A router VPN is widely regarded as one of the most effective ways to use the best VPN to secure your Internet. It eliminates the need to install clients on your other devices, and can provide protection for those that don't natively support VPN connections, like games consoles.
However, the process of installing a router VPN can be daunting, and in some cases it might not actually be the best choice for you. So, here we’ll be running down what you should look for in a router VPN, if you really need to use one, and your best options for full-household privacy.
What is a router VPN?
In essence, a router VPN is exactly the same as any VPN you might install on your phone or PC – it diverts your internet traffic away from your ISP’s server towards its own. Your traffic is encrypted in the process, meaning you’ll be able to surf in peace, knowing that no one can see or track your activity.
But why would you want one on your router? Most commonly, router VPNs are used so that a VPN-protected connection can be used by devices that can’t have a VPN installed directly. That includes smart TVs and games consoles, and means you’ll be able to access blocked streaming content and stay anonymous on any device attached to your Wi-Fi connection.
Plus, most VPNs have a limit to how many devices can use a single subscription. If you install a router VPN, then any number of devices or individuals can use your VPN connection – friends, family, your date that you’ve wooed with your intimate knowledge of the TP-Link Archer AX6000 Wi-áFi 6 router...
- More: Use a gaming VPN to increase connection speed and avoid throttling
- Setup VPN: our comprehensive guide for all devices
The downsides of a router VPN
The biggest drawback is that you may well discover that your current router can’t support your chosen VPN’s dedicated router VPN app, if it has one at all – and, as you'll notice in the next couple of paragraphs, it can get a bit confusing.
You’ll have to either buy a new router that does, or install DD-WRT firmware to allow you to manually set up a VPN connection – a list of DD-WRT-compatible routers is here. There are also some other options, including Tomato.
The other problem is that it’s more difficult to change your VPN’s settings because your router doesn’t have a screen or interface. Any alterations will have to be done through your router’s dashboard on a PC, some of which are still very basic and difficult to use. However, a company called FlashRouters does provide a very useful router setup service, plus a great app that makes things a lot easier.
However, some VPN services have made the process far simpler than expected – one of which being ExpressVPN. It has a dedicated website for setting up your router VPN, and apps specifically designed to get your router protected quickly. It’s easily our first choice when it comes to router VPNs, but there are a few other options that you’ll find below.
Our top router VPN picks
1. ExpressVPN – undeniably the best router VPN
If you want to set up your router VPN in minutes without paying anyone else to flash it for you, ExpressVPN's dedicated app is the answer. With wide router support and a super-simple dashboard to control features, it's by far the best router VPN available – and you'll also have a 30-day money-back guarantee.View Deal
2. NordVPN – easiest of the app-less options
While it doesn't have a dedicated router VPN app, NordVPN is one of the easiest VPNs to set up manually. With useful guides and a partnership with FlashRouters, the process is made as simple as possible (with the exception of Express's app, of course), and for $3.71, Nord's decent value, too.View Deal
3. Surfshark – great alternative with unlimited connections
Perhaps you've decided you don't want a router VPN. Well, Surfshark offers a tempting alternative. You won't have VPN cover on your Smart TV or Xbox, but you will be able to use Surfshark on as many devices as you want. And for just $2.49 a month, it's an absolute steal.View Deal
The five best router VPNs today
ExpressVPN seems to have it all – not content with delivering the best service for regular devices, the British Virgin Islands-based firm also offers the easiest and most effective way of installing a router VPN.
Unlike a number of other options further down this list, ExpressVPN offers its own custom router firmware you can use on a wide range of compatible routers. Essentially, that means you can control the router VPN from ExpressVPN’s own easy-to-use dashboard rather than delving into your router’s settings.
However, if you don’t have an app-compatible router, you can still install a VPN connection manually on a host of other routers. One big benefit of using a compatible router, though, is the fact you can set up split tunnelling – that means you can choose which devices use the VPN connections and which don’t.
If things don’t go to plan – and if it’s your first time installing a VPN on a router, something may well go wrong – ExpressVPN has class-leading 24/7 live-chat support which is pretty much indispensable when undergoing an in-depth process like this.
If you want to test out ExpressVPN, it also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, which lets you get to grips with the service without committing. Head and shoulders above any other VPN on this list, Express really is your best bet if you want a reliable router VPN.
Get 49% off plus 3 free months of the best router VPN
With a dedicated router app, excellent speeds, great support, and intuitive apps for all your other devices, ExpressVPN is the best router VPN available. Plus, Tom's Guide readers can claim three months free when signing up to a year-long plan. That works out at 15 months for the price of 12.
If you’re looking at router VPNs, it’s pretty likely that you’ve heard of NordVPN. The privacy-focused company is well-known for its excellent VPN services that provide a simple, effective way of staying anonymous online.
Unfortunately NordVPN doesn’t offer a dedicated router VPN app, but it makes up for that with a partnership with FlashRouters, a company that provides ‘flashed’ routers which are ready for VPN setup. That means the firmware is ready to go, and it cuts out a ton of tricky configuration on your part.
Also, you can use the FlashRouter Privacy app, and NordVPN is a ‘premium partner.’ While you can use the app with a number of other VPNs including Express, premium partners get additional features like automatic server updates and smart server sorting.
Nord’s great for streaming, unblocking Netflix, iPlayer, Hulu and tons more, and if it’s active on your router you’ll be able to take advantage of those devices that don’t natively support VPNs like consoles and TVs. Plus, even devices like your Ring doorbell and Alexa will benefit from your fully encrypted connection.
While we’d still recommend you get hold of one, if you don’t have a router that the ExpressVPN app is compatible with – and don’t want to buy one – NordVPN’s FlashRouters integration is a very good alternative.
VyprVPN is a smaller provider, but it’s got a fair bit of clout in the VPN world. As a verified no-logging service you can be pretty sure your data is being kept private, but the biggest selling point here is that it’s the only other VPN on this list to have a dedicated, in-house router VPN app.
The few steps needed to get the app set up are clearly outlined on Vypr’s site, and the app itself is crisp, clear, and functional. However, VyprVPN’s not higher on this list because the app only supports Tomato routers – and even then, there are a number of caveats. For example, split tunnelling is available, but on some later versions of Tomato it’s not. A little awkward, then.
Regardless of the app’s downfalls, though, we’re glad it’s there – but if you don’t have a Tomato router you can still install the VPN like normal by flashing and setting up a VPN connection. Although not a premium partner, VyprVPN is still compatible with the FlashRouter Privacy app, so that can make things a little easier.
It’s also worth mentioning that VyprVPN is priced very keenly, so if you’ve got a Tomato router and want to save a bit of cash, we’d highly recommend it. For any other router, though, there might be better options.
If you’re looking to spend as little money as possible and still get a premium VPN, Surfshark could be a good option.
Like Nord, Surfshark doesn’t provide its own router VPN app – but for some, its bargain price and premium performance might be worth that trade-off. With great speeds, excellent apps on other devices and unlimited connections, it’s a top-notch service we really like.
Now, note how Surfshark has unlimited connections. That’s one of the reasons many people install router VPNs in the first place – to avoid simultaneous device restrictions – so if that’s your reasoning for investigating a router VPN, it could make sense to simply get a VPN with no restrictions and leave your router alone.
Otherwise, like all the other VPNs on this list, Surfshark can be set up manually on routers, and you can also use the FlashRouter app with it to make it easier to change your VPN’s settings. So, while it doesn’t have any dedicated router features, Surfshark’s great value, and might offer an alternative to a router VPN entirely.
Head over to Surfshark's website to sign up
IPVanish has been around for a long time, and it’s a fan favorite with those who like to get techy and in-depth with their VPN. The desktop apps are black and lime green with rolling graphs and data everywhere, and you can configure just about everything you want.
Alongside NordVPN, IPVanish is FlashRouters’ only other premium partner. That means that you’ll be able to get full access to the app, which is really useful. You’ll also get great baseline connection speeds with your router VPN, plus useful support.
What really stands out with IPVanish, though, is its comprehensive setup guides for pretty much every compatible router on the market. They’re long, detailed, and have useful screenshots to assist you through the whole process if you don’t fancy splashing out on a preconfigured one.
As a router VPN to set up manually, IPVanish is an excellent option – but others higher on the list may possibly offer a better price point or feature set.
Head over to IPVanish's website to sign up
Nest router VPN FAQ
Do I really need a router VPN?
If you're on this page you've probably made the decision that you do. That might be because you want to stream geo-blocked content on your games console or smart TV, or perhaps you just want that blanket protection.
However, if you just want to get around the limits on how many devices you can have simultaneously connected to a VPN, we'd suggest a service like Surfshark or IPVanish, which provide unlimited connections. That way you can install the app on as many devices as you want without entering your router's settings at all.
How should I get a router VPN?
Router VPNs can be complex and tricky to set up – and there's a chance you'll brick your router if you configure it wrongly. That's why we highly recommend either signing up to ExpressVPN and using the dedicated app, or buying a pre-configured router.
If you're up for a challenge, though, there are some great guides that – if followed correctly – should be able to direct you though the process successfully.