What is a VPN on an iPhone? Do I need one?

Should I use a VPN on my iPhone? Yes, you should! What is a VPN on an iPhone? Well, that’s not a yes-or-no answer. To put it shortly, it’s a virtual private network that protects your iPhone from snoopers and other online dangers. But let’s dive deeper than a single paragraph. Read the article and be enlightened. 

Table of contents

    What is a VPN on my iPhone?

    A VPN on an iPhone is any virtual private network capability you employ on your iPhone. It does what a VPN does: it creates an encrypted tunnel between an iPhone and a VPN server and uses it to securely route information when you do anything at all online. It can be an app from a VPN service, or it can be done by configuring the native iPhone VPN capability. The former is more versatile and easier to use, the latter is free. 

    What is a VPN?

    VPN, which stands for Virtual Private Network, is an online connection that imitates the privacy of connecting two devices with a single cable (and no intermediaries) by using the public internet (with many intermediaries). 

    A VPN needs a VPN client (on your device) and a VPN server (somewhere else). When you establish a connection to the server, your VPN client encrypts all the information you send out. The server then decrypts that information and forwards it to your online destination. Once a reply comes back, the VPN server encrypts it and sends it to the client for decryption. 

    As an added bonus, routing via a VPN server practically changes your IP address to that of the server’s. So unless you identify yourself in some way (like logging into your account), the website or service will believe that you’re connecting from the VPN server and not wherever you really are, making you that more private. 

    VPN – let’s break it down:

    • It’s virtual because privacy is achieved by digital means instead of physically connecting your device and the website’s server with a single uninterrupted cable.
    • It’s private because nobody who can monitor your connection (your ISP, the firewall at your workplace, etc.) knows what you’re connecting to – sometimes, they don’t know you’re using a VPN.
    • It’s a network because there is more than one device interacting.

    Still confused? We wrote a whole article on what a VPN is.

    Is there a VPN already implemented on an iPhone?

    Yes, an iPhone has a native VPN support, just like all OS X devices, Windows PC, Android phones, and so on. Natively, an iPhone supports these VPN protocols (ways to establish and maintain a VPN connection):

    • IKEv2/IPsec – basically called IKEv2 by anyone in the know, it’s a standard trustworthy protocol. Not flashy, but it provides stability and speeds mobile users appreciate. 
    • LT2P/IPsec too slow for modern use and allegedly compromised by the NSA.
    • PPTP – only supported by ancient iOS 9 and OS X 10.11 and earlier devices, and absolutely terrible. 

    Notably, this is capability. You’re still going to have to do VPN configuration yourself – including finding a VPN server that you’ll route data through. So on the edge cases – like if you’re an IT tech with their own VPN server just chilling somewhere – this may be good.

    A VPN app you can subscribe to and download from the App Store offers:

    • Not having to do manual setup
    • A lot more protocols, including some real bangers like Wireguard
    • Many servers to choose from and effortlessly connect to
    • All sorts of quality-of-life features;
    • A variety of additional security measures like Kill Switch 
    • Whatever other nice things the VPN provider came up with.

    Why you should use a VPN on your iPhone

    If you’re asking if you should install a VPN on your iPhone, then the answer is YES. Here’s why: 

    1. Stay safe and secure on public Wi-Fi networks

    Hackers are always on the lookout for vulnerable people online. Unsafe public Wi-Fi is one of their easiest entry points. A lot of the time, the private data shared when using public Wi-Fi is not encrypted. Consequently, malicious actors steal it in various ways. 

    In a similar vein, sometimes hackers create fake Wi-Fi hotspots. So, to stay safe and secure on public Wi-Fi, you need an additional layer of security.

    VPN services help you to establish a safe and secure connection on public Wi-Fi by:

    • encrypting your internet traffic;
    • hiding your IP address.

    Encrypted internet traffic is turned into unreadable code. Meanwhile, hiding your IP makes it hard to pinpoint your location in the real world. Add these two together, and you’ll get a large increase in privacy.

    1. Overcome network restrictions at work and school

    Ever get tired of network restrictions at work and school? Schools and workplaces block access to certain websites or online content for reasons like “productivity” and “to lessen the network load.” Nevertheless, you can overcome such blocks – all thanks to VPN apps!

    Just connect to a VPN server in a location of your choice and gain access to cool things online. For further reading, check out 6 reasons why you should use a VPN at work.

    1. Bypass censorship wherever you go

    There is a rapid increase in internet shutdowns across many nations of the world. Imagine living in a country or traveling to a nation where access to your favorite social media platforms is blocked. If you live in such a place, there is a way out!

    Once again, a VPN on your iPhone comes to the rescue. A VPN can bypass the most common methods of blocking websites, especially IP blocks and DNS filtering.

    In order to avoid censorship, change your location with a VPN. For example, if you want to access BBC or the New York Times while in a country that blocks them, connect to a US location.

    1. Stream privately and throttle-free

    Does your internet speed suddenly drop whenever you open a streaming service? It might be your internet service provider (ISP) capping your bandwidth because they see you streaming. Yes, ISPs do that, and it’s called throttling.

    Since they see what you do online, ISPs often throttle your speed if you download files or stream videos. A fix? You guessed it – a VPN. A VPN hides your traffic from your internet provider so they don’t know what you’re doing. This way, you can avoid throttling and stream privately with a VPN.

    We prohibit using Surfshark services for any unlawful purposes as it is against our Terms of Service. Please be sure to act in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations of other service providers.

    1. Defeat price discrimination

    Location plays a vital role when it comes to purchasing things online. Here’s the thing: companies set prices based on your zip code, IP address, purchase history, and even which Wi-Fi you’re using. This is price discrimination. And often, you pay more for an item if you’re from a higher-income country. 

    However, using a VPN, you can switch locations to get the best deals. Yes, you can defeat price discrimination and even use it to your benefit to save significant amounts of money when you shop with a VPN. For more on this topic, read about how to get cheaper plane tickets with a VPN.

    How to use a VPN on an iPhone or iPad

    The easiest way to use a VPN on an iPhone is to get a VPN app. Notably, the process for setting up a VPN on an iPad is roughly the same. Here’s the process for most VPN apps:

    1. Sign up for a VPN;
    2. Through the Apple Store, download and install the VPN app;
    3. Open the app, choose a location, and tap Connect.

    Now you’re set to enjoy the benefits of a VPN.

    If that isn’t enough, we have more extensive guides on what you need to set up a VPN on an iPhone

    How to manually set up a VPN on an iPhone or iPad

    In case you want to manually set up a VPN on an iPhone (or an iPad), you can do that. The iOS devices natively support several VPN protocols, but for our example, we’ll be using IKEv2, as it’s a good protocol that Surfshark can use. 

    1. Open Settings;
    1. Choose General;
    1. Click on VPN and Device Management;
    1. Choose VPN;
    1. Click Add VPN Configuration;
    1. Choose IKEv2 as your VPN type;
    2. Enter your VPN configuration, like server IP and such; 
    3. Enter your authentication data; 
    4. That’s it. 

    If you want a more in-depth guide, find one here

    Should I turn a VPN on or off?

    If you’re using the internet on your iPhone, you should turn the VPN on. There are not many cases where having it off is beneficial, but we’ll try and list them anyway.

    When to turn a VPN on
    When to turn a VPN off
    • When using public Wi-Fi
    • When carrying out operations that involve sensitive data
    • When you need to overcome blocks and censorship
    • When shopping
    • When banking (banking apps can be very fussy about that)
    • When mobile data usage is of grave importance
    • When your connection is slow and you want to stream video or just access rich websites

    Our advice is to always use a VPN just to be on the safe side. 

    Can you use a VPN for free on your iPhone?

    There are two ways a VPN can be free on an iPhone:

    • By using inbuilt VPN functionality: this means setting up a connection manually and finding your own VPN server to connect to. If you’re asking this question, I assume you don’t have one handy, so that part will not be free.
    • By downloading a free VPN: not all VPN providers are benign, and using free VPNs is such a risky proposition that we wrote a full article comparing free VPNs with paid ones

    But hey, between free trials and money-back guarantees, trying out a premium VPN to see if it fits is a risk-free proposition. 

    Conclusion: iPhones have built-in VPN protocols for a reason

    iPhones are generally secure, but they aren’t immune to privacy issues. You may think you’re safe online when surfing the internet, but your data may be collected legally –  or your credentials may be stolen when you’re connected to public Wi-Fi. Hence the need to add an extra layer of security on your iPhone. Surfshark VPN has everything you’ll ever need in a modern VPN – and for an affordable price!

    Secure your iPhone with a trustworthy VPN

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    Is VPN safe for iPhones?

    A VPN is safe to use on an iPhone as long as you get an app from a trusted developer. Free VPNs are often compromised in some way. 

    What does a VPN on an iPhone do?

    A VPN on an iPhone encrypts the data and routes it via a VPN server, thus making your data more secure and helping you overcome censorship and firewall blocking.