How to set up a VPN on iPhone

iPhone 12
The iPhone 12 (Image credit: DenPhotos/Shutterstock)

If you're anything like me, you'll spend just as much time on your mobile as you do on your PC or laptop. Whether you're doing some online shopping, checking out what's new on Netflix, or just scrolling through social media, you won't want your identifiable data to fall into the wrong hands.

iPhones (and other Apple products) have a reputation for stellar security—and it's not totally unwarranted. However, your iPhone isn't totally immune to threats like hacks, malware, and dodgy sites. Plus, some online content just won't be available to you based on your location.

That's where a virtual private network (VPN) comes in handy. The best VPNs keep your data safe from snoopers as you go about your browsing, help you make the most of your streaming subscriptions, and only take a few taps to install. I'll walk you through the process—so let's get started.

The three best iPhone VPNs in 2024

It's safe to say that we're all spoiled for choice when it comes to picking out a VPN. My top picks are speedy, come with reliable privacy tools, and work like a charm on iPhones.

1. ExpressVPN: the best iPhone VPN overall

1. ExpressVPN: the best iPhone VPN overall
ExpressVPN's iOS app looks and feels awesome. The layout makes it incredibly easy to hop from server to server, or tweak your settings, and handy automations take care of the configuration for you.

ExpressVPN is undeniably expensive (almost twice as much as NordVPN), but it does offer some of the best privacy-enhancing features on the market wrapped up in a polished package. See for yourself with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

2. NordVPN: the quickest iPhone VPN

2. NordVPN: the quickest iPhone VPN
NordVPN is more than just a VPN—you're getting a jam-packed security suite that can block ads and keep malware at bay. Basically, you can wave goodbye to annoying pop-ups that take up half of your phone's screen.

It's worth noting that NordVPN is the fastest VPN I've tested, ever, and easily keeps up with HD and 4K streaming whether you're on the go or at home. Take NordVPN for a trial run with its 30-day money-back guarantee.

3. Surfshark: the best budget iPhone VPN

3. Surfshark: the best budget iPhone VPN
Surfshark is a speedy powerhouse and a great pick for streamers, seeing as it unblocks all of the most popular platforms out there (and then some). I especially like its clutter-free iOS app and unlimited simultaneous connections, which let you share your subscription with friends and family.

Surfshark's best feature is its price, however, which will be tempting to even the most die-hard bargain hunters. Check it out risk-free with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

How to install a VPN on iPhone

Samey set up

Installing an iPhone VPN follows, roughly, the same steps as installing an Android VPN. So, if you've got someone in your life who's a Samsung loyalist, you'll have no trouble setting up a VPN on their device, too.

Today's VPNs are supremely user-friendly—which is great news for folks who want to spend less time fiddling with settings and more time online. Handy automations make installation a breeze, in fact, and handle most of the heavy lifting for you.

Follow along with my step-by-step guide and you'll be up and running in no time. 

  1. Head to the App Store and use the search bar to punch in the name of a VPN.
  2. Check out the reviews before you tap that download button. You'll want to make sure the VPN app is legitimate and not a cleverly disguised copycat.
  3. Confirm the download once you're sure it's the real deal. Then, you'll be asked to approve installation, and need to input your passcode or Face ID.
  4. Download the app. This should only take a minute, or less, and once it's complete, you can close the App Store and open the VPN app.
  5. Grant permission to the VPN app. Usually, the app will request these right off the bat when you open it. It's safe to do so, though you can deny the request if you'd rather not part with data that could be used to help the VPN improve and develop its app.
  6. Create an account via the VPN app. Input the regular info (like an email address), verify your account, and then choose the subscription plan and length that suits your budget and use case.
  7. You're all done. Hit the big "Connect" button when you're ready to take your VPN for a whirl and you'll be matched up to a server (based on proximity). Alternatively, you can check out the VPN's server list to choose a location yourself, or make good use of servers with dedicated use cases (like streaming or gaming).


What's the best iPhone VPN?

ExpressVPN is my #1 pick for iPhone. Its iOS apps are sleek and modern, without clutter, and easy to use even if you're totally new to the tech. You'll also get super-fast speeds that are ideal for streaming, security-enhancing tools, and servers in over 94 countries.

Plus, if you need help getting set up, ExpressVPN's stellar customer support team is available 24/7 via live chat and email, and they've never let me down.

Do I need a VPN on my iPhone?

Unfortunately, your iPhone is still vulnerable to online threats—like malware, malicious ads and sites, hacking attempts, and data leaks. Using a VPN helps negate these risks and boost your digital privacy. How? Well, by masking your original IP address and spoofing your location, you can rest assured that third-party peepers (like your ISP, government, and would-be hackers can’t keep tabs on your activity. 

Does my iPhone have a built-in VPN?

No, iPhones don't have a built-in VPN. You'll need to download one from a third-party source (and I'd suggest sticking to secure VPN providers), but once you have, you can head into your settings to manage the VPN connection.

Can I use a free iPhone VPN?

You can, but it's not a great idea. Free VPNs are sort of like the samples you get at the store—a little taste of the full thing designed to entice you into making a purchase. Free VPNs come with limitations, too, like monthly data allowances, bandwidth caps, and a puny server list, which can really put a damper on your experience.

Worse still, some free VPNs are little more than poorly disguised scams designed to scoop up your data and sell it on to the highest bidder. Naturally, this is exactly what a good VPN stands in opposition to, and you'll want to avoid these dodgy services like the plague. Check out the best cheap VPNs for some wallet-friendly options, or take a look at the free VPNs that the Tech Radar team has tested, vetted, and approved.

River Hart
Tech Software Editor

River is a Tech Software Editor and VPN expert at TechRadar. They’re on-hand to keep VPN and cybersecurity content up-to-date and accurate. When they’re not helping readers find the best VPNs around (and the best deals), River can be found in close proximity to their PS5 or being pushed about the countryside by the lovely Welsh weather.