We all know the received wisdom by now – “Macs are impenetrable from cyber threats”. That’s a raging debate for another time. But if you’ve decided that getting traditional virus protection for you Apple PC isn’t necessary, downloading and installing a virtual private network (or 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
To start with the obvious, it’s crucial that your Mac VPN provider offers a pre-configured client for its service. Having a good Mac client is a huge boon in terms of simply making things as easy as possible. Solid iOS support is also a welcome feature if you’re heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem and have an iPhone as well as a Mac.
Next, you'll want powerful security with strong encryption. 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 and Amazon prime Video.
Luckily, if you’re stuck as to which provider to go with, help is at hand with TechRadar's dedicated best Mac VPN guide.
1. ExpressVPN is the best Mac VPN in the world
Much like it does for Windows, Androis, iOS and more, ExpressVPN leads the list of our top Mac VPNs. The intuitiveness of the interface is second-to-none - it's really easy to connect to your chosen server on Macbooks. And the 3 months extra free for TechRadar readers is a fantastic perk...
2. CyberGhost - super smooth Mac client at a great price
Thanks to a fairly recent face lift to its Mac client, CyberGhost has catapulted right up our Mac VPN standings. It already boasted 6,000+ servers, excellent encryption and some attractive pricing for multiyear subscriptions, so the enhanced Mac experience is the icing on the cake.
3. NordVPN - straightforward and secure
It's no surprise that one of the biggest names in virtual private networks is also among our favorites when it comes specifically to Apple Macs. It scores especially high for security, with 'Double VPN' encryption and a thorough no logging policy audited by PricewaterhouseCooper.
The five best Mac VPN for 2020
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.
It uses 256-bit encryption over OpenVPN UDP by default and the app comes with a kill switch and split tunnelling functionality.
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.
More than that, 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.
ExpressVPN includes fast VPN servers 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.
The provider is a tad pricier than most other VPNs, but may be a great fit for those who want the best experience for Mac. ExpressVPN doesn’t come with a free trial with its VPN as such, but there is a 30-day money-back guarantee for reassurance.
Get the best Mac VPN 2020: 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. And the good news is that TechRadar readers can get a little perk when they sign up, too. ExpressVPN has agreed to give readers three months extra FREE when they sign up for a year.
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 stand out from the rest. Wanting to unlock Netflix with your VPN, or Hulu, BBC iPlayer, 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.
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.
NordVPN’s clients for both macOS and iOS are rather basic compared to others, but keeping things simple can be advantageous for novices.
That's not to say that you don't have options...NordVPN gives Mac users more choice than the average provider, with an IVEv2 version of its client available on the App store, and an OpenVPN version available directly from the NordVPN website. And that's not all - you can also manually set up to use OpenVPN without installing either of the clients.
This provider is also P2P-friendly and has a strict ‘zero logs’ policy. Performance was slightly above average in our testing.
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, super 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 UDP and TCP, IKEv2 security protocols, as well as AES-256 encryption and a ready and waiting kill switch in case your connection drops. While if your priority is more about getting a VPN for streaming, 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.
The Mac app from IPVanish features a nifty design and a few welcome options like a kill switch and automatic IP switching. The US VPN is blazingly fast, and it’ll automatically hook you up to the fastest server available, a nice touch on the convenience front. Not only are download speeds fast with this VPN, it allows P2P.
OpenVPN, PPTP and L2TP protocols are supported, and there’s also decent iOS support and a wide coverage of servers, with no logging of the user’s activities.
There is a 30-day money-back guarantee with all three available plans. The 1-year subscription is clearly the best choice in terms of outright value - especially when you consider that it covers as many devices in your household as you can handle.
- Check out our guide to the overall best VPN of the year
Best Mac VPN: FAQ
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 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.
Does Apple have its own VPN for Macs?
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 Hotspot Shield. It's basically the premium version of the popular provider's service, just with fewer servers to choose from and no live chat support. 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. Pretty much all the providers out there limit how much you can use them each day - in Hotspot's case, you get 500MB of data per 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 torrenting, streaming or simply having on all the time running in the background.