How to Install a VPN on iPhone & iPad

Simon Migliano Head of Research at Top10VPN

Simon is a recognized world expert in VPNs. He's tested hundreds of VPN services and his research has featured on the BBC, The New York Times, CNet and more. Read full bio

An Apple iPhone running a VPN

It’s super easy to put a VPN on your iPhone, iPad, or even iPod.

With a VPN installed you can connect to public WiFi safely, use personal apps like banking or email without being spied on, and watch Netflix from different countries while on the go.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through four different setup methods to suit any situation, complete with screenshots every step of the way.

These steps work best with iOS 10 and above, so if you haven’t updated your device in a while then now is the time to do it.

By far the easiest way to install a VPN on iOS or iPadOS is to use your VPN provider’s custom app, and that’s why it’s the first method we’ll show you.

If you haven’t picked out a provider yet then we recommend you do so before getting started. You can see the best VPNs for iPhone, iPad, and more right here.

We’ll also run through various types of manual configuration, and even router installation at the end.

You can use the menu below to jump down to the section you need.

What You'll Need

Most importantly, you’ll need an iPhone, iPad, or iPod which runs on either iOS (version 10 and above) or iPadOS (version 13.1 and above).

We used an iPhone 7 running iOS version 13.3 for this guide, but the basic setup will work on some older versions of iOS too, even if the steps look slightly different.

If you want to manually configure OpenVPN on your device (Method 3) you’ll also need a desktop computer (it can be either Windows or Mac – we used Mac for the sake of this demonstration).

In addition to your device you need an active VPN subscription.

Once you decide on a VPN provider, there are two ways to get a subscription:

  1. Visit the VPN provider’s website, choose the type of subscription plan you want, and sign up.
  2. Download your chosen VPN provider’s app from the Apple App Store and sign up for a new account in the app.

Option #1 is your safest bet.

Often if you purchase a VPN subscription from the Apple App Store directly you may not be covered by the VPN’s refund policy.

Another advantage of signing up via the provider’s website is that you can use the VPN on multiple devices, not just your phone or tablet.

Method 1: VPN App

The simplest and safest way to install a VPN on your iPhone or iPad is to download a custom app from the Apple App Store.

That’s not always possible though, as some VPN services don’t provide apps for iPhone or iPad. If that’s the case, you’ll need to go to methods 2, 3, or 4.

You should also skip ahead if you’re in a country that has removed VPN apps from the App Store (like China).

It’s really quick and easy to install a custom VPN app on your device, and these apps are generally very intuitive once downloaded, too.

Here’s some simple steps to help you install a custom VPN app on your iPhone or iPad in just a few minutes:

  1. Search for the name of your VPN provider in the Apple App Store and tap Get to download the app. We’ll use PrivateVPN as an example. To be safe and avoid potentially dangerous copycat software, you can follow a link through from your VPN provider’s website to the App Store listing.Screenshot of PrivateVPN in App Store
  2. Once the VPN software has finished downloading, tap Open and log into the app with your VPN subscription credentials (the username and password you chose when you signed up or, in some cases, had sent to your email address by the provider).Screenshot of PrivateVPN app login screen
  3. Read the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy if you haven’t already and tap Continue.Screenshot of PrivateVPN app privacy policy agreement
  4. Your device requires you to authorize all new VPN configurations. Tap Allow at the bottom of the pop up that says [The Name of Your VPN] Would Like to Add VPN Configurations. This step may come later depending on the VPN service you are using.Screenshot of PrivateVPN app asking for VPN configuration authorization
  5. Enter your iPhone or iPad passcode to add the configuration.Screenshot of iOS passcode screen
  6. Tap through the rest of the installation prompts and permissions – some VPN services include more than others. Just be sure to read the terms before you agree to them.
  7. Now it’s time to take a look at the settings menu and configure the VPN to meet your needs. You can usually find the settings menu by tapping the burger menu (three horizontal lines) or cog symbol.Screenshot of PrivateVPN app when disconnected
  8. We recommend that you enable the VPN kill switch feature (if there is one) and any leak protection that comes with the app to prevent your personal data from being exposed. You should also select the VPN protocol that you want to connect through – OpenVPN is a safe choice, but IKEv2 may be more stable for mobile connections.Screenshot of PrivateVPN protocol selection settings
  9. Once you’ve configured the security settings and profile you’re free to choose a VPN server and tap the Connect button. It’s usually a central, circular button.Screenshot of PrivateVPN app when connected
  10. Check for any IP, DNS, or WebRTC leaks using a leak test tool. You can find out how to do that in our comprehensive VPN leak guide.

This is the safest and easiest way to use a VPN on your iOS device, but if your VPN provider doesn’t come with a custom app for iPhones and iPads, keep reading to find out the next best way to install the software.

Method 2: Built-in iOS VPN Client

If you can’t (or don’t want to) install an app on your phone or tablet, iOS and iPadOS devices do come with a built-in VPN solution.

This just requires manually configuring VPN server files within the device’s settings menu.

While this method saves space on your device, the built-in VPN feature doesn’t include extra settings like a VPN kill switch or leak blocking, so it may not be as secure as the other methods in this guide.

There’s another catch – you can’t use OpenVPN, our preferred VPN protocol (more on that in Method 3).

Instead, the iOS VPN only supports IKEv2/IPSec and L2TP/IPSec, which we still consider safe to use.

Here’s how to manually configure IKEv2 configuration files with your iOS or iPadOS device:

  1. On your device go to Settings > General > VPN
  2. Tap Add VPN Configuration.Screenshot of iOS built-in VPN client
  3. Fill in the fields with the information provided by your VPN. You should be able to find this information from within your account or on the VPN server status page.Here’s an example using Private VPN:Type: IKEv2
    Description: Type in a name for the configuration, e.g. PrivateVPN – Sydney
    Server: Type in the server address here
    Remote ID: Type in the server address again
    Local ID: Leave this field empty
    User Authentication: Select Username
    Username: Type in your VPN account username
    Password: Type in your VPN account password
    Proxy: Toggle OffTap Done.Screenshot of manual configuration in iOS VPN client
  4. Use the Status slider to connect and disconnect from the VPN server. When connected you should see the word ‘VPN’ in your iPhone’s status bar.Screenshot of iOS builtin VPN client connected to PrivateVPN server
  5. You can now add more server configurations if you want and easily toggle between locations.
  6. Remember to check for IP, DNS, and WebRTC leaks.

The process is very similar for L2TP setup, but it may require you to enter a ‘Secret’ in addition to a username and password.

This ‘secret’ is a pre-shared key supplied by your VPN provider. The use of pre-shared keys poses a security risk, though, which is why we recommend sticking with IKEv2 if possible.

You can read more about this in our guide to VPN encryption.

Method 3: OpenVPN Manual Config

We’ve talked a bit about OpenVPN and how it’s our favorite VPN protocol, known for being super secure and pretty fast, too.

Well, if your VPN provider’s custom app for iOS doesn’t run on OpenVPN – or it doesn’t have a custom app for your device – you may still be able to use the VPN software with OpenVPN on your phone.

Not all VPN services support this installation method, though, so get in touch with your provider to confirm before you try.

And even if your provider does support it, be aware that this setup is a bit more fiddly than the first two methods we’ve shown you.

Still want to try it? Let’s get started.

For this type of setup, you’ll need a desktop computer as well as your phone – Microsoft Windows, MacOS, and Linux are all fine. For this demonstration we’re using a Windows PC.

Here’s how to install a VPN on iPhone using OpenVPN Connect:

  1. Find OpenVPN Connect (by OpenVPN Technologies) in the Apple App Store and tap Get to download the software.Screenshot of OpenVPN Connect in the App Store
  2. Now log into your VPN account on the provider’s website (not the app) on your computer.
  3. Find the OpenVPN config files and download them. You may need to extract a .zip file.Screenshot of unzipped PrivateVPN OpenVPN config files
  4. Find the server location you wish to connect to on your iPhone and send the .ovpn file to yourself via email.Screenshot of email with PrivateVPN .ovpn file attached
  5. Open the email (via an app, not via web browser) on your iPhone and tap the download button. You should choose to open the file in OpenVPN Connect by tapping Copy to OpenVPN.Screenshot of opening .ovpn file in OpenVPN Connect
  6. Tap Add to add the configuration file to OpenVPN Connect.Screenshot of importing an .ovpn file in OpenVPN Connect app
  7. Enter your VPN account username and then Add again.Screenshot of OpenVPN Connect app with imported PrivateVPN .ovpn file
  8. Tap Allow to authorize the VPN connection.Screenshot of VPN configuration authorization on OpenVPN Connect
  9. Enter your iPhone passcode.Screenshot of iOS passcode screen
  10. Enter your VPN account password and tap OK.Screenshot of OpenVPN Connect password popup
  11. Slide the slider to switch the VPN on and off. When connected, the slider will turn green and you’ll see the word ‘VPN’ in your iPhone’s status bar.Screenshot of OpenVPN Connect connected to PrivateVPN server
  12. Go into the OpenVPN Connect settings menu (burger menu > Settings) and enable the Seamless Tunnel, which acts a bit like a VPN kill switch.Screenshot of OpenVPN Connect settings menu
  13. Now carry out a leak test to ensure the VPN is working as it should.

You can add more .ovpn files for other server locations after this if you want – the process is exactly the same from Step 3 onwards.

As you can see, this installation method isn’t the easiest one, but it does provide the best VPN protocol and useful extras like the Seamless Tunnel feature.

Method 4: Router Installation

The final way you can protect internet traffic on your iOS or iPadOS device is to install the VPN software at router level.

This is useful if you also want to protect a bunch of other devices in your home, including smart TVs and games consoles, that wouldn’t normally be able to support a proper VPN app.

Once you connect your devices to the VPN router all traffic will be encrypted between the router and the VPN server.

A VPN router encrypts the traffic of every device on your WiFi network.

However, the setup is quite advanced and may require you to buy new router hardware, which can be very expensive.

Once you leave your home and connect to other WiFi hotspots or use mobile data, your device will no longer benefit from VPN encryption.

It’s by no means the best way to use a VPN on your iPhone.

But if you do want to protect multiple devices in your home using a VPN router, we recommend also installing a VPN on your iPhone or iPad to switch on while you’re out and about.

Setting Up a VPN on Your Router

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

  1. Buy a pre-configured router.
  2. Manually configure VPN files using the native VPN client built into your current router software. Avoid PPTP setup at all costs, as this VPN protocol is outdated and insecure.
  3. ‘Flash’ your current router with new firmware (download and install it, in other words) that supports OpenVPN and then manually configure the VPN files.
  4. Use a VPN applet. There aren’t many of these available at the moment, but ExpressVPN provides one.

We’ve put together a separate guide to installing a VPN on your router, which comes with in-depth step-by-step instructions and tips.

Getting More Help with Your iOS VPN

While we’ve tried to give you the best possible advice for how to install a VPN on your iPhone or iPad, every device and OS version is slightly different, and the steps may not look exactly the same as the ones we’ve provided in this guide.

If you run into any issues you should first get in touch with your VPN provider’s customer support team who will be able to assist you and walk you through the installation process.

Do I Need a VPN on My iPhone?

Illustration of a man connected to public wifi while traveling.

The simple answer is yes.

Whether you exclusively use your phone at home or you carry it with you wherever you go, it’s important to protect yourself against threats to your online freedom, security, and privacy.

Here’s why you should use a VPN on your phone at home:

  1. Hide your true IP address from websites and advertisers.
  2. Keep browsing history private from your ISP.
  3. Unlock restricted websites and services, like Netflix.
  4. Prevent ISP throttling.

Those reasons apply outside your home to a certain extent, but the biggest reason for using a VPN while out and about is to secure public WiFi.

Connecting to free WiFi is really convenient, but it can be dangerous too.

Hackers can exploit insecure networks to steal your personal data.

That includes bank details, credit cards, passwords, and more. Pretty scary.

So, next time you use the free WiFi in your favorite café make sure to connect to a VPN before you start browsing.

What’s the Best VPN for iPhone & iPad?

We’ve tested dozens of VPNs for iPhones and iPads and some of them are downright awful – not to mention unsafe.

Don’t worry, though, we’ve highlighted the absolute best VPNs for Apple smartphones and tablets in a separate guide to help you make the most informed decision.

Currently, the overall best VPN for iOS (and iPadOS) is ExpressVPN – it’s safe, fast, reliable, and super easy to install and use.

It’s a little on the pricey side, but there are cheaper options available on our list of recommendations if you need it.

Can I Get a Free VPN for iPhone & iPad?

You might be wondering if it’s possible to use a quality VPN without paying the monthly fee.

It’s complicated.

There are loads of free VPNs available, but not many of them provide the levels of performance and security that you’ll need.

Most free VPNs enforce data caps, speeds restrictions, and don’t work with popular services like Netflix.

Even worse, some of them actively log all the websites you visit.

If you’re still looking for a free VPN for your iPhone or iPad there are a handful of safe and effective VPNs available – check out our list here.

The best free VPN for iPhone is Windscribe. We like that it comes with a privacy-friendly logging policy, reliable speeds, and a range of popular server locations.

About the Author

  • Simon Migliano Head of Research at Top10VPN

    Simon Migliano

    Simon is a recognized world expert in VPNs. He's tested hundreds of VPN services and his research has featured on the BBC, The New York Times, CNet and more. Read full bio