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Virtual private networks (VPNs) add an extra layer of privacy and security to your online activity. But setting one up for the first time can be difficult, especially if you need to figure out how to set up a VPN on multiple devices.

This guide provides step-by-step instructions for setting up a VPN on several operating systems and platforms, including on 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 setting up a VPN.

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Why use a VPN?

A VPN establishes an encrypted connection from your device to a server in another location. This could be located across town at your office or on the other side of the world in another country.

You may be wondering whether you need a VPN in the first place. The answer will depend on how and where you use the internet. Ultimately, there are several reasons why you might want to connect to one of these remote servers before using the internet.

First, VPNs mask your identity. When you use the internet to visit websites without one, companies and (potentially) individuals can see your IP address. They may even be able to track your IP across multiple sites. This can provide insights about who you are, where you’re located and what you care about, which is information you may not want to share with third parties.

When you use a VPN, your IP address changes based on the server you connect to. This can make you appear as if you are located in another place, preventing people and companies from learning as much about you as they would if you weren’t using a VPN.

Connecting to a VPN server in another country can also help you bypass geographic restrictions on content. The movies and shows you can watch on platforms like Netflix and Hulu often vary based on the country or region where you access the platform. Some countries won’t allow you to visit certain websites at all.

With a VPN, you can appear to be an internet user in another country and gain access to more content in the process. However, keep in mind that you might be breaching your terms of service with streaming platforms and other online content distributors if you do this. VPNs may also be illegal in the country you are in, so make sure to check for this information before you arrive at your destination.

Setting up a VPN: how to get VPN services on your device

If you want to benefit from the privacy-enhancing advantages of a VPN, the next step is to set one up on the devices you use to access the internet. Here are specific instructions for setting up a home 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. If you install a VPN on your router, every device that connects to it will automatically enjoy the VPN’s added layer of protection. This also ensures that you always have the same VPN running, no matter which device you use to access your home’s WiFi network.

The easiest way to set up a VPN on a router is to purchase a router that has a pre-installed VPN. These devices are designed with VPN connectivity in mind and often come with subscriptions to a specific VPN provider, such as ExpressVPN, NordVPN or Surfshark. The setup process can be as easy as signing up and logging in to an account, but can vary based on the router you choose.

How to set up a VPN on iPhone

One of the main limitations of a router-based VPN is that its protection doesn’t travel with you when you leave home. If you want to keep using a VPN while on the go, you can set one up on your iPhone.

The first option is to buy a subscription from a VPN service with an iPhone app. You’ll have to download the app and create an account before paying for your plan (unless you already did so on the VPN’s website).

Note that this method may not be feasible if you need to connect to a specific server (for example, a remote work server) or want to have more control over your specific VPN configuration.

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.

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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 VPN configuration or make further changes to other 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

The easiest way to set up a VPN on Android is to buy a subscription from a VPN service with an app on the Google Play Store. You can download the app and log in with your credentials to get immediate access to your VPN.

You can also set up a new VPN configuration manually. Here’s how to do it:

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 VPN for Chrome

Another alternative is adding a VPN to a web browser like Google Chrome. This places the VPN within the application, so it only provides protection when using that browser. For example, the VPN’s encryption won’t apply to your online activity on Safari or Mozilla Firefox.

Adding a VPN to Chrome may make sense if your VPN provider doesn’t support the device you’re using. 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, visit the Chrome Web Store, an application marketplace for extensions to the Chrome browser. You can search for your VPN provider to see if they have a browser extension. If they do, simply click “Add to Chrome” and follow the provider’s instructions for setup.

How to set up a Windows VPN

If your computer has a Windows operating system, you can start by visiting the Microsoft Store to see if your VPN provider has an app for Windows devices. You can download the VPN’s 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.

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Best practices when setting up a VPN

The VPN setup process you follow can influence how effective your VPN is at protecting your identity. Here are some tips for optimizing this process.

Choose a reputable VPN provider

You might want to use a VPN to hide your data from internet service providers (ISPs) and online trackers. However, your VPN provider can still see all of your online traffic and activity. What’s more, they might even store it in their servers or share it with external parties that you’re trying to avoid. That would defeat the purpose of using a VPN in the first place.

Choosing a reputable VPN company is essential. Make sure to carefully read your VPN’s terms of service and privacy policy to learn about its data tracking and storage policies. You should also read online reviews and 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. When a company spends time and money to develop a VPN, it expects to turn a profit. 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 the selling of your data.

Consider the VPN protocol and encryption strength

There are differences in VPN protocols, the sets of rules that dictate how data is transferred, that could influence your level of security and browsing speeds. Choosing a protocol that aligns with your objectives is important.

Some of the most common VPN protocols include:

  • OpenVPN: Widely used and available across all major platforms.
  • IKEv2: Offers fast browsing speeds and is commonly used on mobile devices.
  • SSTP: Mostly used on Windows devices.
  • L2TP/IPSec: Often blocked by firewalls, but offers solid speeds.
  • PPTP: An old, but fast VPN protocol that’s lacking in encryption strength.

Select a server location that aligns with your needs

Most VPN providers let you choose a server location from a list of options across the world. You should choose a location that aligns with your objectives. For example, there may be a server in a specific country that will grant you access to certain pieces of content, such as region specific streaming platforms and websites. Alternatively, you might want to choose a server location that offers faster speeds if you are watching high-resolution video or downloading video games.

Use strong and unique login credentials for your VPN account

Setting a secure password when activating a new VPN account is quite important. After all, if your password is easy for hackers to guess or crack, you may not end up getting the privacy you expected. Your account, personal information and browsing history will all end up compromised instead.

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 password, 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

VPNs can enhance the privacy and security of any device you use to access the internet. You can follow the instructions in this guide to set up a VPN at home.

As you go through the installation process, be sure to choose a reputable provider and consider which protocols will work best for your online activities. Doing so will ensure you get the maximum value out of whichever VPN you decide to use.

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