How to Set Up a VPN on an iPhone & Change VPN Settings

Posted on Feb 28, 2024 by Jihan Reksodiputro

Apple is known for many things, and its positive association with privacy is one of its most recognized traits. That association is intentional: for years, Apple has built privacy-focused messaging into its core brand marketing strategy. In fact, its Privacy. That’s iPhone campaign was shortlisted for D&AD’s 2023 poster campaigns award.

Yet spyware attacks are on the rise, and they can sometimes bypass even Apple’s strong security measures by attacking undisclosed flaws in your phone’s OS (also known as zero-day vulnerabilities). This means cybercriminals can record you through your camera, view your private messages, and access sensitive information without your knowledge. Talk about a digital nightmare. 

Why You Need a VPN on Your iPhone

A VPN encrypts the connection between your iPhone and the internet, hiding your IP address and online activity. It also lets you change your device’s location by directing your traffic through servers in different locations. This privacy-driven software acts as an additional layer of security for your phone by masking your traffic and your device’s location from third parties like your ISP and cybercriminals.

You need a VPN on your iPhone because cybersecurity attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated: they can even bypass built-in security protocols on your iOS device. Since iPhones are such popular devices, they tend to attract cybercriminals seeking to exploit multiple victims for financial gain. 

While some cyber attacks (like spyware) are difficult to completely protect yourself from, there are also plenty of other cyber attacks that you can combat with the right security and privacy software (like VPNs). Some other common online threats VPNs can help you avoid include:

A robust VPN acts like a bodyguard for your data, encrypting it and making it unreadable, even on unsecured networks. It prevents outsiders from accessing your data, so digital thieves can’t exploit your information for personal gain. When you combine a VPN with smart security practices like using strong passwords, you build walls around your phone’s vulnerabilities. With these steps, you can enjoy the internet with peace of mind, knowing your data is protected from prying eyes.

What Is iPhone’s Built-In VPN?

iPhones don’t actually offer pre-installed VPN services, but they do come with built-in VPN settings. This lets you manually configure a VPN connection provided by a third-party VPN service. Manual VPN setup still requires you to purchase a VPN subscription and connect to your VPN provider’s server. The more common (and simpler) solution is to download your provider’s VPN app to your iPhone.

Manually configuring a VPN on your iPhone can be a clunky task, and may cause unnecessary headaches (especially if you’re not super tech-savvy). We recommend downloading an iOS VPN app instead for simple, seamless installation. 

The best VPN iPhone apps even come with extra features that make it easy to tailor your VPN connection to your needs. Here’s an example: Is protecting your personal information and location a major concern? Use PIA VPN’s multi-hop feature to channel your traffic through another server for an extra level of privacy.

How to Set Up a VPN on iPhone: 2 Methods

Choosing the best iPhone VPN setup option depends on your needs, technical knowledge, and comfort level. We’ll outline the most common methods used when adding a VPN on your iPhone. You’ll also discover some advantages and drawbacks between each option to help you make an informed decision.

Setting Up an iPhone VPN App

While different mobile VPN apps can have slightly different installation processes, the instructions are generally pretty straightforward. We’ll use PIA as a more specific example: 

  1. Head to the App Store on your iPhone.

  1. Search for Private Internet Access and tap Get.

  1. Once the application is fully installed, select Open.

  1. Sign into your VPN account (or purchase a subscription if you don’t have an account yet).

  1. Allow your VPN app to add VPN configurations to your iPhone.

  1. Turn on the VPN connection through your app (with PIA, it’s as easy as tapping the power button)

Installing a VPN Using Your iPhone Settings

You can manually set up your VPN using your iPhone’s built-in VPN settings. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Sign up for a VPN service and log into your account.

  1. Configure a VPN protocol and choose your VPN server.

  1. Go to Settings on your iPhone, and tap General.

  1. Scroll down to VPN & Device Management and tap the button.

  1. Press Add VPN Configuration and choose your VPN protocol

  1. Fill out the fields for your VPN, including the description, server, and remote ID.

  1. Type in your VPN account’s username and password.

  1. Choose between manual or auto proxy server enablement (if in use).

  1. Click Done

Your iPhone’s connection is now encrypted via your VPN settings.

What’s Better: a VPN App or a Manual VPN Setup?

For most people, a VPN app is the better option. It’s easy to set up, only takes a few minutes to get up and running, and offers a user-friendly experience. PIA’s premium VPN app even offers additional features (like Siri integration and an ad-blocker). 

While using a mobile app is easier, manual installation comes in handy for various situations. Perhaps your VPN provider’s app isn’t available in the App Store. Maybe your school or work doesn’t let you install new or unauthorized apps. 

In these cases, manually enabling a VPN on your iPhone can be a better choice. Here are a couple more instances where manual VPN setup shines:

Reason Explanation
Storage Issues Some people may not want to install extra apps on their iPhone because it takes up space and limits storage.
Privacy Concerns
Some people may not trust that their VPN app isn’t tracking their activities. This is a valid concern, which is why all PIA apps are fully open source.
Work/School Restrictions
A work or school-provided phone may not allow iPhone app installations without an administrator’s permission
Technical Knowledge
People who are especially tech-savvy (like IT professionals) might prefer manually configuring VPN settings themselves
Self-Hosted VPN
Some people prefer a personal VPN setup. That means they set up their own VPN server and manually configure it to their devices.

Manual VPN setup can be a good alternative to downloading a VPN app on your iPhone. Setting up a VPN yourself can minimize any security risks created by potential app-related vulnerabilities. The downside to this method is that you need the right technical knowledge and can face potential security or connection issues if your iPhone VPN settings are configured incorrectly.

We’ve compared some key aspects between using an iPhone VPN app and manual setup:

haracteristic iPhone VPN App Manual VPN Setup for iPhone
Ease of Use
Very easy! Just install the app and follow the prompts. Difficult. Requires more technical knowledge.
User-friendly, tailored for your iPhone. Simple settings menu, but with a highly technical interface.
Basic to advanced capabilities, but limited to VPN app features. Less control over VPN features.
Limited to VPN providers that offer iPhone apps. Works with most VPN providers (the setup process will vary depending on your VPN provider).

Managing your VPN Settings on iPhone

If you’re using an iPhone VPN app, you can access your VPN settings by entering the app and finding the settings menu. Once you’re there, you can access several options like region selection, your dedicated IP, privacy features, and more. How much you’re able to customize your VPN app and connection depends on which settings your provider has made available.

Using a manual VPN setup instead? You can access settings by going to General, tapping VPN & Device Management, and clicking your existing VPN configuration. You can add, delete, or adjust your VPN profiles and settings as needed.

How to Choose the Best VPN for Your iPhone

Choosing the best VPN for your iPhone depends on your individual needs and preferences. Need a starting point? Here are some key features you should look for when comparing VPN providers: 

VPNs: The Key to Ultimate Digital Privacy on Your iPhone

Think of your iPhone as your online hub, storing everything from bank details to personal texts. PIA offers top-notch security features to safeguard your digital footprint. You can set up PIA and secure all your iPhone apps (not just Safari) with military-grade encryption. As a bonus, you also get to enjoy buffer-free streaming on 10-Gbps servers and stay connected to your favorite platforms when you’re on the go. 

Still on the fence? Rest easy knowing you can try PIA risk-free, with our 30-day money-back guarantee.


Should an iPhone VPN be on or off?

You should always keep your VPN on when using an iPhone because it keeps your web activity private. If you use your iPhone with your VPN turned off, you risk having your data fall into the wrong hands and your ISP will constantly track everything you do online. Consistently using a VPN gives your data the highest level of protection.

Does iPhone have a built-in VPN?

iPhones don’t come with a built-in VPN app. They do come equipped with pre-installed VPN settings, letting you manually configure a VPN connection on your device. Manually setting up a VPN on your iPhone is a tricky process, and you’ll still need to purchase a VPN subscription to make it work. Consider installing a VPN app for a more straightforward approach.

Searching for the perfect option to protect your iPhone? PIA encrypts your digital activity across all your mobile apps and offers customizable VPN protocols. Our MACE ad-blocker even helps save your iPhone’s battery power and mobile data.

How do I know if my VPN is on my iPhone?

To check if a VPN is active on your iPhone, you can look for the VPN icon in the status bar at the top of the screen. However, on some iPhone models, the VPN status icon only briefly appears when you connect to the VPN. Another way to check if your VPN is on is by swiping down from the top-right corner of the screen to access the Control Center, where the VPN status should be displayed. Additionally, you can use VPN widgets on the lock screen or home screen to get a quick overview of your VPN connection and its status.

Is iPhone’s VPN automatically turned on?

Your iPhone’s VPN is not automatically turned on. If you’re using a manual VPN setup, you’ll need to manually enable the VPN on your phone to successfully use it. One way to ensure that your iOS device auto-connects to your VPN is by enabling the Connect on Demand option within your iOS VPN settings. Just go to your phone’s VPN profile in the settings app to turn this feature on.

Does a VPN change your location on iPhone?

A VPN can change your iPhone’s location if you choose a server outside of your country. VPNs alter your iPhone’s location by routing your connection through a server in a different region. Say you want to see trending news in Canada for example: PIA VPN lets you connect to a server in Toronto, which makes your search engine see an IP address located somewhere in The 6.

Choosing a server in a different location doesn’t just protect your privacy: it expands your digital freedom. It’s like an online passport that lets you virtually visit almost any country in the world.