How To Install

How to Install a VPN on Android

Simon Migliano
Simon MiglianoUpdated

There are a few different ways you can install a VPN on your Android smartphone or tablet. Some are easier than others, but all of them allow you to enjoy encrypted and uncensored web browsing.

How to install VPN on Android Image

There are five main ways to set up a VPN on your Android smartphone or tablet, but the simplest method is just to use the custom app provided by your chosen VPN service.

Setting up a custom VPN app for your Android device is as easy as installing any other app.

Just download it, log in, tap ‘connect’, and that’s it. If you need some extra help with app installation, we’ve included detailed instructions below, under ‘Method 1’.

Fortunately all of our top VPN service recommendations offer an Android app of some sort, so you won’t ever be forced to use other methods unless you want to.

You can also check out our latest VPN picks for Android to make your decision easier.

We’ll also look at alternative methods to use a VPN on your Android phone, including setting it up manually, using an APK file, and setting the VPN up at router-level.

What You'll Need

First, you’ll need an Android device: either a smartphone or a tablet.

This guide was written using a Samsung Galaxy A6 smartphone running Android 9.1.0 (Pie).

You can use a VPN on an older Android device, but the steps and screens may differ slightly from the ones in this guide.

You’ll also need an account with a VPN service provider. There are two ways to do this:

  1. Visit a few providers’ websites and sign up for the one you prefer; it’s a good idea to log in and find the device setting pages before you continue.
  2. Download your preferred provider’s app from the Google Play Store and sign up for a new account in the app.
    We don’t generally recommend this as the VPN provider’s refund policy may not apply, or your account may be limited to use with Android devices only, whereas purchasing a subscription through the VPN provider’s website will generally allow you to use the VPN with multiple device types.

Make sure to verify your VPN account through email if necessary.

Method 1: VPN App

Before you sign up for a VPN subscription check that the VPN service comes with a custom VPN app for Android.

If it does, you can download the VPN app from the Google Play Store. If you live in a country where you can’t access the Google Play Store, skip to ‘Method 4: APK File’.

We’ve used ExpressVPN for this guide because it has a very simple Android app, and it offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.

It’s also the best VPN around – you can read our full, independent ExpressVPN review here.

If you have chosen a different VPN provider, you will need to follow a slightly different process, but this guide will give you the basics.

Installing the VPN app provided by your VPN service is the easiest way to get up and running quickly.

In most cases, it’ll also provide convenient and user-friendly access to different servers, which is handy if you want to switch between VPN locations.

Getting set up with a custom VPN app for Android will take you less than five minutes. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Find your VPN provider’s custom Android app on the Google Play Store.
    We recommend following the link to the Google Play Store through the VPN’s official website to avoid downloading potentially dangerous copycat software.Screenshot of ExpressVPN profile on Google Play Store
  2. Tap Install to download the VPN app. Once this step is complete, the green button will say Open.Screenshot of ExpressVPN on Google Play Store once app is installed
  3. Tap Open to launch the VPN app and then tap Sign In.Screenshot of ExpressVPN free trial installation slide
  4. Enter your VPN subscription credentials into the relevant boxes – in this case your email address and password – and then tap Sign In.Screenshot of ExpressVPN Android app log in page
  5. ExpressVPN asks new users if they would like to share crash reports, speed tests, and information about whether the VPN connection attempts succeed or not.
    While this information is not personally identifiable, we recommend tapping No Thanks.Screenshot of ExpressVPN installation crash report authorization
  6. Tap OK to start the VPN connection set up process.Screenshot of ExpressVPN Android set up process
  7. Tap OK to accept the VPN connection request.Screenshot of ExpressVPN Android app connection request
  8. Here is the ExpressVPN Android app main screen. It’s a fairly typical example of custom VPN apps for Android, with a large connect button in the center and the chosen server location below.
    To see the list of server locations tap the three horizontal dots to the right of the server location name.Screenshot of ExpressVPN Android app main screen
  9. You can choose from any of the VPN server locations listed here. Just tap the one you want to connect to.Screenshot of ExpressVPN Android app server locations list
  10. Before you connect to the VPN it’s best to check the security settings. Usually you can find this by clicking on a cog symbol or, in ExpressVPN’s case, the burger menu (three horizontal lines).
    Be sure to enable the kill switch and leak protection if the app comes with those features.
    Here is ExpressVPN’s settings menu. Tap on Network protection to enable ExpressVPN’s Android app version of a kill switch.Screenshot of ExpressVPN Android app settings
  11. Once you’ve taken a look at the VPN settings, it’s time to connect to the VPN. Tap the circular connect button in the middle of the main screen of the VPN app.
    ExpressVPN’s connect button turns green when the VPN is connected. Tap this button again to disconnect.
    You should always test your VPN for any leaks. You can find out how to do this and how to resolve any issues in our IP, DNS, WebRTC leaks guide.Screenshot of ExpressVPN Android app connectedNow that your ExpressVPN connection is set up, it will stay connected in the background, and you can use your phone normally.Just glance at the status bar and look for the key to verify that your phone is connected.

Method 2: Using Third-Party Software (OpenVPN for Android)

If you don’t want to use the custom VPN app from your VPN service provider, or it doesn’t come with one, you can configure the VPN configuration files using a third-party VPN app instead, like OpenVPN for Android.

You use these third-party apps to connect to your provider’s server network using account credentials it provides you for a similar overall experience to using your provider’s own app.

Third-party apps may be more configurable than the VPN service provider’s custom app, and they even permit you to use multiple providers within a single app, if you have more than one subscription.

We will be using OpenVPN for Android for this guide, as it’s open-source, which means it can be scrutinized for security flaws and vulnerabilities, and the OpenVPN protocol itself offers the best balance between performance and security.

You can also use OpenVPN Connect, OpenVPN, Inc’s official app for Android.

ExpressVPN recommends OpenVPN for Android as it works better with its configuration files, while NordVPN recommends OpenVPN Connect. It’s best to contact your VPN service provider to find out which app it recommends.

If your VPN provider doesn’t have OpenVPN configuration files available, you can skip to ‘Method 3’, which shows you how to manually configure L2TP files.

Here’s how to manually configure a VPN on Android using the OpenVPN for Android software:

  1. Find OpenVPN for Android (or OpenVPN Connect) on the Google Play Store and tap Install.Screenshot of OpenVPN for Android app on the Google Play Store
  2. Once the app has successfully downloaded, the green button will read Open. Tap to open up the OpenVPN for Android app.Screenshot of OpenVPN for Android app installed on Google Play Store
  3. This is the main screen of the OpenVPN for Android app. We’ll come back to this after we’ve downloaded the configuration files from ExpressVPN’s website.
    Screenshot of OpenVPN for Android app with no VPN profiles
  4. Go to your VPN service provider’s website on your mobile browser and log into your VPN account using your credentials.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN log in page
  5. Now go to the section of the VPN account page where you can set up the VPN on various devices. Tap Set Up ExpressVPN.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN account set up page
  6. Tap Show other devices.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN account activation code
  7. Scroll through the list devices and tap Manual Config.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN various set ups list
  8. Tap OpenVPN. Here you will see your unique username and password for OpenVPN manual configuration. You will need these later.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN manual config username and password
  9. You can download as many configuration files as you’d like – each one will allow you to connect to a different VPN server location – but we recommend starting with one until you know how to do the whole installation process.
    Tap the server location you wish to connect to and it will automatically download to your phone’s storage. We chose USA – New York.Screenshot of ExpressVPN server locations configuration files
  10. Now go back to the OpenVPN for Android app and tap the folder download symbol at the top right-hand corner of the app (in between the + symbol and the three vertical dots).
    Screenshot of OpenVPN for Android app with no VPN profiles
  11. Find the VPN configuration file in your Downloads folder. Some users will have to go to Internal storage before navigating to the Downloads folder in order to select the file. When you’ve found the file tap on it.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN config file downloaded
  12. Tap on the tick symbol to finish the config file download.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN config file in OpenVPN for Android app
  13. Tap the Edit symbol to the right-hand side of the configuration file name.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN config file in OpenVPN for Android app edit
  14. Under the Basic tab enter the unique OpenVPN username and password that is displayed within your account on the ExpressVPN website. Then tap on the Back icon on your device.
    Note: OpenVPN for Android has many configuration options; we’re just showing the basics here, but you can come back and customize your VPN profile later.
    Screenshot of editing ExpressVPN config file in OpenVPN for Android
  15. Tap on your created profile.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN config file in OpenVPN for Android app edit
  16. Tap OK to accept the connection request.
    Screenshot of VPN connection request in OpenVPN for Android app
  17. Once the VPN has successfully connected you will see a connection notification and a key icon will remain in the top-left corner of your screen for the duration of the VPN connection.Be sure to test the VPN connection for any IP, DNS, or WebRTC leaks.
    Screenshot of VPN connection at top of screen
  18. To disconnect from the VPN tap the OpenVPN profile from within the OpenVPN for Android app and tap DISCONNECT.
    Screenshot of disconnect message on OpenVPN for Android

There are many configurable options that you can play with within the OpenVPN for Android app to tailor your connection.

For instance, you can toggle between UDP and TCP, override the DNS settings, block IPv6 and IPv4 leaks, and allow internet traffic of certain apps to travel outside of the VPN tunnel (split tunneling).

You should only play around with these settings if you are confident that you know what you’re doing.

There are other open-source third-party apps that you can use to configure different VPN protocols, such as strongSwan for IKEv2/IPsec and WireGuard for WireGuard protocol, but OpenVPN remains our preferred protocol and software.

Beginners should prioritize using the VPN provider’s custom app over manual configuration.

Method 3: Built-In Android VPN Client

If your VPN provider doesn’t come with OpenVPN configuration files it is possible to configure L2TP/IPSec, IKEv2/IPSec, and PPTP configuration files using the built-in Android VPN client.

This means that you don’t have to download any third-party apps at all.

However, we don’t recommend this method.

While this type of setup doesn’t take up as much space on your device, in some cases it’s not as secure as using the VPN provider’s app or OpenVPN for Android.

That’s because of the VPN protocols that the built-in Android VPN client supports, or – in some cases – the way they are set up.

PPTP is a very outdated and insecure VPN protocol and can be hacked in minutes. L2TP/IPSec uses pre-shared keys, which are publicly available on VPN websites and open the door to potential man-in-the-middle attacks.

Our top recommended VPNs only supply setup instructions for installing IKEv2 using the open-source strongSwan app rather than Android’s built-in VPN client.

You can read more about encryption and protocols in our detailed guide.

While we don’t recommend this VPN setup, we’ll show you how to install a VPN this way as a last resort.

The manual connection method will vary slightly depending on the VPN protocol and the device you’re using, but the process is similar enough for you to get the gist from these instructions.

In this example we’ll use ExpressVPN to create an L2TP/IPSec connection.

We’re using Android 9.1.0. In other versions of Android, the location and appearance of the VPN settings screens may be slightly different.

To create your VPN connection manually:

  1. Go to the VPN provider’s website on your Android device and sign into your VPN account using your credentials.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN log in page
  2. Tap Set Up ExpressVPN in the device setup section.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN account set up page
  3. Scroll down the list of devices and tap Manual Config.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN various set ups list
  4. Tap on PPTP & L2TP-IPsec. ExpressVPN warns that these VPN protocols provide weak security benefits.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN L2TP manual config set up page
  5. Scroll down and you’ll see your username and password for this setup. You’ll need these later so keep the tab open.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN L2TP manual config username and password
  6. Tap the + symbol next to the VPN server locations and copy the server address of your chosen VPN server.You can configure multiple VPN server locations, but let’s start with one for ease. We chose USA – New york.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN server addresses
  7. Now go to your phone’s Settings menu. Find Connections settings, tap More connection settings, and then VPN. This will bring up Android’s built-in VPN client. If you haven’t installed a VPN before it will say ‘No VPNs.’
    Screenshot of Android's built-in VPN client
  8. Tap on the three vertical dots at the top right-hand corner and then tap Add VPN profile.
    Screenshot of Android built-in VPN add profile
  9. Now fill in the fields with the following information:
    Name: Put anything you want here. We recommend writing the VPN service name and the server name. E.g. ExpressVPN New York.
    Type: Toggle L2TP/IPSec PSK. PSK stands for pre-shared key.
    Server address: Paste the VPN server address from your account on the VPN provider’s website.
    L2TP secret: Leave this field blank.
    IPSec identifier: Leave this field blank.
    IPSec pre-shared key: Paste the VPN provider’s pre-shared key here. You’ll find this on your VPN provider’s set up instructions.
    Tap Save.Screenshot of Android built-in VPN edit profile
  10. Now tap the VPN profile from the main screen and enter the username and password that was shown within your VPN account under the PPTP & L2TP-IPsec manual configuration section. Tap Connect.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN manual Android log in
  11. Once the VPN has successfully connected you will see the key symbol in the top left-hand corner of your device.As always, you should test your VPN connection for any IP, DNS, or WebRTC leaks.
    Screenshot of Android VPN connected
  12. To disconnect, just tap on the VPN profile within the Android built-in client and tap Disconnect.
    Screenshot of manual Android VPN disconnect button

Method 4: APK File

If you can’t access the Google Play Store, it’s still possible to install the VPN provider’s custom app onto your Android device if the service provides an APK file.

APK files can be downloaded directly to Android devices from outside the Google Play Store.

You’ll have to change some of your phone’s permissions in order to allow APK file downloads from external sources, and you shouldn’t download them from unofficial websites.

Always download APK files from the VPN provider’s official website.

If you don’t you risk downloading files that have been tampered with – they may contain malicious content that could harm your device and your online security.

Here are our step-by-step instructions for installing an APK file VPN app for your Android device:

  1. First you’ll need to change your phone’s permissions to allow the downloading of files from outside of the Google Play Store.
    Go to your phone’s Settings menu, then to Security. Now tap Install unknown apps (sometimes labeled Install apps from external sources) and tap on the web browser you want to use for downloading APK files.
    Toggle on Allow from this source.Screenshot of Install Unknown Apps settings on Android phone
  2. Go to the VPN provider’s website and log into your account using your credentials.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN log in page
  3. Tap Set Up ExpressVPN under the device setup section.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN account set up page
  4. Tap Download APK.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN APK file download screen
  5. A warning will popup stating that the file may harm your device. If you’re download the APK file from the official website of a VPN provider you trust – we trust ExpressVPN – tap OK.
    Screenshot of APK file download warning on Android phone
  6. Tap Install to finish the installation process.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN APK installation screen
  7. The app has now been installed. Tap Open to open the VPN custom app for Android.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN APK installation complete screen

You can now follow steps 3-11 from Method 1 if you’d like to know how to use the ExpressVPN app, and by extension the vast majority of VPN apps for Android that work similarly to ExpressVPN.

Method 5: Router

A VPN router

The final way to protect the internet traffic on your Android device is to install the VPN at router level.

When you install a VPN on your router it protects all of the traffic that flows through the router, providing the benefits of a VPN to all of the devices in your home at the same time.

This is ideal if you want to protect devices that don’t have custom VPN apps, like smart TVs and game consoles.

It’s not the best way to protect your Android device, though.

When you install a VPN at router level it’s trickier to change the VPN settings and server locations than if you are using the custom VPN app for Android.

One more thing to remember is that not all routers support VPN software, particularly modem routers that come with your internet package.

If your router doesn’t support VPN client software and you’re looking to buy a new piece of hardware, it’s worth checking your VPN provider’s website to check compatibility first.

Setting Up a VPN on Your Router

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

  1. Buy a pre-configured router.
  2. Manually configure the VPN using the native VPN client software that comes with your current software (avoid PPTP or L2TP/IPSec setups as they are insecure).
  3. Flash your current router with new firmware that supports OpenVPN and then manually configure the VPN.
  4. Use a VPN applet. These are currently quite rare and not many VPN services provide them. ExpressVPN has an applet.

To read our detailed router installation instructions see our separate routers guide.

Remember that setting up a VPN at router level means that internet traffic is only encrypted when it reaches the router.

That means that traffic between devices and the router is not secured, so if someone is capable of connecting to your network they can still read your traffic.

We recommend setting up your VPN at router level and using the Per device feature (similar to split tunneling) to exclude any devices on which you can install native VPN apps, such as Android.

To see how to set up these native VPN apps, please go to Method 1.

Getting More Help With Your Android VPN

It’s impossible for us to provide instructions for every router here, and some Android devices — particularly those running older versions of Android — will look different to these instructions.

If you get stuck, your VPN service provider should be your first port of call.

They’ll be able to walk you through the process and get you up and running with your VPN on your Android phone.

What’s the Best Way to Set Up a VPN for Android?

The best way to set up a VPN for your Android smartphone or tablet is to download the custom VPN app from your VPN service provider.

It’s quick, easy, and safe.

For those who want more configurability, using OpenVPN for Android to manually configure the router might be better suited than the custom VPN app.

We don’t recommend using Android’s built-in VPN client as it only supports less secure VPN protocols like PPTP and L2TP/IPSec.

Do I Need a VPN on My Phone?

Yes, you do need to use a VPN on your Android smartphone.

When you’re out and about you probably connect to public WiFi.

Public WiFi is notoriously insecure, leaving your personal data vulnerable to hackers.

If you want to keep your personal information safe and secure you need to use a VPN.

VPNs encrypt all of your Android’s internet traffic, preventing snooping third parties from seeing what you’re doing online.

In addition to the privacy benefits, using a VPN on your phone helps you to unlock restricted or censored content.

Libraries, schools, and governments block certain websites. VPNs lets you access those websites securely and privately.

Should I Use a VPN at Home?

You now know that VPNs are essential tools if you want to use public Wifi securely and safely.

But should you use a VPN at home too?

Yes.

Even if your home WiFi is more secure than public hotspots your internet traffic is still vulnerable.

Without a VPN your ISP logs everything you do online and can sell that to third parties, sometimes without your permission.

The government can also get a hold of your personal information, too.

Using a VPN is important home and away.

What’s the Best VPN for Android?

There are loads of VPNs that provide support for Android devices but the best of them all is ExpressVPN.

That’s why we used it for all the installation examples in this guide.

ExpressVPN has a simple and safe custom VPN for Android devices. It’s fast, secure, and can be installed in minutes.

You can read about the rest of our top VPN recommendations for Android here.

Can You Get a Free VPN for Android?

Illustration of a credit card with a line through it and some coins

Do you want to protect your Android smartphone or tablet without spending a cent?

You can. But there’s a catch…

There are loads of free VPN apps available for Android but some of them are dangerous and unsafe to download and use.

If you want to use an Android VPN for free take a look at our list of the best and safest free VPN services to use.

The best free VPN for Android is Windscribe.

Is It Possible to Install a VPN on Android TV?

You can install a VPN on your Android TV but it’s not quite the same process as setting one up on your Android smartphone or tablet.

Some VPN services do provide custom VPN apps for Android TV, like ExpressVPN and NordVPN, which you can download and set up in minutes, but the vast majority of VPNs don’t come with one.

If you want to install a VPN on your Android TV and there’s no custom app for it you’ll have to install the VPN at router level.

Take a look at our guide for installing a VPN on your TV.

About the Author


  • Simon Migliano Head of Research at Top10VPN

    Simon Migliano

    Simon leads our investigations into VPN safety and internet freedom research. His work has been featured on the BBC, CNet, Wired and The Financial Times. Read full bio