VPNs are becoming a necessity for Mac users who value their privacy and online freedom. 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 that can only be watched from certain countries
- Websites and apps that track your location and device address
- Web censorship by governments and corporations
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 geo-locked websites 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 and OSX should all be supported.
For those of you that take the security of your Mac seriously, we’ve sifted through what’s on offer to find the best options available. We’ve selected our favorite VPNs for MacOS and OSX based on the following criteria:
- A MacOS/OSX app is available from the provider
- Fast connections with unlimited bandwidth and no data caps
- A large, global network of servers to unblock geo-locked content (Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer etc)
5 Best VPNs for Mac
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. Not all that claim to be the best VPN for Mac offer the level of speed, security, and privacy expected by users. Even fewer can unblock popular streaming services like Hulu, BBC iPlayer, and Netflix. Many people also need a Mac VPN that can bypass censorship, such as residents of China, which only a handful of VPNs are capable of.
Here is our list of the best VPNs for Mac:
ExpressVPN is our top pick for the all-round best VPN for Mac. Fast speeds and unlimited bandwidth ensure you can stream in HD and download large files quickly. It operates upwards of 1,500 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 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.
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Read our full review of ExpressVPN.
NordVPN offers almost 2,000 servers in 56 countries, with nearly half of them 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. A 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 a number of different tasks, including anti-DDoS, double-hop VPN, Tor over VPN, ultra-fast 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 MacOS 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, iOS, and Android.
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Read our review of NordVPN.
IPVanish is a veteran provider that operates over 850 servers in more than 60 countries. 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 addons we’ve tested.
Apps are also available for Windows, iOS, Android, and Amazon Fire TV Stick.
Read our full IPVanish review.
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 speed tests. CyberGhost now operates more than 1,000 servers in over 30 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, and iOS.
Read our full review of Cyberghost.
PrivateVPN is an up-and-coming provider making a strong first impression thanks to its 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.
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Read our full PrivateVPN review.
Can I use a free VPN with MacOS?
We recommend against using so-called “free” VPN services for a number of 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.
Avoid free Mac VPNs
GoVPN claims to be a free VPN for Mac and iOS devices. It is currently not known 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 ExpressVPN’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 a number of reasons for Mac owners to employ VPNs.
The first 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 a number of 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. A handful of Mac VPNs, however, 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.
For those of you that remember the Mac vs PC ads that plagued television several years ago, you may recall that the Mac was touted as being more secure and less virus prone. In some ways, this claim was true, because MS Windows PCs accounted for over 90 percent of the computers on the internet at the time. Not many viruses targeted Macs simply because there weren’t enough Macs online to make it worthwhile.
Over the past several years, the popularity of Apple’s products has gone up considerably. So much so, that exploits and vulnerabilities are now being taken advantage of in malicious code online. There was even quite a bit of outrage in the Mac community recently toward a security researcher who announced two rather critical flaws in the Mac OS without notifying Apple first, thereby putting every Mac user potentially at risk of these zero day vulnerabilities.
Any vulnerability in an operating system that the manufacturer of that OS is unaware of is called a “zero-day” vulnerability, kind of like patient zero in an epidemic. Once the manufacturer becomes aware of the flaw, it starts a race against time to patch the hole before too many of its users get hit by an exploit using this flaw. As you can imagine, any zero day vulnerability in an operating system is music to the ears of anyone who writes any kind of malware. The system is basically wide open to them until the vendor finds out about it and gets a patch in place to plug the hole.
A Mac VPN adds a significant layer of protection against zero-day vulnerabilities that we might not know about yet. An encrypted tunnel and masked IP address go a long ways toward mitigating these kinds of threats.
How to manually configure a VPN on a Mac
Our preferred VPN protocol is OpenVPN, but Macs don’t come with built-in support for it. You could configure an OpenVPN client using some third-party software, 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 OpenVPN 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 OSX 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 you VPN provider
- Click the Viscosity icon in the top right corner again, and the VPN connection should be listed. Click it to connect