How to Set up a VPN on a Router – The Complete Guide

In this complete guide to VPN routers, we explain the pros and cons of having a VPN on your router, how to set one up yourself, and where you can buy pre-configured VPN routers.

According to a 2018 report from Go-Globe.com, nearly 25% of all Internet users around the world have used VPN software on their computers or mobile devices recently. They get all the great benefits of a VPN service, but only for that particular device.

This gets to be a headache when you have multiple devices to protect. Someone like me (and probably like you too) has several devices that connect to the Internet and could benefit from a VPN. For example, as I write this, I have two computers, a smartphone, and a tablet all connected to the Internet.

How to set up a VPN router

That means 4 devices to install VPN software on. Four devices to keep updated. And four devices where I could forget to turn on the VPN (or lose the VPN connection) and leave my device and home network exposed at any given time.

A VPN Router is one possible solution to this problem. Keep reading to see what a VPN Router is and what it does differently than VPN software installed on your smartphone or other devices.

We’ll quickly look at why you might want to set up a VPN Router of your own, and why you might not want to. Finally, we’ll go over the two ways you can get yourself a VPN Router, and take a high-level look at how you could set that VPN Router up to serve your home or office.

What is a VPN Router?

In case you haven’t guessed from the name, a VPN Router is a router that runs VPN software. With the VPN software running on the router, every device connected to the router connects to the Internet through the router’s VPN service. This is true whether or not the device itself has VPN software installed.

What is a VPN Router?

Do you have 10 devices that connect to the Internet? All 10 will connect through the router’s VPN software without you installing any VPN software on those devices. Even visitors will be protected, as long as they connect to the router. Once you set up a VPN Router, there is no easier way to give all your devices the benefits and protection of your chosen VPN service.

While this sounds like a great solution (and in many cases it is), a VPN Router might not always be the best solution for your particular situation. The following two lists lay out the case for and against installing a VPN Router.

Why You Might Want to Set Up a VPN Router

Here is a list of the reasons why setting up a VPN Router could be the right choice for you:

  • You don’t need to separately install and configure VPN software on every device you own
  • You can protect more devices this way than with a standard subscription
  • You can’t forget to enable the VPN service on a particular device
  • Every device connected to your router is automatically protected, even if that device doesn’t usually work with this VPN
  • Every device connected to your router has the same access to external content

It is a pretty compelling case. But before you go for it, let’s look at the circumstances where a VPN Router might not be the right answer for you.

Why Setting Up a VPN Router Might Not Be the Answer for You

Here are some of the drawbacks or problems that might prevent you from choosing to set up your own VPN Router:

  • You need to use a VPN that supports installation on routers; not all do
  • You need to use a router that supports the VPN software you want to use; not all do
  • Unless you separately install the VPN software on a device, that device is only protected when connected to the VPN Router
  • You can’t disable the VPN for specific devices or have different devices connected to different VPN servers
  • VPNs always slow down your Internet connection; everything connected to your router will suffer this slowdown
  • The higher the number of devices you connect to the router, the higher the impact on your connection speeds

As you can see, using a VPN Router may not always be the perfect solution. Still, in many cases, it is a good choice.

So how do you go about setting up a VPN Router? First, you must decide whether to buy a pre-configured VPN Router or to install VPN software on a router yourself.

Do it Yourself or Buy a Pre-configured VPN Router?

If you decide to go with a VPN Router, your options are somewhat limited. Most routers don’t have VPN software installed on them and don’t support you installing VPN software on them either. So you will probably have to buy at least a router to make this happen. If you are unlucky, you will have to switch VPN services as well.

Let’s assume that your VPN service provides a version of its software that will work on some routers. You now need to decide whether you want to buy a router with the VPN software pre-installed and configured, or whether you want to buy a compatible router and install the VPN software yourself.

Pros and Cons of Installing VPN Software on a Normal Router

Buying a pre-configured VPN Router looks like a no-brainer at first. Just plug the beast in, connect all your stuff to the new router and you’re finished. But the decision isn’t as clear cut as it might at first seem.

Here are some pros and cons of buying a pre-configured VPN Router:

ProsCons
Fast and easy setupYou need to buy a new router
Little technical expertise requiredYou need to find a router that has your VPN installed on it, or you need to change VPNs
You know that the VPN software has been tested with the router hardware

Pros and Cons of Installing VPN Software on a Normal Router

Here are some pros and cons of installing VPN software on a typical router:

ProsCons
You can use your favorite VPN service; many top VPN services support installation on a routerRequires some computer tech skills get the software installed and running
The router should be less expensive than one with pre-installed VPN softwareOnly certain types of routers allow you to install 3rd party software (such as the VPN) on them; you will probably have to buy a new router.

Now that you know which way you are going to jump let’s take a look at what actually doing so might look like. There are too many variations for us to cover all the bases in detail here, but we can give you a high-level look at what you would be getting yourself into if you choose one route or the other.

Setting up a Pre-Configured VPN Router

This is the way to go if you just want to get up and running with a VPN Router and don’t want to test your skills as a computer technician. Once you have a pre-configured VPN Router in hand, you simply connect your devices as you would with any other router, tell the router which VPN server you want it to connect to, and start browsing.

The trick is to find a pre-configured VPN Router that supports your VPN service. We think your best bet is to visit the VPN Routers page at Flashrouters.com. This company sells routers that have pre-installed VPN software from many VPN services. At the time of writing this article, it could provide you with routers that came pre-configured for 19 of the top services and support for dozens more.

ExpressVPN enabled routers

For example, its ExpressVPN page gives you the option to buy any of 4 router models from three different manufacturers. All of them came from Flashrouters with ExpressVPN installed and tested, needing only for you to enter your ExpressVPN login details and the ExpressVPN router you want it to use, then connect your devices.

If you can find a VPN service/router combination that you like, there really is no easier way to get up and running with a VPN Router.

Installing VPN Software on a Normal Router

Installing and setting up VPN software on a regular router can be significantly harder than setting up VPN software on your phone or computer. But if you are lucky, you may be able to shortcut this process.

We are going to go on the assumption that you need to buy a new router to make this happen. It is almost always the case that the router your ISP provided will not accept you installing VPN software on it.

Installing a VPN on a Regular Router

Assuming this is the case, your first step has to be to track down a router that will work with your VPN service. With any luck, your VPN service will be like NordVPN (one of our favorite VPN services) and offer a page similar to this page to help you figure out which routers will support its software. If not, try checking your VPN’s documentation to see if it supports the OpenVPN client.

Your VPN Service Supports OpenVPN

If this is the case, you may have hit on that shortcut we mentioned earlier. Many ASUS routers come with something called ASUSWRT preinstalled. Among its features, ASUSWRT includes a built-in OpenVPN client. If your VPN service can successfully work with the OpenVPN client built into these routers, configuring the router to work with your service will only take a few moments.

If this looks like a possibility for you, we suggest you contact the support staff at your VPN service and ask them if it is compatible with the OpenVPN client included in ASUSWRT. If so, ask them to send you step-by-step instructions for setting this up. You are a lucky person, indeed.

Your VPN Service Doesn’t Support the ASUSWRT OpenVPN Client

If you didn’t luck out as described in the last section, you would want to look for a router that supports either DD-WRT or Tomato firmware. Both are types of firmware for routers and offer advanced features, including support for VPN software.

To find a router that supports DD-WRT, you can use the search function at DD-WRT.com.

DD-WRT Supported Routers

To use this tool, simply enter whatever information you have about the make and model number of the router you are considering. The site will return a list of routers that match your criteria and support DD-WRT.

You can find a small collection of routers that support Tomato firmware here.

If you have some real-world technician experience, you might want to try flashing a router with the DD-WRT or Tomato firmware yourself. However, we think a smarter move would be to go to this page at Flashrouters and buy a router that already has DD-WRT installed. Flashing the router is the riskiest part of this whole process, so why not let some experts do that for you.

Once you have a router with working DD-WRT or Tomato firmware installed, you can follow the instructions from your VPN service to finish the job of getting the VPN software working with the router.

Here is a screenshot of a portion of the DD-WRT setup taken from PrivateInternetAccess.com:

PIA DD-WRT OpenVPN Setup

As you can see, it is a bit technical, but not nearly as tough as flashing the BIOS of the router to install DD-WRT in the first place.

Note: If you would like more details, check out this walkthrough of the steps for installing the ExpressVPN App for Routers on a Linksys WRT1200AC:

Conclusion

For many people, setting up a VPN Router could be a great solution to the problem of reliably connecting multiple devices to the Internet through a VPN.

While exploring this idea, you learned what a VPN Router is and what it does. Then we discussed the pros and cons of setting up a VPN Router so you could decide if one seemed like the right solution for you.

Next, we talked about the benefits and disadvantages of either buying a router that is pre-configured with your favorite VPN software, or you installing the VPN software on a router yourself.

Conclusion – Source: Shutterstock.com

In case you were interested in the do-it-yourself approach, we talked about flashing a router, and why we think that you can really cut the risk of your project by buying a router with DD-WRT already flashed on it.

We wrapped up by talking about finishing the job with advice from your VPN support team.
Setting up a VPN Router definitely takes you beyond the VPN Beginner space, but depending on your circumstances, it could definitely be the right answer for you. Good luck.

References

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