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How to Set Up a VPN on Android

Android logo on a phone with two characters installing a shield on it
Simon Migliano

Simon Migliano 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 and more.

Our Verdict

Installing a native VPN application is the easiest way to set up a VPN on an Android smartphone. In this guide we'll cover the five main methods, with varying degrees of difficulty, to install a VPN on Android.

Quick Guide: How to Set Up a VPN on Android

  1. Sign up for a VPN service.
  2. Download and install the Android application from the Google Play Store.
  3. Launch the Android application and connect to a VPN server.

The best Android VPNs let you change your IP address location and unlock geo-blocked web content. They’ll also secure free public WiFi connections.

There are various ways to set up a VPN on and Android smartphone, ranging from easy to more complicated methods.

Before you start, ensure you have all you need to use a VPN on your Android device.

What You’ll Need to Set Up a VPN on a Fire TV Stick

  • An Android smartphone
  • An account a VPN service

Method 1: Native Android VPN App

Installing a native VPN application directly onto your Android smartphone is the easiest method available.

Before you sign up for a VPN subscription, check that the VPN service has a native Android app. If it does, you can download the VPN app from the Google Play Store.

If you live in a country where you can’t access the Google Play Store, skip to ‘Method 4: APK File’.

In the setup instructions below, we’ve used ExpressVPN since it has one of the best VPN apps for Android. Most other Android VPNs involve a very similar setup process.

Setting up a native VPN app on your Android smartphone will take you less than five minutes. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Find your VPN provider’s Android app on the Google Play Store.ExpressVPN installed via the Google Play Store
  2. Tap Install to download the VPN app. Once this step is complete, the green button will say Open.ExpressVPN on the Google Play Store
  3. Tap Open to launch the VPN app and then tap Sign In.ExpressVPN's sign in menu on Android
  4. Enter your VPN subscription email address and password into the relevant boxes, then tap Sign In.ExpressVPN Android app log in page
  5. ExpressVPN asks new users to share anonymous diagnostic information. Tapping Yes or No Thanks to continue.A prompt from ExpressVPN requesting user data to improve the service
  6. Tap OK to start the VPN connection set up process. ExpressVPN's message to start the set up process
  7. Tap OK to accept the VPN connection request.ExpressVPN requests permisson to set up a VPN connection on Android
  8. The main screen of ExpressVPN’s Android app includes a large connect button in the center and the chosen server location below. To see the list of server locations tap the three horizontal dots to the right of the server location name.ExpressVPN's main menu on its Android app
  9. You can connect to your preferred server by tapping a location in the server list. ExpressVPN's server list on its Android app
  10. Before you connect to a server, check the security settings. Tap the burger menu (three horizontal lines) and tap on Network protection to enable ExpressVPN’s kill switch on Android.ExpressVPN's settings on its Android app
  11. It’s now time to connect to the VPN. Tap the big circular connect button on the home screen of the app. It will turn green when the VPN is connected. Tap this button again to disconnect.ExpressVPN connecting to a server on its Android app

Method 2: Using Third-Party Software (OpenVPN for Android)

If you don’t want to use the custom VPN app from your VPN service provider, or if it doesn’t come with one, you can still configure the VPN using a third-party VPN app, like OpenVPN for Android.

These third-party apps let you connect to your VPN service’s server network using your account credentials.

Third-party apps are sometimes more configurable than the VPN service’s own application. Moreover, they even allow you to use multiple VPNs within a single app.

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:

  1. Find OpenVPN for Android (or OpenVPN Connect) on the Google Play Store and tap Install.Screenshot of OpenVPN for Android on the Google Play Store
  2. Once the app has successfully downloaded, the green button will read Open. Tap to open up the OpenVPN for Android app.Screenshot of an installed OpenVPN for Android on the Google Play Store
  3. 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.
    Screenshot of OpenVPN for Android app with no VPN profiles
  4. Go to your VPN service provider’s website on your mobile browser and log into your VPN account using your credentials.
    The sign in menu for ExpressVPN on mobile browser
  5. Now go to the section of the VPN account page where you can set up the VPN on various devices. Tap Show other devices.
    ExpressVPN's device set up menu
  6. Scroll through the list devices and tap Manual Config.
    A full list of devices that ExpressVPN can be set up on
  7. Tap OpenVPN. Here you will see your unique username and password for OpenVPN manual configuration. You will need these later.
    Login credentials for manually configuring OpenVPN on ExpressVPN
  8. 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.ExpressVPN's OpenVPN server list
  9. 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).
    Screenshot of OpenVPN for Android app with no VPN profiles
  10. 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.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN config file downloaded
  11. Tap on the tick symbol to finish the config file download.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN config file in OpenVPN for Android app
  12. Tap the Edit symbol to the right-hand side of the configuration file name.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN config file in OpenVPN for Android app edit
  13. 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.Screenshot of editing ExpressVPN config file in OpenVPN for Android
  14. Tap on your created profile.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN config file in OpenVPN for Android app edit
  15. Tap OK to accept the connection request.
    Screenshot of VPN connection request in OpenVPN for Android app
  16. 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.
    Screenshot of VPN connection at top of screen
  17. To disconnect from the VPN tap the OpenVPN profile from within the OpenVPN for Android app and tap DISCONNECT.
    Screenshot of disconnect message on OpenVPN for Android

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 enable VPN split tunneling – which allows the internet traffic of certain apps to travel outside of the encrypted VPN tunnel.

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.

Method 3: Built-In Android VPN Client

If your VPN provider doesn’t come with OpenVPN configuration files it is possible to configure L2TP/IPSec, IKEv2/IPSec, and PPTP configuration files using the built-in Android VPN client.

This means that you don’t have to download any third-party apps at all.

However, we don’t recommend this method.

While this type of setup doesn’t take up as much space on your device, in some cases it’s not as secure as using the VPN provider’s app or OpenVPN for Android.

That’s because of the VPN protocols that the built-in Android VPN client supports, or – in some cases – the way they are set up.

PPTP is a very outdated and insecure VPN protocol and can be hacked in minutes. L2TP/IPSec uses pre-shared keys, which are publicly available on VPN websites and open the door to potential man-in-the-middle attacks.

Our top recommended VPNs only supply setup instructions for installing IKEv2 using the open-source strongSwan app rather than Android’s built-in VPN client.

You can read more about encryption and protocols in our detailed guide.

While we don’t recommend this VPN setup, we’ll show you how to install a VPN this way as a last resort.

The manual connection method will vary slightly depending on the VPN protocol and the device you’re using, but the process is similar enough for you to get the gist from these instructions.

In this example we’ll use ExpressVPN to create an L2TP/IPSec connection.

We’re using Android 9.1.0. In other versions of Android, the location and appearance of the VPN settings screens may be slightly different.

To create your VPN connection manually:

  1. Go to the VPN provider’s website on your Android device and sign into your VPN account using your credentials.
    The sign in menu for ExpressVPN on mobile browser
  2. Tap Show other devices in the device setup section.
    ExpressVPN's device set up menu
  3. Scroll down the list of devices and tap Manual Config.
    A full list of devices that ExpressVPN can be set up on
  4. Tap on L2TP/IPsec. ExpressVPN warns that these VPN protocols provide weak security benefits.
    ExpressVPN's page on manual configuration of the L2TP/IPsec VPN protocols
  5. Scroll down and you’ll see your username and password for this setup. You’ll need these later so keep the tab open.
    Login credentials for manually configuring L2TP with IPsec on ExpressVPN
  6. Tap the + symbol next to the VPN server locations and copy the server address of your chosen VPN server.You can configure multiple VPN server locations, but let’s start with one for ease. We chose USA – New york.
    The server addresses of manually configured L2TP/IPsec servers on ExpressVPN
  7. Now go to your phone’s Settings menu. Find Connections settings, tap More connection settings, and then VPN. This will bring up Android’s built-in VPN client. If you haven’t installed a VPN before it will say ‘No VPNs.’
    Screenshot of Android's built-in VPN client
  8. Tap on the three vertical dots at the top right-hand corner and then tap Add VPN profile.
    Screenshot of Android built-in VPN add profile
  9. Now fill in the fields with the following information:Name: Put anything you want here. We recommend writing the VPN service name and the server name. E.g. ExpressVPN New York.
    Type: Toggle L2TP/IPSec PSK. PSK stands for pre-shared key.
    Server address: Paste the VPN server address from your account on the VPN provider’s website.
    L2TP secret: Leave this field blank.
    IPSec identifier: Leave this field blank.
    IPSec pre-shared key: Paste the VPN provider’s pre-shared key here. You’ll find this on your VPN provider’s set up instructions.
    Tap Save.Screenshot of Android built-in VPN edit profile
  10. Now tap the VPN profile from the main screen and enter the username and password that was shown within your VPN account under the PPTP & L2TP-IPsec manual configuration section. Tap Connect.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN manual Android log in
  11. Once the VPN has successfully connected you will see the key symbol in the top left-hand corner of your device.As always, you should test your VPN connection for any IP, DNS, or WebRTC leaks.
    Screenshot of Android VPN connected
  12. To disconnect, just tap on the VPN profile within the Android built-in client and tap Disconnect.
    Screenshot of manual Android VPN disconnect button

Method 4: APK File

If you can’t access the Google Play Store, it’s still possible to install the VPN provider’s custom app onto your Android device if the service provides an APK file.

APK files can be downloaded directly to Android devices from outside the Google Play Store.

You’ll have to change some of your phone’s permissions in order to allow APK file downloads from external sources, and you shouldn’t download them from unofficial websites.

Always download APK files from the VPN provider’s official website.

If you don’t you risk downloading files that have been tampered with – they may contain malicious content that could harm your device and your online security.

Here are our step-by-step instructions for installing an APK file VPN app for your Android device:

  1. First you’ll need to change your phone’s permissions to allow the downloading of files from outside of the Google Play Store.Go to your phone’s Settings menu, then to Security. Now tap Install unknown apps (sometimes labeled Install apps from external sources) and tap on the web browser you want to use for downloading APK files.Toggle on Allow from this source.Screenshot of Install Unknown Apps settings on Android phone
  2. Go to the VPN provider’s website and log into your account using your credentials.
    The sign in menu for ExpressVPN on mobile browser
  3. Tap Show other devices under the device setup section.
    ExpressVPN's device set up menu
  4. Tap Download APK.
    Download link for ExpressVPN's APK file on Android
  5. A warning will popup stating that the file may harm your device. If you’re download the APK file from the official website of a VPN provider you trust – we trust ExpressVPN – tap Download anyway.
    A popup warning against downloading an APK file onto your Android
  6. Tap Install to finish the installation process.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN APK installation screen
  7. The app has now been installed. Tap Open to open the VPN custom app for Android.
    A popup confirming the installation of ExpressVPN's APK file on Android

You can now follow steps 3-11 from Method 1 if you’d like to know how to use the ExpressVPN app, and by extension the vast majority of VPN apps for Android that work similarly to ExpressVPN.

Method 5: Router

The final way to protect the internet traffic on your Android device is to set up the VPN on your home router.

When you install a VPN on your router, it protects all web traffic that flows through it.

This is ideal if you want to protect devices that don’t support VPN applications, like Apple TV, Roku, smart TVs and game consoles.

Setting Up a VPN on Your Router

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

  1. Buy a pre-configured router.
  2. Manually configure the VPN using the native VPN client software that comes with your current software (avoid PPTP or L2TP/IPSec setups as they are insecure).
  3. Flash your current router with new firmware that supports OpenVPN and then manually configure the VPN.
  4. Use a VPN applet. These are currently quite rare and not many VPN services provide them. ExpressVPN has an applet.

Remember, when you install a VPN at router level it’s trickier to change the VPN settings and server locations than using the native VPN application.

Another thing to remember is not all routers support VPN software, particularly those supplied by your Internet Service Provider.

If your router doesn’t support VPN client software and you’re looking to buy a new piece of hardware, it’s worth checking your VPN provider’s website to check compatibility first.