Although an estimated 1 billion people use iPhones, most of us are not using them to their full capability. You may have already heard of using a ‘VPN’ or ‘Virtual Private Network’ for your computer, designed to encrypt your connection and bolster online security. These same VPNs can be employed on your phones to help secure your data if you’re connecting to public or unsecure Wi-Fi.
But did you know that downloading a VPN can also help you get the most out of your iPhone by allowing you to access streaming content from other countries, blocking ads and bypassing content blocks?
Access streaming content from other countries
There has never been a better time to binge watch your favorite shows and movies, with so much great content being uploaded daily across services like Disney Plus, HBO Max and Prime Video. Streaming services often have location specific catalogs, meaning viewers in different counties can access different content. But what if there’s a movie you're desperate to watch but you can’t find anywhere or a show that’s airing in the US only?
Employing a virtual private network (VPN) on your iPhone allows you to access streaming content from other countries that is missing from your own location, such as films specific to US Netflix or UK exclusive TV episodes on BBC iPlayer.
When you attempt to stream a video online, your iPhone sends information to your server’s IP address and tells the streaming service your location. A VPN is able to encrypt your internet traffic and change your IP address to a country of your choice. Some streaming services are beginning to catch up to the use of VPNs, so ensure you choose a VPN with a good reputation for streaming as well as many servers in multiple countries and locations, such as ExpressVPN or NordVPN.
Whilst a VPN’s primary purpose is to encrypt your own data online, they are also able to block some ads indirectly. As VPN’s work by hiding your IP Address and therefore location, any ads that are based on your location or IP address are hidden by the VPN.
However, if you are visiting websites that have native ads embedded in their code or content these will not be blocked by a VPN. If you want to intentionally block more ads you will have to download a special ad blocker extension for your browser. An ad blocker works to remove intrusive advertising by employing a range of techniques including blocking pop-ups and webpage disruptions.
Bypass internet censorship
Virtual private networks are also utilized by individuals living in countries where governments own all the locations IP addresses and therefore can control website access.
By using a VPN on an iPhone people in these countries, such as China, can mask their IP address and restore their access to the sites that have been blocked. However, this is a risky practice that can involve breaking laws dependent on which country the VPN is being used in. Before traveling to one of these countries ensure you have read up on local rules around VPN usage so you don’t land yourself in trouble.
The best VPN for iPhones in 2024
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are an integral tool for fortifying the cybersecurity of your iPhone as well to mask IP addresses and bypass geographic specific content blocks or firewalls whilst browsing. Their private, encrypted connection owned by the VPN provider adds an extra layer of protection, safeguarding your data from potential threats. By utilizing a virtual private network, you are able to protect your privacy as well as get the most out of your iPhone
Need a quick answer on which VPN to download to your iPhone? These are our top three picks:
Express VPN is widely praised across its platforms for unbeatable quality, fast speeds, user-friendly applications, and dependable geographic content unblocking.
The main downside is that it is more expensive than other high-quality options, but more than makes up for it with the inclusion of a password manager, ad and malware blocking, and a 30-day money-back guarantee.
2. NordVPN: best security for online browsing
NordVPN stands out from competitors for its built-in ad blocking and malware protection. You'll be able to access all of Netflix's regional locked content, as well as BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime, and more importantly, NordVPN is quick enough to keep up with HD streaming and torrenting. All that, plus a 30-day money-back guarantee.
3. SurfShark VPN - best cost effective-friendly VPN
SurfShark holds its own against its pricer competitors. It provides top security features including geographic content unblocking, making it a great option for users in search of a cheap yet trustworthy VPN solution. In our opinion, it also provides one of the easiest apps to use, and with a 30-day money-back guarantee, you can try it out risk-free.
How to choose a VPN for your iPhone
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are an essential cybersecurity tool for encrypting your online connection and unlocking the potential of your iPhone.
But with so many different options available, it can be difficult to know where to start with comparing the different aspects that each of the leading Virtual Private Networks bring to the table.
The first that you will need to consider is how you intend to use your VPN and think about how you will incorporate different aspects in your day to day life. This includes how hands-on you want to be, both with your online security and streaming geographically restricted content, as well as accessing torrents and gaming.
Ensure that you are taking into considering these key factors when selecting a VPN to meet your personal user:
Unblocking capability: Opt for a VPN with the capability to bypass streaming services location specific restrictions quickly and effectively. Some VPN services offer dedicated servers for different uses ,like streaming, which make it more convenient to unblock your favorite content, regardless of where you are.
Simultaneous connections: Check how many devices you want to secure with your new VPN. Make sure to check the limit on the number of devices a VPN service will allow you to protect simultaneously to be sure it accommodates your current requirements as well as any additional devices you may add in the future.
Additional Features: Evaluate the additional features offered by VPN providers to determine which ones may justify any extra cost for you. For example, NordVPN offers built-in ad blocking or Express VPN's 24/7 offers customer support which could save you money on purchasing multiple programs. Check out any plan upgrades offered that may include a full security suite with antivirus, cloud storage, and data breach tracking.
Apps: Consider how you plan to access your VPN, keeping in mind the compatibility with your devices. Some VPNs offer apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android but may lack support for other platforms. Be sure to try out the associated apps to assess the user interface and ease of navigation across all of your devices.
Price: Once you've pinpointed the essential functionalities, you can then compare the cost of applicable VPNs that meet your criteria. Be careful not to compromise on quality and therefore compromise on your digital security. Luckily some VPNs like Surfshark offer great features at a low price, so you aren't forced to make this choice.
How we test VPNs
iMore’s team of experts use the top VPNs daily across their personal and work devices, but to make sure we’re continuously updating we conduct a complete comprehensive analysis of the top 30 VPN services every 6 months.
We conduct extensive speed tests over 120 times across two sessions, using both a US home connection and a 1 Gbps UK data center to show us a provider's potential and the real-world use case application.
Good virtual private networks should be able to unblock multiple streaming services seamlessly. To assess this, we attempt to access geographically exclusive content from Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, and BBC iPlayer, repeating the test from at least three different locations to get an idea of how the service performs in a real life scenario. We carry out constant real-world testing to make sure our analysis is always relevant and accurate to the latest version of the VPN.
We don't just trust what we see on the surface of a VPN provider's website. We go further by checking its RAM contents and decompiling and examining its source code to find out what's going on behind the scenes and whether the service gives genuine protection.
To learn about our full methodology visit our testing methodology page.
Using a VPN FAQs
Are VPNs safe?
Yes. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are considered very safe and are widely used for fortifying personal and business cybersecurity. They are able to encrypt your internet connection which adds an extra layer of security and privacy to your browsing. This encryption makes it difficult for cybercriminals to infiltrate your online data and login credentials.
Is it legal to use a VPN?
The legality of using a VPN depends on the country where you are planning to use it. In most countries, including the UK and US, VPNs are completely legal. However, in some countries such as China and Russia, there are major restrictions on the use of VPNs. It's crucial to note that while using a VPN itself may be legal, engaging in any illegal activities while connected to a VPN remains illegal.
Are VPNs easy to use?
Yes, modern VPNs are designed to be user-friendly. ExpressVPN offers an easy to use one-click to connect function for seamless connections. If you want to set and forget, ExpressVPN's auto-connect feature means that you can connect once, and remain protected. VPNs utilizing the Lightway protocol, automatically select the best server and encryption for your specific needs, further enhancing the user experience with little user intervention. The Lightway VPN Protocol makes your VPN experience speedier, more secure, and more reliable. Designed to not overload your device, Lightway runs faster, uses less battery, and is easier to audit and maintain.
We test and review VPN services in the context of legal recreational uses. For example: 1. Accessing a service from another country (subject to the terms and conditions of that service). 2. Protecting your online security and strengthening your online privacy when abroad. We do not support or condone the illegal or malicious use of VPN services. Consuming pirated content that is paid-for is neither endorsed nor approved by Future Publishing.
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Olivia is the Commissioning Editor for Tech Software at Future. With a background in cybersecurity, Olivia stays up-to-date with all things cyber and creates content across sites including TechRadar Pro, TechRadar, Tom’s Guide, iMore, PC Gamer and Games Radar. She is particularly interested in threat intelligence, detection and response, data security, fraud prevention and the ever-evolving threat landscape.
- Katie BakerFreelance Writer