VPNs are becoming a necessity for Mac users who value their privacy and online freedom or who want to access region-locked content.
Short for Virtual Private Network, a VPN encrypts all of a device’s internet traffic and routes it through an intermediary server in a location of your choosing. In this article, we’ll look at the all-around best VPNs for Mac users. That means they’re suitable for bypassing censorship, securing public wifi, unblocking region-locked websites (Netflix, BBC, Amazon Prime Video etc) and apps, torrenting, and using Kodi. They’ll work on any type of Macbook, Macbook Air, Macbook Retina, or Macbook Pro. Older versions of macOS should all be supported.
We’ll delve into the details of the best VPN providers for Mac further down, but below is a quick summary of the best VPNs for Mac in 2020 if you don’t want to keep reading:
- NordVPN Our top pick for macOS users. Huge server network so there’s always a fast one available. Can unblock Netflix and other streaming sites. Zero logs and robust security. 30-day money-back guarantee included.
- Surfshark Best budget VPN. A great all-rounder with secure, reliable connections, a no-logs policy, and superior unblocking potential. Doesn’t set a connection limit.
- ExpressVPN Fantastic security, excellent connection speeds, and unblocks most streaming sites like Netflix. Allows you to split-tunnel by application. Includes a 30-day money-back guarantee.
- CyberGhost Beginner-friendly apps that won’t break the bank. Unblock Netflix while keeping your connection private.
- IPVanish Torrent-friendly VPN with good internet speeds and strong security. A favorite among Kodi users.
- PrivateVPN A lesser-known option that punches above its weight class when it comes to speed, security, and the ability to unblock streaming sites like Netflix.
6 Best VPN providers for Mac and Macbooks in 2020
Mac users are spoiled for choice when picking a VPN. Pretty much all VPN providers make an app for macOS, but only a few of them are worth your time and money.
We’ve selected our favorite VPNs for macOS based on the following criteria:
- A macOS app is available from the provider
- Tested and working on all standard Mac operating systems including Catalina, Mojave, High Sierra, Maverick, and El Capitan
- Fast connection speeds with unlimited bandwidth and no data caps
- A vast, global network of specialty streaming servers unblock geo-locked content (Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime, etc.)
- Bypass censorship in countries like China
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Here is our list of the best VPN providers for Mac and Macbooks:
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
NordVPN offers over 5,500 servers in 59 countries, nearly half of which are located in the United States. The VPN keeps no logs about your connection or your activity and is protected with military-grade encryption. Live customer support is available on the website. An app-specific kill switch, full kill switch, and DNS leak protection come built-in. You are allowed up to six simultaneous connections.
NordVPN has specialized servers for several different tasks, including anti-DDoS, double-hop VPN, Tor over VPN, ultra-fast optimized servers for streaming, and more. These are all laid out in the app’s server list. NordVPN also unblocks several popular geo-locked streaming sites including Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, and Amazon Prime Video. Not all servers will unblock these sites and apps, but you can usually look up which ones to connect to in the NordVPN knowledge base.
NordVPN actually has two different macOS apps available at the time of writing. One is available for download from NordVPN’s official website and uses the OpenVPN protocol. NordVPN calls this its “legacy” app, and instead recommends Mac users get the other NordVPN app available on the Apple App Store. This version uses IKEv2 instead of OpenVPN, which isn’t open source but is generally considered a fast and secure protocol. The IKEv2 NordVPN app is a bit more secure than its OpenVPN counterpart, but choose what works best for you.
Apps are also available for Windows, Linux, iOS, and Android.
- Dedicated Mac apps work seamlessly
- Doesn’t compromise on security
- Faster than any other VPN we’ve tested
- Vast server network can unblock most geo-restricted content
- 24/7 live chat support available
- iOS app doesn’t work in China
BEST VPN FOR MAC USERS:NordVPN is our first choice. A security-first provider that works reliably with major streaming platforms. Connects up to 6 devices simultaneously. Try it risk-free with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our review of NordVPN.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
Surfshark currently has around 3,200 servers in 63+ countries. It’s fast and offers more comprehensive protection than many of its rivals. There’s effectively uncrackable 256-bit encryption, for instance, as well as a kill switch (in all versions), automatic ad and malware-blocking, and protection against WebRTC, IPv6, and DNS leaks. Further, Surfshark doesn’t log any personally identifiable information.
This service is capable of unblocking a huge range of popular services abroad, including Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Hulu to name a few. It’s ideal for streaming since there’s no connection limit, and if you’re having any issues, you can reach support 24/7 over live chat.
Surfshark also offers apps for iOS, Windows, Android, and Linux.
- Fast and reliable
- Keeps no logs
- Strong commitment to your security
- Connect any number of devices
- Excellent unblocking ability
- Small (but expanding) network
- Still has the occasional slow server
Read our full review of Surfshark here.
BEST BUDGET VPN:Surfshark delivers well in most areas, including online security, privacy, unblocking, and ease of use. Affordable option with no connection limit and a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
ExpressVPN is a great all-round VPN for Mac. Fast speeds and unlimited bandwidth ensure you can stream in HD and download large files quickly. It operates upwards of 3,000 optimized VPN servers in 94 countries. 256-bit AES encryption pairs with perfect forward secrecy for best-in-class security. ExpressVPN keeps no logs of your activity or real IP address. A kill switch, dubbed “network lock”, and bulletproof leak protection come built-in. ExpressVPN’s Mac app includes a split tunneling feature that allows you to choose which apps are tunneled through the VPN and which use the normal, unencrypted internet connection.
ExpressVPN is a capable and reliable unblocker of sites like Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Amazon Prime Video, and BBC iPlayer. Not all servers can get the job done, though, so contact the 24/7 live chat support to ask which ones work with your favorite streaming site.
Apps are also available for Windows, iOS, Android, Linux, certain wifi routers, and Amazon Fire TV Stick.
- Superfast connection speeds with no bandwidth or data restrictions for the best performance
- macOS apps are easy to install and use
- Support services are top-notch and staff are knowledgeable
- Slightly more expensive
- Users can’t tweak many advanced settings
HIGHLY VERSATILE:ExpressVPN is capable of handling almost anything. Fast, reliable, and able to unblock all major streaming services. Great security and online privacy with 256-bit AES encryption, keep no browser logs, kill switch and leak protection. 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full review of ExpressVPN.
Money-back guarantee: 45 DAYS
CyberGhost allows you to choose a server not only by country, but according to how you plan to use it. For example, you can opt for a server that unblocks US Netflix or one to use for P2P filesharing. The Romania-headquartered provider upped its game recently, expanding both its server network and its unblocking capabilities. It scored well above average in our download speed tests. CyberGhost now operates 5,900+ servers in 89+ countries. It can unblock Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and BBC iPlayer, among others.
The company stores no logs of users data and 256-bit encryption protects all internet traffic to and from your Macbook. Additional features include malware and ad blocking, anti-tracking, and automatic HTTPS redirect.
Apps are also available for Windows, Android, Linux, and iOS.
- No issues for macOS in our tests
- Streams HD video seamlessly and has good connection speeds for downloading
- Easy to use, select activity type and be connected to the most appropriate server – Best location feature
- Doesn’t work in the UAE or China
- Has few advanced features
Easy-to-use apps:CyberGhost is easy to use. A great option for users on a budget. Good on privacy. Streams HD video reliably. Hit and miss connections with popular streaming sites. 45-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full review of CyberGhost.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
IPVanish is a veteran provider that operates over 1,300 servers in more than 60 countries. Connection speeds are fast and connections are reliable. Security boasts 256-bit AES encryption and perfect forward secrecy. A kill switch, traffic obfuscation, DNS leak protection, and IPv6 leak protection can all be toggled in the settings. You can also set your IP address to change at a specified interval. IPVanish stores zero logs about users’ activity and connection details.
IPVanish isn’t as great for unblocking streaming services as the other VPN providers on this list, but it’s great for P2P traffic and Kodi. Kodi users with Android-based devices will have no problem setting up and using IPVanish thanks to a simple, lightweight app and remote control-friendly interface. IPVanish works with all of the Kodi add-ons we’ve tested.
Apps are also available for Windows, iOS, Android, and Amazon Fire TV Stick.
- Apps work well with macOS
- Impressive security and privacy features
- Handles multiple simultaneous connections well
- Apps don’t work in China
- Doesn’t offer a cryptocurrency payment method
NO DEVICE LIMIT:IPVanish is great for families and multiple connections. Easy to use with Kodi and preferred by users who need high standards of privacy. Can’t unblock as many streaming services as some of its rivals. 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full IPVanish review.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
PrivateVPN is an up-and-coming provider making a strong first impression thanks to its download speed, security, and ability to bypass geographic restrictions. Despite its smaller server network, it performed well above average in our speed tests. Security standards are on par with what you would expect from a much larger provider, including 256-bit encryption and perfect forward secrecy. A kill switch and DNS leak protection are included. PrivateVPN is completely logless.
PrivateVPN is great for unblocking geo-locked sites like Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, and Amazon Prime Video. A basic plan allows you to simultaneously connect up to six devices. Live chat is available on the website during business hours.
Apps are also available for Windows, iOS, and Android.
- Solid Mac app
- Our tests revealed impressive connection speeds
- A growing reputation for unblocking popular streaming sites from anywhere
- Small number of VPN server locations
- Live chat isn’t 24/7
- Doesn’t work in China
GREAT SPEEDS:PrivateVPN is consistently reliable. Good for general purpose use and HD Streaming. Could do with having more servers and lacks 24/7 support. 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full PrivateVPN review.
How to use a VPN with macOS
Setting up a VPN works more or less just like installing any other type of app on macOS, just follow these steps below.
- Choose a suitable VPN provider, we particularly recommend NordVPN.
- Download the VPN app from your provider’s website
- Double click on the downloaded file to install it. Confirm any prompts that might appear.
- Launch the VPN app from your Applications menu or the dock at the bottom.
- Enter your username and password to login. Depending on your provider, you might need additional verification upon first setup.
- Select a VPN server in the location that you wish to access the internet from.
- Double click the server or hit the Connect button
- Wait for the connection to establish.
And that’s it! You can now torrent anonymously, unblock region-locked content, secure public wifi connections, and much more. You can check that it’s working by Googling, “What’s my IP?” Your IP address should be different while the VPN is turned on.
Should I use a free VPN on Mac?
We recommend against using so-called “free” VPN services for many reasons. First of all, they’re slow or limit downloads. Most free VPNs cap data transfers and implement bandwidth limits that are too restrictive for anything but basic web surfing.
Second, free VPNs tend to have poor privacy practices. They may use outdated encryption or keep logs on your activity, for example. Some even inject tracking cookies and advertisements into your browser and sell your browsing data to third parties. That’s the opposite of what VPNs are meant for.
Finally, free VPNs often carry malware that will infect your Macbook once installed. Stick to paid VPN services with good reputations and strict privacy policies.
The problem with free Mac VPNs
GoVPN claims to be a free VPN for Mac and iOS devices. It is currently unknown what this app does, but connecting to a VPN service is not on the list. It will claim to be connected to a VPN, but your computer’s IP address is still visible to any site on the internet. Avoid at all costs.
Fresh VPN offers a free trial for connecting to their service. Unfortunately, the free trial is considerably less than NordVPN’s 30 days. It only lasts five minutes. Seriously. That’s all their going to give someone to test out and evaluate their service on a Mac. Not enough time for a real evaluation, and only shows what little faith the vendor has in the product on offer.
If you open the Mac app store and search for “VPN” you’ll get a long list of apps, including several that claim to be free. Most of those free VPNs include “In-App Purchases”, non-functioning connections or even blatant malware of some form or another. Even some of the paid-for VPNs have advertising embedded in their free, or trial version apps. Expect to encounter download caps, bandwidth limits, and waiting queues.
Why Mac owners should use VPNs
macOS is generally considered a fairly secure operating system, but there are still many reasons for Mac owners to employ VPNs. Macs may be less susceptible to malware than PCs, but they’re just as much at risk when it comes to online threats and obstacles:
- Spying on your online activity by governments, corporations, and hackers
- Attacks that intercept, modify, or divert your internet connection
- Geo-locked content such as videos and content that can only be watched from certain countries
- Websites and apps that track your location and device address
- Web censorship by governments and corporations
The number one reason to use a VPN on Mac is to improve privacy. Your Mac’s security and privacy only extend to the data that is stored on your Macbook. Once data is passed over the internet, it may no longer be secure or private. Your internet service provider or a hacker on a public wi-fi network could snoop on your online activity. This information could be used against you in many ways, such as your ISP throttling your bandwidth as punishment for using P2P applications, or the hacker conducting a man-in-the-middle attack to dump a malware payload onto your computer.
Besides the obvious privacy and security benefits, VPNs are extremely useful for accessing geo-locked content. If you want to watch a video or access an app that’s only available to users in a specific country, for example, you can simply set your VPN server location to that country and connect to it to unblock the content. This works whether it’s the government, your ISP, or the website itself doing the blocking.
Some apps and websites have caught onto VPN users, such as Netflix and Hulu, which prevent VPN users from watching videos from abroad. However, a handful of Mac VPNs have figured out a workaround so their users can bypass the VPN ban and watch from anywhere in the world. ExpressVPN and NordVPN, for example, both unblock Netflix and Hulu on certain servers.
How to manually set up a VPN on a Mac
Our preferred VPN protocols are OpenVPN and Wireguard, but Macs don’t come with built-in support for them. You could configure a third-party VPN client, but this typically requires you to manually configure individual servers, a tedious process. It’s much easier to install a provider’s custom app that comes pre-configured with all the servers you’ll need, plus other benefits like a kill switch and DNS leak protection.
If your VPN provider doesn’t make an app or you just prefer not to use third-party VPN software, Mac users have a few options for manually configuring a VPN. We’ll explain how to set up three of the most popular:
- Built-in VPN support (L2TP)
- Tunnelblick (OpenVPN)
- Viscosity (OpenVPN)
How to set up an L2TP VPN connection on macOS
L2TP/IPSec is a VPN protocol with built-in support on Macs that offers comparable speed and security to OpenVPN. To set up a VPN connection that uses the L2TP protocol, you’ll need the following information from your VPN provider:
- Your VPN provider account credentials (username or email and password)
- The VPN server addresses for each location you want to connect to
- VPN provider’s shared secret OR certificate
With that information in hand, follow these instructions:
- Go to Apple menu > System Preferences > Network icon
- Click + in the bottom left corner to create a new network interface
- Click the Interface drop-down list and choose VPN
- Click the VPN Type drop-down list and choose L2TP over IPSec
- In the Service Name field, type a name for this VPN connection (can be anything you like)
- Click Create and the VPN settings will appear
- Using the default configuration, in the Server Address field, type the VPN server address
- In the Account Name field, type your VPN account username
- Click Authentication Settings
- In the Password field, type your VPN account password
- If using a shared secret, select Shared Secret and type the pre-shared key (a.k.a. shared secret or secret key)
- If using a certificate, select Certificate, then Select and find the VPN provider’s certificate
- Click Apply to save changes
- The VPN is now set up, you just need to connect. Go to the Apple menu > System Preferences > Network icon
- Choose the VPN connection you created in the Network box
- Click Connect
How to set up a VPN with Tunnelblick on a Mac
Tunnelblick is a VPN client for Mac that works well with the OpenVPN protocol. You’ll need the OpenVPN configuration file for each server location you wish to connect to (.ovpn) from your VPN provider to get started, and possibly your VPN account username and password.
Tunnelblick can be downloaded for free here. Once downloaded, double-click the .dmg file and then on the Tunnelblick icon to install it. You may need to confirm and enter your Mac login credentials.
- Launch Tunnelblick and click the button that says “I have configuration files”
- Go to where you downloaded your .ovpn files and double-click them. You’ll be prompted to install the configurations for all users or just you. Choose whichever you like.
- Once the configuration is installed, click the Tunnelblick icon in the top right corner of your screen and choose Connect
- Enter your VPN username and password if prompted
- A notification will appear to let you know the connection is established
How to set up a VPN with Viscosity on macOS
Viscosity is a paid VPN client for macOS that works well with the OpenVPN protocol. A 30-day free trial is available, after which the software costs $9. You can download the client here. Install it by clicking on the .dmg file and then dragging the app to your Applications folder. You may need to confirm and enter your Mac login credentials.
To set up OpenVPN with Viscosity, you’ll need an OpenVPN configuration file (.ovpn) for each server you wish to connect to, and possibly your VPN account username and password.
- Click the Viscosity icon in the top right corner of your screen and choose Preferences…
- Click the + sign in the bottom left corner of the window that appears and choose Import connection > From file…
- Navigate to and select the .ovpn file you downloaded from your VPN provider
- Click the Viscosity icon in the top right corner again, and the VPN connection should be listed. Click it to connect
VPNs for Mac Users FAQ
What is the best VPN extension for Safari?
ExpressVPN is the only VPN on our list---and one of the only VPNs in the world---that makes a browser extension for Safari. Note, however, that you will still need to install the ExpressVPN native app, which you can then control from the Safari extension.
Most other VPN browser extensions are limited to Chrome and Firefox. You can still use them on a Macbook if you have one of those browsers installed. You can also install any VPN's MacOS app and it will cover Safari along with all other apps on your device.
Can I use a VPN to bypass campus blocks?
Yes. If you're accessing the web from a school, university, or office network that censors certain sites, apps, and services, those blocks can be bypassed with a VPN.
Simply log on to your VPN app, choose a server and wait for a connection to be established. Make sure to clear your browser's cache and cookies before visiting the website you'd like to access. You should now be able to browse the internet without restrictions.
Which is better, OpenVPN or IKEv2?
In terms of speed, both offer about the same throughput.
OpenVPN is open-source, which means anyone can inspect its code. It's generally considered the safest option for that reason. IKEv2 isn't known to suffer from any security issues, but it's not open source.
If you're on the move and using a VPN on a mobile device that routinely switches networks or loses service, IKEv2 is preferable. It reconnects much more quickly.
Is using a VPN on a Mac legal?
VPNs are legal in most countries. In fact, there are only a handful of countries in which VPNs are banned. It doesn’t matter which device you’re using to access the VPN, be it on desktop or mobile via Windows, Mac, Android, or iOS. What matters the most is the location you’re in. Of course, while VPNs are legal to use in most locations, it’s still illegal to use a VPN for illegal activities.
Can I also use my Mac VPN on my iPhone?
Yes, most major VPN providers offer VPN apps for desktop and mobile operating systems, including Mac and for iPhone and iOS. Furthermore, most high-quality VPN services also allow you to connect multiple devices simultaneously (often 5 or 6 at once). This means you can connect to VPN servers on your Mac and your iPhone at the same time without restriction.