If you use a Mac, it’s safe to assume you value elegance, ease-of-use, and powerful tools that’ll get the job done right.
It’s also safe to assume that you’ve heard at least once that Macs are way more secure than their counterparts and that you don’t need to think too much about your protections online. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Regardless of what kind of computer you use, threats are everywhere online. From scammers looking to gain access to your retirement accounts to overzealous IPs harvesting your data, the internet can be a dangerous, creepy place. To protect yourself in your digital comings and goings, we recommend using a VPN.
Which is why you’re here — to find the best VPN for your iMac, Macbook Pro, iPad, or even your iPhone. We’ve spent hours and hours testing VPNs on almost every Mac device imaginable. Using that experience, we’ve generated this list of our favorite VPNs for Mac users. Don’t worry. By the end of this article, you’re going to be pointed in the right direction.
Before we share our favorite VPNs for Mac, though, let’s talk about some of the criteria you should be evaluating in your search.
What to Look for in a Mac VPN
The simple fact of the matter is that using a VPN is going to slow your computer down. Good VPNs, though, have mitigated these slow-downs to the point they’re almost imperceptible.
Industry standard is AES-256 encryption, but some top contenders have started using ChaCha20. It’s every bit as secure as the former but can be deployed much faster.
From server obfuscation to Netflix optimizations, to split tunneling and tracker blockers, VPNs differentiate themselves with the features they offer. Pay attention to these — they could be the deciding factor.
You’re probably not going to have a complete grasp on exactly how a VPN operates. That’s why a simplified, intuitive UI is important. Look for a balance between your ability to customize the service to your needs while not being overwhelmed with complicated options.
You can’t believe everything you read online, but certain VPN providers have better reputations than others. Look for forum discussions, third-party privacy audits, and read our objection reviews. These are your North Star.
Obviously you don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for your VPN. Weighing the costs against the service rendered is going to be a critical part of your decision-making process.
So now that you know what you should be looking for, let’s take a look at some of the best VPNs available for Mac users.
NordVPN is hands down one of the best VPN services available — particularly if you’re using a Mac. The macOS app offers all of the advanced features you could want and is constantly being improved. Their security protocols are strong (AES-256 encryption), their performance is powerful, it can help you stream in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Japan, or the Netherlands, and NordVPN is reasonably priced.
Standout Features: One of our favorite things about NordVPN is their dedication to your privacy. As such, they offer two features that aren’t seen everywhere — a double VPN and VPN-into-Tor functionality. The double VPN is exactly what it sounds like. Nord will run your data through multiple servers to gain multiple layers of encryption. When we absolutely, positively, needed the most internet privacy possible, we enabled that feature. We did notice, though, that this slowed down our connectivity — the Tor network needs to randomly send your requests to servers around the world to work — so we only turned it on for certain activities.
It also is one of the few VPNs out there that lets you access the Tor network without having to download the Onion browser. This distributed form of browsing developed by the U.S. military makes it next to impossible to trace what you’re doing online. When we turned it on, we were surprised to find out that you didn’t even have to download the Onion Browser. NordVPN has specific servers in its fleet that allow you to access the web through Tor without it.
Security Protocols: NordVPN uses next-generation AES-256 encryption to protect your data. For context, this is what the NSA uses when securing their classified documents. Using current computing technology, it would take millions — yes, plural — to crack it using any brute-force methodology. Their strict no-logs policies have been backed up by third-party privacy auditors, and their RAM-Only servers wipe themselves every time they cycle, meaning that even if NordVPN wanted to clandestinely collect your data, there would be no data to collect. In our tests, we really couldn’t find any security flaws.
Performance: NordVPN performed extremely well in our rigorous trials. During testing, using a MacBook Pro, our download speeds were reduced by a little over 20%, and our upload speeds by just slightly less. And since they released their proprietary NordLynx protocol — an adaptation of OpenVPN — their speeds have only gotten better. After testing and reviewing NordVPN extensively, we found that most of the time, NordLynx was the best protocol to use with their servers, especially when we were streaming Netflix or ESPN+.
Price: Note that there are three tiers of service offered by NordVPN: Standard, Plus, and Complete. And you can sign up for two-year, one-year, and month-to-month subscription terms. The longer you sign on for, the cheaper it gets. Below is a breakdown of how that all looks.
Surfshark is another great option for Mac users looking to protect themselves online. They offer powerful protections as well as some interesting features that might edge this service out over some others. It should be noted, though, that one feature is missing from its Mac application — NoBorders — which is used for bypassing government restrictions. Split tunneling is also absent, but we were able to fix that on our Mac using their Chrome VPN browser extension, which can whitelist certain websites. By doing this, especially when we were streaming, we improved our performance significantly.
Standout Features: One interesting feature Surfshark offers is called CleanWeb — essentially a beefed-up ad blocker and tracker remover. Not only are ads annoying, they can sometimes come with their own security risks, so incorporating this type of functionality into a VPN was a smart move on Surfshark’s part. When we tested this VPN feature out, we found that we weren’t getting bombarded with pop ups and targeted marketing materials, making our browsing experience a lot more enjoyable. We’re news junkies here, and noticed that when we were using Surfshark, local news sites that are notoriously choked with ads suddenly became a lot more streamlined.
We also love that Surfshark makes torrenting a breeze. There can be hiccups when you’re accessing torrent sites through a VPN sometimes, but when we used Surfshark’s torrenting-optimized servers, we had no issues in our tests. Their servers offer some of the highest bandwidth speeds with zero throttling.
Security Protocols: Like NordVPN, Surfshark also offers their version of a double VPN, which they call Multi-Hop. As mentioned above, this adds an additional layer of anonymity and protection, which is the primary reason you’re using a VPN on your Mac in the first place. Truth be told, we only turned this feature on occasionally in our Surfshark test, because we found it could significantly decrease performance. They also use industry-standard AES-256 encryption, and their network is made up of RAM-only servers. Powerful protections here.
Performance: In our tests, Surfshark performed better on a Mac than it did on a PC, but our performance was never degraded to the point where it was hugely noticeable. Our download speeds took a hit of about 30%, and our upload speeds slowed down by about 10%. For context, this is about on par with most of our other top VPNs like Nord, Express and PIA. Keep in mind, speed tests give you a snapshot of a moment in time. Anecdotally, none of the top VPNs on this list slowed us down enough to notice much, and none of them slowed us down to the point of frustration.
Price: Similar to Nord, there are three tiers of service offered by Surfshark with two-year, one-year, and month-to-month subscription packages. We have more information in our breakdown of Surfshark’s pricing, but the long and short of it is that, just like with Nord, you’ll save more money the longer you sign up for. Here’s a quick breakdown of how Surfshark’s costs looks:
$3.99 per month
$2.49 per month
$4.09 per month
$3.19 per month
$6.49 per month
$4.97 per month
3. Private Internet Access VPN - Best Mac VPN for Customizable Encryption
Private Internet Access (PIA) is a great VPN for Mac users who are looking to tailor their experience without having to pop the hood and get elbow-deep into their VPN’s inner workings. Thanks to its simple UI, PIA lets their customers pick and choose how they’d like the VPN to perform. This is something we can get behind.
Standout Features: Customizability is the name of the game when it comes to Private Internet Access. During testing, we were given several options – the recommended protection, a speed-focused option, a security-focused option, and an option with no authentication whatsoever. We usually went with the recommended protection to change our location on our Mac, but it was nice to pick options à la carte. For instance, we decided to go for speed when we were watching product reviews on YouTube and noticed no buffering issues at all.
Security Protocols: Not only does PIA offer strong AES-256 encryption, they also block ads, trackers, and malware, making for a much more enjoyable — and safe — online experience. One drawback, though, is they are headquartered in the U.S. This means they’re in a 14-Eyes country and, as such, could be compelled to hand over customer data. We’re not too concerned about that, though, since their strict no-log policy was reviewed and confirmed in 2022 by Deloitte. Simply put, if they were asked to hand over data, there would be no meaningful data to hand over.
Performance: When we tested and reviewed Private Internet Access, we found it didn’t perform as well as Surfshark or NordVPN. But keep in mind that speed tests are snapshots of specific times in specific places, and it’s difficult to draw universal conclusions from them. That said, we saw a download speed decrease of over 60% on our Mac and an upload speed decrease of 30%. Enough to notice, but not enough to turn us off entirely.
Oh, and here’s a tip — PIA also accepts gift cards from major retailers like Starbucks as a form of payment. So if your aunt threw one of those into your birthday card this year, you can protect yourself online instead of getting a pumpkin-spiced latte.
ExpressVPN is another service we always recommend to Mac users. It’s one of the fastest VPNs we’ve ever tested, but it doesn’t sacrifice security for speed.
Standout Features: ExpressVPN is one of the fastest, most secure VPN services out there, and they’re a great option regardless of what kind of computer you use. We especially like it when we’re traveling. Last year we went to Europe and used ExpressVPN the entire time we were there. Thanks to their huge array of servers — over 3,000 in 94 countries — our performance never took significant hits whether we were on the train to Rotterdam or sipping a latte in an Antwerp cafe.
While the service itself is nearly bulletproof, one of the coolest things we like to point out about ExpressVPN is the AirCove router they offer. It costs $189.90, but it protects everything connected to your Wi-Fi network. That means your TV, phone, printer, heck – your refrigerator if you have one of those. Make no mistake, every internet-connected device is a vector for attack, but by installing a VPN at the router level, you’re going to ensure your entire network is safe.
Security Protocols: ExpressVPN was one of the first VPN providers to switch over to RAM-only servers, meaning that you never have to worry about your data being collected in secret. Simply put, there is no data to collect as everything — including the software stack — is wiped on every reboot. When we reviewed ExpressVPN, we weren’t able to find a single security vulnerability.
Performance: Like we said above, ExpressVPN has our nod for their high speeds. In our tests, our download speeds decreased by 39% on our Mac, and our upload speeds only went down by about 14%. Definitely speedy, especially when you compare it to slower VPNS like IPVanish, which works a lot better on a Windows computer.
Price:ExpressVPN’s prices are pretty straightforward — no different tiers of service or anything like that. For one month, it costs $12.95. Sign up for six months, and that monthly rate drops to $9.99, and for a full year, it goes down to $8.32. Not the cheapest, but certainly reasonable. For context, industry average is about $5 to $10 per month for a VPN, depending on the term you sign up for.
If you’re looking for an easy-to-use VPN for your Mac that isn’t going to cost an arm and a leg, CyberGhost should be on your list. If you sign up for a long-term subscription, your month-to-month cost is essentially pocket change.
Standout Features: One of the best things about CyberGhost is its massive server fleet. They have almost 10,000 across 91 countries. Their advanced security features helped us unblock geo-restricted content all over the globe in our travels — particularly in Europe. Even when we were back home in Brooklyn, though, we were able to have some pretty interesting multicultural experiences just using CyberGhost. Ever wonder what’s on Japanese Netflix? Now you can find out.
Security Protocols: Like most higher-end VPNs out there, Cyberghost uses air-tight 256-bit AES encryption. That’s the industry standard, so no complaints there. They also offer a pretty powerful ad and tracker blocker that, in our CyberGhost test, functioned really well. When we were watching videos on YouTube, we were always getting annoying targeted marketing. Once we installed CyberGhost, though, we weren’t having to deal with it, the ISP tracking our browsing history and feeding it back to us in the form of ads. We needed one vacuum, we’re not starting a collection.
Performance: CyberGhost is another super speedy VPN service, with next to no speed degradation noticed in our Mac tests — upload or download. Another performance metric worth pointing out here is the ping, which only increased by 14% on our MacBook Air. For context, the industry average increase in ping time is 32%. Again, we can’t claim that these numbers are going to be universal, but they’re certainly encouraging.
Price:CyberGhost’s cost are pretty easy to understand, with one month costing $12.99, one year costing $6.99 per month, and two years only running $2.11 per month. If you go with that plan, you’ll be getting the cheapest rate for a VPN on our list, and to sweeten the deal, they’re throwing in three free months of service. Also keep in mind CyberGhost offers a generous 45-day return policy. Most providers only give you 30 days to test their product.
TunnelBear is a good option for Mac users who want a free trial VPN service without any risk or obligation. They also have a pretty great sense of humor, which you’ll get a sense of if you head over to their site.
Standout Features: When we took TunnelBear for a spin, one of our favorite features turned out to be what they call “GhostBear.” This is essentially server obfuscation that hides the fact you’re using a VPN. This can be helpful for streaming content on platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and ESPN+. During our tests we were able to access media libraries from all over the world, right from our apartment in Brooklyn. Specifically, it helped us keep up with some of our favorite shows that were only available on European Netflix Libraries.
Something to note, though, we found out when we were testing TunnelBear that certain platforms don’t like certain servers — especially those that are only licensed in the U.S. like ESPN+. We were trying to watch the New Jersey Devils game, but realized we were connected to a European gaming server. No big deal, though. Once we switched back to a U.S. server, we were all set.
Security Protocols: TunnelBear is a pretty serious VPN when it comes to digital protections. They offer 256-bit AES encryption along with data authentication, meaning that any information sent out or received from your computer must be authenticated before it can be decrypted. This helps prevent security risks and Man-in-the-Middle attacks, where a hacker will set themselves up to look like a VPN server and intercept your data.
Performance: In our tests, we found that TunnelBear performs a lot better on a Mac than it does a PC. Our download speeds decreased by about 53%, but our upload speeds only went down by about 15%. We’re not super happy about that download drop — the other VPNs on this list performed a little better, we’d say.
Price: Again, this is our favorite “free” VPN for Macs. That said, that “free” version is, as you would expect, a pretty stripped-down version of the actual service. We have more information in our guide to TunnelBear’s costs, but data is capped at 2GB, and you won’t have access to all of TunnelBear’s servers or locations. If you decide to upgrade, though, it’ll cost you $9.99 month to month or $3.33 per month for a year-long subscription.
Why Do I Need a VPN on a Mac?
Even though Macs have a reputation for being more secure than PCs — who among us hasn’t heard the (untrue) maxim that “Macs Don’t Get Viruses” — you still want to make sure you’re dotting your digital “i’s” and minding your cyber “q’s” these days. Identity theft is rampant, as are scammers, hackers, fraudsters, and other unsavory types. Not to mention your ISP harvesting and selling off your data to whoever will cut them a check.
The best protection from all of this funny business is a rock-solid VPN for your Mac. But what exactly does a VPN do?
Second, they increase your security. No matter where you connect — including public Wi-Fi — your traffic is encrypted so no one can gather sensitive information like your bank account numbers or your passwords.
Installing a VPN used to take some networking knowledge, but modern VPNs like the ones on the list above are all extremely easy to setup. Here are the steps you’ll take to set up a VPN on your Mac.
Read the list above, and select which VPN provider you want to use
Head over to that VPN’s website, and select your subscription plan
Create an account, and enter your payment information
Download the VPN
Once the download is complete, drag the icon into your applications folder
Open the VPN, turn it on, and connect to the server of your choice
You already know that Macs prioritize user experience, as do all of the VPNs in our list here. In our experience, after installing over a dozen VPNs on nearly every iOS device you can imagine, we’ve found that, for the most part, they’re extremely easy to set up and use. NordVPN and ExpressVPN are both pretty much seamless, whereas you can run into a few hiccups with a more customizable service like Private Internet Access — that’s only if you really want to pop the hood, though.
Is it Illegal to Use a VPN on a Mac?
With all this talk about shielding your internet activity from prying eyes, you might start to wonder if using a VPN is even legal. Well, don’t worry — using a VPN on your Mac is perfectly legal in most countries. Only the most oppressive regimes have outlawed their use, including:
If you’re not in one of those countries, you’re in the clear.
Now, a caveat to that. If you’re using a VPN to do illegal things, like buy illicit materials off the dark web or pirate copies of movies that aren’t out yet, you could find yourself in legal hot water and telling the judge, “but I was using a VPN” isn’t going to pass muster.
Are There Any Drawbacks to Using a VPN on a Mac?
So there are a few potential drawbacks of using a VPN on a Mac. Let’s run through them really quickly.
First, your connection speed will almost certainly slow down. To what extent is the result of numerous factors, but a solid VPN will effectively mitigate the worst of these performance issues.
Second is the cost. When it comes to privacy and security, the best things in life are not free. The good news is most VPNs are relatively affordable, and there are services on the market for almost every budget. There are even a handful of VPN providers that offer free services, but you should be aware that those are pretty stripped down.
Finally, you might be a little overconfident. VPNs are not a silver bullet for cybersecurity. If you give your iCloud password away to some scammer who contacted you through a phishing email, there’s not much your VPN provider can do about it.
Trust us when we say, though, that the benefits of using a solid VPN on all of your internet-connected devices absolutely outweigh the drawbacks.
In evaluating the VPNs that make up this list, we carefully consider multiple criteria, including security, privacy, speed, available features, and pricing.
We start by researching every VPN we test. Do they undergo third-party privacy audits? Do they use RAM-only servers? Where are they located? What are their customers saying about them? We process all of this information and then move on to our second stage, the hands on test.
Essentially, we stress test every VPN we purchase and install. We try to break them to see what strains they can handle, and we try to find any flaw we can. Does the DNS leak when you’re trying to access torrent providers? You’re going to want to know about that.
Then finally, we live with the VPN for a week or more, using it under normal circumstances. Does it glitch at times? Does it significantly slow down our browsing speeds? Is the user interface confusing or is it easy to find the features we’re looking for?
All of these factors play a role in our final decisions. However, for this particular list, we also considered exactly how well the VPN performed on a Mac, specifically.
Although Mac computers have a reputation for being more cyber secure than windows machines, they’re still just as vulnerable to privacy intrusions as any other internet-connected device. As such, we recommend using a high-quality VPN on your Mac to prevent anyone from tracking your internet use or stealing sensitive information.
When you create a VPN on a Mac, you’ll want to go to System Settings in the Apple menu and then click Network. Click the Add button on the left sidebar and an Interface pop-up menu will appear. From there, click the VPN Type pop-up menu and choose the VPN connection you want to set up.
They don’t have to be. For the most part, a month-to-month subscription for a high-quality VPN will cost between $10 and $20, but if you sign up for a longer term that price will likely drop to between $3 to $8 per month.