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:
- Find OpenVPN for Android (or OpenVPN Connect) on the Google Play Store and tap Install.
- Once the app has successfully downloaded, the green button will read Open. Tap to open up the OpenVPN for Android app.
- 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.
- Go to your VPN service provider’s website on your mobile browser and log into your VPN account using your credentials.
- Now go to the section of the VPN account page where you can set up the VPN on various devices. Tap Set Up ExpressVPN.
- Tap Show other devices.
- Scroll through the list devices and tap Manual Config.
- Tap OpenVPN. Here you will see your unique username and password for OpenVPN manual configuration. You will need these later.
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.
- 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).
- 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.
- Tap on the tick symbol to finish the config file download.
- Tap the Edit symbol to the right-hand side of the configuration file name.
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.
- Tap on your created profile.
- Tap OK to accept the connection request.
- 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.
- To disconnect from the VPN tap the OpenVPN profile from within the OpenVPN for Android app and tap DISCONNECT.
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.