The Independent’s journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission. Why trust us?

How to set up a VPN on your iPhone: Step-by-step guide and configuration

Verified by Nick Jones Editor-in-Chief

Learn how to set up a VPN on your iPhone for enhanced security and privacy. Follow our step-by-step guide to configure VPN settings on your device

The virtual private network (VPN) setting on your iPhone is crucial in ensuring security and privacy when using your Apple smartphone. 

These days, mobile phones are “everything” devices, acting as the primary means through which we access online services, browsers and apps – and until you utilise a VPN to protect your data, there’s always a risk that some of your online activity or private information could be accessible by prying eyes.

Apple has a good reputation for security, having long advertised itself as a technology company that keeps your data safe – but it’s dangerous to be too complacent. Even iPhone and Macbook users can be subject to activity tracking or see their banking details or passwords fall into the hands of hackers.

That’s why we’ve put together an extensive guide to setting up a VPN for iPhone, including information on choosing a VPN provider, the benefits of using a VPN and answers to commonly asked questions for first-time iPhone VPN users.

Why use a VPN on an iPhone?

A VPN redirects your internet traffic through a private server, keeping your Internet Protocol (IP) address hidden and encrypting your data so prying eyes can’t see it.

Phones can be particularly vulnerable to hacking because of their portability – they’re often used to access public wifi hotspots, which are more exposed than your home wifi or cellular data.

A VPN will encrypt the data sent between your device and the internet to an incredibly high standard, meaning that your internet service provider can’t discern your identity or activity and spyware, government agencies or hacking groups can’t acquire your private information.

VPNs also benefit from bypassing regional restrictions on the content or services you can access. VPN providers run servers worldwide, making it possible for VPN customers in the UK to use the same internet services as a resident of the US or vice-versa. This is a huge boon for regular travellers, whether you need to access a company intranet from abroad or watch a YouTube video blocked in your current location.

Choosing a VPN provider for iPhone

Most leading VPN providers will support iOS, Android and desktop applications (Windows, MacOS). All of three of our top-rated providers – including NordVPN, ExpressVPN and Surfshark – are available on iPhone, so they’ll be a good starting point for you.

There are various factors to consider when picking a VPN provider, such as speed, specific privacy features, usability and server location. 

Before subscribing, you’ll want to check if your intended VPN runs servers in your region. NordVPN, for instance, has more servers than ExpressVPN but in fewer countries (60 compared to 94). If you live in India, Pakistan or Bolivia, then ExpressVPN is a better bet.

Surfshark is considerably cheaper than its competitors and offers a unique unlimited connection policy that lets you run its VPN concurrently on as many devices as you’d like. Functionally, you’re unlikely to have more than the usual handful of phones, computers and routers, but big tech enthusiasts may get some use out of it. However, you won’t get as many additional configuration options with Surfshark as NordVPN, such as its Double VPN feature for added security or an Onion over VPN option, which connects you to a VPN and the Tor privacy browser.

Be sure to check whether your iPhone’s firmware is supported by your chosen VPN, especially if it’s an older model – ExpressVPN works on devices running iOS 12 and above, but NordVPN needs at least iOS 14.2.

Step-by-step guide to set up VPN on iPhone

Setting up a VPN on iPhone is relatively simple. Here, we’ll run you through the key steps to getting started:

  1. First, you’ll need to head to the App Store and search for your intended VPN app. If you just search “VPN”, many options will appear, but not every VPN provider is as worthwhile as the ones mentioned above.
    How to set up VPN on iPhone Step 1
  2. Once you’ve found the app, select the “Get” button to start the download, then select “Open” when the installation is complete.
    How to set up VPN on iPhone Step 2

  3. You’ll need to either sign up or log in, depending on whether you’re already a VPN customer. Anyone with an existing VPN account can use their username and password, while first-timers must create a new account.
    How to set up VPN on iPhone Step 3

    Remember that some VPN providers, such as NordVPN, offer more limited in-app subscription options than you’d get in a browser – so you may wish to subscribe on your laptop before signing into the iPhone app instead.By default, your provider will connect you to a server in your current country of residence and choose a VPN protocol appropriate for most users. It’s usually very simple to switch to a server in a different country – this feature is usually right next to the “Connect” button or in an easily accessed tab.
  4. After subscribing and logging in, you can connect to a VPN server and enjoy the benefits immediately.
    How to set up VPN on iPhone Step 4
  5. To make more detailed VPN configurations, you can check out the alternative VPN protocols in the app’s settings, which can alter the speed and security of your VPN connection. Also, look for other common VPN features such as auto-connect, which activates the VPN the moment your device turns on, or a kill switch, which cuts your internet if the VPN connection drops.
    How to set up VPN on iPhone Step 5

Troubleshooting VPN setup issues on iPhone

VPNs are a lot simpler to use than you might expect, but like any new software on your iPhone, unexpected issues can come up.

First, ensure your VPN is active – a VPN icon should be at the top of your screen, near the battery indicator. If you experience any issues, you can head to the VPN app to check the connection and try updating it.

If your internet seems slower than usual, that’s not necessarily a problem – the encryption process and server routing mean that data takes slightly longer to send back and forth. But if it’s irritatingly slow or your connection keeps dropping out, you may want to select a different VPN protocol to see if it fares better or change server locations. Generally, the closer the server is to your location, the faster the data speeds will be.

If all else fails, contact your VPN provider’s customer support.

iPhone VPN setup FAQs

It’s up to you – many iPhone users get by without a VPN service. But because our smartphones are often the primary way we access the internet and online services, properly protecting your most-used online device makes sense.

Apple has its own limited VPN-like service called Apple Private Relay. You’ll need an iCloud Plus subscription to use it, but when activated, it’ll hide your IP address from websites you visit and the website domains will stay hidden from both your network and Apple. However, keep in mind that this isn’t a VPN in the traditional sense, and you won’t get the full suite of security and privacy features found elsewhere.

Open the settings on your iPhone and select General > VPN to check your VPN status. You’ll be able to see what VPNs are installed or active here.

We recommend not using free VPNs, given that they offer watered-down features or sell your data to generate revenue.

A VPN ensures continual privacy and security, providing maximum benefit if you keep it on. That said, a VPN is likely to increase data usage on the move and see your battery drain slightly faster than usual, so you may find situations where it makes sense to deactivate the VPN to ensure your device stays on.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a VPN that works for iPhone, plenty of great options exist. As long as you choose a vetted and approved VPN provider with minimal impact on your internet speeds, a good suite of security features and market-leading encryption, you’re all set to enjoy the benefits of a VPN on your phone.

We use our smartphones for everything, including online banking, messaging, streaming and gaming – and it’s crucial to have the security in place to make sure your data (financial information, passwords) stays secure, with protections in place to prevent malware or trackers ruining your iPhone experience.

In this guide, we’ve detailed how to find and set up a VPN on an iPhone and the key factors to consider when choosing one of the best VPNs. We hope you now have everything you need to start your VPN journey.

Round up of today’s best VPN deals
NordVPN 2 year £2.49 /Month
£2.49 /Month
Surfshark 24 month £1.79 /Month
£1.79 /Month
ExpressVPN 12 month £6.77 /Month
£6.77 /Month
CyberGhost 2 year £1.78 /Month
£1.78 /Month
Proton 2 year £4.27 /Month
£4.27 /Month
PIA 2 year £1.57 /Month
£1.57 /Month
Atlas 2 year £1.34 /Month
£1.34 /Month
PrivadoVPN 2 year £1.99 /Month
£1.99 /Month
Windscribe 12 month £4.53 /Month
£4.53 /Month
IPVanish 2 year £3.58 /Month
£3.58 /Month
henry st leger

Henry St Leger

Consumer Tech and Software

Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former news and features Editor at TechRadar, where he specialised in consumer technology, software, and home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, soundbars, and smart speakers.

He has been writing about technology and related topics for over six years. His work for the Independent Advisor focuses on cyber security and internet-connected software including VPNs.

Henry has written for a wide number of prominent websites including NBC News, Healthline, The Times, Edge, T3, iMore, and GamesRadar.

Nick Jones

Editor in Chief

Nick Jones is a highly experienced consumer journalist and editor, who has been writing and producing content for print and online media for over 25 years.

He has worked at some of the UK’s leading publishers including Future Publishing, Highbury Entertainment, and Imagine Publishing, with publications as diverse as Homebuilding & Renovating, TechRadar, and Creative Bloq, writing and editing content for audiences whose interests include history, computing, gaming, films, and science. He’s also produced a number of podcasts in the technology, science, gaming, and true crime genres.

Nick has also enjoyed a highly successful career in content marketing, working in a variety of topics such as health, technology, and finance, with market-leading global companies including Cisco, Pfizer, Santander, and Virgin Media.

Now the Editor-in-Chief of the Independent Advisor, Nick is involved in all aspects of the site’s content, where his expertise in finance, technology, and home products informs every article that’s published on-site. He takes a hands-on approach with our VPN content, penning a number of the articles himself, and verifying that everything we publish in this topic is accurate.

Whatever the area of interest he’s worked in, Nick has always been a consumer champion, helping people find the best deals and give them the information they need to make an informed buying decision.