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Free vs. paid VPNs: Which should you pick?

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Red ExpressVPN logo on a white background

  • ExpressVPN

    Best paid VPN

    Optimal speeds and security

    ExpressVPN is everything you could ask for in a paid VPN. With blazing-fast speeds thanks to its Lightway protocol, 105 countries with over 3,000 servers, and top-notch security features, it’s well worth the subscription – even if it can be a little pricey. If you’re looking to unblock streaming service region libraries, ExpressVPN has no problems getting past strict blocks. 

    Pros

    • Wide OS support with browser extensions
    • Superb speeds
    • Up to eight devices allowed

  • Blue and white Windscribe VPN logo on white background

    Windscribe

    Best free VPN

    The perks of a strong VPN for free

    Windscribe takes the best parts of what makes a great VPN and makes it free. While limited to 11 countries and a 10GB data limit, you’re still getting speedy connections and premium security tools and encryption. Better yet, it can bypass geo-blocked content, meaning you can watch your favorite content on the most popular streaming services. 

    Pros

    • Superb speeds
    • Excellent free plan
    • Unlimited devices
    Cons

    • Data limits
    • Unknown server count


Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) gives you one of the highest online privacy standards. Cruising the internet anonymously not only keeps malicious software, third-party trackers, and your ISP (internet service provider) off your back, but it also gives you access to country-restricted content and streaming services with the best new movies around the globe. So, what if you could get all this for free?



Free VPNs are an attractive option for anyone looking to quickly hide their IP address without spending a dime instead of signing up for a sometimes pricey monthly subscription. But, as the old adage goes, if something is too good to be true, it probably is. Unfortunately, most free VPNs share this problem, but that doesn’t mean they can’t come in handy. If you’re wondering whether to bite the bullet and pay for one of the best VPNs or see how far the best free VPNs can get you, we’re here to cover all bases for each.


Price & availability

If it was all about price, paid VPNs wouldn’t exist. In reality, free VPNs are limited by many factors, including data limits, the number of countries and servers available, privacy and security features, and connection speeds. Sure, it’s a cost-free way to stay hidden online, but it is hardly worth using if you can barely load a web page, can’t access the country you need, or end up leaking your data (360 million personal user records were leaked by SuperVPN in mid-2023).


Paid VPNs generally don’t encounter these problems. With thousands of servers in over 100 countries, fast connection speeds to browse and stream as usual, and no-log policies with security audits to ensure your data is safe from prying eyes, there’s a good reason why many VPNs are paid services.


That said, you may not want to pay a premium for features you’re not interested in or will never use.


As an example of what you’re getting when opting for a paid VPN or free VPN, here’s a look at two of the best in each category: ExpressVPN and Windscribe.


  • ExpressVPNWindscribe
    Logging policyNo logsNo logs
    Mobile appYesYes
    Number Of ServersMore than 3,000 Unknown
    Price Category$12.95 per month; $59.94 per six months; $99.84 per yearFree; $9 per month; $69 per year
    Free Trial30-day free trialUnlimited
    EncryptionAES-256AES-256
    Unique Server Regions105 countries11 countries

Privacy & securityA phone with Nord VPN connected

A VPN’s primary job is to protect your internet traffic and keep your online presence private – it’s in the name, after all. By connecting to a VPN server, your traffic goes through an encrypted tunnel that no one can access. Moreover, many VPN providers have a strict no-logs policy that third-party security companies check. To top it all off, these VPN providers are based in privacy-friendly countries, which means no entity can access a VPN company’s data or records.


Many paid VPNs provide this level of privacy but take it a step further by adding various advanced security tools. This generally includes AES-256 (Advanced Encryption Standard), the standard of encryption used by the U.S. government to protect classified information; kill switches that cut off your internet connection if your VPN drops; double VPNs, which adds another layer of encryption; and even antivirus tools to identify and block malware and malicious websites.


Privacy and security aren’t guaranteed depending on the free VPN you opt for. Many cost-free VPNs are mainly used to access restricted websites, but it doesn’t mean prying eyes can’t see what users are up to. Most of the time, they won’t have strong encryption or any extra security features. What’s more, they could secretly be logging your data without you knowing, and they won’t have the security audits to say otherwise.


That’s not to say all free VPNs operate like this. However, a paid VPN is a safer bet if you value your privacy.

SpeedPerson using a VPN app on a smartphone

Speed is key with a VPN. Because you’re connecting to a VPN server and browsing the internet from there, your internet speeds will take a dip compared to normal. It’s inevitable, but many VPNs get past this by providing a vast network of servers with 10GB/s connections and fast security protocols. If done right, and depending on how fast your usual speeds are, you’ll be loading up web pages and streaming without any hint of your speeds dropping.


For instance, NordVPN is one of the fastest VPNs you can get. With a 500MB/s connection, expect NordVPN to deliver over 450MB/s speeds. That’s more than enough to allow you to stream shows in HD and 4K quality, thanks to its optimized servers and its own NordLynx protocol. However, even paid VPNs can be slower than most, as they may prioritize security over speed or not have as many servers for users to connect to.


Many free VPNs have a harder time offering blazing-fast speeds, as they have a low server count or rent poorly optimized servers from third parties. However, finding the right one can make all the difference. Take Windscribe, which only offers servers in 11 countries but still manages to pull off 450MB/s speeds with a 500MB/s connection. The problem is it’s limited to 10GB of monthly data for users. Streaming with these data limits can be a struggle, and you’ll find many free VPNs have similar restrictions.


If you’re after a fast VPN without needing to pay, be aware that you may be restricted by the amount of data you get to use. For unlimited use and superfast connections, stick with a paid ​​​​​​VPN.

StreamingPerson with popcorn watching black flat screen tv turned on display VPN connected

A significant perk of using a VPN is accessing geo-restricted content libraries on streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, Fubo, and more from anywhere in the world. The bad news is that these streaming platforms have caught on to this freedom and have set up various blocking techniques to block subscribers with a VPN connection.


Fortunately, the best VPNs for streaming have found many ways to counteract these restrictions. By constantly changing the IP address of a VPN server and offering features that make it look like a user isn’t using a VPN even though they are, many paid VPNs have an easy time getting past these strict blocks. That said, some providers still struggle to get past certain streaming services.


It’s also important to note that many paid VPNs offer between 50 and 100 countries for you to connect to. This lets you explore even more region-specific libraries.


With a free VPN, it’s possible to slip through the cracks of a streaming platform, but sometimes it’s purely luck of the draw. Streaming services are quick to prohibit any known IP addresses from a VPN, and many free VPNs aren’t fast enough to keep up. Moreover, if they don’t have a wide network of servers in many countries, you only have so many chances to switch servers until a streaming service blocks them all. Plus, there’s that issue with speeds and data limits.


For streaming, you’ll have a far greater chance of tricking streaming services with a paid VPN.

Free vs. paid VPNs: Which is right for you?

It’s hard to go up against anything that comes free, especially if it offers nearly everything a paid product does. However, in the case of VPNs, you’ll get a greater experience out of a paid VPN without the headache of unpredictable slow speeds, restrictive data limits, and the risk of exposing your data.


If you’re considering choosing a paid VPN, we recommend ExpressVPN. Not only does it boast a wealth of servers in 105 countries, lightning-fast speeds thanks to its Lightway protocol, and various advanced security tools, but it’s also based in the British Virgin Islands, where there’s no chance of prying eyes looking at your data.

Red ExpressVPN logo on a white background

ExpressVPN

Best paid VPN

Optimal speeds and security

ExpressVPN is everything you could ask for in a paid VPN. With blazing-fast speeds thanks to its Lightway protocol, 105 countries with over 3,000 servers, and top-notch security features, it’s well worth the subscription – even if it can be a little pricey. If you’re looking to unblock streaming service region libraries, ExpressVPN has no problems getting past strict blocks.

Free VPNs get a lot of flak, but choosing the right one makes them more than worth giving a go (it’s free!). You can’t go wrong with Windscribe, which offers optimal speeds, secure AES-256 encryption, and some added bonuses such as ad and malware blockers.

Blue and white Windscribe VPN logo on white background

Windscribe

Best free VPN

The perks of a strong VPN for free

Windscribe takes the best parts of what makes a great VPN and makes it free. While still limited to 11 countries and a 10GB data limit, you’re still getting speedy connections and premium security tools and encryption. Better yet, it can bypass geo-blocked content, meaning you can watch your favorite content on the most popular streaming services.

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