Setting up a VPN on MacOS

VPN shield and settings icon next to a mac showing MacOS (Big Sur)
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Setting up a VPN on MacOS: a quick guide

Using a VPN on your MacOS is always a good idea. Sometimes you can’t use your VPN provider’s software for this, so you’ll have to set up the connection yourself. In that case, simply follow these steps:

1. Make sure you have the correct login details. Are you still looking for a VPN provider? We recommend ExpressVPN:

2. Go to System Preferences and select ‘Network‘.

3. Add the VPN connection by clicking ‘+’ in the lower left corner. Fill in the correct login information and choose ‘Apply’.

4. Select the VPN connection from the list and click ‘Connect‘.

Would you like to know how to install a VPN on your Mac with VPN software, or do you simply want more information? Find out more by reading the rest of our article below.

If you are serious about keeping yourself safe online and want to ensure that cybercriminals aren’t able to access your personal data, a VPN is the way to go. This secure connection will help you stay safe while browsing. Many Mac users would prefer to be able to set up their own VPN on MacOS without installing third party software. Thankfully, this can easily be done. To make manually configuring your VPN as simple as possible, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide for you to follow.

Note: Before setting up a VPN on your MacOS, you’ll need a VPN subscription and the associated login details. If you haven’t chosen a VPN yet, check out the best VPN providers for MacOS or scroll down to see which VPN we think is the very best for MacOS.

How to set up a VPN on MacOS

If you wish to set up a VPN on your Mac, you’ll first need to be logged into your device as an administrator, so you have the rights to adjust the network and security settings. If you don’t have these rights, contact your computer’s main administrator.

Optional: Depending on your VPN, you may need to download a security certificate for your login keychain. Your login keychain is a ‘safe’ of sorts, in which you store login details and other confidential data. Information about certificates can be found on your VPN provider’s website.

If the provider uses a certificate, right click on the certificate in your keychain and click ‘Get Info’. Make sure the settings of your certificate look like this:

VPN setup MacOS certificate settings

Step 1: Go to your VPN settings

Now you’re ready to set up your VPN on MacOS. You’ll first have to navigate to your System Preferences. You can find this in the menu that opens up when you click on the Apple logo in the top left corner. Click first on System Preferences, then on the Network icon, as can be seen below:

MacOS system preferences

Step 2: Add a VPN Connection

When the Network menu appears, click the small ‘+’ icon located below the list of possible network connections.

Network settings MacOS + icon

This will open a pop-up box in which you can enter your VPN details:

VPN type popup box

  1. Select the VPN option from the dropdown menu behind ‘Interface’.
  2. Choose your preferred VPN protocol type in the second box. The options offered will depend on your firewall settings and router. Generally, the IKEv2 protocol is the safest protocol to use when setting up your VPN via Mac’s settings.
  3. Choose a name for your VPN connection and type it into the box behind ‘Service Name’. You can pick any name you like, such as the name of your provider or the type of connection. As long as it’s a recognizable name to you, it’ll do.

Click on the ‘Create’ button, and you’re ready to move on to the next step.

Step 3: Setting up your VPN on MacOS

Now that you’ve added a VPN connection, you’ll need to log into your chosen VPN service. Once you’ve clicked ‘Create’, you’ll be taken to a different menu. It will ask for the following information: Server Address, Remote ID, and Local ID.

VPN setup server address remote ID

Fill in the boxes by following these steps:

  1. Your server address can often be found in your VPN provider account details. This is the VPN-server you’d like to use. If you can’t find it, contact the customer service of your VPN service.
  2. Set the external ID as the name of your chosen VPN service provider, or simply enter the server address again. Depending on your VPN provider, one or both of these options are possible.
  3. Filling in the local ID is optional, so feel free to leave this box blank.
  4. Click the button “Authentication Settings…”.

Step 4: Authenticate your account and connect

Once you’ve entered your connection details, you’ll need to enter your login details in order to access your VPN service. By clicking on the button “Authentication Settings”, you’ll be sent to the following screen:

Setting up VPN account details

Choose the option “Username” from the dropdown menu, then fill in the login information you received when you set up your VPN account.

After filling in your username and password, you can select the option ‘Show VPN status in menu bar’ at the bottom of the screen. This will make the VPN status icon pop up at the top of your screen, so you can more easily adjust your settings. This can be very useful if you wish to quickly connect to your VPN network or switch between VPN services at a later point.

Finally, to create the VPN connection, click ‘Connect’. You have now successfully configured your VPN on MacOS!

What is the Best VPN for MacOS?

If you want to use a VPN on your Mac computer, there are a few things to look out for. Not all VPNs are suitable for Mac computers, after all. That’s why you might want to pay attention to factors such as compatibility with Apple products, speed, and additional options the VPN offers. ExpressVPN turned out to be the best option when we tested VPNs for Mac. In addition to high connection speeds, this VPN provider has a network containing over 3,000 servers in 94 countries.

ExpressVPN is a very user-friendly service, meaning everyone will be able to use it. You don’t need a lot of technical experience to be able to work with this VPN. In addition, ExpressVPN’s customer service is very helpful. Therefore, ExpressVPN often is the best choice for a VPN for general use.

Great discount on annual subscription + 30-day money-back guarantee!
  • Very easy to use VPN
  • Perfect for anonymous browsing, downloading, and streaming (i.e. Netflix)
  • 3000+ servers in 94 countries
Visit ExpressVPN

Would you like to know more about other VPN providers? Make sure to have a look at our top 5 best VPN providers of this moment!

Setting up your VPN on MacOS using VPN-software

Installing your VPN through the settings of your operating system isn’t always the best way to go. If you use a paid VPN provider, such as ExpressVPN, we strongly advise that you use their official software. This software often supports more VPN protocols and uses DNS servers to prevent DNS leaks. In addition, it often includes a kill switch, which automatically shuts off your connection in the event of a VPN server failure. In short, you’ll generally be more secure when you use VPN software over setting the connection up on MacOS yourself.

Installing VPN software on MacOS works as follows:

Installing VPN Step by Step Desktop

  1. Subscribe to a VPN provider and create an account.
  2. Download the VPN software from their official website.
  3. Install the software by following the indicated steps.
  4. Log in to the software with your account. This is often a matter of filling in the username and password combination you created in step 1.
  5. Optional: choose the desired VPN server. Depending on what you wish to do online, you can choose a suitable server location. Do you want to watch the American version of Netflix? Then choose an American server. If you’re abroad and would like to watch your local streams online, simply choose a server in your home country. Finally, if you just want to browse the internet safely, choose the server closest to you for the fastest connection.
  6. Turn on the VPN. For most VPN software, this is done with one click. If you haven’t chosen a server location, the software will likely automatically select the closest or fastest server.

Why use a VPN on MacOS?

There are many reasons why people might decide to start using a VPN. Here are the most common ones:

  • Your data is encrypted, providing extra protection against hackers and cybercriminals (as well as other parties who might be listening in, such as governments and businesses);
  • You can use public networks safely;
  • Your location and IP address will be hidden;
  • You can download torrents and other files anonymously;
  • Bypassing regional blocks on social media and streaming services (such as Netflix) is easier;
  • You can bypass censorship in certain countries;
  • Speed limits put up by your ISP will no longer apply to you;
  • You might be able to get access to services that can normally only be used within the network of a company or institution. This is especially useful when working from home.

In short, setting up a VPN on your Mac is always a good idea. You probably use this device for most of your daily internet activities. With a VPN, your online privacy and freedom will instantly be enhanced.

Final Thoughts

Some MacOS users might choose to manually set up their VPN. This article explained how to do this successfully step by step. Using this method usually isn’t necessary, because most premium VPNs offer software that will set up the connection for you automatically. We therefore recommend using VPN software, which is often simpler and more secure. A VPN that’ll work perfectly no matter which way you choose to install it on your Mac, is ExpressVPN.

Setting up a VPN on Mac - Frequently Asked Questions

If you need a quick answer to your question, we might be able to help you out. Simply click one of the questions below to see the answer.

The easiest way to set up a VPN is to install the provider’s software. As long as the VPN is compatible with MacOS, we recommend this. It’s also possible to install a VPN manually by adjusting the system preferences of your Mac. Setting up your VPN on MacOS this way can be useful when you want to be able to configure all the VPN’s settings yourself or when you aren’t satisfied with your provider’s software.

A VPN comes with a number of major advantages. The secure connection will protect your online data, you’ll get access to specific networks (including your company’s network when you work from home) and your privacy will be maintained. Moreover, a VPN also increases your internet freedom. In short, a VPN on Mac will give you more privacy, security, and options on the internet.

When choosing a VPN for your Mac, you’ll have to look whether the service is compatible with Apple products, whether it won’t slow down your connection too much, and which options it offers. We’ve independently tested many VPNs and concluded that ExpressVPN currently is one of the best VPNs for Mac.

Tech journalist
Erik was educated in the humanities, after which he started to investigate technological and online culture. Specifically, he is interested in privacy and net neutrality. Erik has worked as an editor, copywriter and translator for several platforms, with technology as a recurring theme.