How to Set Up a VPN on Windows 10

Whether you work from home or want to browse the Internet more securely, using a virtual private network (VPN) on your Windows device is a good idea. Some VPN services offer apps that you can download directly from the Microsoft Store and install on your PC, but you can also use the built-in VPN client on Windows 10 to configure your VPN manually.

Don't worry: it shouldn't take more than 20 minutes to get it up and running. Later, we'll take a step-by-step look at how to set up a VPN on Windows 10.

Reasons to Configure Your VPN Manually on Windows 10

Before we go any further, decide whether or not you need to configure your VPN manually. For some users, downloading your VPN provider’s app will be the better choice because it involves fewer technical steps and offers more built-in features.

However, in some cases, a manual configuration might be a better choice. For example, if you use Windows in S mode ― a limited mode that doesn’t allow you to install apps from outside the Microsoft Store ― or if you’re using a VPN that doesn’t offer its own client, then a manual configuration is the way to go.

Keep in mind, though, that you’ll have to go through more steps to change your VPN settings than you would if you installed a VPN app in the first place.

What You Need to Get Started

You won’t need any additional hardware to set up a VPN connection on Windows 10, but there are a couple of things you’ll need to sort out in advance. This might include choosing a VPN service and VPN protocol if you haven’t already. Here’s what you need to know about each of these options.

Choose a VPN Service

While Windows has a built-in VPN client, this doesn’t mean a VPN service is included. You can think of it as the tool you’ll use to set up your VPN. That means that you’ll have to look at what options are available and sign up for an account with one.

Most premium VPNs cost anywhere from $1 to 20 per month, depending on how many months you sign up for in advance. Free VPNs are available, but they may have limits on how many devices you can connect or how much data you can encrypt. They may also have less transparent logging and advertising policies.

You can use this list of the best VPNs on the market to compare them based on price, security policies, and other features before signing up for an account.

If you’re using a VPN to work from home, check in with your IT team first to see if your company has a VPN you can use. This will enable you to connect to your company’s servers securely, but won’t be suitable for encrypting your personal browsing traffic since your company’s administrators may have access to it.

Select a VPN Protocol

VPN protocols determine how your VPN encrypts your data. Not all VPN protocols work with all VPN providers or operating systems, so you’ll need to pick one that’s compatible with Windows 10 and your VPN service.

Your VPN protocol can affect the speed, security, and reliability of your connection, so it’s important to use one that’s up-to-date and suitable for Windows 10. If you aren’t sure which one to choose, the Windows 10 VPN client offers an automatic option that will try all of the available protocols, starting with the most secure.

Here’s a quick rundown of four VPN protocols that are compatible with the Windows 10 operating system, including one that you should avoid:

VPN ProtocolBest ForOur Pick
OpenVPNSpeed and security, but requires a separate clientExpressVPN
Secure socket tunneling protocol (SSTP)Getting around firewalls and geo-restrictions; Microsoft owns it, so it’s best-suited for Windows devicesNordVPN
Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP)/Internet protocol security suite (IPsec) Can be used on most devices but relies on UDP port 500, so it can be blocked by firewalls more easilyCyberGhost
Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP)Easy to set up, but is outdated and more vulnerable than other VPN protocolsNot recommended

Connect to a VPN on Windows 10: Step-by-Step Guide

Now that you’ve chosen a VPN provider and a VPN protocol, it’s time to get it set up on your PC. Remember, we’ll be showing you how to create a VPN connection on Windows 10 manually, so if you’ve decided to use your VPN provider’s app, you’ll need to follow the instructions on its website instead.

For simplicity’s sake, we’re going to focus on how to set up a VPN on Windows 10 using the L2TP protocol, before we show you how to set up the OpenVPN protocol.

1. Log in to your VPN account and select the option for manual configuration. This will vary slightly from provider to provider, but most VPNs will give you an option to select L2TP/IPsec or one of the other VPN protocols.
2. This is where you’ll find the info you need to set up your VPN on Windows, such as the username, password, and server addresses. Keep in mind that this isn’t the same username and password you use to sign in to your account.
3. Next, click the Internet access icon on your PC, which will look slightly different, depending on whether you’re on a Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection.
4. Click on Network & Internet Settings, followed by VPN. Then, click the button to Add a VPN connection.
5. This is where it gets a little tedious, and you’ll need to follow the instructions provided by your VPN provider. For each of the fields, you’ll enter:

  • VPN provider: Select “Windows (built-in)”
  • Connection name: Choose a name that will help you recognize it, such as the name of your VPN provider
  • Server name or address: Choose this from the list of servers that your VPN service provides, which will determine the location of the server that your VPN will connect to
  • VPN type: For this example, choose “L2TP/IPsec with a pre-shared key,” which determines the VPN protocol
  • Pre-shared key: This will be a string of numbers provided by your VPN service
  • Type of sign-in info: Choose user name and password, and then enter the username and password provided by your VPN service
6. Press Save to confirm the information you’ve submitted.
7. Now, click Connect to turn on your VPN connection. If you’ve done everything properly, then you’ll see the word “Connected” under the name of your VPN.
8. Browse to a site such as What Is My IP? To confirm that your VPN connection is working and that your IP address reflects your server location.
9. If you want, you can add additional server locations by repeating Steps 3 through 6. Be sure to name them clearly, such as “Surfshark NYC” or “Surfshark LA” so you can identify them easily when you want to switch between them.
10. Next, switch to a different server by clicking Connect again. Your new IP address should reflect the new server location. You can also click Disconnect if you want to stop encrypting your traffic and reflect your actual IP location.

Set Up Using OpenVPN

So far, we’ve shown you how to set up a VPN connection on Windows 10 using the L2TP protocol but, depending on your needs, you may prefer to use a more secure protocol, such as OpenVPN.

OpenVPN is harder to block than L2TP and uses newer, more secure technology, but it isn’t compatible with the built-in Windows 10 client. If you use this protocol, you’ll need to install a third-party client: either a VPN app or the free and open-source OpenVPN client. If you choose that option, you’ll need to follow these steps:

1. Download and install the OpenVPN client from the OpenVPN website. It’s free and open-source, and you can use it instead of the Windows VPN client.
2. Download the OpenVPN configuration files provided by your VPN service, which may come in the form of a ZIP file or as individual files.
3. Drag and drop these files into the Config folder.
4. Close the window and reopen the OpenVPN app. You should see the list of servers that were added when you applied the configuration files.
5. Now, click on the server you want to connect to and enter the username and password that your VPN service provided you. Remember, this won’t be your account login details, but the username and password generated during the configuration process. Now, you should be connected to the VPN.

Using Your VPN on Windows 10

The most important thing to keep in mind about installing a VPN on Windows is making sure that you use it. If the manual setup process is likely to be an obstacle for you, then consider using your VPN provider’s app instead. Many VPN services support multiple protocols, including OpenVPN, so you won’t be missing out on any options.

You may have even more options if you use your VPN provider’s app since it may come with auto-connect features, a kill switch, and other handy tools. It’s up to you to decide whether you want the satisfaction of knowing how to configure your VPN manually or if you’d rather use your VPN provider’s software out of the box.

Either way, you can rest easy knowing that your data is encrypted and that you’re less likely to leak your actual IP address to the websites that you visit.