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Published: Oct 16, 2023 12 min read

The best VPN (virtual private network) services offer a powerful solution to enhance your internet connection’s security, which has become increasingly important in today’s digital age. They can also keep your internet service provider (ISP) and third parties from snooping into your online activity. However, setting one up for the first time can be a daunting task, especially if you need to figure out how to do so on multiple devices.

Our comprehensive guide provides detailed, step-by-step instructions for configuring VPNs on a wide range of operating systems and platforms, including routers, mobile devices, desktop computers and Google Chrome. It also features a list of best practices and additional advice for optimizing the installation process.

Read on to learn more about how to set up a VPN.

Table of Contents

Setting Up a VPN: How to Get VPN Services on Your Device

If you have already decided that you need a VPN or could benefit from improved online privacy, the next step is to set one up on the devices you use to access the internet. The easiest way to do this is by downloading your preferred VPN app or extension and creating an account (unless you already did so on the VPN’s website). However, you can also manually set up a VPN on most devices.

Here are specific instructions for configuring your VPN on Apple, Google and Microsoft and other branded devices.

How to set up a VPN on a router

Devices at home often use Wi-Fi by connecting to a router, so if you install a VPN on your router, every device that connects to your home network will automatically enjoy the VPN’s added layer of protection. VPN routers are designed with this technology in mind and come with a pre-installed VPN, such as ExpressVPN, NordVPN or Surfshark.

Alternatively, here’s how to manually set up a VPN on a router:

1. Go into your router’s settings by typing in the IP address on your web browser.

2. Navigate to the VPN tab in the settings (making sure to select “VPN client,” not “VPN server”).

3. Enter the correct settings provided by the VPN company.

4. Follow any additional steps required by your router model, such as connecting it directly to a computer through its console port.

How to set up a VPN on iPhone or iPad

The easiest way to set up a VPN on iOS is to buy a subscription from a VPN service on the App Store. You also have the option of setting up a new VPN configuration on your iPhone manually. Here’s how to do it:

1. From the settings app, tap “General,” then “VPN & Device Management.”

2. Tap “VPN.”

3. Tap “Add VPN Configuration.”

4. Choose your VPN type, which on iPhone can be IKEv2, IPSec or L2TP.

5. Return to the previous screen by tapping “Back."

6. Enter the remaining VPN information, such as your server address and password.

7. Configure optional settings like Proxy or RSA, if necessary.

8. Complete the process by tapping “Done.” The next time you want to access the same VPN on your iPhone, you will be able to choose it from your menu of existing VPNs.

How to set up a VPN on Mac

Like with iPhone, you have two choices for your Mac VPN setup. You can purchase a VPN subscription from a provider, download its application and log in with YOUR username and password or you can set up a VPN for Mac manually.

You might need to set up a VPN manually if you’re trying to connect to a specific private network from home, such as your office’s intranet. If you need to do that, here’s how:

1. Open the Apple menu by clicking on the Apple icon on the top left-hand corner of your screen. Then click “System Settings” and “VPN.”

2. Click “Add VPN Configuration” and choose the type of VPN you’re setting up.

3. Enter a name for the new VPN configuration so you can quickly access it next time.

4. You can either use the default configuration or make further changes to other VPN settings as necessary. However, you only need to worry about these if your administrator has given you specific instructions for fields like TCP/IP, DNS and proxies.

How to set up a VPN on Android

To set up a VPN on an Android device, all you need to do is download a VPN app from the Google Play Store, install it and open the app. After logging in with your credentials, you’ll get immediate access to your VPN.

To set up a new VPN configuration on Android manually, follow the steps below:

1. Open the settings app.

2. Tap “Network & Internet”, then “VPN.”

3. Tap the “+” icon to add a new VPN connection.

4. Enter the information as requested. If you don’t know what to input for a field, you may need to reach out to your VPN administrator for a password or address.

5. Tap “Save” to complete the process. You can now reconnect to this VPN in the future with a single tap.

How to set up a VPN for Chrome

Adding a VPN to Chrome might make sense if your VPN provider doesn’t support the device you’re using. For example, a VPN provider may not have a dedicated app for Macs, but you may still be able to use it on a Mac by adding it to your Chrome browser. To do this:

1. Visit the Chrome Web Store.

2. Search for your VPN provider to see if they have a browser extension.

3. If they do, click “Add to Chrome.”

4. Follow the provider’s instructions for setup.

How to set up a Windows VPN

If your computer has a Windows 10 operating system, you can start by visiting the Microsoft Store to see if your preferred VPN software has an app for Windows devices. After you download the app, log into your account and follow any applicable setup instructions.

You can also set up a new VPN connection manually by following these instructions:

1. Select “Start,” then “Settings,” then “Network & Internet,” then “VPN,” and “Add VPN”.

2. Choose Windows as your VPN provider.

3. Enter a name you will recognize for future use in the “Connection Name” box.

4. Enter your VPN server address in the “Server Name or Address” box.

5. Choose the type of VPN connection your administrator has created.

6. Enter your sign-in information to complete the setup process.

Best Practices When Setting Up a VPN

The VPN setup process you follow can influence how effective your VPN is at protecting your online activity. Below, we share some tips for optimizing this process, from selecting the right server to using a stronger password.

Choose a reputable VPN provider

Make sure to carefully read your VPN’s terms of service and privacy policy to learn about its data tracking and storage policies. You might want to use a VPN for crypto trading, torrenting or other potentially sensitive activities, but if your VPN provider can still see all of your internet traffic, that would defeat the purpose of using one in the first place.

You should also look up independent audits from reputable third parties (like the Big Four auditing firms) to verify the company keeps their word when it comes to data logging. This is especially important for free VPN services. If a VPN provider isn’t charging you, it’s natural to question how they make any money — and the conclusion might be that their revenue is coming from selling your data.

Select a server location based on your needs

Most VPN providers let you choose from different server locations, so you should pick one that best aligns with your objectives. For example, if you want to access content that is exclusive to France or Japan from a streaming service like Netflix, you will need to connect to a server located in these countries. If you’re watching high-resolution video or downloading video games, you should select a server location near you that offers faster speeds, instead.

Use strong and unique login credentials for your VPN account

A secure password should include at least ten or more characters total. It should also contain an uppercase character (A-Z), a lowercase character (a-z) and a number (0-9) and/or symbol (such as !, @, or *). For an even more secure authentication process, consider using a passphrase, which are longer and more complex than passwords, or a password manager, which can create highly complex passwords and remember them for you.

Keep your VPN apps and software updated

Make sure to update your VPN apps consistently. Software updates might fix bugs and patch known issues that bad actors could exploit. They can also help your VPN apps work more efficiently, which may result in faster browsing speeds.

Summary of Money's how to set up a VPN on any device

Virtual private networks can enhance the privacy and security of your Wi-Fi network and any devices you use for internet access. By following the instructions in this guide, you should be able to set up and configure your preferred VPN service — or your device's built-in VPN — on a variety of operating systems and platforms.

Moreover, you should know how to get the most out of your VPN through the setup process. Remember to choose the right server location for your use case, have a strong password that keeps hackers out and update both your VPN app (or extension) and device software regularly.