How to Set Up a VPN on a Mac

Some VPNs don't have an app for macOS, but they make up for it by letting you set up the VPN manually. Here's how to connect to a server with OpenVPN or another protocol.

It's not always possible to get a VPN to work with macOS because some providers don't offer a dedicated app for Mac users. However, if your favorite provider supplies manual configuration details, you can set up the VPN yourself.

As easy as these steps are to understand, you can save yourself the headache of walking through them by using a VPN that supports macOS.

Option #1: OpenVPN App

If you're looking for the easiest method, go with OpenVPN (if the provider supports it). All you have to do is import a file into an app and then log in. It works for OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion through macOS 11.0 Big Sur.

  1. Download the OpenVPN server file from your provider.
  2. Download and install OpenVPN Connect.
  3. Open the FILE menu.
  4. Select BROWSE and then double-click the file.
  5. Enter your username, check the box next to Save password, and then enter the password.
  6. Select Add at the top.
OpenVPN Connect setup screens on macOS Big Sur
OpenVPN Connect in macOS Big Sur

The main screen in OpenVPN Connect is where all of your servers are listed. Use the button next to a server to turn it on and off.

Option #2: Network Settings

Some VPNs don't let you connect over OpenVPN. If you've been given other protocol options, follow these steps. They're confirmed to work with macOS Big Sur 11.0 but they should also apply to previous versions through High Sierra.

  1. Open the Apple menu and go to System Preferences > Network.
macOS Big Sur System Preferences screen
macOS Big Sur System Preferences
  1. Select the plus button on the button left and then use the fields provided to choose VPN, select a VPN type, and customize the name.
  2. Select Create.
macOS Big Sur ExpressVPN setup screen
Initial VPN settings
  1. Enter the server address into the first box followed by the username used to log in to it.
ExpressVPN server details in the macOS Big Sur network screen
macOS Big Sur VPN configuration
  1. Select Authentication Settings and enter the appropriate information.
L2TP authentication settings in macOS Big Sur
macOS Big Sur VPN authentication settings
  1. Select OK on the authentication screen, followed by Apply on the network settings screen.

To turn the VPN on and off, complete step 1 to return to the Network screen, choose the VPN connection from the left pane, and select Connect or Disconnect. For a quicker method, enable Show VPN status in menu bar from that screen to get a handy pop-out menu.