How to Setup a VPN on a Router in 2021: Straight to the Source

Using a VPN can improve your privacy, but some people don’t want to complicate their device usage. However, if you setup a VPN on a router, you can erase any potential hassle by easily protecting all of your devices at once.

Brian Murray
By Brian Murray (Writer)
— Last Updated: 2021-04-12T03:35:14+00:00

Using a VPN has become easier and easier over the years. A VPN with a good user interface — like the one we looked at in our ExpressVPN review — can make it as easy as pressing a single button to get securely connected to the internet through your VPN. However, it’s possible to make it even easier by skipping the VPN client entirely and setting up your VPN right on your router.

Key Takeaways:

  • Using a VPN on your router is a great way to protect all of your devices at once.
  • While not all routers are supported by all VPN providers, most of the common models are.
  • If your router is not supported by your VPN, you might be able to load it with a third-party firmware instead.
  • If you need the highest performance possible, a purpose-built VPN router might be a great upgrade to your current home network. 

Connecting your router to a VPN can protect all your devices at once, get around limits on the number of connected devices and more. There are several ways to get a VPN on your router and it’s probably easier than you might think, so read on to see for yourself how to setup a VPN on a router.

  • Installing a VPN on your router has several benefits. Not only does it improve your online security the way a regular VPN does, but it also makes it much easier to ensure that every device connected to your wireless router is using a protected connection.

  • This depends on the model of router you have as well as the VPN provider you use. If you check your VPN service’s website, you’ll be able to see which routers are compatible. Common models like Netgear, Asus and Linksys are almost always supported.

  • A VPN router is a wireless router that is specially designed with VPN use in mind. This type of router is equipped not only with special firmware, but also special hardware that allows them to handle encryption and processing much more quickly than a normal router.

How to Setup a VPN on a Router the Old-Fashioned Way

Many routers allow you to set up a VPN on your home network even with the out-of-the-box firmware. While OEM firmware is usually lacking in features and is inferior to third-party firmware, many popular models — such as Netgear and Asus routers — can handle VPN connections without requiring any changes.

In almost all cases, if a VPN can be used on a certain router, the VPN provider will have a page on their website showing the process needed to complete the setup, but we’ll briefly explain how VPN setup works on most routers.

For this guide, we’re going to use NordVPN as the example in our screenshots because it covers a wide variety of routers and makes setup very easy, but this process will be roughly the same with most VPNs. You can read more about NordVPN’s excellent router performance in our NordVPN review.

  1. Check for Compatibility

    The first step in setting up a VPN on a wireless router is to go to your VPN service’s website and see if it supports your router. As you can see in our best VPN for routers article, ExpressVPN and NordVPN both support a huge variety of routers.

    nordvpn routers list
  2. Download Configuration File

    Next, you’ll want to download the configuration file from your VPN provider. This file is how your provider will give your router all the necessary information about the server it’s connecting to. Choose the config file for the server and protocol you wish to use.

    nordvpn configuration file
  3. Send the Config File to Your Router and Set up Credentials

    Finally, to complete the setup you need to send the configuration file you downloaded to your router. You will also be asked to enter your account credentials during the VPN setup. This is usually just your username and password, but it can sometimes be auto-generated by your VPN service.

    starting a VPN-router connection

Install Custom Firmware on Your Router

Sadly, when developing and producing routers, most router manufacturers seem to focus their time and money on the physical aspects of the device, with little emphasis on developing the firmware for the device. Firmware controls how the router functions and what features are available, as well as how the control panel interface is laid out.

DD-WRT router list
DD-WRT covers a huge variety of router models and is a great upgrade if your router doesn’t work well with VPNs out of the box.

The two major third-party firmwares that most people choose are DD-WRT and Tomato. For an in-depth comparison between these two options you can check out our Tomato vs DD-WRT article, but to summarize the important bits, Tomato is highly user-friendly while DD-WRT focuses on offering tons of features and control for power users.

Since we already have fully fleshed-out articles on how to install Tomato and how to install DD-WRT, we aren’t going to go into the details of the firmware flashing process in this article, but it’s worth looking into if your router is not supported by your VPN service out of the box or you simply want to improve the overall functionality of your current router.

Get a VPN Router

The third option for setting up a VPN on a router is to get a router that is specifically designed as a VPN router. We’ve looked at one of these purpose-built routers before — such as in our Vilfo review — and found that its performance was noticeably different from our run-of-the-mill Asus router.

Despite the Vilfo router giving off a weaker WiFi signal than our Asus router, the more powerful processor of the Vilfo router was able to max out our bandwidth even while on a protected VPN connection.

Vilfo VPN
Vilfo sells wireless routers that are equipped with superior processors and firmware than normal routers.

While there are only a few options for purpose-built VPN routers available today, there is also the option to buy an off-the-shelf router that has been pre-flashed with an aftermarket firmware. Flashrouter is the most popular brand for this.

It offers various models of Asus, Linksys and Netgear routers, all preloaded with Flashrouter’s custom firmware that is designed to work with numerous VPN services including ExpressVPN, NordVPN, CyberGhost, Private Internet Access and more.

This saves you the hassle of loading a custom firmware like Tomato or DD-WRT yourself, plus the Flashrouter firmware includes a few special features that competing firmwares lack.

For example, Flashrouter offers a privacy app for mobile devices and Windows that makes it much easier to manage your VPN connections without having to log in to your router every time, like you would with a standard firmware.

Why Use a VPN on Your Router

When it comes to using a VPN in general, the main reason many people can identify with is for privacy and security. A VPN connection is sent through a secure tunnel to the VPN server of your choosing before being passed on to its ultimate destination — the website or server you’re trying to access. 

Before your data leaves your computer to head to the VPN server, it is encrypted to ensure that even if it’s intercepted while in transit, the person who grabbed the information cannot tell what the information actually is.

Then, once you’re connected to the VPN servers, you are passed off to your destination, which makes it appear to the website or server as though you are not connecting from your computer, but rather from the VPN server itself. This can make it appear as though you are in a different location and will help protect your identity and other online information.

maximum devices
By using your router to connect all of your devices to a VPN, you can often avoid the limits set on the number of connections per account.

Ease of Use & Unlimited Devices

When it comes to using a VPN on your router specifically, the main benefit is ease of use. Once set up, a VPN on a home router will be able to protect all of your devices as long as they are connected to the router. You will no longer have to connect each device individually or worry about disconnecting, since your home network will always be tunneled through a VPN.

Another reason some people turn to setting up their VPN on their home router is to get around the limit some VPN services put on how many devices can be connected to the VPN at once.

For example, NordVPN limits users to six simultaneous device connections; however, a wireless router only counts as one device. With this semi-loophole, you can get many more devices connected to a single account by connecting them to the router, but it still only counts as one of your account’s connections.

Advantages:

  • Easier to use across many devices
  • Can be faster than running a VPN on your device, depending on the router model
  • Can allow for more connections per account 

Disadvantages:

  • Potential loss of some speed compare to no VPN at all
  • Can be more work to change servers or protocol settings compared to VPN clients

Keep Your IP Address Private Using a VPN Server

As we just mentioned, using a VPN is a great way to maintain your privacy while online and one of the main ways it does this is by hiding your IP address. Your IP address gives a lot of information about your device and can easily be used to track you around the web.

A VPN makes you appear as though you are in a completely different location by sending your connection through the VPN server first, then passing it off to your destination. This means that the destination server only sees the IP address of the VPN server.

Additionally, before your connection is sent from your computer to the VPN server, your data is encrypted. This means that if it’s intercepted between you and the server, it still can’t be used to find out your information. This helps protect you from internet service providers as well as hackers and the government.

Final Thoughts

Using a VPN on your router lets you protect all the devices on your home network at once. It can increase the number of devices you have on one account at a time, will improve your online privacy and more. While the initial setup might require a bit more effort than using a normal VPN client, the payoff can be well worth it.

Have you used a VPN on your router before? Have you ever tried to use a third-party firmware? Is your router supported by your VPN service? Let us know in the comments below and as always, thanks for reading.