How to Set Up and Use a VPN: Best Tips & Examples 2023

Protecting your online privacy and security is important, and a VPN can help you do just that.

Before you start using it, though, you should understand what a VPN is and what it does.

What is a VPN?

A VPN, which stands for Virtual Private Network, 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.

1. 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.

Free VPN Services

Free services like ProtonVPN, Windscribe, and PrivadoVPN are quite 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.

2. Download and Install the VPN

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

Here’s an example using NordVPN to illustrate the process of how to get it set up and ready for use.

  • Start by visiting NordVPN’s pricing page on their official website, choose the plan you want to purchase, and then go through the checkout procedure. You’ll need to create an account to do this.
  • Once you’ve signed up and chosen your plan, you’ll be directed to a page where you can download the NordVPN app for your specific device and operating system. Keep in mind that most VPNs are available for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android. The setup process is similar across most devices.
  • Click the download link, and the installation file will start downloading.

NordVPN Download

  • After the download is complete, open the installation file. Follow the on-screen instructions to install the NordVPN app on your device. This is a straightforward process. The Installation Wizard will carry you through, so you don’t need any technical know-how.

NordVPN installation

  • Once the installation is finished, open the NordVPN app. You’ll then be prompted to log in using the email and password you created during sign-up.

Setting Up a VPN on Various Devices

The process may slightly differ among various providers and devices, but the fundamental steps remain fairly consistent. The above example illustrates how to set up NordVPN on a Windows PC, but here’s a bird’s-eye view of how to install various VPN services on different devices.

  • On Windows and Mac: The process for both Windows and Mac largely mirrors the above-mentioned example with NordVPN. Visit the VPN provider’s website, download the respective installation file, and follow the guided setup using the Wizard.
  • On Android and iOS Devices: Head to the Google Play Store or Apple App Store, respectively. Search for your chosen VPN (e.g., NordVPN), and tap “Install”. Once downloaded, open the app, log in, and configure as per your security preferences.
  • On 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.
  • Browser Extensions: 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

Now that you’ve subscribed to your VPN and have set up it, it’s time to actually choose a server and connect to it.

  • After launching the NordVPN app, you’ll 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.
  • NordVPN will 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’re connected to NordVPN 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 the app to see if you’re connected. The dot of the selected location should also be green.

An active VPN connection

You can visit a website like to confirm that your IP address now reflects the location of the NordVPN server you 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

A VPN creates a secure and private connection between your device and the Internet, shielding your data from prying eyes.

The need for it 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.

Once you connect, you can browse the Internet securely. You can also use a router, but the process for 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 anyway.

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.

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Marshall Gunnell

Marshall is a seasoned technical writer and gaming enthusiast based in Tokyo. He's a professional wordsmith with hundreds of articles featured on VGKAMI, Business Insider, How-To Geek, PCWorld, Zapier, and much more. His writing has reached a massive audience of over 70 million readers.