So, you bought a VPN subscription, and you hate it. Perhaps you can’t use it with your favorite video streaming service. Perhaps there’s been a pricing change and your VPN isn’t such a good deal anymore. Perhaps your old VPN just got some unfavorable news coverage because of some kind of shenanigans, or a breach. Whatever the reason, switching VPNs is easy to do, if you know what you’re doing.
Out With the Old, In With the New
Most people interact with VPNs through client applications. These are the user-friendly apps that let you toggle the VPN connection on and off, select VPN servers, and use all the other tools VPNs provide with their subscriptions. Getting a VPN off your machine is often just a case of removing the client app and installing a new one. Below are listed several of top VPNs to help you get started choosing a new one, and there’s more advice later in this article, if you have trouble deciding.
One thing to keep in mind anytime you install new software: Beware of phishing sites and malware posing as friendly software. Be sure to have antivirus software running on your machine, just in case.
Installing a New VPN on Android
Replacing an old VPN with a new one is just like replacing any other app on Android. Tap and hold the app icon, and drag it to the top right of the screen where it says Uninstall. Then, go to the Google Play Store and download the app for your new VPN.
Some VPN services offer Android apps that you can download directly from the developer and install on your device via sideloading. This is sometimes to provide features that would not be allowed on Google Play, or for particularly privacy conscious individuals who want nothing to do with Google’s app store. Still, I don’t recommend sideloading in general. While Google has made moves to tighten up security on Android over many years, sideloading a malicious app you think is safe can have serious consequences.
Installing a New VPN on iOS
Just like Android, replacing a VPN app on iOS is just like replacing any other app. Tap and hold the app icon until the contextual menu appears, then tap Remove App. Once it’s gone, head over to the App Store and download your new VPN’s official app.
Installing a New VPN on macOS
If you installed the app from the macOS App Store, you can use the App Store to remove it. Open the App Store, click on your account name at the bottom of the left rail, and then scroll through the list of the apps you’ve installed. Find the one you (don’t) want, click the “. . .” menu, and select Delete App.
If you didn’t install the app through the App Store, you’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way. Note that this will also work for apps from the App Store. Applications on macOS are mostly self-contained, so while macOS doesn’t include an uninstall tool, removing apps is fairly straightforward. Open a new Finder window and click the Applications folder shortcut in the Favorites sidebar. You can also just click the Go menu and select Applications from the drop down.
Find the VPN you wish to rid yourself of, then click and drag its icon to the Trash Can. Alternatively, you can right-click/two-finger tap the icon and select Move to Trash.
In truth, this probably won’t get all of the traces an app can leave on your machine, but it should do a decent job. If something goes wrong, don’t worry—we’ll help you troubleshoot your installation later in this article.
With the old VPN in the trash where it belongs, it’s time to install your shiny, new VPN. It’s a tossup whether you’ll find your VPN of choice in the official macOS App Store. You can start your search there, but most of the time you’ll have to download the app directly from the VPN’s website.
Be sure to check the URL of the site before you start your download. You should see a sensible URL, preceded by an HTTPS, a lock symbol in your browser, or both. Once your download is complete, follow the instructions from the VPN company. Most of the time, this means clicking and dragging the new VPN app into your Applications folder. Remember that if you install an app from the web, macOS will make you click a confirmation the first time you fire it up.
Installing a New VPN on Windows
Unlike macOS, applications on Windows are a bit of a mess. Also unlike macOS, Microsoft provides a dedicated tool for removing software. To use it, click on the search field next to the Windows button on the Taskbar, and type in Add Or Remove Software. From this window, you can scroll around to find the old VPN, or just use the accompanying search bar. Click on it, then click the Uninstall button.
One of two things will happen next. Either the Add or Remove Software will do its namesake function of removing the software, or a custom uninstaller from the VPN will appear. This will usually give you several options on how to proceed, with one of them being uninstall. It will also probably try to guilt you for going down this path and try to lure you back. Try to be strong, no matter how many crying mascots you’re presented with.
Once you’ve removed the old VPN app it’s time to find the new one. Generally, I don’t bother with the Windows app store for VPNs, but it can’t hurt to look. If you opt to download the app directly from your VPN provider, be sure to look for HTTPS or a lock symbol in your browser. Once your download is completed, the installer will walk you through the rest.
New VPN Not Working? Try These Tips
Getting the old VPN client software off your machine is mostly straightforward, but unfortunately your work may not be over. Some VPNs do a poor job cleaning up after themselves and may leave some modified network settings in their wake.
Most of the time, these changes are harmless and won’t affect how another VPN operates. But that’s not always the case. After testing dozens of VPNs back-to-back on the same machine, I know from experience that if there’s going to be a problem moving from one VPN to another, it’s probably one of the problems I discuss below.
With that in mind, you should consider these steps to be optional—to be undertaken if your new VPN doesn’t work right. Everything I describe below only happens when something didn’t work right when removing the old VPN or installing the new one. I ran these tips past the folks at NordVPN, who agreed that they should work but stressed that it was unlikely you’d ever need to use these steps.
First, there’s the basics. Try uninstalling and reinstalling the application. Check if there’s a new version or an update available for the VPN client software. Try reinstalling and rebooting. I’d say you’d be shocked by how often this works, but you’re reading PCMag so it’s safe to say you won’t be.
If that doesn’t work, uninstall the new VPN and make sure you uninstalled the old VPN using the advice above. Once you’ve tried the tips below, reinstall the new VPN and try it again.
VPN Troubleshooting on Android
Open the Settings App, tap Network & Internet, scroll down to the bottom, and tap VPN. Here, you should see only VPNs that you have currently installed (which should be none). If you see something unexpected, be sure you deleted the VPN’s Android app. If you have and you’re still seeing the deleted VPN listed, tap the gear icon and then tap Forget VPN.
VPN Troubleshooting on iOS
Open the Settings app and tap General>VPN & Device Management>VPN, or just pull down from the main page and search VPN. From the VPN settings screen, you’ll see profiles for any VPNs installed on your device (which should be none). If you see on here you weren’t expecting, make sure you properly deleted the VPN app. If you still see something here, tap on the entry and manually delete it.
VPN Troubleshooting on macOS
Open the System Preferences app and then click on Network. On the left side of the screen is a list of available Services. Look through and see if there are any associated with the VPN you’ve deleted. If there is, click it, and then click the minus sign button at the bottom of the list.
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VPN Troubleshooting on Windows
As mentioned above, Windows can be messy. These are a few of the most common issues I’ve encountered, but it’s by no means exhaustive.
Look in Add or Remove Software again. You might find some extra TAP, TUN, or VPN drivers. Sometimes these are helpfully labeled as being from the VPN and sometimes not. These should also appear in the Network Connections Control Panel and may have more information there on where they came from. If the VPN uninstaller missed them, you can try uninstalling them yourself.
Sometimes, however, nothing seems to help, and your new VPN just will not work. For me, that’s when I do a Windows system restore. There might be more precise ways to deal with this, but I have never been one for precision when it comes to Windows. If you don’t want to take a lot of time reinstalling software, don’t take this step.
Since this is a system-wide restore, be sure that all your most important files are backed up first. Use the search box on the Taskbar to find the Recovery settings screen. Under Reset this PC, click Get started. On the next screen, you can choose to keep your files (but lose your apps) or to blow it all away. I’ve found that the Keep my files option works fine in these circumstances. Again: this will delete a lot of stuff from your machine so make sure you’re backed up and ready.
How to Pick a New VPN
When it comes to selecting a new VPN, it’s important to address the shortcomings of your previous VPN. Ask yourself what worked and what didn’t. In our reviews, we try to cover a broad range of capabilities for each product so be sure to start there.
Some shortcomings, however, are harder to address. Speed, for example, is highly variable. A VPN might have better speeds depending on where you are compared to the server you’re using, and even what time of day you’re connecting. Access to streaming is also something that can change on a dime. While VPNs work hard to ensure that streaming services are accessible to customers, streaming services like Netflix are working just as hard to block VPNs.
While you can’t really tell how well a VPN will perform until you start using it, one thing to look for is server distribution. The further your data has to travel to the VPN server, the more impact you’ll see on internet speeds. Some VPNs provide a lot of data about server locations, down to the city level, but others limit your view to just the countries where the company has servers. At the very least, the VPN should offer servers in the country where you live and wherever you want your traffic to appear.
You’ll save money by purchasing a long-term subscription, but I recommend against this—at least at first. Instead, sign up for a short-term subscription so you can test the service in your own home. Once you’re satisfied, you can dive into a longer commitment. There are also some free VPNs to consider and a solid collection of cheap VPNs, too.
While you’re trying out a VPN, give some thought to its look and feel. If you can’t find important elements, or it’s just ugly, consider a different VPN. Life is too short to spend it with unsightly things, and you’re probably less likely to use an uncomfortable app anyway.
One last note: While changing VPN allegiances is a snap, a VPN can only do so much to protect you no matter how much you like it. We strongly recommend enabling multi-factor authentication wherever it’s available, using a password manager to create unique and complex passwords for every site and service you use, and running antivirus software on your machine.
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