If you want to protect your internet traffic and mask the IP address on your iPhone or iPad, a VPN is a useful tool to achieve it. Setting up a VPN on an iOS device is simple, whether you’re doing it by installing a VPN app like Surfshark, or configuring VPN settings manually. Apple has built-in IKEv2 and L2TP/IPSec VPN configurations, but you can connect to any type of a VPN (e.g., OpenVPN) via a third-party app.
As mentioned in the introduction, there are two ways of setting up a VPN on your iOS device:
- Downloading a VPN client. This way, a VPN will configure everything automatically.
- Setting up a VPN manually. This method takes some extra steps.
I’ll cover both of these approaches one-by-one in step-by-step guides below.
Download a VPN client on your iPhone or iPad
Downloading a VPN app straight to your iOS device is as simple as installing any other app. The process with a VPN app is as follows:
- Go to the App Store.
- Search for a VPN of your choice, e.g., Surfshark.
- Install the app. The app will ask you to give permission to add a VPN configuration. Allow it.
- Create an account, or if you have an account, log in.
- Connect to a preferred server.
You’ve just installed the app with all of its features. You can leave it at that if you’re satisfied, but even the complete VPNs leave enough space for individual configuration.
Ways to personalize the VPN app you have on your iOS device:
(Side note: Some of the features below are exclusive to Surfshark. I’m using them as an example of feature variety.)
- Change the protocol settings.
- Use the Auto-Connect feature.
- Turn the Kill Switch feature on/off.
- Turn the CleanWeb feature on/off.
- Use servers with static IP.
- Use the MultiHop feature.
As you can see, users can tinker with VPN settings quite a lot. However, there is also a way to configure a VPN on your iPhone and iPad manually. But before I get into the guide, let me answer an important question.
What’s the purpose of manual VPN setup
Most of the time, downloading a pre-configured and ready-to-use VPN client is more beneficial than setting up a VPN manually. But there are a couple of advantages.
- In countries like Russia or China, you’ll most likely run into trouble trying to use a VPN app. Governments there use censorship to control as much of their citizens’ lives as possible. That includes VPN usage. Manually setting up a VPN on your iOS device might help you bypass VPN bans in restrictive countries. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s worth a try.
- In any other case, when your VPN app stops working, a manually configured VPN could “substitute” it.
Simply put, a manual VPN setup is like your last option when nothing else works.
Now, I’ll walk you through the step-by-step instructions on how to set up IKEv2 and OpenVPN on iOS. I’m not going to cover the L2TP connection because this protocol is outdated and not secure. Learn more about VPN protocols on our website.
Note: The configuration may slightly vary depending on your chosen VPN provider, but the principle remains the same.
How to set up IKEv2 connection on iOS
As mentioned in the introduction, IKEv2 configurations are built into the Apple mobile devices. Thus, you won’t need any third-party apps. What you’ll need, though, is an IKEv2 certificate and connection credentials. You can get it from your VPN provider’s website.
What you’ll need to do to set up a VPN connection in IKEv2:
- Download the IKEv2 certificate to your device. As mentioned above, you will find it on your VPN provider’s website after you log in (e.g., https://my.surfshark.com/auth/login). In this case, go to Devices, scroll down to Manual, then scroll down to Other configuration files, and click on the IKEv2 certificate.
- Your manual connection credentials are just below the certificate you just downloaded. Note: The username and password given here are separate from the ones you use to log into your account.
- Go to Settings on your iPhone or iPad. At the very top, you’ll see Profile Downloaded. Click on it.
- Install the profile.
- When you get a Warning screen about adding the certificate to the list of trusted certificates on your iPhone/iPad, click Install once again.
- When the profile is installed, and you see the green Verified checkmark, click Done to finish.
Note: If you don’t get a pop-up for the IKEv2 certificate installation, refer to the solution after this guide.
- To connect to a server, choose it from the list of your VPN provider’s server hostnames. For the best connection speed and performance, choose the Recommended server. For example, if you pick a server in Belgium, you’ll have to enter “be-bru.prod.surfshark.com.”
- Go to Settings > General > VPN.
- Click on Add VPN Configuration…
- Fill in the following information:
Description: Your preferred name of the connection
Server: The hostname of the server, as mentioned in step 7
Remote ID: Copy the hostname you put in the Server line
Local ID: Leave it empty
User Authentication: Username
Username: Put in the service credentials, as mentioned in step 2
Password: Put in the service credentials, as mentioned in step 2
- Click Done to finish.
- Go to Settings > General > VPN; the IKEv2 configuration you just created will be here. Toggle the Status switch on.
- You’re now connected.
In case you didn’t get a pop-up for IKEv2 certificate installation:
- Go to Settings > General > Profile.
- You should see the downloaded profile, e.g., “Surfshark Root CA.”
- Click on it and select Install.
How to set up OpenVPN on iOS
Since OpenVPN connection isn’t built into the Apple mobile devices, you’ll need to download a third-party app from the App Store. Follow the steps below to see the entire process.
What you’ll need to do to set up an OpenVPN connection:
- Get your VPN provider’s service credentials from their website. Log in (e.g., https://my.surfshark.com/auth/login), go to Devices, scroll down to Manual, and then scroll down to the bottom of the page.
- You’ll see the service credentials. Note: Given username and password are separate from the ones you use to log into your account.
- Open the App Store and search for “OpenVPN Connect.”
- Download the app.
- When you install the app, download one or several OpenVPN configuration files from the manual connection page. Choose the Recommended server for the best performance and speed. Download the file by clicking on the grey arrow icon.
- Unzip the downloaded compressed configuration files.
- Open the OpenVPN Connect app.
- Click on OVPN Profile.
- Click Add to import the .ovpn file.
- Fill in the information:
Username: Put in the service credentials, as mentioned in step 1
Password: Put in the service credentials, as mentioned in step 1
Mark the password to be saved.
- Click Add.
- When you’ve added the profile, toggle the connection switch on.
- You’re now connected.
Keep in mind that our fantastic customer support team works 24/7. Contact them in case of any problems regarding configuration.
Pre-configured VPN apps that most people use offer a simple user interface – notice that the next time you open the Surfshark app on your iPhone or iPad. When you install a VPN client straight to your device, you have quick access to all server locations that your VPN provider offers. It takes a couple of clicks to switch from one server to another.
Meanwhile, when you set up a VPN connection in a specific protocol, you can connect to one server at a time. To change server locations, you need to configure VPN settings again, which, obviously, takes time.
However, even though the manual VPN configuration requires extra steps, it can be useful for people in restrictive regions. It can also be used as the last option when a VPN app suddenly stops working.
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