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Best VPN for Mac 2021: VPN services for Apple devices

Are you looking for a VPN service provider that integrates well into the Apple ecosystem? In this article, we spotlight three providers who offer Mac, iPhone, and iPad clients.

Because I write so often about VPNs, I tend to get a lot of reader questions. In this article, I'm going to do my best to answer questions from readers about using a VPN on a Mac. I'm also going to recommend VPNs that all must have a certain set of specs: Kill switch, no leaking, and fast. These are our table stakes for recommendations. 

The VPNs below allow five or more simultaneous connections, as well, so if you have an iPhone and an iPad as well as a Mac, you can protect all three with one license. With that, let's dive in.

NordVPN

Heavy hitter in the VPN market

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  • Mac, iPad, iPhone: Yes, yes, and yes
  • Simultaneous connections: 6
  • Kill switch: Yes
  • Logging: Email address and billing information only
  • Trial: 30-day refund guarantee
  • Countries: 60
  • Best price: $89 for two years ($3.30 per month)

Also: How does NordVPN work? Plus how to set it up and use it

NordVPN is one of the heavy hitters in the VPN market. In our aggregate speed test ranking, it came in first overall. We found that Nord's user interface was crisp and clean, and the product was quick and easy to install. It also doesn't get in the way. It runs when you want it to, but you can quickly shut it off when you're back at home or in the office.

Full review: NordVPN review: A market leader with consistent speed and performance

We were quite intrigued by the five communications services offered: P2P, Double VPN, Dedicated IP, Onion Over VPN, and Obfuscated (which means "to render obscure, unclear, or unintelligible). The Double VPN feature is designed to run your data through a second VPN server, and while that's a great idea, I found it was unreliable in real-world usage.

Also: Meet NordSec: The company behind NordVPN wants to be your one-stop privacy suite

Beyond the Apple platforms, NordVPN supports Windows and Android. And beyond that, NordVPN has clients a huge number of platforms ranging from all the way back to Windows XP, forward to Raspberry Pi, Synology, and Western Digital, along with QNAP NAS boxes, Chromebook, a whole bunch of routers, and more.

Hotspot Shield

Among the fastest VPNs tested

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  • Mac, iPad, iPhone: Yes, yes, and yes
  • Simultaneous connections: 5
  • Kill switch: Yes
  • Logging: No
  • Trial: 45-day refund guarantee
  • Countries: 80
  • Best price: $95.88 for one year ($7.99 per month)

Hotspot Shield came in second in our aggregate performance ranking, but that was because the performance was somewhat inconsistent. For some testers (myself included), Hotspot Shield was among the fastest VPNs tested. I actually found that some connections increased in speed when using Hotspot Shield, which feels almost like a violation of the laws of physics. But for other testers, performance was lower.

Full review: Hotspot Shield review: Here's a VPN that actually lives up to its hype

That's why we always recommend you take advantage of return policies and test actively before your money-back time is up.

Hotspot Shield achieves its rather unexpected performance gains because it uses its own proprietary network and protocol. Those who love debating VPN protocols might be disappointed because "Catapult Hydra" is your only choice. But don't let it keep you away, because -- at least from America to other countries, which is how I tested -- it works.

Client installs were straightforward. You can't modify some options until after you connect, which is vaguely annoying. But it gets the job done, and its speed, if it works for you, is something to behold.

ExpressVPN

Payment via Bitcoin available for utmost anonymity

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  • Mac, iPad, iPhone: Yes, yes, and yes
  • Simultaneous connections: 5
  • Kill switch: Yes
  • Logging: No
  • Trial: 30-day refund guarantee
  • Countries: 94
  • Best price: $99.95 for one year ($8.32 per month-ish)

ExpressVPN came in third in our aggregated performance testing. In one way, it was more like NordVPN than Hotspot shield, in that the standard deviation was low. What this means is that the performance numbers were generally consistent across all testers. Hotspot's numbers varied considerably across testers.

Full review: ExpressVPN review: A fine VPN service, but is it worth the price?

Unlike Nord and Hotspot, ExpressVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, not a 45-day. That's not too much of a loss because if you make testing a priority, you can certainly determine if ExpressVPN works for you within a month. One standout benefit ExpressVPN offers that the others don't is payment via Bitcoin. If you want to remain as anonymous as possible, Bitcoin payment makes sense.

Oddly enough, the company advertises that its one year plan bills at $99.95, but they then list that a per-month fee of $8.32. 8.32 times 12 is 99.84, not 99.95. Eleven cents doesn't really matter, but math clearly isn't someone's strong suit.

One feature I really liked was the network-wide speed test. Once in the client, you can tell ExpressVPN to scan its entire network and tell you server speeds for each server. It takes a few minutes, but it's great for not only picking the fastest server but for getting a feel for network performance overall.

On the downside, we run into a weird security issue with something called Security Firewall Ltd. I recommend you read the review, as well as ExpressVPN's response, to decide if this is of concern to you.

I liked ExpressVPN. It was a breeze to set up and configure. I like how you can determine server speed across the entire network. And searching, saving, and configuring locations is dead simple. If you're using a VPN to protect your coffee shop surfing, it's fine. But if you're using a VPN to protect your location to protect your life, I'd think twice.

ExpressVPN: Everything you need to know

So there you go. Three VPNs with well-considered configurations for Macs, iPhones, and iPads.

Do I even need a VPN on a Mac?

This comes because the Mac is often considered more secure than Windows. By virtue of both the smaller number of units sold (making it a less juicy target for hackers) and Apple's tight lock on hardware/software integration, the Mac is somewhat more secure than Windows. That means less malware runs on the Mac platform.

But you don't use a VPN primarily to protect against malware. You use a VPN to protect the data you transmit and receive and prevent your location from being determined by your visit sites. Apple will be offering iCloud+ Private Relay when MacOS Monterey comes out in the fall, and while that does offer some protection, it's not a full VPN.

So, yes, you need a VPN on the Mac because you want to protect your communications when you're out and about and your location any time you don't want anyone to know where you're located.

How should I choose a VPN for my Mac?

This comes from the question some readers ask about whether they should limit their VPN choices to products sold on the Mac App Store and because Mac programs that are built expressly for the Mac tend to integrate better.

You definitely want a well-integrated VPN client into the Mac, but the Mac App Store puts some limitations on how a VPN can function. While I wouldn't necessarily shy away from Mac App Store VPNs, it's not necessarily a plus either.

When you choose a VPN, the most important factor is going to be the security infrastructure of the VPN provider because you're not just installing an app; you're adopting a network.

Look for VPNs with clean, responsive clients that have kill switches in case the connection drops, that are fast to start and stop that hides your location and traffic that doesn't log your surfing behavior, and move data quickly.


You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.