10 Free GIS Data Sources: Best Global Raster and Vector Datasets

10 Free GIS Datasets
10 Free GIS Data Sources

Where can I find free GIS data?

In a perfect world, you’d be able to find all the free GIS data you need in a single website. Of course, it would have to be free, downloadable from an authoritative source.

…But well, you know the drill. The world’s not perfect, life’s not fair.

So that’s why we’ve put together this list to turbo-charge your search for free GIS data. We provide a list of 10 free, downloadable global GIS datasets from highly reputable sources.

You might be interested in these useful resources for GIS data:

1 Natural Earth Data

Natural Earth Data is first on the list because it does an amazing job to suit the needs of cartographers. All the key cultural and physical vector GIS datasets are at a global scale. The raster datasets also provide beautiful hillshade relief basemaps for your map.

The best part is Natural Earth Data is in public domain. You have the right to disseminate and modify the data in any manner.

From a cartography standpoint, it’s a no-brainer. Download Natural Earth Data now.

Advantages Data Types
  • Download global free GIS data in public domain
  • Supported by the North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS).
  • Cultural, physical and raster (basemap) data.
Natural Earth Data
Natural Earth Data

2 USGS Earth Explorer

GIS Data Layers
For Earth observers seeking remotely sensed data, the USGS Earth Explorer is your sole destination.

We all know that the USGS’s new Earth Explorer gives you access to one of the largest databases of satellite and aerial imagery. But I bet you didn’t know you can download data outside of the United States.

A friendly user-interface makes accessing data simple. It even has a bulk download application. Register for a free account because this is the ultimate database for free remote sensing data.

Advantages Data Types
  • Search for remote sensing data with a user-friendly state-of-the-art interface
  • Filter searches by time and sensors and set region of interests in map
  • Remote sensing data (Landsat, global land cover…)

Also try: USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center, USGS GloVIS, USGS GTOPO30, USGS Earthquake Hazards Program

USGS Earth Explorer
USGS Earth Explorer

3 OpenStreetMap

GIS users are harnessing the power of OpenStreetMap (OSM) as a means to crowdsource data from multiple users.

The result of crowdsourcing is highly detailed data. I say detailed with cautious optimism. OSM is open to the public and created by the public. This means that accuracy varies based on the creator. From my experience, the accuracy looked very good. And people like you and me are working on completeness every day.

For GIS analysts seeking high spatial resolution detail, OpenStreetMap data is exactly what you are looking for. How much data is being created every second into OpenStreetMap? There’s a map for that – OSM Show Me The Way.

Advantages Data Types
  • Obtain highly detailed free GIS data with different levels of accuracy and completeness
  • High spatial resolution cultural vector data. (buildings, land use, railroads, roads, waterways)

OpenStreetMap GIS Data

4 NASA’s Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC)

NASA’s Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) provides valuable geographic information to learn about human interactions in the environment.

SEDAC had a wide variety of coarse global free GIS data – from fertilizer applications in agriculture to global infant mortality rate by state/province.

Another neat thing about SEDAC is the map viewer. You can select GIS data themes and view thematic maps of the socioeconomic data. If you want to massage the data yourself, there’s that option too.

Advantages Data Types
  • Retrieve global socioeconomic data from 15 different themes.
  • Socioeconomic data (agriculture, climate, conservation, governance, hazards, health, infrastructure, land use, marine and coastal, population, poverty, remote sensing, sustainability, urban and water)

5 Open Topography

Open Topography provides a portal to high spatial resolution topographic data and tools.

If you gave me a 5 second countdown to choose one GIS data type to work with for the rest of my life…. I’d probably start screaming LIDAAARRRRR! Yes, I’d be all dramatic because you gave me a 5 second countdown to respond.

We all know that LiDAR data is a rare, precious GIS resource. This is why Open Topography is so useful. It answers the question: “Where can we find LiDAR data?”

Advantages Data Types
  • Select regions in the world and search available LiDAR data.
  • LiDAR (90% United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and Puerto Rico)
Open Topography LiDAR GIS Data
Open Topography LiDAR GIS Data

6 UNEP Environmental Data Explorer

The United Nations Environmental Data Explorer’s online database holds more than 500 different variables.

I must admit. I found it a bit difficult to explore the GIS data. The interfaces takes awhile to get used to, but it’s all here covering themes like climate, disasters and ecosystems.

Quick tip: Click advanced. Select “Geospatial Data Sets”. Now, only GIS data will be filtered.

Advantages Data Types
  • Contains a lot of spatial and non-spatial data on a variety of themes.
  • Freshwater, population, forests, emissions, climate, disasters, health and GDP spatial and non-spatial data.
UNEP Explorer Free GIS Data
UNEP Explorer Free GIS Data

7 FAO GeoNetwork

Well, it’s another United Nations global GIS dataset. If you’re craving for agriculture and fisheries related GIS data, keep the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in mind.

FAO GeoNetwork provides satellite imagery and spatial data to support sustainable development in agriculture, fisheries and food security. The GIS Gateway is where you can find data organized categorically.

Advantages Data Types
  • Search wide range of categories and filter by country.
  • Agriculture, fisheries, land resource GIS data.
FAO GeoNetwork Free GIS Data
FAO GeoNetwork Free GIS Data

8 NASA Earth Observations (NEO)

NASA’s Earth Observations (NEO) is focused on providing global satellite imagery as accessible as possible.

Imagine seeing daily snapshots of climate and environmental conditions of Earth. Over 50 different global datasets are represented with NASA’s Earth observations. They are accessible in JPEG, PNG, Google Earth and GeoTIFF formats.

You can’t live without NASA’s GIS data when it comes understanding our global environment from space.

Advantages Data Types
  • Updated constantly ensuring timely information of our globe.
  • Accessible in different formats.
  • All raster grids: atmosphere, energy, land, life and ocean GIS data.
NASA Earth Observations NEO Free GIS Data
NASA Earth Observations NEO Free GIS Data

9 Sentinel Satellite Data

The European Space Agency’s Sentinel satellite is now the highest spatial resolution available to the public for free. One scene after the other, data has been rolling out on a user interface called the Sentinels Scientific Data Hub.

You’ll have to register. But it’s worth the time. For ortho basemaps, it doesn’t get any better than the global coverage that the Sentinel 2 satellites provide…

…And you can even obtain synthetic aperture radar data at no cost from Sentinel-1.

READ MORE: How to Download Sentinel Satellite Data for Free

Advantages Data Types
  • 10-meter resolution satellite data readily available at your fingertips.
  • Sentinel 2 data has 11 spectral bands including red, green, blue, near-infrared
  • Raster data – 11 channels from Sentinel-2. Synthetic aperture radar from Sentinel-1.

Free GIS Data - Sentinel Satellite Data

10 Terra Populus

Terra Populus (TerraPop for short) is the only system that incorporates and integrates both census data from over 160 countries around the world, as well as environmental data describing land cover, land use, and climate. The census data in TerraPop include individual- and household-level records from more than 80 countries around the world and aggregate data from another 80 countries and spans up to six decades, from the 1960s to the present.

The unique thing about it is how it can be used to explore temporal and spatial changes. Not only researchers, but everyone now has a tool to obtain and investigate transformative changes in the human-environment system in geographic space.

Advantages Data Types
  • User-friendly interface with customized, relevant, multi-temporal data delivery.
  • Area-level, micro-data & environmental data describing land cover, land use, and climate.


11 ISCGM Global Map

It’s time to look at what the International Steering Committee for Global Mapping website has to offer.

Admittedly, not the prettiest website of the bunch, Global Map still packs some serious punch with their free GIS data. Global land cover and percent tree cover are the two pivotal datasets here. But that’s not all. Cultural and natural vector datasets are here too.

Registration is required. But not that painful for getting ISCGM free GIS data.

Advantages Data Types
  • Download global land cover and tree prevent by selecting map tiles.
  • Boundaries, drainage, transportation, population centers, elevation, land cover, land use and vegetation.

Download Free GIS Data

We live in the information age. We get blasted by truckloads of information each day. In terms of GIS data sources, it seems never-ending.

While some other lists have everything including the kitchen sink, we’ve thoroughly researched what is the best.

In GIS, high quality, free GIS data always seems to be a challenge that many people in the industry have troubles wrestling with.

Using this list, you have instantly become more knowledgeable with these 10 free GIS data sources.

Haven’t found what you’re looking for? Here are more free GIS data sources to superpower your mapping needs:

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