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Setting Up a VPN Router: The Ultimate Guide

Rob Mardisalu

Rob Mardisalu

In this guide, TheBestVPN covers how to set up Asus and Netgear routers with the ExpressVPN app. We also discuss VPN protocols, different types of routers and what you should look for when searching for a VPN router.

For the average internet user, there are many benefits of using VPN service.

By ensuring an encrypted browsing experience, VPNs allow you to bypass regional internet restrictions, protect your data from hackers, save money on expenses like airfare or car rentals and browse from different locations, among others.

But less people are aware of the benefits of connecting a VPN to their router.

Doing so, allows you to connect all your devices to your private network via your Wi-Fi connection.

But how do you create a VPN router?

Full disclosure: To compensate our time and money spent in testing VPNs, we’re using affiliate links. However, we never recommend a VPN service in exchange for money – find detailed review process here.

Why Router + VPN = WIN?

If you’re still new to VPNs, or are still using a free VPN browser service, then it may seem like a leap to invest in a new router setup for your computer. And that’s understandable: it’s a big investment, and there is a lot to learn if you aren’t familiar with the technology.

To ease your mind, it’s worth noting that once you’ve purchased a router, the cost to maintain a monthly subscription is very affordable (between $5 to $8 a month, even you use a premium VPN like NordVPN), which is a small price to pay for your privacy and security.

Nonetheless, it still helps to see what advantages a VPN router provides. Some benefits of installing a VPN to your router are:

1. Keeps VPN service up and running all the time

Downloadable and browser VPNs require you to sign in to the service each time you want to access them. By having a VPN service tethered to your router, the service runs continuously, so logging in is no longer necessary.

2. You can connect multiple devices

Browser-based and downloadable VPNs require you to manually log in each device every time they access your private network. If you’re not using a VPN router, then you’ll need to insert your login credentials each time you want to access your VPN.

When you set up a VPN on your router, you only have to log in the first time, just like a traditional Wi-Fi network. This goes for each device you connect to your VPN router.

3. Provides more security for all devices

Any device that connects to your router’s Wi-Fi receives the benefits afforded by your VPN. That means any time you have friends over, or want to use several devices simultaneously (like your smart TV, smartphone and laptop), all of your devices will be rerouted through the VPN, ensuring private browsing.

The only drawback is bandwidth: With multiple devices connected to the same VPN source, you should expect a slower internet connection. Just how much it will slow down depends on several factors, like who your VPN provider is and your connection speed.

Now that we’ve covered the advantages of buying a VPN router, let’s discuss what you should look for when purchasing one.

How to Choose a Router to Connect Your VPN

How to Choose a Router to Connect to Your VPN
How to Choose a Router to Connect to Your VPN

When searching for a VPN router, what you’re really looking for is a router that can run VPN client software.

As a VPN client, your router — and any device connected to it — has direct access to the VPN server. To determine if a router is compatible with a VPN, you should consult the router’s manual, or simply Google it.

If you use an ISP modem (they usually come as a combined router and modem device), then you most likely can’t use your router as a VPN client. In this case, you would need to purchase an additional VPN-compatible router and connect it to your current router, but we will touch more on this later.

Whatever the case may be, it should be noted that most store-bought routers do not come pre-installed with a VPN, and more importantly, that not all routers can run VPN software. That’s why you need to know what’s out there so you can make an informed choice.

There are several VPN router options that can get the job done, including:

A) Pre-flashed routers

Pre-Flashed VPN Router

The easiest option for both savvy VPN enthusiasts and novices is to purchase a pre-flashed VPN router. Doing so allows you to skip the complicated process of flashing (more on this term below) the proper firmware to your VPN, which varies depending on the type of router and its specs.

Purchasing a pre-installed VPN router will cost you a bit more. That’s because companies  like Flashrouters, which only sell pre-flashed routers, take care of the installation for you. Complete with features like encrypted plug-and-play and added performance enhancements, the price markup is well worth it.

B) Out-of-the-box VPN-compatible routers

Out-of-the-box VPN-Compatible Router

Another easy option is to purchase a router that supports VPN firmware out of the box. These routers come pre-installed with stock firmware that can connect to a range of VPN servers already. With baked in VPN capabilities, you won’t have to flash new firmware or connect such a router to a secondary router.

Most VPN-compatible routers allow you to connect to a wide range of different VPN servers, and they usually support the OpenVPN protocol, which gives you the advantage of using almost any VPN provider you want.

C) Flash router with new VPN firmware

Flash Your Router With VPN Firmware

The last option, and the most complicated, is to flash your router with new firmware. To clarify, the term “flashing” means to install new firmware; “firmware” is the Operating System within your router that determines what its capabilities and/or limitations are.

To enable your router to function as a VPN client, you need to flash it with new firmware. The two most common and established types of firmware out there are DD-WRT and Tomato.

DD-WRT and Tomato are open source, third-party firmware that are available online for free, and each has its own pros and cons. But first, let’s see what they have in common. Both DD-WRT and Tomato can:

  • Extend your wireless range
  • Regulate your bandwidth 
  • Improve security 
  • Access multiple VPN protocols 
  • Disable manufacturer backdoors, among others 

Here is where they differ:

DD-WRT is more accessible and available on more devices than Tomato. As far as exclusive features, DD-WRT allows users to adjust the strength of their Wi-Fi signal, manage quality-of-service settings to prioritize specific types of traffic, access your home network from afar, and more.

Tomato offers better bandwidth monitoring options, permits up to two VPN servers to run at the same time, and offers a more user-friendly interface. It also connects better to various VPN service providers, but is not supported on as many routers. To see an in-depth comparison of the two types of firmware, you can view Flashrouter’s article here.

Just to be clear, if you search for DD-WRT or Tomato online, what you find can be misleading, as you will come across results like “DD-WRT router” or “Tomato router.” To clarify, both DD-WRT and Tomato firmware were originally made for specific types of wireless router models.

These models support specific firmware, but they usually need to be flashed with the new firmware to rid the router of its stock firmware first. So, if you want a router that supports DD-WRT, you need to check the DD-WRT database; otherwise, you may purchase a router that is not compatible with the firmware, which will break — or “brick” — your router should you flash it onto your device.

How to Choose a VPN Provider for Router

Choose a VPN Provider
Choosing a VPN provider for router

First things, first.

If you’re already paying for a premium VPN, great! If not, it’s time to do some research.

Most VPNs (like NordVPN and ExpressVPN) can easily be installed on DD-WRT or Tomato routers.

Others, like Hotspot Shield, don’t work so easily.

There are two key aspects to look for in a VPN provider: speed and accessible online support. Your private network will handle everything from streaming to downloading, gaming, etc., so it’s important that you pick a provider that can do the heavy lifting. To make your life easier, it also helps if your provider offers online tutorials to get you started.

In general, you’ll also want to check your VPN provider’s server locations, speed reports and whether or not they maintain logs. Or, if you don’t want to delve into this research yourself, you can read our review about the best VPNs of 2020.

While there are many providers to choose from, we will use NordVPN’s service in this article. To be clear, NordVPN is not a router manufacturer; they simply provide a VPN service that works in conjunction with select router models.

NordVPN’s service streamlines the installation process. Their Flashrouters app easily plugs into any DD-WRT router and does the work for you. Here’s their guide.

How to Set Up a Router on a VPN

How to Set Up a Router on a VPN
Setting up a VPN on a router

Now that you’ve found a VPN provider, you’ll want to follow any instructions they provide on their website.

  • If your router is already compatible with your VPN, simply log in and configure it to connect with your VPN provider’s servers. Our example, NordVPN, has detailed router tutorials for every router and firmware that they support.
  • If your router isn’t compatible with a VPN out of the box but is compatible with DD-WRT or Tomato, then you will need to flash it and install your new firmware of choice before configuring your VPN. This is a longer process but it isn’t too complicated either.

For this tutorial, we’ll be using NordVPN’s Flashrouter security app as an example. Follow our step-by-step guide below.

Step 1: Download your router firmware

Once you’ve decided whether you want to use DD-WRT or Tomato, you can download the firmware so you can put it on your router. You’ll have to download it first because your router won’t work after it has been flashed and before you’ve installed the new firmware.

Click here to see if your router is compatible with DD-WRT. The same link will also provide you with a download for your router model.

The vast number of Tomato forks make it harder to answer whether your router is supported. Googling your router’s name and Tomato may help you determine whether you can use Tomato with your device.

Step 2: Connect your router

Assemble your router. While your setup will vary depending on your router model, the recommended apparatus for most models is two routers and an internet connection.

To set up both routers correctly, the first thing you need to do is configure your primary router to enable VPN passthrough. By activating this feature, you allow any device connected to your primary router to run VPN client software. Once activated, you need to connect your primary and secondary routers.

The basic setup goes like this:

  • Plug an Ethernet cable into the LAN port on your primary router, and connect it to the WAN (“Internet”) port on your secondary VPN router.
  • Connect your primary router to your computer using another Ethernet cable by connecting its LAN port to your computer’s LAN port.
router vpn wired setup

Or, if you’re using a wireless connection, make sure the primary router is connected to the internet:

wireless vpn router setup

Both configurations allow your VPN router to piggyback on your primary router’s internet connection.

Note: Though it is recommended to use two routers, not all routers require it. For example, some Linksys routers can and should be set up as your sole primary router.

Step 3: Flash your router

Now that you have your router(s) connected and your new firmware ready, it’s time to flash them. Every router works differently and will have to be flashed differently. If your user manual doesn’t have flashing instructions, you will definitely be able to find instructions online.

Step 4: Connect your VPN

Once your router is running with DD-WRT or Tomato, you can connect it to your VPN provider. These instructions can depend on your VPN provider, so we’ll use our example, NordVPN. They make it very easy to connect your DD-WRT router to their service. Just click on this tutorial to get their app.

Now, you should be connected!

Step 5: How to use your VPN router

Using your new VPN router and changing the settings can be easy or difficult depending on the firmware you chose. If you used our example, however, changing your settings is easy. You can even change them with your mobile device!

Once you log in, you can use NordVPN’s Flashrouter app to:

  • Change your server
  • Change your country
  • Toggle the kill switch feature

Upgrading to a VPN router might seem like a big leap, especially if you’re used to using free browser VPNs. But, if you’re serious about your privacy and want the most secure browsing experience possible, then the extra cost is worth it.

Although getting set up can be tricky, the greatest resource is the internet. Remember: your setup will vary depending on the factors we covered in the article, like what router you purchase and the VPN provider you choose. Be thorough, proceed step by step and your private network should be up in no time!


48 thoughts on “Setting Up a VPN Router: The Ultimate Guide

  1. If you want to minimize the hassle, risks, and potential frustration of flashing your own router, then a pre-configured VPN router is a good choice.

    1. Hello there a few questions.

      1. Where can one get a pre configured VPN router? Those seem rare.
      2. Also how do you use this set up for Comcast modems, is it even possible?
      3. Will internet speed be affected if the modem is setup to VPN, if so by how much percent?
      4. Is there a good replacement to the Comcast modems out there that are easily configured.

      Thanks again in Advance.

      1. Zak,
        As I understand it …
        1) You can get routers pre configured for most of the big VPN companies from https://www.flashrouters.com/
        2) It doesn’t matter who’s modem your using, the router is plugged into the modem and establishes the VPN.
        3) Your internet speed may be slowed down. The test I saw always slowed internet to 160mbps with all higher speed connections.
        4) Configuring routers for vpn sounds tricky if you don’t buy it pre configured. We have Spectrum and I found many modems that were compatible. Spectrum also has a list on their site of compatible modems. Once you plug it in you have to call Spectrum and give them the new modem’s mac address. The device I’m using now is a modem/router combo but I’m upgrading to a configured vpn router and will go back to Spectrum’s modem.

  2. I am confused about the number of users that will have access if I buy an additional vpn router, and hook it up to my existing router vs just buying the software and loading to computer , phones and smart tv. The ExpressVPN you use in your example says 3 users. So even if I use a vpn router I will be limited to 3 users or by using the router every user on my home wifi will have access to the vpn service?

    1. Hey Philip

      If you set your VPN up on a router then you can connect unlimited devices through Wi-Fi (no matter which VPN provider you use).

      1. Are you sure about this..? Someone told that the server analyses the number of requests coming from users.

        1. I went back and read the reply that I posted and realized that I was completely wrong. I think I was thinking about another thing when replying. Yes, the device limits still exist on routers as well. Read reviews or visit provider websites to see what are the device limits on that certain VPN service provider.

  3. Setting up a router VPN is necessary and can be very useful to provide network security. But it is a very complex process. I got the best solution to do it from this post where the process is explained well.

  4. I have the Linksys Velop Mesh Network with a Node sitting at my TV. I want to install a VPN router (still need to buy one), and connect it from the Node (so not directly from the Modem). I will then connect my Apple TV, PS4 etc directly into the VPN router via LAN. I may just disable it’s WiFi altogether or set up a separate SSID. Does this sound feasible? My setup would therefore be:
    Modem – Wifi Main Router – Wifi Node – LAN to VPN – LAN Downstream.
    I expect only things physically connected via LAN to the VPN router will use the VPN and all other connections, including Wifi would not use the VPN.

  5. I noticed the router (wrt32x) severely affects download speed through a VPN, to 50-60 Mbps when on a PC 300-350mbps, gigabyte connection

  6. I like the way you present the guidance about Setting Up a VPN Router. Good and clear steps mention in this post about to set up the VPN router. I have also faced the same problem and I got stuck. thanks for sharing this post.

  7. Hi,
    I’m not a very well educated when it comes to technology, and I would like to know if the following will work:
    my internet provider uses a modem ARRIS TM822 connected to a TP-link wireless N router (TL-WR841N) that apparently it’s not capable to support encryption PPTP. If I buy a Pre-flashed router, and the service from any of VPN providers and connect the pre-flashed router to my current one (TP-Link) will my appletv and amazon fire stick work to watch live stream tv?

    1. Yes, of course! You can connect it as a router behind a router, or you can connect the vpn router in parallel to your ISP router. A little complicated, but a definite yes.

      1. I think you’re answered my question in advance, but I want to make sure. My isp gave me a modem/router combo with phone. I’ve had a router connected to that for many years and it’s worked fine. I also never turned my isp router to a bridge. It’s still set up as a router that has nothing connected to it other than a router that has my network running through it. My thought, which I did buy another router, is to plug this router also into the modem/router combo with phone. I actually already have an it works. My plan is to make that my VPN router. If it turns out I have no problem with everything connected to the VPN, I plan on disconnecting the other router and turn the isp one to a bridge. However if I have issues I was hoping to keep it the way I have it, but one to be non vpn router, one as a vpn router, and leave the combo alone. Can I do this /is that what you were saying in your parallel system? Do I need to set the original combo as a bridge or will that make it so I can’t have the 2 routers connected to it? If I have to make it a bridge I can set them up one after the other. I’d prefer to do it the way that I have it set up (with minimal change like changing something as a bridge). The reason I’d prefer it this way is my one router is old and the I’ve got one that’s more advance. Like I said, if after Ive worked with my network and talked to different websites, really tested it out, I would potentially get rid of the old router, unless you tell me differently.

        I’m sorry for the lengthy comment, but looking for help and there’s no where that mentions 3 routers. Also some places say I’ll have issues like creating a double NAT. Yet others say it’s more secure to have a double NAT. One person told me that it wasn’t a good idea to do it the way I want. He said to make one the bridge and set up the new router as a vpn and get rid of the other. Like I said earlier, I have had an issue thus far, I just need to add the VPN. Thanks in advance for any advice. I’ve been dealing with a lot of bad health issues and looking for answers regarding this and dealing with everything else has been quite frustrating. I’ve gotten to the point that I’m just going to try something.

  8. Do I need two routers ? One router to connect Local Internet sites & the other to connect to VPN sites ?. The reason being Netflix, hulu, amazon do not allow you to come through a VPN connection. Can I use one router & be able to switch between VPN & local internet connections or 2 routers is a must ?

    1. 2 would definitely help from constant switching between local vpn servers and far-off servers to connect to their local channels.

  9. I’m trying to setup my dlink dgl-4500 as a VPN router, it’s wan is connected to my lan of a netgear 7300 nighthawk which is then connected to my service provider.I know that cable is good because I can browse right away. But when I enter the l2tp info on the 4500 to connect to nordvpn it will not connect. Any suggestions?

  10. I have an Arris TG862 modem. Can I use a VPN on a separate router with this modem? I have Comcast and have had issues with them in the past about not accepting a router I purchased from Amazon.

    1. As long as your Arris modem was configured by Comcast to work for their internet, any router you connect to that modem should be useable irrespective of make/model and for VPN(flashed) or straight out-of-box modem. You can even connect the two routers in parallel and use vpn on few ‘security’ needed devices on wifi, and others can connect on wifi to the other no-flashed router. Choice is yours!

  11. Hi, I am a noob, but I have a Luxul router and it has a place for a VPN to be configured, so would this work with any vpn? It asks for pptp address, user name, password, encription?, pptp net segment, and pptp mask. I do not know what the last two items are. Would this work? Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving!

  12. I had a TPlink router that used SmartDNS to allow access to UK sites and it worked very well. The ISP was slow however and I was advised to switch to another who was 5 times faster and also cheaper. My setup does not work with his system as he uses a Transparent DNS which interferes with my SmartDNS so I switched to a VPN but that is still giving me problems. My VPN provider says I can revert back to SmartDNS if I flash my new Asus RT-AC68U which would then allow me full advantage of the faster speeds on the new system. My question is does anyone else provide something similar to SmarDNS that works without having to flash my router and invalidate the warranty?

  13. I have NordVPN installed on my computer and smartphones. Will I create a problem if I have a modem with Nord VPN and also is the app on devices? Will I need to disable VPN on devices when connected to my home VPN network to avoid redundancy and slower speeds, or can I just leave VPN running on all my devices and the router?

    1. why would you even want to have the native vpn app running on your device, when it’s already on the router whose wifi you’re using? Yes, it’ll definitely have some performance issue, based on the bandwidth and device being used. You can have it running when connect to your carrier network to access non-local websites.

  14. This guide is exactly what I was looking for, “I think”.
    What I want to do is set-up my remote network so all my devices will see and use my home networks public IP.
    I believe using a VPN connection on my remote router will achieve this … ?
    Thoughts and comments very much appreciated.

    1. Hey Steve,

      Yes. You can definitely set up a VPN protected network on your router. If you’re not that techy and wish to skip the set-up process, you can get a router which has a VPN previously installed on it. Some companies offer this option, look into it. 🙂

  15. Can other Netgear routers not listed on the drop down list be configured to use the VPN or is it model specific?
    Thankyou for your reviews and site. Keep up the great work!

    Tonehound ♠️

  16. My son has got express vpn installed on his laptop & suggested installing it on our home router so i purchased a linksys wrt3200 not being tech savvy i didn’t realise it doesn’t have a built in modem, the router i have is a D-Link DSL-3782 with TalkTalk so my question is can & how do i connect my d-link to the Linksys to act as a modem & do i have to configure any settings, or is it better to buy a stand alone modem like Netgear DM200.

  17. I have a Linksys WRT1900ACS setup with ExpressVPN connected to my primary ISP modem/router. Although I am selecting UK servers, when using streaming services they state I am outside the UK even though I am not. I don’t have this issue using VPN app on device? Am I missing something in my setup? Thanks in advance

  18. Hi. I bought a Netgear AC1750 and I have NordVPN, I configured the router for a VPN, I can connect my laptop and IPads to the router with no problem, but when I tried to connect the Apple TV or the Roku, I have a problem trying to watch Directv Now, it says that is unable to contac the server.

  19. One issue to bear in mind is that some countries are actively cracking down on VPN providers. Currently I live in Turkey, were VPN were recently made illegal. I’ve had real problems connecting with Open VPN standard on both Express VPN and Witopia. The only standard that still connects reliably is Ipsec. This could be an issue where you are too, and might impact some of the excellent instructions above.

  20. Do I have to connect VPN to a router. Isn’t it like a program/app you download to your computer and it just does it’s thing as long as your subscribed? Like an anti virus program.

    1. No you don’t. It’s just like an antivirus program, just has a different use. You can set it up on a router as well, it’s just an option and a lot tricker to do than just downloading an app.

  21. The easiest option for both savvy VPN enthusiasts and novices is to purchase a pre-flashed VPN router. Doing so allows you to skip the complicated process of flashing (more on this term below) the proper firmware to your VPN, which varies depending on the type of router and its specs.

  22. Hi thanks for this very informative article which has really helped. I am moving into an apartment building with shared wifi and no physical access point to connect a router to. I want to set up my own VPN router so that any connections I have are more secure. The speed of the wifi network is reasonable and I want to retain as much of this speed as possible in order to stream movies etc. I have seen very cheap Travel Routers designed with hotel travel in mind that will do this but other than for viewing a bit of email these would not make a permanent solution. My other option is to consider using a wireless repeater in AP mode to provide a cable connection for the router but this would cost speed. Is there a better option than either of these? Thanks

  23. My question would be this. I live in Thailand and I just changed my new Samsung 4KTV to the US store, so now I have all these stations, including Disney+, installed. I believe my router has a vpn in it, but I have to subscribe to a vpn to put in the details. This is my question. Is there an easy way to turn on/off the vpn when you don’t need it? VPN’s rend to slow down networks and cause websites to load weird or not at all so I need a normal connection when I’m not wanting to watch USA Netflix or Disney+ or other cable channels from America. Is there an easy way to turn it off and on or do I have to go through the routers settings each time, delete vpn info and input it again when I need it again? I’m new to this whole vpn thing and I use surfshark. Don’t know what my router is, maybe a huawei.

  24. I’ve got a Linksys wrt3200acm. Should I attach it as a secondary router with the VPN on it or ditch my primary router and just use the Linksys with the VPN on it as the only router ?

  25. Hi there and thanks for the article. I have an Asus AX11000 router with Nord on it. It’s plenty fast but Netflix is crawling. Amazon, Youtube, etc all work great on the TV so it’s not the connection, it’s Netflix. Is there anyway to let the TV through and bypass the VPN on the router or do I have to inline another router straight from the modem (for the TV only) and then plug the Asus router into the new router? Any help would rock. I’ve looked high and low for an answer to this all to no avail. Thanks either way!!


  26. I live in Switzerland, I’m in the processed of purchasing a VPN router that is pre-configured with ExpressVPN. Will the VPN-enabled router be compatible with my ISP? My TV service and home phone is all connected via the Swisscom router. How will it work if I only use the ExpressVPN router? Or should add the ExpressVPN router to my current router and then only connect the devices that I want to have a US IP address to this new router?

  27. If I flash my router with NordVPN and later change to ExpressVPN which also support flashing of the router, will I be able to do so?

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