Modern iPhones and iPads have excellent VPN support. The L2TP/IPSec and Cisco IPSec protocols are integrated. You can connect to OpenVPN networks and other types of virtual private networks with third-party apps.
Prior to iOS 8, iPhones automatically disconnected from VPNs when they went into sleep mode. Now, iOS devices will stay connected to the VPN even when their screen turns off. You won’t have to constantly reconnect.
The Easy Way: Use a Dedicated App
Thankfully, our favorite VPN services offer standalone iPhone apps to save you the hassle—so you won’t need the instructions in this guide. StrongVPN is great for more advanced users, while ExpressVPN and TunnelBear are a little simpler. ExpressVPN has better speeds, but TunnelBear has a free tier for those just starting out, which is nice.
In the case of all three apps, you won’t have to mess with iOS’ VPN settings–just open the app, log in, and connect to the country of your choice. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
Connect to IKEv2, L2TP/IPSec, and Cisco IPSec VPNs in iOS
If your VPN of choice doesn’t offer an iOS app, you can set up a VPN using iOS’ built-in settings. Open the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad, tap the General category, and tap VPN near the bottom of the list. Tap “Add VPN Configuration” to add your first VPN settings to the phone or tablet. If you need to configure multiple VPNs, you can add them from this screen, too.
Select the IKEv2, IPSec, or L2TP option depending on the type of VPN you want to connect to. Enter your VPN’s connection details on this screen to connect. If your VPN is provided by your workplace, it should provide you with these details.
If you have an OpenVPN server you want to connect to, skip this entire section and scroll down to the last part of an article. OpenVPN networks are handled in a different way.
Support for PPTP VPNs was removed in iOS 10. PPTP is an old, insecure protocol and you should use a different VPN protocol, if possible.
If you need to use certificate files to connect to the VPN, you’ll have to import those before you set up the VPN. If you’re sent the certificate files via email, you can access them in the Mail app, tap the certificate file attachments, and import them. You could also locate them on a website in the Safari browser and tap them to import them.
iPhones and iPads support certificate files in the PKCS#1 (.cer, .crt, .der) and PKCS#12 formats (.p12, .pfx). If you need such certificate files to connect, the organization that provides the VPN server to you should give you them and mention them in instructions on setting up the VPN. If you want to remove certificates you installed, you’ll find them under Settings > General > Profiles.
Organizations centrally managing their iOS devices can also use a mobile device management server to push the certificates and related VPN settings to their devices.
Connect and Disconnect From Your VPN
After you’ve set up a VPN, you can open the Settings window and toggle the VPN slider near the top of the screen to connect to or disconnect from the VPN. When you’re connected to the VPN, a “VPN” icon will on the top of the screen in the status bar.
If you’ve set up multiple VPNs on your iPhone or iPad, you can switch between them by heading to Settings > General > VPN—the same screen where you added those VPNs.
Connect to an OpenVPN VPN
While Apple hasn’t added OpenVPN support to iOS directly, that’s okay. Like Android, iOS includes a way for third-party apps to implement and function as VPNs. This means you can connect ot absolutely any type of VPN from your iPhone or iPad, assuming there’s a third-party app in the app store that can connect to it.
In the case of OpenVPN, there’s a an official OpenVPN Connect app you can install. Install the app, launch it, and use it to connect to an OpenVPN VPN.
To configure your VPN server in the OpenVPN Connect app, you’ll have to import a profile—that’s the .ovpn file. If you want to do this by hand, you can connect your iPhone or iPad to your computer, open iTunes, and select the connected device. Under the Apps section, you’ll be able to copy the .ovpn file and related certificate and key files to the OpenVPN app. you can then connect to the VPN from the app.
The OpenVPN Connect app and similar apps aren’t “just an app” you use. They provide a VPN connection at the system level, so all the apps on your device will connect through the VPN—just like VPNs you connect to the normal way from the built-in Settings app.
That’s it for the home user. Large organizations centrally managing iPhone or iPad deployments will want to avoid per-device setup and specify a VPN server via configuration profiles or a mobile device management server. Provide a configuration profile file with all the VPN settings listed in it, and users can download and install that configuration profile to instantly get the appropriate VPN settings configured on their devices.
Image Credit: Karlis Dambrans on Flickr