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How to Set Up a VPN on Mac

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

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) can be used on your Mac to encrypt WiFi networks, protect your privacy, or get around geographical restrictions. Find out how to set up and use a VPN on MacOS in this complete guide

There are three ways to set up a VPN on your Apple Mac:

  1. Easiest Method: Use a VPN app
  2. More Difficult Method: Use an OpenVPN client
  3. Hardest Method: Use your Mac’s built-in network settings

We’ll guide you through it step-by-step so you know exactly what you’re doing. Setting up a VPN on your iMac or MacBook should only take a few minutes and, once you’re done, you’ll be ready to use the internet safely and anonymously.

What You’ll Need to Set Up a VPN Connection on Mac:

  • A subscription or free trial to a trusted VPN provider (unless you own your own VPN server)
  • 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 Big Sur version 11.3.1
  • Depending on the method you choose, you also might need some third party software

NOTE: If you haven’t chosen a VPN yet, our experts have listed the best VPNs for Mac right here. If you’d rather try before you buy, you can also see the best free VPNs for Mac here.

Method 1: Install the VPN App

By far the most common way to set up a VPN on Mac is by installing a VPN service’s Mac app. This is simple 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 as the best VPN services almost always cater to MacOS.

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

Those most conscious about security are attracted to open-source software. This 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

Since MacOS El Capitan (released in 2015), all Macs have come with built-in IKEv2. This feature allows you to manually configure a VPN without the need for an app.

Manually configuring a VPN on your Mac will still require a paid VPN subscription, but it’s a great option if you’re on a device that prevents any app installations — like on a work computer, for example.

IKEv2 is a flexible, relatively secure VPN protocol with very fast speeds. However, IKEv2 is a closed-source protocol so there is no guarantee that it has not been compromised.

As a result, we always recommend using OpenVPN whenever possible. However, MacOS does not come with built-in support for OpenVPN, but you can read how to configure it with a third-party app in the section below.

NordVPN and Surfshark are the only best Mac VPNs that allow you to manually configure an IKEv2 connection on your Mac.

All other VPN services only support manual configuration with L2TP, which is a less secure protocol that we don’t recommend.

To set-up a VPN using MacOS’ built-in functionality, follow these instructions:

  1. Download an IKEv2 certificate from the VPN provider. Then open the certificate and select Always Trust in Mac Keychain.Install IKEv2 VPN on MacOS
  2. Open your Mac’s System Preferences and click Network. Then click the + symbol to add a new network connection. Select VPN in the Interface drop-down menu, and choose IKEv2 from the list of protocol options. After naming your connection, click create.
  3. Locate your desired server ID from the VPN provider. These are located here for NordVPN, and in your account settings for Surfshark. Paste these ID addresses into the Server Address and Remote ID fields in System Preferences.
  4. Click Authentication Details and input the username and password you used when signing up for the VPN service. Click Apply to save your changes.
  5. Click Connect and enable Show VPN status in menu bar. You are now connected to your chosen VPN server location and can connect and disconnect straight from the menu bar. The menu bar widget shows your connection status, along with your time connected to the server.Mac computer connected to IKEv2 server

Your Mac is now protected with the security and encryption of the VPN tunnel and you will be displaying the IP address issued from your VPN server.

You can verify that your VPN is working by using our What is My IP Address checker. If your IP address is displaying an IP address that is not your own, then you’re all set.

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