Public Wi-Fi networks can be a lifesaver when you’re traveling abroad or even just out and about in your own city. However, they can also be risky since they tend to be less than secure and can be a magnet for hackers and snoopers. But don’t worry, you don’t need to avoid them altogether. You just need to protect yourself and your online activities by using one of the best VPNs for public wifi listed in this article.
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are your digital shields, encrypting your data and keeping you safe from prying eyes. As a bonus, they can also give you access to geographically blocked content (such as your home Netflix library while you’re on vacation). And you don’t need to be a tech genius to use them!
This article dives into the best VPNs for public Wi-Fi, focusing on those providers that deliver security, privacy, and simplicity so that you can browse, stream, and connect with confidence. We’ll go into each of the providers we recommend in more detail later on, but in case you’re short on time, we’ll start with a summary.
Best VPNs for public wifi hotspots:
- NordVPN: Best VPN for accessing public wifi. Over 6,000 servers worldwide for accessing Netflix, Skype, and more. Easy VPN to use and 24/7 live chat support. Secure with encryption, a no-logs policy, and an automatic VPN connection for wifi (Android). Includes a 30-day money-back guarantee.
TIP In our testing we found that the cheapest NordVPN plan (Standard) works perfectly.
- Surfshark: Best budget VPN for protecting yourself on public wifi. A growing network of servers, excellent unblocking ability, lots of security extras, and no connection limit. Beginner-friendly apps and around-the-clock support.
- ExpressVPN: Strong security and excellent streaming and download speed. Servers in 100+ countries. Easy to use, 24/7 customer support, and plenty of security features, including encryption and a kill switch.
- CyberGhost: Fast and reliable servers for streaming and video calling. Secure up to 7 devices simultaneously. Protects your privacy with encryption, a strict no-logs policy, and a Wi-Fi auto-protect feature.
- IPVanish: Secure unlimited devices. Servers in 60 countries for unblocking geo-restricted content. Keeps zero traffic logs and secures your data with encryption.
- PrivateVPN: Fast VPN service for streaming and video calling. Easy to use apps and safe to use with encryption, a no-logs policy, a 10-device connection limit, and a kill switch, ideal for use on public wifi.
- Private Internet Access: Keeps you safe on public wifi with encryption and a kill switch. Unlimited bandwidth and unlimited simultaneous connections.
How to use a VPN for public wifi hotspots
We recommend you always use a VPN when using a Wi-FI network you don’t know or fully trust. And don’t worry, even if you’ve never used a VPN before, you’ll find it quite simple. Follow the steps below, and you’ll be protected in no time.
How to get a VPN for public wifi hotspots in four easy steps
- Choose a quality VPN provider – we recommend NordVPN.
- Download the VPN, making sure to get the correct version for your devices.
- Open the VPN app or browser extension and connect to a server in the location of your choice. If you’re just looking to browse safely, connect to a nearby location. However, if you want to access geo-restricted content, connect to a server in that country. For example, a server in the US to access US Netflix or a server in the UK to access BBC iPlayer.
- You’re now connected to the VPN and can browse the site you want securely!
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How we chose the top public Wi-Fi VPNs
Selecting the right VPN from the hundreds on the market can be somewhat daunting, so we’ve done our best to take the guesswork out of it for you. With our real-world user testing, we’ve narrowed down the options and only selected the VPNs that offer the following non-negotiable features:
- Highest level of security with encryption.
- Additional security such as DNS leak protection and kill switch.
- No logs policy that protects your privacy.
- Fast and reliable servers for browsing, streaming, and video calling.
- A network of servers in dozens of countries worldwide.
- Knowledgeable customer support with a live chat feature.
- User-friendly apps for desktop and mobile.
These are just a few of our criteria, but you can learn more about how we test and rank the VPNs we recommend in our methodology section below.
Best VPNs for public wifi: Our hands-on review
We’ve compared the most important features of the top VPNs here. Prefer to read the in-depth reviews? Start with NordVPN – our #1 choice for public Wi-Fi hotspots.
|Ranking for public wifi hotspots:
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Best VPNs for safely using public wifi hotspots
Let’s take a look at the VPNs that meet all our requirements for stress-free browsing on public networks. The following reviews are based on our first-hand experiences and rigorous real-world testing.
Here’s our list of the best VPNs for public wifi hotspots to protect your privacy:
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
NordVPN is our top pick for a public wifi VPN. It’s blazing fast and offers approximately 6,000 servers worldwide. Whether you’re connecting to a public wifi hotspot at your hotel or a local restaurant, there are plenty of secure servers to choose from. This VPN is ideal for accessing geo-restricted content, such as Netflix, to catch up on your favorite TV show or Skype to keep in touch with family and friends.
We’ve found that NordVPN is very well-designed. It’s quick and easy to use, with a wide range of apps and browser extensions offered. Aside from 24/7 live chat support, you can use NordVPN on up to 6 devices simultaneously. NordVPN protects your online activities from hackers and snoopers with the use of 256-bit AES encryption. As well as a strict no-logs policy, NordVPN offers DNS leak protection and a kill switch feature. NordVPN also has an automatic VPN connection for wifi feature, automatically connecting you to the VPN when you join a wifi network.
Choose NordVPN, and you’ll have access to apps on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, and Android TV. Also available are browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox. Routers require manual setup.
- Over 6,000 secure servers to choose from worldwide
- Fast speeds for streaming Netflix and video calling on Skype
- Automatic VPN connection for wifi, protecting you from hackers
- Secure up to 6 devices simultaneously
- Customer support available 24/7 via live chat
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- No app available for routers
BEST VPN FOR PUBLIC WIFI HOTSPOTS:NordVPN It has over 6,000 high-speed servers worldwide and unblocks geo-restricted content including Netflix and Skype. Secure to use at public wifi hotspots thanks to encryption and a strict no-logs policy. Includes a 30-day money-back guarantee, making it a risk-free option.
Read our full NordVPN review.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
Surfshark is a great budget-friendly alternative. It has been busy ramping up its server network, which now comprises more than 3,200 servers in over 100 countries. Easy-to-use apps mean this is a great VPN for when you’re on the go. It’s known for its accessing potential and can help you watch the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and more.
Surfshark’s security suite really stands out. To start, it packs all the features you get with higher-priced providers, such as military-grade encryption, perfect forward secrecy, and leak protection. In addition, it comes with a kill switch in all apps, split tunneling, and automatic wifi protection. No logs are ever maintained, and you can connect unlimited devices at once.
Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Linux, and Android. There are also browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox, and Surfshark is compatible with some routers.
- Reliable servers in over 100 countries
- Offers automatic wifi protection
- Kill switch in all apps
- Doesn’t log any data
- Allows unlimited connections
- Occasional slow server
BEST BUDGET PROVIDER:Surfshark is an excellent low-cost alternative. It offers automatic wifi protection and a kill switch in all apps. Plus, it’s a great unblocker and doesn’t limit connections. Plans include a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
ExpressVPN is another great option for use with public wifi hotspots thanks to its combination of speed and security. Over 3,000 servers in 100+ countries mean you’re unlikely to have a problem finding an appropriate server wherever you are. Whether browsing or streaming the likes of Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, ExpressVPN performs well.
Due to the risks involved with using public wifi hotspots, security is of the utmost importance. ExpressVPN boasts excellent security. It uses 256-bit AES encryption to protect your device’s traffic. Also offered are DNS leak protection, a kill switch, and split tunneling, all of which make it more difficult for your device and data to be compromised. Lastly, ExpressVPN doesn’t store any identifying logs of its users, ensuring the protection of your privacy. And for the extra privacy conscious, you can sign up with an anonymous email address and pay using Bitcoin.
ExpressVPN apps are available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, and routers. Chrome and Firefox browser extensions are also offered.
- Fast servers in 100+ countries
- Keeps you safe on public networks with encryption and a kill switch
- Works with geo-restricted content, including Netflix
- Wide range of apps and browser extensions that are easy to use
- Includes 24/7 live chat support
- Slightly more expensive than the other VPNs on this list
- Streaming servers aren’t labeled
SECURE AND RELIABLE:ExpressVPN is a highly secure VPN. Ideal for streaming and video calling at public wifi hotspots. Easy to use apps, 24/7 live chat support, and highly secure with encryption, kill switch, and no logs. You can try it with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full ExpressVPN review.
Money-back guarantee: 45 DAYS
CyberGhost is a fast and reliable VPN service with strong security to boot. It has an ever-growing network of servers, which currently stands at over 10,000 in 100+ countries. CyberGhost offers unlimited bandwidth and traffic, which is great whether you’re browsing, streaming, or video calling using a public wifi hotspot. What’s more, you can use your CyberGhost account to secure up to 7 of your devices simultaneously.
We’re impressed by the level of security provided by CyberGhost. Firstly, this Romania-based VPN has a strict no-logs policy that ensures your personal information remains private. Further security features include 256-bit AES encryption, DNS leak protection, and a kill switch. As such, you can use public wifi hotspots with reduced risk. CyberGhost has a wifi auto-protect feature, offering the option of automatically starting a VPN connection to protect you in the process.
CyberGhost’s apps are available for desktop (Windows and Mac), mobile (Android and iOS), as well as Amazon Fire Stick and Android TV. Chrome and Firefox browser extensions are also available. Manual setup is required for Linux and routers.
- Servers are fast and reliable for streaming or video calling at public wifi hotspots
- Wifi auto-protect feature ensures your VPN is on before you connect to public wifi
- Over 10,000 servers in 100+ countries for unblocking geo-restricted content worldwide
- Secure up to 7 of your devices simultaneously
- Strong overall security with encryption and a strict no-logs policy
- Doesn’t work in China
- Lack of advanced options for power users
EXCELLENT OVERALL SECURITY:CyberGhost keeps you secure when using public networks. Offers encryption, a no-logs policy, and a kill switch. Unblocks geo-restricted content for browsing, streaming, and video calling. 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full CyberGhost review.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
IPVanish is well worth considering if you or your family have a lot of internet-connected devices. The reason is that IPVanish lets you secure unlimited devices simultaneously, which is particularly important if you’re using public wifi with family and friends. This VPN service has a respectable network of over 2,000 servers, which are located across 60+ countries. As such, you should have no problem finding the right server for your needs and unblocking geo-restricted content.
Having tested out the various IPVanish apps, we can say that they’re simple to use. You’ll find various options to customize your preferences, while you can also search for servers via a map as well as by region and latency. Customer support is available should you encounter any issues. With zero traffic logs, IPVanish is a secure VPN to use and includes 256-bit AES encryption, a kill switch, and DNS leak protection. You’re also presented with various ‘On Demand’ options. This allows you to automatically connect to IPVanish, protecting you from unsafe public wifi hotspots.
IPVanish apps are available for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Fire TV. However, manual configuration is required in the case of Linux and routers.
- Great for families using public wifi as it allows unlimited simultaneous connections
- ‘On Demand’ security options let you auto-connect to a VPN, ensuring protection from public wifi
- Apps are quick and easy to use for beginners
- Protects you with encryption and a kill switch
- Headquartered in a Five Eyes country (USA)
- Doesn’t offer any browser extensions
SECURE UNLIMITED DEVICES:IPVanish is ideal for families using public wifi hotspots. Keeps zero traffic logs and uses encryption to secure your data. 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full IPVanish review.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
PrivateVPN is a VPN service with fast servers for browsing and streaming. If you’re using a public wifi hotspot and want to stream Netflix or Amazon Prime Video or make video calls, PrivateVPN is a good choice. Offering unlimited bandwidth and speed, you’re unlikely to see much buffering or lag. You can connect up to ten devices simultaneously with PrivateVPN, allowing you to secure all of your devices from hackers.
What stands out about PrivateVPN is how user-friendly it is. We recommend this easy VPN for anyone as the apps are simple to navigate while selecting a server takes seconds. PrivateVPN is headquartered in Sweden and states that it doesn’t keep any traffic logs. Your privacy is also protected with 256-bit AES encryption, DNS leak protection, and a kill switch feature that ensures your internet traffic is cut should the VPN connection drop.
PrivateVPN apps are offered for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. If you want to use this VPN with Linux or a router, some manual configuration is needed.
- Fast servers for browsing and streaming on public wifi networks
- Security features such as encryption ensure you’re protected
- Allows up to 10 simultaneous connections
- A smaller network of around 200 servers
- A limited selection of apps with no browser extensions
UNINTERRUPTED STREAMING:PrivateVPN offers high speed servers for streaming and video calling. Offers user-friendly apps and keeps your connection on public wifi hotspots secure with encryption and a kill switch. 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full PrivateVPN review.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
Private Internet Access is a strong all-rounder, making it ideal for use with public wifi as well as private networks. It stands out for offering servers in more than 90 countries worldwide. This makes it easier to bypass geographic restrictions on content, such as those surrounding popular streaming platforms like Netflix US and BBC iPlayer. Speeds are more than fast enough for streaming, and PIA also offers unlimited bandwidth.
Your connection on public Wi-Fi hotspots is secured with PIA thanks to its use of 256-bit AES encryption. It also has protection from DNS leaks as well as a kill switch (very important should the VPN connection drop as your internet traffic will then be cut to prevent exposure). We particularly appreciate that this is a no-logs service and that it doesn’t even keep connection logs. Need help? 24-hour support is available.
Secure all of your devices on public wifi simultaneously with PIA’s apps for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, and Amazon Fire TV. Browser extensions are available for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. However, use with routers requires manual setup.
- Servers are available in more than 90 countries
- Unlimited bandwidth allows for lag-free streaming
- Highly secure thanks to encryption and kill switch feature
- Doesn’t work reliably in China
- App design is a little cluttered
SERVERS IN 90+ COUNTRIES:Private Internet Access uses military-grade encryption to keep your data secure on public wifi hotspots. Consistent connections and unlimited simultaneous connections. 24/7 support. 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full Private Internet Access review.
Choosing a VPN to keep your data secure and private while using public wifi can be tricky. At Comparitech, we use a precise VPN testing methodology to test the market. Here are some of the important features we tested for when recommending the best VPNs for public wifi hotspots:
- Reliable apps for all platforms – We look for VPNs that have apps for Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android. This ensures that you can protect your privacy on any of the devices you own, whether that be a smartphone, tablet, or laptop computer.
- Plenty of advanced features – We ensure the provider has all the privacy features you would expect from a market-leading VPN. This includes the OpenVPN protocol with robust AES encryption, a kill switch, and DNS leak protection. We also check for useful extras, such as port forwarding, a SOCKS5 proxy, malware protection, Smart DNS, and double VPN.
- Fast servers – For a VPN to be useful, it should run on a network of fast Tier-1 servers. We test the VPN’s various server locations to be sure it is fast enough to stream HD video, play games, make video calls, and do other data-intensive tasks.
- Excellent accessibility – We test the VPN for accessing popular services like Netflix US, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Disney+, etc. This allows us to recommend the VPN for gaining added freedom online – no matter where you are located in the world.
- Outstanding customer care – A reliable VPN provider should help you get the most out of its service. That is why we only recommend VPNs that have active customer service departments with both email and live chat support. Our recommendations also have plenty of setup guides and useful FAQs on their website.
Other ways to stay safe when using public wifi hotspots
Aside from using a VPN, there are a few things you can do to improve your online security when using public wifi hotspots:
- Double-check the name of the network to which you’re connecting. Using a network with a similar name to a legitimate network is one of the tricks used by hackers.
- Avoid using public wifi hotspots for tasks that require sensitive information, such as online banking or making purchases with your credit card. The same goes for passwords – you’re better off using a good password manager to be safe.
- Make sure you connect to websites that use HTTPS and SSL. This makes your connection to the websites much more secure. You can easily see if a website uses HTTPS, as it should display a closed padlock icon at the beginning of the address bar.
- Stick to secure networks that require a password where possible. Whether this is a cafe or a hotel, this is much safer than connecting to a public wifi hotspot that is completely open and without security.
- Disable the automatic wifi connection on your phone. Many smartphones automatically connect to nearby wifi networks to ensure you don’t go without internet. You can set your device to ask before connecting to a network.
Using a free VPN for public wifi hotspots
We strongly recommend against the use of free VPNs for public wifi hotspots for the following reasons:
- Free VPNs are not secure. Many free VPNs lack encryption, DNS leak protection, and other important security features, such as a kill switch. Without these, your online security isn’t any better than that of a person who isn’t using a VPN. As a result, you’ll be an easy target for hackers, particularly when connected to public wifi hotspots.
- Free VPNs can’t be trusted. Very little is truly free, and this is certainly the case with VPNs that claim to be free of charge. Free VPNs typically make money by logging your data and selling it to the highest bidder. Others make money from ads that may interrupt your browsing and streaming.
- Free VPNs are slow. This can be a frustrating experience when you want to browse, stream, and video call. Due to the fact that many free VPNs have a lot of users and very few servers, the server load becomes too high, and your bandwidth is restricted. This is not the case with the best VPNs for public wifi hotspots in this list.
Why you need a VPN for public wifi hotspots
Whether you’re in your local cafe or a hotel abroad, public wifi hotspots can be highly convenient. The problem is that public wifi hotspots can also be a threat to your privacy and are something of a hacker’s paradise. Unfortunately, many public wifi hotspots aren’t secure and are used for phishing your private information.
For example, Man in the Middle attacks (MITM) involve hackers positioning themselves between your device and a web server. This allows them to see what you’re doing online, from your IP address to the websites you’re visiting to the content of messages you’re sending. Needless to say, this can be highly detrimental to your privacy. In some cases, this results in the loss of your data and even identity theft.
By using a VPN, you can create a private tunnel between your device and the VPN server. Traffic is encrypted in the process, protecting you from snoopers such as your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or the hotspot provider. The best VPNs for public wifi hotspots offer important security features such as encryption, protection from DNS leaks, and a kill switch. There should also be a strict no-logs policy to protect your privacy.
VPN for public wifi: FAQs
Does a VPN protect your passwords?
Yes, a VPN can protect your passwords by encrypting your online traffic and ensuring that your privacy is protected. By using a VPN, you can keep your passwords safe from hackers and other online threats. In addition, a VPN can also help you access blocked websites and content.
For total peace of mind, choose a VPN provider with a password manager for your devices.
Can a public wifi provider see your browsing history?
Yes, any public wifi provider can see your browsing history. This is because public wifi networks are typically unencrypted, which means that all of the data passing through the network is visible to anyone who cares to look. This includes your browsing history, as well as any other sensitive information you may be sending or receiving.
Is it safe to use hotel wifi without a VPN?
No, it is not safe to use hotel wifi without a VPN. While most hotels offer free wifi for their guests, the security of these networks is often lax. This means that viruses and malware can easily spread through them, posing a danger to anyone who tries to connect without protection. Plus, snoopers and hackers often target hotel wifi as the lack of security makes their work easy.
A VPN encrypts your data and helps to keep you safe from online threats, so it’s always worth using one when you can.
Can I use these VPNs on my school or college wifi?
Yes, absolutely; all of the recommended VPNs above will work on school, college, and workplace wifi networks, and it’s a good idea to use them, too. While schools and work networks are often more secure than public hotspots, they can still have weaknesses, making it a good idea to protect yourself with a VPN.
In addition to protecting you, VPNs have the added benefit of hiding your IP address and spoofing your location. This is especially useful if your school, college, or work network restricts access to certain sites or platforms. Simply connect to a VPN server and browse with freedom.
See also: Best VPNs for school and college
How can I find public Wi-Fi hotspots near me?
You can generally find public wifi hotspots in public locations such as cafes, restaurants, libraries, hospitals, or airport terminals. In this case, you need only access the wifi menu on your device, and you’ll be able to see the networks near you. Not all of these will be public, of course. In order to search for public wifi hotspots near you, you can always turn to a wifi hotspot finder app on your phone. If you’re on a desktop computer, there are similar web apps you can use.
Are VPNs legal in my country?
The legality of VPNs varies by country. Thankfully, VPNs are legal in the vast majority of countries. Indeed, the only countries in which VPNs are illegal (or at the very least a grey area) are the following:
United Arab Emirates