How to Set Up a VPN on Mac

Installing a virtual private network (VPN) on your Mac can be a terrific way to protect your privacy while using the Internet at home or on public Wi-Fi networks. It can also help you access geo-blocked content and get around network restrictions.

However, learning how to set up a VPN on a Mac can be challenging if you haven’t done it before. We’ve put together this guide so you can get your VPN set up quickly and easily and choose the right VPN provider and protocol for your needs.

What Is a VPN Connection on Mac For?

There are hundreds of VPNs on the market, and they all perform a similar function: route your traffic through one of their own servers so it appears that your Internet traffic is coming from that location rather than your actual internet protocol (IP) address. You can either choose a nearby server for a faster connection or an overseas server to access content that’s restricted to a particular country or region.

VPNs also encrypt your data so that hackers, governments, and even your internet service provider (ISP) can’t intercept it for ad targeting, identity theft, or other malicious purposes. It’s important to think about what kind of activities you’ll be using your VPN for since that will help you determine what speed and security features you need.

There are two main ways to set up a VPN on a Mac: using your computer’s built-in VPN functions or downloading a proprietary VPN app. Using a VPN app may give you more features to choose from, but the manual configuration allows you to set up any VPN on your Mac and have it run in the background.

It’s up to you which option to choose since both offer the same level of protection when set up properly. We’ll be focusing on setting up a manual VPN connection since the process for using a proprietary app will be different for each VPN provider.

What You Need to Get Started

You don’t need any additional hardware to install a VPN on your Mac, so you can be up and running in 30 minutes or less. All you’ll have to do is decide which VPN provider to use and which VPN protocol you want to set up your connection with. Let’s look at these choices one by one.

Choose a VPN Service for Mac

Remember, your Mac has built-in support for running a VPN connection, but you’ll still have to subscribe to a VPN service before you can set it up. There are free VPNs out there, but we don’t recommend them because they often have usage or device limits, and they may even collect your browsing data for advertising purposes.

Plenty of premium VPNs offer free trials if you want to test one out before you sign up. You can also get steep discounts if you pay for several months upfront.

Premium VPNs cost anywhere from $1 to $20 per month, and most allow you to connect multiple devices so you can use it on your Mac, smartphone, tablet, and other devices. Visit this page to check out a list of the best VPNs on the market and how they compare.

If you’re working from home, you should check in with your information technology (IT) department to see if they have a company VPN you can use. Keep in mind that a business VPN will protect your work data while it’s in transit to company servers but won’t necessarily protect your private browsing data from your network admin.

Finally, don’t forget to confirm that your VPN provider supports Mac devices. While you can set up any VPN on a Mac using a manual configuration, you may want to pick one with a dedicated Mac app if you choose to go that route instead.

Select a VPN Protocol

A VPN protocol is essentially the mechanism by which your VPN encrypts your data. Some VPN protocols are outdated and insecure, while others are new and better for speed and security. Some VPN providers use their own proprietary protocols.

You don’t have to understand all the ins and outs of VPN protocols to set up a VPN on your Mac, but it’s worth being able to recognize these four:

VPN Protocol Best For Our Pick
Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) Speed and simplicity but is older and less secure and not available on macOS 10.12 and up Not recommended
Internet key exchange version (2IKEv2)/Internet protocol security suite (IPsec) Stability when switching between multiple connections Surfshark
Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP)/IPsec Compatible with most devices, but can be blocked by firewalls CyberGhost
OpenVPN Secure, open-source technology supported by many VPN providers ExpressVPN

If this part of the process feels overwhelming to you, then downloading your provider’s VPN app may be the way to go. Most apps offer an automatic connection setting that will choose a VPN protocol for you based on your network connection.

Set Up a VPN on Mac: Step-by-Step Guide

1. Log into your VPN account in a browser and choose the Manual setup option. You’ll see an option to view your Credentials or a similar option depending on how your VPN provider is set up.
2. Keep this window open since you’ll need to copy and paste the username and password later. Note that this is not the same username and password you use to log into your VPN account.
3. Next, find your provider’s list of servers and choose one for the location that you want to connect to. Copy and paste the domain address for the server.
4. Since you’re setting your VPN up manually, you’ll need to repeat this process for every server that you want to connect to.
5. If you’re using the IKEv2 protocol, you may also have to download and install a certificate file. Follow the instructions from your VPN provider for this step.
6. Once that’s done, you can click the Apple icon on your Mac, followed by System Preferences and Network.
7. Click the Add (+) button at the bottom of the list.
8. Select VPN from the Interface drop-down menu.
9. Choose the VPN protocol you want to connect to, such as L2TP or IKEv2.
10. Type in a name for the VPN connection to help you remember it. This could be the name of your VPN provider and the server location.
11. In the next window, you’ll be prompted to enter the Server Address and Remote ID, which you copied and pasted in Step 3.
12. Click Authentication Settings, where you’ll enter the password and username you copied in Step 2.
13. Click Advanced Settings and select Send all traffic over VPN connection, then click OK.
14. Check the box for Show VPN status in the menu bar, then click Apply.
15. Now, you can click Connect to turn the VPN on and connect to the server you selected.
16. Browse to a site such as What Is My IP? to ensure that your IP address matches the server location.
17. If you want to add additional server locations, you can repeat steps 1 through 14 for each location you wish to add. This is useful if you want to add one server location for streaming and one for everyday browsing, for example.
18. If you’ve selected Show VPN status in the menu bar for each location, then you won’t have to navigate to your network settings every time you want to connect or disconnect from the VPN. You can view your connection status easily and switch between servers from the menu bar.

Installing a Third-party VPN App on Mac

There are several steps to setting up a VPN connection on a Mac, but most are straightforward and don’t require any advanced technical knowledge. Still, if you prefer to keep things simple, you can always use your provider’s VPN app for Mac.

You can download and install the app on macOS, log in with your account credentials, and connect to a VPN server from the list. This will allow you to skip most of the steps above and may even provide some additional features, such as a kill switch. You can also choose an app that re-connects to your VPN automatically when your connection drops, which isn’t possible with a manual configuration.

However, third-party apps can vary widely, so choose one that’s updated regularly and supports the VPN protocol you want to use. Some VPN providers support newer VPN protocols, such as OpenVPN and WireGuard, but others don’t. You can also install a third-party VPN app like Tunnelblick to use the OpenVPN protocol, but that’s beyond the scope of our discussion.

For the most part, any option that you choose is better than not using a VPN at all, so don’t overthink it. If you choose a more convenient VPN solution now, you can switch to a more advanced configuration later.

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