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How to download, set up and install a VPN on iPhone

iPhone 12
(Image credit: DenPhotos/Shutterstock)

If you're planning to equip your Apple smartphone with a VPN, it's likely you already know the ample additional possibilities available to iOS users. From securing your connection and encrypting personal data, to unblocking otherwise geo-restricted websites and content, allowing you to stream TV shows, movies, and sport no matter where you are, the advantages of an iPhone VPN speak for itself.

While you'll be faced with hundreds of services when searching 'VPN' on the App Store, below we detail the best way to approach downloading and installing a VPN on your iPhone, including heading straight to the provider's website to secure the best VPN deal.

1. Choose a provider

When it comes to setting up and installing a VPN on your iPhone, the hardest part is often choosing a provider because the market is full of them. 

What can also make this difficult is the fact that each VPN service will have its own strengths and weaknesses.  While one provider might be better for streaming TV shows and movies, another service might have more security and privacy features. 

In order to get the most out of a VPN app, we’d recommend staying away from free services and choosing one of the top VPNs we recommend for iPhone users. These include the likes of ExpressVPN, NordVPN and Surfshark - names you may have already heard of in your research.

All three providers offer easy-to-use iOS apps, plenty of global servers, access to foreign Netflix and other major streaming providers, strong encryption and fast speeds. They also have a range of plans to suit your budget, 24/7 support, and lots of other great features.

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Get the best overall VPN for iPhone with 3 months FREE (opens in new tab)
ExpressVPN is #1 in our overall best VPN (opens in new tab) list, and one of the main reasons is because of its mobile apps. They're easy-to-use while remaining as feature-packed as its desktop version. ExpressVPN also boasts fast connections with 3,000+ servers across over 90 countries, and is fantastic at unblocking streaming services - plus, you can try it out for 30 days risk-free with its no quibble money back guarantee. 

2. Sign up for a subscription 

When you’ve researched and chosen a VPN provider to download on your iPhone, you’ll need to sign up for a subscription. 

Rather than going immediately to the App Store and signing up that way, we recommend visiting official website. While taking the App Store route may be the way to get a VPN with a free trial, you often don't get the very best renewal price you would be going direct.

Here, you'll be able to look at all the different plans on offer and choose one that best suits your needs. Most VPN providers offer monthly, annual, and multiyear plans, with the latter tending to be cheaper in the long run.

iPhone VPN page on the ExpressVPN website

(Image credit: ExpressVPN)
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3. Download the iOS app 

After signing up for a subscription, you’ll need to head over to the App Store and download the provider’s iPhone app. You can usually also find a download link on the provider's website, under a page like "apps". The majority of VPN services will offer apps for iOS and many other operating systems. 

For the purpose of this article, we've downloaded and set up the ExpressVPN app on an iPhone. However, the set-up and installation process will be similar to other VPN services. 

4. Sign in 

When the app is downloaded on your iPhone, the next step is to open it and sign in to your account. For this, you'll need the email address and password that you used in step two. If you can’t remember your password, you should see a link to reset this. 

5. Set up the app 

As soon as you’ve signed in to your account via the iOS app, you’ll need to go through a short set-up process. In ExpressVPN's case, the first step is to accept the provider’s privacy policy. If you’re happy with what you’ve read, just press “Agree and Continue”. 

The ExpressVPN app will then ask to add VPN configurations. Tap "Allow" and enter the passcode for your iPhone. 

You will also get a permission request to send you notifications about your account and VPN connections. Just press the “OK” button and approve the iOS permission request to move on to the next step. 

Lastly, you'll be asked to share information in order to help improve the VPN service. All you have to do is select whether you'd like to or not.

ExpressVPN on iPhone

(Image credit: Future)
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6. Connect to a server

Once you’ve signed into your account and followed all the different set-up instructions, the app should be up and running. Now it's time to connect to a VPN server. 

If you’re using ExpressVPN, you should see a big power button that says “tap to connect” - all credible iPhone VPN apps will have a similar On/Off button that's obvious to toggle. When you press this, you’ll automatically be connected to the best available server. 

But you can easily change your VPN location by pressing the three dots to the right of the “Current Location” box. Doing so will bring up a “VPN Locations” page, where you’ll be able to search for servers across different cities and countries globally.

And that's it... you're already up and running!

Why should I get a VPN for my iPhone?

In comparison to smartphones from other manufacturers, Apple’s iPhone is pretty robust from a security and privacy perspective. But that’s not to say your data is always going to be safe on your iOS device.

By using a VPN, your personal information will be protected by end-to-end encryption whenever you browse the web or use apps on your iPhone. At the same time, third parties (such as internet service providers, cybercriminals, and governments) won’t have the ability to see what you get up to online. And you can use public Wi-Fi networks without fear of being hacked.

However, VPNs also have lots of non-security benefits - there are tonnes of VPN uses to take advantage of. For starters, geo-restrictions will no longer be an issue as you’ll be able to access all your favorite websites and TV content at home and abroad with the best streaming VPN.

You also won't be vulnerable to bandwidth throttling, which will help to improve the performance of gaming and streaming on your iPhone. If you use your iPhone for online shopping, you can connect to different locations around the world in order to find the cheapest deals. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Nicholas Fearn is a freelance technology journalist and copywriter from the Welsh valleys. His work has appeared in publications such as the FT, the Independent, the Daily Telegraph, The Next Web, T3, Android Central, Computer Weekly, and many others. He also happens to be a diehard Mariah Carey fan!