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What to do when your VPN keeps disconnecting: Troubleshooting guide

Verified by Amy Reeves

A stable virtual private network (VPN) connection is crucial for protecting your privacy. Experiencing frequent disconnections while using a VPN can be frustrating. It disrupts online activities and poses security risks, especially when handling sensitive information. 

We have compiled the most frequent causes of VPN disconnections and the most effective ways to troubleshoot and solve this issue. From basic network checks to intricate VPN settings adjustments, we will guide you on optimising your VPN usage for a more stable and reliable connection.

Common causes of VPN disconnections

Network connectivity issues

The quality and reliability of your internet connection can significantly impact the stability of a VPN. If the network connection is unstable or weak, it can cause your VPN to disconnect repeatedly. Here are the most common scenarios that can result in VPN disconnections.

  • Weak wifi signals: The strength of your wifi signal can greatly influence the reliability of your VPN connection. If the device using the VPN is located far from your wifi router or if obstacles are in the way (such as walls or electronic devices), the signal may be weakened. This often results in an unstable network, causing the VPN to disconnect and reconnect continuously
  • Router settings: Sometimes, certain settings on your router can interfere with your VPN connection, such as security settings. Also, if the router’s firmware is outdated, this can lead to your VPN disconnecting
  • Internet service provider (ISP) limitations: Some ISPs may limit or reduce bandwidth, especially during peak usage times or when they detect the use of VPN services. This can affect the stability of your VPN connection. Additionally, the overall quality and reliability of the service provided by your ISP can also play a significant role in maintaining a stable VPN connection
  • Shared networks and bandwidth issues: If many users share your network, the bandwidth might be insufficient to support stable VPN connections for everyone, leading to frequent disconnections
  • National regulations restricting VPNs: Experiencing frequent VPN disconnections can be common if you’re located in countries with stringent control over VPN usage or intensive governmental surveillance. In such cases, your ISP has the capability to spot and impede your VPN connection. It’s useful to utilise a VPN that includes obfuscated servers in its network, such as NordVPN, which can effectively camouflage your VPN usage by making it resemble regular web traffic

VPN server and configuration

An issue that often causes VPN disconnections is server congestion. A VPN service with a small server network may experience reduced speed and reliability, causing unexpected connection drops. Ideally, for a stable and fast connection, a VPN should maintain a large, well-distributed server network across various countries.

Take, for example, the difference between ExpressVPN, with over 3,000 servers in 94 different countries, and Atlas VPN Free, which only has three  servers in three locations in two countries. The broader the server network, the lower the probability of server overload or congestion.

In addition, VPN disconnects can result from compatibility issues occurring when using a VPN across varied devices with different protocols and encryption methods. VPN protocols are not universally compatible. Some are crafted for Windows, while others are designed for macOS or mobile platforms. 

Thus, ensuring your chosen protocol suits your device type is crucial. Additionally, encryption types differ, and their compatibility also varies across devices. Just like protocols, certain encryption techniques are tailored for specific platforms, including Windows, macOS or mobile.

Firewall and antivirus interference

Firewall or antivirus software can disrupt your VPN’s connection to the internet. Network firewalls can inhibit VPN connections by blacklisting specific IP ranges, disrupting long-lasting connections or blocking ports used by VPNs. More complex situations arise when a network firewall running deep packet inspection – whereby the content is examined as they pass through a network checkpoint – is set to terminate connections that utilise specific VPN protocols, such as OpenVPN or IPsec.

How to adjust firewall settings for VPN compatibility on Windows

  1. Open the Windows Defender Firewall
  2. Find and click on the “Allow an app or feature through Windows Defender Firewall” option
  3. Select “Change settings” and click on “Allow another app…”
  4. Next, select “Browse” to locate the VPN’s .exe file
  5. Click on “Network types…”

  6. Ensure both options (“Private” and “Public”) are checked and confirm with “OK”

  7. Finally, click “Add” to secure the changes you’ve made. Your VPN should now function smoothly with the firewall settings

Troubleshooting steps for VPN disconnection issues

When facing persistent VPN disconnections, several troubleshooting steps can help to diagnose and resolve the problem. Here are some checks to start the process.

Basic troubleshooting checks

Restart your devices

Often, the simplest solution if your VPN keeps disconnecting is to restart your devices. Also, consider rebooting your router and modem. These restarts can help clear any temporary software glitches that may be causing the disconnection.

Check your internet connection 

The stability of your VPN heavily relies on your internet connection. If you experience VPN disconnects, test your internet connectivity. Disconnect from and reconnect to your wifi network and see if the issue persists. Try visiting lesser-used websites or using an online service to check internet stability.

Inspect physical connections 

Inspect your router’s Ethernet cable if you’re on a wired connection. Ensure it’s correctly plugged in and not damaged. Loose or damaged cables can cause intermittent connectivity issues, leading to VPN disconnects.

Contact your ISP 

If basic troubleshooting doesn’t resolve the issue, it might be time to contact your ISP, which can provide insight into whether there’s a known issue with the internet service in your area or if it imposes restrictions on VPN use.

Check for software updates 

Both your device’s operating system and your VPN application should be kept up to date. Software updates often include fixes for bugs that might be causing your VPN to disconnect. Make sure to check for and install any available updates regularly.

Switching VPN protocols

Changing your VPN protocol could be the solution in cases of persistent disconnects. A VPN protocol is a set of rules for data transmission between your device and a VPN server. Each protocol offers different speed, security and stability features.

VPN protocols

  • OpenVPN: This is highly reliable with a good balance of speed and security and ideal for resolving disconnect issues
  • WireGuard: This protocol is a newer protocol preferred for its speed, security and streamlined coding, suitable for enhancing connection stability
  • IKEv2: This is best for mobile devices due to its quick reconnection feature. It’s also stable and fast
  • L2TP/IPsec: While slower, it’s highly compatible and can be useful if other protocols fail or aren’t supported

How to switch VPN protocols

Switching protocols is straightforward within your VPN app’s settings. Here’s how to change them.

  1. Launch the VPN application on your device. In this case, we will be using NordVPN
  2. Locate and click on the gear icon. This will open the “Settings” menu

  3. Within the “Settings” menu, click on “Connection

  4. Click on the current protocol to reveal a dropdown menu with other available protocols

  5. Select your desired protocol from this list

Once you’ve made the change, reconnect the VPN to start using the new protocol. This way, you can experiment with different protocols to see which offers the best balance of speed, security and stability for your specific needs.

Changing VPN server locations

Factors that impact connection stability

Choosing the right VPN server location can significantly impact your VPN connection’s stability. Two critical aspects to consider are the server’s proximity and its load.

  • Proximity: Servers closer to your location generally provide faster and more stable connections due to a shorter distance over which to send data. If you’re experiencing disconnections, try switching to a geographically nearer server
  • Server load: Overcrowded servers can slow down, causing lags and disconnections. Premium VPNs often indicate server loads, allowing you to choose less busy servers. If issues persist, consider reporting to your VPN provider, as it might indicate technical issues with certain servers

How to change server location

Here’s how to change your server location. Again we will use NordVPN.

  1. Start the application on your device
  2. On the NordVPN interface, you’ll find a “Quick Connect” button, which automatically connects you to the fastest server available

However, if you wish to choose a specific location, there are two ways to do this:

  • Use the map: You can click on the pin associated with a specific region on the map presented in the NordVPN interface

  • Use the search box: If you prefer, you can type the name of the country or city into the search box at the top of the application

Once you’ve selected a location, NordVPN will establish a connection to a server in that region.

Adjusting VPN settings

VPN settings offer a variety of options that can improve connection stability and reliability, including the following:

  • Kill switch: This feature prevents data leakage in the event of an unexpected VPN connection drop. It blocks your device’s internet access until the VPN connection is restored. It’s advisable to enable this feature to ensure secure browsing
  • Domain Name System (DNS) leak protection: DNS requests can sometimes bypass the VPN tunnel and go directly to your ISP, revealing your online activity. Enabling DNS leak protection ensures all your DNS requests go through the VPN, maintaining your privacy and enhancing stability
  • Maximum Transmission Unit (MTU) adjustments: The MTU dictates the size of data packets (in bytes) that can be transmitted via a specific communication protocol layer. Generally, this term is linked with a communication interface, such as a Network Interface Card (NIC) or a serial port. The standard MTU size is set to 1,500, yet in cases of using a VPN service, reducing the MTU size and enabling fragmentation can help tackle connectivity issues that occur at the protocol level

Adjusting these VPN settings correctly can enhance your VPN’s performance, creating a more stable and secure online experience. Always apply changes one at a time, testing your connection after each adjustment to understand which changes positively affect your VPN’s stability.

Updating VPN software

It’s important to regularly update your VPN software to keep up with new cyberthreats, fix bugs and improve performance, enabling you to address potential connection issues.

How to check for and install the latest VPN version on Windows or macOS

  1. Open your VPN app
  2. Check for updates. There is usually an option labelled “Check for Updates” or “Update Software”
  3. Click this to have your client check for any available updates
  4. If an update is available, there should be an option to download and install it. Follow the prompts to complete the update process

Note that some VPNs, including ExpressVPN, display a banner notifying users of available updates at the top of the app screen. Others, such as NordVPN, implement automatic updates to ensure users always have access to the latest, most secure version. And to prevent widespread issues in case of unexpected problems with a new update, NordVPN rolls out updates in stages. 

How to check for and install the latest VPN version on Android/iOS

  1. Open the Google Play Store or Apple App Store
  2. Enter the name of the VPN client in the search box
  3. You will see the “Update” button if an update is available. Tap “Update”

How to install the latest version of your VPN if you face difficulties with the update

If you’re experiencing difficulties updating your VPN, follow these steps:

  1. Uninstall the current VPN app
  2. Restart your device
  3. Visit your VPN provider’s official website or your device’s app store to download the latest version of the VPN client
  4. Follow the installation prompts to install the new version on your device
  5. Open and sign in
  6. Set up your VPN as required, including any specific settings related to stability, such as the kill switch or DNS leak protection
  7. Connect to a VPN server to ensure the new version works properly

Other considerations for VPN connection issues

Bandwidth and speed limitations

If a network is congested due to high traffic, it typically slows down the connection speed. Disconnections can become frequent when a VPN is added to this already weak connection. The VPN may repeatedly attempt to establish a connection, but this often becomes a continuous cycle due to the weak underlying connection, causing significant inconvenience.

Tips for optimising internet speed and bandwidth usage

  • Use a VPN server close to your location: VPN servers closer to your location tend to provide faster and more stable connections, as the data doesn’t need to travel as far
  • Choose a server with a greater bandwidth: Bandwidth diminishes as server usage and internet traffic increase. Your VPN client typically displays the bandwidth capacity of each server. In some cases, you may find a distant server with less traffic and higher bandwidth availability, which could significantly enhance your internet connectivity
  • Connect to a less congested network: Networks with fewer users tend to offer better performance, as there’s less competition for bandwidth
  • unnecessary applications: Background applications can consume significant bandwidth, reducing the resources available for your VPN. Close any apps you aren’t actively using to free up more bandwidth
  • Limit applications or services that consume a lot of bandwidth while using your VPN: These could include video streaming or large file downloads

VPN provider support

If continuous disconnections occur, contact your VPN provider’s support team, who will have detailed knowledge about the service and can inform you about server status, potential outages or known issues. The team can guide you through advanced troubleshooting steps.

  • Nord VPN: support.nordvpn.com
  • ExpressVPN: expressvpn.com/support
  • SurfShark: support.surfshark.com
  • CyberGhost: support.cyberghostvpn.com
  • Norton Secure VPN: support.norton.com
  • PureVPN: support.purevpn.com

Preventing VPN disconnection

Here are some additional steps to improve the stability and reliability of your VPN connection.

Use a wired connection

If you’re experiencing frequent VPN disconnections, switching to a wired connection may help. Wired connections, such as an Ethernet cable, typically offer greater bandwidth and more stable and faster internet access, which can improve the reliability of your VPN connection.

Choose a reliable VPN provider

The quality of your VPN provider plays a critical role in maintaining a stable connection. Premium VPN providers invest in a robust server infrastructure and continuously update their services to handle potential security threats and performance issues. This investment results in more reliable connections for their users. 

When choosing a VPN, look for providers with many servers worldwide, robust security features and good customer reviews regarding connectivity and support. 

Use split tunnelling

Split tunnelling may reduce your VPN’s load by routing only specific, critical traffic through the VPN connection while other traffic goes through the internet. This feature is handy for using bandwidth-intensive applications and accessing local services that don’t work via a VPN, such as certain banking apps or local streaming services. 

However, it’s crucial to remember that while split tunnelling can improve connectivity, it may expose non-VPN traffic to your ISP and local network. Use this feature wisely, considering the sensitivity of the apps or websites you exclude from the VPN tunnel.

Use a VPN router

A VPN router can be a practical solution to avoid frequent VPN disconnections. It ensures all your traffic is automatically secured without connecting each device individually. The VPN connection is constantly active on your router, reducing the chances of disconnection issues.

Frequently asked questions

Various factors can cause VPN disconnection. These primarily include an unstable internet connection, outdated VPN software, slow internet connection or obstructions from other applications, such as firewalls or antivirus programs. Another reason can be that you have surpassed the maximum number of devices that can be simultaneously connected.

Yes, a weak or unstable internet signal can certainly cause VPN disconnections. VPNs rely on a solid internet connection to establish and maintain the encrypted tunnel through which your data travels. If your internet connection is weak or unstable or drops out entirely, it can disrupt this process and cause your VPN connection to drop.

To ensure an uninterrupted VPN connection on your mobile:

  • Make sure you’re using the latest version of your VPN software
  • Disable the power-saving feature
  • Clear your VPN app’s cache
  • Reset your network settings
  • Switch between mobile data and wifi to use the better connection 

Fixing a VPN disconnection on Windows 10 involves several steps:

  • Check your internet connection to see if it’s stable
  • Update your VPN software
  • Switch VPN protocols
  • Change the VPN server and connect to a server that’s closer geographically and has a lighter load
  • Adjust VPN settings ensuring features like the kill switch and DNS leak protection are enabled
  • Use split tunnelling to allow only specific traffic to go through the VPN, reducing chances of overloading the server
  • Use a wired connection instead of wifi if possible
  • Use a VPN router, as it provides a more stable connection

The reasons your VPN disconnects on your macOS device can include issues with your router, network connection or VPN client. In addition, there can be software incompatibilities, or your device’s built-in firewall can prevent the VPN from connecting.

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Mariana is an experienced technology writer specialising in web and internet technology. She writes about cyber security, including VPN; web development; and software engineering. She has been writing since 2006 and held a position of English lecturer at Technical University of Varna in Bulgaria until 2022, working in a variety of educational fields.

For the Independent Advisor, Mariana writes about the usefulness of VPNs and how people can protect themselves and their data online.

Amy Reeves

Editor

Amy is a seasoned writer and editor with a special interest in home design, sustainable technology and green building methods.

She has interviewed hundreds of self-builders, extenders and renovators about their journeys towards individual, well-considered homes, as well as architects and industry experts during her five years working as Assistant Editor at Homebuilding & Renovating, part of Future plc.

Amy’s work covers topics ranging from home, interior and garden design to DIY step-by-steps, planning permission and build costs, and has been published in Period Living, Real Homes, and 25 Beautiful Homes, Homes and Gardens.

Now an Editor at the Independent Advisor, Amy manages homes-related content for the site, including solar panels, combi boilers, and windows.

Her passion for saving tired and inefficient homes also extends to her own life; Amy completed a renovation of a mid-century house in 2022 and is about to embark on an energy-efficient overhaul of a 1800s cottage in Somerset.