Free VPN vs Paid VPN: Which One To Choose?

Virtual private networks, or VPNs, are rapidly gaining popularity as COVID-19 has forced us to work and interact more digitally in recent months and years. What’s more is that there are many free VPNs that promise strong levels of security without forcing users to cough up money to ensure their privacy. But can free really offer the same benefits as paid for services? Or is it best to part with your money for peace of mind? 

While accessing free services can be great, in many cases you get what you pay for and this tends to ring true in the world of VPNs. However, whether you require a free or paid VPN or not is likely to depend on what you actually need. 

While the price difference between the two options can be big – totally free VPN services certainly outweigh the monthly cost of a VPN which can range to around £10 – there are often subscription deals that can mitigate some of these costs. 

(Image: PC Mag)

As we can see from the image above, VPN usage is more common outside of Europe and North America, with the Asia Pacific region leading the way in private browsing. However, this may soon change now that businesses are set to operate more remotely, requiring a deeper layer of secure browsing to protect the information that they share with employees based around the world. 

Let’s take a deeper look at the respective pros and cons of both free and paid VPN services before deciding which could be best suited for your specific needs: 

Why Are Some VPNs Free?

The best VPNs work to keep you completely anonymous online while shielding you from cyber threats and giving you access to geo-restricted websites. While the notion of getting all of this for free sounds like a dream come true, it’s important to be wary of what your VPN provider is getting out of the deal. 

The issue here is that running a reliable VPN service, which includes managing a global server network, developing client apps and offering user support among other services isn’t free – and VPN providers are highly unlikely to offer their product out without arranging a way that they can profit from your usage. 

Whilst paid VPNs make money from user subscriptions, free VPN providers need to figure out alternative ways of generating an income for themselves. 

In some cases, it’s possible that the provider can make things work simply by limiting the functions that its free service provides – this means that if you only need to use a VPN every now and then for privacy, a free service could be highly beneficial. But what about providers who claim to offer fully-fledged services free of charge? Be careful if a provider promises you the world for nothing – they may be invading your privacy and security to make money from your information. 

With this in mind, let’s assess the pros and cons of free VPN and paid VPN services and how they could potentially suit your needs: 

The Pros of Free VPN Services

  • Free VPN services offer anonymous browsing online. This means your IP address isn’t visible to the websites you’re visiting – other than to VPN server itself. This allows a greater level of security and freedom while browsing the web. 
  • This service is available at no cost to the user. Free VPNs come in many shapes and sizes – they often take the form of streamlined versions of paid services but some users opt to jump from free 30 day trials of existing services. 
  • Free services tend to not require any user signup or the use of any personal information in order to create accounts. This can help to leverage a greater level of anonymity than even paid services are capable of. 

The Cons of Free VPN Services

  • Free VPN services are liable to limit the usage of the server, and the number of servers available to users. This is designed to stop customers from overloading their capacity and means that users will have fewer options available to them in connecting to a service. 
  • It’s also common to see free VPN services become congested – meaning that it can take longer to connect to servers and the websites that users want to visit. 
  • Because free VPNs aren’t bringing in money for their providers for customers, income has to be made in alternative ways such as through the use of popup ads that may carry malware, adware and viruses. 
  • There’s also a greater danger that free VPNs are insecure. Because they’re free services, it may be that less time and effort has been dedicated to securing the networks themselves, meaning that users could be more vulnerable to malware. 
  • Free VPN services are sometimes generated by companies that aim to track, monitor and record their users’ activity with the intention of selling it on to 3rd parties. Because free VPN providers need to make money, sometimes this can emerge as a source of income. 

Pros of Paid VPNs

  • Paid VPN services offer users a solid network infrastructure that’s comprised of hundreds, or even thousands, of servers around the world – meaning greater levels of accessibility and faster browsing. 
  • These services generate their income from their consumers, which means that they can use their funding to generate a more comprehensive and advanced service with greater levels of protection
  • Paid VPN services offer multi-platform support and access without limitations on bandwidth capacity alongside many features that will boost your online security. 
  • Because of their greater levels of funding, paid VPN providers also generally offer far greater 24/7 customer support for users via email, live chat, telephone or online contact forms. 

Cons of Paid VPNs

  • These services typically require subscriptions on a monthly, six-monthly or annual basis. Depending on the type of service being used and the provider, the cost of VPN services can be significant. 
  • Paid VPN services aren’t necessarily trustworthy. Some premium providers keep logs of user information to sell on or pass on to the authorities upon request. 
  • Despite many paid VPNs claiming to have a ‘no logs’ policy, there’s no way of actually verifying that no logs are being recorded. What we do know is that a user’s online communications between their computer and VPN service are fully visible to the provider whether the service is paid or free. 
  • Many paid VPNs are located offshore in nations with lenient regulations on internet services such as the British Virgin Islands, Panama and Granada and so on. Ownership models of some of these companies are hazy which could make it difficult to gain refunds if users have complaints against the service. 
  • All paid VPN services require the entry of personal information and payment details, meaning that a security risk is being taken just by signing up. 

If you’re in the market for a VPN that can offer a healthy level of protection for more casual usage like checking emails or browsing on public WiFi connections, it may be worth opting for free VPNs from companies that enjoy good ratings online as well as a credible level of consumer trust. 

However, if you’re one of many new remote workers in the post-COVID-19 age and in need of robust privacy and security features, it may be worth embracing paid services that can offer greater levels of connectivity, browsing speed and flexibility. As with many of the things we enjoy in life, you get what you pay for – and in the world of VPNs, you’re more likely to find a service that’s more usable and trustworthy by subscribing to a premium quality VPN provider.