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How to use a VPN service on your mobile or PC

vpn mobile pc
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Simply put, a VPN (Virtual Private Network) gives you peace of mind no matter where you are and where you travel. 

By providing extra security on your connection, access to all of the streaming media you need, and direct file access to a server you operate, you can trust that the connection will run reliably and without interruption - it won’t be dependent on the public access available.

For anyone who is curious about a VPN and how it all works, the good news is that the software for running a VPN has become remarkably easy to use. 

Companies like ExpressVPN and NordVPN are just two examples where you can configure the VPN access through a browser window in short order, then install the mobile or desktop client quickly.

To explain how this all works, we’ll start with the basic process for initially setting up the VPN and how to download and install the client on both a computer and a mobile device.

Registering for the VPN

In the early days of computing, setting up a VPN was much more difficult. You didn’t need to know any programming techniques, but the configuration was not very straightforward or simple. These days, setting up the client takes all of about 10 minutes (if that!).

Once you've headed to the website of your VPN of choice (ExpressVPN is our favorite) the process generally starts by adding a username and entering your email and a password. This registers you for the VPN service itself, and you can select whether you want to use the paid version or add extra commercial features.

Once you configure the login information, you typically need to confirm your email. This is an important step because it adds an extra layer of security. Only you as the owner of the email have access to the new account. 

Setting up the VPN is almost as easy and as simple as configuring a new social media account. Once you have entered the basic details, you can proceed to download and install the client. However, if you go back into your account at a later time, you can typically configure additional settings - such as two-factor authentication, an OpenVPN or IKEv2 username, a recovery email, and add account features.

It’s worth noting that free VPN services typically offer a premium trial that lasts anywhere between seven to 30 days or longer. If you use the trial, be advised that you will then be asked to enter credit card information to activate the premium version when the trial expires. If you stick with free, expect to have the amount of data you process via your VPN restricted to a low maximum.

Installing the mobile client

Once you register for the VPN, it will be activated right away and you can download and start using the client. The best way to find the correct client is not to search for it within the app store, especially if another app developer has used a similar name.

Instead, it’s best to visit the website for your provider from your phone and look for the client download section. When you find the correct download (say, for iOS or a VPN for Android), then select it to download.

Follow the installation procedure and then start the client on your phone. At this point, you enter the login and password information you entered when you were registering. 

With many clients such as ExpressVPN, you will need to select the country where you are accessing the VPN. For example, if you want to connect to servers in the United States, there is an option to select United States and then the closest major city to your location. So for someone in the Midwest, you would select Chicago.

At this point, you can then select “connect” to negotiate the VPN connection and tunneling that makes the access to the Internet more secure. In only a few easy steps, you have registered for an account and configured the country access for your new VPN.

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Installing the desktop client

Installing the desktop client is similar to the steps for installing and using the mobile client. Once again, it is best to visit the VPN website and look for the proper download, such as the Windows or Mac OS client you need for your desktop or laptop. 

When you initiate the app store download from the VPN website, you ensure you have the correct one for your VPN. The steps for installing and configuring the desktop client are the same as the mobile client -- using your login and password and then selecting the country location as needed. 

You will then select the “connect” option to create the VPN connection you need for secure access.

What to do next

Once you have established the VPN connection, it’s time to start using the VPN to access your content and files. So that could be anything from using a VPN to stream Netflix to avoiding blacklisted websites with a VPN in China.

On a Google Pixel 4 for example, flip down from the top of the screen and note that the ExpressVPN app is running. It will say “connected” and show the server location you are connected to. You can use any other client you want on your phone or desktop at this point. Be advised that the legal issues regarding a VPN can be thorny.

It’s a good idea to investigate any restrictions you might face if you travel abroad and try to use a VPN. The fact that the VPN protects your account and secures the connection does not make it legal to transmit files and material that is otherwise in violation of copyrights.

  • Ready to download a VPN? Check out our best VPN services