“Macs are impenetrable from cyber threats” - it's what we've been told for years and, to an extent, it remains true. But if you’ve decided that getting traditional virus protection for your Apple computer or MacBook isn’t necessary, downloading and installing a VPN is still well worth considering.
Even if you’re not worried about malware, Mac VPNs are a brilliant layer of defence against threats like identity theft and hacking. By utilising one of these services, all data to and from your Mac will be encrypted thanks to the VPN’s secure server – particularly handy if you’re using a MacBook on public Wi-Fi.
But it’s the extra functions that will probably sway your decision – whether that’s to access websites that are blocked by your office, school or government, to watch foreign TV shows and sport, or even to get around ISP speed throttling. Getting the best Mac VPN for your Apple computer makes sense, and we’ll help you locate the ideal one.
How to choose the best Mac VPN
Any VPN worth its salt (which includes all those listed below) will already be designed to function perfectly on Apple's macOS. But you'll want to make sure that your provider of choice benefits from powerful security tools and a clear no-logging policy to ensure your online anonymity.
Good performance levels obviously don’t hurt, either, especially if your priority is to use your Mac VPN for streaming and torrenting. And if it is all about watching content, then make sure your chosen provider has a strong reputation for unblocking the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and other popular streaming services.
If you're Apple through and through, check that you're also choosing a Mac VPN that also has a brilliant iPhone app. And if you have a lot of devices to cover with your new software, consider opting for a service that allows plenty of simultaneous connections from a single subscription - that way you can hand them out to family members, too.
Today's top 3 best Mac VPNs:
1. ExpressVPN - best Mac VPN in the world
Much like on Windows, Android, iOS and more, ExpressVPN tops our Mac VPN list. The interface is second-to-none - it's really easy to connect to your chosen server on MacBooks. Try it risk-free for 30 days and get 3 months free and unlimited secure cloud storage - exclusively for TechRadar readers!
2. NordVPN - straightforward and secure
It's no surprise that one of the biggest names in the world of Mac VPNs is also among our favorites. It scores especially high for security, with 'Double VPN' encryption and a thorough no logging policy audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
3. Surfshark - a Mac VPN at a great price
Surfshark might not quite match Nord and Express on sheer quality, but it boasts a way better price tag. You can get it for an effective monthly cost of under $2.50 USD and, like the two above, is great at unblocking overseas Netflix catalogs and other streaming services.
The five best Mac VPN for 2021
ExpressVPN is our top choice for the best all-round VPN on the Mac (and iPhone VPN). The firm's dedicated app is intuitive and very user-friendly, featuring a one-click option for connecting, as well as some advanced options.
There’s also a very good iOS app and Safari browser extension, so you get a complete Mac VPN experience. That goes equally for US-based users and those around the world, with the ExpressVPN Mac app supporting multiple languages including German, Spanish, Russian, Japanese and many more.
Express's advanced features (and their in-depth tutorials) are great for Apple users. For instance, if your Mac connects to the internet by a wired connection, you can set it up as a wireless hotspot for your local devices, allowing them to connect via the VPN without having to be set up for ExpressVPN themselves.
In fact, Express rules the roost on our overall best VPN chart as well, and there are plenty of good reasons why. It benefits from fast, stable VPN server connections across 94 countries and unlimited bandwidth. That makes for a solid choice for anyone using the VPN for P2P traffic or unblocking content on streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and more.
And in terms of security, the Mac client comes with a kill switch and split tunnelling functionality, while the company has also now fully rolled out its proprietary Lightway protocol that increases speeds even further.
There's a 30-day money-back guarantee for reassurance. And although the provider is a tad pricier than most other VPNs, it is a fabulous fit for those who want the best experience for Mac. And now that it throws in a whole year of unlimited secure cloud storage from Backblaze (worth around $60), the value just got much, much better.
Get the best Mac VPN 2021: 49% off and 3 months FREE
You can tell that we really rate Express - it's the VPN we have on our machines in the TechRadar office and it's hard to argue with the provider's 30-day money-back guarantee. TechRadar readers get a little perk when you sign up, too - three months extra FREE and Backblaze cloud storage with annual plans.
When it comes to security, NordVPN does it like no other. Its own ‘Double VPN’ technology encrypts data twice – in other words, it passes your data through two separate VPN servers to make things even more secure – while there are additional security extras such as encrypted chat, web proxy extensions and so on. So if online security is top of your wish list when it comes to your Mac VPN, then Nord suddenly isn't found wanting.
If the main VPN use you have planned is streaming, then NordVPN is a terrific companion. It took no time at all to get us watching shows exclusive to foreign Netflix catalogues, as was the case for getting around Disney+ and YouTube restrictions. We had to try a few servers to get around the BBC's iPlayer geo-restrictions, but we go there in the end.
This provider is P2P-friendly and has a strict ‘zero logs’ policy that's actually audited annually by PricewaterhouseCoopers, (good to know if you're after a VPN for torrenting). And performance was way above average in our testing, especially when using the provider's own NordLynx protocol.
On the topic of protocols, NordVPN gives Mac users more choice than the average provider, with IVEv2 and OpenVPN both available to choose from. And that's not all - you can also manually set up to use OpenVPN without installing either of the clients.
There's a free 30-day money back guarantee, and otherwise NordVPN is one of the most affordable VPN options for your Mac.
The list of reasons to download Surfshark are numerous. Free trial on Macs, fast connections the world over, beautifully straightforward-to-use interface, Netflix and iPlayer unblocking, and all that in a product that tops our list of the best cheap VPNs.
If the main reason for grabbing a Mac VPN is for the extra layer of security, then Surfshark offers OpenVPN and a number of other protocols for you to choose from - including the super speedy WireGuard. AES-256 encryption is in place to ensure that nobody will be able to discover what sites you've been using, and a ready and waiting kill switch in case your connection drops while using public Wi-Fi on your Macbook. You can even pay for your Surfshark subscription using Bitcoin if you were so inclined.
If your priority is more about getting a VPN for streaming however, then you'll be interested in its power to let you watch your Netflix or iPlayer catalogues from wherever on Earth you happen to be. Despite the low price, Surfshark is one of the most complete services for website unblocking.
But let's face it, the main reason most Mac users will have their head turned by Surfshark is that pricing. And making it even better value, it's great to know that a single subscription covers unlimited devices. So that's Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, Linux, Amazon Fire Stick and many more.
Got the need for speed? Then Hotpsot Shield needs to be heeded! When we tested connection speeds to various servers, it trumped pretty much all of the competition. We know that system slowdown is a reason why some people are put off the idea of using VPNs, but the speeds on show here - afforded to Hotspot by its brilliantly-named Catapult Hydra protocol - mean you can confidently leave Hotspot running in the background and know that it won't cause you delays.
But that isn't all that Hotspot Shield has going for it. We really like how easy to use it is, too. Once signed up, download the Mac client and...well, that's all there is to it. Hit the inviting On/Off button and you'll be enjoying online anonymity in mere seconds.
Like the providers above, Hotspot has a strong unblocking game going on, with fantastic results when we tried it on Netflix, iPlayer, Disney+ and others. And we really like the way you can give Hotspot a try before you fully commit - either thanks to its generous 45-day money back guarantee, or its market-leading free version.
We found that Mac VPN provider CyberGhost certainly has the smarts to easily back up its claims. Let's start with the basics: more than 6,000 servers spread across over 90 countries, no bar on torrents and some really handy live chat support if you ever run into difficulties.
Guaranteed no logs, rigorous encryption and a trigger-happy kill switch for any breaches in security mean it's certainly strong. But it's the added little extras that make CyberGhost worthy of a place on your shortlist. Wanting to unlock Netflix with your VPN, or Hulu, YouTube or something else? No worries, as CyberGhost will automatically connect you to the server best poised for the purpose. It can also block ads, trackers and malicious websites.
CyberGhost has recently improved its interface - previously one of main gripes with this Mac VPN. Now that only gives us room to moan about the odd bit of clogging, which lead to reduced speeds from servers in the far reaches of the globe. There's still room for improvement on website-based support pages, too - an area where ExpressVPN has everybody else licked.
- Getting back to basics: what is a VPN?
Best Mac VPN: FAQ
What is the best Mac VPN in 2021?
At the top of our best Mac VPN list comes ExpressVPN, TechRadar's only 5-star VPN you can sign up for.
It scores so highly thanks to its amazing simplicity to use (whether that be on Mac, Windows, iPhone or, basically, any other platform), strong security smarts, speedy and reliable server connections, and prowess when it comes to unlocking streaming services. Its genuinely useful 24/7 customer support is a massive boon, too.
And if you love a freebie, ExpressVPN has one of those, too! Sign up for an annual plan and it will throw in a whole year of secure cloud storage from the well-regarded Backblaze.
Do you need a VPN on a Mac?
We all know the old adage by now...Macs are much safer than Windows computers, right? And while that remains true, it still pays to have that extra layer of security and anonymity that VPNs give you above and beyond Mac antivirus.
And of course, if you're more interested in the other functions of virtual private networks, such as streaming foreign TV streaming service catalogues and unblocking restricted sites in your office or other countries (you might be surprised just how useful a VPN for China is), then you will indeed need a VPN - or virtual private network - for your Mac to do that.
How does a Mac VPN work?
That's a big question with a fairly complex answer - and we go in to it in some depth in our dedicated article on how VPNs work. But, put simply, when your VPN is turned on, all of the information you send and receive from and to your computer or mobile is channelled through an encrypted tunnel. That means even if any prying managed to hack you, they still wouldn't be able to turn the data into comprehensive information.
Do Macs have built in VPN?
Kind of. Macs do indeed have the L2TP/IPSec and IKEv2 VPN protocols built-in that you can turn on any time for extra protection on your Mac. To turn it on, you need to head to your Network settings and choose to add a VPN using one of those protocols.
Of course, that won't help with the other VPN uses we've outlined on this page (geo-spoofing, streaming content from other countries, etc), but is handy to know if you're particularly conscious of your Mac's privacy.
What's the best free option when it comes to Mac VPNs?
If you've decided that you like the look at what VPNs can do for your Macbook but just can't bear to part with your cash, then we'd recommend going for ProtonVPN. Unlike most of its cost-free competitors, Proton doesn't slap on any data use restrictions, and it still offers servers in the US, Netherlands and Japan. It's the #1 choice in our free VPN countdown.
But we would suggest exercising just a little bit of caution when it comes to downloading a free Mac VPN. Most other providers out there limit how much you can use them each day. That's fine if you're just looking for some extra security when you log on to public Wi-Fi at the cafe or airport, but certainly won't be sufficient if you're looking for a VPN for Fire TV Stick, torrenting, streaming or simply having on all the time running in the background.