How Does a VPN Router Work? [Setup + Buyer’s Guide]

This router type allows VPN tunneling for all devices connected

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Key notes

  • VPN routers have major advantages over VPN apps on devices.
  • But how does a VPN router work and how difficult is it to set up one?
  • In this article, we’ll answer all of your questions.
how does a vpn router work

Much has been said about VPNs. But have you heard of VPN routers? To achieve increased online privacy, they’re just what the doctor ordered.

Keep reading to discover what VPN routers are all about, how they work, and what their different types and benefits are.

We’ll also show you how to choose the right VPN router for your needs, and how to set it up.

Let’s dive in!

What is a VPN router?

In essence, it’s a WiFi router that has the firmware needed to set up a VPN.

Conversely, a regular router doesn’t have the built-in software necessary to support VPN connections. But, you may be able to convert one into a VPN router by flashing it. More on this later.

VPN routers and router VPNs aren’t the same, although some incorrectly use them interchangeably.

Router VPNs are VPN apps you could install on routers. Oftentimes, they’re compatible with a wide variety of router firmware and can mesh with dedicated router apps.

How does a VPN router work?

To understand how VPN routers work, here’s a primer on VPN technology:

A VPN is a tool that reroutes your device’s traffic through an encrypted tunnel to a third-party server, allowing you to interact with the web indirectly.

As a result, you use the VPN server’s IP to spoof your location and hide your activity and DNS queries from snoopers.

Moreover, a VPN app on a device strongly encrypts outgoing traffic and decrypts incoming one. So, whoever tries to monitor or intercept your data in transit would remain clueless about what you’re doing.

Usually, VPN services have server networks that span dozens of jurisdictions across the world. Some providers might use virtual server locations, but they take this route to obtain IPs registered in places that are prone to cyberattacks or not friendly to VPNs.

Leading services offer extraordinary capabilities such as obfuscation and split tunneling, which is for using your VPN selectively.

A VPN router follows the same basic principle, except that it secures all devices on the network using a single VPN connection. So, it encrypts all data leaving it and decrypts the one coming in. However, the traffic between your router and devices is unencrypted.

In terms of setup, you can configure VPN routers in different ways, ranging from simple to complex. Your configuration options would depend on your router model, your VPN, and your technical know-how.

Types of VPN routers

VPN routers do work after the same principle, but they come in different forms. As follows are the most common ones on the market:

Pre-configured VPN routers

These routers are ready to go. You can buy an off-the-shelf model or one that you can tailor to your favorite service.

Now, pre-configured VPN models don’t come cheap. But, they make setup and configuration changes painless.

Pre-flashed VPN routers

These routers are VPN-enabled. This means they have the firmware needed to install a specific VPN but are yet to be pre-configured to a particular server. You can set one up using a VPN router app or manually.

Manually flashed VPN routers

These routers are compatible with VPN firmware. However, they don’t have it pre-installed. If you have one of these, you’ll have to flash it so that it can run a VPN.

Retrofitting VPN functionality to your WiFi router can be taxing, especially if you’re not technically proficient.

But, manually flashing and configuring your existing hardware costs less than upgrading to a pre-configured model.

However, keep in mind that not every VPN-compatible regular router supports any VPN firmware. Installing something incompatible could mess up the hardware beyond repair.

So, do your homework beforehand.

Dedicated VPN routers

A dedicated VPN router could refer to a secondary router with VPN software installed on it and connected to a primary router with no VPN capabilities or to an enterprise-grade VPN setup.

In your home, you could configure a dedicated VPN router to create a new WiFi network with VPN protection while keeping your original network as usual.

In the office, a dedicated VPN router housed in the HQ can create secure connections at the hardware level site-wide while eliminating the need to install a client VPN on individual devices. As a result, the entire remote office can enjoy continuous access to the network.

Setting up a dedicated VPN router at home may intimidate not-so-tech-savvy users.

In business settings, pulling off a proper VPN router setup is a Herculean task for tech greenhorns. So, that’s why you should probably leave this job to IT experts.

Pre-configuredPre-flashedManually flashedDedicated (home)Dedicated (office)
VPN compatibilityLimitedLimitedWideDepends on router modelLimited
Setup difficultyEasyModerateHardModerate or hardHard
Setup timeFastModerateModerate or lengthyModerate or lengthyLengthy
Router upgrade costHighHighNoneHigh or noneDepends on enterprise-grade VPN router vendor’s pricing

Benefits of using a VPN router

Installing your VPN on a router instead of directly on your device can be a massive inconvenience. So, why bother?

Well, using a VPN router can be advantageous for many reasons.

Let’s discuss the most important ones:

Increased privacy at the network level

Normally, only the devices that individually connect to the VPN can stay protected. The rest expose you geographically and broadcast your activity to your ISP.

A VPN router changes everything. It can keep the IP and DNS data of all devices on its network a secret. That’s why it’s such a useful tool if you’re privacy-minded.

Automatic encryption

If you use a VPN router, you’ll only need to log in once and enjoy the merits of data encryption around the clock.

Its set-and-forget nature can not only make it incredibly convenient to obscure your traffic. But also enhance your network security to the point where you may no longer need additional firewall protection.

Protect devices that don’t natively support VPNs

Generally, VPN apps are designed for Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android. Only some vendors have developed dedicated clients for Linux, ChromeOS, and FireOS.

Say you have a gaming console like PlayStation or an Apple Watch. Or you’re using a streaming media player like Chromecast or Roku. Such devices aren’t usually enabled to route data to a VPN.

So, if you want to hide your online activity on all your electronics, having a VPN router is your best bet.

Unblock geo-restricted content on all devices

Spoofing your location with a VPN is one of the most effective ways to beat regional lockouts, which limit the kind of content you can enjoy on the internet.

But, if you have a VPN router, you can successfully pretend you’re located in another area or country as long as you’re using a device that’s connected to your WiFi network.

Get around simultaneous VPN connection restrictions

Most VPN companies have a cap on the number of devices you can connect at the same time.

And, if you reach the limit, you’ll have to remove a device, buy another subscription, or purchase extra slots (if possible) to make room for more. 

Using a VPN router is a neat workaround. No matter how many devices you connect to your home network, your service provider would count it as just one.

So, when you’re outside and want to use your mobile data, you can still secure your traffic with your VPN at no extra cost.

Easily create a double VPN connection

Using another VPN service when connected to a VPN router can take your online privacy to another level.

This setup can mask your IP and encrypt your data twice, creating a second line of defense in case your VPN router becomes leaky.

More importantly, it can secure the traffic between your devices and your WiFi router.

Now, keep in mind that this configuration will noticeably slow down your internet connection. However, this may be a trade-off you’d be willing to accept if, for example, you live in a country with heavy internet usage restrictions.

VPN routers are easier to set up than ever

There’s no denying that setting up a VPN router seems more complicated than downloading a native VPN app for your system.

That said, VPN router apps are now available to simplify the configuration process. At the moment, ExpressVPN and VyprVPN are the only ones that offer them. But, it could inspire or pressure others to follow suit.

How to choose the right VPN router

VPN routers come in many shapes and forms. So, to select the one that suits your needs, you should take note of the following factors:

VPN preference

Obviously, not all VPNs are router VPNs. And not all router VPNs are installable on any router model. So, if you want to subscribe to a particular service, you’ll be limiting the number of products you can use.

However, leading VPN providers usually have lists of supported routers on their websites to make things easier.

VPN compatibility

Installing an incompatible VPN on your router is futile. So, it’s important to determine whether your preferred model can actually function with the particular VPN service you’re eyeing.

Setup difficulty

Again, setup methods come in varying degrees of difficulty. If you’re not technically proficient to handle the complex process of flashing your hardware and configuring your VPN, you may want to take the easiest route to installation and get a pre-configured router.


The more convenient a VPN router is to set up, the more expensive it usually is. So, if you want to spend as little as possible, you should explore the manually-flashed option.

How to set up a VPN router

To get an idea of the whole setup process, here’s a walkthrough of ExpressVPN’s installation guide for Netgear Nighthawk R6700, one of the best VPN routers you can buy:

  1. Visit ExpressVPN’s website and pick a subscription.

    expressvpn sign up

  2. Create an account.

  3. Go to

  4. If you already own a supported router, choose Install on the router I’ve been using.

    vpn router setup guide

  5. Select the model and download its firmware.

    vpn router model selection

  6. Click Continue.

    router firmware download

  7. Follow the on-screen instructions.

    express vpn router setup instructions

  8. Click continue.

    expressvpn router instruction click continue

  9. Follow the final set of instructions to complete the setup.

    express vpn router get started

If you encounter connection failure or IP and DNS data leakage on all devices, restarting your WiFi router may fix what’s wrong. But, if the issue is isolated, restarting the problematic device should do the trick.

If the above troubleshooting steps don’t work, contact your VPN service provider’s help desk. Its customer support reps can diagnose the problem better and offer the most effective solution.


Now you know the answer to the question: How does a VPN router work? However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The real keys to determining the right model for you are understanding the differences between its many types and realizing the most important factors when comparing products.

Hopefully, you found this explainer helpful. If you think we missed something, share your thoughts in the comments!