How to set up and use a VPN?

how to setup a vpn

Setting up a virtual private network (VPN) can sound intimidating if you’ve never done it. This isn’t entirely unjustified: there often are many parameters to configure, which can quickly overwhelm you if you just wanted some more online privacy.

In practice, however, there’s always an easy and a hard way to do things. Yes, it’s possible to set up a VPN manually, but there are more user-friendly ways to do it. You don’t have to be a computer networking expert to set up a VPN, and we’ll show you how.

When should you use a VPN?

VPN creates an encrypted tunnel from your device to a remote server in order to access the Internet via an intermediary. The connection is encrypted and your ISP can only see you connecting to the VPN server, so no one can know what you’re doing online. It makes a much safer web experience that doesn’t leave any digital footprints that could be traced back to you. Like you would be wearing a mask.

For this reason, VPNs are popular in high-censorship or high-surveillance countries. When you’re connected to an intermediary server, you get a different IP, so the restrictions that apply to the Internet service providers in your region no longer apply to you. That’s why with a VPN, you can unblock banned websites or protect your privacy and anonymity. The point is, when you set up a VPN at home, you can enjoy everything the Internet has to offer.

How to choose a VPN?

Before you can set up a VPN, you need to pick a service provider. How to know which is the best one? That depends on several factors.

Security measures

Connecting to an intermediary server without additional encryption is just like using a proxy. That is why you need as many security measures as you can potentially get if you’re using a VPN. Look for military-grade AES-256 encryption and secure tunneling protocols like WireGuard, OpenVPN, or IKEv2. It’s a good way to make sure that your connection remains private.

Also, look for additional features that may make your VPN journeys even more private. Features like a kill-switch, which automatically disables your internet connection if your VPN connection drops, are crucial. This will ensure your IP address and identity don’t accidentally leak.

Privacy policy

Nobody likes to read terms of service agreements written in elaborate jargon in tiny fonts. Naturally, everyone just clicks “Accept” without reading. Well, with VPNs, that tiny text can make or break a service. Imagine that you pick a service that seems to have adequate security measures. If your ISP can politely ask for the data from your VPN provider, your security becomes essentially null.

For this reason, your chosen VPN needs to be no-logs. You don’t just have to take the provider’s word for it. Just Google your potential VPN provider’s name, and you can quickly find which service providers have given away user data. On the flip side, there are many instances of VPNs that, even when required, provided no information because they genuinely didn’t keep it.

Jurisdiction

Ever wondered why no quality VPN service provider originated in Russia? Your VPN is as privacy-friendly as the government it functions under. There are plenty of surveillance agencies across the globe, as well as intelligence alliances. For example, if the VPN operates out of one of the 14-Eyes countries, there’s a good chance the NSA could get your data. When choosing a provider, select a country that is off limits from these influences. This is the best way to make sure that nobody will even come knocking at your door with search warrants.

Features

VPNs aren’t made equal. If one can unblock Netflix and the BBC, that doesn’t mean a different one will. So, when it comes to features, it’s a whole wide world of options. There are ones that support P2P and torrenting, there are others that don’t. You’ll have to read up on what the service is capable of in advance. If you know what you plan to do with a VPN, this shouldn’t take too much time. Double-check the community forums and read independent reviews to verify if the service actually does what it promises.

Free vs. paid VPNs

There are many VPN services that you can use without spending a dime. In all of these cases, you should ask yourself, why is that? Most often, it means that the service is kept afloat by selling your data or feeding you ads. In other words, you’re just switching the surveillance of your ISP into the surveillance of your VPN provider. That’s the worst trade deal in the history of deals.

The only case when a free VPN is acceptable is when it’s a restricted version of a premium VPN (freemium). That way, it acts as a demo version that creates an incentive to switch to paid. In most cases, your privacy is safe, and you get a decent service. However, these services are limited in various ways. For this reason, if you want the best possible service, this will be paid VPN providers.

Paid VPNs will give you unrestricted access to their vast server networks. You’ll be able to surf the web anonymously with the ability to also set up a VPN on your other devices. Most providers will let you connect multiple devices with one subscription, so you’ll be able to protect the whole household against a garden variety of cybersecurity threats.

Devices you can install a VPN on

You can use a VPN on more devices than you install it on. How does it work? Well, if you set up a VPN on your router, then every device that connects to it will act as if it’s connecting through a VPN. It works even in cases when the device doesn’t support VPNs. So, you can connect your Samsung Smart Fridge and Nintendo Switch.

If you don’t want to go the route of setting up VPN on routers or you don’t have the administrative permissions. That’s fine, you can also use VPN applications and install them on your devices. Support for browser extensions, Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android devices is wide.

Setting up a VPN on your devices

In most cases setting up a VPN can be done in a few clicks. It doesn’t matter if you’re on mobile or desktop. The only tricky part is setting up a VPN on your router.

How to set up a VPN on Windows?

Setting up a VPN on Windows 10 cannot be easier. That is if you’re skipping manual configuration and are sticking to an app. Mind that with each VPN service provider, the procedure can be a bit different, so when in doubt, check their blogs or FAQ sections.

Anyhow, here’s a basic way how to do it:

  1. Head to the VPN provider’s page and download their client files.
  2. Double click it to initiate an install
surfshark vpn client executable file

3. Double click it to initiate an install

surfshark executable file location

4. Once it finishes, launch an app

5. Within the client, you’ll have to log in to your account

surfshark login screen

6. Once you do that – you’re in the service. You can click a connect button, and your connection will become encrypted.

Surfshark locations

How to set up a VPN on Mac?

You can always manually set up a VPN via Network settings. However, it’s much easier to download an application. It’s even more streamlined than on Windows.

  1. Head to the App Store. You can find it on the launchpad.
  2. In the search bar, type in the VPN provider that you chose
  3. Install the app
  4.  Launch the app and login with your credentials. Once you do and connect to a server – you’re browsing privately

Alternatively, you can download .dmg files from your provider’s web page and install it that way. It entirely depends on your provider.

How to set up a VPN on Linux

VPN installation on Linux will heavily depend on which version you’re running. Whether your chosen provider supports Linux is an entirely different matter. Usually, you should have the easiest time with Ubuntu or Debian versions.

  1. In most cases, you’ll have to download the setup package
  2. Once you do, install it by clicking on the package or starting it through the terminal
  3. Run the application from the terminal and type in your credentials
  4. Type in the location that you want to connect to, and you’re all set

The exact process and commands will vary heavily, but VPN services offer tutorials on their websites.

How to set up a VPN on Android?

Getting a VPN to work on your smartphone works pretty much the same way as with the other apps.

  1. Go to the Google Play Store
  2. Use the search bar to find your chosen VPN provider’s app
google play store search screen

3. Press the install button. Wait for the installation to finish

private internet access install screen

4. Find the installed app and launch it. Type in your credentials, and you can start browsing privately

private internet access log in screen

5. If you’re using a smartphone that got cut off from the Play Store (Huawei), you can likely find the .apk files on your VPN provider’s page. Then, you’ll have to install it from the downloaded files.

How to set up a VPN on iOS?

Whether you’re using an iPad or iPhone, your route of installing a VPN will be identical.

  1. Head to the Apple App Store
  2. Search for your chosen VPN provider’s app
expressvpn ios search

3. Tap Get, the app will now install

expressvpn ios app install

4. Once the install is complete, you can go to the app, log in, and you will be able to connect to any of the provider’s servers

expressvpn ios login screen

How to set up a VPN on a router?

Before you start setting up a VPN, you first have to make sure that your router supports VPNs. Some of them can only act as a VPN server themselves, other’s can be VPN client compatible. You can configure the latter with a VPN service.

Even if your router isn’t VPN compatible from the get-go, you may still force it. For example, you can install custom firmware like DD-WRT or Tomato that adds VPN support. The whole setup is somewhat technical. You’ll have to rely on the detailed guides available on your VPN website – they will differ depending on the make of your router.

How to use a VPN for streaming?

Best VPN providers are useful with streaming services. If a service is unavailable in your region, like Hulu is in Europe, you can unblock it with a VPN. Connect to the server located in a country where the service is available and go to the streaming service’s website. If you have a subscription, you will now be able to use it.

Do keep in mind that VPN speeds are also a factor. It means that some services can unblock the sites, but not all will sustain the higher speeds required for streaming in HD or 4K. Using a VPN reduces your maximum internet speed a bit in all cases. So, you should pick a provider that can manage loads on their servers. Otherwise, instead of movies, you will be watching the screen buffering.

How to use a VPN on Netflix?

If you already have a Netflix account, it’s very easy to switch your region with a VPN. With it, you can unblock entire libraries intended for other regions. It dramatically expands the total number of shows if you’ve run out of things to watch during the quarantine. You don’t even need a separate subscription. If you already have a Netflix account in your country, it will work with the one you connected via a VPN. That way, you can jump around the regions by simply connecting to VPN servers in different countries.

How to use a VPN on Kodi?

Kodi itself doesn’t have VPN addons. Its derivatives LibreELEC or OpenELEC can indeed support VPNs with configurations, but it’s hardly a walk in the park. Plus, it might not be the Kodi version that you had in mind. The easiest way to set up an unmodified Kodi with a VPN is installing and enabling it on the device itself.

Installing a VPN will depend on which OS the device that you’re using is running. You might want to take a look at the above guides on how to do it. In most cases, it will be on the Android TV box, so the setup will be identical to the standard Android guide here. After you complete it and enable a VPN, you can launch Kodi end enjoy your favorite shows.

FAQ

How much does it cost to set up a VPN?

How much does it cost to set up a VPN heavily depends on the duration of the subscription. Since most of the VPN services are subscription-based, the prices will be higher if you’re subscribing for shorter periods, for example, a month. The prices vary between providers, but on average, it should be around $8. In some cases, you can customize your subscription or lower the cost by buying bundle deals.

Is it hard to set up a VPN?

If you’re sticking to VPN apps, installing them is all it takes to set up a VPN. Just click install, log in to the service, and you’re good to go. There’s no need for complicated manual configurations. They don’t add any additional safety.

Is it illegal to use a VPN?

VPNs are perfectly legal in the vast majority of countries. However, if you’re using a VPN and committing a cybercrime, it still counts as an illegal act. You can find the full list of countries where VPNs are illegal here.

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