What Is Onion Over VPN and How Does It Protect You?

With at least four layers of encryption, Onion over VPN makes it nearly impossible for anyone to peel back the layers of security to find your identity.
We may receive compensation from the products and services mentioned in this story, but the opinions are the author's own. Compensation may impact where offers appear. We have not included all available products or offers. Learn more about how we make money and our editorial policies.

Using a virtual private network (VPN) is one effective way to encrypt your internet usage and protect your privacy and your personal information. If you’re looking for an even more secure and anonymous way to use the internet, you may be interested in using Onion over VPN.

Now, you’re probably thinking that you’re reading a cooking blog by accident — but Onion over VPN is actually a cybersecurity term that refers to multi-layered security. It’s the combination of using The Onion Router (Tor) and a VPN simultaneously. This gives you several layers of security to help you avoid government censorship, keep your browsing activity anonymous, and protect you from unwanted trackers, malicious ads, and more.

Let’s look at how Onion over VPN works and discuss the best VPNs with Onion over VPN technology.

In this article
What is Onion over VPN?
What is Tor?
Should you use Onion over VPN?
How to use NordVPN Onion over VPN
VPNs with Onion over VPN
Onion over VPN FAQs
Bottom line

What is Onion over VPN?

Onion over VPN includes two main components: The Onion Router and a VPN.

The Onion Router, or Tor, is a network of volunteer-operated servers that routes your internet traffic through servers all over the world. When using Tor, you connect to a random server, and your internet activity moves through several servers, adding layers of encryption at each connection point. By default, Tor sends your data to at least three servers, also known as relays or nodes: the entry node, the middle (relay) node, and the exit node.

The Onion Router makes your browser and device look the same as anyone else who’s using Tor, giving you anonymous access to the World Wide Web by hiding your IP address and encrypting the data throughout the process.

Onion over VPN adds an extra layer of security by using VPN encryption to protect your IP address before entering the Tor network. This is important because, while the Tor network encrypts your data several times, your IP address is unprotected when entering and exiting the network.

Tor over VPN vs. VPN over Tor

Tor over VPN and VPN over Tor seem like they should be the same thing. However, they each have different purposes. Tor over VPN allows you to use The Onion Router with the added security of a VPN. This means your internet service provider (ISP) can’t see that you're using Tor and gives you an added layer of encryption.

VPN over Tor works differently to hide your usage of the Tor network from your VPN. VPN over Tor also allows you to hide the fact you’re using a VPN if you’re somewhere that does not allow VPN usage, like Russia. Some countries have made using a VPN illegal. Your ISP will still be able to see that you’re using the Tor network.

What is Tor?

The Onion Router provides you with a level of anonymity while using the internet. Tor provides this added layer of security by routing internet traffic through a series of volunteer servers, which makes it much more difficult to track internet activity.

This layered approach means your IP address is encrypted along with your internet activity. You can use Tor to bypass government censorship, browse the web with more anonymity, and protect yourself from trackers and malicious sites. While using Tor can add extra layers of security, it still comes with privacy concerns that could put your anonymity at risk.

Tor moves your internet traffic through a series of relays or nodes throughout a volunteer network of servers. These stops along the way randomize your internet traffic, change your IP address, and encrypt your internet traffic. Tor will always route your internet usage through at least three servers, before reaching the destination. Tor decrypts your traffic before reaching the destination.

A diagram showing how a user's data gets encrypted through multiple Tor servers before it reaches its destination.

There can be several privacy concerns when using Tor. Since the traffic is decrypted after the last Tor server and the destination, there is a chance that ISPs and government entities could track your traffic after it leaves Tor. All of Tor’s exit nodes are publicly available so entities can see unencrypted traffic as it leaves the Tor network.

Your ISP may also be able to see that you’re using Tor, even if they can’t see your activity.

Despite potential concerns, there are two main reasons to use Tor. There is the Tor browser or the Tor networking system. The Tor networking system is an open network that uses other users’ computers to route internet traffic. The Tor browser is similar to other internet browsers. However, all the traffic in the browser is routed through the Tor network system, with several layers of encryption.

While the Tor network helps you protect your browser activity, there are also sites that require the Tor network to access. These sites are available only on the Tor network or with a Tor browser.

How does Onion over VPN work?

Onion over VPN gives you even more security and anonymity when using Tor. While Tor has a few security concerns, using Onion over VPN can also help you reduce those security concerns. By using a VPN, your IP address is changed before entering The Onion Router. This way, if there are malicious servers in the Tor network, your IP address is already hidden.

Connecting to a VPN before using Tor keeps your ISP from knowing that you’re using Tor. If you’re using Tor to avoid government censorship, Onion over VPN helps you make sure that those entities can’t see your Tor usage or other internet traffic.

Without a VPN, your IP address is exposed at the beginning of the Tor network when it enters a random relay. When your data exits the Tor network through a random node, it is also decrypted, and your IP address could be exposed again. By signing on to a VPN before using Tor, your IP address is already masked, and your data is encrypted, which means that your actual IP address is not shown at any point during your use.

With Onion over Tor, your data is encrypted at least four times: Once when you sign on to the VPN and three times throughout the Tor network. This gives you even more added security.

Do you need the Tor Browser to use Onion over VPN?

In many cases, you do need the Tor browser to access the Tor network. However, some VPNs allow you to use the Tor network without the need for a browser. If you’re using NordVPN or Proton VPN, you don’t need the Tor browser.

Should you use Onion over VPN?

Onion over VPN isn’t necessary for everyone. While Onion over VPN adds additional layers of security, just a VPN can help circumvent geo-restrictions and keep your browser activity secure.

However, Onion over VPN benefits those looking to remain completely anonymous while using the internet. Onion over VPN would be most beneficial for someone looking to avoid government censorship, such as a journalist, blogger, or activist.

Is Onion over VPN safe to use?

Both the Tor network and a VPN give you added layers of security to help keep you protected online. Combining the two gives you added anonymity, which can be beneficial.

When using only the Tor network, your IP address can be exposed entering and exiting the network — before it’s encrypted and after it’s decrypted. There is also the chance that bad actors have set up servers on the Tor network, and your activity or information could get compromised somewhere on the network.

Adding a VPN to your Tor usage protects your IP address and your information before it enters the Tor network, giving you added security and protecting you from malicious activity inside the Tor network. If you need to use the Tor network, adding a VPN and using Onion over VPN makes it safer for you.

While the Tor network is often used by activists and journalists to escape government censorship and surveillance, Tor is also used by criminals who want to peddle drugs and do other illegal activities on the dark web too. It’s a good idea to practice caution if you use Tor to visit the dark web.

Onion over VPN pros and cons

  • Makes it almost impossible to track your internet activity
  • Prevents government censorship
  • VPN won’t see your Tor activity
  • Onion over VPN can significantly reduce your internet speeds
  • Websites may block Tor usage
  • Tor is sometimes associated with illegal activities

How to use NordVPN Onion over VPN

Many VPNs offer optimized servers for Onion over VPN. If you’re looking for a VPN to use with Tor, NordVPN is a great solution.

To get started using NordVPN for your Onion over VPN needs, you must sign up for a NordVPN account. NordVPN’s Standard plan will give you access to all its VPN functionality. If you pay for 2 years of service, you’ll pay only $3.49 monthly or $83.76 for the first 2 years. NordVPN has additional plans that give you access to some of its other products, including NordPass, the company’s password manager, and NordLocker, an encrypted cloud storage solution.

Once you have NordVPN, you can easily navigate to the “Specialty servers” tab to find the servers optimized for Onion over VPN. With NordVPN, you don’t need to use a special Tor browser. By connecting to NordVPN, you can use any browser you’d like.

VPNs with Onion over VPN

While using a VPN with Tor makes it easier to protect your online identity, not all VPNs offer the ability to use The Onion Router. Two VPNs that do offer Onion over VPN access are NordVPN and Proton VPN. We’ve tested both of these VPNs extensively and find that both are great VPNs for daily use and they also excel at Onion over VPN.

One feature we found important for using Onion over VPN is a kill switch or similar technology. A kill switch keeps you from accessing the internet if your VPN connection fails. This way, you don’t accidentally use the Tor network if your VPN becomes disconnected. Both NordVPN and Proton VPN have kill switch functionality.

If these two VPNs don’t fit your budget or needs, check out our guide on the best VPNs for the dark web for a list of VPNs that emphasize security and privacy.


Limited-time deal: 2 years of NordVPN with 68% off + 3 extra months
Learn More
On NordVPN's website

As mentioned, NordVPN is a great VPN solution offering Onion over VPN specialty servers. By using NordVPN, you don’t need to use the Tor browser to access the Tor network. NordVPN also offers several other features outside of just Onion over VPN, including Meshnet, which allows you to create a local area network (LAN), so you can send files directly to different devices or play games on a LAN. (Meshnet also helps you share Netflix with friends and family living far away.)

Using Onion over VPN can slow down your internet connection significantly. We tested NordVPN’s effect on internet speeds when connected only to the VPN, and there wasn’t a significant change in speed. We saw a slight decrease in speeds from 200 Mbps to 180 Mbps when connecting to a NordVPN server in the United States.

Once you connect to an Onion over Tor server, you’ll see your speeds decrease further, due to the nature of the Tor network. To see all of NordVPN’s features, read our NordVPN app review.

NordVPN Onion over VPN server locations

  • The Netherlands
  • Switzerland

NordVPN pros and cons

  • Loads of servers for more connection options
  • Panama HQ for true no-logs policy
  • Cheaper than ExpressVPN, another popular VPN
  • Too many confusing plans

Proton VPN

Learn More
On Proton VPN's website

Proton VPN is another VPN that offers Onion over Tor capabilities. Proton VPN also has a free plan, but unfortunately, the free plan doesn’t allow for the use of Onion over Tor. With its best pricing, you can get Proton VPN for $4.99/mo with a 2-year commitment. The VPN service does offer a 30-day money-back guarantee if you are unsatisfied with the service.

We dig further into features and security in our Proton VPN review.

Proton VPN Tor over VPN server locations:

  • France
  • Germany
  • Hong Kong
  • Iceland
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United States

Proton VPN pros and cons

  • A strict no-logs policy
  • Headquarters in a privacy-focused country (Switzerland)
  • Secure Core servers to protect against hackers
  • Free plan doesn’t include Tor over VPN servers
  • More expensive than other solutions

Onion over VPN FAQs


Is Onion over VPN better than VPN?

If you plan on using the Tor network, then Onion over VPN is better. However, if you don’t need Tor’s anonymity, just using a VPN on its own is sufficient.


What’s the best VPN for Onion over VPN?

Several VPNs are good for Onion over VPN. From our testing, NordVPN and Proton VPN are the best for Onion over VPN. Both VPN solutions have specialty servers just for using the Tor network.


What’s better, double VPN or Onion over VPN?

Onion over VPN encrypts your data several times, while double VPN encrypts it only twice. Determining what is better depends on your internet activity. Onion over VPN gives you greater anonymity and security if you’re using the Tor network.

Bottom line

If you’re looking for a little extra added security while connecting to public Wi-Fi or you’re hoping to mask your location to stream geo-restricted Netflix content, Onion over VPN is more than you need. However, if you’re in a country that censors journalists or activists or you want to ensure complete anonymity to protect your safety, Onion over VPN is a good solution for you.

As we’ve said, Onion over VPN adds an additional layer of security, encrypting your usage and masking your IP address before you enter the Tor network. This means that your actual IP address isn’t compromised when entering or exiting the Tor network. When looking for an Onion over VPN provider, it’s also important to note that some VPNs keep activity or connection logs that could reveal your usage of the Tor network or jeopardize your activity.

Make sure you understand the privacy and log policies of the VPN you choose, to make sure you won’t run into any complications. VPNs headquartered in countries that are members of the Five Eyes Alliance can be concerning. The Five-Eyes Alliance members share information with each other that may help with matters of national security. There are several VPNs with no logs that emphasize your privacy and security that are worth considering.

Limited-time deal: 2 years of NordVPN with 68% off + 3 extra months
Learn More
On NordVPN's website

Author Details
Andrew Strom Adams is a freelance writer focused on online privacy and digital security. He writes on various topics to help individuals protect themselves on the internet. Andrew has worked in legal marketing, technology, and startups. He has more than 12 years of experience in marketing and communications. He holds an M.B.A. from Westminster College and a B.A. in journalism from Oklahoma Baptist University. When he’s not writing, he’s playing with his two kids or watching reality TV.