VPNs might sound complicated – and they are – but setting one up and using it on your Mac is very easy.
Here, we’ll show you through the entire process, step by step, from signing up to a service to installing the software and connecting to a server.
In case you’re wondering “What is a VPN?”, VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It encrypts the connection between your Mac and the internet, and also makes it appear as though you are located where the server is. If you connect to a server in New York, for example, websites and streaming services will behave as though you were in that region, rather than your true location, which could be anywhere in the world.
This is a handy thing to have on your Mac (and iPhone and iPad) if you want to be able to access content that isn’t usually available in your country (e.g. BBC iPlayer from the U.S. or U.S. Netflix from the U.K.) Plus if you are concerned about privacy the VPN will encrypt your data and hide your IP address. See: Should I use a VPN on my Mac/iPhone?
Before you can start using a VPN, you must choose a VPN service to use. NordVPN is our top VPN recommendation, but you’ll find a whole range of alternatives – including many that cost even less – in our round-up of the best VPN services for Mac. For the best value VPN right now see our Best VPN deals round up.
How to set up a VPN on a Mac
Choose a VPN plan
Once you’ve decided which VPN service to sign up to, head to its website and choose the pricing plan that suits you best.
This will usually be the one which works out cheapest per month.
NordVPN, which we’re using here, currently offers two-year, one-year and one-month subscriptions. The first one is the cheapest, costing $5.29/£4.39 per month for the two years. You can get this deal on NordVPN’s website.
Create an account and use your preferred method of payment to activate your subscription. Be sure to keep your password and username safe as you will need these.
Download the VPN app
With your account details ready, download the app for your chosen VPN.
On your Mac, you should be able to download via the App Store, which is usually faster and safe, but some VPNs might offer download links from their websites for newer or better-featured versions.
If you choose to download your VPN from the App Store, you may be asked to sign in using your Apple ID after clicking ‘Install App’.
Once installed, open the app (either press Command and spacebar to open Spotlight and type Nord, navigate to your applications folder or use Launch Pad to locate the app).
Once the app is open you’ll need to sign in using the email address and password from when you created your account earlier (step 1).
Allow the VPN to add configurations
Once logged in, you’ll see a popup that asks you for permission to allow your VPN to add VPN configurations on your machine. You’ll need to press Allow and may be asked to enter the password you use to log in to your Mac.
Below, we explain how to set up a VPN that requires you to go into your Mac’s settings, but like most services, Nord’s app does all the configuration for you when you click Allow here.
As long as you have downloaded a trusted VPN app from a trusted source, this should be absolutely safe.
Choose the location of your server
To begin using your VPN, you’ll be asked to choose a server. This could be within the country you are located if you are looking to protect your privacy and aren’t trying to access blocked content. If, however, you are trying to access U.S. Netflix from inside the UK or BBC iPlayer from outside the U.K., or just checking how a website looks in another country, you need to choose the relevant server location.
If you are using Nord, you can pick a a server using the search bar in the top left corner, or scroll around the world map, or through the country list. Other VPNs will have a similar process for selecting the location of the server you will be routed via.
You may encounter some difficulties when you try to connect to a new server for the first time. For example, you may see a message like the one above: “neagent wants to use your confidential information stored in NordVPN in your keychain.”
This will only appear if IKEv2 is set as the protocol to use, but you’re better off using OpenVPN or NordLynx (based on WireGuard) if you want a faster connection.
You can type in your Mac administrator password and click Always Allow, which means NordVPN will remember the login password within your keychain for future use, and won’t ask you for it again unless you change the password.
Choose your VPN settings and preferences
Your VPN will offer various settings. For example, with Nord you can access settings in Preferences. Click on NordVPN in the top menu and then click on Preferences.
Here you will find options like “auto launch when computer starts” and an option to Auto-connect to a particular country (see: Preferences > Auto-connect). That way the VPN connect to a server of your choice from the moment you launch the application.
You can also access an advanced version of the Kill Switch here. Nord has a Kill Switch, which should stop data leaks if your connection drops, but the advanced settings give an additional layer of security.
You’ll be able to access the VPN settings and server lists any time by launching the app itself or using the icon in the navigation bar at the top of your computer where you’d usually find the date and time.
Once connected, you can use your Mac as normal, but in the knowledge that no-one can spy on your web browsing, and you should be able to access previously blocked content.
How to set up a VPN that doesn’t have an app
In the unlikely scenario that your VPN service has no app, you will need to go into the settings menus of your Mac. It can sound a little daunting but it’s simple once you know how.
Your VPN provider should be able to offer help installing and setting up, but this example using Hidden24 should give you some idea of what to expect.
As with any service, you’ll first need to sign up and create an account.
Once you have a username (usually your email address) and password associated with your account, you can begin the process of setting it up.
First go to System Preferences on your Mac and choose Network.
Press the small + symbol in the bottom left corner to bring up a drop down menu. From Interface, choose VPN. Then choose the VPN type and service name specified by your VPN provider.
In this instance, it’s L2TP over IPSec and the service name is Hidden24.
Now, in the Server Address field, enter the server specified by your provider. Here it’s connect.hidden24.co.uk. The account name is the username you were given when you signed up, so will be unique to everyone.
Now choose ‘Show VPN status in menu bar’ before clicking ‘Authentication Settings’.
You will be prompted to enter your password, as well as a Shared Secret which you should also have been given by your provider.
You can then click OK.
In Advanced, you can choose Send all traffic over VPN connection, to ensure all apps are routed via the VPN connection – unless you specifically don’t want this to happen.
Then click Ok and Apply. You’ll see a new icon appear in your menu bar, which represents your VPN.
You now know how to set up a VPN app or a VPN that requires you to dig into the settings of your Mac.