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Free VPN vs. paid VPN — which is right for you?

While it might be tempting to get a free VPN and avoid paying for subscription, this could actually put your security and privacy at risk. Are there any circumstances under which you should choose a free VPN? Is a paid VPN always better? Let’s dive into the free VPN vs. paid VPN debate.

Karolis Bareckas Karolis Bareckas

Karolis Bareckas

Free VPN vs. paid VPN — which is right for you?

What is a free VPN?

First, let’s define what a free VPN is. As the wording suggests, it’s a VPN service that doesn't ask you to pay a monthly or yearly subscription fee. But how is that possible?

A VPN service relies on a huge network of thousands of servers that have to be continually maintained. Operating this type of infrastructure requires hundreds or even thousands of employees and a significant amount of money.

Even though free VPN service providers don’t charge for subscription, they still have to make a buck somehow. And this is where the problems begin.

How do free VPNs make money?

Tracking and selling your browsing data

While you might think that nobody cares what you do online, you would be surprised how desirable your data is for certain buyers. Data brokerage companies purchase users’ data and then sell it to third parties advertisers. A database containing information on your online habits could be a high-demand commodity.

The companies behind free VPNs can track what websites you visit, what you purchase, how long you stay online, and even what kind of device you use. They can then sell that data without your consent and make their money.

Bombarding you with ads

A popular strategy to monetize free services (including VPNs) is to display ads in the app. Every time a user clicks on the ad, the service provider gets its share. If you have millions of users, this can be enough to sustain a business.

However, being constantly bombarded with ads can be annoying and sometimes it’s not easy to close them. Worse still, some ads might be malicious and can infect your device with malware.

Pushing you to upgrade to a paid version

Some free VPNs offer users only limited features and set restrictive data caps, to pressure their customers into upgrading to a paid service. Many apps use this strategy to attract paying customers and free VPNs are no exception.

Since it’s recommended that you have a VPN enabled on your device at all times to stay secure, you might run out of “free” data in just a couple of days. So you either have to upgrade to a paid version anyway, or use a VPN only on certain occasions.

What are the drawbacks of a free VPN?

  • Poor security. A VPN is a tool meant to enhance your digital security, but a free VPN might do the opposite. Since free VPN providers don’t usually have decent server infrastructure, their security and the level of encryption might be weak. When you’re looking for a VPN, you need to choose the one with top-notch encryption; otherwise, you might fall prey to hackers.
  • Limited performance. A free VPN will never provide you with the latest cybersecurity features in the way that a paid VPN would. Your connection speed will be slow, making streaming and playing online unreliable. It’s like driving a 20-year-old car with a CD player, manual windows, and a ridiculous gas emission — there must be a better way.
  • Lack of privacy. A VPN hides your IP address, so nobody can see your location and link your internet activities with your identity. However, since free VPNs sell your data to third parties, you can say goodbye to your privacy.

Is NordVPN free?

No, but you can get a NordVPN free trial which you can cancel within 30 days. NordVPN offers a monthly, yearly, or two-year subscription plan. As the world’s leading VPN, it employs thousands of people working to make it as secure and reliable as it is today. That’s why we’re able to charge less than a cup of coffee for a monthly plan.

Why are paid VPNs better than free alternatives?

Paid VPN providers make money by charging users for a VPN subscription. They then invest that money in their infrastructure, introduce new features, and work to provide the best possible user experience. Long-term users are the basis for their business model, so it’s essential that they take care of their customer base and maintain a good reputation.

The biggest strength of a free VPN is that it’s free. When people get something without paying, they don’t expect the high-end service and the bar for quality is low. But if you pay for a subscription, you can expect better speeds, extensive features, and solid encryption.

When you run a paid VPN, you have no room for failure, as you are obliged to deliver what you’ve promised. However, with free VPNs it’s a whole different story.

Online security starts with a click.

Stay safe with the world’s leading VPN

What are the benefits of a paid VPN?

An extensive server network

NordVPN operates more than 5200 servers in 60 countries, so you can hop on the server closest to your location to get the best speed available. It also has servers dedicated to different purposes:

  • P2P servers — for smooth and secure file sharing.
  • Obfuscated servers — to bypass internet restrictions in authoritarian countries.
  • Onion Over VPN — securely accessing .onion sites.
  • Double VPN — for extra security, your traffic is redirected through two servers instead of one.
  • Dedicated IP — exclusive servers for users who purchased dedicated IPs.

Strong privacy

Unlike free VPNs, NordVPN doesn't care what you do online. It doesn’t sell your browsing data to third parties or collect it for other purposes, because its business model is purely subscription-based.

And if you’ve ever asked, “Should I leave my VPN on all the time?”, the answer can always be “Yes!” when you’re using a premium service. If you want to shield your privacy wherever you go, having a VPN enabled at all times is a good idea. NordVPN won’t limit how much data you can use through your VPN.

Top-notch encryption

Without encryption, third parties can access your internet traffic, monitor your activities, and steal your sensitive information. If you often connect to public Wi-Fi, having a VPN enabled is extremely important, as unsecured networks are often targeted by hackers.

NordVPN uses AES 256-bit encryption, which scrambles your data and turns it into gibberish while in transit, so nobody can spy on it.

Additional features

A kill switch to make sure your data is never exposed. DNS and IP leak protection for ultimate security. NordVPN's Meshnet, which lets you form private encrypted connections with your own or your friends' devices from anywhere in the world. Paid VPNs have special features that improve your experience or offer additional security.

For example, NordVPN’s Dark Web Monitor will notify you if someone leaks your credentials to the dark web. Threat Protection is another special feature that blocks third-party trackers and malicious ads to improve your privacy and security. It also prevents you from accessing malware-ridden websites and scans your downloaded files for malicious software.

NordVPN also has the private DNS function that shields your DNS requests from third parties. This means no one can spy on you or secretly redirect you to a malicious site.

Access to services

There are many cases when you might not be able to access certain websites and media. A handful of countries like China, Iran, or Russia block social media platforms, Western news outlets, and various web pages and apps. With a premium VPN, you can change your IP address and access any services you like without restrictions.

Free VPNs won’t always let you bypass heavy restrictions, and might not offer you the privacy you need while doing so. Premium VPNs like NordVPN can circumvent blocks and allow you to access the free internet. Is a VPN worth it? Whether it's for privacy at home, security at work, or stress-free travel, the answer’s yes.

With one NordVPN account, you can use a VPN on six different devices at the same time: smartphones, tablets, laptops, and more.

Free VPN vs. paid VPN: privacy & security

Free VPNPaid VPN
Extensive server basenoyes
Hidden IP addressyesyes
Stable VPN connectionnoyes
Data encryptionyesyes
Bandwidth limityesno
Dedicated IP addressnoyes
Specialty serversnoyes
Multiple simultaneous connectionsnoyes
24/7 customer supportnoyes

Final thoughts

So, which VPN is right for you? While a free VPN might sound like an appealing option, you’re risking your security and privacy by using it. Unlike paid VPN services, free VPN companies have to generate income in other ways. Some free VPNs might offer a limited version of its free service, which could jeopardize your security. In other cases, some free VPNs may even sell your data to make money.

Paid VPNs charge money for a reason, as they want to maintain their infrastructure and provide you with the best service. In the end, it’s worth it to be able to browse the internet with peace of mind.

When it comes to cybersecurity, you have to take all the necessary measures to protect yourself. Otherwise, it may cost you a lot more in the long run.

Online security starts with a click.

Stay safe with the world’s leading VPN

Karolis Bareckas
Karolis Bareckas Karolis Bareckas
success Autor verificat
Karolis is a tech geek who writes about cybersecurity, online privacy, and the latest gadgets. When not rattling his keyboard, he’s always eager to try a new burrito recipe or explore a new camping spot.