Setting up a VPN on MacOS

VPN shield and settings icon next to a mac showing MacOS (Big Sur)
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Setting up a VPN on Mac: A Quick Guide

If you’re a Mac user, and you want to stay safe online, consider getting a VPN. This article will guide you through the process of setting up a VPN on your MacBook. You can choose to set it up manually or install a Mac VPN software.

Setting up a VPN manually on a Mac may seem complicated, but it’s pretty easy. Here’s how to go about it:

1. Get a VPN subscription and prepare your VPN login details. We recommend using a premium VPN like Surfshark.

2. Go to System Preferences on your Mac, and select Network.

3. Add the VPN connection by clicking “+” on the lower left corner of the page. Fill in the correct login information, then click Apply.

4. Select the VPN connection from the list and click Connect.

Keep reading the article below for a detailed breakdown of the process. We also highlight one of the best VPNs for MacBooks.

Are you serious about staying safe online? Do you want to ensure that your data never falls into the hands of cybercriminals? Using a VPN is the way to go.

There’s a common misconception that Mac devices can’t be hacked. While they’re generally more secure, MacBooks are not immune to cyber threats. Connecting to the web via a virtual private network will complement the inbuilt security features of the macOS and keep you safe online.

Since you’re using a Mac, we’ll assume that you like to do things your way. Perhaps you don’t want to install third-party software. Thankfully, setting up a VPN on a Mac is relatively straightforward. We’ve put together a guide on how to set up a Mac VPN manually.

Before we get started, choose a reliable VPN for Mac, purchase a VPN subscription, and get your login details ready. There are several things to consider when selecting a VPN for Mac devices, such as the VPN’s browsing and download speeds, unblocking capabilities, encryption standards, protocols, logging policy, and usability. You need a VPN that is fast, secure, highly functional, and user-friendly.

If you’re having difficulties finding the best VPN for Mac devices, we recommend Surfshark. Our article on the best VPNs for macOS contains some other trustworthy options.

How to Set Up a VPN on Mac (Manually)

To set up a VPN on your Mac, you’ll need to log in as admin. This ensures you have the permission to adjust your Mac’s network and security settings.

If you don’t have these rights, speak to your computer’s administrator. They can either do it for you, or they can change your account to an admin user by following the steps below:

  1. Click on the Apple logo on the upper-left corner of your screen.
  2. Go to System Preferences.
  3. Click on Users & Groups.
  4. Click on the padlock symbol to make changes, then input the device’s admin account credentials.
  5. Check the box titled Allow user to administer this computer.

Once you’re logged in as admin, you’ll be able to set up a VPN on your Mac.

Setting up a VPN on Mac: A quick step-by-step guide

Depending on the VPN you’re trying to set up, you may need to download a security certificate for Keychain (information about certificates can be found on your VPN provider’s website).

Keychain is like a vault for all of your user credentials. That’s where your Mac automatically stores login details and other confidential data for your online accounts. You’ve most likely seen it pop up to suggest passwords or ask if you want to store your login details from time to time.

Step 1: Check your VPN’s security certificate configuration

If the provider of your chosen VPN uses a security certificate, then you’ll need to start by adding it to Keychain. Once you’ve done that, right-click on the certificate in Keychain and click Get Info. The settings of your certificate should look like this:

VPN setup MacOS certificate settings

Now, you’re ready to set up a VPN on your Mac.

Step 2: Go to your VPN settings

Navigate to System Preferences by clicking on the Apple logo on the top left corner of your screen. Select System Preferences and then Network, as shown in the image below:

MacOS system preferences

Step 3: Add a VPN connection

When the Network menu opens, click the small “+” icon below the list of possible network connections:

Network settings MacOS + icon

This will open a pop-up box where you will enter your VPN details:

VPN type popup box

  1. In the Interface section, select the VPN option from the drop-down menu.
  2. Choose your preferred VPN protocol in the second box. The options depend on your firewall settings and router. IKEv2 is one of the safest protocols to use when setting up a VPN on a Mac.
  3. Choose a name for your VPN connection and type it into the box in the Service Name field. You can pick any name you like. As long as it’s recognizable to you, it’ll do.
  4. Click on the Create button, and you’re ready to move on to the next step.

Step 4: Setting up a VPN on your Mac

After adding a VPN connection, you’ll need to log in to your chosen VPN service. When you click Create as directed in the section above, a different menu will pop up and you’ll need to provide the following information: Server Address, Remote ID, and Local ID.

VPN setup server address remote ID

Fill these fields following the steps outlined below:

  1. Your Server Address can usually be found in your VPN provider account details. This is the VPN server you’d like to connect to. If you can’t find it, contact your VPN provider’s customer service team.
  2. Set the name of your chosen Mac VPN provider as the Remote ID or simply enter the server address again. Depending on your VPN provider, one or both options are possible.
  3. Filling in the Local ID field is optional, so you can leave this box blank if you’d prefer.
  4. Now, click on “Authentication settings….”

Step 5: Authenticate your account and connect

Once you’ve entered your connection details, you’ll need to enter your login details to access your VPN service. You should now see the following dialog box:

Setting up VPN account details

Choose the option Username from the dropdown menu, then fill in the login information you received when you set up your VPN account.

After filling in your username and password, click OK. Now, select the checkbox “Show VPN status in menu bar” at the bottom of the network settings page and click Apply.

When you do so, a VPN icon appears in the toolbar along the top of your screen. This will allow you to adjust your VPN settings easily. It can be particularly useful when you want to connect to your VPN network quickly or switch between VPN services.

Finally, to connect to the VPN, click Connect. You have now successfully set up a VPN on your Mac!

What is the Best VPN for Mac?

Not all VPNs work on Mac. You need to consider this as you compare connection speeds and other features when choosing a VPN for Mac. Our top VPN for Mac is Surfshark.

Surfshark: The best VPN for Mac users

Screenshot of Surfshark VPN homepage with logo

  • A fast, lightweight app
  • User interface optimized for the Mac experience
  • Military-grade AES 256-bit encryption
  • Unblocks most streaming sites, including Netflix
  • Split tunneling feature allows you to choose what apps and services are routed through the VPN

Surfshark is arguably the most affordable premium VPN for Mac devices. It has the features, security, and credibility to rival other top VPN providers, including NordVPN and ExpressVPN.

With Surfshark, you can connect your Mac to over 3200 VPN servers in 65 countries across the globe. You also have unlimited bandwidth, and unlimited simultaneous connections—this means you can connect your iPhone and other devices using the same VPN account.

Surfshark offers dedicated P2P servers for super-fast torrenting, and its user-friendly dashboard matches the MacBook’s streamlined interface. These are some of the reasons why we picked Surfshark as the best VPN for Mac devices.

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Curious about how other VPN providers stack up? Check out this comparison of the top five VPN providers. The best VPNs give you a money-back guarantee, which effectively means you can try them out for free.

How to install a VPN on Mac

If the process of manually installing a VPN on your MacBook seems a little daunting, the good news is that there’s an easier way to get a VPN on your Mac. It’s faster, and you’ll benefit from the security features and functionality of a Mac VPN application.

Below, you’ll find instructions on how to install a premium VPN on Mac. While we used Surfshark in the scenario below, the same steps apply when installing other VPNs.

Note: These instructions apply to both the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air.

Installing Surfshark VPN Step by Step Desktop

  1. Subscribe to a VPN provider, such as Surfshark, and create an account.
  2. Download the Mac VPN software from the official website.
  3. Install the software by following the on-screen steps.
  4. Log in to the software using your account details.
  5. Choose your preferred VPN server. Want to watch the American version of Netflix? Choose an American server to get a US IP address. Currently abroad and want to watch your usual streams online? Choose a server in your home country.
  6. Connect to the VPN. For most VPNs, this is as simple as a single click. If you haven’t chosen a server location, the software will typically select the closest or fastest server automatically, depending on your provider.

Why Use a VPN for Mac?

Macs are pretty secure, there’s no denying it. However, the idea that Macs are impervious to attacks is not entirely true. Macs can be infected with malware, and are susceptible to cyberattacks.

Protecting yourself online is essential, regardless of the type of device you’re using. There are many reasons to use a VPN. Some of the most common ones are highlighted below:

  • Your data is encrypted. Most VPNs use 256-bit AES encryption, which is the standard encryption used by militaries around the world. Encrypting your data protects it from cybercriminals, your internet service provider (ISP), the government, advertisers, and other third parties.
  • You can use public networks more securely. Public Wi-Fi hotspots are known for being highly unsecure, partly because most of them are not password-protected. A skilled hacker can eavesdrop on the network and siphon off the sensitive data of anyone who connects to it.
  • Your location and IP address will be hidden. Connecting to a VPN changes your IP address. This is particularly useful when downloading torrents and accessing restricted content. Since your IP address is shown to all users in your torrent swarm, make sure you’re using a VPN. It’ll also stop your ISP from throttling your speed.
  • Unblock content easily. Since a VPN changes your IP address, you can effectively change your online location to bypass geo-restrictions and access streaming services (such as Netflix) and other platforms that are blocked to internet users in your location.
  • You can bypass censorship in certain countries. In places like China and Russia, certain websites are blocked. However, by using a VPN, you can change your IP address and get past these restrictions. For example, if you connect to a server in the UK, you’ll get a UK IP address, and you’ll be able to access websites and web-based platforms as though you’re in the UK.

Using a VPN on your Mac will generally improve your online privacy and freedom.

Should I use a free VPN for Mac?

Although there are free VPNs for Mac, we recommend using a premium provider instead. Free VPNs have several limitations, including:

  • Daily or monthly caps on the amount of data you can use
  • Poor internet connection speeds
  • A limited number of simultaneous connections
  • Unable to unblock streaming platforms and circumvent censorship firewalls.
  • Some free VPN providers are guilty of logging and selling user data to advertisers

Final Thoughts

If you’re manually setting up a VPN on Mac, we hope this article has provided all the information and guidance you need. If you’re still stuck, perhaps consider installing VPN software.

Setting up a VPN on Mac: Frequently Asked Questions

If you need a quick answer to a specific question about setting up a VPN on Mac, we may be able to help you out. Click one of the questions below to see the answer.

The easiest way to set up a VPN on Mac is to install the provider’s software—as long as it is compatible with macOS. It’s also possible to set up a VPN manually by adjusting the system preferences of your Mac. Setting up a VPN on Mac this way can be useful if you want to configure the VPN settings or if you aren’t satisfied with your provider’s software.

A VPN allows you to browse the web securely and privately without third parties tracking you or accessing your data. A VPN also allows you to access geo-restricted content and get past government firewalls.

To get a VPN for your Mac, you can choose to use a free VPN or purchase a subscription from a premium provider. We recommend picking a premium VPN. There are numerous Mac VPNs to select from.

When choosing a VPN for Mac, it is important to check the speed, server network, encryption standard, logging policy, and compatibility of the provider. We’ve independently tested many VPNs and concluded that Surfshark is the top choice. But there are other great options in our article about the best VPNs for Mac.

Contrary to popular opinion, MacBooks do not have a built-in VPN. However, you can easily get a VPN for your Mac device.

Yes! Setting up a VPN on a Mac device is easier than you may imagine. There are two ways to go about it—you can choose to set it up manually or install your VPN provider’s software. Our article on setting up a VPN on macOS contains useful step-by-step instructions to guide you through the process.

Tech journalist
Erik was educated in the humanities, after which he started to investigate technological and online culture. Specifically, he is interested in privacy and net neutrality. Erik has worked as an editor, copywriter and translator for several platforms, with technology as a recurring theme.