Are Free VPNs Slower Than Paid VPNs?

Are Free VPNs Slower Than Paid VPNs?

  04 Jan 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Free VPNs often have limitations and potentially lower connection speeds compared to paid VPNs.
  • However, testing results show that the free and paid versions of Tunnelbear VPN have similar connection speeds.
  • It may not be necessary to upgrade to a paid VPN for better speeds, as some free VPNs offer comparable performance.


It’s always tempting to opt for a free VPN to save money, but these services often have drawbacks. But are paid VPNs any faster than their free counterparts, or is there little to no difference here?


Free vs. Paid VPNs: Which Is Faster?

Free versions of a freemium app come with certain drawbacks and limitations, which are put in place to encourage subscriptions. VPN apps are no exception to this rule.

Some VPN apps are entirely free, some are paid only, and some offer both options. If the VPN you’re using offers the latter option, then it’s likely that the free version will come with a relatively low data cap and limited server locations. Other features, such as a VPN kill switch or VPN protocol options, may also be unavailable to free members.

There are additional concerns relating to the use of free VPNs, particularly surrounding data logging. But here, we’ll discuss whether free VPNs are slower than paid VPNs.

To compare the connection speeds of free and VPNs, we’ll compare the free and paid versions of one well-known service: Tunnelbear.

A quick overview of the results received can be seen below. Both the download and upload speed results for each test are shown.

No VPN

Free Tunnelbear VPN

Paid Tunnelbear VPN

While Browsing

Download: 74.16 Mbps Upload: 17.87 Mbps

Download: 71.57 Mbps Upload: 10.01 Mbps

Download: 73.72 Mbps Upload: 18.22 Mbps

While Streaming

Download: 73.53 Mbps Upload: 17.84 Mbps

Download: 69.79 Mbps Upload: 16.23 Mbps

Download: 73.64 Mbps Upload: 17.14 Mbps

While Gaming

Download: 74.48 Mbps Upload: 17.21 Mbps

Download: 73.63 Mbps Upload: 17.02 Mbps

Download: 72.30 Mbps Upload: 17.48 Mbps

Now, let’s get into a little more detail, starting with Tunnelbear’s free VPN.

Testing Speeds Without a VPN

Before testing whether the free VPN is slower than the paid VPN, we need to gauge our internet connection speed without a VPN.

No VPN, Browsing

No VPN, Streaming on YouTube

screenshot of speedtest.net connection speed test results

No VPN, Gaming on Steam

screenshot of speedtest.net connection speed test results

Now, let’s check out the speed of Tunnelbear’s free VPN in the same circumstances.

Tunnelbear’s Free VPN Speeds

There are some obvious limitations that free users of the Tunnelbear VPN will face. These include a 2GB data limit, limited device usage, and limited server locations. But what about speed?

The Tunnelbear free VPN was connected to a remote server in France for each speed test. Here’s what we found.

Free VPN Active, Browsing

screenshot of speedtest.net connection speed test results

Evidently, activating the VPN has a negative effect on both the download and upload speeds. While the download speed fell by 2.82 Mbps, the upload speed fell by 7.71 Mbps. But what if we go beyond browsing?

Free VPN Active, Streaming on YouTube

screenshot of speedtest.net connection speed test results

Free VPN Active, Gaming on Steam

screenshot of speedtest.net connection speed test results

Evidently, the download speeds are somewhat negatively affected by the activation of the VPN, but not to a harsh degree. So, how does the paid VPN measure up?

Tunnelbear’s Paid VPN Speeds

So, do the connection speeds change with a paid Tunnelbear VPN subscription?

Paid VPN Active, Browsing

Screenshot of speedtest.net connection speed test results

Paid VPN Active, Streaming on YouTube

screenshot of speedtest.net connection speed test results

Paid VPN Active, Gaming on Steam

Screenshot of speedtest.net connection speed test result

The download and upload speeds when the free and paid VPNs were active don’t differ too much. While the paid VPN provided a slightly higher download speed while browsing and streaming, the free VPN provided a higher gaming speed. These variations are only a few Mbps, which shouldn’t affect loading times much.

In all tests, the paid VPN provided higher upload speeds than the free VPN, but again, these variations were minimal.

Are Paid and Free VPN Speeds Different?

In this example, no. Tunnelbear uses the same VPN service in its paid and free versions.

Tunnelbear’s help page states, “All TunnelBear plans, free and paid, have the same performance levels.” Our test results reflect this statement, as there were no major differences in connection speeds between the free and paid VPNs.

Now, while this test is confined to one VPN provider, it shows that you might not need to upgrade from your free VPN to its paid service to achieve better speeds. Before paying any money, check to see if your chosen providers’ free and paid plans use the same hardware and software, as this likely means both versions offer similar speeds. Furthermore, if the VPN provider offers a free trial of its premium service, why not take it for a spin and compare the speeds yourself using a similar testing system to ours?

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