Best VPNs for split tunneling

When you connect to a VPN, your internet traffic travels between your device and destination websites via an intermediary server. The traffic seems to disappear before emerging again, so the secure VPN connection is often referred to as a “tunnel.”

In many cases, you might not want all of your traffic to travel over the VPN connection. A concept called “split tunneling” enables you to choose which traffic goes via the VPN and which travels in an unprotected state.

Split tunneling can be set up in various ways including limiting tunneling to specific applications, diverting connections to different websites through different VPN servers, or only having traffic from certain devices going through a VPN router.

It’s possible to set up split tunneling on various operating systems even if it’s not a built-in VPN feature, but it’s far simpler to configure if it’s integrated into the app or you have the option to use the VPN for one particular type of traffic. In this post, we reveal the best VPNs for split tunneling and how to get started with one.

Very few VPNs offer a split tunneling feature; but here are the best ones that do:

  1. ExpressVPN Offers a variety of split tunneling methods
  2. CyberGhost Includes “smart rules” that divert different traffic through different servers
  3. NordVPN Gives you the option of just tunneling your browser traffic
  4. IPVanish Offers split tunneling on its Android and Fire OS apps
  5. PureVPN Implements a split tunneling feature in its Windows and Android apps

There wouldn’t be much point in getting a VPN that includes split tunneling if other areas of the service are below par. We included a number of other criteria in our decision, including:

  • Fast, reliable service
  • Strong focus on security and privacy
  • Prompt and knowledgeable customer support
  • Wide server selection

All of our selected five best VPNs for split tunneling meet these standards.

Best VPNs for split tunneling

Here is our list of the five best VPNs for split tunneling:

1. ExpressVPN

Express VPNMay 2019

ExpressVPN is the most thorough when it comes to the concept of split tunneling. This feature is available in the Windows and macOS desktop apps. In both cases, the settings area of the VPN app includes a split tunneling definition page.

You can nominate to send all traffic through the VPN, send only traffic originating from specified apps, or send all traffic except for that originating from specified apps. These are known as ‘split-include’ and ‘split-exclude’ options. Most VPNs that implement split tunneling only work on one of these methods, but with ExpressVPN you get both.

ExpressVPN is one of the few providers that includes an app to install on your flashed wifi router. This app includes options to implement another type of split tunneling. You can specify which devices in your home will have all of their traffic channeled through the VPN and which will be left unprotected. The router split tunneling screen lists all recently connected devices and shows an on/off toggle next to each – the devices don’t have to be connected at the time of nomination.

Standard features on ExpressVPN include strong encryption, access to servers in 94 countries, an allowance of three simultaneous connections, and the ability to unblock Netflix and many other streaming services. Apps are available for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS.

Pros:

  • Split tunneling per device at the router level
  • Both split-include and split-exclude possible with the desktop apps
  • Very good speeds
  • 24/7 live chat customer support
  • Unblocks Netflix

Cons:

  • Fewer simultaneous connections than rivals

BEST VPN FOR SPLIT TUNNELING:ExpressVPN is our top pick and gives you the most options for split tunneling. Fast speeds and strong security complete the package. ExpressVPN gives a 30-day no-fuss money-back guarantee to all customers which means you can try it risk-free.

Read our full ExpressVPN review.

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2. CyberGhost

CyberGhost is a very competent VPN service that includes lots of special features, including malware prevention, an ad blocker, a tracker blocker, and data compression.

The split tunneling feature of CyberGhost can be accessed through the Preferences tab of the desktop app. The Smart Rules section of the Preferences settings has two versions of split tunneling. There is a split-exclude option that lets you list websites that should be contacted outside of the tunnel.

A split-include option lets you define which applications should be covered by the VPN. You can specify a different server location for each app that you nominate for protection. The VPN will start up a connection to the listed server whenever the protected app starts up and will continue to tunnel all of that application’s traffic through that server as long as it is active. The only way you can stop that tunnel running is either by closing down the protected app or logging out of the VPN.

This VPN gives access to servers in 59 countries. Apps are available for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Amazon Fire TV, and Amazon Fire Stick. You can set up the VPN on Linux, and select routers and set-top boxes. You can connect seven devices at a time.

Pros:

  • Split-exclude feature for websites and split-include feature for applications
  • Ability to connect to multiple servers simultaneously on the same device
  • Fast, reliable service
  • Simultaneous connection across seven devices

Cons:

  • Doesn’t unblock all major streaming sites

STRONG SECURITY:CyberGhost offers excellent flexibility when it comes to split tunneling as well as high-grade encryption and anonymous accounts. The company gives a no-questions-asked 45-day money-back guarantee.

Read our full CyberGhost review.

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3. NordVPN

NordVPN is a budget-friendly option with the architecture to help you create your split tunneling setup. Apps are available for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android devices. However, it’s the service’s browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox that will give you the ability to implement split tunneling.

Like most VPN browser extensions, the NordVPN browser add-on is a web proxy service and not, strictly speaking, a VPN, although it does protect against IP leaks.

If you leave the desktop app off and turn the browser extension on, all of your browser traffic will go through the VPN’s tunnel while all other traffic from your device will be unprotected, travelling outside of the tunnel. Granted, this doesn’t offer a ton of flexibility for your split tunneling setup, but it might be suitable for some users.

The NordVPN service is very comprehensive and includes extra security measures, such as an ad and popup blocker and a blacklist system that prevents infected web pages from loading in your browser. The service includes access to servers in 62 countries and you get an allowance of six simultaneous connections.

Pros:

  • Split tunnel to cover just browser traffic
  • Decent speeds
  • Unblocks Netflix USA and other streaming sites from abroad
  • Extra security features

Cons:

  • Server connection can sometimes be slow

BEST BUDGET OPTION:NordVPN is a good choice for split tunneling if your budget is limited. Having the chance to use split tunneling as well as enjoying extra security features makes this VPN a bargain. NordVPN offers a 30-day fuss-free money-back guarantee with each subscription.

Read our full NordVPN review.

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4. IPVanish

IPVanish has some of the fastest speeds we’ve seen, which makes it great for streaming and torrenting. The company provides apps for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Linux Mint, Amazon Fire TV, and Amazon Fire Stick. The VPN can be set up manually on Ubuntu, Kali, and Fedora Linux, and select routers and set-top boxes.

The IPVanish apps for Fire OS and Android include a split tunneling facility. This enables you to have some of your connections running through the VPN while leaving other traffic outside of the tunnel. This is a split-exclude system. The Split Tunneling section of the Connection preferences in the Settings system leads to a list of all apps detected on the device. Any applications that you mark with a check box in this screen will be excluded from the tunnel.

IPVanish explains that its split tunneling feature was developed specifically to enable users to access services like Hulu and Netflix outside of the VPN connection. However, IPVanish is now able to unblock US Netflix (and some other streaming sites) from outside the country through the VPN.

This VPN service includes access to servers in 60 countries and you get an allowance of ten simultaneous connections.

Pros:

  • Split-exclude available on Fire OS and Android apps
  • Very fast speeds
  • No-logs policy
  • Allows you to connect 10 devices at once

Cons:

  • Customer support is a little slow
  • Doesn’t accept cryptocurrencies

ANDROID AND FIRE OS:IPVanish is a good choice for split tunneling on Android and Fire OS devices. Its fast speeds make it excellent for streaming and downloading and you can use it on 10 devices at once. IPVanish gives a 7-day money-back guarantee on each subscription.

Read our full IPVanish review.

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5.  PureVPN

PureVPN was one of the first VPNs to offer split tunneling. Although the company produces an app for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android devices, its split tunneling capabilities can only be implemented on the Windows and Android operating systems. PureVPN uses a split-include configuration, which means that you nominate the apps you want to protect with the VPN. All other connections will go to the internet by a regular route and not be sent to the VPN server.

Another method of split tunneling is made available through the browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox. The browser extensions include WebRTC and IP leak protection. However, they are SOCKS5 proxies that lack strong encryption.

The service gives you access to servers in 141 countries. PureVPN is based in Hong Kong and is a good choice for those trying to access the internet in China. Its high speeds and privacy controls make it a solid option for torrenting and video streaming.

You can get a Kodi addon version of PureVPN and apps for Android TV boxes, Amazon Fire TV, and Amazon Fire Stick. The VPN can be installed manually on other set-top boxes and select routers. PureVPN is able to unblock a wide range of video streaming services from abroad including Netflix US and UK and BBC iPlayer.

Pros:

  • Per-app split-include configuration for Windows and Android
  • Secure service
  • Large server network

Cons:

  • Transfer speeds can be slow with some servers
  • Questionable privacy reputation

LARGE SERVER NETWORK:PureVPN offers split tunneling feature in some apps and offers a reliable, secure service. It offers a 31-day money-back guarantee on each subscription.

Read our full PureVPN review.

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Can I use a free VPN for split tunneling?

Although there are quite a few free VPNs available, we advise against using them. The facility for split tunneling is only available in very few VPNs and none of those specialized VPNs are free to use. Other problems that you will face with free VPNs are that they typically can’t get past location blocks on video streaming sites and they can really slow down your connection.

You need to be cautious of free VPNs anyway because a lot of them are scams. One of the key services included in VPNs is traffic encryption to prevent parties such as the government or your internet service provider from controlling or tracking your internet access. Many free VPNs don’t include any encryption at all; these are not only useless, but they are also dangerous, because they give people a false sense of security.

Although some VPNs are free of charge, they are not loss-making. Some make money by forcing their users to watch adverts before they connect. Other sneakily inject adverts into the web pages that they channel. Some free VPNs even track the internet activities of their users and sell that information on to marketers. This is ironic because one of the main selling points of VPNs is that they are supposed to protect your privacy on the web.

All-in-all, you are better off avoiding free VPNs and opting for a paid alternative.

Advantages of split tunneling for home users

Setting up split tunneling can help you create a custom VPN setup that works for you, giving you the opportunity to leave the VPN on all of the time. You don’t have a data throughput limit with any of the services on this list, and so the only reason you would need to turn the VPN on and off is when you want to switch countries, or access a service in your own country that would be made complicated by the presence of a VPN.

The ability of CyberGhost to direct the traffic of different applications to different servers is particularly useful. For example, you might want to keep Netflix permanently set to the US version while accessing gaming sites via Japan servers and excluding your browser traffic so you can surf the internet from your real location.

Other split tunneling services that work on including or excluding access to named web addresses could also prove useful to protect and divert access to some websites and not others. For example, you could make all connections to dating and betting websites run through the VPN if you are in a country where such sites are illegal. At the same time, you might prefer to leave access to local online TV services or news sites outside of the tunnel.

Split tunneling and an always-on VPN

As mentioned, ExpressVPN’s router app enables you to choose which devices are covered by the VPN. This is ideal if you also have the VPN app installed on all of your mobile devices.

It’s convenient to keep your VPN on all of the time. However, if you install the VPN on your home wifi router, when your mobile apps are connected to the home network, they’ll be connected to the VPN twice: through the router and through the native mobile app.

Ordinarily, it would be advisable to turn the VPN mobile app off during these times. But if you’re able to exclude specific devices from your router VPN, you can exclude the mobile devices and leave the VPN apps on those gadgets running. By this method, you will still be able to benefit from the wifi connection on mobile devices while at home, without having to worry about turning off the VPN.

“Interference Wave” by geraltPixabay license