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How to Set Up a VPN on Windows

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A laptop running Microsoft Windows
Simon Migliano
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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

There are several ways to set up a VPN on your Windows device, but the easiest method is to install a VPN application directly on your computer.

Quick Guide: How to Set Up a VPN on Windows

  1. Sign up for a VPN service.
  2. Download the Windows client and run the installer.
  3. Open the Windows application and connect to a VPN server.

Using a VPN on your Windows device is an excellent way to ensure your internet activity is secure and more private.

The best VPNs for Windows also let you unblock geo-restricted web content, and download torrent files securely.

The good news is that installing a VPN on Windows is very easy. In this guide we’ll walk you through the easiest setup methods, as well as run through alternative instructions.

What You’ll Need to Set up a VPN on Windows

  • A subscription to a trusted VPN service (unless you want to build a home VPN server)
  • Depending on your chosen method, you may also need third-party software
  • A device (desktop, laptop, tablet) running Windows

Method 1: Use VPN Software

Setup Difficulty: Very Easy

Windows Compatibility: XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10, and 11

For most users, signing up to a free or premium VPN service is the easiest way to install and run a VPN on your Windows device.

Your VPN subscription will allow you to download and use Windows-specific VPN software, giving you access to the service’s range of VPN servers.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to install a VPN on your Windows computer, using CyberGhost VPN as an example:

  1. Go to the CyberGhost website.
  2. Navigate to VPN Apps > Windows VPN.
    A list of CyberGhost's VPN apps
  3. Ensuring you are logged in, select Download App.
    The download page for CyberGhost VPN
  4. A .exe file will download – run it.
  5. When prompted, select Yes to allow Cyberghost to make changes to the hard-drive on this computer.
  6. Read the Terms & Conditions, then press Accept if you’re comfortable with them.
    CyberGhost VPN's terms and conditions
  7. Select Install.A screenshot of a Windows Security popup
  8. Enter your Username and Password, then click Log in.
    The CyberGhost VPN login screen
  9. Your VPN is fully set up and ready to use, easy as that.
    CyberGhost VPN's homepage

Note: Microsoft no longer supports Windows XP. See which VPN services still support Windows XP.

Method 2: Manual VPN Connection Setup

Setup Difficulty: Easy

Windows Compatibility: 10 and 11

Windows 10 and 11 don’t have a built-in VPN. However, you can manually set up a VPN connection without downloading VPN software provided you have active VPN subscription.

This method is most useful if Windows 10 or 11 is set to S mode, which prevents you from installing apps from outside the Windows Store.

It’s also useful for setting up a VPN without a client. However, we generally prefer using the OpenVPN GUI client for this purpose.

Windows lets you use PPTP, L2TP/IPsec, SSTP or IKEv2. Make sure your VPN provider supports one of these protocols first. Do not use PPTP, though – it’s no longer considered a secure VPN protocol.

Using Windscribe with the IKEv2 protocol, here is how to set up a manual VPN connection in Windows:

  1. Go to windscribe.com/download
  2. Scroll to the bottom of the page and select IKEv2, under Config Generators.
    Windscribe's config generators
  3. From the drop-down menu, select the server location you want to connect to, then click Get Profile Details.
    The Windscribe server select field
  4. Make a note of the hostname, username and password.
    The Windscribe Profile Details page
  5. Open the search box in the bottom-left-hand corner of your computer and search for VPN Settings, then click Open.
    Searching for VPN settings within Windows 10
  6. Click Add a VPN connection.
    The VPN settings screen within Windows 10
  7. In the VPN provider dropdown menu, select Windows (built-in).
    The 'Add a VPN connection field'
  8. Under Connection name you can enter anything, then copy the hostname from before into the Server name or address field.
    The 'Connection name' field
  9. Under VPN type select IKEv2, then under Type of sign-in info, select Username and password.
    The 'VPN type' field
  10. Enter the Username and Password from before, then click Save.
    The username and password fields
  11. Your VPN should have appeared back in VPN Settings, click on it, then click Connect.
    A VPN in your VPN settings
  12. You are now connected.
    An active Windscribe connection

The benefits and drawbacks to setting up a VPN this way are similar to using the OpenVPN GUI.

In other words, you won’t be able to change VPN servers easily, but it saves you from installing software on your computer.

While this process is quicker than using the OpenVPN GUI, you’ll miss out on the higher security of the OpenVPN protocol.

Method 3: Use OpenVPN Config File

Setup Difficulty: Moderate

Windows Compatibility: 7, 8, 10, and 11

OpenVPN is a secure open-source VPN protocol most VPN services use. The OpenVPN Project, which built the protocol, also maintains open-source VPN clients for Windows operating systems newer than Windows 7.

You can therefore use the OpenVPN GUI on Windows 7, 8, or 10. Sadly, as of OpenVPN GUI 2.4, Windows XP is not supported.

Setting up your Windows device with a VPN on the OpenVPN GUI is trickier than using your VPN provider’s software.

Follow the below steps to setup a VPN (IPVanish in this example) using the OpenVPN configuration file:

  1. Go to https://openvpn.net/community-downloads/.
  2. Select the correct installer for your version of Windows (we’re using Windows 10).
    The OpenVPN community downloads page
  3. An .exe file will be downloaded – open it.
  4. Select Customize.
  5. Click on the icons to customize the features, then press Browse.
  6. Choose your Destination Folder (the default is fine), then press Ok.
  7. Press Install Now
  8. Press Close to complete installation.
  9. Login to your IPVanish account.
  10. Navigate to the Server List tab.
  11. Under Configuration Files, select OpenVPN.
  12. A .zip file will download.
  13. Open the .zip file and extract the security certificate and the OpenVPN config files for your desired servers to C:\Program Files\OpenVPN\config
    If you saved OpenVPN in a different location earlier then this location will be different.
  14. Locate OpenVPN GUI on your computer and run it.
  15. In the bottom right corner of your desktop click the ^ icon to reveal an icon of a computer screen with a padlock.
  16. Right click on this icon and press Import then Import File.
  17. Once you have imported the file, right click on the icon again and press Connect.
  18. You will need to enter your Username and Password, then press OK.
  19. You are now connected! You can manage your connection from the computer screen and padlock icon – which should now be green

While the OpenVPN GUI is perfectly functional, you won’t be able to switch VPN servers easily like with your VPN’s own software.

You also won’t have any of the advanced features available in a VPN service’s full Windows application, either.

How to Set Up a VPN on Windows XP

Microsoft no longer supports Windows XP. There are still two ways to install and use a VPN on Windows XP, though.

The first method involves signing up to VPN service that still maintains a Windows XP application, like ExpressVPN and Windscribe.

The second method is undoubtedly harder, and involves manually configuring a VPN connection using Windows Dialler.

Here’s how to set up a manual VPN connection on Windows XP using Windows Dialler and the ExpressVPN L2TP/IPsec protocol:

  1. In your web browser, log into your ExpressVPN account.
  2. Select Set Up ExpressVPN.The 'Set Up ExpressVPN' screen
  3. On the left hand side of the page, select Manual Config.ExpressVPN's list of compatible devices
  4. Select PPTP & L2TP/IPsec on the right hand side of the page, then copy the Username and Password.The ExpressVPN manual Configuration page
  5. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click Download Windows Diallers.The ExpresVPN Windows Diallers
  6. A .zip file will download, Extract its contents.
  7. Open the Dialler file inside and select Properties.Windows Diallers for ExpressVPN
  8. Navigate to the Security tab, then select Advanced and press Settings.The Security settings in ExpressVPN Windows Diallers
  9. Under Allow these protocols select Microsoft CHAP Version 2 then click OK.The Advanced Security Settings in Windows Diallers
  10. Returning to the Security tab, click IPSEC Settings.
  11. In the Key field, enter 12345678.The IPSec Settings in Windows Diallers
  12. Click OK again to return to the main window.
  13. Under Choose a network connection, choose your preferred server then click Connect….The final steps to set up ExpressVPN on Windows XP
  14. Enter the User name and Password you found from ExpressVPN earlier, then click Connect.Username and Password entry for ExpressVPN in Windows Diallers
  15. Your VPN is now connected.