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How to Set Up a VPN on iPhone or iPad

Simon Migliano Head of Research at Top10VPN

Simon is a recognized world expert in VPNs. He's tested hundreds of VPN services and his research has featured on the BBC, The New York Times, CNet and more. Read full bio

Our Verdict

Installing a VPN on your iPhone or your iPad is extremely important for using the internet privately and securely. The easiest way to set up and use a VPN on your iPhone and iPad is to install a native iOS VPN application.

Quick Guide: How to Quickly Install a VPN on iPhone

  1. Download a secure VPN mobile application from the App Store, like NordVPN.
  2. Install the VPN onto your device following the on-screen prompts.
  3. Connect to a VPN server: Connecting to nearby servers usually delivers the fastest speeds.
  4. Use browsers and applications as normal: Your web traffic is encrypted and hidden from your mobile carrier.

Using a secure VPN on your iPhone lets you use free public WiFi safely, access mobile applications and websites without being spied on, and bypass web geo-restrictions.

The four best ways to install a VPN on your iPhone are:

  1. Install the VPN app directly from the App Store
  2. Use the VPN client built into iOS
  3. Manually configure OpenVPN
  4. Install a VPN on your router

In this guide, we’ll walk you through each setup method step-by-step.

What You’ll Need to Set Up a VPN on Your iPhone, iPad:

  • An active VPN subscription with a trustworthy service provider.
  • An up-to-date device:
    • On iPhone, you need to be running iOS 10 or above.
    • On iPad, you need to be running iPadOS 13.1 or above.
  • To manually configure OpenVPN, you’ll need a desktop/laptop computer.

Method 1: Install an iOS VPN App

The simplest and safest way to install a VPN on your iPhone or iPad is to download a native VPN application from the Apple App Store.

It’s really quick and easy to install a custom VPN app on your iOS device. Native VPN mobile apps are generally very intuitive to use, too.

Installing a Native VPN App on Your iPhone/iPad

  1. Search for your VPN service in the Apple App Store and tap Get to download the app. We’re using PrivateVPN as an example.PrivateVPN in the App Store
  2. Once the VPN software is installed, tap Open and log into the app using your VPN subscription username and password you chose at signup (or the provider has emailed you).The PrivateVPN app login screen
  3. Read the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, and tap Continue.The PrivateVPN app privacy policy agreement
  4. Your iPhone/iPad requires you to authorize all new VPN configurations. Tap Allow on the overlay that says [The Name of Your VPN] Would Like to Add VPN Configurations. This step may come later depending on the VPN you’re using.The PrivateVPN app asking for VPN configuration authorization
  5. Enter your iPhone or iPad passcode to add the configuration.The iOS passcode screen
  6. Tap through the rest of the installation prompts and permissions – some VPN services include more than others. Ensure you read the terms before you agree to them.
  7. Go into the VPN’s settings menu and configure the VPN to meet your needs. You can usually find the settings menu by tapping the burger menu or cog symbol in the app.The PrivateVPN app when disconnected
  8. Enable the VPN kill switch (if there is one), and leak protection settings in the app to prevent your true IP and DNS addresses from being exposed. Select your desired VPN protocol – OpenVPN and WireGuard are safe choices, but IKEv2 can be more stable for mobile connections.PrivateVPN's protocol selection settings
  9. Once you’ve configured the security settings, choose a VPN server and tap the Connect button.The PrivateVPN app when connected
  10. Check for IP and DNS leaks using our IP/DNS leak test tool.

The method above is the safest and easiest way to use a VPN on your iOS device.

However, some VPN services don’t have apps for iPhone or iPad. If that’s the case, you’ll need to consult setup methods 2, 3, or 4.

Equally, skip ahead if you’re in a country that has removed VPN apps from the App Store (like China).

Method 2: Use the Built-in iOS VPN Client

If you can’t (or don’t want to) install a native VPN app from the App Store, your iOS and iPadOS devices come with a built-in VPN solution.

This method involves manually configuring VPN server files within the device’s settings menu.

This method saves space on your device, but the built-in VPN feature lacks extra settings like a VPN kill switch and IP leak blocking. Therefore, it’s not as secure as the other setup methods we cover.

There’s another catch – you can’t use OpenVPN, our preferred VPN protocol.

Instead, the iOS VPN only supports IKEv2/IPSec and L2TP/IPSec, which we still consider safe to use.

Manually Configuring IKEv2 Using the Built-in VPN Client

  1. On your device go to Settings > General > VPN
  2. Tap Add VPN Configuration.The iOS built-in VPN client
  3. Fill in the fields with the information provided by your VPN. You should be able to find this information from within your account or on the VPN server status page.Here’s an example using Private VPN:Type: IKEv2
    Description: Type in a name for the configuration, e.g. PrivateVPN – Sydney
    Server: Type in the server address here
    Remote ID: Type in the server address again
    Local ID: Leave this field empty
    User Authentication: Select Username
    Username: Type in your VPN account username
    Password: Type in your VPN account password
    Proxy: Toggle OffTap Done.Manual configuration in iOS VPN client
  4. Use the Status slider to connect and disconnect from the VPN server. When connected you should see the word ‘VPN’ in your iPhone’s status bar.The iOS built-in VPN client connected to PrivateVPN server
  5. You can now add more server configurations if you want and easily toggle between locations.
  6. Remember to check for IP, DNS, and WebRTC leaks.

The process is very similar for L2TP setup, but it may require you to enter a ‘Secret’ in addition to a username and password.

This ‘secret’ is a pre-shared key supplied by your VPN provider. The use of pre-shared keys poses a security risk, though, which is why we recommend sticking with IKEv2 if possible.

You can read more about this in our guide to VPN encryption.

Method 3: Manually Configure OpenVPN

OpenVPN is our favorite VPN protocol, balancing high security and fast connection speeds.

If your iOS VPN application doesn’t run on OpenVPN, you may still be able to use the VPN software with OpenVPN.

Not all VPN services support this setup method, though. Get in touch with your VPN provider to confirm before you try.

Also, this setup is more tedious than the above two installation methods.

To manually configure OpenVPN on your iPhone/iPad, you’ll need a Windows, macOS, or Linux computer. For this demonstration we’re using a Windows PC.

Installing a VPN on iPhone using OpenVPN Connect

  1. Find OpenVPN Connect (by OpenVPN Technologies) in the Apple App Store and tap Get to download the software.OpenVPN Connect in the App Store
  2. Now log into your VPN account on the provider’s website (not the app) on your computer.
  3. Find the OpenVPN config files and download them. You may need to extract a .zip file.The unzipped PrivateVPN OpenVPN config files
  4. Find the server location you wish to connect to on your iPhone and send the .ovpn file to yourself via email.Email with PrivateVPN .ovpn file attached
  5. Open the email (via an app, not via web browser) on your iPhone and tap the download button. You should choose to open the file in OpenVPN Connect by tapping Copy to OpenVPN.Opening .ovpn file in OpenVPN Connect
  6. Tap Add to add the configuration file to OpenVPN Connect.Importing an .ovpn file in OpenVPN Connect app
  7. Enter your VPN account username and then Add again.The OpenVPN Connect app with imported PrivateVPN .ovpn file
  8. Tap Allow to authorize the VPN connection.VPN configuration authorization on OpenVPN Connect
  9. Enter your iPhone passcode.The iOS passcode screen
  10. Enter your VPN account password and tap OK.The OpenVPN Connect password popup
  11. Slide the slider to switch the VPN on and off. When connected, the slider will turn green and you’ll see the word ‘VPN’ in your iPhone’s status bar.OpenVPN Connect connected to PrivateVPN server
  12. Go into the OpenVPN Connect settings menu (burger menu > Settings) and enable the Seamless Tunnel, which acts a bit like a VPN kill switch.The OpenVPN Connect settings menu
  13. Now carry out a leak test to ensure the VPN is working as it should.

You can add more .ovpn files for other server locations after this if you want – the process is exactly the same from Step 3 onwards.

As you can see, this installation method isn’t the easiest one, but it does provide the best VPN protocol and useful extras like the Seamless Tunnel feature.

Method 4: Install a VPN on Your Router

The final way you can protect internet traffic on your iOS or iPadOS device is to install the VPN software on your router.

This method is useful if you want other devices in your home to use a VPN connection. This includes some smart TVs and games consoles, which don’t support native VPN apps.

Once you connect your devices to the VPN router all traffic will be encrypted between the router and the VPN server.

A VPN router encrypts the traffic of every device on your WiFi network.

However, the setup is quite advanced and may require you to buy new router hardware, which can be very expensive.

Once you leave your home and connect to other WiFi hotspots or use mobile data, your device will no longer benefit from VPN encryption.

It’s by no means the best way to use a VPN on your iPhone.

But if you do want to protect multiple devices in your home using a VPN router, we recommend also installing a VPN on your iPhone or iPad to switch on while you’re out and about.

Setting Up a VPN on Your Router

There are a few different ways to set up a VPN on your router:

  1. Buy a pre-configured router.
  2. Manually configure VPN files using the native VPN client built into your current router software. Avoid PPTP setup at all costs, as this VPN protocol is outdated and insecure.
  3. ‘Flash’ your current router with new firmware (download and install it, in other words) that supports OpenVPN and then manually configure the VPN files.
  4. Use a VPN applet. There aren’t many of these available at the moment, but ExpressVPN provides one.

Do I Need a VPN on My iPhone?

A man connected to public WiFi while traveling.

The simple answer is yes, you do need a VPN on your iPhone.

Whether you’re at home or on the go, it’s important to safeguard your internet freedom, security, and privacy.

Here are four reasons for using a VPN on your iPhone:

  1. Hide your true IP address from websites and advertisers.
  2. Keep browsing history private from your ISP.
  3. Unblock restricted websites and services, like Netflix.
  4. Prevent ISP throttling.
  5. Avoid being hacked on insecure public WiFi networks.

About the Author

  • Simon Migliano Head of Research at Top10VPN

    Simon Migliano

    Simon is a recognized world expert in VPNs. He's tested hundreds of VPN services and his research has featured on the BBC, The New York Times, CNet and more. Read full bio