How to Set Up a VPN and How to Use a VPN – Tips & Examples for 2024

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Knowing how to set up a VPN and how to use a VPN is critical for ensuring your online safety. Protecting your online privacy and security is essential, after all, and a VPN can help you do just that.

Our guide covers the process of installing a VPN on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS and explores what the best VPN services can do for you.

What Does a VPN DO?

A Virtual Private Network service (a VPN) is essentially a tool that helps safeguard your online activities by creating a private and secure connection between your device and the internet.

Think of it as a tunnel. When you browse the internet without a it, your data travels openly through the vast network of the internet service provider (ISP), potentially leaving it vulnerable to prying eyes.

But with a VPN, your data gets encapsulated within this virtual tunnel, keeping it shielded from anyone who might be snooping around.

Why Use a VPN?

One of the primary purposes of a VPN is to enhance your privacy and security online. It accomplishes this by encrypting your internet connection.

Encryption is like a secret code that only your device and the VPN server understand. So, even if someone manages to intercept your data, they won’t be able to decipher it without the encryption key.

VPNs also grant you a degree of online anonymity. When you connect to a VPN server, your real IP address (the digital equivalent of your home address) is masked.

Instead, websites and online services see the IP address of the VPN server. This can help protect your identity and location from being tracked by websites, advertisers, or even malicious actors.

A few other functions of a VPN include:

Do You Need a VPN?

The decision to use it depends on your online habits and security priorities. If you value online privacy and frequently use public Wi-Fi, a VPN can enhance your security by encrypting your data. It’s also handy for bypassing geographic content restrictions and maintaining anonymity online.

However, if your internet use is primarily basic browsing and you prioritize speed, a VPN may not be necessary for everyday tasks.

It can occasionally slow down your connection due to encryption. Assess your needs and consider whether the benefits of added security and privacy outweigh potential speed reductions.

How to Set Up a VPN

So you have a firm grasp of what a VPN is and what it’s used for and have decided that you’d like to use one. The first step is choosing a VPN service provider to use.

Choose a VPN Service

How to Choose a VPN Service

Start by selecting a reputable service provider. There are both free and paid options available, each with its own set of features. Paid services often offer better performance and security.

Here are some key considerations:

  1. Reputation: Look for a reputable VPN provider with a history of protecting user privacy and security.
  2. Logging Policy: Ensure that it has a strict no-logs policy, meaning they don’t store your online activity.
  3. Server Locations: Choose a VPN with servers in locations that meet your needs, whether for security or content access.
  4. Speed and Performance: Check user reviews for feedback on speed and performance, especially if you have specific speed requirements.
  5. Device Compatibility: Ensure the VPN supports your devices and operating systems.
  6. Encryption and Security: Look for strong encryption protocols, like OpenVPN or IKEv2, for maximum security.
  7. Price: Compare pricing plans and choose one that fits your budget and requirements.
  8. Customer Support: Consider the availability and responsiveness of customer support in case you need assistance.
  9. Free vs. Paid: While free VPNs exist, keep in mind that they may have limitations or privacy concerns. Paid services often offer better performance and reliability.

Popular, Simple-to-Set-Up VPNs

If you’re on the lookout for a VPN that’s easy to set up and use consider these top choices.

VPN Service Cheapest Monthly Price Free Version Simultaneous Devices Server Count Server Locations Device Compatibility
ExpressVPN $8.32/month (annual) N/A 8 3,000+ 105+ Windows, macOS, Linux, Chromebook, iOS, Android, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV Systems
NordVPN $3.79/month (two years) N/A 6 5,900+ 60+ Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android, iOS, Consoles, Firestick
Surfshark VPN $1.99/month (two years) N/A Unlimited 3,200+ 100+ Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, FireTV
CyberGhost VPN $2.03/month (two years) N/A 7 10,000+ 125+ Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, Routers, Smart TVs, Consoles, Amazon Fire TV Stick
Privado VPN $1.99/month (two years) Free with 10Gb per month 10 300+ 65 Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, AndroidTV, Amazon Fire TV
Proton VPN $4.99/month (two years) Free, with unlimited bandwidth 10 3,000+ 69+ Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, Fire TV Stick, Android TV, Chromebook
  • ExpressVPN – Known for its one-click connection and user-friendly interface, it’s a breeze for beginners to use. Its reputation for fast speeds makes it a solid option for those who don’t want to sacrifice performance for simplicity. Read our ExpressVPN review for more.
  • NordVPN – Offers a quick-connect feature that finds the best server without any hassle. Its extensive server network is ideal for users who want both simplicity and a variety of connection options. See our NordVPN review for more details.
  • Surfshark – With an intuitive design and support for unlimited devices, it’s perfect for users looking to protect all their devices with a single, straightforward setup. Read our Surfshark review for more information.
  • CyberGhost VPN – Provides easy access to servers that are optimized for streaming and torrenting, appealing to users who want to enjoy a range of content with minimal setup. See our CyberGhost VPN review for further details.
  • Privado VPN – Affordable VPN that provides fast connections and a solid free solution that’s great if you have limited bandwidth requirements.
  • Proton VPN – A service that’s easy to get started, has a great free plan, and comes with a broad global server network, making it ideal for beginners. Check out our Proton VPN review for more information.

Free VPN Services

Free services like ProtonVPN, Windscribe, and PrivadoVPN are popular among users who require VPN services sporadically or for non-intensive tasks.

While they manage to deliver basic privacy and a degree of security, be mindful of potential drawbacks like data limitations, poor speeds, limited server options, and potential privacy concerns.

Budget-Friendly VPNs

For a blend of cost-effectiveness and reliable functionality, consider going with a budget-friendly VPN service. Surfshark and PrivateVPN are big names that offer a nice feature set without a hefty price tag. With these options, you can browse the web securely without straining your budget.

Premium VPN Services

If you prioritize top-tier security, swift connections, and a large set of features you won’t find anywhere else, premium VPN services are worth the investment.

ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and CyberGhost are among the elite in this category, often being lauded for their impenetrable security protocols, extensive server networks, and blazing-fast speeds.

How to Set Up a VPN on Windows

Once you’ve decided which VPN you want to use, the next step is downloading and installing it.

Here’s an example using Proton VPN to illustrate the process of how to set up a VPN for Windows and get it ready for use, with instructions for Mac, iOS, and Android further down the page.

The process may slightly differ among various providers and devices, but the fundamental steps remain fairly consistent.

  1. Enable Downloads

    Before installing Proton VPN, you need to ensure your Windows settings allow you to install apps from sources outside the Microsoft Store. Go to “Settings” > “Apps” > “Apps & features.” Under “Choose where to get apps,” select “Anywhere.”
  2. Download the VPN Installer

    Navigate to the Proton VPN website and go to the Windows VPN section. Click the “Download Proton VPN” button to download the installer file to your computer.
    Download the VPN Installer
  3. Install Proton VPN

    Find the downloaded “.exe” installer file, and double-click it to start the installation. If prompted, allow the app to make changes to your device. When the Proton VPN installation wizard appears, select your preferred language and click “OK” and “Install” to continue. A progress bar will display the installation status. When the installation is complete, click “Finish” to close the setup wizard.
    Install Proton VPN
  4. Log In to Proton VPN

    After installation, the Proton VPN app will launch. Enter your Proton account credentials to log in. If you don’t have an account, you can sign up directly within the app.
    Log In to Proton VPN
  5. Connect to a VPN Server

    To connect to a VPN server, you can use the “Quick Connect” feature to automatically find the fastest server for your location, or you can select a specific country and server from the list. For specialized uses, such as peer-to-peer file sharing or anonymous browsing with Tor, look for servers with the corresponding icons and connect to them.
    Connect to a VPN Server

How to Set up a VPN on a Mac

Installing Proton VPN on a Mac is also a simple process, and it will enhance your online security. Follow these steps to get Proton VPN up and running on macOS 10.12 or higher.

  1. Adjust Your Mac's Security Settings

    Before downloading any application outside the App Store, you may need to adjust your security settings. Go to “System Preferences” > “Privacy & Security.” Scroll down to “Security” and look for “Allow applications downloaded from” and select “App Store and identified developers.”
    Adjust Your Mac's Security Settings
  2. Download the Proton VPN Application

    Visit the Proton VPN website and download the macOS VPN app. Once downloaded, open your “Downloads” folder and double-click on the “.dmg” file to mount it, which will open a new window showing the Proton VPN app.
    Download the Proton VPN Application
  3. Install Proton VPN

    Drag the Proton VPN icon into your “Applications” folder. This action copies the app to your computer, making it available for use.
    Install Proton VPN
  4. Open Proton VPN

    Navigate to your “Applications” folder and double-click on the Proton VPN app to open it. If you see a confirmation request asking if you’re sure you want to open the app, click “Open.”
    Open Proton VPN
  5. Sign In to Your Account

    Upon opening the app, sign in with your Proton VPN account credentials. If you don’t have an account, you can create one at this stage. You may also choose to enable “Start on Boot” for automatic app launch upon starting your Mac.
    Sign In to Your Account
  6. Allow System Extensions

    The first time you run Proton VPN, you might see a “System Extension Blocked” notification. Click “Open System Preferences” and then go to “Privacy & Security.” Click the “Details…” button and enter your Mac’s password or use Touch ID to approve the system extension by toggling the Proton VPN switches on.
    Allow System Extensions
  7. Connect to a VPN Server

    In the Proton VPN app, you can now connect to a server. Click the “Quick Connect” button for an instant connection to the fastest server available, or choose a specific server or country by clicking the arrow next to the country name and selecting “Connect.”
    Connect to a VPN Server

How to Set up a VPN on Android

Here’s how to install and use Proton VPN on Android, which requires Android 6.0 or higher.

  1. Download and Install the Proton VPN App

    Open the Google Play Store on your Android device, search for “Proton VPN,” and tap “Install.” Once the app is installed, open it by tapping the Proton VPN icon on your home screen or app drawer.
    Download and Install the Proton VPN App
  2. Sign In to Your Proton VPN Account

    When you launch the Proton VPN app, you’ll be prompted to sign in. Enter your Proton VPN username and password. If you don’t have an account, you can create a free account directly within the app or by visiting the Proton VPN website.
    Sign In to Your Proton VPN Account
  3. Connect to a VPN Server

    With the app open, you’ll see a list of countries where Proton VPN has servers. To connect to a server, you can use quick connect for the fastest server for your location, choose a specific server from the list, or select a server from Proton VPN’s world map.
    Connect to a VPN Server

How to Set up a VPN on iOS

To set up Proton VPN on an iOS device, follow these steps. This requires you to be running iOS 14.0 or later for iPhone and iPod Touch, or at least iPadOS 14.0 if you’re using an iPad.

  1. Download the Proton VPN iOS App

    Go to the App Store, search for “Proton VPN,” and download the app. You can also visit the iOS app download page on the Proton VPN website and follow the link to the App Store.
    Download the Proton VPN iOS App
  2. Sign In to Your Proton VPN Account

    Launch the Proton VPN app and sign in with the username and password for your Proton account. If this is your first time signing in on this device, you might be prompted to complete a CAPTCHA for security verification and to verify your email address. If you don’t have an account, you can sign up for a free Proton VPN account through the app or on the Proton VPN website.
    Sign In to Your Proton VPN Account
  3. Connect to a VPN Server

    After signing in, you’ll be presented with the server list. Free plan users can access a few servers, while paying customers can access servers in more than 60 countries. You can connect to a server using quick connect, for the fastest server available, by selecting a server manually, or choosing from the map.
    Connect to a VPN Server
  4. Allow the VPN Connection

    The first time you connect, iOS will ask for permission to add VPN configurations. Tap “Allow” to proceed with the connection.
    Allow the VPN Connection

How to Set up a VPN on Linux and Browsers

Many VPNs support Linux. The setup might involve a few more steps, including utilizing the terminal to run commands for installation. Each VPN provider will typically supply a detailed guide on their website for Linux installations.

Some VPNs also offer browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Edge. Simply visit the browser’s extension store, search for the VPN, and add it to your browser.

How to Use a VPN

NordVPN Server locations
NordVPN dashboard

Once you have your VPN set up, you can make use of it. Most VPN apps have fairly similar functionality when it comes to allowing you to choose from a list of servers to connect to.

  • After launching the app, you’ll generally find a list of server locations. This is where you decide which server you want to connect to.
  • You can select a server in your own country for anonymity or choose one in a different location to access content or websites that might be restricted in your region.
  • The VPN app will then begin establishing a secure connection to the chosen server. You may see a status indicator while the connection is being established.
  • To ensure that you’ve connected successfully, check for a VPN icon in your device’s notification area or status bar, or select your connection to see what you’re connected to.
  • You can also check within most apps to see if you’re connected. The dot of the selected location should be green.
An active VPN connection
NordVPN connected to a US server

You can also visit a website like whatismyip.com to confirm that your IP address reflects the location of the server you’ve selected.

Now that you’re connected to the VPN, you can safely browse the internet. No additional configuration or setup is needed. Your data is encrypted, your identity and location are protected, and you have the freedom to access content without restrictions.

The Bottom Line – How to Set Up a VPN and Use It

A VPN creates a secure and private connection between your device and the internet, shielding your data from prying eyes. Its significance depends on your specific circumstances. If you value online privacy, frequently use public Wi-Fi, or wish to access region-restricted content, a VPN is a valuable addition to your tool kit.

Opt for a reputable VPN service with a strong commitment to user privacy, a strict no-logs policy, suitable server locations, and robust encryption protocols.

Setting up a VPN is a simple process and, once you connect, you can browse the ivnternet securely. You can also use a router, but the process of how to set up a VPN at home is much more convoluted than using a service provider – and you’d likely have to buy a license in any case.

Just remember: while a VPN offers enhanced privacy and security, no tool is foolproof. Practicing good online hygiene, like using strong, unique passwords and keeping your software up-to-date, complements the protection a VPN provides.

How to Use a VPN FAQs

How do VPNs work?

Can you set up a VPN for free?

Should I use a VPN on my phone?

Related Questions

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Marshall Gunnell
IT & Cybersecurity Expert
Marshall Gunnell
IT & Cybersecurity Expert

Marshall, a Mississippi native, is a dedicated expert in IT and cybersecurity with over a decade of experience. Along Techopedia, his bylines can be found on Business Insider, PCWorld, VGKAMI, How-To Geek, and Zapier. His articles have reached a massive readership of over 100 million people. Marshall previously served as the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and technical staff writer at StorageReview, providing comprehensive news coverage and detailed product reviews on storage arrays, hard drives, SSDs, and more. He also developed sales strategies based on regional and global market research to identify and create new project initiatives.  Currently, Marshall resides in…