If you want to make yourself completely anonymous online, protecting your personal data and browsing habits whilst also opening up region-blocked content, you’re looking for a VPN. Here, we show you how to set up a VPN on a Mac.

If you’re wondering what a VPN is (it stands for Virtual Private Network but that probably doesn’t answer all of your questions), then visit our sister title Tech Advisor’s article that explains what is a VPN. Once you’re clued up, return here for a guide to setting up a VPN on your Mac.

First, choose your VPN. Our top pick is NordVPN, but we also recommend ExpressVPN, PureVPN, CyberGhost or Surfshark, and you’ll find even more options in our round-up of the best VPN services for Mac here.

We’re first going to show you how to set up a VPN app like NordVPN, and will then show you how to set up a VPN that requires you to go into your Mac’s network settings such as Hidden24.

Choose a VPN plan

Choose a VPN plan

Once you’ve chosen a VPN, navigate to its website and choose the pricing plan that suits you best.

With NordVPN, which is the example we're using here, there’s a one month, one year, two year or three year plan available. Visit NordVPN's website and sign up here.

Create an account and use your preferred method of payment to activate your subscription. Be sure to keep your password and username safe.

Download a VPN app

Download a VPN app

With your account details handy, download the app for your chosen VPN.

Most users can download the ordinary app via the App Store, which is faster and more stable, but some VPNs such as NordVPN offer an option to go for OpenVPN which is more adapted to users from restricted countries like China, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, and can work better on older Macs.

Sign in to the VPN app

Sign in to the VPN app

If you choose to download from the App Store, you may be asked to sign-in using your Apple ID after clicking 'Install App'.

Once installed, navigate to your applications folder or Launch Pad to open the app. There, you’ll need to sign in using the VPN login details you kept safe when you created your account earlier.

Allow the VPN to add configurations

Allow the VPN to add configurations

Once logged in, you'll see a popup that asks you for permission to allow your VPN to add VPN configurations on your machine. You'll need to press Allow and may be asked to enter the password you use to log in to your Mac.

Later in this article we explain how to set up a VPN that requires you to go into your Mac's settings, but with a VPN app like this one the VPN does it for you when you press Allow here.

As long as you have downloaded a trusted VPN, pressing allow should be absolutely safe. Refer to our round-up of 10 trusted VPNs here if you're concerned.

Keychain access

Keychain access

To begin using your VPN, you'll be asked to choose a server. This could be within the country you are located if you are looking to protect your privacy and aren't trying to access blocked content.

If, however, you are trying to access US Netflix from the UK or BBC iPlayer from outside the UK, you need to choose the relevant server location.

Neagent wants to use your confidential information

When you try to connect to a new server for the first time you might see a window like this one, which says "neagent wants to use your confidential information stored in NordVPN in your keychain."

This is an additional security feature required for creating a secure VPN connection with the IKEv2 protocol used by NordVPN.

You can type in your Mac administrator password and click Always Allow, which means NordVPN will remember the login password within your keychain for future use, and won't ask you for it again unless you change the password.

If this window says it wants to use confidential information stored anywhere other than within NordVPN (or the VPN you have chosen), it's important to press deny.

Learn your way around the VPN app

Learn your way around the VPN app

You are now set up!

How to use NordVPN

You can search for new servers using the search button in the top right corner, access settings from the top left corner including the Kill Switch and the ability to have your VPN connect to a server of your choice from the moment you launch the application.

You'll be able to access the VPN settings and server lists any time by launching the app itself or using the icon in the navigation bar at the top of your computer where you'd usually find the date and time.

How to set up a VPN that doesn't have an app

How to set up a VPN that doesn't have an app

If you have chosen a VPN that has little or no app interface, you may be required to go into the settings menus of your Mac. It can sound a little daunting but it’s simple once you know how.

Your particular VPN should be able to offer help installing and setting up, but this example using Hidden24 should give you some idea of what to expect.

You’ll first need to sign up to the VPN and create an account.

Once you have a username, email and password associated with your account, you can begin the process of setting it up.

First go to System Preferences on your Mac and choose Network.

Press the small+ symbol in the bottom left corner to bring up a drop down menu. From Interface, choose VPN. Then choose the VPN type and service name specified by your VPN provider.

In this instance, it's L2TP over IPSec and the service name is Hidden24.

Fill in the VPN details

Fill in the VPN details

Now, in the Server Address field, enter the server specified by your provider. Here it’s connect.hidden24.co.uk. The account name is the username you were given when you signed up, so will be unique to everyone.

Now choose ‘Show VPN status in menu bar’ before clicking ‘Authentication Settings’.

You will be prompted to enter your password, as well as a Shared Secret which you should also have been given by your provider.

You can then click OK.

In Advanced, you can choose Send all traffic over VPN connection to ensure none of your data can be compromised.

Then click Ok and Apply and you’re done. You’ll see a new icon appear in your menu bar, which represents your VPN.

So there you have it! You now know how to set up a VPN app or a VPN that requires you to dig into the settings of your Mac.