If you're concerned about online privacy or are trying to access content that is blocked in the country you're in, you might be interested in using a VPN. Here we explain what is a VPN, and show you how to set up a VPN for private browsing or for accessing blocked content.

What is a VPN?

VPN stands for virtual private network, and there are several reasons why you might want to use one. 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 WiFi 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.

There are many VPNs and most require a subscription. We have separate articles that share our favourite free VPNs and paid-for VPNs, but here we explain more about what a VPN is, why you might want one and also recommend a couple of our favourites right here.

Below we're using NordVPN to illustrate the process of installing and setting up a VPN. This process can be applied to many other VPN services but with slight variations. NordVPN is our favourite service available right now, but it's a paid-for option so might not suit everyone and there are alternatives available with different benefits that you might want to explore if you're not sure. You can see those in our round-up of the Best VPNs 2017 and the Best free VPNs 2017.

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 three tiers depending on how long you want to commit for, and most have a money back guarantee that'll reassure you if you aren’t completely sure whether a VPN is going to work for you.

Once you've signed up, you'll need to download and install the app on your Mac or PC. 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 risk.

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. Most 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.

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.

If you'd like more information about VPNs, why you might need one and how to use them, you can visit the following articles:

Best VPN 2017
Best free VPN 2017
Best browser VPNs 2017
How to get cheap flights online using a VPN
How to use a VPN with a Fire TV Stick
How to watch US Netflix in the UK
Best VPN for Android 2017
How to watch BBC iPlayer abroad