macOS Catalina and VMware Fusion

It is easy to install macOS Catalina as a virtual machine in VMware Fusion on a Mac provided you create a bootable installer from which to install the Mac operating system. Using macOS Catalina in a virtual machine in VMware Fusion is expressly permitted by the macOS licence agreement provided you are running on Apple hardware and you obtain macOS Catalina legally from Apple.

It runs beautifully and is perfect for testing and development workloads.

macOS Catalina desktop

TL:DR — Get VMware Fusion, Install VMware Fusion, download macOS Catalina from Apple, create a bootable USB of macOS Catalina and it can be installed in VMware Fusion just perfectly.

Step by step instructions

Apple provide instructions for upgrading to macOS Catalina, which explain which mac models are compatible and warn you to backup. These instructions dont apply to a new installation of macOS Catalina in a virtual machine in VMware Fusion. But they do have the App Store Link for macOS Catalina. It is not easy to find because most people won't need it.

1. Download macOS Catalina from the App Store

Follow the link, open in the App Store app and press the get button download macOS Catalina from the App Store.

Apple App Store macoS Catalina
Download macOS Catalina from the App Store

Press the blue 'Get' button

Get macOS Catalina (App Store Link)
macos Catalina software update

Software update will find it.

macos Catalina software update

This is a large download so ensure you are connected to power, and have a good Internet connection.

You can find the installer in your Applications folder as an app named Install macOS Catalina

2. Extract media to a bootable USB stick or external drive

Apples tech note How to create a bootable installer for macOS explains.

  1. Connect a USB drive (or use an external drive if you want). Best to use a new 16GB or greater drive. Make sure it is properly formatted as Mac OS Extended.
  2. Open a terminal and use the 'createinstallmedia' command shown but replacing 'USBCatalina' with the name of your volume
    sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ --volume /Volumes/USBCatalina
  3. Press Enter after typing the command, then type your administrator password and press Enter again.
  4. Type Y to confirm that you understand you will be erasing the volume, and double check you have the right volume, then press Enter. You will see the progress bar as the bootable installer is created. Once completed you can now quit Terminal.
  5. Like this
    $ sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ --volume /Volumes/USBCatalina
    Ready to start.
    To continue we need to erase the volume at /Volumes/USBCatalina.
    If you wish to continue type (Y) then press return: Y
    Erasing disk: 0%... 10%... 20%... 30%... 100%
    Copying to disk: 0%... 10%... 20%... 30%... 40%... 50%... 60%... 70%... 80%... 90%... 100%
    Making disk bootable...
    Copying boot files...
    Install media now available at "/Volumes/Install macOS Catalina"

3. Download and install VMware Fusion

VMware Fusion is an unsung hero app for macOS, especially if you are in software dvelopment or testing. It is one of the most important development and testing tools for building apps to run on any platform. You can evaaluate VMware Fusion for 30 days before deciding if its right for you and buying a license.

VMware Fusion and Fusion Pro Logo
Try out VMware Fusion or Fusion Pro

The latest release is VMware Fusion 12 which supports macOS Big Sur and Catalina beautifully.

VMware Fusion installer screen

Double click to run the installer.

4. Create the macOS Catalina virtual machine

  1. Load VMware Fusion and click the plus symbol on the toolbar and select the 'New…' menu
  2. Double click on the 'Install from disc or image' button on the 'Select the installation method' screen. VMware Fusion new virtual machine screen
  3. On the resulting 'Create a new virtual machine' screen, click 'Use another disc or disc image and open the install media you created earlier to find the 'Install macOS' item, then select it. VMware Fusion new virtual machine screen
  4. Press 'continue' and on the 'Finish' screen you can leave the defaults or customise as you wish. VMware Fusion new virtual machine screen
  5. VMware Fusion will now create the installation media. VMware Fusion new virtual machine screen
  6. VMware Fusion boot macOS Catalina once it completes setting up the virtual disk. VMware Fusion new virtual machine screen
  7. Now you can install macOS Catalina in the usual way. VMware macOS first boot screen

5. Complete the macOS setup process

macOS install screen

Select 'Install macOS' and click 'Continue'

macOS setup screen

Click 'Continue'

macOS software licence agreement

Accept the software licence agreement

macOS disk selection screen

Choose 'Macintosh HD', your newly created virtual disk

macOS disk installation screen

Let macOS installation run

macOS disk installation screen

macOS will reboot the VMware virtual machine and continue

macOS installation time remaining screen
Time remaining

It will reboot again and tell you how long it might take

macOS regional setup screen

Select your region and click 'Continue'

macOS languages setup screen
Written and spoken Languages

Select your preferences and click 'Continue'

macOS Data & Privacy explanatory screen
Data & Privacy

Click 'Continue'

Transfer information

Click 'Continue' for a vanilla new installation

macOS Sign in with AppleID screen
Apple ID

You can skip this until later by clicking 'Set up later'

macOS software licence agreement
Software licence agreement

Click 'Agree' after reading the terms. You do read them don't you?

macOS account setup screen
Create a computer account

Enter the required details and click 'Continue'

macOS express setup screen
Express setup

Click 'Customise Settings'

macOS locations setup screen

Enable location services if desired and click 'Continue'

Time Zone

Set your Time Zone and click 'Continue'


Decide whether to participate in Analytics and click 'Continue'

Screen Time

Decide whether to set up Screen time and click 'Continue'


Decide whether to set up Siri and click 'Continue'


Choose your look and click 'Continue'

macOS finishing setup screen
Finish setting up

Allow macOS to finish setup

macOS Catalina desktop

Now you have a brand new macOS Catalina virtual machine

Display resolution settings for macOS Catalina using VMware Tools

macOS Catalina VMware Tools
Set the display resolution

You should install VMware Tools by choosing 'Virtual Machine --> Install VMware Tools from the menu. the installation takes a while, and requires you to authorise VMware in the Security System Preferences to allow the tools to be installed Allow it time to complete once you have authorised it. Then reboot your virtual machine and set the display resolution higher than the default 1024 x 768 (XGA) which is not really enough for macOS anymore - Ive set mine to 1280 x 1024 (SXGA) which seems to be fine.

$ sudo /Library/Application\ Support/VMware\ Tools/vmware-resolutionSet 1280 1024

Software update

Keeping your new virtual machine up to date

You should now check Software Update to install any Security Updates that might be available for macOS Catalina. Click 'Install Now'

macOS Catalina Software Update

VMware Tools

Get easy access to folders on your host Mac

You should install VMware Tools to give you access to 'VMware Shared Folders' Select 'Virtual Machine > Install VMware Tools' from the VMware Fusion menu.

Screenshot of macOS Catalina VMware Tools Installation
Screenshot of macOS Catalina VMware Tools Installation Success

That's it!