Public Internet hotspots can be found in local coffee shops and restaurants, hotels, airplanes and even at street kiosks, such as those provided by the city government in New York City.
When you connect to a public Wi-Fi hotspot, you may notice that you usually don’t need to enter a password to join the wireless network. No password equals no encryption, which, in turn, equals a connection left open to monitoring.
That’s where a VPN comes in.
By taking advantage of the protection that a Virtual Private Network (VPN) provides, computer and mobile device users can keep their internet activities safe from prying eyes.
In addition to providing cover for your online antics, a VPN can also increase your global outreach by providing access to your favorite TV show content and services that might typically be geographically blocked.
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the 5 best VPNs to protect and enhance your online activities when connected to a public Wi-Fi network.
How to Use a VPN on a Public Wi-Fi Hotspot
To use a VPN on a public Wi-Fi hotspot, do the following:
- Subscribe to a VPN service provider. (ExpressVPN is my #1 pick.)
- Install the VPN’s app(s) on your favorite device(s).
- Connect to your local Wi-Fi hotspot
- Log into the VPN service.
- Select a VPN server.
- Enjoy your newly secure public Wi-Fi hotspot internet access!
Best VPNs for Use With a Public Wi-Fi Hotspot
These 5 VPN services have proven to do the best job of protecting and enhancing your public Wi-Fi hotspot-based online activities:
- ExpressVPN: This provider is my #1 pick for best protection for any of your devices when connected to a public Wi-Fi network. The provider offers some of the best native app support in the VPN business and does a top-notch job of protecting your online activities from prying eyes while not slowing down what are likely already slow hotspot connection speeds.
- NordVPN: This budget-priced VPN provider will keep enough money in your pocket to have enough to buy a Grande [fill in name of favorite caffeinated drink here] down at your favorite coffee shop. The provider offers comprehensive connection protection for the major mobile and desktop device platforms.
- CyberGhost: Newbie VPN users, or even users with only minimal experience using their device, will appreciate this provider’s easy-to-use apps that provide one-click (or -tap) access to high speed servers around the globe. The provider also offers some of the best connection protection in the business.
- IPVanish: This provider offers excellent app support for all of the major device platforms, and offers good global server coverage via a network of self-owned and -operated server farms, which provide an added layer of privacy by keeping third-party contractors away from customer information.
- Surfshark: This provider is the newest in the top 5, and while it’s still experiencing growing pains, it’s already offering an excellent level of protection. Plus, the provider offers a somewhat unusual unlimited simultaneous connections allowance.
When researching VPN service providers, you find that each one has its own particular set of strengths and weaknesses. For example, a provider may offer top-notch connection protection, but come up short in the global server coverage department.
That’s why potential VPN subscribers should carefully weigh all of a VPN provider’s offerings before making a subscription purchase.
When ranking the best VPNs to use with a public Wi-Fi hotspot, I considered the following factors:
- Level of native app support
- Level of global server coverage
- Download speeds
- Security and privacy protections
- Level of customer support
Here is my list of the top 5 best VPN services for use on a public Wi-Fi network:
This #1 pick for public Wi-Fi protection delivers optimal connection protection, fast connection speeds and excellent multi-platform app support.
ExpressVPN offers apps for the iOS, macOS, Windows, Amazon Fire, Android, Android TV, Chromebook and Linux platforms. Browser extensions for the Firefox and Chrome platforms are also available.
When you’re at home, you can protect all of your devices via the provider’s comprehensive router support. Up to 5 devices can connect concurrently to the service on the same login credentials.
The provider’s global server network includes 3,000+ servers located in 94 countries around the world. The ExpressVPN network opens access to geo-blocked content from Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu and other popular streaming services.
If you’re using a public Wi-Fi hotspot, you’re sharing that connection with numerous other users. In the case of a hotel hotspot, there could be hundreds of users. That means your connection speeds will likely be limited to begin with, so you don’t want a VPN service provider that dramatically slows down your connection.
ExpressVPN provided the fastest connection speeds of any provider in my most recent speed tests. No data caps to deal with, either.
There’s a decent chance that at least one of those users you’re sharing the Wi-Fi hotspot with is up to no good. That makes connection protection a vital consideration. ExpressVPN provides military-level encryption, Internet kill switch protection, DNS and IPv6 leak prevention, and a split-tunneling option, which add up to optimal connection protection.
As for privacy after the fact, this provider has a strict no-server-logs-ever policy and accepts Bitcoin as subscription payment. Plus, the provider’s TrustedServer protection means all of its servers run entirely in RAM, not from hard drives, so all customer data is wiped with every reboot of the server.
Around-the-clock customer support includes 24/7 live chat, a trouble ticket system, email support and a searchable support library.
- Excellent app support
- Comprehensive global server coverage
- Fast connections, Unlimited bandwidth
- Top-notch privacy and security protection
- 24/7 support
- More expensive than many other VPNs
BEST VPN FOR PUBLIC WI-FI:ExpressVPN is the best choice for users who access the internet via public Wi-Fi hotspots. Road warriors will appreciate the provider’s fast, well-protected connections, top-notch app support and excellent customer support. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read our full review of ExpressVPN.
This provider is the best option on this list for budget-minded users who would rather leave a few bucks in their pocket for their favorite coffee-based beverage.
NordVPN offers apps for the iOS, Android, Android TV, macOS, Linux and Windows platforms. Chrome and Firefox browser extensions are also available, as is router support for use back home. Up to 6 devices can be connected simultaneously on a single login.
The provider’s global server coverage offers 5,600+ servers in 59 countries, offering reliable access to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and other popular streaming platforms.
This provider won’t set the world on fire with its connection speeds, but it won’t slow down your Wi-Fi hotspot connection by much. No data caps to worry about here.
The provider’s no-server-logs policy and a cryptocurrency subscription payment option combine to protect your privacy.
Customer support is always available thanks to 24/7 support chat (you’ll chat with a bot first, but you can request a real person), email support and a searchable support knowledge base.
- Servers in 59 countries
- Support for all popular device platforms
- Comprehensive security and privacy protection
- Best low-priced multi-year options
- Slowest connection speeds in the top 5
BEST BARGAIN-BASEMENT VPN:Budget-minded public Wi-Fi users will appreciate NordVPN’s low-priced multi-year subscription options. Luckily, that low price doesn’t come at the expense of excellent connection protection and above-average native app support. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read our full review of NordVPN.
Users who don’t have much experience with using a VPN or who don’t have much experience at being a road warrior will appreciate this provider’s easy-to-use, yet powerful apps.
CyberGhost app support includes offerings for devices running Amazon Fire, Android, Android TV, iOS, macOS, Linux and Windows. Chrome and Firefox browser extensions are available, as is router support for when you’re at home or in the office. Up to 7 devices can connect concurrently on the same username.
With over 5,700 servers based in 89 countries, CyberGhost has most of the free world covered. Many of those servers are optimized for file sharing/downloading and for streaming from various streaming services around the globe.
The provider will slow down your public Wi-Fi connection only a bit, providing more than enough bandwidth for most of your favorite online activities. No data caps are ever imposed on your usage.
Your public Wi-Fi network connection is well-protected thanks to bank-grade encryption, a kill switch, and DNS and IPv6 leak prevention. Wi-Fi Auto-Protect automatically turns on VPN protection when you connect to a new, unprotected Wi-Fi hotspot. The provider can block ads, malware and online trackers, and can force websites to provide HTTPS versions of their pages if available.
Privacy is well-served at CyberGhost thanks to a lack of server logs and the option to pay for your subscription by using Bitcoin.
Customer support is always available thanks to a 24/7 live chat option, email support, a trouble ticket system and a searchable support database.
- Streaming and file sharing-optimized servers
- Fast download speeds
- Comprehensive connection protection
- Wi-Fi Auto-Protect
- Mobile apps are missing some of the desktop apps’ features
EASY-TO-USE PUBLIC WI-FI PROTECTION:CyberGhost is my recommended VPN for newbie VPN users or warriors who are new to the road. (Was that a stretch? It felt like a stretch.) The provider’s apps offer easy-to-use yet comprehensive connection protection. A 45-day, no-risk money-back guarantee is available.
Read our full review of CyberGhost.
IPVanish will prove to be attractive to public Wi-Fi users who appreciate every bit of privacy they can get.
The provider has all of the most popular device platforms covered with app support, including the Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, ChromeOS and Amazon Fire platforms. Easy-to-follow setup instructions are available for Linux devices.
No browser extensions are available. Router support is ready when you get back home. Up to 10 devices can connect to the service at once using a single login.
The provider has a global network of over 1,300 fully self-owned and -operated VPN servers, spread around among 60 countries around the globe. By owning and operating their servers, IPVanish keeps third-party contractors’ hands off of your personal information.
The provider delivers above-average download speeds, meaning you’ll see little slowdown when using the VPN on your favorite coffee shop’s hotspot. No data cap restrictions with this provider.
IPVanish-provided connections are protected using government-grade encryption, an Internet kill switch with auto-reconnect, DNS leak prevention, and a proprietary “scramble” feature that disguises your VPN activity as normal browser activity.
No server logs are to be found on IPVanish servers, but the provider does lack a cryptocurrency payment option.
24/7 customer support chat, a searchable support database and email support have your support needs covered around the clock.
- Excellent connection protection
- Owns and operates its global server network
- Up to 10 devices can connect at once
- High price for short-term subscription options
ADDED PRIVACY PROTECTION:IPVanish should prove to be an alluring option for users looking for that extra little bit of privacy protection thanks to their proprietary servers. While the provider lacks browser extensions, it does have the popular device platforms covered. 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of IPVanish.
Surfshark is the youngest VPN service provider in this gang of 5, and while it’s still experiencing some growing pains, it’s quickly gaining a reputation as a quality VPN service.
The provider makes apps available for the Android, Amazon Fire, iOS, Linux, macOS, and Windows device platforms. Chrome and Firefox browser extensions are also available. Router support has you covered in your home or office.
The provider allows an unlimited number of simultaneous connections, making this an attractive option for businesses with a large army of road warriors.
The Surfshark global server network is a bit low on the server count, but it is quickly growing. The provider’s server count of 1,000+ servers in more than 61 countries is nearly double that of last year’s numbers. The servers do an admirable job of unblocking geo-blocked content.
Surfshark connections deliver plenty of speed and can easily handle video streaming, gaming, and downloading and sharing files (all depending on the Wi-Fi hotspot’s connection speeds, of course). No data caps to be found here.
All Surfshark connection protection includes banking-level encryption, a kill switch, and the ability to automatically enable VPN protection when connecting to an unsecured network like a Wi-Fi hotspot. “Multi-Hop” protection routes your public internet traffic through dual VPN servers for added protection.
The provider never saves server logs of any kind, and your subscription payment information is kept anonymous by a Bitcoin payment option.
Customer support is always available via 24/7 live chat, a support request form and a searchable support library.
- Fast download speeds
- Unlimited simultaneous connections
- Comprehensive security and privacy protections
- Thin but quickly-expanding global server network
- High-priced monthly subscription option
BEST VPN FOR LARGE GROUPS:Surfshark delivers reliable protection for most device platforms. Also, business users will appreciate the service’s unlimited concurrent connection allowance, providing unlimited protection for all of their users with no extra cost. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read our full review of Surfshark.
Can I Use a Free VPN on a Wi-Fi Hotspot?
Sure, if a free VPN works with your device of choice, it should work on a public Wi-Fi hotspot. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to be satisfied with the freebie provider’s convenience of use, performance or the quality of its protection.
When you’re using a Wi-Fi hotspot, you’re likely in a hurry. Free VPNs aren’t exactly compatible with being in a hurry.
When you attempt to connect to a free VPN, there’s a chance you’ll be forced to cool your heels in a virtual waiting room before connecting. Once you’re finally given the green flag, you’ll likely find that you’re either automatically connected to a server of the provider’s choosing, or that you only have a limited number of servers to choose from.
Now that you’re connected, you might see your connection speeds drop precipitously. Free VPN providers usually save most of their bandwidth for paying customers, and have been known to throttle free users’ connection speeds. Plus, most free VPNs will impose daily or monthly data caps on free usage.
As for the quality of protection, well, the “Private” part of “Virtual Private Network” doesn’t really stack up with a freebie VPN. Even “free” VPNs are in business to make money. So, free VPNs have been known to track their users’ online travels, then sell that info to advertisers and other interested parties.
Other no-cost VPNs have been caught injecting tracking cookies and ads into their users’ browsing sessions. So much for privacy!
When you’re connecting to a public Wi-Fi network, security, convenience and performance are super important. Cough up a few bucks a month for a quality VPN service, why don’tcha?
What Advantages Does a VPN Provide?
A VPN both secures and enhances your online activities when you’re connecting to the internet via a public Wi-Fi hotspot.
A VPN encrypts your internet connection, which is important on unprotected public internet connections, such as are usually found on Wi-Fi hotspots. This prevents hackers from hanging out on the hotspot and monitoring your online activity.
Without encrypting your connection, bad guys would have access to all of your personal information as you pay bills, shop or do your banking. OUCH!
That same encryption protects and enhances your online activities when you’re at home, as it prevents your Internet Service Provider (ISP) from monitoring your online activities and selling the info to advertisers and others who are willing to pay for it. Plus, it also prevents nosy government types from monitoring your online travels.
Since a VPN hides your activities from your ISP, it also prevents the ISP from throttling or blocking your connection, simply because you’re engaging in “unapproved” activities like sharing files via BitTorrent or viewing videos from certain streaming services.
A VPN also expands your online entertainment possibilities. A VPN temporarily assigns a new IP address to your device. If you connect to a VPN server located in another country, for all intents and purposes, the rest of the internet sees you as being located in that country.
This opens access to content in that country, including streaming services, gaming services, and even financial services that might restrict logins to the country in question.
When you connect to an unprotected public Wi-Fi hotspot, you’re making yourself an open target for hackers who lurk on open hotspots, looking to glean all of the personal information they can from users of the hotspot.
By using a Virtual Private Network – like my top choice, ExpressVPN – you can protect all of your online antics from prying eyes.
ExpressVPN provides optimal online protection for all of the popular device platforms, both mobile and desktop. The provider has a vast global server network that provides reliable access to geo-blocked content most anywhere in the free world.
The provider’s comprehensive router compatibility will protect all of your connected devices when you get home, and the provider’s protected connections do little to slow your connection speeds.
For more information, visit the ExpressVPN website.
Public Wi-Fi Hotspot Q&A
⭐Here’s How to Search for Free Wi-Fi Near Me
As seen in the above screen shot, even though I live in a small town, there are plenty of free Wi-Fi options, ranging from local coffee shops and restaurants to major chain locations like McDonald’s, Starbucks, Kohl’s and Five Guys.
⭐Here’s How to Get Maximum Speed From Public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi, such as that found in airports, hotels and coffee shops, is notoriously slow. This is because multiple users are connected simultaneously. In the case of a hotel with hundreds or even thousands of rooms, you can have thousands of users hitting the Wi-Fi router at once.
One way to ensure you’re getting as much bandwidth as possible is to stay close to the Wi-Fi access point. In the case of an airport, there can be multiple access points. Try different locations in a local area and run speed tests from sites like Speedtest. Once you find a faster signal, stay in that area.
Another method is to use a utility like Speedify. Some users have reported good results with this utility, which can combine the signals of your device’s Wi-Fi and LTE radios to increase your bandwidth. It’s similar to adding another lane to a highway. Of course, you’ll be using your LTE data allowance, but your download speeds may improve.
⭐How to Watch Netflix on Public Wi-Fi?
When you’re using public Wi-Fi, you may find that Netflix is unavailable. The merchants offering the public Wi-Fi access may block streaming services like Netflix in order to preserve bandwidth for all users. (As you likely know, streaming can consume crazy amounts of data.) Or, you may not have access to your usual Netflix content because you’re in another region of the world.
Either way, a VPN can help you access Netflix when connected to a public Wi-Fi hotspot. Simply do the following:
- Subscribe to a VPN service.
- Install the provider’s app on your device.
- Log into the provider’s service and connect to a server.
- Load the Netflix website or app.
- Enjoy the show!
⭐Can I Use a VPN and My Phone as a Mobile Hotspot at the Same Time?
If you’re running a VPN on your phone, you would have VPN protection from your phone to the Internet. However, your connection from your computer to your phone would be left unprotected. You will need to also run a VPN app on your computer to protect your entire connection. Also, make sure your mobile hotspot connection is protected using a secure password.