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Set Up a VPN on Your iPhone: Here's How

Here's the easy way to install a virtual private network on your iPhone and boost your privacy.

012-vpn-generic-logo-on-phone-security-2021
Sarah Tew/CNET

This story is part of Focal Point iPhone 2022, CNET's collection of news, tips and advice around Apple's most popular product.

Whether you're using the upcoming iPhone 14 or getting extra mileage out of a faithful older iPhone, a well-tested and top-performing virtual private network is a cornerstone privacy tool for Apple iOS users in 2022. A mobile VPN on your iPhone can keep your browsing history and internet searches private from your wireless carrierinternet service provider or law enforcement entities. Plus, if you're worried about putting your privacy at risk when connecting to an unsecured network at an airport or coffee shop, VPNs can provide an extra layer of protection.

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There are limits to the privacy VPNs currently provide to iOS users, however. Recent independent research has emerged suggesting that iOS (and some MacOS) users' browsing and internet data may be sent to Apple despite the protections offered by an encrypted VPN tunnel. We will continue to update our recommendations as more information and research surface around this issue. 

In the meantime, there are a few things to keep in mind when you're looking for the right VPN. First, browse CNET's list of the best VPNs for iPhone to get a look at the best performers we've tested in 2022. If your aim is just to browse on public Wi-Fi securely, look for a VPN service that has servers located in your current country. The general rule of thumb is the closer the hardware, the quicker the VPN connection. 

We also advise that you avoid free VPNs. We love 30-day guarantees and seven-day trial periods (and you'll find a lot of those), but completely free VPNs are rarely safe. If you're looking to invest in a VPN for the long haul, you're going to need more than 10 minutes of research time. But when you're ready to take a deeper dive, CNET has reviews of many of the major players in the VPN space and a guide for how to pick the right VPN for you

Once you've found your preferred VPN, here's how to get it set up and running on your iPhone.

How to set up a VPN on an iPhone

1. On your iPhone, go to your home screen and tap to open the App Store

2. Tap the Search tab in the bottom right corner of the screen, then tap the Search box near the top of the screen. 

3. Type in the name of the VPN you've chosen, and select it from the list that pops up. Then tap the Get button that appears to the right of the app's name. Like with any other app, you'll need to confirm the app installation with your passcode, Touch ID or Face ID. 

4. Once your install has finished, close the App Store and go back to your Home screen. 

5. Just as with using a VPN for the first time on Android, using a VPN on iPhone for the first time means you'll be prompted to create a new account and select your preferred subscription level. Make sure to check your email inbox for any confirmation links your VPN company sends you if you've signed up with an email address. 

Nearly all VPN apps will prompt you to connect to an automatically selected VPN server based on your location to enable the fastest browsing. From here on out, any time you'd like to use your VPN, all you'll need to do is tap the VPN icon on your Home screen before you start browsing the internet, click the app's button to connect, then go back to the VPN app and turn it off once you're finished. 

FAQ

What's the best iPhone VPN right now?

Thanks to its impressive performance and unlimited device support, Surfshark is our current top pick for the best iPhone VPN. ExpressVPN is a close second among our picks and offers a simple and effective iPhone VPN app. It isn't the cheapest, but it's among the fastest of all the VPN options. NordVPN, our third choice, is a die-hard heavy-hitter. It costs more than Surfshark but less than Express, has a network of servers that's constantly getting faster and more secure, and is easily the most reliable service we've tested. No matter which VPN you choose, however, keep in mind that recent independent research has emerged suggesting iOS (and some MacOS) users' browsing and internet data may still be sent to Apple despite the protections offered by an encrypted VPN tunnel. We will continue to update our recommendations as more information and research surface around this issue. 

Do I need a VPN on my iPhone?

Yes, you probably do. Apple's iPhones and other iOS devices are known for robust security protections, but their toughness against malware and viruses doesn't automatically protect your privacy. So If you want to prevent your internet service provider or mobile carrier from being able to see what websites you are looking at on your iPhone and what apps you are using, a well-tested virtual private network will do that. A good mobile VPN will also prevent websites you browse -- and most internet-connected apps on your phone -- from easily being able to determine your exact location. If you travel and frequently use hotel, airport or other public Wi-Fi, a VPN will protect your iPhone from the snooping of other users and potentially malevolent actors. 

What is a mobile VPN?

A VPN app for your laptop is different than one for your phone. Use a mobile-friendly VPN app to avoid slower speeds and ensure greater data privacy for your whole device. Mobile VPNs generally have a smaller memory footprint and require less processing power than desktop VPNs, so they run faster and save more battery. Our top three VPNs listed above all have excellent, easy-to-use mobile app options for their services. Some VPNs will only work with one type of platform -- like Apple or Android -- and some are universally compatible. To find the right mobile VPN for you, check out our other mobile-specific VPN guides below. We routinely update them with our retesting information so check back often. 

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