How to Set Up a VPN on Mac

It's easier than you think to use VPN on Mac

Vector image of a hand tapping a VPN tab on a screen.

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A VPN is excellent for accessing geo-blocked websites or protecting your data when browsing on public Wi-Fi. But understanding what your choices are or how to set one up on a Mac isn't always clear. With this in mind, here’s an overview of VPNs and just how to setup a VPN on Mac.

Why Use a VPN

A VPN is excellent for accessing geo-blocked websites or for protecting your data when browsing on public Wi-Fi (such as in a coffee shop or hotel). VPNs are also useful if you just want an extra layer of security at home or work.

How to Choose a VPN

There are many VPN variations out there, including a range of paid and free consumer services.

Paid VPN

Opting for a paid VPN generally offers many upsides, including simple setup, an array of servers, and more video streaming capabilities.

Of course, these benefits come at a premium, and in many cases, if you want to get the best price you'll have to pay for a year or more in advance. But, if reliability and ease of use is what matters most, this is the best route to take.

Free VPN Service

Using a free VPN is obviously attractive because of the cost of entry, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bargain.

If an online service pitches itself as free it's usually monetized by capturing user data. While that may be fine for general web browsing, you’d do well to read the terms of service before you check your email or log on to your bank account.

With that said, many popular paid VPNs do offer free tiers worth considering. They'll often have limitations such as being noticeably slower or providing access to a limited range of overseas servers, but free is still free.

How to Set Up a VPN on Mac Using VPN Settings

To set up a VPN via native macOS VPN settings, make sure you have all the necessary data first. This includes the VPN type, the server address, username, password, and shared secret. All this information is specific to each VPN and provided by your VPN operator.

  1. Click the Apple icon in the upper left of your display, then click System Preferences.

  2. Click Network.

    Screenshot of macOS System Preferences with the Network icon highlighted.
  3. Click the Plus (+) to create a new network connection.

    Screenshot showing macOS Network options with the plus icon highlighted.
  4. Click Interface, then click VPN from the dropdown menu.

    Screenshot of macOS Network settings with the Interface dropdown menu highlighted.
  5. Next, choose the VPN Type. For this example, we'll be using L2PT over IPSec.

    Screenshot showing macOS Network settings with VPN Type highlighted.
  6. Give your connection a Service Name (it doesn't have to be anything specific), then click Create.

    Screenshot showing macOS Network settings with VPN Service Name highlighted.
  7. Enter the Server Address and Account Name, sometimes referred to as username by the VPN operator, then click Authentication Settings.

    Screenshot showing macOS Network settings with VPN setup details highlighted.
  8. Enter the Password and Shared Secret, then click OK.

    Screenshot showing macOS Network settings with VPN User Authentication and Machine Authentication settings highlighted.
  9. Click Apply, then click Connect.

    Screenshot showing macOS Network VPN settings with Apply and Connect buttons highlighted.
  10. Your VPN will now connect. Select Disconnect to turn off your VPN when you're done.

    You can always see the status of your VPN connection from the Network tab. You can also click Show VPN status in menu bar if you want quick access to the VPN connection.

    Screenshot showing macOS Network connection status.
  11. To turn the connection back on again, repeat steps 1 and 2, choose your VPN from the list, then click Connect once more.

How to Set Up a VPN on Mac Using a Third-Party VPN App

When signing up for a third-party VPN, it’s always worth using their apps. Not only will it automate much of the setup process, but if you have an issue and need to reach customer support, they’ll be better equipped to find the solution.

For this demonstration we're going to install NordVPN, one of the most popular third-party services. NordVPN also offers a free seven day trial.

The NordVPN Mac app requires macOS Sierra 10.12 or later. Alternatively you can use NordVPN’s version of OpenVPN for macOS Yosemite 10.10 or later. To check which version of macOS you're running, click the Apple icon, then click About This Mac. A dialog box will appear showing the version name and number.

  1. Go to nordvpn.com and sign up.

  2. Once you’ve completed the sign-up and authorization process, you’ll have the option to download the NordVPN app from the Mac App Store, or to install OpenVPN. Clicl Download On the Mac App Store.

    Screenshot of the NordVPN downloads page highlighting the Download On The Mac App Store icon.
  3. This will take you to the Mac App Store Preview webpage for the NordVPN app. Click View in Mac App Store to be taken to the app within the Mac App Store.

    Screenshot of the Mac App Store Preview for the NordVPN app with the View in Mac App Store button highlighted.
  4. Click Get to download and install NordVPN.

    Screenshot of the NordVPN app in the Mac App Store with the Get button highlighted.
  5. Once installed, click Open.

    Screenshot of the NordVPN app in the Mac App Store with the Open button highlighted.
  6. Once the NordVPN app has launched, click Log In.

    Screenshot of the NordVPN Mac App with Log In highlighted.
  7. Enter your username and password, then click Log In.

    Screenshot of NordVPN app Log In screen.
  8. Click Quick connect.

    Screenshot of NordVPN app with Quick connect button highlighted.
  9. A dialog box will appear notifying you that NordVPN wants to add VPN configurations. Click Allow.

    Screenshot of NordVPN and macOS permissions dialog box with the Allow button highlighted.
  10. Another dialog box will appear asking you to enter your Mac password. Enter it, then click Always Allow.

    If you click Allow instead, you’ll have to grant permissions every time you choose a different server.

    Screenshot of NordVPN app showing and macOS dialog box showing the Mac password box.
  11. NordVPN will automatically connect you to a local server.

  12. To choose a new location (for bypassing geo-location blocks) select a country from the list in the left side panel.

    Screenshot of NordVPN app with locations highlighted.
  13. Some locations also allow you to select servers by city. To access this, click the three horizontal dots alongside a country name. This will open a dropdown menu showing additional server locations for you to choose from.

    Screenshot of NordVPN with Australia selected and available cities shown within a dropdown menu.
  14. Click Disconnect to turn off your VPN when you're done.

    Screenshot of NordVPN app with the Disconnect button highlighted.
  15. You can also disconnect or reconnect via the NordVPN icon in the menu bar.