Can’t Connect to a VPN on Public Wi-Fi? Here’s How to Fix It

  • Using a VPN to protect your privacy and your connection's security is a good thing.
  • However, if you're using public WiFi, you may not be able to connect to a VPN at times.
  • Although it's not unheard of, blocking a VPN on certain networks can raise a lot of problems.
  • We'll teach you how you could fix this situation in our comprehensive guide below.
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Using a VPN to protect your privacy and your connection’s security is a good thing, but what if you can’t connect to a VPN on public WiFi?

A public wireless network is, without a doubt, one of the most dangerous places to be lurking without protection.

For instance, did you know that while on public WiFi, your traffic can be easily monitored and you can be targeted by man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks? Well, it happens way more often than we’d like.

A VPN might seem like nothing out of the ordinary. However, thanks to its traffic encryption and re-routing capabilities, using such a service on a public network can save you a lot of headaches.

But what happens if it doesn’t work, to begin with? Let’s find out together.

Why isn’t my VPN working on public WiFi?

The number of possibilities is quite large in this matter, but here are the main reasons:

Public WiFi is not a secure connection to use and it’s better to be precautions. So, using a VPN is the most secure way to access public networks without risking your safety and personal data.

Does a VPN protect you on public WiFi?

Yes, a trustworthy VPN service can greatly increase your protection on public WiFi networks. Not only do they encrypt your data entirely, making it impossible to read and rendering it useless for attackers, but they also redirect traffic.

Therefore, you can’t be targeted by MITM attacks launched by someone on the same network as you. Nobody, including ISPs, hackers, or the network owner, can see any information that you send over the public WiFi network.

It’s safe to say that using a VPN can and does protect you on public WiFi.

1. Use a reliable VPN for public connection

  1. Get a premium VPN subscription (We recommend using ExpressVPN).
  2. Download and install the VPN client on your device.
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  3. Launch the VPN client and connect to your account.
  4. Choose a server of your choice and establish a connection.
  5. Connect to the public Wi-Fi of your choice.
  6. Accept the terms and conditions of the public Wi-Fi (if available).

It’s worth mentioning that sometimes, public Wi-Fi networks have these web pages you open in your browser and accept some terms and conditions before you can get online. They’re called captive portals.

You can easily get past them, but sometimes they won’t work with a VPN. The reasons why this happens are various, ranging from blacklisted ports to UDP traffic throttling (so as to break certain protocols).

Make sure your device (phone, laptop) isn’t set to automatically connect to public Wi-Fi networks.

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Choose an obfuscation-ready VPN

If you’re still unable to connect to a VPN on public WiFi, you might want to check out VPNs with obfuscation features.

These may also be called obfuscated servers, stealth mode, or even Chameleon protocol, depending on the VPN you’re using.

Check out our list of VPN services with obfuscation capabilities:

Product NameObfuscationCompany Name
ExpressVPNStealth serversExpress VPN International Ltd.
Private Internet AccessWireGuard VPN protocolKape Technologies.
NordVPNObfuscated ServersTefincom & Co., S.A.
Surfshark VPNCamouflage ModeSurfshark LTD
VyprVPNChameleon protocolGolden Frog GmbH
IPVanishScramble OpenVPN trafficStackPath, LLC
TunnelBearStealth VPNMcAfee, LLC
Windscribe VPNStealth VPNWindscribe Limited
VPN UnlimitedKeepSolid WiseKeepSolid Inc.

On the other hand, they all do the same thing, for the most part. You can use these features to connect to various services that have VPN detection features as if you were using your regular, unsecured protection.

These services disguise VPN traffic into regular traffic, thus making it difficult to detect and block.

2. Choose a different protocol

As we’ve mentioned above, some public WiFi network administrators can go the extra mile to prevent VPN usage. One way of doing that is through throttling connection types such as UDP.

If that’s the case, just open your VPN’s configuration section, choose another protocol, re-establish the VPN connection, and try accessing the public WiFi network again.

It’s even better if you connect to the VPN server using a data plan (LTE) before connecting to the public WiFi network.

3. Try another port

Another effective way to detect and block VPN traffic is blacklisting ports. One of the most popular VPN ports is 443, so if you experience any issues while using this port on your VPN client, simply switch it.

Many VPN providers let you choose from various ports that you can use with your connection. Just make sure to check the configuration section of your VPN client thoroughly before you give up.

With ExpressVPN, you can use both UDP or TCP ports that have Lightway functionality which gives you increased security over public networks and faster navigation.

Is public WiFi safe?

Maybe the most common issue that public WiFi raises is closely tied to security. Truth be told, public WiFi is an ideal honey-pot for potential attackers, since a lot of users are attracted by the concept of free Internet.

As a rule of thumb, unprotected WiFi networks are easy targets for a wide range of attackers. Not protecting yourself on these networks can have severe consequences. For instance:

  • Your credit card information can be stolen
  • Passwords and account names could be sniffed
  • Your traffic can be easily monitored
  • With a bit of luck, attackers could get remote access to your device and its content
  • Conversations could be intercepted

The list can go on and on. Basically, without a VPN on public WiFi networks, you’re highly exposed to cyber threats or risky data theft attacks.

Final thoughts on connecting to VPN on public WiFi

To sum it up, having a VPN on public WiFi is no longer a luxury, but a necessity, considering the number of cyber threats (and cyber-criminals) freely roaming around the Internet.

However, some networks can block your attempts of using a VPN while you’re connected to them. If that happens, don’t worry, and remember:

  • Don’t ever disable your VPN on public WiFi networks
  • Check if switching ports and/or protocols works
  • Choose a VPN with obfuscation features if possible
  • Use your data plan if you see that nothing works (trust us, it’s way better in the long run)

There’s a reason why these networks restrict VPN usage. As long as you don’t want your personal data to fall into the wrong hands, we strongly suggest you avoid public WiFi where VPN usage is heavily regulated.

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