What is a VPN on iPhone and why you need one in 2024

Tips & tricks
8 mins

Keeping your online activities private on your iPhone is becoming increasingly important. A VPN, short for Virtual Private Network, is a tool that helps keep your internet activity private and secure from others who might want to see what you’re doing online.

What is a VPN on an iPhone?

A VPN on an iPhone is a service that creates a secure, encrypted connection to another network over the internet. It hides your IP address, making your online actions almost invisible to others. Using a VPN is like sending your internet traffic through a tunnel nobody else can see into or access. This means what you do online is kept private.

Here’s a brief overview of how it works:

  • Creates a secure connection: The VPN establishes an encrypted tunnel between your iPhone and the internet. This keeps the data you send and receive secure and private.
  • Hides your IP address: By connecting to a VPN server, your real IP address is replaced with one from the VPN, masking your location and making your online activity harder to track.

Do I need a VPN on my iPhone?

Yes, using a VPN on your iPhone is a good idea, especially if you often connect to public Wi-Fi networks in cafés, hotels, or airports. Public networks are not very secure, making it easy for others to intercept your data. A VPN encrypts your information, which keeps your online activities private. It also allows you to access websites and services that may be blocked in specific locations.

A VPN is also useful when traveling, as it allows you to appear as if you were still in your home country. This helps some particularly secure apps, such as banks, which can lock you out if they notice connection attempts from an unusual location.

If you value privacy, consider getting a VPN download for all your devices. If you’d like to learn more, read on!

What does a VPN do on an iPhone?

A VPN on an iPhone serves multiple purposes, enhancing your online experience in various ways. Here’s what it does:

  • Enhances security: A VPN shields your browsing activities from prying eyes, including your internet service provider (ISP), Wi-Fi admins, government agencies, and potential hackers, by encrypting your internet traffic.
  • Provides access to censored content and services: It allows you to access content that may be restricted in your country or region. Whether it’s a website or app, a VPN can give you access by connecting to a server located where the content is available.
  • Increases anonymity: By hiding your IP address and encrypting your traffic, a VPN prevents websites and online services from tracking you across the internet.

How to use a VPN on iPhone

Getting started is straightforward, whether you prefer the simplicity of an automatic setup or require the customization available through manual setup. Bear in mind that if you configure your VPN manually, you won’t have access to all the features of the more advanced VPNs, such as ExpressVPN.

Automatic setup

1. Download a VPN app: Open the App Store and search for a reputable VPN provider like ExpressVPN. Download and install the app on your iPhone.

2. Sign in: Launch the ExpressVPN app and sign in with your account details. If you don’t have an account, you must sign up and choose a subscription plan.

3. Connect to a server: Once signed in, the app will show you a list of servers. Select a server location you wish to connect to and tap the connect button. The app will establish a VPN connection, encrypting your internet traffic.

Manual setup

Using an app is the easier way to set up a VPN. If you prefer setting up your VPN connection manually, or if your VPN service requires it, follow these steps:

1. Obtain your VPN’s configuration details: Before you start, make sure you have the necessary VPN configuration details from your VPN provider, including the server, remote ID, and your login credentials.

2. Open settings: On your iPhone, go to the Settings app.

3. Add VPN configuration: Navigate to General > VPN. Tap on “Add VPN Configuration…” to enter the VPN settings.

4. Enter the VPN’s details: In the VPN configuration screen, select the type of VPN your service provides (usually IKEv2, IPSec, or L2TP). Fill in the required fields with the details provided by your VPN service, such as description, server, and login information.

5. Save and connect: After entering all the details, tap “Done” to save the configuration. Now, you can turn on the VPN by toggling the status switch next to the VPN configuration you just added.

How to choose the best VPN for iPhone

Selecting the right VPN for your iPhone involves understanding what makes a VPN service stand out regarding security, functionality, and user experience. Here are key factors to consider:


The strength of a VPN’s encryption determines how securely your data is protected. Look for a VPN that offers AES-256-bit encryption, the same standard governments and security experts use worldwide. This level of encryption takes centuries to crack. This is precisely the encryption algorithm that ExpressVPN uses.


VPN protocols affect the speed and security of your connection. Ones suitable for iPhone users include IKEv2/IPSec and OpenVPN. These protocols offer a decent balance between speed and security, ensuring a smooth and safe browsing experience. If you use ExpressVPN, choose Lightway, our proprietary protocol that runs faster and uses less battery, which is particularly important on mobile devices like iPhones.

Servers and locations

The number and distribution of servers can significantly impact your VPN experience. A VPN with advanced servers across many countries allows you to bypass censorship and enjoy faster connection speeds. This is especially useful for streaming, gaming, and accessing content from around the globe.

The VPN you choose must offer servers close to you and also abroad. You want to use a server close to you if you need the greatest speeds, but it’s useful to count on servers worldwide to access content only available elsewhere. ExpressVPN has thousands of servers in 105 countries, so there’s always one where you need it.

Additional features

Beyond the basics, some VPNs offer extra features to enhance your online experience. ExpressVPN offers blockers for ads, trackers, and adult content. It also has a password manager built into its apps. All of these are included for all subscribers at no extra cost. 

Additionally, ExpressVPN has premium features like a kill switch, which stops all internet traffic if the VPN connection drops, and split tunneling, which allows you to choose which apps go through the VPN. Consider what additional features might be useful for your online habits.

Strict privacy policy

A key aspect of using a VPN is maintaining your privacy. Ensure the VPN you choose has a strict no-logs policy, meaning it doesn’t track or store any information about your online activities. This guarantees that your browsing history, downloaded files, and other data remain private. ExpressVPN has such a policy and goes even further by having it independently audited by PwC, Cure53, and KPMG.

When should I turn on my VPN?

For the most part, keeping your VPN turned on is the best practice to ensure your online activities are secure and your privacy is protected. A VPN encrypts your internet connection and hides your IP address, safeguarding your data from hackers, especially on unsecured public Wi-Fi networks. However, there are instances where you might consider turning it off, primarily for convenience or specific local access needs. It’s crucial to remember that these instances are exceptions, and the benefits of continuous VPN use far outweigh these occasional conveniences.

When to consider turning the VPN offReason
Accessing local services or contentSome local websites or services may require a local IP address to access their content. A premium VPN might have an IP that reflects your physical location, but it’s not always the case.
Sites that block VPN IP addressesSome websites don’t want people using VPNs to access them. As VPN IP addresses are publicly available in databases, VPN users can be blocked. However, this does not mean the website knows your real IP or who you are. You may also try a different server.
High-performance gamingWhile many VPNs offer fast speeds, the slightest delay might impact competitive gaming. However, this is often negligible with premium VPNs—and in fact, a VPN could potentially speed up your gaming by bringing your virtual location closer to the game server.


Despite these examples, it’s important to emphasize that the need to disable your VPN is extremely limited. The security and privacy advantages of keeping your VPN active at all times outweigh the drawbacks, so you’re better off leaving it on by default and only turning it off for specific reasons.

Can you use a free iPhone VPN?

While free VPN options are available for iPhones, it’s important to proceed cautiously. Free VPNs often have speed, data allowance, and server availability limitations. 

More concerning, some free VPN services may compromise your privacy by tracking and selling your data to third parties. If privacy and security are your primary reasons for using a VPN, investing in a reputable, paid VPN service that guarantees no logging of your activities and provides robust encryption is generally the safer choice.

What is the VPN configuration option on iPhone settings?

The VPN configuration option in iPhone settings allows you to manually set up and manage VPN connections directly from your device. It is not necessary to configure your VPN when you use an iPhone app (such as the one by ExpressVPN). 

This configuration option gives you the flexibility to manually enter a VPN service’s details, including the server address, VPN type (protocol), and your login credentials. It’s handy for corporate VPNs or when using a VPN service that doesn’t offer a dedicated iOS app. Manually configuring a VPN is more complex and doesn’t give you access to all the features that a dedicated iOS VPN app will.

FAQ: About iPhone VPN

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