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ZDNET's reviewers perform extensive testing on the VPNs on this list. We test out connections through different countries, and run speed tests using speedtest.net to measure and compare results. We also test whether the VPN has any DNS leaks while connecting, which would potentially provide information to your ISP or other services about what sites you visit or your originating location or IP address. We evaluate how easy each service is to navigate via website and app, how well it works for streaming content, and its customer service offerings. All of these factors give us a view into how well the VPN works, and how secure it is.
What to Consider
We tested the VPNs on this list to ensure robust performance in terms of connection and speed. After all, there's no point in using a VPN if your connection continually drops or lags, making it intolerable.
Many VPNs limit how many devices you can connect to a service at the same time. If you have a phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, and possibly even a smart TV you want to connect to a VPN, you'd need a service that allows at least 5 simultaneous connections.
There's no point using a VPN unless their security protocols and encryption levels are up to scratch. We also ensured that the development team behind each recommended VPN cares about making security improvements over time and patching reported bugs.
A kill switch prevents you from having an unprotected connection and is an important feature for a VPN to have, as it protects by preventing a return to a default Wi-Fi connection should your internet connection unexpectedly drop.
Geoblocks and streaming
We know that VPNs can be key to accessing local content and services while you're away from home. We ensured that our top recommendations perform well when it comes to these factors and are unlikely to slow down your connection while you are streaming.
What systems and devices can you run the VPN on? Our recommended vendors must provide easy-to-use and intuitive desktop software and mobile apps.
Countries and servers
In how many different countries does the VPN have servers? This can include physical and virtual servers, and whether or not there are enough -- at least 50 or so -- to provide variety.
Trial length and price
Each VPN we recommend has a solid money-back guarantee.
Protecting your privacy online is a necessity, not an option, in today's world. And a virtual private network (VPN) is an excellent way to begin.
VPNs provide tunnels that mask your online communication by encrypting data transmissions, packets, and your activities. They make it harder for third parties to track you, making you less likely to become a victim of eavesdropping or a data breach.
However, the choices out there for VPNs are endless -- and some are more trustworthy than others. You may choose one VPN for the fastest connection speeds and another for travel. The easiest way to see if a particular VPN is the right option for you is to sign up for a free trial.
Many VPN companies now allow potential customers to test them out for free for a set amount of time. We recommend you choose a trial over a free VPN service in most cases, as many free offerings require you to agree to data collection and targeted advertising. However, you will likely have to sign up for a plan, so take note of the money-back guarantee period and cancel before you are charged.
Below are ZDNET's top picks for the best VPN trials in 2023. Our top pick is ProtonVPN, as it is one of the few VPN providers that still provides a free option. While it is limited, the VPN is user-friendly and has an attractive user interface, giving you all the time you need to work out how VPNs work and whether one suits your needs. Once you've gained more experience, you can then choose to adopt a paid plan or try out other providers.
Find out more about ProtonVPN and our other best VPN trial picks below.
Proton VPN features: Open source | 69 countries, 2,900+ servers | No-logs policy | Security audits | Free option | Credit card not required for a free trial | VPN accelerator | 30-day money-back guarantee | Anti-censorship features
Since coming to the market, Proton VPN -- the open-source virtual private network from the minds of ProtonMail -- has made its mark. It has garnered support because the company is transparent about software security practices and implements secure technologies, including two-factor authentication, Wireguard, forward security encryption keys, and a kill switch.
Proton VPN doesn't have a trial but does provide a free option with some of the same features as paid subscriptions, starting at $4.99 per month for a two-year plan. Alternatively, you can sign up and cancel later.
At ZDNET, we like ProtonVPN's free offering and view it as a 'trial', especially if you are new to the world of VPNs and want to learn how to use the software before signing up for a paid plan.
The caveat is that you can only have one connection to three countries (US, NL, JP) with the trial -- but there are no data limits. If you opt for a paid subscription, you can access over 2,900 servers in 68 countries.
A bonus is that the VPN provider is backed by Swiss privacy laws, some of the strongest worldwide.
Surfshark VPN has many features, including cookie blockers, an IP rotator, and the option to connect to two servers simultaneously. Our past tests found connections reliable and secure, albeit with download speeds that can be slower than other VPN services.
A bonus to consider is the massive server network -- with over 3200 servers available in over 100 countries. Not to mention that Surfshark is a very affordable VPN.
A seven-day free VPN trial is available for Android, iOS, and macOS platforms, but you need to sign up for it by downloading the app from the Google Play Store and Apple App Store.
If you're a Windows user, you can still test out Surfshark by signing up for a plan. But don't forget to cancel within 30 days for a refund if you're unsatisfied. The subscription options include a two-year subscription at $1.99 per month (plus three months free), a 12-month subscription at $3.99 per month, or one month of access for $13.99.
ExpressVPN features: Content streaming | 105 countries | Kill switch | Over 3000 servers | No-logs policy | Password | Credit card required for a free trial
ExpressVPN is a widely used and popular VPN. While expensive, the service is best suited for individuals who want to adopt a reliable VPN that can be used both at home and abroad. Advanced features include content streaming and torrenting availability, split tunneling, and a threat manager designed to stop tracking.
The VPN is straightforward: install, choose a smart location or your preferred country, and connect.
You can connect up to eight devices simultaneously. A router app is also available to install the VPN directly and open access to every household device.
ExpressVPN has adopted the same stance as many other VPN providers and does not offer a standalone trial. Instead, you can sign up for a short-term service -- either one month, six months, or a year -- and then cancel within 30 days to take advantage of a money-back guarantee. There will be no functionality, speed, or server restrictions.
ExpressVPN subscriptions are priced as follows: $12.95 for one month of access, $9.99 for six months, or $6.67 monthly if you sign up for one year. Three months of free access have also been added to the yearly subscription.
There is also 24/7 chat support if you have queries or trouble setting up the VPN.
NordVPN features: No-logs policy | Threat protection | Dark Web monitor | Rapid speeds | Unlimited bandwidth | Credit card required for a free trial | 5,000+ servers, 60 countries
Although NordVPN doesn't offer a free trial, a 30-day money-back guarantee allows you to sign up, test the service, and cancel within 30 days if you're unsatisfied or want to test other VPNs. Subscriptions start at $2.99 per month on a Standard, two-year plan, with three months of access thrown in for free.
Given NordVPN's popularity, accounting for millions of downloads, the service is worth considering, even though you have to jump through a few extra hoops to test it out. It's fast and reliable, and the developers are constantly monitoring and working toward improving the VPN's security and features.
As we found in our own review, NordVPN offers consistent speeds with an impressive array of country servers: over 5,000 in 60 countries. Plus, it's compatible with many operating systems and devices.
Privado VPN features: Supports unlimited simultaneously, 10 on a free plan | 48 countries | Kill switch | No-log policy | Credit card not required for a free plan | 30-day money-back guarantee
Another choice you should consider is Privado VPN. This Swiss VPN offers a comprehensive free plan with support for up to ten devices and 10GB of traffic per month. 12 servers are available to connect to on the free plan, which is offered instead of a trial.
During testing, we considered the user interface clean and easy to use, with a handy button to enable or disable the kill switch. However, it does lack the advanced features of many other VPNs on the market.
Prices begin at $1.99 per month for two years of access and $2.50 monthly for an annual plan, rising to $10.99 if you just want to try out the software for a single month.
Show Expert TakeShow less
What is the best VPN trial?
Our top pick is ProtonVPN, as it is one of the few VPN providers that still provides a free option. While it is limited, the VPN is still user-friendly and has an attractive user interface, giving you all the time you need to work out how VPNs work and whether one suits your needs. Once you've gained more experience, you can then choose to adopt a paid plan or try out other providers.
Not every VPN provider offers a free trial, but the best VPN providers offer an alternative: sign up, provide your credit card details, and if you aren't satisfied, you can request your money back. Plus, most offer you 30 days to test the software.
Money-back guarantees are becoming an industry standard, so it really depends if you're willing to go through the sign-up process. Some VPN providers offer limited plans for free instead.
Number of countries and servers
Credit card required
Separate free trial or money-back guarantee
Length/limits of trial
$6.67 per month
105 countries, 3,000+ servers
Sign up, 30-day cancellation
69 countries, 2,900+ servers
Free plan, limited
$2.99 per month
60 countries, 5,000+ servers
Sign up, 30-day cancellation
$1.99 per month
100 countries, 3,200+ servers
Seven days, sign-up
Free plan, limited
Which is the right VPN trial for you?
While deciding on the best use cases for each VPN, we considered trial features, levels of security, and affordability. We recommend testing different VPNs to find the right fit for your budget and needs. However, the recommendations below can make the decision easier if you already know your priorities.
These recommendations are updated as the VPN market shifts.
Choose this VPN if...
If you want...
ProtonVPN is a security-first option with a free plan that strongly emphasizes transparency and open-source technology. It offers advanced security features like a no-logs policy, security audits, and support for the Tor network. This is our favorite way to try out VPN.
A full-featured, easy-to-use trial that is not restricted on functionality, speed, or server connections. ExpressVPN offers advanced features like content streaming and torrenting availability, split tunneling, and a threat manager designed to stop tracking.
With over 5,000 servers in 60 countries, NordVPN is a long-term, reliable solution for those who want a VPN they can depend on. NordVPN offers advanced features like a no-logs policy, threat protection, and a dark web monitor.
An affordable VPN subscription and a seven-day iOS, macOS, and Android trial. With pricing starting at just $1.99 per month, SurfShark is inexpensive and still provides a wide range of features, including ad-blocking and two-factor authentication.
A generous free plan. While there may be questions surrounding its lack of auditing, the VPN is subject to strict Swiss privacy laws and offers users a clean, barebones interface.
How did we choose these VPN trials?
When looking for the best VPN trials of 2023, we wanted to see just how user-friendly they are, whether you'll be asked to hand over payment card details, and whether or not the trials themselves have value.
Hands-on research: We conduct extensive hands-on research, including speed tests and DNS leak tests, on many VPN offerings in the market. If a VPN doesn't perform as it should, they don't make the cut.
Usability: We kept usability and user-friendliness in mind when we tried out different VPN trials. The point of a trial is to learn how VPNs work and to ensure a VPN is the right product for you.
Limitations: Some VPN trials will be limited; for example, users will only be able to connect to a handful of servers. We prefer it when trials are for the full VPN service, but there are some exceptions.
Customer reviews: We examined customer reviews, including both positive and negative experiences. We also kept in mind the longevity of VPN providers, considering their track records for user and data privacy, popularity, and the variety and accessibility of services.
Money-back guarantee: You often have to rely on a 30-day money-back guarantee to test the most popular VPNs. However, with the exception of services like ProtonVPN, a subscription model is still preferable to free VPNs, unless they utilize the revenue generated from paid plans to support free options.
What is a VPN?
A virtual private network (VPN) is a network of nodes -- or servers -- which reroute internet traffic to mask its original IP address. VPNs also add a layer of encryption to protect data packets and online communication. As the internet was not designed to be inherently secure, VPNs were developed to bridge part of the security gap. While they are not a foolproof solution, a reliable and trustworthy VPN can help protect your online privacy.
A VPN trial is a way to test a VPN service before purchasing it.
Typically, VPN trials last for a specific period or have limited functionality. Once the trial period ends, you must subscribe to continue using the service. VPN trials work by providing you with a temporary account, allowing you to test the VPN's features and functionality.
Some VPNs offer free trials. You can cancel your subscription within the trial period to avoid being charged, but you will likely have to provide your payment card details at the time of sign-up. VPN trials can range from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the VPN provider. During the trial period, you may have limited access to certain features, reduced connection speeds, or a limited number of servers to choose from. However, most VPNs offer a full range of features during the trial period.
Not all VPN trials are secure and trustworthy, so it's essential to choose a reputable VPN provider that has a history of protecting user privacy and security.
When should a VPN not be used?
Using a VPN is generally recommended day-to-day. However, there are some circumstances where you may decide not to enable your VPN. You should always check if using a VPN is legal in your country, for example.
VPNs can slow down your connection, so if you're not dealing with sensitive information, you may want to trade speed for security temporarily, like when gaming.
What does a VPN not protect you from?
VPNs protect your privacy by masking your IP address and encrypting your traffic. However, unless there are specific, integrated features, they do not offer protection against online threats such as phishing, drive-by malicious downloads, malware, ransomware, or third-party data breaches.
To protect yourself against these attack vectors, you should ensure you have a firewall and antivirus software. It's also recommended that you stay suspicious of untrusted messages and emails.
Are there alternative VPNs worth considering?
There is a huge selection of VPN offerings on the market today. While we've showcased what we consider the best VPN providers that offer decent trials, there are other options available you may want to consider, as shown below: