Free public WiFi sounds like a dream, especially if you’re traveling and need the internet to work or get in touch with your family. However, public WiFi can also be a hacker’s paradise because of the lack of encryption. That’s why you need the best VPN for public WiFi to ensure your sensitive data is not at the mercy of hackers.
- Free internet may be tempting, but it can leave your traffic and personal data at the mercy of snoopers and hackers.
- A virtual private network encrypts your traffic while using a public WiFi network, keeping your online activities safe.
- ExpressVPN is our top pick for public WiFi because it’s fast, secure and has a vast server network.
- NordVPN, Surfshark, CyberGhost, PIA and IPVanish are cheaper VPN providers for public WiFi, but they don’t skimp on security features.
A virtual private network (VPN) scrambles your internet traffic and sends it through an encrypted tunnel, ensuring that hackers can’t make sense of it. However, with so many VPNs staking the claim to be the best, it can be tricky knowing which one to choose.
In this article, we’ll show you our top six VPNs that are excellent for public WiFi. We’ll dig deep into each option, showing you why they made the cut. If you want a head start, ExpressVPN is the best public WiFi VPN, thanks to its large server network, fast speeds and robust encryption features.
A VPN connection encrypts your internet traffic and anonymizes your online activities. That way, your internet service provider, scammers and any other snoopers can’t access or compromise your data.
ExpressVPN is the best VPN for public WiFi or free internet. It boasts unmatched connection speeds, an extensive network of server locations and solid security features.
Windscribe is a reasonably good free VPN choice if you use public WiFi occasionally and you don’t want to pay for a VPN subscription.
Download and install a trustworthy VPN like ExpressVPN. Next, open the app and connect to a server location. Once you’re in, you can connect to a public WiFi hotspot and start browsing.
Top VPNs for Public Wifi
Average speedDownload Speed91 MbpsUpload Speed9 MbpsLatency5 ms
- : PayPal, Credit card, Bitcoin, regional payment systems, WebMoney
- : 5
Average speedDownload Speed92 MbpsUpload Speed9 MbpsLatency4 ms
- : Credit card, Google Pay, AmazonPay, ACH Transfer, UnionPay, Crypto Currencies, PayPal (via Paddle)
- : 6
Average speedDownload Speed84 MbpsUpload Speed7 MbpsLatency158 ms
- : PayPal, Credit card
- : Unlimited
Average speedDownload Speed64 MbpsUpload Speed9 MbpsLatency44 ms
- : PayPal, Credit card, bitcoin
- : 7
Average speedDownload Speed91 MbpsUpload Speed9 MbpsLatency4 ms
- : PayPal, Credit card
- : 10
- : PayPal, Credit card
- : Unlimited
What Makes the Best VPN for Public WiFi?
We put several VPNs through the wringer, testing their speeds and security features as well as their server networks. Below are the six VPNs that passed with flying colors.
- ExpressVPN — Overall best VPN for accessing public WiFi
- NordVPN — Most secure VPN for public WiFi
- Surfshark — Pocket-friendly VPN for public WiFi
- CyberGhost — Customizable VPN for free WiFi
- Private Internet Access (PIA) — Useful public WiFi VPN with an extensive server network
- IPVanish — Decent VPN for public WiFi with multiple protocol options
In selecting VPNs for this listing, we considered those with best-in-class security features. AES-256 encryption is a no-brainer, since it’s practically uncrackable. To keep your traffic from leaking, you need an automatic kill switch and DNS leak protection. To fend off malware and avoid security warnings, a malware blocker and dedicated IP are vital.
Aside from security features, a VPN with a large server network is excellent for public WiFi, especially if you’re on the road often.
Further, you need a fast VPN when accessing public WiFi, especially if you’re using the internet for data-heavy activities like streaming, video calling and downloading or uploading large files. All VPNs will impact your speeds in some way, but the best ones won’t slow down your internet connection significantly.
Finally, the best VPNs are dead simple to use. With a couple of clicks, you should be able to connect to a VPN. Also, they come with customization and automation options to streamline your VPN use. Other features like split tunneling are also handy, since they allow you to choose which URLs or apps go through the VPN tunnel.
The 6 Best VPNs for Public WiFi
Now, let’s pick apart each of our chosen VPNs, starting with our winner, ExpressVPN. Note that all the VPNs on this list have apps for multiple platforms, including Android, Windows, iOS and macOS.
More details about ExpressVPN:
- Pricing: cheapest plan costs $6.66 per month (15-months plan)
- Provider website: expressvpn.com
- Excellent security features
- Easy to use
- Fast VPN provider
If you’re looking to protect your data while using public WiFi, ExpressVPN is your best bet. This top-tier VPN offers a robust selection of security features, excellent speeds and impressive server spread in 94 countries.
ExpressVPN is the best fast VPN on the market, making it an excellent choice for data-heavy activities like video calls, gaming and large downloads and uploads. This easy-to-use VPN also ranks as our best VPN for streaming, since it unblocks all major streaming services, including Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.
Use Public WiFi Safely With ExpressVPN’s Robust Security Features
ExpressVPN’s suite of security features can protect you while using public WiFi. The military-grade AES-256 bit encryption paired with perfect forward secrecy, a kill switch (called Network Lock) and DNS leak protection keeps snoopers at bay. ExpressVPN supports the IKEv2, OpenVPN and Lightway protocols, although there’s no WireGuard.
ExpressVPN’s drawback is that its plans are expensive compared to other VPNs. The monthly plan is the most expensive, although you can get around 35% off with the one-year plan. Thankfully, all plans are covered by a 30-day money-back guarantee. Learn more in our ExpressVPN review.
More details about NordVPN:
- Pricing: cheapest plan costs $3.29 per month (two-year plan)
- Provider website: nordvpn.com
- Double VPN servers
- NordLynx protocol
- Dedicated IP address
- Expensive monthly plan
NordVPN is a somewhat cheaper alternative to ExpressVPN that doesn’t skimp on features. It’s not as fast, nor does it have ExpressVPN’s server spread (NordVPN is in 60 countries), but it more than holds its own, especially when it comes to security features. (See how they compare in our ExpressVPN vs NordVPN comparison.)
You get features like AES-256 encryption and an automatic kill switch, dedicated IP addresses, DNS leak protection, a dark web monitor and double VPN servers. NordVPN also does a great job of unblocking streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer and Amazon Prime Video. It also sits as the best VPN for torrenting.
Ward Off Malware and Phishing Attacks With Threat Protection
One of the dangers of browsing on public WiFi is that you might be exposed to all kinds of malware and phishing attacks. NordVPN’s threat protection feature helps you spot malware-ridden websites and files, and it fends off annoying ads. The good news is that threat protection is still active even when you’re not connected to a VPN server.
NordVPN’s monthly plan is almost as expensive as ExpressVPN’s. However, you can bring down the rates significantly with the one-year plan. For best value, we recommend the two-year plan. The good thing is that there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee in case you don’t like it. Learn more in our NordVPN review.
More details about Surfshark:
- Pricing: cheapest plan costs $2.49 per month (two-year plan)
- Provider website: surfshark.com
- Cheap long-term plans
- Unlimited simultaneous connections
- Obfuscated servers
- Relatively slow latency
In many of our reviews, Surfshark hogs the “most affordable VPN” spot. However, there’s more to this cheap VPN service than bargain-bin pricing. Although the VPN service is relatively new to the scene, it has amassed over 3,200 servers in 65 countries.
In terms of features, Surfshark’s multi-hop feature adds an extra layer of encryption, while the CleanWeb feature fends off ads and malware. If you’re traveling to a totalitarian country like China, Surfshark’s NoBorders and camouflage modes can help protect you and bypass surveillance. Plus, you get a kill switch and unlimited simultaneous connections.
Enjoy Anonymous Browsing With Surfshark’s IP Rotator
Surfshark’s IP rotator (part of Surfshark Nexus) is a new feature that automatically changes your IP address every 5 to 10 minutes without interrupting your VPN connection. This feature makes it harder for snoopers to monitor your internet traffic or access sensitive information. However, we don’t recommend using the IP rotator for banking sites since your account might be flagged (read our best VPN for banking guide).
Surfshark is a budget-friendly NordVPN alternative, especially with the two-year plan, making it a great VPN for public WiFi. You can take this VPN service for a test-run with the 30-day money-back guarantee. Read more in our Surfshark review.
More details about CyberGhost:
- Pricing: cheapest plan costs $2.29 per month (three-year plan + three months)
- Provider website: cyberghostvpn.com
- Large server network
- Easy to customize
- 45-day money-back guarantee
- Inconsistent speeds on OpenVPN
Although Surfshark gets the better of CyberGhost in this review because of its array of security features, CyberGhost snags the fourth spot, with over 7,700 servers in 91 countries — second only to ExpressVPN. Similarly, only ExpressVPN trumps CyberGhost when it comes to user-friendliness, since CyberGhost’s apps are intuitive, simple and easy to use.
If you’re interested in binge-watching Netflix, CyberGhost is a handy option, although you might have to bounce off several servers to access other streaming sites like Hulu, Amazon Prime and BBC iPlayer. Fortunately, CyberGhost offers seven simultaneous connections, making it a great choice if you want to share your subscription with your family.
Create Your Own Privacy Triggers With Smart Rules
One of CyberGhost’s standout features is that it’s customizable: You can decide what your VPN does each time it detects public WiFi. For example, you can set CyberGhost to launch as soon as it detects an unsecured WiFi network. If you work with sensitive data, you can configure the service to open each time you launch work-related apps.
CyberGhost’s three-year plan, which is not common among premium VPNs, is very cheap and adds an extra three months free. The three-year plan, as well as the one-year and two-year plans, come with an impressive 45-day money-back guarantee. However, for the monthly plan, you have a money-back offer for only 14 days. Learn more in our CyberGhost review.
5. Private Internet Access
More details about PIA:
- Pricing: cheapest plan costs $2.19 per month (two-year plan)
- Provider website: privateinternetaccess.com
- Affordable pricing
- WireGuard protocol
- Dedicated IP address
- Inconsistent upload speeds
If you need a low-cost, bare-bones VPN to get past any security vulnerabilities on a public WiFi hotspot, PIA is hard to ignore. You can take your pick of servers in 84 countries, and the VPN service is backed by a strict no-logs policy, as we’ve shown in our PIA review.
PIA is not as fast as the likes of ExpressVPN and it struggles to unblock streaming sites. However, it performs well in the security department, with AES-256 encryption, a kill switch, DNS leak protection and multiple protocols — including WireGuard and OpenVPN. There’s also a built-in ad blocker that thwarts ads and malware.
Enjoy Safe Browsing With a Dedicated IP Address
Sites like Gmail, PayPal, Netflix and eBay can flag your account if they notice that you’re continually accessing them with different IPs. PIA’s dedicated address feature lets you avoid blocklists and extra verification steps while using a public WiFi hotspot.
Also, you might need specific dedicated IP addresses to access your business systems if you’re working remotely. This feature costs extra, though.
PIA used to offer the three-year plan, but the VPN service has scrapped that plan, offering a two-year deal instead. It’s the cheapest two-year plan of all the VPNs on this list, and you get an extra two months free. If you don’t want the two-year plan, there’s a one-year and monthly plan, although they are more expensive. To get a refund, cancel your subscription within 30 days.
More details about IPVanish:
- Pricing: cheapest plan costs $6.67 per month (one-year plan)
- Provider website: ipvanish.com
- Easy to use
- Unlimited connections per account
- Strong security features
- Split tunneling only on Android
- Doesn’t unblock streaming sites very well
The final spot on this list goes to IPVanish, a VPN service that still has a decent collection of security features to protect you on a public WiFi hotspot. It has servers in over 75 locations. Add that to the fact that you get split tunneling, a kill switch, malware protection, DNS leak protection, and you have a solid VPN on your hands, at least on paper.
That said, IPVanish has a number of drawbacks. First of all, it struggles to unblock streaming sites like Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, although Netflix works fine. IPVanish claims to collect no logs, but the VPN service has previously exposed user data, its zero-logs policy suspect. You can learn more about that in our IPVanish review.
Unlimited Simultaneous Connections
With one IPVanish subscription, you can connect to an unlimited number of devices at once, whether you’re using your phone, laptop or tablet. What’s more, if you have family members who use public WiFi often, you can share your IPVanish subscription with them. This is an excellent way to save money in the long run.
IPVanish is the only VPN service on this list with a quarterly plan. However, its best plan is the one-year plan and it’s covered by a 30-day money-back guarantee, unlike the monthly and quarterly plans.
Can I Use a Free VPN for Public WiFi?
You can use free VPNs for public WiFi, but you have to be ready to deal with the potential pitfalls. A reliable, paid VPN can help protect you against malware attacks, but an untrustworthy free VPN may come jam-packed with malware instead. Even with quality free VPNs, they often put ceilings on your data and bandwidth.
If you need a VPN for occasional use or you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford a VPN subscription, you might have to settle for a free VPN. We are cautious about recommending VPNs, as you can see in our best free VPN review, but from our research and testing, Windscribe is the best free VPN.
Most VPNs limit several features on their free plan to nudge users to opt for a paid plan. However, Windscribe is one of the few free VPNs that gives you access to its entire suite. It has AES-256 encryption, a strict no-logs split tunneling, a kill switch as well as malware and an ad blocker known as R.O.B.E.R.T.
However, Windscribe still has its limitations. You get 2GB free each month, but your data package will be bumped up to 10GB when you enter your email address. Also, you only gain access to 11 server locations with a free account. Read our full Windscribe review for more details.
Final Thoughts: VPNs for Public WiFi
By now, you should have a clear idea of which VPN services to trust when using public WiFi, whether you’re at an airport, on a train, in a coffee shop or at a library. If you need a quick summary, ExpressVPN is the overall best VPN service for accessing public WiFi.
If ExpressVPN’s price is off-putting, opt for NordVPN — it’s the best ExpressVPN alternative, thanks to its excellent features. Similarly, Surfshark, CyberGhost, PIA and IPVanish are also secure VPNs for public WiFi that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Otherwise, Windscribe is a reliable VPN provider with an excellent free plan.
Have you suffered a malware or phishing attack while using a public WiFi network? Did you try using a virtual private network to safeguard your online activities on free WiFi hotspots? Which VPN services did you use and how well did they work? Share your experience with us in the comments section below, and as always, thanks for reading.