How to Set up a VPN on an iPhone and Browse Safely

Virtual private networks — also known as VPNs — provide a secure and easy way of connecting to another network in order to surf the web. Instead of connecting via your own home network and IP address, they let you connect via a different network and address. Doing this can help you avoid geographic restrictions on media content, avoid institutional content restrictions, and use it to connect to your office’s VPN for access to company networks, databases, and resources.

We explain how to set up a VPN on an iPhone, and we look forward to the built-in VPN that’s coming this fall with the new iOS 15. We run through the steps needed to download and use a commercial VPN on your iPhone and also explain how to configure your iPhone’s VPN settings to connect with a work-based or private VPN.

How to setup VPN on an iPhone: Third-party apps

The easiest way to set up a VPN on an iPhone is to download a reliable VPN app from the App Store. As our article on the best VPNs for iPhone explains, some of the most well-known iPhone VPNs include CyberGhost, ExpressVPN, NordVPN, IPVanish VPN, and VPN by Private Internet Access, among many others.

Step 1: To download one of these, simply open App Store, tap Search (at the bottom of the screen), and then type the name of the app into the search bar. Select the app once it appears, and then tap Get.

Step 2: After it has downloaded, launch the app and tap Allow when you’re prompted to grant permission for it to add a VPN configuration to your iPhone.

Step 3: Set up the app as instructed by the on-screen prompts. In many cases, you can simply tap the Connect button (or something similar) and connect to a VPN almost instantly. You should also see a tab somewhere on the app’s screen that lets you change the location of the VPN connection, although in many other cases, you may have to subscribe to the premium version of the app to access all services the app offers.

That’s pretty much it. However, you can connect and disconnect from your VPN without actually opening its app. Simply go to Settings > General > VPN. Then, tap the slider next to Status so that it turns green. You’ll now be connected to your VPN app, and you can disconnect by tapping the slider again. If you have more than one VPN app installed, you will need to tap on the desired VPN before tapping the Status slider.

How to configure a workplace or private VPN

If the VPN you’d like to connect to doesn’t have its own app (i.e., if it’s a workplace VPN), you can still set it up and connect to it on your iPhone. To do this, you need to go to Settings > General > VPN > Add VPN Configuration.

Once you’re on the Add Configuration screen, you will need to enter various pieces of information in order to connect to the VPN. This includes selecting the type of VPN you’re using (e.g. IKEv2, IPsec, or L2TP), as well as entering the description, server, and remote ID info. Assuming that you’re connecting to a workplace VPN, you should ask for this info from the person in the IT department responsible for the VPN.

They should also provide you with a username and password — or send you a certificate — in order to log in. Once you’ve entered all of this information, tap Done, and then tap the Status slider to connect to the VPN. As before, you should tap this slider again to disconnect.

Frequently asked questions

Should you get a VPN for your iPhone?

Yes, you should get a VPN for your iPhone. A VPN shields your online data and identity against hackers, snoops, and thieves by encrypting your data, hiding your iPhone’s IP address, and anonymizing your browsing history by re-routing traffic through the VPN’s servers. With a VPN enabled, you use public Wi-Fi hot spots safely or browse via Wi-Fi at home without worrying about data leaks.

Does the iPhone have a built-in VPN?

Not yet, but it’s coming soon in iOS 15 via a new feature — iCloud Private Relay, available through the enhanced iCloud+ service. Private Relay shields users while web browsing and adds protection to app-generated traffic to ensure you’re not leaking information or exposing your traffic to security risks. This new feature encrypts user browsing on Safari by routing internet traffic through two separate relays to conceal your identity. One relay gives you an anonymous IP address; the other is used for browsing and queries. This differs from traditional VPN operations because it sends user data through two channels, which Apple says offers better protection. With Private Relay, no one  — not even Apple — can see both your IP address and your queries or interactions.

Why should you get a VPN for your iPhone?

The benefits of an iPhone VPN are many, and the downsides are few, especially if you are a road warrior or often use public Wi-Fi. VPNs not only protect you from cybercriminals, but they also prevent your own carrier from monetizing your data and invading your privacy. Other advantages include bypassing workplace or campus firewalls, geographical restrictions, and censorship. And it facilitates remotely connecting to your workplace or home network. It can even boost your gameplay experience by preventing your ISP from throttling your connection or cutting bandwidth.

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