OpenWrt is a relatively new open source firmware for routers that’s gaining popularity. With a wide range of add-ons, it is highly customizable and a popular choice among developers. And with an improved user interface, it’s becoming simpler to navigate and more suitable for less advanced users.
If you’re looking to set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on your OpenWrt router, then you’re making a smart move. An OpenWrt VPN will encrypt all the traffic flowing to and from any device connected to that router. It tunnels the traffic through an intermediary server of your choice, which enables you to access geo-restricted content by spoofing your location. What’s more, most VPN packages offer a limited number of simultaneous connections, but a router counts as one device. This means you can secure all of your home devices while using up only one of your available connections.
While you might not find a ton of documentation on it, many VPN services are compatible with OpenWrt. That being said, those that do provide guides typically issue a disclaimer stating that it is not guaranteed to work. As such, one of the main things to look out for with an OpenWrt VPN is excellent support. Of course, there are plenty of other important factors, and we’ve based our list of the best VPNs for OpenWrt on the following criteria:
- Compatibility with routers
- Prompt and knowledgeable customer support
- Fast and reliable connections
- Strong encryption and no logs of personally identifiable information
- Large choice of server locations
Here is our list of the best VPNs for OpenWrt:
When it comes to setting up a router VPN, ExpressVPN leads the pack. It actually makes its own custom firmware which can be used with any compatible router. Alternatively, it offers pre-configured wifi routers flashed with its own firmware and configured to all servers. It can also be installed on other routers running compatible firmware and ExpressVPN has confirmed that OpenWrt is supported. There is no online tutorial available yet, but you can contact the reliable and knowledgeable live chat customer support team for help with setup.
With ExpressVPN, you get access to a wide network of servers that spans 94 countries. All servers are optimized for speed so you’ll have no issues browsing, streaming, downloading, or doing anything else online. When it comes to streaming, ExpressVPN is excellent at circumventing geo-restrictions. This is the case even for sites cracking down on VPN usage such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and more.
On the security side, this VPN service uses military-grade encryption along with perfect forward secrecy and uses the OpenVPN protocol by default. It has a built-in kill switch and DNS leak protection to ensure your information never falls into the wrong hands. A no-logs policy means that there is no tracking of user activity. Only minimal connection logs are maintained and your IP address will never be stored.
A plan enables up to three simultaneous connections, so you can cover your home with a configured router and still be able to protect a couple of mobile devices, too. Apps are available for Android and iOS and there are clients for Windows, MacOS, and Linux, should you need to protect a desktop computer or laptop separately.
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Read our full review of ExpressVPN.
NordVPN is another great choice for router setup. You can manually configure the VPN to a compatible router or you can opt to purchase a pre-configured router sold by third-party affiliate, FlashRouter. Although, the latter only makes NordVPN routers using the Tomato and DD-WRT firmware. For OpenWrt, you’ll have to manually configure.
NordVPN has posted a tutorial for configuring the VPN with a router running OpenWrt firmware (we’ve included it in our tutorial list below). And if you have any issues, the live chat team is just a click away to offer assistance.
NordVPN operates a huge network of more than 4,000 servers in over 60 countries. Many are optimized for specific purposes, including P2P, anti-DDoS, and double VPN. It offers fast speeds and a reliable service so you can carry out your everyday online activities without worrying about poor, slow connections. It can also provide access to plenty of streaming sites, including Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, HBO, and Amazon Prime Video.
Like ExpressVPN, NordVPN uses “military-grade” 256-bit encryption with perfect forward secrecy. The OpenVPN protocol is recommended and used by default. A kill switch and DNS leak protection are built in. This means you can rest assured your information will never leave the encrypted tunnel. NordVPN keeps no logs at all. A newer feature is automatic wifi protection, which is a big bonus if you travel or are often on-the-go.
A plan enables you to connect to six devices simultaneously, which makes it ideal for families or those with a lot of devices. Desktop clients are available for Windows and MacOS and mobile apps can be downloaded for iOS and Android.
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Read our in-depth review of NordVPN.
PrivateVPN is a newer, smaller provider, but is actually a great all-rounder. It works with OpenWrt, although you’ll probably need to contact customer support for help with setup. The support is all in-house and there’s no live chat, so you may not get a prompt response, but it will be knowledgeable. PrivateVPN can also be configured with routers running a variety of other firmware, including DD-WRT or Tomato.
This service performs extremely well when it comes to speed testing, which is welcome news to those wanting to stream or torrent. It has also proven to be good at unblocking geo-restricted content such as that provided by Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and Amazon Prime Video.
If you’re concerned about security and privacy, as its name suggests, PrivateVPN has you covered. It uses 128-bit or 256-bit encryption, depending on which protocol you choose (OpenVPN is recommended). This is alongside perfect forward secrecy, DNS leak protection, and a kill switch. The latter will kill the internet connection should the VPN connection drop.
Like NordVPN, PrivateVPN allows six simultaneous connections, which is one more than the industry standard of five. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android.
See our full review of PrivateVPN.
VyprVPN notes that it offers limited support for OpenWrt, but it does provide setup instructions on the website. If you need additional help, 24/7 live chat is available. VyprVPN is also compatible with DD-WRT and Tomato firmware. It isn’t the fastest service we’ve tested but it is reliable. It can enable access to plenty of streaming services and is a solid option for use in China.
VyprVPN provides excellent security in the form of 256-bit encryption and offers an adapted OpenVPN protocol called Chameleon. It owns its own servers, which is great for performance and security. This service does log your IP address and the VPN address you connect to, which is a strike for privacy-conscious users. VyprVPN says the info is only used for billing and troubleshooting and is deleted after 30 days.
A basic plan enables up to five simultaneous connections with apps available for Windows, MacOS, Android,and iOS.
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Find out more in our VyprVPN review.
While PureVPN doesn’t have a tutorial for OpenWrt configuration posted online yet, it does have ready-to-go step-by-step instructions available from a live chat agent. You can also get pre-configured FlashRouter routers, although OpenWrt isn’t an option. It can be manually configured with other router firmwares, including Tomato and DD-WRT.
PureVPN is another so-so performer when it comes to speeds, but it’s inexpensive, offers a reliable connection, and can unblock plenty of streaming sites. Although some locations only have virtual servers, the network spans an impressive 140 countries, which means you can access content from across the globe.
Security is top-notch with 256-bit encryption, DNS leak protection, and a kill switch. Protocol options include OpenVPN and L2TP, among others. There has been some controversy over logs maintained by PureVPN, namely recording your IP address, so some privacy-conscious users tend to shy away.
A basic plan gives you the option to connect up to five devices at the same time. Apps can be downloaded for MacOS, Windows, iOS, and Android.
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Read our review of PureVPN.
Can I use a free VPN with OpenWrt?
Setting up a VPN with any router could require some advanced support. This is not a strong point of free VPNs as they simply don’t have the resources to invest in providing prompt and knowledgeable customer service.
And this isn’t the only reason you should avoid free VPN services. They typically have a very limited server network and a lot of users. Aside from only having access to a few locations, you’ll also endure long wait times for servers and poor connections.
Plus, the privacy facet of free VPNs brings more bad news. These providers have been known to use shady business strategies such as monitoring user activity and selling profiles to advertisers. This definitely isn’t the type of service you want “protecting” every device in your household.
Setting up a VPN with OpenWrt
OpenWrt is an open source firmware based on Linux. It has a bit of a tumultuous last few years but is now going strong. After a brief split in 2016 where a side-project called LEDE was formed, the two projects officially merged early in 2018 to form the current OpenWrt.
One of the main attractions of this firmware is the range of add-ons available, making it highly customizable. In the past, its complicated interface made it more popular with developers than beginners. But the current version boasts an improved interface and is an increasingly solid option for less advanced users.
When it comes to configuring a VPN with OpenWrt, likely due to its relative newness, there isn’t a ton of literature out there to help you get set up. It would be impossible to provide a one-size-fits-all set of instructions here, but thankfully some providers have published guides to help you. Given the popularity of OpenWrt, it’s likely that others will follow.
Here are tutorials offered by some of the providers above, along with another that didn’t make the list but could be a good option:
Again, any other VPN providers on our list will be happy to help you via their customer support teams. But it’s also worth bearing in mind that most providers typically issue a disclaimer stating that the setup hasn’t been fully tested and isn’t guaranteed to work.
Note that flashing a router (replacing its firmware) could cause damage to a router. So experimenting with this setup should probably be left to more tech-savvy users.
VPNs that don’t work with OpenWrt
The VPN providers we’ve included in our list have confirmed that their services work with OpenWrt. They either offer online tutorials or customer support to help with setup. Other providers we contacted confirmed that they don’t currently support use with OpenWrt firmware:
However, it’s worth bearing in mind that due to the relative newness of the OpenWrt firmware, it’s understandable that it’s off the radar for many providers. As it grows in popularity and there is more demand for compatible VPNs, we could well see this list shrink as providers update their services.