Advertisers, governments, schools, and companies are watching where you go online. While advertisers just want to follow you around and sell you stuff, your school or company might block certain websites so you can’t access them.
This is often done in a heavy-handed, thoughtless way. Either by using algorithms to block entire topics or by blacklisting individual sites. The Chinese government, for example, blocks every Google domain. That includes Gmail. If you’re traveling to China and use Gmail, it’s nearly impossible to do your job while traveling.
You can also find that you’re barred from websites and content based on your location. Netflix, for example, serves completely different content based on your location. You might be halfway through an amazing series and then lose access by traveling to another country. The reverse is worse. I’ve come across amazing shows while traveling, got halfway through, and then lost access once I got home when I didn’t even realize the country access was different.
So how do we get around these restrictions?
Use a VPN.
What is a Chrome VPN and should you use one?
VPN is a Virtual Private Network. When you send or receive data over the internet, it’s broken up into packets, routed around the network and reassembled at the other end. A virtual private network wraps those packets in encryption so they look like they’re coming from someplace else.
Instead of your web surfing coming from your house, it looks like it’s coming from any country of your choosing.
That means that no-one else can see what data you’re sending and receiving, and no-one can follow you around the web, block you from certain sites, or know what you’ve been doing. Your traffic looks like it’s coming from somewhere else entirely. You can use public wifi safely, browse without your boss, government, or principal snooping, and control your own internet use.
Strictly speaking there’s no such thing as ‘Chrome VPN,’ but plenty of VPNs have a Chrome extension that lets you control the VPN through your browser. Many are completely free too. If you want easy access to the sites you want, wherever you are, they’re great choices.
Free vs Paid VPNs
Paid VPNs are subscription services. They own servers, have employees, and incur other costs in order to provide the VPN service. Free VPNs get their revenue elsewhere. Some sell your data, some show you ads, some are freemium versions of paid VPNs.
In general, if you’re worried about privacy and security, get a paid VPN.
If you’re not worried about your private data and just want to get around site blocks without having to pay anything, consider one of the free options.
The 5 Best Free Chrome VPNs
1: CyberGhost – Best for Regular Unblocking
- Free Server Locations: Germany, Netherlands, Romania, and United States
- Paid Server Locations: 4,800 servers across 58 countries
- Encryption standards: 256-bit AES
- Privacy: Logs connection attempts but anonymizes them. Doesn’t log traffic or IP addresses
- Connection Speed: Won’t significantly slow down most users’ connection speed.
- Pricing: Chrome extension is free. Subscriptions start at $12.99 a month or $5.99 a month billed annually.
How it works
Install from the Chrome store and fire it up from the extension bar. Choose your server location by clicking on the one that’s currently active.
Under the hood, CyberGhost’s Chrome extension is built on the Ethereum blockchain, meaning it’s one of the most private options out there.
They do warn you upfront that “this browser plugin is not secure when accessing Flash content and does not protect you from webRTC leaks.” It’s also not good at unblocking streaming sites.
2: Browsec – Most Convenient
Browsec is faster than most free VPNs, secure, and easy to use.
- Free Server Locations: Netherlands, Singapore, United Kingdom, and United States
- Paid Server Locations: 12 locations
- Encryption standards: 256-bit AES
- Privacy: Doesn’t collect personally identifying information but does collect meta-data. It is location in Russia so be warned.
- Connection Speed: Up to 100MB/s but you’re more likely to get speeds of 10-15MB/s
- Pricing: Has a freemium plan. Premium subscriptions start at $4.99 per month or $3.33 per month billed annually
How it works
Install the extension and then click on it. You don’t need to be signed in or have an account to use the Chrome extension. Location is reliable between websites, there are plenty of servers to choose from, and the interface is simple and intuitive.
I strongly recommend not using this service for anything sensitive. Since it’s located in Russia, I would assume anything you’re doing is being tracked.
3: TunnelBear – Best for Infrequent Usage
TunnelBear is a real VPN with a Chrome extension. Unlike most premium VPN services, TunnelBear has a free account with a data limit instead of a time limit. If you want a real VPN’s power and control, but only occasionally, TunnelBear will work for you.
- Free Server Locations: Access to all paid servers
- Paid Server Locations: Servers in 20 countries
- Encryption standards: 256 bit symmetric encryption
- Privacy: Logs connections but not traffic or IP addresses.
- Connection Speed: Fast, connections as 50MB/s even on free plans
- Pricing: Free accounts are free forever, paid accounts start at $9.99 per month or $4.99 per month billed annually
How it works
Install the extension, click on it and you’ll be asked to create an account. All you need is your email address, and when you confirm your free account you’ll get access to the 500MB a month that comes with a free account.
Be warned, doesn’t play that well with some other Chrome extensions — when we tested it, Ghostery and OneTab crashed.
4: HotSpot Shield – Easiest and Most Reliable Unblocking
HotSpot Shield is a freemium tool built around its Chrome extension, with no data or time cap.
- Free Server Locations: Germany, Russia, Canada, and Netherlands
- Paid Server Locations: India, Singapore, UK, France, and the US are available
- Encryption standards: 256 bit AES encryption
- Privacy: Collects aggregate activity logs but not traffic or IP addresses
- Connection Speed: Usually fast enough but it will slow noticeably for more distant servers
- Pricing: Has permanent free accounts, paid subscriptions start at $12.99 per month or $9.99 per month billed annually
How it works
Install the extension and you’re guided through a five-screen onboarding flow in the extension itself before you connect. You can choose your server by clicking on the one you’re connected to.
You’ll also see options for a cookie blocker, malware blocker, RTC protection, and a tool called Sword that creates spoof traffic while you browse to confuse trackers trying to identify you.
5: Windscribe – Most Flexible Server Locations
- Free Server Locations: US, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Switzerland, Hong Kong, and the UK
- Paid Server Locations: Wider range of global servers as well as dedicated “Windflix” servers specifically designed to unblock Netflix
- Encryption standards: 256-bit AES encryption
- Privacy: Collects connection logs but not traffic or IP addresses
- Connection Speed: Struggles with uptime and distant servers do display a noticeable lag.
- Pricing: Freemium plans, paid subscriptions start at $9 per month or $4.08 per month billed annually
How it works
Install and you’re prompted to sign up. Once you create your free account, you’re automatically connected.
You get 2GB of free data with WindScribe, but they do their best to help you make the most of it. The default setting is “Cruise Control,” which doesn’t use any of your data allowance until you encounter a blocked website. When that happens, Windscribe flicks itself on automatically to get you access, choosing the appropriate server location to get you access.
The custom-tailored servers for Netflix is really nice too. If your primary goal is to get access to different Netflix regions, definitely consider this VPN, it makes that process super easy.
What if the website you want to view is still blocked?
Websites like YouTube and Netflix are engaged in a kind of arms race with VPN users, many VPNs are blocked by these sites. If you’re doing a lot of unblocking, or you want to unblock sites that are particularly VPN-proof, go with a paid VPN.
ExpressVPN – Best Paid VPN
Living up to its billing, this is the fastest full-feature VPN out there. It has an effective stealth mode so watchers won’t even know you’re using a VPN, solid encryption, and reliably unblocks everything on the internet.
There’s a Chrome extension but you need a subscription to use it. The desktop and mobile apps are easy to use too. It’s priced at $12.99 a month or $9.99 per month for a six-month subscription.
If you’re going to be using a VPN heavily, I highly recommend going with ExpressVPN.