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Why Your VPN Is Not Connecting and How To Fix It

Callum Tennent oversees how we test and review VPN services. He's a member of the IAPP, and his VPN advice has featured in Forbes and the Internet Society.

Our Verdict

If your VPN is not connecting, the easiest solution is to restart your device and router. If that doesn't work, try updating your device’s software, resetting the VPN to its default settings, switching to a different VPN server, or making sure that your ISP, firewall, network, or antivirus software is not blocking your VPN connection.

If you’ve spent time choosing the right VPN, it can be incredibly frustrating when it fails to connect to a server.

VPN connection issues aren’t uncommon though. They can arise from conflicts with your WiFi network, device, router, or even the VPN client itself.

In this guide, we’ll explore the most common reasons why your VPN won’t connect or won’t work.

We’ll also explain how you can change the settings on your VPN software, network, or device, so you can fix and prevent VPN connection failures in the future.

Lastly, we’ll walk you through some specific VPN connection issues and how to fix them, such as your VPN not connecting on home WiFi, at school, on mobile data, or with streaming services.

EXPERT TIP: If your VPN successfully connects to a server but won’t stay connected, we’ve also got troubleshooting guides for if your VPN keeps disconnecting and how to check if your VPN is actually working.

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We’re fully independent and have been reviewing VPNs since 2016. Our advice is based on our own testing results and is unaffected by financial incentives. Learn who we are and how we test VPNs.

Common Reasons Why Your VPN Is Not Connecting

VPN services are designed to be simple. That’s great when they’re working properly, but frustrating when they’re not.

Often, VPN apps don’t explain why the VPN won’t connect. Instead, you’ll see the connection icon spin indefinitely, or the app will simply say “unable to connect”.

ExpressVPN failing to connect.

ExpressVPN failing to connect.

Here’s a list of common reasons why your VPN won’t connect to a server:

1. Your Internet Connection is Unstable

A VPN relies on a stable internet connection to function correctly. If your network is experiencing disruptions or your internet service provider (ISP) has issues, it can prevent your VPN from connecting.

NordVPN not connecting

NordVPN not connecting due to network issues.

If you have a weak connection to your WiFi network or mobile data signal, your VPN may struggle to connect to a server.

Whether it’s an issue with your broadband connection, WiFi network, or the router you’re using, you’ll need to fix your internet connection for your VPN to connect properly.

2. The VPN Server is Congested or Undergoing Maintenance

If lots of other users are trying to connect to the same VPN server, the server can get overwhelmed. This is known as server congestion, and it can result in painfully slow speeds and even connection issues.

Server congestion is most common on free VPN services, which typically have a large number of users and a small number of available servers.

Server congestion using Proton VPN Free.

Server congestion using Proton VPN Free.

You might experience similar issues if the server you’ve chosen is undergoing maintenance, or if you’ve reached your VPN’s simultaneous connection limit. In both cases, the VPN application will simply fail to connect altogether.

3. Your Firewall or Antivirus Is Blocking Your VPN

Firewalls work by monitoring incoming and outgoing network traffic, and they can sometimes mistake VPN connections for malicious activity. This can prevent your VPN from connecting.

Network firewalls can be set to blacklist specific IP ranges, to prevent connections to a single IP address, to block specific ports, or even to block all encrypted traffic.

If a VPN service’s traffic is not recognized or is deemed potentially harmful, the firewall may block this traffic. This can happen if the VPN uses unusual ports or protocols that the firewall is not configured to allow.

If you have a firewall enabled on your computer or router, try temporarily disabling it to see if this resolves the issue. If it does, you may need to add an exception for your VPN in the firewall settings. We’ll explain how to do it later on in this guide.

4. Your ISP or the WiFi Network is Blocking VPN Traffic

Public, school, or corporate WiFi networks can sometimes block VPN connections using security software. These networks may have policies in place to restrict VPN usage and prevent any unwanted network activity.

If you are unable to connect to your VPN while using a school, public, or otherwise restricted network, try switching to a different WiFi network or use mobile data if you can.

If you’re at work and need to access your company’s internal network using a VPN, contact your IT department for assistance configuring your device and VPN connection.

In highly-censored countries like China, it’s also possible that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) will attempt to identify and block VPN traffic altogether.

In that case, you’ll need a VPN with obfuscation technology, which disguises your VPN traffic as “normal” traffic.

IVPN obfsproxy obfuscation setting

Some VPN services offer obfuscation features to help you connect in highly-censored countries.
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5. The VPN Software Is Outdated or Too Slow

Making sure your software is up to date is crucial for maintaining a stable VPN connection. Outdated software may not be compatible with your device or the latest security patches, resulting in VPN connection failures.

ExpressVPN software update notification

Most VPN services will notify you when the software needs updating.

Slow or poor quality VPNs can also suffer from connection issues. Much like server congestion, this is most commonly an issue with free VPNs that have poor network infrastructure or bandwidth restrictions.

If the VPN server takes too long to respond to your device’s request, the VPN tunnel will simply fail to form.

6. VPN Ports Are Blocked

VPNs use specific ports to establish a connection. Common ports used by VPN protocols include TCP 1723 for PPTP, UDP 500 for IPSec/IKEv2, and UDP 1194 for OpenVPN. These ports need to be open and available for the VPN service to operate effectively.

If these ports are blocked by your ISP, firewall, or router — or they’re not properly configured — it can prevent the VPN from establishing a successful connection.

In some network setups, specific ports need to be forwarded to allow VPN traffic to pass through effectively. If this isn’t set up properly, the VPN client and server might not be able to communicate.

Not all VPNs allow you to change the port your device uses to connect to the internet, but Private Internet Access and IPVanish are both top-tier VPNs that do.

If your router is blocking standard VPN ports, you may need to configure which ports are open manually. This can usually be done through your router’s settings page.

7. Manual VPN Connections Are Misconfigured

While most VPN services are packaged in apps that handle all the necessary configuration for you, it’s still possible for settings to be misconfigured or for clients to have old settings saved. Most of these issues can be fixed by resetting or reinstalling the app.

If you are connecting to a VPN manually without using an app, ensure you have entered the correct configuration details provided by your VPN provider.

8 Methods To Fix Your VPN Not Connecting

If your VPN repeatedly fails to connect, the issue is almost always in one of three places:

  • The VPN software, network, or server you’re connecting to.
  • The network connection your device is using to connect to the internet.
  • The device you’re using and the software installed on it.

Before you do anything, check the notifications or messages section of your VPN app, if it has one. It might provide some helpful error messages or notifications.

Otherwise, we’ll explain the most common solutions to VPN connection problems in this section, so you can get your VPN connection up and working quickly.

1. Update Your VPN Software

First, make sure you’re running the latest version of your VPN software. Check for updates and install them if available. Most reputable VPN providers will also have automatic update options that you can enable.

VPN apps need to update on a regular basis to improve their performance, fix bugs, and address security vulnerabilities. If your VPN is not working, ensure you have the latest version of the app installed.

2. Check Your Internet Connection & Network Settings

If your internet is down or experiencing issues, your VPN client won’t be able to connect to a server.

The easiest solution is to reboot your device and router. Turn them off, wait 10 seconds, then turn them on again. This is often the quickest way to get your VPN connection working again. If you still can’t connect to the internet, you’ll need to contact your ISP for further assistance.

Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) should provide a coverage map that will show you any reported outages or issues in your area. You can also run a speed test to ensure your internet connection is stable and fast enough to support a VPN connection.

The simplest way to run a speed test is to type “speed test” into Google’s search bar, and it will give you the option to run a test directly from the search results page.

Sometimes, resetting your network settings can also help resolve connectivity issues. This can be done by restarting your router or modem, updating your router’s firmware, renewing your IP address, or resetting your network adapters.

3. Change Your VPN Server, Protocol, and Settings

If your internet connection is stable but your VPN still won’t connect, you may need to change the VPN’s settings.

Here’s how:

Use a Different VPN Server

Sometimes a specific VPN server can be experiencing connectivity issues, and changing to a different one can fix the problem.

VPN apps will almost always have a list of server locations for you to choose from. To begin, simply choose a different VPN server in the same location.

If that doesn’t work, try changing to a different VPN server location, as there may be an issue with the original region.

Here’s a video showing how to change VPN servers, using ExpressVPN to demonstrate:

How to change servers using ExpressVPN.

Change VPN Connection Protocols

The connection protocol you’re using may have an impact on how your VPN connects. Some countries or networks may block specific protocols like OpenVPN. In this case, switching to a different protocol like WireGuard or IKEv2 can help to establish a successful connection.

Open your VPN’s settings menu and find the protocol options. Try changing your connection protocol to ‘Automatic’ if it isn’t already. If that doesn’t work, try each alternative protocol (including UDP/TCP) until your VPN can connect successfully.

You may also find that your VPN’s obfuscation or ‘Stealth’ mode is more reliable on restricted networks.

IPVanish's protocol settings on Windows

The protocol settings menu in IPVanish’s Windows app.

Restore Your VPN to its Default Settings

If your VPN is still failing to connect after changing servers and connection protocols, try resetting the software. Check the VPN settings page for a ‘Restore Default Settings’ button and click it.

If you’re a more advanced user, you can also manually troubleshoot the VPN settings for connection issues. Ensure the VPN’s configuration matches the recommended setup from your VPN provider, and restore it to its default settings if necessary.

Some additional settings might also have an impact on connectivity. For example, if DNS leak protection is faulty, it may prevent your device from resolving IP addresses and connecting to websites via the VPN tunnel.

Try disabling this setting — and any other advanced features like multi-hop, trusted networks, or split tunneling — and see if it helps to establish a VPN connection.

If you’re still experiencing issues, try fully uninstalling and reinstalling the VPN app. This can help resolve any software conflicts or glitches that may be causing connection problems.

4. Change Your Firewall and Antivirus Settings

It’s possible that your firewall or antivirus software is blocking your VPN connection. This usually happens due to compatibility issues or if the VPN app is categorized as a security threat.

Try temporarily disabling both your firewall and antivirus and see if you can establish a connection. If this works, you may need to create an exception for your VPN in these programs’ settings.

Most firewalls and antivirus programs have a section for trusted apps, ports, or IP addresses. Make sure to add your VPN to this list and re-enable your firewall and antivirus after connecting to the VPN.

5. Restart Your Device

Turning your device off and on again might sound like a cliché, but it can often fix some basic connectivity issues — even with VPN software.

Restarting might also solve any temporary issues with your device’s network settings or connection.

6. Check For Blocked Ports

The ports that your VPN uses can also affect its connectivity. Certain ports might be blocked by your local firewall, ISP, antivirus software, or network administration rules.

In this case, try manually switching your VPN to a different port number. OpenVPN usually works with 1194 UDP by default. However, if you’re experiencing connection issues, you can try switching to other commonly used ports like 500, 1701, and 4500.

If a specific port is not working, try switching to a different one. If you’re comfortable with more advanced network configurations, you can also try manually opening the required ports in your firewall or router settings.

Here are some port combinations you can try when using the OpenVPN and WireGuard protocols:

VPN Protocol Port Numbers to Try
OpenVPN UDP 53, 80, 443, 1194, 1197, 1198, 2049, 2050, 8080, 9201
OpenVPN TCP 443, 1443, 80, 110
WireGuard UDP 53, 80, 443, 1194, 2049, 2050, 30587, 41893, 48574, 58237

Most routers have a section for port forwarding or opening ports, and your VPN provider should be able to provide you with the necessary information. The same applies to firewall settings on your device or network.

7. Contact the VPN’s Customer Support

If none of the above solutions work, it’s best to contact your VPN provider directly for further assistance.

Most top-tier VPN services offer customer support via live chat or email, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. They will be able to troubleshoot any technical issues on their end and guide you through any necessary steps to fix the problem.

Make sure to provide them with detailed information about your issue, including your device and operating system, as well as any error messages or logs that may be helpful in diagnosing the problem.

8. Change Your VPN Service

A VPN that consistently fails to connect simply isn’t working properly. If you’re using a cheap or free VPN, it’s possible that the VPN simply isn’t good enough.

Many low-quality VPN services operate with a small network and limited resources, which means you can’t always rely on them to connect without issues.

We’ve tested 65 VPNs and rarely experience connection issues with the 10 top-rated VPNs. We recommend switching to a premium service with a long history of reliable performance, or choosing a recommended free VPN instead.

How To Fix VPN Connection Failure On Different Devices

Below, we’ve broken down the most useful solutions for common VPN connection issues on different devices:

Mobile (iOS & Android)

If your VPN is not connecting on your mobile device, try the following solutions:

  • Make sure you are connected to Wi-Fi or have a mobile data plan. It’s possible that your VPN won’t connect because you don’t have an internet connection.
  • Clear your mobile’s cache and cookies, as well as its DNS cache. This can help refresh your network settings.
  • Try connecting using a different network or switching between Wi-Fi and mobile data.
  • Ensure your device is using the correct date and time settings. An incorrect time can interfere with the security protocols used by a VPN, preventing it from connecting.
  • Try uninstalling and reinstalling the VPN app. Sometimes this can resolve any issues with the app itself.
  • Your IP address doesn’t match the GPS location of your device. If this happens, you may need to use a VPN with GPS spoofing capabilities.

Desktop (macOS and & Windows)

If your VPN is not connecting on your Windows computer, try the following solutions:

  • Check that your network connection is stable and that you are connected to the internet. Reset your router if necessary.
  • Check your firewall settings to ensure that the VPN is allowed to access the internet. You may need to add an exception for the VPN in your firewall settings. This includes Windows Defender Firewall, which can be accessed by typing “firewall” in the search bar.
  • Try changing your DNS server to a public one, such as Google Public DNS or OpenDNS. Sometimes, using a different DNS can help resolve connection issues.
  • Ensure your network or ISP is not blocking the ports used by the VPN. You may need to change the port settings in your VPN client.

If your VPN is not connecting on your macOS computer, try the following solutions:

  • Make sure your macOS is updated to the latest version. Older versions may not be compatible with specific VPN protocols.
  • Ensure all necessary system services, such as Bonjour and Network Location, are enabled. These services are often required for a VPN connection to work correctly.
  • Try restarting your device or resetting your network settings. This can help resolve any issues caused by outdated settings.
  • Ensure your device’s network adapter is properly configured for the VPN. Your network adapter may need to be reinstalled or updated.
  • As with Windows devices, check your firewall settings to ensure the VPN is allowed access. These settings can be found under System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall > Firewall Options.
  • Try changing the ports your VPN uses and which protocol it uses to connect.

iPad

If your VPN is not connecting on an iPad, try the following solutions:

  • Check that your iPad is connected to a stable internet connection. If you are using Wi-Fi, try switching to a different network or using mobile data to help identify if the issue is with your network, device, or VPN.
  • Make sure your VPN app is up to date. Outdated apps may not be compatible with the latest security protocols.
  • Make sure your VPN app is up to date. Outdated apps may not be compatible with the latest security protocols.
  • Try using a different VPN protocol, such as IKEv2 or OpenVPN, if available. Some protocols may work better than others, depending on the type of network you are connected to.
  • Ensure your iOS is updated to the latest version, as outdated versions may not be compatible with specific VPNs.
  • As with macOS, ensure your firewall settings are not blocking the VPN app. You can find these settings under Settings > Privacy > Firewall.

Common VPN Connection Issues & How To Fix Them

In this section, we’ll run through some more common VPN connection issues and how to fix them. These solutions are general and may not apply to all cases, but they should help resolve most connectivity problems.

VPN Not Connecting on Mobile Data

Most VPNs have native apps for mobile devices. If you’re using one and struggling with your VPN not connecting when on mobile data, try the following solutions:

  • Check your device’s network settings and ensure that you have a stable internet connection. Try switching to a WiFi source and turning off your mobile data to ensure the issue is not with your device’s network.
  • If you’re using a VPN app, check its settings and ensure it’s allowed to use mobile data. Some apps have separate toggle buttons for WiFi and mobile data usage.
  • Try switching to a different server location in the app. This can help establish a connection if there are any issues with the current server.
  • If your data plan has a limited amount of data, ensure you have enough remaining to connect to the VPN. If your data limit is reached, your VPN won’t connect.
  • Disable Battery Saving Mode, which can restrict app usage and prevent your VPN from connecting.
  • Restart your phone and try connecting again. This can help resolve any temporary glitches or conflicts that may be causing connectivity issues.

VPN Not Connecting From Your Home Network (WiFi)

The most common issue behind a VPN not connecting on a home network is port blocking. Most VPNs use specific ports, commonly 1194 TCP/UDP or port 443 TCP, to establish a connection.

If these ports are blocked by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or router settings, you won’t be able to connect to the VPN.

To fix this issue, try the following solutions:

  • Check that your WiFi network is connected and has internet access. If you’re unable to connect to the internet, it may be a problem with your router or ISP.
  • Contact your ISP and ask if they block any ports that can affect VPN connections. Most ISPs will provide this information upon request.
  • Check that your firewall or antivirus settings are not blocking the ports used by your VPN. You may need to add exceptions for these ports in your settings.
  • Try switching to a different port. Most VPNs offer multiple port options that you can use if the default port is blocked.
  • If you’re comfortable with network configurations, try manually opening the necessary ports in your router settings. Most routers have a section for port forwarding or opening ports, and your VPN provider should be able to provide you with the necessary information.

VPN Is Not Connecting At School, Work, or Public WiFi

In some cases, connecting to a VPN from a school, work, or public WiFi network may be restricted by the network administrator. They may have blocked specific ports or protocols used by VPNs to prevent users from bypassing their network security rules.

If you find your VPN not connecting on a public network, try the following fixes:

  • Contact the network administrator and ask if VPN connections are allowed. If they are, they may provide you with instructions on how to connect to their network using a VPN.
  • Try switching to a different port or protocol, as mentioned earlier. Some networks may block specific ports used by VPNs, but not all.
  • If your school or workplace has a strict network security policy, you may need to request permission from the IT department before connecting to a VPN. Most VPN issues while working from home are caused by company-specific network policies.
  • If all else fails, you may need to use a different network or wait until you’re on a less restricted network before connecting to your VPN.

VPN Login Not Working

If you’re experiencing issues with your VPN login, try the following solutions:

  • Ensure that you have entered the correct login credentials. If you’re unsure, try resetting your password and trying again.
  • Check for any updates or maintenance notifications from your VPN provider. They may be experiencing technical difficulties on their side, which can cause login issues.
  • Try logging in on a different device or using a different internet connection. This can help determine if the issue is with your device or network.
  • Contact customer service for further assistance. They may be able to troubleshoot the issue and provide you with a solution.

VPN Server Connects To The Wrong Location

Server congestion or mismanagement can sometimes cause a VPN to connect to the wrong location. If you’re experiencing this issue, try the following solutions:

  • Check that you have selected the correct server location in your VPN app. Some apps may default to a different location, and you need to select your desired location manually.
  • Clear your browser’s cookies and cache, as well as any DNS cache on your device. This can help ensure that your device is using the correct location information.
  • Choose a different server to connect to. The server you have chosen might be down, and the app might automatically connect you to a different location
  • Some VPNs offer a feature called “Smart Location” or “Quick Connect,” which automatically connects you to the best server location based on your current location. If this feature is enabled, try disabling it and manually selecting your desired server location.
  • Some VPNs use “virtual server locations”, which are designed to assign you an IP address from a specific location, even though the physical VPN server is located elsewhere. If a virtual VPN server is misconfigured or mislabelled, it can assign you an IP address from the wrong location. To fix it, try connecting to a different server in the same location.

VPN Isn’t Working With Streaming Platforms

One of the primary uses for a VPN is to access geo-restricted content on streaming platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. However, in some cases, a VPN may not work with these platforms.

If you’re having trouble accessing streaming content with your VPN, try the following solutions:

  • Ensure that you have selected a server location that is supported by the streaming platform. Some streaming services only allow access from specific countries.
  • Clear your browser’s cookies and cache, as well as any DNS cache on your device. This can help ensure that your device is using the correct location information.
  • Try connecting to a different server in the same country as the streaming platform you are trying to access. This can sometimes resolve any issues with a particular server being blocked by the platform.
  • Check to see if your VPN is compatible with streaming platforms. Some VPNs may not work with certain services, so it’s essential to check before subscribing.
  • If all else fails, try using a different VPN that’s specifically optimized for streaming. These providers have configured their servers to work seamlessly with these services and are less likely to be blocked.

VPN Not Connecting When In High-Censorship Countries

Certain countries, such as China and Iran, have strict internet censorship laws that can make it challenging to connect to a VPN. To bypass these restrictions, try the following solutions:

  • Use an obfuscated VPN server or “stealth mode” feature offered by your VPN provider. This scrambles your connection data and makes it more difficult for censors to detect the fact you’re using a VPN.
  • Try connecting to different servers in nearby countries. You may have better luck connecting to a server that is physically closer to your location.
  • If your VPN offers it, consider using a different type of security protocol, such as SSTP or L2TP, which can sometimes bypass censorship more effectively than other protocols.

FAQs

How Long Does It Usually Take for a VPN to Connect?

In our experience testing 65 VPN services over the past 8 years, a normal VPN connection will typically take 5-10 seconds to establish.

The time it takes for your VPN to connect will depend on a number of factors including the server location you’ve chosen, the congestion on that server, your own internet connection speed, the connection protocol you’re using, and the quality of the VPN in general.

Generally, the closer the VPN server is to your physical location, the faster the connection will be. The connection will also be quicker if there are fewer other users on the same server, your own internet connection is fast, and you’re using a relatively new device.

We’ve also found some free and low quality VPNs can take up to a minute to connect, or even longer. If that’s regularly the case with your VPN, we recommend trying a different VPN service.

How Do I Restart My VPN?

To restart your VPN on a desktop computer or laptop, disconnect from the VPN server and then fully close the application. Once you’ve confirmed the application is no longer running, reopen the VPN application and reconnect to your preferred server.

On mobile devices, open the recent applications feature on your phone then and swipe the VPN app away to close it. You can then reopen the application and try reconnecting to a server.

On routers, the easiest way to restart your VPN is to unplug your router and wait for 30 seconds, then plug it back in again.

How Do I Fix a VPN Connection Failure?

If you’re experiencing a VPN connection failure, the issue will almost always originate from one of three places: the VPN service or software, your network connection, or the device you’re using and the software installed on it.

Try troubleshooting each of these areas to fix your VPN connection. Make sure your VPN software is updated and reset to its default settings. Ensure you’re successfully connected to the internet, and you can access websites without the VPN turned on.

Finally, make sure your device’s network settings will allow the VPN to connect properly, and that there aren’t any other applications conflicting or blocking your VPN connection.