Can I trust free (or cheap) VPNs?

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Using a virtual private network (VPN) is a great step towards improving internet security for a range of connected devices. But it’s fair to say that so many VPN options can make it a crippling decision process for finding the best VPN for your needs.

This is where it’s easier—and certainly cheaper—to save money by opting for a free VPN or a budget option than the more popular picks. And with the old ‘you only get what you pay for’ adage looming large, let’s take a look at whether you can trust free or cheap VPNs.

Free and cheap VPNs vs premium VPNs

When it comes to VPNs, there are some household names out there, including brands like NordVPN and ExpressVPN. The catch, though, is neither NordVPN nor ExpressVPN offer truly free versions of their services. You can, however, take advantage of a 30-day money-back guarantee with both.

A VPN trial may be branded as “free”, but you still need to use some form of payment to take advantage of the trial. Paying more for a premium VPN service may potentially lead to a longer money-back period. But if you don’t cancel ahead of the trial expiry, you’ll be charged the full amount. While that’s not great on the money front, both the trial and premium experience offer a fully featured VPN.

Free and cheap VPNs all compromise in one way or another. Some like Hotspot Shield Free restrict data usage to 500MB per day. Most limit the number of servers you can access or the number of simultaneous connections per free account, while other free VPNs also restrict overall connection speeds. Some free and cheap VPNs don’t respect user anonymity, which means your connection isn’t as anonymised as premium options. Others will use ads to make ends meet, while others still champion paid-for or more expensive plan options.

Thankfully, where most of the better free and cheap VPNs don’t compromise is when it comes to security. Military-grade encryption is standard, with AES 256-bit a safe baseline, so you shouldn’t have to worry about connection security on a free or cheap VPN (unless they don’t advertise AES 256-bit encryption).

Free, cheap, or premium VPNs: Which one is best?

We have a round-up of the best free VPNs, but we’d only advise using one of those as a stepping stone to a fully featured premium VPN. While you can trust a free or cheap VPN from a reputable provider, for us, the best free VPN is a trial for a premium VPN that you intend on using.

Opting for a trial over a fully free version means you usually have around 30 days of use to see if a VPN is the right fit for your needs. Because they are pay-to-use products, premium VPNs tend to fall under greater scrutiny, which means they’re more likely to not encounter compromises on security, privacy, connection speed, and server options.

You may be able to save money with a cheaper VPN or a lower-priced plan for a premium VPN, but they tend to offer fewer servers, countries, and/or locations. They may also offer fewer simultaneous connections, a low number of supported devices, and may be missing more advanced security features like anti-malware and antivirus.

Start with a trial—we recommend comparing NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and CyberGhost VPN for starters—then cancel it if doesn’t work for you. Outside of those three picks, there are plenty of other great premium alternatives to choose from if you have other VPN needs.

Compare premium VPN services

Monthly price
Annual price
Servers Icon Tooltip  Dark
Countries Icon Tooltip  Dark
Locations Icon Tooltip  Dark
Devices Icon Tooltip  Dark
Trial period
57256083630-day money-back guarantee
3000+94160530-day money-back guarantee
3200+100143Unlimited30-day money-back guarantee
8079100125745-day money-back guarantee
3,024691011030-day money-back guarantee

Prices are accurate as of post date. Read full disclaimer.

*ProtonVPN Plus plan used for comparison. Cheaper plans are available, but offer limited servers, connections, speed, and more.

We rank ProtonVPN as the best free VPN available because it balances security and privacy with unlimited data and great speeds. Our best free VPN trial recommendation, though, is NordVPN.
Free VPNs can be harmful if you download the wrong one. It’s best to stick with free versions or free trials of popular premium VPN software to ensure you’re opting for a trustworthy brand.
ProtonVPN is our pick of the best cheap VPN, which has a viable free version, but also plenty of pros to encourage you to upgrade to the premium version.

Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time of publish and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on the retailer’s website at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. SafeWise Australia utilises paid affiliate links.
Nathan Lawrence
Written by
Nathan Lawrence

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