How to set up and use a VPN from start to finish.
In the rest of this section, we’ll show you exactly how to sign up for a VPN service and what to do to get the cheapest price. We’ll also show you how to customize the app’s settings for the best performance, and detail how to connect and change server location.
1. Choose a VPN Service
We’ve tested and compared 56 VPNs, each with its own set of features and price points. As it stands, our top-rated option is ExpressVPN because of its fast speeds and easy-to-use software. However, the right VPN for you will ultimately depend on your personal needs and what you can afford.
Only use a VPN that doesn’t log any identifying user data and that securely encrypts web traffic. In particular, you should choose one that’s based in a privacy-friendly jurisdiction and uses secure protocols and encryption ciphers, like WireGuard and AES-256. We explain these concepts in more detail below.
If you’re using a VPN to bypass geo-blocks on streaming websites, pick one that has fast speeds on international servers so you can always stream in HD. To hide torrenting activity from your ISP, make sure to choose a VPN with a kill switch feature as this will prevent IP leaks.
Although it might be tempting, we don’t recommend opting for a free VPN unless you’re only using it for a short period. Most free VPNs are slow, insecure, and don’t work with streaming sites. Some will even sell your activity data to advertisers.
2. Register & Pay for a VPN Subscription
Most VPN services offer different prices depending on whether you pay monthly or upfront for a long-term subscription. To get the best discounts, we recommend signing up for the longest plan you can afford. For example, you’ll save over 80% if you subscribe to PIA’s 2-year plan compared to its monthly option.
To sign up, simply go to your chosen VPN’s website and click the Get button on the home page. Then, create an account and choose the subscription plan.
You can pay using most popular payment methods, including credit cards and PayPal. But we recommend using cash or cryptocurrency if you can. These are anonymous as they don’t require any personal information.
You can subscribe to a VPN using a range of different payment methods.
Alternatively, you can register for the VPN through your mobile device’s app store. Some premium VPNs, like IPVanish, even offer exclusive free trials when you sign up this way.
3. Download the VPN Application
To install the VPN app on Windows, Mac, and Linux, simply download it from the VPN service’s website. You might need to sign in to your account and navigate to a dedicated downloads page.
On iPhone, Android, and Fire TV, search for the VPN’s name in your device’s app store. Then, download it like any other application. On Android, avoid downloading the APK version of the app from a third-party website, as these aren’t scanned for viruses and malware.
Most VPN services offer native applications for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS.
To use the VPN on devices that don’t support VPN apps, like Roku, you’ll need to install the VPN onto your router. Your ISP-supplied router won’t work, though, so you’ll need to purchase a compatible one. The set-up process is also complicated, so make sure to follow the step-by-step instructions on the VPN’s support page.
You can see our VPN setup articles for more detailed advice about how to set up a VPN on different devices.
4. Check the VPN’s Settings
Before using the VPN, make sure it’s tuned for the best performance. You can make changes in the app’s settings, typically by clicking a cog or three horizontal lines.
Here’s a quick checklist of what to configure in your VPN app:
- Enable the kill switch to prevent IP address leaks if your connection drops. Doing so is essential if you want to hide activity from your ISP, like for Kodi streaming.
- Use OpenVPN, WireGuard, or the VPN’s proprietary protocol to provide the best speed performance. This is especially important if you’re using your VPN for data-intensive activities, like streaming.
- Select the AES-256 or ChaCha20 encryption ciphers to secure web traffic. Strong encryption is essential if you want to stay safe on public WiFi.
5. Start Using the VPN Application
To start using the VPN right away, connect to a server using the app’s ‘Quick Connect’ or similar feature. This will automatically connect you to the fastest server based on your location and network.
To start using your VPN, simply select a VPN server and click ‘connect’.
To circumvent geo-blocks, you’ll have to get an IP address from a different country. Type the name of the country in the search box or find it from the list of locations. Then, tap its flag icon to connect to the server.
To disconnect from the VPN, press the On symbol on the app’s home screen. If you encounter any software errors, contact your VPN’s customer support team. They can check to see if there’s a problem with your internet connection, or troubleshoot any issues with the VPN.