVPN’s website and claim three months free

2. Surfshark

One of the cheapest VPNs around

Very cheap 24-month plan

Extensive features

Unblocks streaming content

30-day money-back guarantee

Free trial is only for mobile apps

Much like ExpressVPN, Surfshark is not completely free, but has a 30-day money-back offer. There is, however, also a seven-day free trial, but it’s only available if you download the app from either the Google Play or Apple App Store.

Surfshark comes packed with great features, like a large network of servers, impressive speeds, and the ability to unblock your favorite streaming content. But whereas ExpressVPN is one of the more expensive VPN options, Surfshark has to be one of the cheapest, with prices starting at $1.99/month if you pay for 24 months. We won’t pretend it’s such a great all-rounder as Express, but for the money, Surfshark is hard to beat.

Sign up now on Surfshark’s website

3. NordVPN

The most powerful VPN on the market has money-back guarantee

Unblocks Netflix

Good support via live chat

Two different kinds of kill switch

Not all servers support P2P

Can be slow to connect to servers

Again, NordVPN doesn’t offer a truly free service, but you will be able to get your money back with no questions asked within 30 days. Probably the most well-known of the providers we’ve listed here, and having been a leader in the market for several years, NordVPN sets a high standard in all departments while not topping the list in any particular one. However, as a good all-rounder, there aren’t many better options.

Pricing is good, if not the cheapest, starting at $3.49/month if you pay for a three-year term, with the standard monthly price being $11.95.

Sign up now on NordVPN’s website

Free Windows VPN FAQ

Why should I get a free Windows VPN?

Whether you should get a free Windows VPN or not is down to what you need to use it for.

If you’re a casual user and just want a bit of privacy when checking your emails or searching about sensitive subjects, a free VPN can probably cover your bases.

However, if you’ll be using your VPN more seriously – perhaps as a torrenting VPN or for streaming Netflix, or leaving on all day for enhanced protection – you’ll run into the limitations of a free service pretty quickly.

We’d say, as a rough estimate, if you think you’ll be using your VPN for much longer than 15 minutes a day you’re best off going for a paid version (they don’t have to be expensive), and also if you’re looking to stream or download.

However, the great thing with free services is that you can test them out without spending any money. So, why not have a go, and then upgrade to a service like ExpressVPN if you can’t deal with the limitations?

Is a free Windows VPN worth it?

Again, this depends on your usage.

If you can handle having limited bandwidth, data, and server locations, a free VPN may very well be all you need. However if you’re after all-day use, streaming and torrenting, or simply a fast VPN, you could find the limitations to be frustrating and get in the way of your daily internet activity.

If that sounds like you, we’d say skip the free Windows VPNs altogether and test out a service that offers a money-back guarantee – you still won’t be out of pocket if you cancel within the time period.

Are free Windows VPNs legal?

In short, yes.

The act of having a VPN is legal (although there is some debate around China VPNs and UAE VPNs), and you’re not putting yourself in any danger by having one on your PC.

However, using a VPN to mask your activity doesn’t suddenly make illegal acts legal – you still can’t download copyrighted material or organize criminal activity just because you’ve masked your identity with a VPN.

If you stay legal with your actions, your VPN is totally legal as well – that’s all you need to know.

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