In this guide, we’ll explain what a VPN router is, how to set up and use a VPN on your router, and which routers are compatible with VPN software. The easiest way to set up a VPN router is to buy one pre-flashed. Alternatively, you can manually set up a VPN on specific router types.
Using a VPN-enabled router ensures that every device connected to your WiFi (including computers, tablets, phones, smart TVs, and games consoles) can simultaneously connect to your VPN’s servers.
The VPN router encrypts all internet traffic sent or received over your WiFi network. That means you can protect all of your devices at once, without installing a VPN app on each individual device.
You can buy routers with VPN software pre-installed, or you can set up VPN software on a router yourself. Importantly, not all routers support VPN software, and not all VPN services can run on a router.
You can also ‘flash’ a router to make it compatible with VPN software. This is a long and difficult process, but it can often be cheaper.
Summary: How to Set Up a VPN on Your Router
There are four main methods to set up a VPN on your router. The easiest way is to install a dedicated VPN router app. Alternatively, you can buy a pre-flashed router or manually set up a VPN on specific router models.
You can use a VPN on your router, but the installation process will vary depending on which router you’re using and which VPN service you’ve subscribed to.
As of February 2024, only ExpressVPN provides a dedicated VPN app for routers. This gives you the functionality and GUI of a native VPN app, including the ability to switch VPN servers and access advanced features.
You can manually install VPN software from other VPN providers, but the UI will be generic and lack functionality. Some VPN services, such as NordVPN, may partner with a third-party service to provide a more advanced user interface than its default.
Alternatively, you can buy a router pre-flashed with VPN software. Its level of functionality will vary by provider, but it’s technically the easiest way to install a VPN on your router.
VPN Routers vs. Router VPNs: The Difference Explained
The terms ‘VPN router’ and ‘router VPN’ are often used interchangeably by mistake.
VPN routers are WiFi routers that have the firmware necessary to be compatible with VPN software. They are also known as ‘VPN-enabled routers’. These routers can be purchased with a VPN pre-installed on them, or you can manually install the VPN software yourself.
The VPN software can be downloaded from a commercial VPN service, or configured using publicly available software such as OpenVPN.
In comparison, router VPNs are VPN services that have the necessary features to be compatible with a router. The best router VPNs usually support native router apps and are compatible with a range of router firmware.
Its app works with leading router models including the Asus RT-AXE7800, Netgear R6700 DD0WRT, and Flint WiFi 6 AX1800 VPN router.
Its setup process is straightforward, too. It’s simply a case of purchasing a subscription and uploading ExpressVPN’s firmware to your router. You don’t need to flash your router, change your router’s settings, or configure your local network’s ports.
During our testing, we were able to set up ExpressVPN on our Linksys WRT3200ACM test router within 2 minutes.
We demonstrate the process of installing ExpressVPN on our router in the video below:
It didn't take us long to install ExpressVPN on our test router.
Here’s how to install ExpressVPN’s router app using a Linksys WRT3200ACM router:
Log into your ExpressVPN account and select Router from the list of devices on the dashboard.
This will open a new tab. From there, select your router model from the drop-down menu labeled Select your router.
Click the green Download Firmware button.
Keep this window open as you’ll need the activation code for a later step.
Open a new tab and input your IP address into your browser to access your router’s settings. You can find out your IP address using our IP lookup tool.
Log into your router’s admin dashboard. The login is normally “admin” and the password should be the same. You can refer to routerpasswords.com if you encounter any problems logging in.
Click Connectivity, then Router Firmware Update, and upload the ExpressVPN firmware you downloaded in Step Three.
Click Start and follow the prompts to reboot your router.
Paste your activation code from Step 4 and click Sign in to ExpressVPN.
Create a WiFi username and password for your new network and click Continue.
Set a router admin password and click Continue.
Now that installation is complete you can access the router app from your browser.
Method 2: Buy a Pre-Flashed Router
Setup Difficulty:Easy VPN Compatibility:Supported by some providers Cost:High
What You Need to Configure a Pre-Flashed Router:
If you’d rather not install a VPN application on your router, you can also buy a pre-flashed VPN router. These routers come with a VPN pre-installed, allowing you to avoid the complex process of installing new software or firmware.
They’re not cheap, though.
Pre-flashed routers start at around $130.00, and high-end models can cost upwards of $500.00. That doesn’t include the price of the VPN subscription, which can be around $100.00 a year.
A selection of routers that are pre-configured for ExpressVPN.
The most popular provider of pre-configured VPN routers is FlashRouters.
Many VPN services offer pre-configured VPN routers through FlashRouters, but here are some popular examples:
Private Internet Access
FlashRouters also provides its own app to simplify the process of connecting your home network to a VPN.
While it lacks the usability and features of a VPN router app, it still allows you to easily switch VPN servers and enable split tunnelling.
Method 3: Manually Install a VPN on a Router
Setup Difficulty:Hard VPN Compatibility:Supported by numerous VPN providers Cost:Varies
What You’ll Need to Manually Install a VPN on a Router:
OpenVPN configuration files
Another option is to buy a new router that is already compatible with VPN software. These devices come with VPN-enabled firmware pre-installed, allowing you to configure a VPN service of your choice and connect to their servers straight away.
This is the option for you if:
You bought a pre-flashed router that did not come preconfigured with a VPN server.
You want to configure your VPN router with another VPN server.
To find out if your current router will work with VPN software, read the router’s manual or search for the model number online.
Because these routers are already capable of supporting a VPN, you won’t need to install new firmware or link the router to an additional device.
Simply purchase a VPN subscription and VPN-enabled router, follow the configuration instructions from your chosen service provider and you can then configure the device to a VPN server.
Popular brands that provide VPN-enabled routers include ASUS, Linksys, and Netgear.
In the example below, we’ve used IPvanish with an ASUS RT-AC68U router.
Follow these instructions to learn how to manually install a VPN on your router:
Log into your VPN account and locate the OpenVPN configuration files.
These can normally be found under device setup or downloads
Choose your preferred server location and download the file. You can only configure one location at a time.
Log into your router admin dashboard by entering your IP address into your web browser. The default login credentials are generally “admin” for both username and password.
Click VPN on the left-hand side of the control panel, under Advanced Settings.
Click on the VPN Client tab and then Add Profile at the bottom of the control panel.
Select the OpenVPN tab and fill in the following fields: Description: Create any name for your connection – we recommend the name of the VPN and its server location, e.g. IPVanish London. Username: Type in your VPN subscription username. Password: Type in your VPN subscription password. Import .ovpn file: Click Choose File and select the OpenVPN configuration file you downloaded from Step 2, then click Open. Import the CA file or edit the .ovpn file manually: Don’t check this box.
Once you’ve filled in the fields, click Upload and then OK.
Click Activate on your new VPN server entry.
A blue tick should appear below Connection Status once the VPN connection has successfully established.
Alternatively, as long as you’ve flashed your router with the appropriate firmware, you can install a dedicated VPN router app — as outlined in our first VPN router setup method.
Which Routers Are Compatible with VPN Software?
Not all routers can run VPN client software.
If you have a combined modem and router that came with your internet package, it most likely won’t work with VPN software and you’ll need to buy a separate router.
If it is compatible with VPN software, your router may only support specific VPN services or VPN protocols.
In the table below, you can compare a range of router models and their compatibility with some of the most popular VPN services:
What’s the Best Router for Using a VPN?
Based on our testing, the best router for using a VPN is Asus, specifically the AX range.
Asus routers are compatible with most major VPN services, including ExpressVPN, NordVPN, PIA, and IPVanish.
If you prefer to manually configure your own VPN connection, Asus routers support L2TP, OpenVPN, PPTP, WireGuard, and IPSec clients.
The Asus router app simplifies managing devices on your network, allocating bandwidth, and monitoring connection speeds.
The ASUS router app can be downloaded on iOS and Android.
The app works with all Asus models but we recommend the Asus RT-AX88U in particular.
The RT-AX88U has 1GB of RAM and a CPU speed of 4 x 1.8GHz, guaranteeing optimal performance for any VPN software you install.
This ensures fast download speeds and ample bandwidth across your local network.
You can also connect your devices, via Ethernet, to eight different LAN ports on the Asus RT-AX88U router. This reduces the impact to your download speeds and latency caused by running VPN software.
Which Routers Have a Built-In VPN?
Some commercial routers come with multiple VPN services already integrated into them. This eliminates the need to flash your router or manually install VPN software.
All of this does come at a cost, though.
Routers with built-in VPNs usually require you to pay a fee upfront for the router itself, a recurring subscription to continue to use the router, and a separate VPN subscription to activate your preferred provider. Altogether, this can cost hundreds of dollars.
The Vilfo router, for example, costs $399.00 upfront and $4.92 monthly on its cheapest plan. You can mitigate this by using a cheap VPN like Surfshark, but you’ll still be paying multiple subscription fees a month.
What’s the Best VPN for Routers?
ExpressVPN is the best VPN for routers. It’s one of very few VPN services to provide a dedicated VPN app for routers.
ExpressVPN has a dedicated app for routers.
It’s easy to install, compatible with most routers, and its app is accessible to users of all abilities.
ExpressVPN Router Compatibility
ExpressVPN is compatible with the following routers:
Netgear Nighthawk R7000
Netgear Nighthawk R7000P
Also, you can install the VPN on routers built by the following manufacturers:
We were able to unblock US Netflix on our Xbox by installing ExpressVPN on our router.
For example, you can connect to an American server location to change your Netflix region to the US, regardless of your real location.
This is especially easy with router VPN applications like ExpressVPN’s, which comes equipped with an intuitive GUI. You can easily change server locations within its app and even assign specific devices to a particular region.
5. Create a Double VPN Connection
It is much easier to run two VPN services simultaneously if you’re using a VPN router. You can install one service on your router, and another on your desktop. This is known as a VPN over VPN configuration.
While this will definitely reduce your connection speed, it is a great way of maximizing your protection in case one VPN service is compromised by leaks or crashes.
The Disadvantages of Using a VPN on Your Router
VPN routers may seem like a great catch-all solution to internet privacy, and they are to an extent. But they do come at a cost, and not just a financial one.
Here’s a detailed look at some of the downsides of using a VPN router:
1. Lack of Flexibility
VPN routers are for the privacy-minded. Once it’s set up, it’s not as easy to change your VPN’s settings as it is when the VPN software is installed at the device-level.
NordVPN only lets you install one VPN server at a time on your router.
Unless you install a dedicated app, or use the FlashRouters app, the user experience of a VPN router can be quite limited. It’s usually much harder to quickly switch the service on and off, or to change your server location.
For this reason, VPN routers aren’t ideal for things like geo-spoofing, anti-censorship, or unblocking websites. These situations need much more flexibility in terms of when you’d like to turn your VPN on and where you’d like to connect to.
You may even struggle to access content that’s normally available in your region. For example, if you’re in the US and connect your VPN router to a UK server, you might not be able to access US Netflix or other local platforms.
2. Complicated & Expensive Setup
Installing a VPN on your router can be difficult and time-consuming, especially for beginners.
Most VPN services have tutorials to help you through the installation process, and many of them have live chat support, too. Even so, it’s still much more complicated than installing a VPN on your phone or computer.
The only alternative is to buy a pre-configured VPN router. This is far easier and will get you browsing privately much quicker, but it will cost you a few hundred dollars.
That’s a lot of money, especially when a normal router can cost less than $50.00.
3. Reduced Connection Speeds
Running all of your traffic through a VPN means your download and upload speeds will be permanently reduced.
Even if you buy an expensive router equipped with one of the fastest VPNs on the market, there will always be some slowdown versus a normal, unprotected connection. This will be especially true if you connect multiple devices to the same router.
4. Security Weak Spots
Another downside to using a VPN at the router-level is that the traffic between your devices and the router is not encrypted.
A VPN router encrypts the traffic of every device on your WiFi network.
This isn’t too much of an issue if you know and trust everyone that uses your home network. However, it does pose a security risk should a stranger or third party gain access.