Our need for digital privacy grows ever larger. 

As we migrate more and more parts of our lives to the cloud, our need for digital privacy grows ever larger. 

To that end, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) offer an extra layer of protection between you and your favorite sites. VPNs work by encrypting your data as it leaves your device and sending it through a private server before it reaches your ISP. Doing so hides all your web traffic from prying eyes — including governments and nosy “neighbors” on your network. 

And while VPNs used to be niche computer software, the need for mobile protection is growing all the time. People are depending more and more on smartphones, so it just makes sense to secure your phone with a VPN before you hit the web — especially on low-security public networks.

Even better? All you need is an account with a (reputable) VPN provider and a few minutes to download an app.

First, choose a provider

A quick web search will reveal dozens of VPNs vying for your attention, but don’t just download the first one you find.

As a general rule, you’ll want to use a paid provider with a solid history of consumer privacy and customer satisfaction. The one you choose should promise in its privacy policy never to sell your data to third-party companies, as that would defeat the purpose of using it in the first place. Even the best providers should cost no more than $15 a month, with better deals for longer-length subscriptions.

Here are a few favorites we’ve reviewed recently:

Once you’ve settled on a provider, you’ll just need to complete their steps for registration to get started. Thankfully, they all work in just about the same way.

Download the app

Most major VPN services have their apps available on the App Store, where you can complete registration as soon as you open the app for the first time. 

We won’t spend too much time on this, as you’ve almost certainly downloaded apps to your phone before. In case you haven’t, simply open the app store by tapping the icon on your iPhone’s home screen, search for the name of your chosen VPN, and tap the button that says “get.” 

After that, it’s just a matter of following the on-screen instructions.

Choose a server and get connected

A VPN app showing "connected"

Credit: Screenshot / Branford Shaw

A VPN app showing "not connected"

Credit: Screenshot / Branford Shaw

Once you’ve got the app set up, using the VPN is about as simple as it gets, but how you go about it depends on what you’re trying to do.

If all you need is another layer of security, using the closest server to you is probably fine. Most VPNs (like ExpressVPN, pictured above) will automatically point you to a nearby server on the first launch. 

If you want to use another specific location — to watch Netflix shows from another region, for example — simply select the box that shows your current location to pull up the server list, choose one in the region you’re looking for, and tap the power button to get connected.

Do all this before you travel 

A word of caution for all you jet-setters out there: A handful of totalitarian governments restrict and even ban VPN usage so they can keep a tight lock on the information their citizens have access to. 

In some cases, you’ll simply need to set up your account and download the app before you arrive so you can continue to enjoy content from around the world. Other times, you’ll find that your go-to VPN simply doesn’t work due to a Great Firewall or IP restrictions from local internet providers. 

The specifics change all the time, so it’s best to read up on your particular destination as a part of the planning process so you know what to expect and what steps you can take to maximize your internet freedom while abroad.

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