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What Is a VPN Router and How Does It Work?

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Headshot of Top10VPN.com Site Editor Callum Tennent
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Callum Tennent oversees how we test and review VPN services. He's a member of the IAPP, and his VPN advice has featured in Forbes and the Internet Society. Read full bio

A VPN router is the best solution to have all your household's devices use a VPN connection, if your VPN provider enforces device limits. In this guide we explain how to set up a VPN on your router, and how to use pre-configured VPN routers.

Two characters using a VPN router with multiple devices.

A VPN router is a WiFi router with virtual private network (VPN) software installed on it.

The VPN router encrypts all internet traffic sent or received over your WiFi network. This means you can protect all your devices at once, without installing a VPN app on each individual device.

Using a VPN on your computer or smartphone encrypts the traffic from only that individual device.

A VPN router, on the other hand, encrypts web traffic across your entire WiFi network.

Using a VPN-enabled router ensures all devices connected to your WiFi (computers, tablets, smartphones, smart TVs, games consoles, etc.) can simultaneously connect to your VPN’s servers.

A VPN router encrypts the traffic of every device on your WiFi network

A VPN router encrypts the traffic of every device on your WiFi network.

You can buy routers with VPN software pre-installed, or you can set up the VPN software on your router yourself.

Importantly, not all routers support VPN software, and not all VPN services can run on a router. For more information on this, see how to set up a VPN router.

In this guide, we also detail the advantages and disadvantages of using a VPN router. We explain what to look out for, and why a router could be the right solution for you.

If you’ve already decided to purchase a VPN router and just need help setting it up, read our guide to installing a VPN on your router.

What Are the Benefits of a VPN Router?

Investing in a VPN router for your home or business may seem like a big step, but it can offer several advantages in terms of security, privacy, and convenience.

Here’s an overview of the main benefits to using a VPN router:

Illustration showing the advantages of a VPN router.

1Avoid Multiple Device Limits

Most VPN services limit the number of devices you can connect at once. But a VPN installed at the router-level only counts as one connection – even though every device on your WiFi network is protected.

This feature is especially useful for game consoles, media players, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, many of which do not have native support for VPN client software (even super popular products like the Apple TV or Xbox One).

2Permanent VPN Protection

Browser-based VPN services require you to activate your connection every time you start a new session. If you’re using a VPN router, you never have to worry about turning your VPN on again.

Once your router is set up, your VPN will be running permanently regardless of what device you’re using. This severely reduces the risk of leaving yourself exposed online.

Over the past few years, certain countries have passed new legislation that forces internet service providers (ISPs) to monitor and store your browsing history. This is now obligatory in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and in certain parts of Europe.

Securing your entire network with a VPN router is one of the best solutions to this problem. All of the traffic between the router and the VPN server is secured and encrypted, leaving your ISP with absolutely no information about your browsing history.

3Improved Overall Security

Upgrading your router is a good idea from a security perspective. There have been several cases where authorities and criminals have exploited vulnerabilities in routers to spy on people or collect their sensitive data.

If you’re using a VPN router for your home, all of the devices connected to your router’s network will receive the benefits of your VPN. That means if you have guests or want to use several devices simultaneously, all of your traffic will be protected by default.

4Layered VPN Services

It is much easier to run two VPN services simultaneously if you’re using a VPN router. You can install one service on your router, and another on your desktop. While this will definitely reduce your connection speed, it is a great way of maximizing your protection in case one VPN service is compromised by leaks or crashes.

What Are the Disadvantages of a VPN Router?

VPN routers may seem like a great catch-all solution to internet privacy, and they are to an extent. But they do come at a cost, and not just a financial one.

Here’s a detailed look at the downsides of using a VPN router:

Illustration showing the disadvantages of a VPN router.

1Lack of Flexibility

VPN routers are for the privacy-minded. Once they’re set up it’s not as easy to change the settings as when the VPN software is installed at device-level. It’s much harder to quickly switch the service on and off, or change your server location.

For this reason, VPN routers aren’t ideal for things like geo-spoofing, anti-censorship, or unblocking websites. These situations need much more flexibility in terms of when you’d like to turn your VPN on and where you’d like to connect to.

Likewise, if you’re looking to stream content it might be easier to install a VPN app directly onto your preferred device.

Many services outright block VPNs without paying attention to where the traffic originates from. This can cause issues if your VPN is constantly activated.

You may even struggle to access content that’s normally available in your region. For example, if you’re in the US and connect your VPN router to a UK server, you might not be able to access US Netflix or other local platforms.

2Complicated Setup

Installing a VPN on your home router can be difficult and time-consuming, especially for beginners.

Most VPN providers have tutorials to help their customers through the installation process. Many of them have live chat support, too.

If you’re having trouble, make sure to check out our guide to setting up a VPN on your router.

The other option is to simply buy a pre-configured router. This is far easier and will get you browsing privately much quicker, but it will cost you a few hundred dollars.

That’s a lot of money for anybody, especially when a normal router can cost less than $50. You can find out more about this option in the next chapter of this guide.

3Reduced Connection Speeds

Running all of your traffic through a VPN means your speeds will be permanently lower.

Even if you buy a high-end router equipped with one of the fastest VPNs on the market, there will naturally be some slowdown versus an typical, unprotected connection. This will be especially true if you connect multiple devices to the same router.

4Security Weak Spots

Another downside to using a VPN at the router-level is that the traffic between your devices and the router is not encrypted.

This isn’t too much of an issue if you know and trust everyone that uses your home network. However, it does pose a security risk should a stranger or third party gain access.

Pre-Flashed vs. Unflashed VPN Routers

If you decide to invest in a VPN router for your home, one of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make is whether to buy a pre-flashed, VPN-enabled, or unflashed router.

“Flashing” means to install new firmware, which is the router’s operating system that determines what it can and can’t do.

Illustration showing the different types of VPN Router.

Here are all three options summarized:

  1. Purchase a pre-flashed VPN router. These routers come with a VPN pre-installed. This option is quick and easy, but is usually more expensive.
  2. Purchase a VPN-enabled router. These routers natively support VPN capabilities, so you won’t have to install new, VPN-enabled firmware. However, you will still have to install your VPN of choice.
  3. Flash an existing router with VPN firmware. This is the most complicated option. You might save money on new hardware, but you’ll have to install the VPN firmware manually.

The difference between these options is simple: pre-flashed routers already have the VPN installed on them. Unflashed routers will require you to manually install the VPN. The first option will usually cost you a little more, but it takes all of the work out of your hands – just plug it in and go.

If you received your router as part of your internet package then it’s unlikely you’ll be able to install a VPN on that exact device. Most ISPs now give their customers combined devices that function as both a modem and a router. In this case, you’ll need to buy a new, VPN-enabled router and connect it to your current device.

We’ll now cover each of these options in detail.

1Pre-Flashed Routers

Pre-flashed routers are the simplest option in almost every situation. They come with a VPN pre-installed, allowing you to avoid the complex process of installing new software or firmware.

Buying a pre-flashed VPN router will usually cost a little more, but it takes all of the work out of your hands – just plug it in, enter your login details, and go.

Services like FlashRouters will deal with the installation process for you and provide a device that’s complete with your chosen firmware and VPN service. You can also find routers that are specifically configured for certain providers, which is great if you have an existing VPN subscription.

A screenshot of VPN routers that are configured for specific VPN providers.

A selection of routers that are pre-configured for ExpressVPN.

FlashRouters, as well as some VPN providers, provide dedicated apps to simplify the process of connecting your home network to a VPN. These apps create a custom interface that streamlines the configuration process and allows you to switch easily between VPN servers, providers, and configuration options.

These apps will work with leading router models including the Linksys WRT32X, Netgear R6400, and Asus RT-AC5300.

2VPN-Enabled Routers

Your second option is to buy a new router that is already compatible with VPN software. These devices come with VPN-enabled firmware pre-installed, allowing you to configure a VPN service of your choice and connect to their servers straight away.

This is the option for you if:

  • You bought a Flashrouter that did not come preconfigured with a VPN server.
  • You want to configure your VPN router with another VPN server.

To find out if your current router will work with VPN software, read the router’s manual or search for the model number online.

Because these routers are already capable of supporting a VPN, you won’t need to install new firmware or link the router to an additional device. Simply purchase a VPN subscription and VPN-enabled router, follow the configuration instructions from your chosen service provider and you can then configure the device to a VPN server.

Popular brands that provide VPN-enabled routers include ASUS, Linksys, and Netgear. The Netgear R6400 is very popular model that offers great value for money.

If you choose this option, you should also consider which VPN protocols the router supports and whether it can be flashed with new firmware if necessary. The latest VPN-enabled routers typically support the OpenVPN protocol, which means you can install any VPN service that also uses OpenVPN. Luckily, this protocol comes as standard with any worthwhile VPN service.

3Unflashed

If your router isn’t currently compatible with VPN software, but is compatible with VPN firmware, you will need to flash it. This is a longer process that will depend on the type of router in question.

Manually flashing your router with new firmware will enable you to install the VPN software of your choice. This can save you money, but requires a bit technical knowledge.

The two most popular types of VPN router firmware are Tomato and DD-WRT. These are independent, open-source systems that you can download for free online.

Screenshot from the Tomato firmware website.

Tomato is an open-source, VPN-enabled firmware for routers.

Both DD-WRT and Tomato provide an interface for you to control your bandwidth, increase the range of your WiFi, use different VPN protocols, and much more. You can learn more about the differences between these custom firmware options in this article.

It’s worth remembering that flashing router firmware yourself is not for the faint of heart. It could result in a broken router with a voided warranty. To find out more, read our guide to manually installing a VPN on your router.

VPN Router Specifications

If you decide to buy a new router (pre-flashed, VPN-enabled, or otherwise), you must understand exactly what each model offers.

Just like laptops and smartphones, every router model comes with different capabilities that affect its performance.

We outline below the specifications you need to consider when purchasing a VPN router.

If you already have a VPN-compatible router, and simply need to choose a VPN service, skip to our section on choosing a VPN for your router.

WiFi Standard

The ‘WiFi standard’ of every router appears as a code on the device beginning with 802.11 and followed by a letter.

These WiFi standards refer to a set of protocols that decide how your WiFi network will act, and are updated every few years.

What really matters here is the letter that comes after the ‘802.11’. Older routers will have a ‘b’ or ‘g’. These should be avoided as their age means they won’t be capable of the latest speeds.

Newer models have an ‘n’, which means that they support a top speed of 300Mbps.

What you really want, though, is a device that supports 802.11ac. This is the latest consumer standard, allowing for transfer speeds of 1.3Gbps.

Even if your internet service provider doesn’t such speeds, a higher top speed on your router means all your devices will deliver downloads as fast as your connection allows.

Frequency Bands

A wireless frequency band represents the speed at which data is sent and received by the devices connected to your network. Most router offer either a 2.4GHz or 5GHz frequency band.

The main difference between these two frequencies is the connection range and speed that each band provides. Put simply, 2.4GHz offers slower speeds over greater distances, while 5GHz offers faster speeds over shorter distances.

You’ll still be limited by your overall broadband speed regardless of which band you’re using. However, 5GHz will probably deliver that broadband faster than 2.4GHz.

It’s worth noting that the 2.4GHz frequency can also suffer from interference if there are lots of devices on the network. This is because there are fewer devices out there capable of using 5GHz. This causes overcrowding on the 2.4GHz band.

Maximum Speed

The WiFi standard and frequency aren’t the only factors that will determine a router’s speed.

More often than not a router will state its maximum speed outright. There’s nothing technical to worry about here – just look for the highest possible number within your price range.

If you’d like to learn more about wireless router speeds, read this useful guide.

Number of Ports

Just because your router is wireless doesn’t mean that you can’t still get online the old-fashioned way.

Most VPN routers come with ethernet ports for wired connections. This is the easiest way to guarantee speed and reliability, although it’s not always the most convenient option.

They’ll usually also have a USB port or two. You can use these to turn an otherwise wired printer into a WiFi one, or connect an external storage device to create a shared network drive.

How Much Does a VPN Router Cost?

Like any gadget, the price of VPN routers can vary depending on your needs.

There’s always options for advanced users and professionals, but we would recommend going for an option that matches the size and demands of your network.

Bear in mind that VPN routers are naturally more expensive than standard WiFi routers, given that they are a more advanced pieces of equipment.

The cheapest VPN routers will cost around $130, while high-end models can cost up to $500.

Once you’ve bought a VPN router, the price of a monthly VPN subscription is very reasonable, even when using a leading VPN service.

The average price of a highly-rated VPN is $3.94 per month on yearly or multi-year plans. Paying on a rolling monthly basis, the average cost increases to $11.34.

How to Choose a VPN for Your Router

VPN router with different VPN providers

Even if you buy a pre-configured router, you still need to purchase a VPN subscription.

Once you’ve decided how to set up your VPN router for your home or buisness, you’ll need to decide which VPN service to use.

If you’re already paying for a VPN subscription, you’re a few steps ahead. If not, you need to do some research.

You can easily install top-rated VPNs like ExpressVPN or NordVPN on Tomato or DD-WRT routers.

Other VPN providers, like TunnelBear and Hotspot Shield, aren’t quite so simple to set up on a router.

Always check if a VPN service supports router connections before you purchase a subscription.

Once you’ve ensured a VPN provider supports router connections, you must check the rest of the service is up to scratch.

Consider the following VPN selection criteria:

  • Connection speed
  • Security and encryption standards
  • Logging policy
  • Streaming and P2P capabilities
  • Server locations
  • Customer support

Choosing a VPN for a Pre-Flashed Router

A surprising number of big-name VPNs we’ve reviewed offer their VPNs on pre-flashed routers. Popular options include IPVanish, Windscribe, and Proton VPN.

If you’re already subscribed to a VPN service offering pre-flashed routers, then you’re already at an advantage. All you need to do once you purchase and connect your pre-flashed router is log in to your account.

If you want to use another VPN with your router, that’s not a problem, either. The DD-WRT firmware lets you manually configure almost any VPN that uses OpenVPN or PPTP protocols.

In other words, if you buy a router from Flashrouters.com but don’t want to use one of the VPNs listed, you can install a different one instead.

Remember though, in this situation you will need to manually configure your VPN onto your router. You also won’t be able to use any additional app features like changing server location or switching the VPN on and off.

Choosing a VPN for a VPN-Enabled Router

If your VPN provider of choice doesn’t offer a pre-flashed router, that’s not a problem.

Make sure the VPN supports OpenVPN, and then purchase a router with firmware that also supports the protocol. You can then set it up yourself from there.

It’s worth noting that certain VPN services will only work with specific router models. Visit your chosen provider’s website or contact its support service for more details.

Some VPN providers offer a streamlined installation process with easy guides online. NordVPN, for example, has detailed router tutorials for every router and firmware that they support.

If your router is already compatible with your VPN, all you have to do is log in and configure it to connect with your VPN provider’s servers.

The Best VPN for Routers

ExpressVPN is the best VPN for routers. The VPN service is the only one to provide a dedicated VPN app for routers.

ExpressVPN app for routers

ExpressVPN has a dedicated app for routers.

By setting up ExpressVPN on your router you can avoid the service’s five simultaneous device limit.

By doing so, you can change your IP address, use the Internet privately, and unblock streaming content on any device connected to your WiFi network.

ExpressVPN is one of the fastest and most effective streaming VPNs we’ve tested. Currently, the VPN unblocks 10 Netflix regions, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, and more.

What’s more, when testing ExpressVPN’s router app, we discovered it lets you assign devices to specific groups.

This is a great feature that lets you connect to different server locations using different devices. No other VPN gives you this level of control.

ExpressVPN Router Compatibility

ExpressVPN is compatible with the following routers:

  • Asus RT-AC56(U/R/S)
  • Asus RT-AC68U
  • Asus RT-AC87U
  • Linksys EA6200
  • Linksys WRT1200AC
  • Linksys WRT1900AC(S)
  • Linksys WRT3200ACM
  • Netgear R6300v2
  • Netgear R6700v3
  • Netgear Nighthawk R7000
  • Netgear Nighthawk R7000P

Also, you can install the VPN on routers built by the following manufacturers:

  • Other Asus models
  • D-Link
  • DD-WRT
  • Netduma
  • Sabai
  • Tomato
  • TP-Link
  • Xiaomi

Alternatively, you can buy a pre-flashed ExpressVPN router. They can be expensive, but save you the hassle of installing the VPN yourself.

VPN router options on Expressvpn.com

The VPN router options on ExpressVPN’s website.

About the Author


  • Headshot of Top10VPN.com Site Editor Callum Tennent

    Callum Tennent

    Callum Tennent oversees how we test and review VPN services. He's a member of the IAPP, and his VPN advice has featured in Forbes and the Internet Society. Read full bio