Table of Contents
How to Use a VPN in 2023:
- Step 1: Get a good VPN. My #1 recommendation is ExpressVPN, as this provider has the fastest speeds on the market, servers in 100+ countries, excellent streaming support (it works with 100+ streaming services), and high-end security and privacy features.
- Step 2: Download and install the VPN. Download the apps from the provider’s site or your device’s mobile app store. Then, just follow the installation wizard’s instructions to install and configure the apps.
- Step 3: Launch the VPN app. Open the app on your device, and either use the quick-connect tool to connect to a server, or manually connect to a server via the server list.
- Step 4: Securely access the web. Once you connect to the VPN, you can use it to securely surf sites, watch videos, download files, and play online games.
VPNs seem complicated to use, but they’re actually really user-friendly. They come with apps for all major devices that are simple to install, and which also make it pretty straightforward to connect to servers and use all features.
Still, I know there aren’t enough online resources about how to actually use a VPN. A lot of the online articles I came across are either too vague or don’t properly explain how VPNs work and how to use their apps.
So I put together this in-depth guide based on my experience — I’ve been using VPNs for 10+ years while traveling abroad. On top of showing how to use these services, I've also provided tips on how to choose the best VPN, and I've also showcased the best VPN services on the market at the moment (ExpressVPN is my #1 pick).
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How to Use a VPN on Different Devices (Desktop, Browser Extensions, Mobile, Smart TVs, and Routers)
How to Use a VPN on Different Devices
The first thing you need to do is subscribe to a VPN — to do that, just go to the provider’s site, pick a plan, and create an account. If you’re not sure which top VPN to pick, check out my list of the best VPNs in 2023.
After you sign up, just download the provider’s app for your device. I’ll go over how to use a VPN app on most devices below, and I’ll use ExpressVPN as a reference.
Windows & macOS
Most top VPNs’ Windows and macOS apps are similar, so you can use these steps for each device:
- Open the Windows/macOS app. Just launch it from your desktop screen, or just configure the app to automatically open when you start up your device.
- To instantly connect to the fastest server, use the quick-connect feature. Most VPNs have this button on their main connection screen.
- To manually connect to a server, go to the VPN’s server list. All top VPNs have a dedicated tab for the server list, which makes it really easy to scroll through all available locations.
- Once you connect to a server, it will change your IP address. You can now securely surf the web while connected to the VPN, and nobody will be able to track your real location and internet traffic.
If the provider has a GUI Linux app, follow these steps:
- Launch the Linux app. Simply power on the provider’s app from your main screen.
- Use the quick-connect tool or manually connect to a server. Either use the quick-connect feature on the main screen, or scroll through the list of server locations and connect to your desired server.
- Use the VPN to securely surf the internet. Once you connect to a server, the VPN will hide your IP address — this will allow you to protect your privacy while browsing the web.
And if the VPN has a CLI Linux app, you will need to use the Linux app guides on its site. These support articles usually contain examples of commands you need to use to run the app, connect to and disconnect from a server, and change different settings.
Here’s how simple it is to use a VPN browser extension:
- Get the provider’s extension for your browser and activate it. Simply download the extension from your browser’s web store, and then follow the steps to enable it.
- Log into the browser extension. Use your account credentials to quickly log in.
- (Optional) Tweak browser-specific security settings. Some extensions provide additional security options you might not find in other apps, like forcing all the sites you access to use HTTPS.
- Connect to a server. You can either do it via the quick-connect feature or the server list.
- Securely access the web on your browser. Once connected, your IP is hidden and your browser traffic is fully encrypted.
Mobile Devices (Android and iOS)
Here’s what you need to do to use a VPN on mobile:
- Open the VPN mobile app. Find the app icon on your device, and tap it to launch the VPN.
- Connect to your desired server. Initiate a VPN connection either via the quick-connect tool or by manually selecting a server from the server list.
- Surf the web securely. As long as you’re connected to the VPN, your browsing traffic will be fully secure.
Smart TVs (Android TV and Fire TV)
This is how to easily use a VPN on your smart TV:
- Launch the VPN app. Use your remote to find and open the provider’s app on your smart TV.
- Connect to a VPN server. Either use the quick-connect tool (if available) or use the remote to pick a location from the server list.
- Securely access the web. Your web traffic is now 100% encrypted — you can now securely stream content and access sites via the smart TV’s browser.
Using a VPN on a router is a bit technical, but most top VPNs provide access to straightforward setup guides. You just have to check the provider’s support section on its site, and follow its router setup tutorials — just make sure you use a tutorial that matches your router model and firmware.
And if you don’t want to deal with a manual setup, ExpressVPN has a dedicated router app. If your router is compatible with the app, you can install it directly on it, which is faster and more convenient than performing a manual setup. Plus, the provider’s router app also has a really intuitive interface, so it’s very simple to use.
What Are the Main Reasons to Use a VPN?
Based on my experience and research, these are the main reasons you should use a VPN:
- Protect your online data and privacy — VPNs encrypt your internet data, making it 100% unreadable so that nobody can spy on it. What’s more, a VPN also hides your real IP address, so that nobody can use it to track your location.
- Access streaming content while traveling — Streaming sites restrict access to their services and content based on your IP address. For example, if you’re from the US and are traveling abroad, you might lose access to US-only streaming sites. But a VPN hides your IP address and makes it so that only the VPN’s IP is visible to the site you’re trying to access.
- Secure your P2P downloads — VPNs prevent anyone from seeing your P2P traffic. This would prevent your internet service provider (ISP) from throttling oy blocking your P2P connections, for example. Also VPNs secure your online privacy while torrenting because they hide your IP address, so that nobody in the torrent swarm can see it.
- Improve your gaming experience — If you use a VPN while gaming, it might lower your ping, which could result in less lag. In addition, by hiding your IP address, a VPN protects you from DDoS attacks, which force you offline.
- Prevent bandwidth throttling — Without a VPN, your ISP can see your browsing and choose to selectively slow down your internet speeds for specific online activities (like gaming or streaming) if you’re using too much data. But if you use a VPN, it creates an encrypted tunnel through which it routes your data, and the encryption prevents your ISP from seeing what you’re doing online. Without that information, your ISP can’t throttle your speeds.
- Circumvent firewalls — VPNs might help you freely access the internet in restrictive countries or on restrictive networks (like workplace or campus networks, for instance). A VPN does that by allowing you to communicate with the web via one of its servers’ IP addresses, which don’t have any firewall restrictions linked to them.
- Save money on flights — By hiding your physical location, a VPN might help you get better deals on flight tickets. For example, if you connect to a VPN server in a low-income country or the country where the air carrier is headquartered, you might see lower prices.
How to Choose the Best VPN to Use in 2023
- Pick a VPN that’s very secure — I only recommend you use a VPN that provides access to industry-standard security and privacy features, including military-grade encryption, a kill switch to prevent data leaks, DNS leak protection, and a strict no-logs policy. All the VPNs I recommend below have such features.
- Choose a VPN with fast speeds — When you use a VPN, it will always slow down your internet connection. It’s due to the extra encryption that’s added to it, and the distance between you and the server. But the best VPNs will optimize their services to ensure the speed loss is minimal.
- Get a VPN that has great streaming support — I always go for VPNs that work with popular streaming services (Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, etc.). My favorite streaming VPN is ExpressVPN, as it works with 100+ streaming sites.
- Pick a VPN that’s good for torrenting — It’s a good idea to choose a provider that allows torrenting on most of its servers (or all of them, ideally). If the VPN also has extra P2P-related tools, like port forwarding or SOCKS5 proxy support, even better.
- Get a VPN with a large server network — A large server network helps you avoid overcrowded servers and lets you use nearby servers (both of these things improve your VPN speeds). All of my top picks have servers in at least 80+ countries.
- Choose a VPN that’s user-friendly — You should avoid VPNs that don’t have apps for all major platforms (Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android) or whose apps are difficult to use. A good VPN app should have an intuitive interface that makes it super simple to find and connect to a server.
- Opt for a VPN with extra features — I recommend looking for a VPN that provides great value by coming with additional features, such as split-tunneling, obfuscation, or an ad and/or malicious site blocker.
- Pick a VPN that’s affordable — It’s best to opt for VPNs that have affordable prices, and which also come with either a free plan or a generous money-back guarantee (the industry standard is a 30-day refund policy).
3 Best VPNs to Use in 2023
1. ExpressVPN — Best VPN Service to Use in 2023
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ExpressVPN provides the best value on the market — it works with 100+ streaming services, has servers in 100+ countries, allows torrenting on all servers, has high-end security and privacy features, is super user-friendly, and comes with a risk-free 30-day refund.
ExpressVPN is by far the best VPN to use in 2023 — it provides the best security and privacy on the market, it’s the fastest VPN out there, it works in restrictive countries without any issues, it’s very good for streaming and torrenting, and it’s also really user-friendly.
ExpressVPN has all essential VPN security features, and it also comes with advanced features. It has perfect forward secrecy (changes the encryption key for each VPN session), RAM-only servers that ensure all data is wiped with every reset, and full leak protection. It’s also great that the VPN service comes with a feature that blocks ads and connections to shady websites — plus, you also get access to parental controls that block adult sites.
In addition, the provider has a strict no-logs policy that has been proven true several times. The no-logs policy passed several independent security audits, and it has also been proven true in a server seizure (Turkish authorities confiscated one of the VPN’s servers, but weren’t able to find any user data on it).
It’s also safe to say that this is the fastest VPN provider on the market. I ran speed tests on both nearby and distant servers, and I always had very good results — all the sites I browsed loaded instantly, and HD and 4K videos loaded without delay every single time (and they never buffered when I skipped through them). And since the VPN has servers in 100+ countries, it’s very simple to use a server that’s near your location, so that you can get the fastest VPN speeds.
And ExpressVPN is extremely good for streaming since it works with 100+ streaming platforms, including top ones like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Amazon Prime Video. Plus, it also comes with a smart DNS that lets you access streaming content on devices that don’t work with VPN apps (like gaming consoles, for example). Also, in terms of torrenting, ExpressVPN supports P2P downloads across all of its servers, which is really convenient.
What’s more, the VPN provider is really user-friendly — it has intuitive apps for all major platforms (desktop devices, mobile phones, smart TVs), and it even comes with a dedicated router app, which is easy to install and use. I also like how some apps have the Shortcuts feature, which lets you set up 1-click shortcuts for specific apps and sites that show up on your VPN app screen after you connect to a server.
ExpressVPN’s plans start at $6.67/month, which is pretty affordable. Plus, the provider comes with a no-questions-asked 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can pretty much try it out risk-free.
2. Private Internet Access — Excellent VPN to Use for Torrenting
Private Internet Access
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Private Internet Access is an excellent VPN service that provides very good P2P support, really fast speeds on all servers, and excellent security and privacy features. It also allows unlimited connections, is super affordable, and comes with a no-questions-asked 30-day refund.
Private Internet Access (PIA) is one of the best P2P VPNs out there. It supports P2P downloads on all of its servers, which are located in 80+ countries. Also, it supports port forwarding, which lets you connect to more peers to boost download speeds. And it also has SOCKS5 proxy servers that you can use while torrenting — they hide your IP address but don’t encrypt your internet connection, so you get very fast downloads.
And PIA is also really good for streaming as well, as it works with 20+ streaming services and it also has a smart DNS. That said, if you mainly want to use a VPN for streaming, I recommend using ExpressVPN instead since it’s compatible with 100+ streaming sites.
What’s more, PIA is one of the best VPN services for privacy. That’s because it has a strict no-logs policy that has passed an independent audit, and which has also been proven true in several court documents. On top of that, all of the provider’s apps are open-source, which means anyone can inspect the code for vulnerabilities.
Also, the provider comes with very good security features. It has advanced features like perfect forward secrecy, RAM-only servers, and full leak protection. And it also comes with MACE, which is an excellent ad blocker that gets rid of annoying ads and block connections to shady sites.
PIA is also very user-friendly, and it has a VPN app for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android. I also really like how the provider allows unlimited simultaneous connections, which means you can use it on as many devices as you want.
And speed-wise, PIA is very good too — I ran speed tests on servers in 15+ countries (both nearby and distant locations), and I always maintained fast speeds for browsing, streaming, torrenting, and gaming.
Private Internet Access is super affordable, as its prices start at $2.03/month. So this VPN provider is a great pick if you’re on a tight budget. Plus, it also comes with a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee.
3. CyberGhost VPN — Great VPN for Beginners and Streaming
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CyberGhost VPN is a very good VPN for streaming that’s also great for beginners and really secure. It also provides fast speeds on both nearby and distant servers, has good P2P and gaming support, and has very affordable plans. It backs all long-term purchases with a generous 45-day money-back guarantee.
CyberGhost VPN is very intuitive to use — it has apps for all desktop, mobile, and smart TV platforms, the apps have an intuitive interface that makes it simple to connect to a VPN server, and there are helpful explanations for all VPN settings. Plus, you also get access to Smart Rules, which lets you automate your VPN connection (like configuring the VPN client to automatically connect to a server and open a specific app on launch).
And CyberGhost VPN is also really good for streaming, as it’s compatible with 50+ streaming platforms. It provides access to them via 100+ streaming servers that are located in 20+ countries — these servers change their IP addresses very often, which makes it difficult for streaming sites to detect and block them.
The provider also has a huge server network, consisting of 9,000+ servers in 90+ countries. It also provides fast speeds across both nearby and distant servers, though I have sometimes experienced some minor slowdowns while watching 4K videos on very distant servers (I didn’t experience this with ExpressVPN or Private Internet Access).
Furthermore, CyberGhost VPN comes with great security and privacy features. It has advanced features like perfect forward secrecy and RAM-only servers, it provides strong leak protection, and its no-logs policy has been independently audited. Plus, it has Content Blocker, which is a feature that protects you from shady sites (it’s also supposed to block ads, but it doesn’t always get rid of all ads).
CyberGhost VPN has affordable plans that start as low as $2.19/month. It also backs all long-term plans with a generous 45-day money-back guarantee. As for its shortest plan, it comes with a 14-day refund policy.
Comparison of the Best VPNs to Use in 2023
VPN Configuration Guide for Important Features
I will go over a few common VPN features and tell you how to use them — stuff like VPN servers, the kill switch, split-tunneling, and more.
VPN servers are hardware configured by the VPN to establish a secure connection between your device and the internet. VPN servers are responsible for routing your data to the web, and also for forwarding the data you request back to your device.
You don’t need to do anything to configure a VPN server — simply connect to it in the server list. You can easily find the list in the VPN provider’s app. Once you do, just scroll through it, pick your desired location, and connect to it.
A quick-connect tool automatically connects you to the fastest server for your location. It’s a really useful feature if you don’t want to spend time looking through the server list and run speed tests on different servers to find the best location for you.
The quick-connect feature is usually located on the app’s connection screen — all you have to do is click it/tap on it to use it. Some providers also add the quick-connect tool to the server list. In that case, you just need to select it from the list, and then initiate a connection in the main screen.
This VPN setting lets you configure the app to automatically connect you to a server on launch. This is convenient if you want to quickly secure your web connection the moment you power up your device.
You can usually find this option in the VPN settings tab within the app. Once you locate it, you just have to enable it, and you’re good to go.
A kill switch is an essential VPN security tool that shuts down web access if the VPN disconnects. It does this to prevent any data from leaking outside of the encrypted tunnel (like information about which sites you access, for example).
Some providers might also provide additional types of kill switches:
- “Aggressive” kill switch — This type of kill switch cuts off your internet access if you’re not connected to the VPN (you need to be connected to a server to be able to browse the web).
- App-level kill switch — This type of kill switch shuts down selected apps (like P2P apps, for example) if the VPN disconnects.
Many VPNs enable this feature by default, but some might still require you to manually enable it. This is easily done by navigating to the security section within the VPN app, finding the kill switch option, and turning it on.
A VPN protocol is a set of rules that dictate how a VPN connection is established. There are several popular protocols that most providers use, like WireGuard, OpenVPN, and IKEv2/IPSec. Also, certain providers have their own proprietary protocols (for instance, ExpressVPN has Lightway).
VPN apps automatically choose the right protocol for you, but you can also manually select it. To do that, you normally just have to navigate to the app’s security or connection settings and choose which protocol you want to use from a list.
Split-tunneling is a feature that lets you pick which apps or sites use the VPN, and which ones don’t. It’s a useful way to increase your VPN speeds — for example, if you only route Netflix traffic through the VPN, it will boost your VPN streaming speeds.
How you configure split-tunneling varies from provider to provider, so make sure to check your VPN’s support guides. But, generally, you can usually find the split-tunneling tool in the app’s settings section.
Can You Use Free VPN Services?
Yes, but I don’t generally recommend using a free VPN because it comes with many drawbacks. For example, a free VPN might limit how much data you can use each day or month, so you won’t be able to use it for anything else than just basic web browsing. In addition, free VPNs usually lack streaming and torrenting support, are really slow, have buggy apps, or don’t provide customer support. And some free VPNs even compromise your privacy by logging your data and sharing it with third pirates, such as advertisers.
If you insist on trying a free VPN, go with Proton VPN’s free plan. It has the best free plan on the market, as it allows unlimited data and also provides very strong security and privacy. Plus, it also comes with really good speeds. Just keep in mind the provider’s free plan still has some noticeable limitations — you can only use servers in 3 countries (the US, the Netherlands, and Japan), there’s no streaming and P2P support, and you can only connect 1 device.
But, ultimately, a paid premium VPN provides the best value. I personally recommend going with ExpressVPN since it’s the best VPN on the market — it works with 100+ streaming services, it has servers in 100+ countries and allows torrenting on all of them, it comes with high-end security and privacy features, it has the fastest speeds out there, and it’s super easy to use.
How to Use a VPN in Restrictive Countries
Many oppressive countries actively restrict VPN usage. They usually do it by detecting and blocking VPN IPs. And some restrictive countries *China especially) also employs deep packet inspection, which detects and blocks VPN traffic.
If you live in or travel through a restrictive country, here’s how to use a VPN to freely access the web there:
- Step 1: Get a good VPN. First, you need to get a VPN that works without issues in restrictive countries (most VPN services actually don’t work in restrictive regions). I personally recommend ExpressVPN since it always allowed me to overcome web censorship while traveling without any problems.
- Step 2: Download the VPN app on your device. After you sign up for a subscription, download and install the provider’s VPN app on your device (just follow the installation wizard’s instructions).
- (Optional) Step 3: Enable the VPN’s obfuscation. If the VPN has an obfuscation feature, I recommend enabling it since it will help you avoid VPN connection blocks.
- Step 4: Use the VPN software to connect to a server. Just scroll through the list of server locations, pick the one you want, and connect to it — you should now be able to browse the internet safely and freely.
Keep in mind certain restrictive countries ban the use of VPNs. That’s why I strongly recommend you research the local laws of the place you live in or plan to travel to. It’s important to make sure you don’t risk any serious legal repercussions if you’re caught using a VPN.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the best VPN to use?
I personally recommend using ExpressVPN, as it’s the best VPN on the market at the moment. The provider comes with industry-leading security and privacy features, it has servers in 100+ countries, it provides the fastest speeds out there, it works with 100+ streaming sites and allows torrenting on all servers, and it comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
What are the drawbacks of using a VPN?
The main drawback is that your original online speeds will suffer some slowdowns. This is because the VPN adds encryption to your connection, which makes the data “heavier,” so it takes longer to route it to its destination. Also, if you’re very far away from the VPN server, that will cause slowdowns as well.
That said, slowdowns are not a concern if you use a premium VPN, as these VPN providers employ large server networks and high-end hardware to minimize the speed loss. If you want to get the best speeds, go with ExpressVPN since this provider maintains ultra-fast speeds for all online activities across all 100+ of its server locations.
Can I use a VPN on any device?
Generally, yes, since most top VPNs have apps for all popular devices — Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android, Fire TV, and Android TV. Using a VPN on such devices is very simple since you only need to download the app and install it, then open it and connect to a server.
You can also use VPNs on devices that don’t natively support VPN apps, such as gaming consoles, certain smart TV brands, or streaming devices. All you have to do in this case is set up the VPN on your router — if you do this, all the devices in your home that use the router to access the web will automatically use the VPN. Most providers have step-by-step guides that show you how to configure their services on compatible routers. But I’d recommend just using ExpressVPN since it has a native router app that’s really simple to install and use.
How do I use a VPN for streaming?
First, you need to get a VPN that’s actually good for streaming, as not all VPNs are compatible with popular streaming sites. I always use ExpressVPN when streaming, as it works with 100+ streaming sites, including top ones like Netflix and Disney+.
After that, install the VPN on your device, and use it to connect to a server. Make sure the server is in the same country as the streaming site or content you need to access — so if you’re from the US and are traveling abroad, you need to use a US server to watch US-only content.
How do I use a VPN on gaming consoles?
You can’t install a VPN on a gaming console, as these devices don’t natively support VPN apps. Instead, you need to configure the VPN on your router — this way, all the devices in your home (including your gaming consoles) will use the VPN’s connection to go online. Pretty much all top VPNs work on routers, but I personally prefer ExpressVPN since it has a router app, which is very simple to install and use.
Is it legal to use a VPN?
However, there are certain restrictive countries that ban the use of VPNs. If you need to use a VPN in a restrictive region, make sure to first check the local laws and regulations to make sure you don’t face any legal repercussions for doing so.
How do I use a VPN for torrenting?
To start off, you’ll need a VPN that has P2P support. Most top VPNs have this, but I prefer ExpressVPN because it allows torrenting on servers in 100+ countries, has super fast download speeds, and is extremely secure and good for privacy.
After that, install the VPN on your device, and connect to one of its P2P servers. Once you do that, the VPN will encrypt your P2P traffic and also hide your IP address, which will provide extra security and privacy while torrenting.
Best VPNs to Use in 2023 — Final Thoughts:
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