How to Install a VPN on iPad

Rebecca Duff
By Rebecca DuffUpdated

Setting up a VPN on your iPad is simple, whether you decide to use an app or utilize the integrated support for selected protocols. This guide explains how to get it up and running with helpful, step-by-step instructions.

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You have three choices when it comes to setting up a VPN on your iPad. You can download your provider’s custom app, install a third-party app such as OpenVPN, or alternatively make a direct connection using the Settings app already on your device.

We talk you through all of these options in this guide. Getting connected takes just a few minutes, and once you’ve done it you’ll be able to browse the internet securely, without worrying about being monitored or tracked.

What You'll Need

In order to run the apps that we’ve used in this guide, you’ll need an iPad that is capable of running the latest software. We used an iPad Pro running iOS 11.3.

You’ll also need to set up an account with a VPN provider. You can check out our top VPN picks for iPad if you haven’t already chosen one, but if you’re not ready to commit to a paid subscription, a free trial will work just fine. ExpressVPN offers 7 days of free service – but only if you sign up through the app, as the trial is not available via their website.

If you’ve never used a VPN before, we’d advise you start with “Method 1”, which is as simple as downloading your provider’s app from the App Store. Once you’re confident that everything is as it should be, you can have a go at Methods 2 and 3, which are a little more advanced. Remember: check your email and confirm your VPN account before you proceed through this guide.

Method 1: VPN App

All major VPN providers produce their own app for iOS. This is likely to be the easiest and fastest way to get your new VPN up and running on the iPad.

We’ll use ExpressVPN to demonstrate how the set-up process works. If you use a different provider, you’ll still get the general idea of what’s involved from the screenshots that follow. Your provider can offer more support if you get stuck.

Once you’ve connected to the VPN, the connection should remain active until you turn it off or restart your iPad.

It’s a good idea to check in the Software Update section of your Settings app before you begin so that you have the latest version of iOS installed.

To set up your VPN using the ExpressVPN app:

  1. Open the Express VPN app on your iPad.
  2. Tap Create Account if you need a new account. Otherwise, tap Sign In and complete the log-in form.
  3. Tap Allow to let the ExpressVPN app set up the VPN on your iPad. You’ll need to confirm this with Touch ID or your passcode.ExpressVPN iPad configuration screen
  4. On the Notifications screen, tap Allow if you’re happy to receive notifications from the app. This is optional.ExpressVPN iPad notifications
  5. If you’re happy for anonymized data to be sent to ExpressVPN for analysis, tap Allow.ExpressVPN iPad data analysis

That completes the set-up process for ExpressVPN. You’ll now see the main connection screen. The app will automatically select the best VPN server location; just tap the circular button to connect.

ExpressVPN iPad main screen disconnected

ExpressVPN stays connected while you use other apps on your iPad. You’ll see a small VPN icon next to the WiFi symbol at the top-left of the screen.

ExpressVPN iPad main screen connected

Method 2: OpenVPN Connect

OpenVPN Connect is a third-party, open source VPN app. You can use this instead of downloading your provider’s app if you prefer to use open source software.

This third-party app will connect to your provider’s server network via the OpenVPN protocol only, using credentials supplied by your provider. As well as the protocol and app both being open source, the app is a lot more configurable than many first-party apps.

The most recent version of OpenVPN Connect sometimes produces a fragment directive error. We’ve included the workaround for this below, if you run into the problem.

Finding Your .ovpn File

When you first open the OpenVPN Connect app, you’ll see a list of different import methods for obtaining an .ovpn connection profile. This is the file that contains all of the connection information for a server, and you can install several if you wish.

The easiest way to import the file is to download it on a desktop computer and email it to yourself. For this to work, you’ll need to have a working email account in the Mail app on your iPad.

Sending and receiving .ovpn profiles by email is not the most secure method, but it is the easiest, so it is the method we’ll use in this beginners’ guide. If you are security-sensitive, we recommend that you investigate other options, such as using cloud storage such as Dropbox or Google Drive. If you are on a Mac , you can use Airdrop.

 

Using OpenVPN Connect on the iPad

This process is the easiest way to obtain a file without too much hassle. We’re using Express VPN to demonstrate this process, starting on a desktop computer, and then moving back to the iPad:

    1. On your computer, log on to the ExpressVPN website.
    2. Click the green Set Up ExpressVPN button.
    3. Click Show other devices, then scroll down and tap Manual Config.
    4. Click the blue OpenVPN button to show the settings you’ll need.
    5. Download at least one OpenVPN configuration profile to your computer. If in doubt, download one that’s geographically close to your current location.
    6. Email the file to yourself, or save it in a draft.

At this point, you should keep the page open in your browser. Also, check that you can see the email in the Mail app on your iPad before continuing:

    1. On your iPad, open the Mail app.
    2. Locate the message containing the file you emailed to yourself. Tap the attachment.
    3. Your iPad will display a choice of apps that can open the file. Located Copy to OpenVPN, and tap it.
    4. The OpenVPN Connect app opens, and the profile is displayed towards the bottom of the screen. Check that the details match the server you intended to add, then tap the green plus icon to add the profile to the app.ExpressVPN iPad OpenVPN setup
    5. In the pop-up that appears, tap Allow.ExpressVPN iPad OpenVPN configuration
    6. Use Touch ID to confirm.

    OpenVPN Connect now opens the profile and invites you to customise the connection details. The user ID and password you need here aren’t the same as your username and password for the ExpressVPN website. You’ll find them after logging in, on the Set Up ExpressVPN – Show other devices – Manual config page.

    Unfortunately, switching between apps on the iPad will wipe the User ID and password fields in OpenVPN Connect. We found the best option was to type them in manually:

    1. Copy your User ID from the ExpressVPN site into the User ID field in the ExpressVPN app. Repeat the process with your password.
    2. If you wish, tap the Save slider to save your details.

    You can now connect to your chosen VPN.

    ExpressVPN iPad OpenVPN connect screen

    How to Resolve the Fragment Directive Error in OpenVPN Connect

    In testing, we found that OpenVPN Connect sometimes reports a fragment error and won’t connect. This isn’t unique to iOS. It happens on other devices as well.

    If you see this error, you’ll need to edit the .ovpn file that you downloaded from your provider. On your computer, open the file in a text editor and delete the line containing the word “fragment”.

    ExpressVPN iPad OpenVPN fragment error

Method 3: Manual Settings

You can connect to your VPN provider without using an app, which is the best way to proceed if you want to save valuable storage space on your iPad.

We’re going to set up ExpressVPN manually using L2TP in this example.

Before you begin, log in to your ExpressVPN account and navigate to the Set Up ExpressVPN – Show other devices – Manual config page. Tap PPTP & L2TP-IPSec to reveal your connection details.

Be aware though that you will be limited to using the L2TP/IPSec protocol and will miss out on the additional functionality – such as a killswitch – you get by using an app.

Select the server you want to set up, then proceed as follows:

  1. In your Settings app, tap General, then VPN.ExpressVPN iPad L2TP setup
  2. Tap Add VPN Configuration… to reveal the connection screen.ExpressVPN iPad L2TP VPN configuration
  3. In the Type box, tap and select L2TP.
  4. Fill in the connection details using the information provided in your ExpressVPN account, which you’ve already opened:
    • Description: Any name.
    • Server: Copy and paste (or type) the server address for the server you want to set up first.
    • Account: The username provided on the PPTP & L2TP-IPSec page in your ExpressVPN account. Don’t type your login username here; this won’t work.
    • RSA SecurID: Switched off
    • Password: The password provided in your account for PPTP & L2TP-IPSec connections. This is not the same as your login password.
    • Secret: Type ‘12345678’ (without the quotes)
    • Send All Traffic: Switched on.
  5. Tap Done.ExpressVPN iPad L2TP connected screen

To connect to the VPN server, switch on the Status switch to the on position and wait for 5-10 seconds. You’ll see the Status change to Connected, and the small VPN icon will appear at the top-left of your iPad display.

Need More Help?

These instructions should work on most iPads running up-to-date software. If you have problems:

  • Try a different app. We recommend that you initially use your provider’s app to verify that your account is set up correctly.
  • Try a different server. You can set up as many as you like if you’re using OpenVPN Connect or a manual configuration, and it’s best to start with one close to you to test your settings before adding servers in far-flung places.

For more guidance, contact your VPN provider. Most have guides tailored to their own settings, and they’ll be able to help you with any error messages you’re seeing when you connect to your VPN on your iPad.