VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) route your internet access through a different server somewhere in the world—they can spoof your location, stop other parties (including your internet provider) from seeing what you’re doing online, and encrypt your data, so it’s harder to intercept and analyze.

You’ll find plenty of articles on Lifehacker on the benefits of VPNs and some of the best VPN deals you can find online, and these tools can be installed on your Android phones and tablets as well as Windows, macOS, and iPhones.

Do you need a VPN on Android?

Once you install a VPN on Android, everything you do online gets routed through it, whether that’s through apps or your mobile web browser: Your VPN app gets its hooks quite deep into Android, to manage all your online traffic. Calls and texts aren’t affected, but messaging apps that connect to the web (including WhatsApp and Signal) are.

We’ve already touched on some of the benefits of VPNs: Routing your traffic across different, secure servers in this way means it’s well-protected from the company that provides your internet, as well as the authorities. It also means you can change the location your Android phone appears to be in, if you need to (although a lot of streaming apps are wise to this now).

VPNs will control internet access on your device.
Credit: Lifehacker

What VPNs don’t do, however, is make you anonymous. If you’re logged into Instagram or Amazon or Google, they’re still going to know what you’re up to—a VPN doesn’t mean that no one can see anything you’re doing on the web or inside apps.

It’s your call as to whether or not you need a VPN, bearing in mind that these services come with a slight hit to the speed of your internet connection, and may cost you some money. They’re most valuable if you spend a lot of time on public wifi networks (like coffee shops and hotels), where it’s more likely that other devices are trying to get a peek at what you’re up to.

How to choose an Android VPN

The process of choosing a VPN for Android is the same as it is when you’re choosing a VPN for any other platform: Take your time, do as much research as you can, and take advice from the people you trust. (Speaking of trustworthy, we have our own lists of the best VPNs and the best free VPNs you can get right now.)

One key feature to look out for is a zero logs policy, which means no records are kept of your browsing—and ideally, you want a zero logs policy that’s independently audited. Remember that while governments, internet providers, and law enforcement agencies won’t be able to see your activity online, your VPN company will—so you need to pick one you trust.

You can install multiple VPNs on Android.
Credit: Lifehacker

It’s also worth checking on the number of servers a VPN offers around the world, and the number of devices you can have connected to the VPN service at once (if you need coverage beyond your Android phone or tablet). You might also find you have a VPN included as part of another subscription: Google One or Proton Unlimited, for example.

Generally speaking, paying for a VPN gives you extra peace of mind that your VPN provider of choice isn’t making money out of you in another way. That said, there are a handful of reputable free VPN providers out there, which are listed in our best free VPNs for Android guide. You’ll have to put up with some restrictions on the free plans, such as limits on speeds or the number of servers you can connect to.

Set up a VPN on Android

The process of setting up a VPN on Android is simple and straightforward, once you’ve picked the VPN you’d like to use. While the exact steps vary depending on the VPN you decide to go with, I’ll walk you through installing NordVPN on Android—it’s one of the better VPNs out there, and our NordVPN vs ExpressVPN guide tells you more about it.

Find the VPN you want in the Play Store (NordVPN for Android in this case), log in, and you can then pick a VPN server to connect to: With NordVPN, you can also tap Quick Connect to use a server near your current location. The first time your VPN app connects to the web, Android will ask you to confirm that you trust it.

Connecting NordVPN on Android
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To view VPNs available on your device and switch between them, from Settings choose Network and Internet then VPN (Pixel phones) or Connections, More connection settings, and VPN (Galaxy phones). When a VPN is active, you should see a key icon in the status bar, and your VPN app of choice may display a permanent notification too, telling you which server you’re connected to.

Tap the gear icon next to your current VPN to configure it (to set it to always be active, for example). You can also tap the + (plus) icon in the top right corner to enter details of a VPN server manually, but these only apply if you’ve using a Virtual Private Network provided by your employer or another organization—most users won’t need this screen.