Technology

Top 10 REALLY Free VPNs for Wi-Fi Hotspots

Need a VPN to protect you when you connect to public wi-fi hotspots but don’t want to pay premium prices? I get it. That’s why I tracked down and tested the top free VPNs for wi-fi hotspots. 

No “free VPN” is ever 100% free. Free VPNs tend to use complicated logging policies that are hard to understand, making it easier for them to track and log your traffic. Some don’t even hide the fact that they store your browsing activity and personal information.  You end up paying with your privacy, device security, and sensitive data. 

I prefer premium services like NordVPN because they offer reliable high-speed connections, advanced security features, and access to all my favorite streaming services. That’s not all. NordVPN also offers a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee so you can test it risk-free and without commitment.

Still, some free VPN services are safe to use for short periods of time. I tested 33 free VPN services and trials to find the top 10 best free VPNs that will keep your devices safe when you’re connected to a wi-fi hotspot.

Best Free VPNs for Wi-Fi Hotspots – Quick Guide

  1. NordVPN: Advanced security features, including OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPSec protocols. You can try it risk-free with its 30-day money-back guarantee.
  2. Windscribe: Military-grade encryption, lightning-fast speeds and 10GB of free data per month, but it can’t access streaming services.
  3. Tunnelbear: 500MB of free data monthly. That’s enough to check your emails and social media, but not for streaming or torrenting.
  4. Hotspot Shield: User-friendly apps and strong security protocols. You get 500MB of free data per day, but there is only one free server location.
  5. hide.me: 2GB of free data per month, five free server locations, and an automatic kill switch, but you can’t watch BBC iPlayer.

What’s the Catch With Free VPNs?

Everyone loves free stuff, but, unfortunately, you usually get what you pay for when it comes to VPNs. Here are a few ways that using a free VPN can cost you more than a premium VPN.

Security

VPNs are expensive to build and maintain. Many free VPNs cut costs by eliminating important security features like kill switches, advanced encryption, and necessary server updates.

Some have even been caught installing adware, spyware, and malware on users’ devices. They sell this information to third-parties that use it for advertising purposes.

Premium services offer military-grade AES encryption, strict no-logs policies, and kill switches to protect data from hackers and scammers. Because premium VPNs value reputation, they don’t install harmful malware or share your sensitive data.

Limitations

Most free VPNs have extremely small server selection. Limited servers and infrequent IP refreshing make it difficult to bypass geoblocks and VPN blocks.

Even worse, free VPNs typically limit your speed and data. 

Premium VPNs offer unlimited data and large networks of high-speed servers. They also regularly refresh their IP addresses to help you bypass VPN blocks.

Compatibility

If you’re looking to protect your tablet or phone with a free VPN, you’ll be disappointed. Very few free services offer apps for mobile devices.

Premium services like NordVPN and ExpressVPN offer apps for most major platforms. Some even have apps for your Fire TV Stick, Kindle, and smart TV.

The Top Free VPNs for Wi-Fi Hotspots

I tested 33 free VPNs to find the top free VPNs for wi-fi hotspots.

I have featured one premium VPN that you can try with its money-back guarantee, but the other VPNs on this list offer 100% free accounts. I gave preference to services that use strong encryption protocols and don’t log your browsing activity.

  • Registered in Panama, outside of 14-Eyes’ jurisdiction
  • DNS and IPv6 leak protection
  • 5,600+ servers in 60 countries
  • Specialty P2P servers available
  • 30-day money-back guarantee
  • Works with: Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, Sling TV
  • Compatible with: Windows, Linux, macOS, Android, iOS, Blackberry, Raspberry Pi, Chrome, Firefox, routers

While NordVPN is a premium vendor, I’ve added it to my list because it offers a generous risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee. It provides the advanced encryption you need to safely access wi-fi hotspots during short trips and vacations.

NordVPN offers AES 256-bit encryption, and keeps a strict no-logs policy. It uses some of the strongest VPN protocols, including OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPSec. Because it’s based in Panama, it’s far beyond the reach of the 5/9/14-Eyes Alliance.

It operates a high-speed network of 5,200+ servers in 509 countries, including streaming and P2p-optimized servers. I was able to unblock Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, and SlingTV during my test.

NordVPN’s apps are really easy to use. Its straightforward layout makes it simple for you to find and configure its features and settings. You can set the app to connect to Onion over VPN for Tor, too.

You can connect up to six devices at the same time with one account and there are apps for all major platforms. This is perfect if you want to protect your whole household, or if you’ve got a collection of devices.

I did notice that it only accepts PayPal in certain regions, but you can pay with cryptocurrencies to maintain your anonymity.

Still having trouble finding features? No problem! Navigate to NordVPN’s extensive FAQ section, access the Help Center, or talk to a representative via live chat 24/7.

windows windscribe

  • 10GB of free data per month
  • DNS/IPv6/WebRTC leak protection
  • Stealth mode bypasses censorship in restrictive regions
  • Perfect forward secrecy
  • Supports torrenting on most servers
  • Works with: Kodi and YouTube
  • Compatible with: Windows, Linux, macOS, Android, iOS, Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Amazon Fire TV, Kodi, and Nvidia Shield

Windscribe’s generous 10GB a month free data allowance is enough to stream in high definition for up to three hours, update your social media, and check your emails. If you run out of data before the end of the month, you also have the opportunity to earn an extra 5GB for free. 

The free version doesn’t let you unblock streaming services like Netflix US and Hulu. Its streaming-optimized servers are only available to premium users. Still, you’ll be able to watch videos buffer-free on YouTube and Kodi. It also supports P2P connections so you can protect yourself while you torrent.

Windscribe keeps a strict-no logs policy and uses military-strength encryption. It also offers port forwarding, a kill switch, and DNS/IPv6/WebRTC leak protection. Perfect forward secrecy changes your encryption keys each session. Even if one of your previous sessions is compromised, the rest of your browsing activity will be safe. Its Stealth Mode can bypass censorship in restrictive regions, like China and Russia.

You don’t need to supply your email or any other contact information when you sign up for a free account.

If you have trouble connecting to a server or enabling any of Windscribe’s features, you can contact support using live chat. The chatbot, Garry, can answer most basic questions. If it can’t, it connects you to a human representative for further support. Windscribe also has a large FAQ section and step-by-step installation guides.

tunnelbear devices

  • 500MB of free data per month
  • Vigilant, GhostBear, and Always On security modes
  • Separate ad blocker extension available for free
  • Fast connection speeds
  • Supports P2P applications
  • Works with: HBO GO, YouTube, and Kodi
  • Compatible with: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Opera, Firefox, and Chrome

TunnelBear provides free users with 500MB of data each month. That’s enough to watch about 30 minutes of your favorite TV show in standard definition, but you can’t download large files or watch movies.

You have access to servers in 22+ countries, and there are apps for almost every device. TunnelBear doesn’t deliberately limit your connection speed, but I found that it can be slow during peak times.

Unfortunately, TunnelBear isn’t the best choice for streaming. It can’t access Netflix US, Hulu, or SlingTV.  However, I was able to unblock HBO GO, YouTube, and geoblocked Kodi add-ons without any buffering.

TunnelBear’s high-end security features are strong enough to protect you while you’re using a wi-fi hotspot. It offers military-grade encryption and it doesn’t record your browsing activity. 

You can use its GhostBear mode to make your VPN traffic look like regular traffic so that it can bypass deep packet inspection (DPI) undetected. This is useful if you’re in a country that blocks or limits VPN use, like China.

There are two other security modes to choose from. Its Always On mode launches the TunnelBear app and connects to a VPN server as soon as you start your device. Vigilant Mode acts like an automatic kill switch and stops unprotected traffic leaving your network if your VPN connection fails.

You can download its free, separate TunnelBear Blocker extension. The extension blocks ads and trackers, but it’s only available for the Chrome browser.

You can use its live chatbot to find answers to your basic questions, but if you need to speak with a human, you’ll have to leave a message and wait for them to reply via email.

Hotspot Shield

  • 500MB of free data per day
  • Access to one US server location
  • TLS-based Catapult Hydra protocol
  • Supports P2P traffic
  • Works with: YouTube and Kodi
  • Compatible with: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, and Chrome

Hotspot Shield offers 500MB of free data per day. You can use it to catch up on your emails, update your social media, and watch YouTube for about 30 minutes, but you won’t be able to stream any movies.

During my tests, I discovered that Hotspot Shield doesn’t allow streaming with the free version. When I tried to load Netflix and Hulu, I hit a premium payment indicating that I would have to upgrade to access streaming services. However, I was able to unblock YouTube videos and Kodi add-ons from other regions.

It uses a TLS-based security protocol called Catapult Hydra. This protocol is designed to improve your connection speed and latency. Hotspot Shield typically is fast, but because all of its free users are connected to the same server, your connection will lag during peak times.

It allows P2P traffic, but its Terms of Service document states that it must inform law enforcement agencies of any copyright infringement reported by third parties. It also reserves the right to terminate accounts that violate these regulations. So, if you accidentally download a copyrighted file on BitTorrent and the copyright holder reports you, Hotspot Shield will alert the authorities.

Hotspot Shield doesn’t log your browsing activity, but it does record information about your session duration.

The free version is supported by ads, which Hotspot Shield implements using Google’s advertising SDK. To create targeted ads, Hotspot Shield provides Google with your approximate, city-level location. Its privacy policy also states this SDK may send Google information about your device and your IP address. But, since you’re using a VPN, Google will only see the IP address of the server you’re connected to.

You can contact Hotspot Shield’s support team 24/7 via the help center on its website, but I found that its customer service team was slow to respond. The FAQ section and troubleshooting guides can answer most basic questions.

  • 2GB free data monthly
  • Access to five server locations
  • Automatic kill switch and IP leak protection
  • Unlimited server switching
  • Works with: Hulu, Netflix, HBO GO, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon Prime Video
  • Compatible with: macOS, Windows, Android, iOS

The free version of hide.me gives you 2GB of free data per month. This is enough to stream for two hours in standard definition or browse the internet for around 15 hours.  But, this data won’t last long if you’re downloading games, software, or other large files.

hide.me offers an automatic kill switch, strict no-logs policy, 256-bit military-grade encryption, and IP leak protection. There is a wide range of VPN protocols for you to choose from, including OpenVPN, SoftEther, IKEv2, SSTP, and PPTP.

The apps are easy to install and use. Because it includes a split tunneling feature, you can access other devices on your local network without turning your VPN off. This is handy if you have a small home office, or if you want to connect to a wireless printer or scanner.

You can use hide.me’s Stealth Guard feature to stop certain apps running when you’re not connected to the VPN. This provides an extra layer of security by making sure that programs like uTorrent can’t accidentally expose your real IP address.

There are free servers in Singapore, Canada, the Netherlands, US East, and US West. I was able to unblock Netflix US, Hulu, and HBO GO using the US East server. hide.me doesn’t limit bandwidth, so you can stream with minimal buffering.

Customer support is available 24/7 via live chat, email, and contact form on hide.me’s website.

Speedify devices

  • 2GB free data per month
  • AES-based encryption and no-logs policy
  • Channel bonding for increased speeds
  • Supports P2P activity
  • Works with: YouTube and Kodi
  • Compatible with: Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android

Speedify offers 2GB of free data every month, so you can stream for two hours in standard definition. You don’t need to register before using the service, which means you don’t need to give it any of your personal or contact details.

It uses a strict no-logs policy, DNS leak protection, and strong AES 128-GCM encryption. True, it’s not as strong as 256-bit encryption, but it will still protect your devices and data from sneak attacks.

Speedify also has 200 servers in 50 countries. This is useful because you can connect to a nearby server, wherever you are in the world.

It’s one of the only free VPNs to offer channel bonding. Channel bonding helps to increase the speed, reliability, and overall performance of your connection. It does this by combining two connections, like your cell phone’s internet connection and wi-fi.

This is useful to reduce buffering while you’re streaming, but it uses twice as much data. If you’re on an unlimited data plan with your internet service provider (ISP), this isn’t a huge problem. But, if your cell phone is on a limited data plan, it could send you over your monthly limit.

I wasn’t able to access Netflix US or Hulu while using Speedify. I found that it can only unblock HBO GO, YouTube, and Kodi add-ons.

  • Unlimited free data
  • P2P-optimized servers
  • Works with: Netflix US, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, HBO GO, YouTube, Kodi
  • Compatible with: Windows, Linux, macOS, iOS, Android, Chrome, Firefox, and Opera

ZenMate’s free version gives you unlimited data with speeds of up to 2Mbps. That isn’t fast enough to stream in high definition, but you can stream in standard definition with minimal buffering.

It offers a NAT firewall, no-logs policy, and strong encryption. The browser extensions user a lower 128-bit encryption, while the desktop and mobile apps use 256-bit AES. It uses DNS leak protection, which stops security flaws in your device revealing your DNS requests to your ISP.

ZenMate is a German VPN, but because it doesn’t keep logs, it has nothing to report to other countries in the 5/9/14-Eyes Alliance

You can access servers in Germany, Romania, Hong Kong, and the United States. ZenMate doesn’t work in China, Iran, or Saudi Arabia due to strict VPN blocks.

  • 500MB of free data per day
  • Military-grade encryption
  • Access to one server in the US
  • Works with: YouTube and Kodi
  • Compatible with: Windows, macOS, Android, Chrome, and iOS

You can get 500MB of free data per day on one device with Betternet VPN. This is ideal if you are traveling, or just want to access a public wi-fi hotspot at a local cafe or tourist attraction to update your social media or check your email.

Betternet can’t bypass VPN blocks. This means you can’t stream Netflix, but you can access YouTube and geoblocked Kodi add-ons. However, its 500MB data limit means you can only watch videos for around 30 minutes a day.

There is one free server, and it’s based in the US. This means you won’t be able to access geoblocked websites from other countries. If you’re near the US-based server, you’ll enjoy optimal speeds – but if you’re in another country, your connection will lag because your data has to travel across the world.

Betternet uses military-grade encryption and keeps a no-logs policy to protect your data and devices. If you have questions, you’re in luck because it has an extensive FAQ section. I was able to find answers to basic questions on plans and services quickly and easily.

  • 7-day free trial with unlimited data
  • 150+ server locations in 60 countries
  • Multiple security protocols, including OpenVPN
  • Works with: Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and YouTube
  • Compatible with: Windows, iOS, Android, and macOS

PrivateVPN is another premium service that you can try free with a 7-day trial. This Swedish service doesn’t keep any traffic logs, and your data is protected by strict privacy laws.

PrivateVPN uses a variety of secure protocols including OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP, and IKEv2/IPSec. Private VPN also allows you to connect to six devices at the same time using one account. This is great if you’re looking to protect your whole family because you don’t need to pay for multiple subscriptions.

During my tests, I found that PrivateVPN can unblock Netflix US and BBC iPlayer. However, it is not able to bypass the Great Firewall, so it’s not a good choice if you’re traveling to China.

If you need help at any point, you can contact PrivateVPN via live chat or through the contact form on its website. You can even get assistance from the actual developers.

  • Unlimited free data
  • No ads
  • Perfect forward secrecy and AES 256-bit encryption
  • P2P-support and Tor over VPN
  • Three free servers to choose from
  • Works with: Netflix, YouTube, Kodi, and Hulu
  • Compatible with: macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, and Windows

ProtonVPN has no no data or bandwidth limits, so you can torrent and stream as much as you like. You can connect to servers in the US, Netherlands, and Japan. Limited servers mean you can’t access geoblocked content from outside these three countries, but during my test it was able to unblock Netflix US and Hulu. 

It uses 256-bit AES encryption, an automatic kill switch, and DNS leak protection. PrivateVPN keeps a no-logs policy, which means it doesn’t track your browsing activity at all. Perfect forward secrecy means that PrivateVPN uses a temporary Private Key for each session. So, even if one of your previous sessions is compromised, the rest of your sessions are safe.

ProtonVPN also supports Tor over VPN, so you can access.onion sites anonymously.

Although ProtonVPN isn’t ad-supported, there’s no built-in ad blocker. So, your streaming sessions may still be interrupted by third-party ads.

Summary

Even the best free VPNs come with restrictions. They limit your security, speed, and ability to bypass geoblocks.

If you need a short-term VPN for accessing Wi-Fi hotspots while you are on vacation, I recommend using a premium service with a free trial or money-back guarantee, like NordVPN.

Not sure which premium service to choose? Learn about our top VPN choices. Then, check out our deals and coupons page to get exclusive offers on subscriptions.

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