VPNs are growing in popularity, primarily as a reaction to security and privacy fears online, but also because they can help you watch streaming services like Netflix or BBC iPlayer from another country. We explain how to set up and use a VPN on your PC.

First, let us briefly explain what a VPN is and how it works is to get you started. VPN stands for virtual private network and there are several reasons why you might want to use one. 

One is that a VPN prevents people from spying on you while you use the internet, and this is useful if you travel with a laptop, smartphone or tablet and access Wi-Fi hotspots in public places. It does the same thing when you're using the internet at home, or in the office.

A VPN can also be used to make it appear as if you are located in another country. This can unlock services that are blocked from your real location, for example, you can watch catch-up TV like BBC iPlayer while on holiday or a business trip abroad. Some VPNs even let you watch US Netflix in the UK - we've rounded up the best VPNs for streaming here.

There are many VPN services available, and most require a subscription. We have a separate articles that round up our favourite VPNs, but our top pick is NordVPN, which we use here to illustrate how to set up and use a VPN. We also recommend ExpressVPN and PureVPN.

How to use a VPN

The first thing you'll need to do in order to start using a VPN is to sign up for the service of your choice and download it. If you've chosen NordVPN, go to its website and click Buy Now. Most VPN services have various plans depending on how long you want to commit for, and most have a money back guarantee that'll reassure you if you just want to try one out.

Once you've signed up, you'll need to download and install the app on your device - apps are available for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS. Then, launch the app to get started.

Once the app is open, you'll want to choose a server to connect to. You might see a list of countries or a map. In the case of NordVPN you can choose to see the servers in either view.

The location of the server you connect to is then your virtual location, meaning the internet thinks that you are in that location right now. That's why the server you choose will largely depend on what you want to use the VPN for.

If you want to connect to US Netflix you'll need to choose a US-based server, or for BBC iPlayer you'll need a UK-based server. Of course, it's important to note that doing so goes against both services terms and conditions so do so at your own discretion.

Once you've chosen which server suits you best, you'll need to connect to it. NordVPN has a big button at the top that allows you to connect to the server when you're ready and disable the connection at any time.

Many VPN services have a kill switch that will terminate your connection and continue to protect your privacy if the VPN server itself gets disconnected too. Often you have to go into the app settings to enable this, however.

To test whether the connection is working, you can use BrowserSPY's Geolocation page to see where your IP address location is. It should be roughly the location of the server you chose, rather than your actual location. If it is, your VPN is working.

And that's really it: using a VPN is simple. You might want to look at the other settings and options so you can make the VPN connect automatically when Windows starts, or when your laptop or phone connects to an unsafe Wi-Fi network.