How to Set Up a VPN on Mac

Getting started is easier than you may think

An image of a woman pressing a virtual lock button.

Yuichiro Chino / Getty Images

A VPN (virtual private network) is great for hiding internet traffic over public Wi-Fi or for getting around geo-restrictions. But to set up a VPN on a Mac might seem confusing if you've never done it before. The good news is, installing and using a VPN for Mac is easy, and even total beginners can be up and running in a matter of minutes. Here's how to do it.

Choose a VPN Service for Your Mac

The place to start is by choosing a good VPN service. Most major VPN providers have similar offerings in terms of server locations, encryption protocols, speed, and performance. However, there are differences between them which can affect how well the service works for you. Here's a look at some popular uses of VPNs and what to look for when choosing a VPN service for your Mac.

  • Web browsing privacy — All VPN services are designed to hide your IP address and physical location while encrypting your data traffic as it flows over public networks. However, VPNs differ in the type of features offered, and it's worth taking the time to investigate the different options available. These include the VPN's data logging policies, encryption protocols (OpenVPN is best), the number of allowable connections, browser extensions, service levels, extra security features, torrenting support, and the company's jurisdiction (a non-U.S. jurisdiction is best).
  • Streaming movies — While nearly all VPNs claim they can unlock sites like Netflix or Amazon Prime, not every VPN lives up to its promises. Your best bet is to spend some time reading VPN reviews, taking advantage of trial periods, or using a VPN that has a money-back guarantee. You don't want to pre-pay for a service that doesn't work as advertised. Often, getting movies to stream is a matter of trial and error involving finding the right VPN company and/or server location.
  • Torrenting — Again, most VPNs like to advertise that they're the best VPN for torrenting, but it's not always the case. If you like to torrent, you want to find a service offers a wide range of dedicated P2P servers, unlimited bandwidth, uses the OpenVPN protocol with AES 256-bit encryption, and has a jurisdiction outside of the 5, 9, or 14-Eyes Alliance countries, i.e. U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand. It's also important to read the VPN service's fine print to make sure you're not in violation of their user policy if torrenting.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    macOS Network VPN settings with Apply and Connect buttons highlighted.
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  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.

    macOS Network connection status.
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  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

Setting up a VPN on a Mac is a straightforward process. Once you've found a VPN provider you want to use, just head over the VPN provider's website to get started.

  1. Find the download for your Mac device Find the appropriate application for your Mac device and begin the download. In most cases, there will be a list of download links you can click on right at the top of the VPN website.

  2. Provide payment information — Depending on the VPN, you may be asked to provide payment information before you can use the service. If this is the case, be sure to check the money-back guarantee period just in case the service doesn't work for you and you need a refund.

  3. Set up the VPN on your Mac — Launch the application installer to begin the installation process on your Mac device. With some products, you may be asked to grant permission to install different parts of the application, such as configuration files or helper tools.

  4. Launch the VPN service on your Mac — Once installed, launch the application and begin using the service by choosing a VPN server location (or quick connect) and connecting to the server.

And that's it! Once you're connected to the VPN, you're all set to begin browsing the web privately and securely. For peace of mind, you can check the VPN's connection status on the application screen (it should say On/Off, or Connected/Disconnected, etc). You can also check your newly cloaked IP address by visiting whatismyipaddress.com.

Why You Should Avoid Free VPN Services on Your Mac

All VPN companies need a way to make money, even 'free' ones. So, if a VPN pitches itself as fast and free, you can bet it's probably monetized by the collection user data which is tracked and sold to third parties.

Some free VPNs may even surreptitiously install adware on your Mac. If you think about it, this completely goes against what a VPN is designed to do, i.e. keep your data and identity protected. That said, if you really can't afford a paid VPN service, you should read over the terms of service so you fully understand what kind of data you might be giving up in exchange for the freebie.