How to use a VPN with Tor, and should you do it?

Anton P. | October 25, 2023

Using a VPN with Tor can add an extra layer of security to your online activities. People use the Tor browser for anonymity and visiting otherwise inaccessible sites. VPN can perform similar functions in some cases.

Thus, combining the two might seem overkill at first glance. However, as we will explicate in this article, you can achieve more using both solutions.

Using a VPN with Tor can increase online anonymity and privacy, but only with a reliable VPN for Tor provider.

What is a VPN?

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a technology for creating a private encrypted connection to the public network. A VPN service enables private browsing by encrypting your internet traffic and hiding your real IP address.

Some of the main advantages best VPN services will provide include:

  • Split tunneling allows the use of VPN connections only on chosen applications. You can, at the same time, connect directly to the internet with other apps.
  • Leak protection that guards against DNS and IP address leaks and checks for data breaches.
  • Kill Switch, which temporarily shuts off online activities to prevent data leaks when the VPN connection is interrupted.
  • No-logs policy, meaning that a reliable VPN service should not log and store your data.
  • Double VPN or MultiHop+ function that routes traffic through multiple VPN servers for increased protection.

The specific features your chosen VPN option has depend on the VPN provider.

What is the Tor Project?

Officially founded in 2006, The Tor Project is a non-profit organization promoting internet privacy. Scientists have been developing the underlying technology for Tor routing all through the 1990s. 

The need to combat breaches of anonymity made possible by the internet motivated the creation of the Onion router. Abbreviated as Tor, this open-source software program routes traffic through an anonymous computer network. 

The onion in its name represents layers of encryption used to hide the routed message.

How does Tor work?

The Tor network or Onion network is a free worldwide network of servers used to encrypt internet traffic. Each server acts as a Tor node or relay, providing increasing layers of concealment.

  1. Tor entry node. Internet traffic enters the Tor network through entry or guard nodes. Tor entry nodes know the IP address where the traffic originated but not the request since Tor encrypts it.
  2. Middle nodes. The entry node sends traffic to one or more middle nodes. The middle nodes know neither the originating IP address nor the traffic destination.
  3. Tor exit node. The exit node knows the destination address where it sends the traffic after receiving it from a middle relay. However, it does not know the IP address that initially made the request.

Thus, every request made with Tor goes through at least three servers before reaching the intended destination. The response from the end server also makes these detours to promote the user's anonymity.

Tor browser

Tor browser is the software program that browses the internet through the Tor network. You need a Tor browser or special network configurations to access the dark web.

Many sites on the dark web are onion sites. An onion site uses Tor to create a layered encrypted connection that helps ensure anonymity. The domain extension ".onion" ends every domain address of an onion site.

Private Christmas & a safe New Year!


How to use a VPN for Tor browsing?

There are two main ways to use VPN with Tor. The difference is in which you connect to first.

Tor over VPN

Tor over VPN or Onion over VPN is when you first connect to a VPN server and then to Tor. Some VPNs might even have built-in Tor connectivity. Usually, however, you would connect in the following way.

  1. Sign up for a VPN service and download a VPN client software.
  2. Open the VPN client and type in your credentials.
  3. Find and press the connect button.
  4. Download and install the Tor browser.
  5. As you launch the browser, it will automatically connect to the Tor network. You are good to go.

VPN over Tor

Connecting to the Tor network first and then VPN is known as VPN over Tor. Usually, you will not be able to configure a VPN for Tor by yourself to use this method. Setting it up will require assistance from your VPN service provider.

Is the extra hassle worth it? Probably not. VPN over Tor is generally considered less secure. The Tor entry node will know your actual IP address, which partly defeats the purpose of using a VPN. Additionally, your VPN provider will be able to see your internet traffic.

The main reason to use this method is if you need to access services that block Tor through this network.

Why use a VPN with Tor?

Tor and VPN cover some of the same areas of online anonymity. Thus, in some cases, using one or the other is enough.

Meanwhile, using a VPN with Tor might have drawbacks. Tor network already has slow connection speeds due to routing through multiple servers. Additionally connecting to a VPN might slow down your internet connection even more.

Thus, why not just choose either VPN or Tor? There are benefits and use cases for utilizing VPN for Tor:

  1. VPN for Tor will hide your IP address from the entry node. Without the VPN, the first server your traffic goes to when connecting to Tor knows where this traffic came from.
  2. Most VPN clients, especially free VPNs, cannot connect to the dark web on their own. If you want to use dark web resources, you need the Tor browser. And if you want to use them extra privately, having a VPN for Tor is best.
  3. VPNs have additional security features that Tor lacks. Unblocking onion websites, leak protection, and a kill switch all come in handy when browsing the dark web.

To sum up, using a VPN with Tor provides greater anonymity and broader access when surfing the internet.

A word of caution

Before using a VPN for Tor browsing, one must consider the risks involved. The Tor project is a non-profit organization that does not collect your personal information. In this sense, you can use it safely alone when needed. 

Meanwhile, there are all kinds of VPNs. Only a VPN with a strict no-logs policy can be trusted to increase your security. 

Additionally, in the case of using a VPN over Tor, the wrong configuration might decrease your privacy. Thus, reconsider the necessity of double protection before using a VPN with Tor.

Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.



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