Best VPNs for Mac

MacConnecting to a VPN on your Mac or iOS device is much easier than it was in the past, but you still need to pay close attention to which VPN to select.  Some VPN providers cater to Mac users and have developed Mac clients with advanced features.  For example IPVanish includes a VPN kill switch in their Mac client.  You want a fast, reliable VPN service to help protect your privacy and unblock geo-restricted content.  Easy to use client software and advanced features were two of the factors that helped our list of the best VPNs for Mac stand out.

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How to Find the Right VPN for Mac

When it comes to Mac users, there is a big difference in quality from one VPN provider to another.  The main difference is their software.  You will find that a few VPN services stand out by offering the software quality Mac users have come to expect.  The majority of companies support third party software which takes more time to configure and lacks advanced features.  Depending on the VPN, support for Mac users is also questionable.  I feel good recommending any of the VPNs on our list.  They offer custom apps for Mac and iOS if you want to extend the privacy protection to your iPhone or iPad.

Advantages of using a VPN provider that offers a custom Mac client

There are several advantages to using a VPN provider that has developed their own VPN client software for Mac.  For starters it’s much easier to install and configure than third-party alternatives like Viscosity and Tunnelblick.  I don’t say that to be critical of either client.  They both do the job but you will find that some of the custom client’s offer advanced features and a better user interface.  For example, IPVanish has developed custom client software for Mac that looks just like it’s Windows counterpart.  Yet it goes beyond the functionality of the Windows client by offering Mac users a VPN kill switch.  That’s an advanced feature that helps protect your privacy if the VPN drops.  DNS leak protection and port forwarding are a couple other examples of features you will find from some of the larger VPN providers that made our list.

What about third party software like Viscosity and Tunnelblick?

I would recommend going with a VPN that has their own Mac client.  Take a look at the software to ensure it meets your needs.  The VPN providers in our list put a lot of time and resources into developing Mac client software to work well with their service.  There was plenty of trial and error in the early years.  Luckily, you can avoid that phase and move on to the current polished versions of the clients.  Over the last couple years the top VPNs in the industry have really started to pull away in terms of features.  Support for Mac users has been an area of focus for all the companies on our list.  They have moved beyond developing software to work with their network to adding new features and polishing the interface to present in a style users are accustomed to seeing on Mac.

VPN providers will often advertise that they offer client software for Mac.  While that isn’t completely misleading I would suggest looking a little closer.  Many of them will provide setup guides for Tunnelblick or a license for Viscosity.  These are third-party VPN clients that are not part of the VPN service.  I’m not saying they won’t work.  That depends on the provider.  We’ve seen a mix of success and failure with integrating third-party solutions with VPNs.  In the end it isn’t worth the hassle when you have good alternatives in the same price range.  If you are left without a choice for some reason, then I suggest you contact the support team for your VPN service and ask some Mac related questions.  If they can’t answer or come back with suggestions that don’t make sense then you know to move on.  You would be surprised how many VPN companies struggle to support Mac users.

What are the Benefits of Using a VPN on Mac?

The advantages of using a VPN are the same regardless of which operating system you prefer.  In fact more and more users are switching between, Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android on a daily basis.  You might use Windows for work and Mac at home.  If you’re like me you have an iPhone attached at all times.  My teenage son prefers Android so that means I’m left supporting all four operating systems.  When it comes to VPNs, you will want to find a service that supports all your devices.  You will also benefit from finding a company that allows multiple connections.  For example, IPVanish and ExpressVPN will let you connect from a desktop and mobile device simultaneously with a single account.  That will help protect your laptop and iPhone at the same time.

A VPN works by creating a secure tunnel for the data you send while using the Internet.  The traffic that passes through the VPN is encrypted.  That means your data is protected from those who may be snooping.  Whether it’s your ISP, government, or a criminal.  We’re not saying that a VPN will take you off the grid.  It comes down to how much effort someone wants to put into finding out what you are doing online.  If you want to protect your data from criminals then a VPN is a great idea.  If you are trying to avoid targeted surveillance by a government agency then a VPN probably isn’t the answer.  In general, a VPN will help protect your privacy and avoid geo-restrictions.

Using a VPN to help protect your online privacy

We live in a world in which technology is ever changing.  The benefits are plenty, but the technology gains have also led to challenges.  There are plenty of people, companies, and organizations our there that rely on Internet users lack of knowledge to track their online activities.  A VPN will help put a stop to the tracking by encrypting your data and hiding your public IP address.  We would compare your public IP to your street address.  You don’t want others to be able to track everything you do from your public IP address.  When you connect to a VPN it will change your IP to an address based on the VPN server location.  Better yet, most VPNs use shared IPs which means there are several people using the same IP address at any given time.  This helps anonymize your traffic and further protect your online privacy.

Avoid firewall & geographical restrictions to unblock sites

Whether we’re talking about the Great Firewall of China, a school firewall, or your network admins at work, there are plenty of restrictions in place to stop you from visiting your favorite sites.  There are also geographical restrictions often referred to as geo-blocks that will restrict you from accessing a site or a specific content library based on your location.  Let’s take a look at a few examples along with how a VPN can help in each case.

  • Great Firewall of China – this is perhaps the best known and arguably the most advanced firewall used to keep the public in China from viewing sites that are not approved by the government.  The Chinese government puts a lot of effort into blocking sites from inside the country.  If you live in China or plan to visit the country, a VPN can help you access sites that would otherwise be blocked.  Not surprisingly, China tries their best to block VPNs at times.  Especially around the time of their annual political meetings.  For this reason I would suggest having two VPNs, one as a primary and a second as a backup.  VPNs with proprietary protocols like VuprVPN’s Chameleon can also help you avoid VPN blocks in China.
  • Firewall at school or work – the firewalls used by schools, colleges, and companies all follow the same path.  They are far less intrusive and restrictive than the Great Firewall of China, but they serve the same purpose.  In the case of avoiding firewall restrictions at work or school, a good VPN will do the trick.  In fact that’s exactly why the founder of HideMyAss started the company.  He was tired of the restrictions imposed by network administrators so he created an alternative to help his friends get around the issue.  I would say that’s worked out pretty well for him considering HMA is a leader in the VPN industry and is now part of AVG.
  • Avoid IP-based geographical restrictions – whether a site is blocked based on a filter in place by your ISP or government, a VPN will help.  There is also another category of site blocking that has millions of users around the world turning to VPN.  That is specifically the use of geo-blocks to control who can view content.  Perhaps the best example is Netflix.  There are millions of Netflix users that live outside their supported regions.  How does that happen?  Users have learned that a VPN will help them virtually locate themselves in other countries.  By doing so they open access to Netflix and other streaming services that would otherwise be blocked.  A VPN will also help you switch locations to enjoy different content libraries for services like Netflix.  Watch your favorite US shows (Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, Showtime, Sling TV, etc.) and listen to music (Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, Google Music, etc.) from anywhere in the world.  The same is true for channels in other countries like BBC iPlayer in the UK.

Criteria You Should Consider When Choosing a VPN for Mac

When choosing a VPN for Mac, there are a few criteria that you need to look at to help you select the best one for your purpose.

  • First, is it compatible with desktops, phones, tablets or other devices you might want to use with it?
    • Does it offer client software for Mac? iOS? Windows? Linux? Android?
    • How many simultaneous connections does it allow? Two or more is better.
    • You should thoroughly test the VPN with all of your devices to make sure that they provide the performance and reliability that you want.
  • Second is do you trust the VPN provider?
    • How much of your personal information do they collect ?
    • Is their privacy policy transparent about how they use your collected information?
    • How long have they been in the VPN industry and do they have a good reputation?
    • Do they allow P2P traffic?
    • Where are they incorporated?
  • Third is how big is their network of VPN servers?
    • Where are its servers located at?
    • Do they have a worldwide presence?
    • Multiple servers in the US (on both coasts), the UK, and Europe are ideal for most.
      This will ensure greater speed and reliability when accessing content in the US.
  • Fourth, what is their logging policy regarding VPN usage?
    • A no-log policy is ideal.
    • If they do log, is their logging policy well defined and transparent?
  • Fifth, how does the VPN perform for your purpose?
    • How fast is the VPN service from your location?
    • Can it help you scale your government firewall if that is necessary?
    • Can you access and configure it from your location?
  • Sixth, how reliable is the network?
    • You want to choose a VPN which is stable.
    • You will also want to choose a VPN whose servers are not over crowded.
    • Does the service have a good reputation for service and support in case you have any questions?
    • Do they offer a kill switch to protect your privacy if the VPN drops?
    • Do they support DNS leak protection?
  • Seventh, is the bandwidth. This refers to how much data (in GB) you can download.
    • The best VPNs offer unlimited bandwidth.
  • Eighth, is it secure and private to protect your traffic from prying eyes: be they ISP or the NSA, or cyber criminals?
    • What kind of protocols does the VPN use?  Protocols are rules for transmitting data.
      • A VPN service that supports all three protocols: OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec and PPTP is best.
        • OpenVPN (UDP/TCP) (Best mix of security and speed)
          • It is highly configurable, fast, and secure.
          • Port forwarding helps increase its utility and help scale firewalls.
        • L2TP/IPsec – Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol / Internet Protocol Security is the encryption protocol for traffic.
          • It provides excellent security.
          • It has slower performance than that of OpenVPN due to double encapsulation of data.
          • It has built-in support on most devices which makes it easy to implement.
            Like OpenVPN, it has greater utility if it supports port forwarding.
        • PPTP – Point to Point Tunneling Protocol
          • It is considered the least secure and probably better suited for devices that can not use other protocols or where speed, not security is the main concern.
          • Like L2TP, it is built into most devices and very easy to setup.
    • Encryption is usually AES or Blowfish based.
      • It should use at least 128 bit which is not as secure but provides faster speed.
      • 256 bit is better for security but provides slower performance.
    • Other protocols include proprietary stealth ones to scale the Great Firewall of China, SSTP which is primarily for Windows, and IKEv2 which provides for automatic reconnection for mobile devices.
  • Ninth, how easy is the VPN to actually use?
    • Does the VPN have easy to use and install software?
    • Does it have well written guides?
    • Does the service have an intuitive user interface?
  • Tenth, how much does the VPN service cost?
    • As always, you should spend what your budget can afford.  Trust, security and performance should be weighed against cost before choosing a VPN to make sure you will be happy with it.
    • Does it support crypto currencies like Bitcoin or other anonymous ways to pay for the service?
    • Remember to use the money-back guarantee to thoroughly test the service to ensure it suits your intended purpose.

All of the above criteria were examined for each of the companies in our best VPN for Mac list.  Care was taken to look at the purposes that you might need a VPN.  For starters it must provide you with privacy protection using Mac and iOS.  We also looked at regions of the world you might want VPN access in which is most commonly the US, UK, the Middle East, and Asia.  We chose VPNs that have large networks with VPN servers located around the world.  You should also consider your purpose to see which VPN in our list will best suit your individual needs.  Regardless of which VPN you choose, you will want to test their Mac software and ensure their network meets you needs.

Final Thoughts

Consider your purpose for using a VPN to determine which service is best positioned to meet your needs.  Most VPN users want to protect their online privacy and/or unblock content in other countries.  If privacy protection is key then all the providers on our list are a good choice.  None of our top three choices keep logs which is comforting to those who want that added degree of privacy.  If you want to unblock media services in other countries you might consider OverPlay since they offer both VPN and SmartDNS.  You can use SmartDNS to unblock channels in other countries and switch over to VPN when you need the encryption.  I like the combination.  Otherwise, all the VPNs in our list work well to unblock sites and protect your privacy.  Better yet, they all have custom apps for Mac to make using VPN even easier.

Using a personal VPN service on Mac will help you be more anonymous and secure your privacy while using the Internet.  It will also help you unblock access to sites that are blocked in your country and give you access to streaming media sites in other regions of the world.  Don’t forget about the advanced features offered by some of the VPNs in our list.  These providers were chosen based on their efforts to create the best experience for Mac users.  They have all come a long way over the years.  You can expect an easy to use client that is also pleasing to the eye.  There is no need to trade usability for functionality.  I suggest you consider the advanced features as well.  That starts with the VPN kill switch and DNS leak protection offered by IPVanish.  VyprVPN has their proprietary Chameleon protocol to help get around firewall restrictions.  OverPlay has a SmartDNS feature that makes it easy to switch between regions for popular streaming services like Netflix.  As you can see the VPNs on our list cover a wide range of needs.  They all offer new members a money back guarantee so you have time to adequately test the service.  Give any of them a try.  I’m confident you will be happy with the experience on both your Mac OS X and iOS mobile devices.