How to Set Up a VPN on Windows

It's common for a VPN to have a dedicated Windows app that makes setup really easy. If you'd rather not use the provider's app or one isn't available, you can create the server connection yourself.

Setting up a VPN manually is necessary if the VPN service you've chosen doesn't make a Windows app. Albeit rare (most of the top VPNs offer a Windows app), some VPNs only work when they're set up manually. All you need is the server details and a username and password.

Options #1: OpenVPN App

OpenVPN is the best route to take because it's reliable and requires the least amount of work. It works through a configuration file that gets imported into the OpenVPN Connect app; the latest version works in Windows 10 through Windows Vista SP2.

  1. Download the OpenVPN file from your provider.
  2. Download and install OpenVPN Connect.
  3. Open the FILE menu.
  4. Select BROWSE and then double-click the configuration 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 import profile screens in Windows 10
OpenVPN Connect in Windows 10

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: Windows Settings

If the provider doesn't supply OpenVPN files or you'd rather use a different protocol like PPTP, L2TP, or IKEv2, you can set up the connection manually through Windows.

Windows 11 & 10

  1. Use the Win+i keyboard shortcut to open the settings screen.
  2. Select Network & Internet.
Windows 11 Settings screen
  1. Choose VPN and then Add VPN (Windows 11) or Add a VPN connection (Windows 10).
Add a VPN connection button in Windows 11 Settings
  1. Fill out the form with the VPN's information. The provider should be Windows (built-in) and the name anything you want, but the other details depend on the provider you're using (we're using ExpressVPN in this example).
Windows 11 Add a VPN connection screen
  1. Check the box to remember your information and then select Save.

To turn it on and off, return to step 3, select the connection, and choose Connect or Disconnect.

Windows 8

  1. Use the Win+i keyboard shortcut to open the settings screen.
  2. Choose Change PC settings on the bottom.
Windows 8 settings screen
  1. Select Network from the left.
Windows 8 PC settings screen
  1. Choose Add a VPN connection.
Windows 8 network settings screen
  1. Pick Microsoft for the VPN provider and then fill out the rest of the fields with the information supplied to you by the provider.
Windows 8 new VPN connection screen
  1. Select Save.

To enable or disable the VPN, select the network icon by the clock (it looks like a computer) and then select the VPN to see the Connect or Disconnect button.

Windows 8 VPN connect button

Windows 7 & Vista

  1. Open the Start menu and choose Control Panel.
  2. Search for VPN and choose Set up a virtual private network (VPN) connection from the results.
Windows 7 Control Panel VPN results
  1. Paste the VPN's server information into the first box and name it something recognizable in the second box.

If you're using Windows Vista, you'll need to go through a couple of other screens before seeing this one: Connect to a workplace > Use my Internet connection (VPN).

Windows 7 Create a VPN Connection screen
  1. Select Next.
  2. Enter the username and password necessary to log in to the server. You can also choose to have Windows remember the password.
Windows 7 new VPN connection username and password fields
  1. Select Connect.
  2. Once the connection has been established, select Close.

Turning the VPN on and off can be done directly from the taskbar. Select the computer icon near the clock, choose the connection, and select Connect or Disconnect.

ExpressVPN connection status in Windows 7

If you're using Vista, choose the computer icon and then select Connect or disconnect to find the on/off buttons.