Kodi, the multi-platform home theater software formerly called XBMC, can be customized with a range of content repositories, tools, and programs for a tailored entertainment experience. It overlays any computer, Android device, and even Raspberry Pis with an easy-to-use interface compatible with remote controls and gamepads.
Kodi add-ons, the modules used to extend XBMC’s capabilities, can stream video and music from legal sources like Netflix or from illegal torrents. Streaming on Kodi comes with all the same obstacles and risks as if watching on a web browser, however. Netflix users outside the United States will still have a more limited selection of shows and movies. Those streaming from torrents and unsanctioned websites could get in trouble with their internet service providers, law enforcement, and copyright trolls.
For these reasons, we recommend Kodi XBMC users take advantage of a VPN. A VPN, or virtual private network, encrypts internet traffic so the user’s activity cannot be monitored. That traffic is then routed through a server in a location of the user’s choosing so ISPs and other entities can’t see where it’s going.
There are many VPNs available, but we’ve narrowed down a list of ten we believe to be the best VPNs for Kodi users. The finalists are split into two lists: general-use VPNs that work well with Kodi, and VPNs with add-ons for OpenELEC and other devices (such as Raspberry Pi and Mac OSX) that can be controlled from within the XBMC interface. If you’re not sure which to choose, check out our guide on how to set up a Kodi VPN.
Comparitech does not condone or encourage any violation of copyright restrictions, including illegal streaming through Kodi. Kodi can be used for many excellent, legal online streaming purposes. Please consider the law, victims, and risks of piracy before downloading or streaming copyrighted material without permission.
Best VPNs for Kodi XBMC
IPVanish offers high performance across a huge number of servers. The company has a strict no logs policy and torrenting is allowed. On supported operating systems, DNS leak protection and a kill switch are built into the apps. The service is easy to set up and use with responsive customer service. Both desktop and mobile apps are stable and simple to use. IPVanish is probably the most popular VPN with Kodi users and works with all Kodi add-ons, they have offered our readers a 60% discount on the annual plan here which takes the price down to $5.19 per month or a 38% discount on the monthly plan.
Check out our full review of IPVanish here.
ExpressVPN is known for great speeds and reliable service, as well as excellent 24/7 support and a risk free 30 day money back guarantee. No activity logs are stored. Netflix users will be happy to know that ExpressVPN almost always has at least a couple servers that can bypass the proxy ban. ExpressVPN makes a command-line app for Linux devices, which means no GUI but is better than a manual setup from scratch. Apps with GUIs are available on most other platforms, which come pre-loaded with DNS leak protection and a kill switch (called a Network Lock in the app).
Update, March 24, 2017: ExpressVPN are currently offering 3 months extra free with 12 months plans.
Read our full review of ExpressVPN here.
NordVPN is a powerful service with a ton of servers optimized for specific purposes, such as streaming HD video. Hovering over a server in the app shows which streaming services–Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, etc–can be watched while connected. This is massively helpful to Kodi users that stream from multiple channels. Torrenting is allowed as well, and NordVPN has a strict no-logs policy.
Deal alert: NordVPN is one of our favorite VPNs and good value even at full price. There is currently a deal with a huge 72% off the 2-year plan making it a great choice while this deal is running.
Check out our full review of NordVPN here.
Buffered is an excellent choice for novice users who just want to connect and go. Buffered makes apps for all major operating systems including Linux. Download rates were consistently quick in our tests. At least one of the US servers was working with Netflix when we last tested Buffered earlier this year. You can see a full list of services compatible with the US streaming service in our Netflix VPN article. Buffered is a bit expensive, but comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee. The company keeps zero traffic logs.
Check out our full review of Buffered here.
VyprVPN is a tier-one provider, meaning it owns all of its own data centers instead of renting server space from another company. That equates to fast, consistent speeds. A VPN kill switch and DNS leak protection are built into the desktop and mobile apps. The only downside is a substandard logging policy, under which some users’ accounts have been terminated for torrenting.
CyberGhost is a VPN heavily focused on privacy, which means a zero-logs policy. A free tier is available, though the servers will perform far better and there’s no queue for paid subscribers. CyberGhost makes apps with GUIs for all major operating systems, including Linux. A kill switch and DNS leak protection come built in. We found speeds too slow for streaming with the free version and even the paid version was not as fast as other VPNs in this list.
Save 73%: There is currently a deal running here which gives a 73% saving if you opt for the 2 year plan.
PureVPN gives users access to more than 500 servers across 121 countries. It features an easy-to-use interface and quick speeds. PureVPN does not keep any traffic logs or your IP address. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, and Chrome plus support for several routers including those running DDWRT, Tomato, Asus, Belkin, or TP-Link firmware. A kill switch and DNS leak protection are built into its apps.
Deal alert: PureVPN is running an offer with a heavily discounted 2-year plan here which brings the monthly cost down to $2.95.
OpenELEC VPNs with XBMC add-ons
These VPN providers primarily focus on Kodi XBMC users on OpenELEC and Raspberry Pi, although their VPNs can be used outside of Kodi as well.
Private Internet Access
Private Internet Access makes apps for all major operating systems including Linux. It’s lightweight enough to run in the background even on low-performance devices like the Raspberry Pi. PIA has been tested using the OpenELEC VPN manager, which means you can set it up and control it without leaving the Kodi interface. When we reviewed PIA, speeds were fast and fairly stable. DNS leak protection and a kill switch, which both prevent non-VPN traffic from leaving the computer, can both be toggled on in the app settings. PIA keeps no traffic logs.
Ivacy is a lesser-known VPN provider out of Hong Kong that makes a custom VPN add-on specifically for its subscribers that use OpenELEC devices. It can be controlled from within Kodi or from a separate app. A zero-logs policy means users can stream from torrents worry-free. While the one-month plan is on the expensive side, the 12-month and 24-month plans are very affordable.
VPNicity makes its own Kodi add-ons exclusive to its subscribers. The add-ons are compatible with OpenELEC and Android devices, including Android TV and Fire TV media boxes. Using these add-ons, the VPN can be controlled from within Kodi. A seven-day free trial is available as well as live support to help you get set up. VPNicity does not collect traffic logs.
How to use a VPN with Kodi
On smartphones and PCs, the easiest way to use a VPN with Kodi is to install the VPN provider’s app. To do so, you will need to minimize Kodi and install it on the underlying operating system. Just download the app from the provider website, log in with your account credentials, select a location, and hit the connect button. Once the connection is established, open Kodi back up and use it as you normally would. All your device traffic will be tunneled through the VPN.
VPN router setup for Kodi on Roku, Chromecast, FireTV, etc
If you’re using Kodi XBMC on a device that doesn’t support VPNs, you can still take advantage of a VPN subscription by setting it up manually on your wifi router. This process differs based on the particular router’s firmware, so we recommend you Google a setup tutorial to learn how. Once set up, all the internet traffic coming and going from the router will travel through the VPN server.
You may need to replace the router’s firmware if the stock version does not support VPN connections. This process is called “flashing”, and it should be done with great care. If you do not flash the new firmware properly or flash the incorrect firmware version for your router model, it can permanently damage, or “brick”, the router. Some of the most popular router firmware that support VPNs include:
If you have a PC or Mac laptop available, a safer and easier solution is to install the VPN on that and create a wifi hotspot. This is called a virtual router, and most modern laptops are capable of creating one. By connecting to the VPN on your laptop and broadcasting a wifi network from it, you can connect your Kodi device so that all streams go through the VPN. You can find PC instructions on how to create a VPN-enabled virtual router, and Mac instructions here. We’ve also got our Fire TV Stick VPN setup instructions for 2nd generation Amazon Fire TV Sticks and later.
See also: What are the best VPNs for Fire Stick and Amazon Fire TV?
Is Kodi legal?
Kodi is perfectly legal open-source software created by a nonprofit organization. You are fully within your rights to download and install Kodi from the official website and use any of the officially sanctioned add-ons.
It is not illegal to buy or sell devices with Kodi pre-installed, so long as they do not contain third-party add-ons that stream from illegal sources. We recommend the boxes sold by WeTek, which come with a clean install of Kodi without any third-party add-ons and run on the OpenELEC Linux distro.
Kodi users run into legal issues when they extend Kodi’s range of streaming sources using unsanctioned, third-party add-ons, or when they buy “Kodi boxes” from third party retailers that come with these add-ons pre-installed. These sources can include pirated IPTV streams, torrents, and websites hosting content without the copyright owner’s permission.
It might not be completely clear to users which add-ons stream from legal sources and which don’t. This is especially true for pre-configured Kodi boxes. In one case, a UK man was fined £250,000 for selling Kodi devices loaded with several add-ons that streamed content from illegal sources, despite his claim that the boxes were “100 percent legal.”
So how do you stay on the right side of the law?
First off, know that the XBMC Foundation, which created and maintains the Kodi software, is not involved in any way with the sale of Kodi boxes. In fact, Team Kodi has said the boxes commonly sold on eBay and by Youtubers, which come loaded with third-party add-ons, are “killing Kodi”. But because Kodi is open source, XBMC cannot control who installs it on what.
We discourage purchasing any device with Kodi and third-party add-ons pre-installed. Not only could doing so get you in trouble for copyright infringement, it could also infect your device with malware installed on the system before purchase. If you bought an Amazon Fire Stick or other device with a “fully loaded” Kodi installation, we recommend a clean wipe of the entire system and starting from scratch.
Secondly, the legality of streaming from third-party sources varies by country. Some might be legal but require you watch from a specific country or region. Others might exist in a legal grey area. For these reasons, we always recommend checking your local laws and regulations and using a VPN to hide your activity from your ISP and other entities.
Choosing a Kodi box
While you can install and run Kodi on a desktop operating system like Windows or MacOS, most Kodi users prefer to use a separate device to use as a home media center. These are often referred to as Kodi “boxes”, and they come in two main flavors: Android and Linux.
Most of the VPNs listed here make Android apps with downloadable APK files that you can install directly onto your device without the need for Google Play. While not all versions of Android are the same, most should run these VPN apps just fine.
Popular Android-based Kodi boxes include:
- Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick
- Nvidia Shield
- Gem Box
- Razer Forge TV
- Matricom G-Box
Many Linux distributions can run Kodi, but the most popular for small, low-powered devices like these is OpenELEC. OpenELEC is a Linux distro tailor-made for Kodi boxes. Some VPNs make Linux apps that might run on OpenELEC, but a more universal option is to configure the VPN manually. OpenELEC Kodi users can even connect to a VPN from within a Kodi add-on like VPN Manager for OpenVPN or OpenVPN for Kodi. Ask your VPN provider for the necessary configuration files to get up and running.
Popular devices that run Kodi with OpenELEC include:
- Wetek Play, Play 2, and Core
- Raspberry Pi 3
There are many more, but beware of devices that are sold with non-stock editions of Kodi. Many vendors will sell pre-configured “piracy boxes” with special builds that come with tons of add-ons already installed. This is especially prevalent among third-party vendors selling Amazon Fire TV sticks with Kodi. While these can seem like a good deal at first because they don’t require you to install Kodi on your own, they often come with malware, botnets, and other nasty stuff that risks your security and internet bandwidth.
If a device doesn’t come with the stock version of Kodi, just install it yourself. You can find a tutorial on how to install Kodi on Fire TV here, and how to install a VPN on Fire TV here. These instructions should work similarly for other Android-based devices as well.