Can an expat get a free VPN?

When you’re living as an expat, you’ve definitely already got your fair share of expenses and a slew of other matters to stay on top of. If you’re strapped for cash, then you may be wondering if it’d be a good idea to get a free VPN (virtual private network), so you can protect your privacy online while keeping your expenses down. After all, any way you can save a bit of extra cash for things like traveling and exploring your new surroundings is of crucial importance when you’re living the expat life. Check out my guide on how VPNs can help expats if you want to understand the advantages of using a VPN service.

What you’ll be happy to know is that you can indeed get a free VPN as an expat. But you’ll need to choose your free VPN wisely, because they’re not all created equal, and some are even downright dangerous to use. The fact is that most free VPNs – and there are tons of them out there – simply won’t do you any good because they’ll typically lack the security features, speeds, and overall performance you’d need to keep you safe online and for taking advantage of all the things a VPN can do for you.

There’s really only a small handful of free VPN providers that are worth any of your time, so you’ll need to be careful in your quest to find a VPN that doesn’t oblige you to whip out your wallet as a prerequisite for securing your online activity.

This can make choosing a free VPN about as easy as trying to slice a loaf of bread with a bowling ball. But luckily for you, I’m gonna recommend a few free VPNs here that take your privacy seriously and give you the ability to unblock geo-restricted websites.

Now, what you’ll need to keep in mind, though, when considering a free VPN is that even the best free VPNs will inherently come with certain limitations. Of course, there’s gonna be some sort of tradeoff any time you get something for free, including a VPN. With a free VPN, you’ll typically be limited in how much data you’re allowed to download while using the VPN, how many servers you’ll have access to, and how fast your connection speeds will be.

It’s also unlikely that you’ll be able to unblock Netflix libraries with a free VPN, or most other popular streaming platforms for that matter. If the ability to unblock streaming sites is something you definitely want from your VPN, and still want to keep your expenses to a minimum, I’d suggest checking out a cheap VPN for expats so you can unblock all the streaming content you want while barely making a dent in your bank account.

Because of these limitations, even the highest quality free VPNs won’t typically be adequate for more data-heavy activities like streaming, torrenting, or video calling.

A quality free VPN will, however, be perfectly suited for general browsing while maintaining your online security at home and on the go. A free VPN can also help you bypass state censorship efforts and access news sites from abroad. So if you find yourself traveling a lot as an expat and want to stay safe on public Wi-Fi, or if you want to keep up with the latest news from back home, but don’t necessarily need anything from your VPN beyond that, then a free VPN would be an excellent solution for you.

The best free VPNs for expats

You’ll find that it’s the premium VPN providers that truly offer the best free VPN packages. This is because a premium VPN typically already has sufficient monetary resources from its paid offering to be able to furnish a quality free tier. The idea is to offer a limited free option to users for them to get a taste of the service with the intent of ultimately coaxing them to upgrade to the provider’s paid, premium offering.

If you’re looking for just about as close to an unlimited free experience as possible, I’d recommend checking out the free offering from ProtonVPN. With ProtonVPN’s free tier, you’ll be able to use it for free for as long as you want, without any time limits or data caps. Granted, you’ll only have access to servers in the US, Japan, and the Netherlands, and your speeds won’t be as optimal as with Proton’s paid offering, but you’ll still have access to the same airtight encryption standards as paid users, and you’ll still get speeds that are more than respectable for most standard online activities.

Another excellent free VPN I’d recommend looking into is Hide.me, because at zero cost to you, you’ll get a truly respectable data allowance of 10GB per month, which should be plenty for the average internet user. On top of that, you’ll get excellent speeds, access to five server locations (US East Coast, US West Coast, Canada, the Netherlands, and Singapore), as well as world-class encryption standards to keep you safe and secure online.

Other than those two, I’d take a look at Windscribe, TunnelBear, and Hotspot Shield. Each one has its own set of advantages and limitations, but you really can’t go wrong with any one of them as your go-to free VPN.

To be honest, the best thing to do is to try them all – I mean, they’re free, so why the hell not? Take each one for a ride and figure out for yourself which one works best for you and continue with that one. Or, personally, what I would do is actively use each one separately until I hit that data cap for the month, then head on over to a different one and just continue rotating through them as the data allowance is restored. You’ve got literally nothing to lose here. Just a little life hack from me to you, my fellow expat.

But what about standalone free VPNs that offer their services for ‘free’ on their own and are not run by any established premium VPN provider? Well, that’s where things get dicey.

Running a VPN is not cheap, which is the reason why even premium VPN providers’ free tiers are limited in the level of service they offer. They need to give users an incentive to upgrade so they can generate the revenue to run the service. Standalone free VPN providers also need to somehow make money to run their services. And how do they typically make money, you ask? By selling your data to the highest bidder. That’s right, they do exactly what a VPN provider shouldn’t be doing – they sell your data to third-party advertisers and data brokers to support the services they provide for ‘free’. So, essentially, you’re paying for the service not with your money, but with your data – you’ve become the product.

What’s even more unsettling is that there are free VPNs out there that are outright malicious in nature. There are quite a few of them that are infected with malware, which can obviously put your privacy and security in even greater peril.

Free VPNs to avoid

So, maybe you’re thinking “as long as I just go with a free VPN from a company that also offers a paid option, I should be good… right?” Sadly, no, that’s not how it works – that would be too easy. You still have to watch out when you’re considering this type of option.

Case in point, take Hola VPN, which is a “premium” VPN provider that offers a paid tier alongside its massively popular free option. The problem with Hola VPN is that – despite its popularity – it happens to be one of the most notoriously shady VPN providers out there. You see, when you use Hola for free, your computer becomes an exit node for all other Hola users to run their connections through. This means that your IP address is being used by any number of other random users around the world and doing whatever it is they may be doing online – whatever it is, you can bet it ain’t always pretty (or legal). And the best part is, you’re potentially on the hook for the internet activity of others since they’re using your IP address.

Hola, of course, attempts to frame this as a good thing, stating on its website that “Hola VPN is the first community-powered or peer-to-peer VPN where users help each other to make the web more open and accessible for all.” The FAQ section elaborates further that “Hola VPN routes your traffic through other peers (nodes) in the Hola VPN network, as opposed to routing through power-hungry costly servers.”

Hola sure does its darnedest to make it sound like this is all just sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows; as if its worldwide network is just one big happy family of internet users who are all there for one another and just makin’ sure everyone has a grand ol’ time online. The reality is much, much different, though the majority of free users probably don’t realize it. They just want a VPN for free and don’t care much about the technicalities behind how it is provided to them. And Hola is happy to oblige, not just because it doesn’t have to pay for any server infrastructure, but also because the company can sell your bandwidth on to its sister company, Luminati. Talk about a win-win (not for you, of course, but for Hola)!

Anyway, this post isn’t meant to be a takedown of Hola – though the provider certainly deserves one, based on its blatantly unethical practices and utter absence of concern for user privacy. Rather, I drag Hola here merely as a fair warning that you shouldn’t jump at everything that is free just because it looks all shiny and innocent cue Hola’s happy little flame logo without fully understanding exactly what you’re getting into. You’re still giving something up to use these ‘free’ VPNs, and often (certainly in Hola’s case) it can be much more than you should be.

Along with Hola, there are other free VPNs that I would also advise that you avoid like the plague. These include Betternet (sells data to third parties), Psiphon (allows ad partners to track users), SuperVPN (tracks users and cooperates with authorities), ArchieVPN (reportedly infected with malware), and Tuxler VPN (logs user activity to target ads). The list can go on, but I don’t want to get too bogged down in negativity.

Final thoughts

Don’t fall victim to a dodgy free VPN. Get your hands on a quality free VPN that won’t cost you a dime but will go the distance to protect your privacy and be more than sufficient for most of your day-to-day interneting [is that a word?] needs.

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