How to use two VPNs on one device

Graphic depicting VPN and other network tools

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Installing your first VPN gets you all kinds of benefits. You’re more protected when you access public Wi-Fi, you can unblock Netflix and hundreds of other sites, and go torrenting in safety.

But what if that VPN doesn’t quite do everything you need – maybe there’s? Or it’s a free VPN, and you always run out of data before the end of the month? You might want to install a second VPN to do whatever the first service can’t, or just as a general backup.

You’ve probably read that this is a networking disaster area, that you should never install two VPNs on the same device, and if you do then [insert terrible outcome here].

There’s a little truth in this. Doubling-up on VPNs can cause you real problems in some situations. But often it’ll work just fine, and in this article we’ll explain when and where a backup VPN can be useful. Plus, we have some tips to keep your setup running smoothly.

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Using two VPNs at the same time: the problem

Having two VPN apps available is convenient, but some people have bigger ambitions: they’d like to connect to both VPNs at the same time.

Why? This has some privacy advantages. Your data gets encrypted twice, for instance. And if your traffic is routed through one service, then another, that means websites only see the IP address of the second VPN: your real IP address gets an extra layer of protection.

Unfortunately, there’s also a big problem, at least when using two apps on the same device: it almost certainly won’t work.

Here’s the problem. Connect using app #1 and it reconfigures your device to send all your traffic through that provider’s network adapter. Connect using app #2 and it’ll try to replace those rules with its own, re-routing traffic through its own adapter. Instead of working together, the apps will fight over your traffic and settings. 

The most likely outcome is the second VPN won’t connect, and you’ll only be able to use the first. But it’s also possible that one or both apps will crash, or your internet connection will fail until you close them down.

Installing multiple VPNs

Building a multi-VPN setup starts by installing whatever apps you need. This almost certainly won’t be an issue with mobile devices where you just get the mobile VPN apps, but there’s more scope for problems on a PC.

Install a VPN on Windows and it often installs TAP and TUN adapters – virtual network drivers used to make their connections. A poorly designed app might get confused if you’ve several adapters, and be unable to connect.

So if you’ve equipped your PC with VPN A, and then find VPN B won’t install, perhaps complaining about TAP or network adapter errors, that could be the problem. Uninstall both, and try installing VPN B first, then VPN A. If the other app is smarter, it’ll have no problem running alongside another service, and you won’t see any installation issues.

The Protocol options in ProtonVPN Windows settings

(Image credit: ProtonVPN)

Conflicting VPN app settings

One common issue with using multiple VPNs is they have conflicting settings. If you boot your device, and one VPN tries to connect to your nearest server, but the other turns on its kill switch to block all internet access, the results won’t be pretty.

To test for this, install both apps, reboot your device and check that everything looks normal. That means no error messages from either app, and your browser and other apps all work as normal.

If that’s not what happens (you see errors, your internet access is misbehaving, etc) – then there could be a conflict in your settings. Decide which of the VPN apps is most important, and you’d like to have maximum control of your system. Then launch the other app, open its Settings box, and look for any system-wide settings which might be causing the problem. 

If both VPNs have their kill switches turned on by default, for instance, they could each be blocking all internet access until they’re connected. But neither VPN can connect, because they’re blocked by the other VPN, so your internet is effectively dead. One of those kill switches has to be disabled.

Turn off anything you think might be relevant, reboot and try again. Make a note of everything you change, though, and think about the safety implications. If a second VPN only works if you turn off its kill switch, for instance, that risks your security (when using it as a torrenting VPN, for example) and maybe you don’t want to use it at all.

Fixing VPN connection issues

You’ve installed your VPN apps. They’re living together happily. But now it’s time for the really fundamental question: can they both connect?

Start your testing by entering ‘WHAT IS MY IP’ at Google to get your normal IP address. Connect using the first VPN app, check your IP address again, confirm it’s changed and in the country you expect. Then disconnect, connect to the second VPN, and verify your IP address again.

This usually works without issue on mobile devices. But again, Windows gives VPN apps more scope to take control of the system, and that can lead to various complications.

You might find one of the apps refuses to connect, for instance. That’s often related to the TAP or TUN driver issue we mentioned earlier. Check the app Settings page for an option to repair or reinstall the TAP or network adapter. That may fix the problem, though at a cost: it’s possible that getting one VPN app working again, might break the other (test it again, just in case.)

A simpler option might be to use a different VPN protocol on the second app. If the first is using WireGuard, OpenVPN or a vendor’s own protocol (Lightway, NordLynx, Catapult Hydra), set the second to use a native Windows protocol such as IKEv2, or L2TP.

A NordVPN connection error message

(Image credit: NordVPN)

Using two VPNs at the same time: the solutions

Use your router: One flexible way to double up on VPNs is to set one provider up on your router, and run another on your device. Your encrypted traffic first passes through whatever you’ve set up on the router (no conflicts, because the VPNs are on different systems), then travels on to the location you’ve chosen in the app.

Use Tor: For a sort-of equivalent, you could connect to your VPN, then to Tor (The Onion Router). Your traffic is encrypted by the VPN, then passes on to Tor, where it’s encrypted again and routed through a randomly chosen group of servers. The destination site never sees your real IP address so has no idea who you are, and even Tor only gets your VPN IP address. Great for privacy, but beware the performance hit: Tor is seriously slow.

Double hop: If you’re happy to compromise a little, a simpler alternative is to use a single VPN provider with a Double VPN or Multi-Hop feature. These allow you to connect to a server in one location (New York, for example), then route your traffic to another (let’s say London) before sending it to your destination.

Using only one provider means this isn’t quite so private, as it can see everything you’re doing. But the extra hop does make it more difficult for the rest of the world to track what you’re doing, and the scheme is far easier to use, normally just a matter of choosing an option in the app. Check out NordVPN or Hide.me for Double VPN features which could help.

Mike Williams

Mike began his career as a lead software developer in the engineering world, where his creations were used by big-name companies from Rolls Royce to British Nuclear Fuels and British Aerospace. He now covers VPNs, antivirus and all things security for TechRadar, although he still has a secret love of quirky open-source and freeware apps which find brand new ways to solve common problems.

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