Two hands, one holding a browser tab with an onion on it, the other holding a browser tab with VPN written on it.

We can’t always know if or when intrusive third parties may be tracking our browsing history or other actions online. And this makes a lot of people more cautious about their online privacy. Some turn to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to secure their everyday browsing. Others turn to The Onion Router (Tor) to hide their trails. 

But what about combining the two privacy tools? Is it possible, and what are the benefits and the downsides of doing so? Let’s find out.

Using Onion over VPN: in short

Tor refers to both the software for making your internet traffic untraceable and the volunteer network of servers that makes it possible. While typically considered secure, it can be too slow for daily use, and the security can be compromised by malicious agents setting up their own servers. 

A VPN offers a simpler and faster approach to securing your connection by encrypting your data and routing it via a VPN server. However, by combining a VPN and The Onion Router, you can protect yourself from people trying to spy on you via compromised Tor routers. We explain it in more detail further on.

Table of contents

    What is The Onion Router (Tor)?

    Data traveling from your device through the onion network before reaching a website.

    The Onion Router is free, open-source software for anonymous communication and the network it uses to carry this out. It’s usually accessed via the Tor Browser maintained by the Tor Project, though there is another operating system called Tails that routes all of your internet traffic via the network. 

    How does The Onion Router work?

    To keep your identity anonymous, Tor software uses servers set up by volunteers to bundle your data into three layers of encryption. Tor routes your traffic through three different servers, also known as nodes or relays. The last of the three servers sends your traffic out to the website you’re visiting.

    Each node removes a layer with the previous address on it to reveal the address of the next node. In essence, only the first node, called the “entry node,” knows who is sending data but not what that data is. The third node, also known as the “exit node,” is the only one to know what data is sent — but not where it comes from. 

    But how is it different from a VPN?

    What is a VPN?

    Data traveling from your device through a VPN server before reaching a website.

    A VPN is an online privacy tool that encrypts your traffic and hides your IP address, ensuring a secure and private connection to the internet. Unlike The Onion Router, a VPN encrypts all your traffic, not just traffic on a particular browser. This means that your connection is protected no matter what you do or what browser you use. How does a VPN work?

    A VPN encrypts your data before it leaves your device. The encrypted data is then split into packages and sent to a VPN server through an encrypted tunnel. Once your data reaches the VPN server, it’s decrypted and sent to the app or website you’re visiting. 

    As a result, your actual IP is replaced with the VPN server’s IP address, which makes your traffic look like it’s coming from the VPN server’s location. Since VPN providers use their own servers, not ones set up by volunteers, there is no risk of a faulty or malicious server being set up by a bad actor.

    Why use Onion over VPN?

    Balance scales with an onion on one side and a shield with VPN on it on the other side. Scales are tipped in VPNs favor.

    Using Onion over VPN means that you connect to a VPN server before you start using the Tor browser. By doing so, you add an extra layer of security to your connection and protect it from the potential threats posed by compromised servers within the Tor network. 

    Both technologies are good at what they do, but they have their own downsides:

    VPN downsides
    Tor downsides
    Some VPN providers, especially free ones, can collect user activity logs. Make sure to choose a premium VPN provider with a strict no-logs policy.
    Nodes may be compromised and expose your data. This way, your browsing history could be reconstructed.
    Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) or government might get suspicious if you’re using Tor.

    When you use Onion over a VPN, the VPN shields your data on its way to the entry node. Your ISP won’t be able to see that you’re using Tor, only that you’re using a VPN (and good VPNs can obfuscate even that). When your data reaches the entry node, it will show the VPN server’s IP, meaning that your actual IP is hidden and your traffic can’t be traced back to you. 

    Tor also encrypts your data at the same time. So when it goes over the VPN server, it can’t register what you’re actually doing — it can only see that you’re using Tor. 

    But how do you combine Tor and a VPN? Turns out, it’s quite easy to do. Read on and follow our quick, simple guide. 

    How to use Onion over a VPN

    It’s not that hard to use The Onion Router with a VPN — you just need a trustworthy and secure VPN provider (and the Tor Browser, obviously). Here’s a short guide using Surfshark VPN as an example. 

    1. Sign up for Surfshark;
    2. Download and install the VPN app;
    3. Sign in to the client;
    4. Choose from one of 3200+ servers to connect to;
    5. Download and install the Tor Browser;
    6. Launch the Tor Browser and connect to the Tor network;
    7. That’s it!

    Keep in mind that Tor is already slow due to all the nodes, and adding a VPN to the connection process can make it slightly slower. However, it’s a small price to pay if you want to ensure your privacy online.

    But what if you wanted to try a VPN over Onion?

    What about a VPN over Tor?

    It is possible to set up a VPN to work over The Onion Router. Or rather, to put a VPN after the Tor network. This is useful if you want to access websites that don’t allow Tor connections. 

    Here’s the Tor Project’s list of websites that either block Tor connections or ask for additional verification when you use Tor. 

    However, you should be informed that using a VPN over Tor isn’t very safe or easy to do. It forgoes the most important reason for using Tor over a VPN — keeping your identity secret from the person who hosts the entry node. Neither does it mask Tor use from scrutiny by your ISP.

    So unless you really, really need to use Tor to visit a website that doesn’t accept connections from the Tor network, stick to Tor over a VPN or use a different browser with the protection of a VPN.

    So, what’s the difference between Onion over a VPN and a VPN over Onion?

    In short, the difference between using Tor over a VPN vs. a VPN over Tor are:

    Onion over VPN
    VPN over Onion
    Your traffic is not protected at Tor’s exit nodes.
    Your traffic is protected at Tor’s exit nodes
    Your ISP can’t see that you’re using Tor but can see that you’re using a VPN.
    Your ISP can’t see that you’re using a VPN but can see that you’re using Tor.
    Some sites might block you because they see Tor traffic.
    Allows you to access sites that block Tor traffic.
    Can access .onion sites.
    Can’t access .onion sites.
    Doesn’t allow your Tor node host to see your real IP address.
    Allows your Tor node host to see your real IP address.

    As mentioned above, using Onion over VPN is both more secure and easier to set up. The only real reason to use a VPN over Onion is if you absolutely must use the Tor browser to access websites that block Tor traffic. 

    Onion over a VPN vs. double VPN

    Both Onion over a VPN and double VPN encrypt your data multiple times. With Onion over a VPN, your data is encrypted once by the VPN and a further three times within The Onion Router. When using a double VPN feature, your data is encrypted twice, both times by your VPN provider. 

    In other words, Onion over a VPN adds a layer of VPN protection to the Tor browser, while a double VPN is just a regular VPN connection, but your traffic is routed through two VPN servers instead of one, making your traffic and activity even harder to track. 

    It’s worth mentioning that Onion over a VPN routes your traffic through a network of servers set up by volunteers, which opens up the possibility for bad actors to infiltrate the network. A double VPN routes traffic through two of its own servers, which makes it more private, especially if the server infrastructure is independently audited.

    Onion over a VPN
    Double VPN
    Encrypts data four times.
    Encrypts data two times.
    Works with .onion websites.
    Doesn’t work with .onion websites.
    Typically slower than double VPN.
    Typically faster than Onion over a VPN.
    Routes traffic through servers set up by volunteers.
    Routes traffic through it’s own network of servers.

    As far as real-life use cases go, both a double VPN and Onion over a VPN are typically used by people who need more privacy than the average user. If you simply browse the web, stream movies or TV shows, or play video games online, you don’t need to slow your connection down with three extra Tor nodes or a double VPN. 

    Onion over a VPN vs. P2P

    Everything we talked about so far included a private way to connect to the internet. A P2P (Peer-to-Peer) connection is different as it’s a connection between two or more devices, not a connection to the web. Just as with the Tor browser, you can use a VPN with a P2P connection to hide your IP and secure your privacy.

    Unlike Onion, a P2P connection doesn’t offer any encryption on its own. It simply allows file sharing without uploading them onto a website or an online platform. However, since no data passes through a centralized server, it offers a secure way to exchange files or messages.

    Onion over a VPN
    Creates a private and secure connection to the internet.
    Creates a connection between two or more devices.
    Routes traffic through a network of servers.
    Router traffic between devices without connecting to a website or app.
    Has slow connection speeds.
    Offers a fast and secure way to share files or messages.

    Simply put, P2P is a good choice if you want private communications and file sharing with a group of peers, especially if you use it together with a VPN. Onion over VPN provides a secure and private connection to the internet and the ability to navigate .onion websites.

    Using Onion over a VPN: the rundown

    Tor and VPNs are both great means to enhance your security and privacy online. Naturally, using them together only increases your gains, but it comes at the cost of your connection speed

    A regular user who browses the internet, watches movies, and plays games online doesn’t need to use The Onion Router, and a VPN is more than enough to provide privacy and protection. But if you want to be a whistleblower or take part in politically sensitive activities, using Onion over VPN is likely the best choice for you.

    Expand your privacy
    Use Onion over Surfshark VPN


    Does Surfshark and Onion work together?

    The Onion Router and Surfshark have no issues working together. You can use the Tor browser over a Surfshark connection any time you want increased privacy. 

    Does a VPN slow down Onion?

    A VPN does slow down your internet connection slightly. So, while it will slow down the Tor browser, it won’t do so by much. The bigger issue is the fact that the Tor browser itself is quite slow since it sends your traffic through 3 different nodes.

    Is Onion over a VPN safe?

    Onion over VPN is safer than using the Tor browser without the protection of a VPN. Tor uses servers set up by volunteers, and malicious actors sometimes set up such servers to steal user data. Since a VPN encrypts your traffic before it leaves your device, it effectively protects you from such efforts by hackers.

    What is Onion over a VPN used for?

    Using Onion over a VPN provides an extra layer of security and privacy to your connection. It doesn’t let your ISP know that you’re using Tor, and it hides your real IP address from the first node in The Onion Router. 

    Is Onion over a VPN better than double VPN?

    Onion over a VPN encrypts your data four times, while a double VPN does it twice. However, a double VPN supports UDP and TCP protocols, while Onion over a VPN only supports TCP. A double VPN is also faster because it takes fewer steps to route your traffic to the internet.

    Should I use Onion over a VPN with Tor?

    Yes, you should use Onion over a VPN with Tor instead of just using the Tor browser without the VPN. The Onion network has seen its share of traffic correlation attacks and data theft issues, and connecting to a VPN service before using the Tor browser is the best way to protect yourself from them.