A hand holding a phone with an Apple logo on the screen and a chat box coming out of it that says VPN?

Experts and users often praise Apple devices for their security features. But they’re not bulletproof, especially when you’re online. You need extra protection to stay away from the dangers of the internet. That’s where a VPN (Virtual Private Network) comes into play.

Having a VPN on your iPhone means having an extra layer of online security. An iPhone VPN is an app that redirects your iPhone’s online traffic via a VPN provider’s servers and encrypts it. In doing so, a VPN masks your online activity and browsing history from snoopers.

Table of contents

    What is a VPN on an iPhone?

    A VPN on an iPhone changes your IP address and hides location and device identifiers by encrypting the connection between your iPhone and the internet. Using a VPN, you can avoid oppressive internet censorship and ISP throttling, access content safely, and ensure that your online activities remain private.

    Do you remember the game children play — two cans and a string? A VPN is similar. In the same way that two children can share a secret conversation in public over two cans and a string, a VPN lets two devices have a private connection over the open internet, all thanks to VPN encryption.

    To save you some time, we’ve packed a table with the key VPN on iPhone points. If you’re interested in a detailed explanation, you’ll find it further in the article.

    VPN on an iPhone essentials:

    With a VPN on an iPhone, you can:
  1. Stay secure on public Wi-Fi
  2. Overcome network restrictions
  3. Avoid content censorship
  4. Stream throttle-free
  5. Get better deals
  6. When choosing a VPN provider, consider:
  7. Encryption and protocols available on the VPN app
  8. The number of servers and locations a VPN provider offers
  9. Whether the VPN provider follows a no-logs policy
  10. Avoiding free VPNs or free proxies
  11. The quickest way to get VPN protection on an iPhone
    Download the Surfshark app, log in, and connect to a server
    Should a VPN on an iPhone be on or off?
    You should keep your VPN turned on when you’re online. But you may want to reduce VPN usage if your limited data plan is nearing its limit.
    Ready to protect your iPhone
    and surf iSafely?

    VPN on an iPhone: two meanings

    When it comes to a VPN on an iPhone, there are two things we may be talking about. One is a VPN app — something you download and use to connect to a VPN server without any hassle. The other is a native VPN capability available on all iPhone devices. Unlike an app, it requires a manual setup and a server to connect to.

    For most people, using a VPN app is the best option, since it’s easier to use than a manual one. The manual VPN setup is a great option for a small niche of tech-savvy individuals who happen to have a VPN server lying around somewhere.

    Wish to deepen your VPN knowledge? We wrote an article on what a VPN is to help you navigate the VPN landscape.

    Why you should use a VPN on your iPhone

    You should use a VPN on your iPhone because it further ensures your smartphone’s security, keeps your online activities private and prevents IP-based tracking. As an added benefit, VPNs help you access your favorite content from your home country whenever you travel abroad. 

    Despite appearing harder to hack, iPhones are as prone to malicious attacks as any other device. In his 2021 interview with Forbes, Gil Shwed, often regarded as the inventor of the modern computer firewall, stated that iPhones aren’t more secure than Androids.

    Shwed also said that 95% of smartphones accessing core enterprise systems don’t carry security software. A VPN could reduce that number. Also, regardless of Apple’s fight against the rising threats to privacy, a VPN will provide you with peace and quiet anywhere.

    Let’s look at some of the main reasons you should use a VPN on your iPhone.

    Stay safe and secure on public Wi-Fi networks

    Do you want to wire the money to your friend for the coffee while waiting for the barista to prepare it? Using a VPN on an iPhone ensures you won’t risk exposing your banking app’s info on public Wi-Fi.

    Hackers are always on the lookout for people who are exposed online. Unsafe public Wi-Fi is one of their favorite hunting grounds. The private data shared over public Wi-Fi is often not encrypted, making it easy for bad actors to intercept it.

    VPN services help you establish a safe and secure connection on public Wi-Fi. They encrypt your traffic and hide your IP address, which makes it extremely hard for hackers to get any information from you.

    Overcome network restrictions at work and school

    Can’t play a track on SoundCloud during recess at school or share a video on YouTube in the office break room? Turn on the VPN on your iPhone and share the vibe.

    Schools and workplaces block access to certain websites or online content for reasons such as “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 enjoy the wonders of the internet freely once again.

    Avoid censorship wherever you go

    You left your UK home and went to China for a week. The newest episode of The Graham Norton Show is about to drop, but you can’t watch it because the service is no longer available. Turn on the Surfshark app on your iPhone and tune in to your favorite home shows.

    To avoid censorship, change your location with a VPN. For example, if you are traveling in a country where access to the BBC or The New York Times is blocked, but these services are available in your home country, you can use a VPN to connect to a server in your home country and regain access.

    Stream privately and throttle-free

    Is Netflix buffering for too long? Or maybe Raid: Shadow Legends is lagging? Experiencing random speed drops? Your ISP might be capping your bandwidth because they see you streaming. Yes, ISPs do that, and it’s called throttling.

    A VPN hides your traffic from your ISP, so they don’t know what you’re doing. This way, you can avoid throttling and stream privately with a VPN.

    Disclaimer: Please note that using Surfshark services for any illegal activities is strictly forbidden and violates our Terms of Service. Make sure that any use of Surfshark services for your particular activities conforms to all relevant laws and regulations, including those of any service providers and websites you access using Surfshark.

    Defeat price discrimination

    It’s not a secret that most shopping is done using smartphones. With that in mind, are you looking to order a present online but the budget is tight?

    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 the 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 allows you to switch locations to get the best deals. This way, you can defeat price discrimination and save significant amounts of money when shopping online. 

    How to use a VPN on an iPhone or iPad

    You can set up and use a VPN automatically (an easier option) or manually. The quickest way to start enjoying an encrypted connection is by choosing a VPN provider — we’ll talk about that later on — and downloading their app.

    The easiest way — get an app and use it straight off the bat

    The advantage of an app is that the setup and most settings are automated — you’ll save time and won‘t need to fiddle with the different settings of various protocols. A VPN service also has additional functions, like a dedicated IP or an IP rotator and randomizer.

    By the way, setting up a VPN on an iPad is roughly the same, so here’s the process for most VPN apps:

    1. Sign up for a VPN.
    2. Download an iOS VPN or get it from the App Store.
    3. Install the app.
    4. Open the app, choose a location, and tap Connect.

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

    Manually set up a VPN on an iPhone or iPad

    Setting up a VPN on an iOS device manually may give you additional setting control and insight into what’s under the figurative hood.

    iPhone 11, iPhone 12, iPhone 13, iPhone 14, and many older iOS devices natively support several VPN protocols. For this example, we’ll be using IKEv2, as it’s currently the best available option, but bear in mind that we have more extensive guides on how to use a VPN on iPhone.

    1. Open Settings.
    A screenshot of an iPhone settings menu
    1. Choose General.
    A screenshot of an iPhone general settings menu
    1. Click on VPN and Device Management.
    A screenshot of an iPhone VPN & Device Management settings menu
    1. Choose VPN.
    A screenshot of an iPhone VPN settings menu
    1. Click Add VPN Configuration.
    A screenshot of an iPhone VPN configuration settings
    1. Choose IKEv2 as your VPN type.
    2. Enter your VPN configuration data.
    3. Enter your authentication data.
    4. Voilà, setup complete.

    It’s also worth mentioning that with the change to iOS15, Apple introduced a VPN-like feature called Private Relay. It’s only available for iCloud+ subscribers. There’s no way to access this feature without an active subscription.

    The difference between Private Relay and a VPN:

    A VPN protects all your online traffic by sending it through an encrypted tunnel. Private Relay tries to do the same by using two different proxies to hide your IP address and online data coming only from Safari.

    If you have an iCloud+ subscription already, it may be a good tool for internet privacy, but I wouldnt stop using a VPN with the latest iOS updates just yet.

    What to consider when securing your iPhone and choosing a VPN provider

    You shouldn’t take the task of choosing a VPN provider lightly. After all, you’ll be putting your privacy in their hands.

    First, you should rule out free VPNs if you care about online privacy. There are too many cases of free VPN providers exposing or selling user data to ad agencies or otherwise mishandling information. And second, you should consider all these things before choosing a VPN: 

    • Encryption — algorithms that ensure security by making your data indecipherable. Right now, AES-256 GCM is the leading encryption algorithm, which Surfshark uses in conjunction with ChaCha20-Poly1305 to keep your data secure.
    • Protocols — sets of rules that ensure your VPN is secure, fast, and supported by your device. A good VPN should offer protocols like WireGuard, OpenVPN, or IKEv2. These are all available with Surfshark, by the way.
    • The number of servers and locations — the more of them, the faster the connection. Many servers means they won’t get crowded, and you won’t have to share bandwidth with other users. Surfshark has you covered with 3200+ servers in 100+ countries.
    • No online tracking — you get to enjoy online privacy. Any reliable VPN provider should follow a strict no-logs policy. Surfshark is one such provider and has an independent auditor’s verification to prove it.
    • Additional features — a good VPN provider should offer something extra to make your online experience a little safer and more enjoyable. Surfshark offers a pop-up and an ad blocker, an IP randomizer, a MultiHop feature, and unlimited simultaneous connections to keep your loved ones safe as well.

    Since Surfshark has it all, we nudge you to try it when securing iOS devices.

    Should I turn a VPN on or off?

    If you’re using the internet on your iPhone, you should always keep your VPN turned on. There aren’t 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 banking with a non-native to the bank IP (banking apps can be fussy about VPN use)
    When carrying out operations that involve sensitive data
    When mobile data usage is of critical importance
    When you need to overcome blocks and censorship
    When your connection is slow, and you want to stream a video
    When shopping online

    Our advice is to always use a VPN 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, and getting one isn’t free.
    • By downloading a free VPN: not all VPN providers are safe, and using free VPN services is such a risky proposition that we wrote a full article comparing free VPNs with paid ones

    Reddit’s take on iPhone VPNs

    We’ve checked Reddit to see what people say about VPNs on iPhones. We looked at the most topical threads and crystallized the discussion into bite-sized summaries.

    Note: these are general summaries, and if you wish to read the full discussion, click on the links below to check the original threads.

    • VPN for iPhone? Should I be using one?
      VPNs protect your privacy and hide your internet activity. You can buy things from different regions. iCloud+ includes “iCloud Private Relay” — a feature similar to a VPN. Free VPNs are risky. There are reputable VPNs, but you can make your own using WireGuard.
    • Does anyone know if the iPhone built-in VPN is good?
      The iPhone does not have a built-in VPN. You have to find or build one and install it on your phone. The VPN setting then helps you control it. Since the VPN isn’t built-in, you need a VPN app or know the server details you’re connecting to.If you wish to set up a VPN, the iPhone supports protocols such as L2TP and IKEAv2 but not OpenVPN. Also, Apple stopped supporting PPTP.
    • Best VPN for iPhone and other iOS devices?
      When choosing a secure VPN for your iPhone, consider strong encryption and a strict no-logs policy. Look for multi-device support, a wide server network, and a balance between cost and features. An intuitive app and fast speeds are also important for a reliable VPN experience.

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

    iPhones are generally secure but aren’t immune to online privacy issues. VPNs help ensure the iPhone’s online security and user privacy, protect sensitive data on public Wi-Fi, and minimize ISP and third-party tracking activity. A VPN is a recommended addition to the iPhone’s online protection arsenal.

    Use Surfshark and wonder “what is VPN on iphone?” no more! Surfshark has everything you’ll ever need in a VPN — and for an affordable price!

    Enjoy online security
    and protect your iPhone


    Is a VPN safe for iPhones?

    A VPN on an iPhone is safe since it helps protect your online privacy, uses encryption to increase your online security, and hides your activity from possible snoopers. Just make sure to pick a VPN provider that doesn’t retain user data and avoid free VPNs.

    What does a VPN on an iPhone do?

    A VPN on an iPhone routes online data coming from your iPhone via a VPN server. A VPN changes your IP, secures your sent and received data by encrypting it, and helps you overcome censorship and firewall blocking.

    Is there a VPN already implemented on an iPhone?

    The iPhone doesn’t have a built-in VPN but has VPN settings if you wish to build or install one. To make a VPN work, you would need to complete a manual setup and find a server to connect to, which is not an option for most users.

    Should a VPN be on or off on an iPhone?

    You should always keep your VPN on, regardless if you’re using an iPhone or any other device connected to the internet. There are only a few exceptions, mainly related to banking apps and other services that may not work well with a VPN.

    How do I use a VPN on iOS 15?

    The easiest way to use a VPN on iOS 15 is to get a premium VPN app, start a subscription, and use the app to connect to a VPN server. You can complete a manual setup without the app, but that requires some tech knowledge and a VPN server you can connect to.

    Starting with iOS 15, Apple introduced Private Relay, a VPN-like feature that is only available for iCloud+ subscribers. While it isn’t a full replacement for a VPN, it does help with securing privacy online.

    What is the difference between Private Relay and a VPN on iOS 15?

    Private Relay and a VPN are privacy tools that encrypt your internet traffic and protect your privacy online. Private Relay only protects you when you’re using Safari and does not protect traffic outside of that browser. A VPN encrypts all your traffic, which includes all browsers and apps.