How To Install

How to Install a VPN on Your Mac

Simon Migliano
Updated

Macs are known for simplicity, but how about VPNs? The good news is that they couldn’t be simpler, too. Protecting your privacy on your Mac is only a few steps away - we lay it out in this foolproof guide.

Apple prides itself on privacy and security when it comes to its hardware, but without a VPN all the sensitive stuff that you do on your MacBook or iMac (checking bank accounts, transfering money online, engaging in private correspondence) is susceptible to snooping, unwarranted censorship, or even hacks. 

If you’ve reached this page: well done, you’ve taken a proactive, sensible first step to protecting yourself online. We’re here to make things as easy as they can be.

So how exactly do you install a VPN on Mac? It’s a walk in the park, but sometimes we all need a helping hand to guide us. 

There are three ways to get started. We’ll begin this guide by using a provider’s native Mac app, which is the quickest and easiest way. 

Then we’ll look at OpenVPN, an open source application for Mac, and the final section will show you how to set up the VPN using the network settings built into Mac OS X.

With the help of the easy instructions below, you’ll be browsing securely in no time at all. 

If you haven’t chosen a VPN for your Mac, why not have a look at the latest picks from our experts.

What You’ll Need

You don’t need much to get a VPN connection going on Mac, just this:

  • A subscription or free trial to a trusted VPN provider (unless you own your own VPN server)
  • Depending on the method you choose, you also might need some third party software
  • Of course, you’ll need a Mac computer fully up-to-date with the latest version of MacOS (it’s good to stay up-to-date for security reasons). We’re using MacOS Catalina version 10.15.2.x

With those in place, you’re all ready to protect your privacy and secure your device. 

Method 1: Install the VPN App

Difficulty ⬤◯◯◯◯ — Easiest

By far the most common way to set up a VPN on Mac is by installing a VPN service’s bespoke software. This couldn’t be easier to do. 

But you should remember that not all VPNs have apps for every device. If you need a VPN for Mac, ensure that the VPN you’re interested in provides that service. You can do this by visiting the provider’s website. This shouldn’t be a problem, though, as the best VPN services almost always cater to MacOS.

You’ll need to choose and purchase a subscription to a VPN service of your liking. If you’re still undecided which VPN you’d like to use, you can check our list of the best VPNs for 2020.

Once you have a VPN subscription, download the VPN app onto your Mac. 

We’re going to use Surfshark as an example of how to do this, but the stages are almost identical with every VPN. 

  1. Go to the VPN provider’s website, in this case Surfshark.
  2. On the homepage you’ll see in the top right hand corner a button that reads Get Started. Click this.
  3. If you haven’t already from this page you can purchase your VPN subscription. If you’ve already purchased it, you’ll see that there’s an option in the top right to Log In. Click this.screenshot-of-surfshark-pricing-page-on-surfshark-website
  4. With the login details you used to purchase the VPN, enter them to access the client area. Please note: sometimes a VPN will send you a unique login that you don’t get to pick yourself.
  5. In the client area you are presented with a bunch of information. Find and select Devices in the menu.screenshot-of-my-account-menu-on-the-surfshark-website
  6. You’ll now be on a page that lists all of the devices and platforms available to download Surfshark software onto. Surfshark has no limit on how many devices you can install its software onto, so you could protect every device you own under one subscription. We’re doing it for Mac, so select the MacOS option to Download.DMG.
  7. The file will instantly download when clicked and placed in the Downloads folder as a .dmg file. Click and run this file – it is the Surfshark Installer.
  8. Drag the Surfshark application icon to your Applications folder so it’s easy to find and select. Open a new Finder window and navigate to the Applications folder of your Mac and you’ll now see Surfshark there.
  9. Double-click the Surfshark app to run it. The service will open and ask for permission, which it needs in order to operate. Note: some VPNs may require you to insert your Mac login details once again, or login details provided by the service via email or in the login area of its website.
  10. With your permission, the app lights up and it’s good to go!
  11. Now Surfshark VPN is installed on your device, easily switched on and off and found in your Applications folder or via Launchpad. At this point, feel free to eject the Surfshark Installer as it is no longer required.

As you can see, this is by far the simplest way to install a VPN on your iMac or MacBook, and probably why it’s the most popular way to do so. 

Method 2: Use OpenVPN Software on Mac

Difficulty ⬤⬤⬤◯◯ — Moderate

While installing the VPN app from the provider’s website is the most popular method of setting up a VPN on Mac, it is not the only way. Those most conscious about security are attracted to open source software which provides more customization options. 

For Mac, we recommend Tunnelbick, a free, open-source graphic user interface (GUI) for MacOS.

Here’s how you set it up:

  1. Head to the Tunnelblick website.
  2. Click the green arrow to download the latest and most stable release of the software. 
  3. A .dmg file will download onto your computer. Open and run the software.
  4. You will be presented with a window. Double click the Tunnelblick icon to install the software.
  5. Follow the installation prompts until you’re asked if you’d like to add a configuration.
  6. In your Mac’s Applications folder, you’ll see Tunnelblick has been added. Double-click on it and go down to VPN Detail.

At this point, you’ll need to log on to your VPN’s website to get some information. We’re going to use ExpressVPN this time as an example:

  1. Head to the ExpressVPN website.
  2. Log in to the client area found by clicking My Account.
  3. Among the options for setup you’ll see Manual Config in the right-hand column. Click this.
  4.  You’ll now see your OpenVPN connection information. Scroll down to the list of locations including Americas, Europe, Asia Pacific, and Middle East and Africa. These are the places you can manually connect to.
  5. Select whichever locations you’d like to establish a secure VPN connection with.
  6. Click your choice and it will automatically download as a .ovpn file extension.
  7. Keep this browser window open, and switch back to Tunnelblick. Select I have configuration files. After that you’ll get a notice. Click OK.
  8. You’ll now be able to open the Tunnelblick window. Now find the .ovpn file you downloaded from ExpressVPN and drag it into the left-hand pane in Tunnelblick under Configurations.
  9. Click Only Me if you’d like to be the only person that can use this VPN user or click All Users if you’d like it to be available on other accounts on your Mac. Type the password if prompted.
  10. You’ll see some information pop up in the Tunnelblick window. Select the configuration you’ve just imported and click Connect.
  11. Now you’re presented with a window asking for a username and password. This is not the login details for ExpressVPN or your Mac device. Instead, you have to find the username and password for OpenVPN on the ExpressVPN website. Go back to the open ExpressVPN website. You’ll find these just above the list of servers that you’ve just used. Copy and paste them in and choose whether or not you’d like to save these details.
  12. Click OK to connect.

You’ll now see Tunnelblick come alive with the diagnostic output as the application connects to the server. Once you’re connected, you’ll also see the Disconnect button become active, and the appearance of the menu bar icon will also change to a solid black color.

That’s it! Now you’re connected to the location of your choice. You can connect or disconnect at any time using the buttons or add new server networks in exactly the same way as we have shown.

 

Method 3: Manual Configuration

Difficulty ⬤⬤⬤⬤◯ — Hard

You might not know this, but Mac OS has built-in VPN functionality. 

That means if you don’t want to use an application you can actually connect to your VPN by using only the Network Preferences section of the System Preferences application.

There are some downsides to this that you should take into account before proceeding. For example, you don’t get a kill switch, which is a safety device used to turn off your internet connection should your VPN connection drop, preventing any unwanted leaks and exposures of information.  

You also need to manually set up each server location rather than automatically having access to a provider’s entire – and typically sizeable – VPN server network.

But this is an option worth considering for people living in censored nations that restrict access to VPN websites or if you have a subscription to a VPN like TrustZone that requires manual configuration to use on Mac. 

But how is it done? We’ll show you, using ExpressVPN again as an example. 

  1. We need to find the L2TP/IPSec connection details much like we did with OpenVPN in Method 2. So head to ExpressVPN’s website and log on to the client area by clicking My Account.
  2. Navigate to the ‘Manual Config’ page found when you select ‘Setup’. It’s at the bottom.
  3. You’ll see options for OpenVPN alongside PPTP & L2TP/IPSec. Click on that. It will come up with a warning telling you that its security benefits are not as strong as OpenVPN (which cannot be used in this instance), which is true and should be taken into account when employing this method for setting up a VPN on Mac.
  4. Leave that for now and open up System Preferences on your Mac, then click on Network.
  5. Click the small plus (+) icon in the bottom left of the window to add a connection.
  6. In the Interface drop down menu, select VPN.
  7. You’ll also see a VPN Type drop down menu. Click and select L2TP over IPSec.
  8. Beside Service Name you can give it whatever name you wish. It makes sense to use the location of the server you want to connect to as the name for ease of future reference.
  9. Leave the Configuration option as Default. Head back to the ExpressVPN website and you’ll see a list of locations. Choose the location you want to connect to and copy the server address.
  10.  Paste it into the Server Address field. Now add your username found back on the ExpressVPN site to the Account Name and click Authentication Settings.
  11. This is where you will add the password, found beside the username on the ExpressVPN website. In Shared Secret type 12345678 and then click OK to close the dialog.
  12. Back on the Network options window, click Advanced in the bottom right corner and tick the box that reads Send all traffic over VPN connection. Click OK once done.
  13. Tick the box that says Show VPN status in the menu bar, then Apply.

Now, at the top-right of your Mac’s display, you’ll see an icon that looks like a tiny progress bar. That’s your VPN connection.

Click the first list item to connect. As your Mac establishes the connection, you’ll see the VPN icon gradually change color.

If you need to disconnect or check your connection status, click the icon again.

That’s how it’s done. You can easily turn your connection on and off from your Mac display. 

To ensure your VPN is on and working, it’s best to check your IP address while connected. If you know your IP you can just type into Google What’s My IP and see if it matches. 

If you don’t know your IP, you at least know where you live. To see if you’ve successfully connected to another IP you can head to What is My IP Address and see where your connection is on the map. As you can see, we’re connected to Chicago, as we wanted:

 

 

Can I Install & Run a VPN on Other Apple Devices?

Yes, you can. 

We have guides as in-depth as this one for all your Apple devices. Check out our instructions for how to install on:

You’ll find all the information you need there.

Which VPN Is the Best for Mac?

Perhaps you haven’t bought a VPN yet and just want to know how to install it first. 

As you can see, installing a VPN is super-easy, so don’t worry about being stuck with a VPN you need plenty of know-how to use. 

You want the best service, right?

We suggest that you take a look at our list of the best VPNs for Mac and see why we suggest them. We’re confident that you’ll find one you like. 

Rest assured: they’re all tried and tested by our unbiased, exhaustive review process

Which VPNs Don’t Support Mac?

Not may. So many people have MacBooks and iMacs that a VPN service simply has to cater to them. 

There are, however, lower-tier VPNs that are mobile exclusive or, for whatever reason, just don’t provide MacOS apps. We’ve tested more than a few of these, including Hola VPN, Psiphon, ThunderVPN, TouchVPN, TurboVPN, VPN 360, and many more. 

Even a respectable VPN like TrustZone needs to be manually configured to work on Mac. This means it can be used on Mac, but you’ll need to use Method 1 or 2 from our installation guide. 

It’s always best to check before you buy.

 

Can I Get a Free VPN for Mac?

Piggy bank illustration

Premium VPNs are always better than free ones – safer too. 

But there are free options available that won’t harm your device or personal privacy. 

We recommend the best of these in our list of the best free VPNs for Mac

We recommend avoiding free VPNs that aren’t on this list; we’ve seen so many terrible ones and we’d hate to see you stray into a privacy situation worse than having no VPN at all.

How Much Does it Cost to Setup a VPN on Mac?

The only cost required to setup a VPN on Mac comes from the VPN service subscription fee. 

These vary in cost quite a lot. 

If you’re looking to keep costs to a minimum, we put together a list of the best budget VPNs.

But there are important market trends worth keeping in mind. 

VPNs almost always offer deals that reward long-term commitment with massively reduced prices. 

A single-month subscription to most VPN services will always be the most expensive. 

For example, ExpressVPN can be purchased at $12.95 for a single month, or you can pay $99.95 for 15 months, which works out at $6.67 per month – that’s almost half price. 

This is the basic principle behind most VPN pricing plans.

We suggest you look around at the market a bit by comparing the VPNs that we review. We include all the pricing details and whether we think the cost is worth it in our reviews.

About the Author


  • Simon Migliano Head of Research at Top10VPN

    Simon Migliano

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