The debate of free VPN vs. free trial VPN has had people on the fence for quite a while. Which one should you choose? Which one’s better in this or that specific situation? To make it easier for you to decide, we’ve compiled a list of pros and cons for each case.
On a related note, we won’t include basic privacy and security features as a pro or con for either of them. We consider these things a bare minimum for a piece of software to be called a VPN. A tool that simply unblocks websites without encrypting your data is basically just a proxy.
Here’s a quick navigation list for your convenience (click or tap to jump to the respective section.)
- Free Trial VPNs
- Free VPN vs. Free Trial VPN – Which Providers Are Worth It?
- The Verdict on Free VPN vs. Free Trial VPN
We’ll preface this by saying that you’re going to see more cons than pros to free VPNs. This doesn’t mean they don’t have their uses. In fact, free VPNs can be crucial in certain historical moments (you’ll see what we mean in a second). Just don’t go in with too many expectations.
1. They’re free (who would have thought?)
The most obvious first: they’re completely free. No payments necessary after the first few days. No accidental charges on your credit card because you forgot to cancel a free trial. And this is a heads up if you decide to go with the second option, but don’t want to pay – don’t forget to cancel your free trial before it expires.
2. Minimal sign-up data required
Signing up to a paid VPN means you’ll have to share some personal data: an email, a payment method (usually a credit card, unless the provider lets you pay in cash or cryptocoins), and so on.
Here’s an in-depth look about what data VPNs collect at sign up if you’re interested. We’ve reviewed the data collection policies of 57 of the most popular VPNs out there, and found that only 32 of them actually try to keep your identity a secret while you purchase a subscription.
In any case, free VPNs don’t require any payment data – as opposed to free trials where they need to confirm you’ll be able to pay after the trial expires, even if you decide to cancel.
Of course, there are also free trial VPNs that don’t require a credit card out there. However, they come with a few limitations – such as only being available for mobile devices, or coming with a very short (1-day) trial time.
3. Can unblock most common websites
Despite being packed with limitations (we’ll get to those later), free VPNs can still bypass geo-restrictions for most services out there.
For example, let’s say you’re a student in the EU trying to read an article from a local US newspaper. You might have come across an error message saying you can’t access their website due to GDPR regulations. Well, a free VPN will most likely allow you to get around this issue.
In theory, a free VPN should also allow you to bypass workplace and school firewalls that block “the fun part of the Internet.” Social media, YouTube, anything your employer or school wouldn’t want you to waste time with.
However, network admins could very easily block free providers, which don’t usually have VPN obfuscation to hide the fact that you’re using a VPN. This is also relevant for the next section.
4. Bypass government censorship in a pinch
An extension of what we talked about above – free VPNs are a great tool to bypass government-imposed Internet restrictions. This was the case during the 2013 Istanbul protests, where Hotspot Shield saw a 1000% increase in local usage. Once again, we should mention that some governments ban VPN usage, so obfuscating your VPN traffic is crucial in these areas.
Now that we’ve seen that free VPNs have their place when it comes to important issues, it’s time to take a look at the darker side of things.
1. Your online data is at stake
So what data is being sold? Here’s the gist of it:
- Your browsing history – browsing habits are a great way for advertisers to know what ads to serve you. This is called targeted advertising, and it’s just as troubling as it sounds.
- Which network-based apps you use – for example games that require Internet access to work, chat programs, things that have auto-updates enabled, etc.
- Your location data – ISPs were already found selling your location data. A VPN may stop that from happening, but you just hand over that privilege to the VPN provider instead.
No, not all free VPNs sell your data. But enough of them do that it’s a major problem if you don’t research your provider carefully. In fact, only a handful of free VPNs actually run a legitimate operation. You know, one that doesn’t involve shipping off your online profile to shady advertisers.
2. You might be blasted with ads
As you can imagine, however, Internet ads can quickly get annoying – especially if your VPN is injecting even more of them into your browser. Moreover, Google isn’t exactly known for being a privacy-friendly company. It’s one step above nameless “third parties” that other free providers sometimes mention in their privacy policies, but that isn’t saying much.
3. Your device could become infected with malware
An often-cited cybersecurity study revealed that 38% of free Android VPNs on the Google Play store had some form of malicious code embedded within them. Apple doesn’t fare any better, with 80% of the top 20 free VPNs being against the App Store guidelines in 2019.
Cybercriminals could steal your data using these malicious scripts, meaning you’d be better off not using a VPN at all. Always verify that you’re using a trusted provider (see our recommendations lists later on in the article).
4. Limited functionality
We go into more depth on the subject in this article, but it’s pretty obvious that you can’t get top-notch performance and features if you’re not paying anything. Here’s what you can expect from a free VPN, even if you avoid the security issues above:
- Small number of servers – Not only is your access to international content limited, but you also share the same servers with thousands of other people, which leads us to the next point.
- Slow speeds – Free providers can’t exactly afford top of the line servers for the limited locations they provide. Couple that with the point above, and you can expect your browsing speeds to take a big hit.
- Data caps – We hope you’re prepared to micromanage your network traffic if you’re thinking about unblocking YouTube videos or other data-intensive uses like that. Free VPNs only offer between 500 MB and 10 GB of monthly data, which is only suitable for light browsing. There are, however, providers like ProtonVPN that don’t impose data limits.
- Can’t unblock streaming platforms – If you were thinking about unblocking Netflix US or accessing BBC iPlayer outside the UK with a free VPN, you’re out of luck. Most (if not all) free VPNs are filtered by these services since they can’t afford to get fresh new IPs for their users.
- Customer support poor to non-existent – VPNs are not infallible. So if you ever get a VPN error code or other issues, you’re basically on your own or forced to wait for a long time before you get a response.
That’s about it on this end. Let’s see what our other contender has to offer.
Free Trial VPNs
Certain paid providers allow you to try out their VPN services for free, usually for up to 7 days. Some aspects of this free trial system are what make up most of the cons, but let’s start with the benefits first.
1. No limits to functionality
For the most part, free trial VPNs give you all the benefits of a paid subscription:
- A full range of servers
- Decent to fast speeds
- No bandwidth limits
- Round-the-clock customer support
- The ability to unblock Netflix and other platforms that tend to block VPNs
There’s no need to worry about your network speeds slowing down to a crawl or micromanaging your browsing so you don’t go over the data cap. And if your only concern is watching US Netflix or its international catalogs, then you’re set.
2. No security concerns
You don’t have to worry about your data being sold for a profit – the userbase’s subscription money ensures that your provider can provide a quality service without resorting to shady tactics.
Moreover, the providers’ higher security standards mean you don’t risk a malware infection from downloading their VPN client. It’s obvious that neither Google nor Apple is dealing with malicious VPNs on their respective stores, so at least someone’s doing their job.
3. No ads
Pretty self-explanatory. If you’re not a fan of Internet advertising (and who is?), you don’t need to worry about your free trial VPN injecting ads into your browser. Nor do you have to worry about your provider sharing your data with the advertisers they work with, regardless of how “anonymized” that data is.
Now, not everything is sunny when it comes to free trials – and most of the issues stem from the way the trials are set up.
1. You may need a credit card or other payment method
As mentioned in the section on free VPNs, there are free trial VPNs that don’t require a payment method confirmation. Not all providers are the same, so expect some to ask for your credit card information before signing up for the free trial.
2. You have to pay once the trial is up
The sad reality is that not everyone can afford to pay for a VPN. You can see how that’s a problem when so many governments restrict access to entire sections of the Internet. Or when outdated licensing issues are preventing you from accessing your favorite content.
One more thing. If you aren’t careful during the sign-up process, your credit card may end up getting charged for up to a year’s subscription. Be mindful of your provider’s free trial policies (found in the terms of service). Read the fine print!
3. The time limit can be way too low
7-day trials are pretty fair. You get to use the full capabilities of your provider over a few days, allowing you to:
- Test out their performance during potential traffic spikes
- Check how well the VPN client behaves if you try to unblock filter-heavy services like Netflix
- Test out any advanced security features if you’re focused on the privacy aspect
And any other test case scenarios you could think of. Let’s say 3-day trials are enough if you’re not too picky. However, we don’t believe you can really get a feel of the product with a 1-day trial.
4. Hidden limitations
Aside from the time limit, you may also come across providers with data caps (e.g., your trial expires after seven days OR 10 GB of used traffic), or other limitations. These vary across VPNs, so be sure to check out the terms of service if you’re not sure about it.
Some providers (such as ExpressVPN and NordVPN) only offer their free trial on mobile devices, excluding PC users. Others (CyberGhost, SaferVPN) have a desktop option as well, but the time limit is greatly reduced (e.g., seven days on mobile vs. one day on desktop).
Free VPN vs. Free Trial VPN – Which Providers Are Worth It?
It would take another few articles to go into detail about what each provider brings to the table. Luckily, we have a couple of them right here:
- Best free VPNs – six providers, a couple of them even able to unblock Netflix (the data cap makes it kind of redundant, though)
- Best free trial VPNs – eight providers, no credit card requirement, all able to unblock Netflix (though one may have trouble doing so reliably)
We include a fairly detailed look at each provider, complete with pros and cons. If one of them catches your eye, and you want to know even more information, a full review will be linked at the end of each section.
The Verdict on Free VPN vs. Free Trial VPN
So is there a clear winner?
From the looks of it, free trial VPNs have a lot more going for them, at least performance-wise. However, the fact that you’re limited to a few days of use before you have to subscribe can make people lose interest fast.
In the debate of free VPN vs free trial VPN, performance and high functionality are the winning factors – especially if you plan on using a VPN regularly from now on. For those of you who just need to unblock an article or YouTube video every now and then, a free VPN is probably enough.
However, if you’re looking for better speeds and no limitations, and you aren’t one to shy away from a monthly or yearly subscription, then free trial VPNs are a great way to see what you’re getting into.
Any other info you’d like to see discussed? Have you used any free VPNs or free trial VPNs? What did you think about either of them? Let us know in the comments or on social media.