How to Set Up an iPhone VPN

Get privacy and data encryption on your smartphone too

VPN concept
Jirsak/Getty Images

You've probably heard how a VPN (virtual private network) can encrypt your data and protect your identity while browsing the web. But did you know you can use a VPN on your iPhone too? You can. Once set up, you can do things like hide your iPhone's IP address, browse the web anonymously, and even access geo-restricted content on sites like Netflix.

Setting up a VPN on your iPhone is easy if you use a VPN app, but you can also configure a VPN manually on your iPhone. Here's a look at both options.

The VPN app directions in this article apply to all versions of iOS, while the manual VPN configuration setup applies to iOS 12, iOS 11, and iOS 10.

Using an iPhone VPN App

Setting up a VPN app on your iPhone is easy. The first step is to spend a little time researching the different VPN providers. If you have multiple devices to protect, choose a VPN service with apps for different types of devices, not just iPhones (iOS). Two highly-rated VPN providers with apps for multiple devices, including iPhones, are NordVPN and ExpressVPN.

How to set up a VPN app on your iPhone

  1. Download the VPN app. Tap App Store on your iPhone, type the name of the VPN service the search bar. Once you find the correct app, tap install.

  2. Install and configure the app. Follow any on-screen setup procedures specific to the VPN app. For example, you may need to add a configuration file or grant special permissions.

  3. Launch the app. If this is your first time using the VPN, you'll be asked to sign up or to enter new login credentials.

    Depending on the provider, the app login credentials may differ from your VPN account login.

  4. Use the VPN. Just select the VPN server you want to connect to (or use the quick connect option, if available), and you're good to go. Your iPhone web browsing activities are now protected from cyber threats by the VPN app.

    NordVPN iPhone screenshots showing the log in and connection screens.

In addition, most VPN apps come with extra security features, like a kill switch, which disconnect your apps from the internet if the VPN drops out for any reason. This helps protect your IP address from being exposed, even temporarily. There may also be options configure advanced settings, such as 'auto-connect' or 'add to Siri.'

While free VPN alternatives are available, they can come with unwanted advertising and adware. If you can, it's always better to use a reputable, paid VPN provider.

Manually Configure a VPN on iOS

Another way to set up a VPN on an iPhone is to configure the server details manually. Before you begin, you need to collect some technical details, such as the VPN connection protocol type, certificates, server details, and proxy settings.

  1. To add a new VPN configuration, open the Settings app and select General > VPN > Add VPN Configuration.

    General, VPN, Add VPN Configuration buttons in iOS Settings app
  2. Choose Type and select one of the VPN tunneling protocols: IKEv2, IPsec, or L2TP. Then, tap Back to return to the previous screen.

  3. Fill in the server details. Depending on the tunnel protocol you chose in the previous step, enter a Description, Server, Account, Secret, Remote ID, User Authentication, and Local ID.

    iPhone VPN protocol configuration screens

    The Description field is the name of the VPN service. Server is either an IP address or a domain name. Remote ID is a hostname. Local ID is sometimes left empty.

  4. If needed, configure proxy details at the bottom of the VPN configuration screen. Use the Manual proxy options to specify server, port, and authentication settings. Use Auto to enter a URL.

  5. Tap Done when you're finished with the iPhone VPN setup.

  6. To enable VPN connections on your iPhone, go to Settings > General > VPN and turn on the Status toggle switch.

    VPN options in iOS Settings
  7. Select the VPN configuration you want to use on your iPhone. If you set up only one VPN, it is chosen by default.

Whenever you want to enable the VPN, open the Settings app and tap VPN, which is located under other network connection types like Bluetooth and Cellular. To change the VPN to a different configuration, return to the screen mentioned in Step 6 and tap the preferred VPN server. If the connection details are valid, a VPN indicator appears at the top of the screen next to other icons like Wi-Fi and your mobile carrier.