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Are free VPNs safe? Why a free VPN isn't the best bet for securing your iPhone

A free VPN could work for protecting your iPhone's connection in limited cases. But before you go that route, make sure you understand the risks.
Written by Jason Stauffer, Staff Writer on
Reviewed by Amy Lieu

Free VPNs are a double-edged sword. You're saving money, but you're sacrificing performance. And often many free VPNs are impractical to use at best and unsafe in the worst-case scenarios.

You should be wary of any free VPN service where it's not obvious how the company is making money. Running a VPN is expensive and if you're not paying cash, you're paying in other ways. A free VPN could bombard you with ads, throttle speeds, or severely limit your data. Unscrupulous VPN providers could make money by selling your data or putting your personal information at risk with substandard security measures.

In general, you'll want to avoid free VPNs, but there are exceptions. Some reputable VPN providers offer a limited version of their service for free with the option to pay to unlock the full set of features. This freemium model can get you access to a safe VPN to test out, but a free VPN typically isn't going to cut it if you need the performance required for gaming, streaming, or torrenting.

Also: Best VPN for travel

Pros & Cons
pros
  • Unlimited data
  • Six encryption protocols
  • Top-notch security
  • Sleek iOS app
cons
  • One connection
  • Only three countries with free servers
  • No live chat support
More Details

Proton free VPN iOS features: Simultaneous connections: 1 | Kill switch: Yes | Logging: None | Customer service: FAQ, email | Data limit: None | Countries: 3 | Free servers: 94

When it comes to free VPN services for iPhone, Proton VPN stands above the rest.

A free Proton VPN account has no artificial limitations on data or performance. Even though you can only connect to servers in three countries, in those locations you'll have over 90 servers to choose from.

The iOS app has six encryption protocols at your disposal, which is more than any of the other free iPhone VPNs we included on this list. It even includes Proton VPN's recently released Stealth protocol, which hides your VPN connection and is an essential tool for anyone avoiding censorship or restrictions imposed by authoritarian governments.

Proton VPN has the same level of customer support for both the paid and free versions (email & FAQ page). However, you will need the paid version to unlock certain features, like blockers for malware, trackers, and ads.

Pros & Cons
pros
  • Robust iOS app
  • Extensive free server network
  • Useful chatbot
  • Unlimited connections
cons
  • Limited data
More Details

Windscribe free VPN iOS features: Simultaneous Connections: Unlimited | Kill switch: Yes | Logging: None | Customer service: FAQ, email, bot chat | Data limit: Up to 15GB monthly | Countries: 11 | Free server locations: 30

The Windscribe VPN iOS app has a good number of features compared to other free iPhone VPNs. You can customize the visual layout and choose from 17 languages. There are also options for adjusting the server display to show the load and latency of each location.

Windscribe VPN also has a built-in blocker for ads, trackers, and malware. You can even customize lists of sites or IP addresses you'd like to block using Windscribe's R.O.B.E.R.T. tool. 

Where the free Windscribe service really shines is with its server network, which has servers in more countries than any of the other free iPhone VPNs we've highlighted. It has locations with free servers you can directly connect to across these countries:

  • Canada
  • France
  • Germany
  • Hong Kong
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Romania
  • Switzerland
  • Turkey
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

When you sign up for the free Windscribe VPN you'll start off with 2GB a month but it's easy to increase that limit. You can bump up to 10GB a month when you verify your email and get a permanent boost to 15GB monthly if you tweet about the service (and have at least three followers).

You can access support through email or possibly get your questions answered with the FAQ guides. There is no live chat option, but I found the chatbot (Garry) to be extremely helpful. It provided specific answers to my questions rather than just giving me a list of links to FAQ guides that may or may not answer the question. 

The Windscribe free VPN also works with a number of streaming services. We were told by a Windscribe representative that it will unlock 50+ services and I successfully tested Amazon Prime, HBOMax, Disney+, and Netflix. I had to try a few different locations to get Amazon Prime to work, but streaming was easy and clear. I was even able to unlock US Netflix, which is something that Windscribe only guarantees will work with its paid subscription.

Pros & Cons
pros
  • Large server network for a free VPN
  • Unblocks streaming services
cons
  • Bare bones iOS app
  • No chat support
  • Data limits
More Details

Privado free VPN iOS features: Simultaneous Connections: 1 | Kill switch: Yes | Logging: None | Customer service: Email, FAQs | Data limit: 10GB monthly | Countries: 10 | Server locations: 13

The free version of PrivadoVPN is another service with a healthy number of server locations, including servers in Argentina and Brazil. It's the only VPN on this list with free servers located in South America.

In addition to Argentina and Brazil, PrivadoVPN also has free servers in: 

  • Canada
  • France
  • Germany
  • Mexico
  • Netherlands
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

I was able to stream Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime while connected to PrivadoVPN's free servers, which is a plus. But the data limits for the free service make this service a non-starter for all but the most basic uses. You are limited to 10GB a month and a single connection. 

PrivadoVPN's iOS app is straightforward and easy to set up and use, but it's extremely bare bones. There are no features other than the option to choose your protocol (three options) or enable auto-connect when the app is launched. Even the kill switch has to be activated through your iPhone's settings and can't be enabled/disabled in-app like with many other free services.

If you have issues, you can email support or search the FAQ page (no chat option). I found the search functionality for the FAQs to be subpar, often returning no results or irrelevant results.

Pros & Cons
pros
  • Unlimited simultaneous connections
  • Data breach monitor
cons
  • Small monthly data limit
  • Only two countries with free servers
More Details

Atlas free VPN iOS features: Simultaneous connections: Unlimited | Kill switch: Yes | Logging: None | Customer service: Email support, FAQs | Data limit: 5GB monthly | Countries: 2 | Server locations: 3

Overall, Atlas VPN is a solid service with the security and performance to compete with the best VPNs. However, the free version of Atlas VPN falls prey to many of the same issues that plague other free VPNs -- data and server limits.

A free Atlas VPN plan comes with unlimited connections, but only gives you 5GB per month of data to use. Given the strict data limit, it's impractical for file sharing or streaming. And although you can connect all of your devices, how long will the data last?

The iOS app has a simple and intuitive user interface. It includes a data breach scanner, an in-app kill switch, and two protocols (WireGuard and IPSec/IKEv2). But you'll have to pay for a number of basic features such as the tracker blocker or live chat support.

What is the best free VPN for iPhone?

Proton VPN is the best free VPN for iPhone and it's not even close. It's the only realistic option If you want anything more than what amounts to a limited free trial, and its unlimited data and top-tier security can't be beaten. 

With any free VPN service you'll have severe limitations on some features, so don't expect to be able to do significant streaming or P2P file sharing. And the server network for free VPNs is only a shred of the options you'd have with a fully paid plan. Even the most basic budget VPN services are more robust.

Best free VPN for iPhoneCountriesData limitBrowsing logsConnections
Proton VPN3NoneNo1
Atlas VPN25GB per monthNoUnlimited
PrivadoVPN1010GB per monthNo1
Windscribe VPN11Up to 15GB per monthNoUnlimited

 

Which is the right free iPhone VPN for you?

The best free iPhone VPN for you is one that meets your specific needs. Start by asking yourself why you want a VPN and work backward from there.

If you want a service to secure the connections for your iPhone, iPad, and laptop on your once-a-month trip through the airport, then a free VPN could work, as long as it allows multiple simultaneous connections. The good thing is that since these VPNs are free, so you can do hands-on testing without any upfront commitment.

Choose this free iPhone VPNIf you want...
Atlas VPN or Windscribe VPNUnlimited connections
Proton VPNUnlimited data
Windscribe VPNThe largest free server network
PrivadoVPNFree server locations in South America

How did we choose these free VPNs for iPhone?

As we've mentioned, the world of free VPNs can be a shady one. Most free VPNs should be avoided. The one exception is reputable VPN providers with a free service or freemium model where you can test-run a limited version of the paid service.

Narrowing down the list of best free VPNs for iPhone started by only considering VPNs with paid plans we'd recommend in other contexts, like the best Chrome VPNs or best VPNs for torrenting. That means every free VPN we've included on this list is secure, won't sell you data, and has no ads.

Beyond those basics, we looked at the features (or lack thereof) of the free VPN services. Some free VPNs have such restrictive limits on data or performance that it makes them effectively useless.

Are free VPNs safe?

Quite often there are significant risks to using a free VPN service.

There are the annoyances such as ads, or limits to the bandwidth or data. But in the worst-case scenarios, you could be putting your security or data at risk. A free VPN service could make money selling your data. Even well-intentioned free services may not have the resources to create and maintain a fully secure service.

For those reasons, it's best to avoid the vast majority of free VPNs. The one exception is the free VPN plans offered by companies as a marketing tool. These companies make their money from paid subscriptions and offer limited-free versions of their VPNs as a way to generate interest in their products. 

How to set up a free VPN on your iPhone

Setting up a VPN for your iOS device is straightforward and should only take a few minutes. Just follow these steps:

  1. Find the VPN you want in the Apple App Store and download it. In some cases, you may need to download the VPN's iOS app directly from that company's website.

  2. Open the app, and create an account if you don't already have one set up.

  3. When you first connect to the VPN you'll get a pop-up letting you know the VPN wants to add VPN configurations, select "allow" to finish the setup.

  4. Connect to a VPN server and start securely browsing the internet.

Check out our guide on how to set up a VPN for detailed instructions on setting up a VPN for other devices and operating systems.

What's the best premium VPN for iPhone?

We've ranked NordVPN as the best premium VPN for iPhone.

Read the review: NordVPN review

NordVPN has thousands of server locations in dozens of countries, and it is easy to install and use. It supports six simultaneous connections, streaming, and P2P file sharing. NordVPN also has additional security features like Double VPN and a dark web monitor, which alerts you if your email address is included in any data breaches.

Right now, NordVPN is running a Black Friday promotion and you can pick up the service for an average of $2.99/mo with a two-year plan. There are also additional security features available for purchase including a password manager, cloud storage, and a dedicated IP address.

Are there alternative free iPhone VPNs worth considering?

If you've tried the free iPhone VPNs on our list and they haven't met your expectations, there are plenty of other options to consider. 

Services such as Surfshark VPN and IPVanish VPN both made it onto our best VPN of 2022 list and are worth a try. Private Internet Access is a great deal at only $2.19/mo with up to 10 simultaneous connections.

Editorial standards

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