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Getting online freedom and privacy doesn’t always need to come with the burden of app installs. You can use VPNs without downloading anything to your PC.
Whether you want to save storage space, don’t have permission to install apps, or just need a quick way to connect to a VPN, this article is for you.
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I’ll explain below what the alternatives are and recommend the best, tried and tested options.
Let’s get started.
Can you use a VPN without downloading?
Yes, it is possible to use a VPN without downloading a dedicated software or application on your device. Alternatives include browser extensions, a browser with an in-built VPN, and VPN routers.
Let’s explore all of the options.
1. Browser extensions
Extensions are ideal if you lack admin access on your device. They’re also lightweight and you get a good deal of free options.
The downside here is that they won’t secure anything besides your browser. All the other apps, games, or services that require an Internet connection will be routed directly through your ISP.
2. Browsers with built-in VPN features
Like regular native apps, browsers with built-in VPNs encrypt your internet data.
In addition, you can access geo-blocked gaming platforms, restricted websites, and streaming services with their unblocking servers.
But be wary of the fact that they may be slower at times. Most have fewer servers than full-fledged VPN services which can lead to higher server load. Also, just like extensions, they only work at the browser level.
3. VPN-enabled device
Many devices, including PCs, Android phones, macOS devices, and even Linux computers allow you to install VPN directly. All you have to do is set the VPN connection up directly through your operating system.
Now, this doesn’t mean you don’t have to get a VPN service first. This option simply enables you to connect your machine to a server without having to install third-party software.
But you need to get that server information from somewhere.
It’s also a bit more tech-savvy and time-consuming. The benefit though, is that you’ll be able to secure all your traffic, as opposed to browser-level connections.
4. Router-level VPN setup
Configuring your home WiFi router as a VPN gateway automatically secures all linked devices, even those that don’t support native VPN downloads.
You have two options: get a VPN router that already has VPN installed on it or a router with VPN-compatible firmware and install it yourself.
However, while not all routers can support VPNs, if you really want this, you can connect your router to a VPN-enabled one through bridge mode.
All trustworthy VPN providers I tested over the years include manual OpenVPN configuration files for all their servers, so this shouldn’t be a problem.
Want to learn more? We have easy-to-follow setup guides for many router models:
What are the best ways to use a VPN without downloading it?
By now you can probably tell that you have many options. But not all of them are worth your while.
As someone who’s been using all sorts of VPN tools, I’ll make this easier for you. I looked into and tested many no-download VPN options and I’ll list only the best of the best.
From my research, here are the top 5 solutions to use:
1. Opera One – best browser with a free VPN
Opera One gives you access to VPN features without needing additional software.
It is user-friendly for beginners and experienced users because you can activate it with just a few clicks.
In addition, you don’t need any registration to access its features.
The VPN has 100+ high-speed servers in 3 general locations – America, Asia, and Europe.
The enhanced online privacy it provides through encryption ensures your data remains protected from threats, whether on public WiFi or concerned about tracking.
I ran an IP leak test on it, and the result shows that it effectively provides privacy, as it claims.
Furthermore, the VPN feature in Opera Browser enables you to bypass geolocation restrictions effortlessly, granting access to content that might be regionally restricted.
For instance, I could access Netflix US when connected to Opera’s Americas servers.
However, a crucial point is that Opera VPN lacks a kill switch.
This means that during a sudden service interruption, your IP address could be exposed, potentially leaking your online activity to your ISP.
It is compatible with Windows, macOS, and Android only.
Opera OneToggle on the VPN button to browse safely and restriction-free!
2. NordVPN Extension – excellent lightweight protection
NordVPN offers a practical solution for protecting your privacy on your browser without downloading a VPN app.
I can access over 5800 servers in 60 countries. However, just like in the NordVPN app, I cannotchoose a particular city within a selected country.
In addition, it effectively prevents IP leaks by disabling the browser’s WebRTC protocol. With this, you’re sure it will effectively reroute your traffic through the selected server.
I ran a test, and as you can see, it assigned me a new IP address without leaks.
Moreover, it does not secure your entire device’s traffic like the app but only secures HTTP traffic on your browser.
Also, setting up this extension is easy because it seamlessly works on major browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, and Edge.
Furthermore, some of the features on the app, like Split tunneling and Kill switch, are also available with the extension.
In addition, it uses TLS encryption to protect your data from prying eyes when you visit unsecured HTTP websites.
And with its lightning-fast speed, it ensures you can establish a connection to VPN servers almost instantly.
NordVPNGet access to tons of premium VPN servers in a simple and quick configuration!
3. Tor Browser – a powerful tool for online privacy
Tor Browser offers a unique approach for users seeking anonymity without cumbersome downloads.
It routes your internet traffic via three volunteer-run servers and encrypts it three times.
Whenever you restart the tool, it will connect you through a different, random node. Thus you’ll assume a new identity every time you browse the web with it.
When I launched the app at first, the network routed me through a U.S. server.
However, after restarting the app, my network went through a German server and a Netherlands server on the third attempt.
Although it is not exactly a VPN, it could sometimes be an alternative if you want to access blocked sites or pages that aren’t indexed by Google. Many use it to browse the Dark Web.
Also, journalists, activists, and whistleblowers use Tor to communicate securely.
As you can see in the screenshots above, Tor did not leak any of my private data. That said, it’s not 100% leak-free.
The biggest security concern with Tor is the very fact that it’s run by volunteers. It’s possible that some node operators can see and potentially tamper with your unencrypted data.
In addition, your ISP and most websites will know you are using Tor, which some block.
Tor Browser is available on various platforms, including Windows, macOS, and Linux, making it versatile for users across different operating systems.
4. Brave Browser – privacy-focused web browser
Brave Browser offers a unique solution for those seeking a VPN without the need for downloads. How does it work?
It establishes a secure network for your entire device and combines VPN and firewall features to provide comprehensive online protection.
Furthermore, it offers a range of servers in 16 locations, including the US, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
With it, you can hide your identity, bypass geo-restrictions, and stream seamlessly on Netflix, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer.
On Windows, you’ll be prompted to install a vital profile on your device when setting up Brave VPN. This file contains details which is essential for the VPN to function.
However, Apple will require iOS users’ PIN codes or biometrics for added security during setup.
Brave Browser enhances online safety with built-in features like Brave Shields for ad-blocking and tracking prevention, while HTTPS Everywhere ensures secure connections.
It also offers Brave Private Tabs with Tor for high-level anonymity, with no extra software needed.
5. ExpressVPN Router – security for your home network
ExpressVPN’s router encrypts internet traffic without the need for software downloads. It boasts 3500+ servers in 94 countries.
Also, it eliminates concerns about device limits because it secures your entire network with a single connection.
This product can be used in two ways. It is available on the WiFi 6 built-in ExpressVPN router, Aircove AX1800.
Alternatively, you can set it up on a VPN-ready router like Netgear AC1900, Linksys WRT3200ACM, or Asus RT-AC5300.
This service shields your IP address without leaks. In addition, it offers robust security with the OpenVPN, Lightway, and IKEv2 protocols on Aircove.
However, you can only use OpenVPN when you access it from other routers.
Your online activity is safe with its 256-bit encryption. The VPN also keeps no logs of what you do online.
Also, you will have access to blocked content, smooth streaming, quick downloads, and lag-free gaming.
ExpressVPNUse ExpressVPN on the router to shield your entire home network. No downloads are needed.
Pros and cons of using a VPN without download
Ease of use and lower cost are probably the biggest benefits of using a VPN without downloading. But there are also some drawbacks.
Let’s get into them.
Pros and cons of using a VPN without download
No-download VPNs may appear convenient, but they have their pitfalls.
Here are a few things to consider:
|✅ Instant accessibility|
VPNs without downloads help you save time with quicker connection setup without admin permission.
|❌ Feature limitations|
No-download VPNs lack the extensive array of advanced features and customization options in downloadable counterparts. This could limit your ability to tailor the VPN to your specific needs.
|✅ Cross-platform compatibility|
Most no-download VPNs like Tor work seamlessly across various devices and operating systems like Windows, macOS, and Linux.
|❌ Security considerations|
They might not offer the same encryption and security options as dedicated VPN clients, potentially leaving your data vulnerable to cyber threats.
|✅ Low learning curve|
They typically have a simple user interface, making them accessible even to those with limited technical expertise.
|❌ Limited server selection: Most of them do not have many server options. For instance, OperaVPN only has 30 locations to choose from. This can impact your ability to bypass geo-restrictions.|
|✅ Little or no storage space required|
Since there’s no need to download and install software, most of these VPNs don’t consume storage space on your device
Many no-download options won’t protect your entire device. VPN browsers and browser extensions will only encrypt the data sent online by their software. Everything else you do online is sent directly through your ISP’s traffic.
|✅ Privacy on public computers|
No-download VPNs are handy when using public computers or shared devices where you can’t install software
Pros and cons of using a downloadable VPN
Now, let’s also consider the good and the and of using VPN apps:
|✅ Enhanced security|
Downloadable VPNs typically offer robust encryption and an advanced suite of security features, ensuring your online activities remain confidential and protected from prying eyes.
|❌ Device specificity|
Certain downloadable VPNs may require specific software for different devices and platforms, potentially limiting their cross-platform usability.
They provide a broader range of configuration options, catering to both novice users who seek simplicity and advanced users who desire greater control over their VPN settings.
|❌ Storage space consumption|
VPN apps occupy large storage space on the device where you’ve installed them. This can reduce the number of apps you can install on that device.
|✅ Reliable performance|
Downloaded VPN clients frequently deliver faster and more stable connections due to their provision of advanced protocols like Lightway. This speed performance is crucial for seamless browsing, torrenting, streaming, and other online activities.
|❌ Updates and maintenance: Downloaded VPN clients may require regular updates and maintenance, which some users could see as inconvenient.|
|✅ Access to global servers|
Downloadable VPNs often grant access to a vast network of servers worldwide, allowing you to select servers for optimized speed and bypassing geo-restrictions.
|✅ Split tunneling|
Many downloadable VPNs offer split tunneling, which enables you to choose which apps or websites are routed through the VPN and which are not, providing greater flexibility. However, most VPNs without download only work with some apps, i.e., browser level.
However, if you want to download a VPN app, I recommend PIA – Private Internet Access.
It has the largest server network, with over 35,000 servers in 84 countries.
Furthermore, the app takes only 70 MB of the total storage space on Windows.
In addition, PIA uses military-grade AES-256 encryption to protect your identity and online activity.
Furthermore, it can also work as a no-download option: it has its own browser extension and offers OpenVPN install files for routers.
Private Internet AccessShield all of your data, bypass geo-blocks and censorship, and get lightning-fast speeds!
You can use a VPN without needing to download anything.
This method keeps things simple and doesn’t clutter your device.
Whether you prefer the convenience of a browser extension or a router-level setup, you can enhance your online privacy without additional downloads.