If you’re reading this article, you may already know what benefits a virtual private network (VPN) brings. From enhanced security and anonymity to removing geo-blocking obstacles, VPN services have become the tool to use not only in countries with internet censorship but all over the world.
While you can simultaneously use one VPN account on multiple devices, this number varies drastically depending on the service provider. If it’s just the two of you, you should be fine. But if you have a big family, one account may not be enough and someone will have to go unprotected. That might be enough to get you all into trouble.
As most homes have a wifi router nowadays, a good practice is to set a VPN up on a router. Here are the reasons why you should do that sooner rather than later, especially if you’re reading this at home and not using a VPN.
Why you should set a VPN up on a router
There are many reasons for setting up a VPN on your router, but we’ll give you three that should really help you make your mind up about it.
1. Encrypted connection
A VPN encrypts your connection, making your personal data secure and your activity private. Even with a strong password, WiFi remains one of the easiest ways for hackers to get to you, and using a VPN greatly reduces the risk because it makes deciphering traffic virtually impossible.
2. Protection for all devices
A VPN on your router protects all devices on your wifi network. You will not have to worry about installing a VPN on each new device or every time you reinstall the operating system. You will also be able to ignore the number of simultaneous connections that a VPN allows because the router counts as just one connection.
3. Easy to stay secure 24/7
The third reason is pure simplicity and ease of use. Sometimes one might simply forget to log into a VPN, and that can cost you dearly. A VPN router will always be connected, ensuring 24/7 protection. You will need to connect to it only once, just like you connect to your wifi if the login credentials have been saved.
Which VPN is the best for your router
If you invest top dollar in a state-of-the-art router, you should do the same with your VPN. Don’t be surprised that your connection doesn’t live up to your expectations if you’re using a VPN service that has slow servers on the other side of the globe, cannot unblock Netflix, and doesn’t allow torrenting.
Speed and security are the top two criteria to consider when deciding on a VPN for your router. While speed often correlates with the number of servers and locations, it’s also the quality of the infrastructure that makes the difference.
Speaking of security, the country where a VPN resides is important because some of those are members of the Five, Nine, or Fourteen Eyes Alliance, sharing intelligence data between themselves. Having a clean reputation is also essential – some VPNs have already been caught cooperating with governmental institutions. Others clearly state that they do not offer a no-logs policy and are willing to disclose your personal data to third parties.
The quality of Customer Support shouldn’t be your last consideration, either. We suggest choosing those VPN providers that offer 24/7 live support. There might be times when your connection drops for no apparent reason and works only without a VPN. Submitting a ticket and waiting for the response from another time zone can often mean you’re done for the day while calling a helpline or starting a live chat can solve your issue within minutes.
Below are our recommendations for the best VPN for routers – we urge you to find the right one regardless of budget.
ExpressVPN and NordVPN are the top router VPNs
Choosing either NordVPN or ExpressVPN will leave you satisfied as both services are known for their speed and security. They have clear setup instructions and boast live 24/7 live chat support. It does come with a price, though. ExpressVPN is $12.95/month while NordVPN charges $11.95/month (the price falls significantly with longer subscriptions – 1-year ExpressVPN deal is $8.32/month and a 3-year NordVPN subscription is as little as $3.49/month).
Not willing to commit just yet? Test each of them for a month and get your money back if you’re unsatisfied. And if you want the easiest way out, just buy a pre-configured VPN router.
Astrill – best router VPN for Asia
While Astrill VPN is one of the priciest options on the market, paying $8.33/month for the annual plan is worth it if you’re in Asia. No other VPN fares better when it comes to sheer speed in this region. Quite often it shows the fastest speed all over the world, even though Astrill has just over 320 servers.
When it comes to setting it up on a router, Astrill has a dedicated app and also offers pre-configured routers of its own. If you encounter any problem during installation, the 24/7 live chat is there to help you. While the money-back guarantee is not available for Astrill VPN, it does offer a free Android version with no bandwidth limit.
Private Internet Access – the best budget VPN for a router
For users that don’t need blistering speed and Agent 007-grade security, Private Internet Access VPN might just do the trick for a fraction of their competitors’ price. $6.95/month is simply unbeatable and one of the main reasons why this provider is so popular across the globe.
But it’s not only about the price. It’s compatible with DD-WRT routers, allows torrenting, unblocks the US Netflix library, and even offers a 7-day money-back guarantee if you still feel like you’re paying too much. While Private Internet Access doesn’t provide a router app, the hassle of manually configuring it is worth the money you save in the long run.
Which router is the best for VPN setup
First and foremost, a router has to support OpenVPN or have an operating system that supports OpenVPN, such as DD-WRT or Tomato. Most often, a router comes with the original firmware and has to be flashed to open-source DD-WRT or Tomato first before starting a VPN setup. While you should always check if the specific model you have or are planning buy supports OpenVPN, choosing Asus, Synology or Buffalo routers is a safe bet. Be aware that routers from your internet service provider that also incorporate a modem most often will not be suitable for this task, meaning you’ll need to purchase a VPN-compatible router.
Then your VPN router has to be fast. It will be handling the traffic of multiple users and encrypting, so naturally, there’s a speed drop-off. To minimize it, make sure your router’s CPU clock is 800 MHz or more, and the AES-NI feature is available for speeding the encryption process up.
Your VPN router has to be decently-priced based on your needs:
- Gaming VPN router – top speed, low latency. You will need a high-end VPN router, so be ready to pay $300+.
- Torrenting and streaming VPN router – top speed, latency not an issue. You will need a very good VPN router which can be found in the range of $200-$300.
- Browsing VPN router – good speed, latency not an issue. A good VPN router should suffice, and you can really get one for less than $200.
Below are the most common types of routers that you can select based on your needs and your level of techiness.
Pre-flashed routers are the best option for beginners who want the router working as soon as possible. You will pay extra for not needing to install DD-WRT or Tomato on your VPN router manually, but it’s worth it.
You can buy a pre-flashed router from a third-party like Flashrouters or directly from your VPN provider, provided they sell them. Here are the top VPN services that sell pre-flashed routers.
ExpressVPN recommends Linksys pre-flashed routers
Linksys WRT3200ACM is their recommended option for $220 + $79 for getting it pre-flashed. There’s also a cheaper option – Linksys WRT1900ACS, but you’ll be saving $50 at the cost of lower speed and limiting the simultaneous connections to seven.
Astrill offers TP-Link pre-flashed router
At the moment you can get a pre-flashed TP-Link TL-WR703N for $39 from Astrill. Because Astrill VPN is one of the fastest services and doesn’t come cheap, we suggest finding a more powerful router as it will allow you to maximize the potential of this VPN. If you’re into a more budget version, better check Private Internet Access.
TorGuard invites you to the Paradise of pre-flashed routers
When it comes to giving you the freedom to choose, nothing beats TorGuard. Not only can you select from six VPN router brands, but often you can also select between DD-WRT, OpenWRT, and Tomato. Just have in mind that not all prices are that great. For example, Linksys WRT1900ACS price is $219 when ExpressVPN offers it for $170 only.
Nevertheless, having in mind that TorGuard is also one of the best overall VPNs with a price of $4.99/month, it’s sure worth giving it a try if neither ExpressVPN nor Astrill VPN suit you.
Out-of-the-box VPN-compatible routers
This is the best option for those who want to save a bit on the price that pre-flashed router vendors ask. The difference is that while VPN-compatible routers support OpenVPN, they use stock firmware, not DD-WRT or Tomato. In most cases, it shouldn’t be a problem to configure such a router to make your chosen VPN work. Just make sure your router is supported by talking to the customer support of your VPN beforehand.
Flash router with the new firmware
This basically means installing a new operating system (OS) on your router that supports either DD-WRT or Tomato. There are more OSes to choose from, but these are the most popular ones for flashing VPN routers. Flashing a router with new firmware is recommended only for advanced users. We’re not saying it’s impossible to do just by following the steps of a tutorial, but you might need to do some extra troubleshooting or get help from VPN or router support.
Choosing between DD-WRT and Tomato
Both OSes have become an industry standard and come with their pros and cons, but you should be happy with either option if configured properly. They extend the range of your wireless signal, help regulate the bandwidth, enhance security, and allow multiple VPN protocols.
The main difference is that DD-WRT is more popular and supports more router models. Installing it should allow you to control WiFi signal strength, prioritize traffic, and let you access your network remotely, among other things. Tomato is more user-friendly and works better with different VPN providers, but supports fewer router models.
Just have in mind that not every router can be flashed with DD-WRT or Tomato. Make sure it supports one or both of them beforehand to avoid problems which will probably not be covered by warranty.
VPN router setup
There are two ways to set up your VPN router. You can either do it manually by configuring each setting yourself or automatically by installing an app from your VPN service.
For this VPN router setup example we’ll be using ExpressVPN, as it has a dedicated app for popular VPN routers:
- Asus RT-AC56(U/R/S)
- Asus RT-AC68U
- Asus RT-AC87U
- Linksys EA6200
- Linksys WRT1200AC
- Linksys WRT1900AC(S)
- Linksys WRT3200ACM
- Netgear R6300
- Netgear Nighthawk R7000
You can also manually set up ExpressVPN on D-Link, DD-WRT, Netduma, Sabai, Tomato, TP-Link, Xiaomi, and some other router brands.
For NordVPN, you should follow the instructions found on their website’s Tutorials section depending on the router model and selected OS. A thing of note is that your router should support OpenVPN as a client to work with NordVPN. Also, starting from December 2018, L2TP/IPsec and PPTP connections are no longer supported.
Downloading the ExpressVPN router app
- Create your ExpressVPN account and click See all devices. Select Router.
- You will get an activation code. Save it for later and select your VPN router model on the right.
- Click Download Firmware.
Connecting the VPN router
Follow the instructions of your VPN router manufacturer. The connection procedure varies greatly depending on the model. In general, one Ethernet cable goes from your router’s WAN port to your modem, while the other goes from the router’s LAN port to the WiFi router.
Flashing your VPN router
The process of flashing your VPN router depends on each device – either the VPN app will work, or you will need to configure it manually. Below are some examples of flashing a VPN router with the ExpressVPN app.
Asus VPN router setup with ExpressVPN
Please note that this applies to Asus RT-AC68U, RT-AC87U, RT-AC56R, RT-AC56S, and RT-AC56U only. Before starting, make sure you have your VPN router connected to the computer either by cable or wifi.
- Open your web browser and access the Asus router dashboard.
- Log in with the router’s username and password.
- On the left side, click Administration.
- Click Firmware upgrade, select the file you’ve downloaded and click Upload.
- After a successful upgrade, you will see a message: “Router update is completed.”
- If necessary, replug the Ethernet cable to your WiFi router and go to Expressvpnrouter.com
- Log in using “admin” as both username and password
- Enter the activation code that you got when downloading the VPN router app (and forgot to save for future reference). Click Activate.
Netgear VPN router setup with ExpressVPN
These instructions apply to Netgear R6300v2 and Nighthawk R7000 only.
- Go to Routerlogin.net to access the Netgear dashboard
- Skip changing the WiFi name and password
- Use “admin” for both login and password when prompted
- Once you see the Netgear dashboard, click Advanced
- Choose Administration -> Router Update on the sidebar.
- Click Browse, select the firmware file, click Upload to flash your router.
- Go to Expressvpnrouter.com
- Log in using “admin” as both username and password
- Enter the activation code that you got when downloading the VPN router app (and thought that you had it copied to your clipboard when, in fact, you hadn’t). Click Activate.
Linksys VPN router setup with ExpressVPN
The Linksys WRT3200ACM router is one of the best options currently on the market. This guide is for setting it up with Express VPN (if you have not purchased it from FlashRouters).
- Connect the VPN router to your computer using one of the blue ports.
- While the router is still offline, visit linksyssmartwifi.com and click Manual configuration.
- When you see a screen saying Internet connection is down, click Login.
- In the next Sign-in screen, enter “admin” and click Sign in.
- Find the Router settings on the left of the dashboard and choose Connectivity
- Click Choose file on the right, select your firmware file and press Start
- You will be informed about the need to restart your computer and later about rebooting the router
- After the router reboot, you will be redirected to expressvpnrouter.com
- Log in with “admin” as the username and password and enter the 8-digit password (inconveniently placed at the bottom of your VPN router).
- Connect your Linksys VPN router to the internet by switching from the blue to the yellow port
- Enter the activation code that you got when downloading the VPN router app (after searching for a .txt file with it on your cluttered desktop). Click Activate.
Dual VPN router setup
Having a dual router setup is beneficial if you want to switch between a VPN and non-VPN connection easily. To achieve this, you’ll need to set up a LAN-to-WAN connection using two routers and an Ethernet cable. Your second router doesn’t have to be as good as the one used for the VPN connection. It will suffice if it supports AC wireless.
The instructions below are for Windows users.
Alternative: Sabai Routers have a feature called Gateways that eliminates the need for dual router setup.
Set up the primary route
- Connect to the regular router (A) using WiFi.
- Run cmd.exe from the Start menu, type ipconfig, and press Enter.
- The line that says Default gateway is your router’s IP address and its second-to-last digit is the subnet. Write the IP down for future reference.
- Enable VPN passthrough in your router’s control panel. It can be found under NAT or Firewall settings.
Set up the VPN router
- Make sure it’s not connected to the primary router by the Ethernet cable.
- Connect to the VPN router (B) using WiFi or use an Ethernet cable from your computer to Router A.
- Go to Router A’s control panel and find its IP address settings.
- Change the subnet, so that if Router A uses 192.168.1.1, Router B should use 192.168.2.1
- Enable the DHCP server in Router A’s control panel
- Specify DNS servers. You can use those offered by the VPN provider, or public ones, eg. GoogleDNS: 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52
Connect both routers
- Get the Ethernet cable and stick one end to any LAN port of Router A.
- Stick the other end of the cable to WAN port of Router B.
- Make sure your Router A WAN port is connected to a modem or other internet access point.
If you did everything correctly, the internet connectivity should be there. If it’s not, you can try disabling the VPN to see if it’s causing the issue. If that proves to be the case, contacting your VPN support would be best. If the VPN has nothing to do with this, try flushing the DNS. If the DNS error persists, try manually entering it in your device’s TCP/IP settings. And if all else fails, reboot your router.