How to Setup a VPN: A Walk-through Guide

Article written by: Jerry Low
  • Security
  • Updated: May 16, 2020

The term Virtual Private Network (VPN) can sound intimidating for some. In reality, they aren’t much more complex to use than any other application based services. This VPN setup guide aims to give you an idea of how to get started once you’ve signed up for a service.

Although most VPNs will have their unique characteristics, at heart they are all similar service providers. The concept is for you to connect to a VPN server from your device and sign in using the credentials given to you.

Just like many other web-based services, VPNs are designed to be usable on many platforms. For brevity, we’ll be showing you how to install and set up one particular service (ExpressVPN) on a few of the platforms available.

Here are a few ways to set up a VPN:

Important Note: For manual installations, many VPN service providers have different credentials you need to use. Your service login name/email and password may not be the right credentials to use. Check with your VPN provider which credentials are needed.

Here's a list of best VPN services with pricing comparison and plans review.

Setting Up a VPN on Windows 10

There are a few ways you can set up VPNs on Windows machines, but the easiest is to simply use the Windows installer file provided by them. The other methods work as well but need a little bit more work.

Using the Windows Installer

Install VPN on Windows
Example – ExpressVPN Windows Application. To connect to a VPN server, you actually only need to hit the big power button on the app and it will connect you to the best server for your location. Should you want to choose a specific server, click on the three dots on the right hand side of the Smart Location box. That will open up a list of servers you can choose from.
  1. Download the installation file for your VPN. This can usually be obtained from their website such as the ExpressVPN Windows installation file here.
  2. At the same time, take note of your activation code on the page where you downloaded the file. Do note that this step depends on the VPN you use, some may only require the username and password you signed up with.
  3. Double click the installer file to start the setup.
  4. Once the installation is done, launch the app and paste your activation code in to start it the first time.

Other methods of using VPNs on Windows devices are possible, but we don’t really recommend them since you won’t gain the full features of the app. For example, using the OpenVPN GUI client will enable you to connect to specific servers, but not offer you various other protocols, a Kill Switch, or app traffic management.

If you decide that you don’t want to use the VPN’s Windows app for some reason, you can opt for the native VPN handling feature in Windows 10:

Manual Configuration on Windows

Install VPN on Windows manually

Aside from losing the extra features of the VPN you signed up for, if you decide to go with a manual setup, you are also restricted to only the PPTP protocol with the Windows native VPN handling. This protocol is a little dated and is generally known to be less secure than either IKEv2 or OpenVPN.

  1. On your desktop, open Network & Internet settings then select the ‘VPN’ option then click ‘Add a VPN Connection’.
  2. For VPN Provider select ‘Windows (built in), then add a Connection Name that will allow you to recognize the connection (e.g. ExpressVPN Singapore).
  3. The Server address should be obtained from your VPN service. If you can’t find it, try asking customer service.(it should look like a URL, e.g. nyc1-abcd-l2tp.expressprovider.com).
  4. For VPN type, select PPTP.
  5. Then enter your username and password.

You’ll need to repeat this process for every single server location you want, so you can see how much easier it would be to simply use the VPN providers Windows app. This is just one way of manually setting up a VPN on Windows.

Unfortunately, all the manual methods will require more effort than using the Windows app.

Setting Up a VPN on Android Devices

Install VPN on Androids
Example – ExpressVPN on Play Store, just click “install” to setup.

If you’ve ever owned an Android phone before and installed an app – getting a VPN on your device will be almost exactly the same way. All you need to do is launch the Play Store and search for your VPN provider and tap ‘Install’.

How to Setup a VPN on Mac / iOS Devices

Install VPN on Mac

Setting up a VPN on Mac is actually similar to the process you follow in Windows. 

  1. Download the installer from your VPN service provider.
  2. Run the installer and let it do its work.
  3. Launch the application, then sign in with the credentials on the Mac setup page.
  4. Hit ‘Connect’ and you’re set.

Using a VPN with iOS

Thankfully, using most VPNs with any kind of mobile device is really easy and for iOS users it's as simple as with Android. All you need to do is download the mobile app from the App Store and enter your username and password on the sign in screen.

Installing Browser-based VPN Extensions

Install VPN browser extension
ExpressVPN in particular supports browser add-ons for both Chrome and Firefox. Unfortunately, at this point of time their Safari extension isn’t ready yet, so MacOS users will have to rely on the app instead.

Almost all VPNs will have some form of browser extensions which you can use. To see if yours has one, just search for it on the extension page of your browser. 

  1. Launch your browser and select Plugins or Extensions in the menu.
  2. Search for the VPN and choose to add that to your browser.
  3. Click on the VPN icon on your browser toolbar then sign in to your account.
  4. Choose what server you want and you’re good to go.

Setting Up VPN on Routers

Setting up a VPN router

Most VPNs can be installed on routers as well, but not all routers support them. To see if your router supports a VPN, log in to your admin panel and see if there is a tab there called ‘VPN’. If it does, you’re good to go.

Most VPN providers limit the number of connected devices at the same time. A VPN setup to your home network allows you to connect as many devices as you wish to the VPN network via your router.

As a general guideline, here’s what you’ll need to do to setup OpenVPN manually:

  1. Download the OpenVPN configuration files from your VPN service provider.
  2. You will need one file for each location (and type) of OpenVPN connection. There are two types of OpenVPN connection – TCP and UDP.
  3. Log in to your router administration panel and select the VPN tab.
  4. Click on ‘VPN Client’ then ‘Add Profile’
  5. Select the OpenVPN tab and enter the description (what you want to name your connection), then your username and password.
  6. Import one of the configuration files you downloaded earlier.
  7. Hit ‘OK’, then click on ‘Activate’ next to the connection you just created.

You will have to repeat this process for each connection location you want to us.

Do also note that there are a limited number of connections you can create, so choose wisely. Changing connection locations will also have to be done on this panel of your router admin. 

To Flash Router Firmware

If you decide to go for ExpressVPN, they have another way to do this and that is by flashing firmware for compatible router models. The guide for each router’s firmware is potentially very different, so make sure you visit the ExpressVPN site for detailed instructions to install via a firmware flash

Do note that this is potentially dangerous to do if you’re inexperienced with the process.

Setting Up VPN on Other Devices

VPNs are very versatile and the protocols they use are often platform-independent. This means that they often work on almost any connected device. Some of the other platforms you can connect a VPN service to include Linux, Android TVs, FireTVs, Apple TVs, tablets, and more.

For specific setup instructions for these platforms, you should check with your VPN provider which is supported by your device.


Advanced VPN Settings

So far, this guide has covered the basics of installing and getting a VPN to run on various devices. However, you can customize your VPN connection as well. Here are some of the things you can do in your ExpressVPN app:

Change VPN Server

VPN servers allow you to spoof your location. This can have several benefits, including being able to bypass regional content blocks such as on Netflix. Any VPN server you connect to will have websites detecting your connection as coming from the location where your VPN server is located.

Malware Blocking

Many VPNs have a feature included that helps block Malware sites. However, this is called different things depending on the service provider.

Whitelist Traffic or Apps

Some VPNs allow you to control what applications and data flow through the service depending on your needs. You don’t have to run everything through the VPN. As an example, you could keep your VPN on for your web browsing while whitelisting P2P applications, or vice versa.

Change Protocols

As I mentioned earlier, different protocols have different characteristics. Most VPNs will have a few for you to choose from, some which may be distinct to specific VPNs.

If you find your VPN connection not performing to your satisfaction, one of the ways you can adjust performance is by changing the protocol being used.

Adjust Encryption Levels

Another thing that affects VPN performance is encryption. As a rule of thumb, the higher the level of encryption, the slower your VPN speed is likely to be. Encryption is there for a reason though – it keeps your data safe. Because of this, not all VPNs will allow you to adjust the encryption rate.

Multihop

To improve security even further, many top-tier VPN services offer Multihop, or double VPN services. This means that your connection is routed through two different VPN servers. For example, you may connect to a server in Australia, then have the connection routed through a US-based server. This may impact performance slightly, but increases your level of protection significantly.


Conclusion: Where Should You Install a VPN?

With so many devices being connected to the web these days, you really should set up a VPN connection on each of your devices. Most VPNs will allow quite a number of simultaneous connections per account. ExpressVPN, for example, offers users to connect to five devices at the same time.

For users of mobile devices, it is even more important since those are the ones you’ll be carrying around with you outside. Public Wi-Fi is notoriously insecure, so those are the best situations under which a VPN can be useful.

Some VPNs also work with Smart TVs, allowing you to connect to otherwise restricted regional content services such as Netflix. The versatility of VPNs give them a great number of use cases, so in all honesty, there’s no excuse to use them to their fullest potential.

About Jerry Low

Founder of WebHostingSecretRevealed.net (WHSR) - a hosting review trusted and used by 100,000's users. More than 15 years experience in web hosting, affiliate marketing, and SEO. Contributor to ProBlogger.net, Business.com, SocialMediaToday.com, and more.