The Xbox has evolved impressively throughout the years, and we’re not just talking about its hardware. The original Xbox we had growing up can’t hold a candle to the Xbox Series S and X in terms of specs, but besides that, the latest versions of Xbox are more than just gaming consoles now. You can browse the web with them, access streaming services, play music, and more. They’ve become almost like full-fledged PCs.
With those advancements, however, come inherent privacy risks. Any internet-connected device, especially the ones you can browse the web with, can be used to breach your privacy. Your usage patterns — the websites you’ve been visiting, the games you’ve been playing, and the shows you’ve been streaming — can all be used to profile you and target you with ads or worse.
That’s why as digital privacy experts and advocates, we came up with this list of the top VPNs to use for Xbox after testing the best VPNs in the market with an Xbox Series S. Here are our top five picks:
Let’s be honest: You probably didn’t come here to hear a lecture on privacy and why you need to use a VPN on your Xbox. Although the Xbox can surf the web, you’re likely not using it to access your work email or send confidential files to your boss. Last time we remember using our Xbox to search, it was to look up the name of the actor we thought we recognized in a Netflix series we were watching.
It’s not that privacy isn’t important for Xbox users; it is. However, it’s probably not the main reason why an Xbox user would be interested in using a VPN. More than likely, you’re here because of the ability of VPNs to change your IP address, thus giving you access to more games, game servers, and streaming options.
In any case, the VPNs we recommended above offer top-notch privacy through industry-best 256-bit encryption and leading tunneling protocols such as OpenVPN and WireGuard. In short, they are best in class in terms of data protection. So just know, even if it isn’t your main priority, simply connecting your Xbox to those VPNs will give you greater online privacy.
For our tests to see which VPNs are best to use for Xbox, we focused on the three main factors we know are going to matter most to Xbox gamers, both casual and professional.
Performance: We looked for VPNs that can meet the network demands of AAA game titles, focusing on latency (or ping) and connection speeds.
Server availability: Since you’re likely going to use the VPN to change your Xbox IP address location, we looked for the VPNs with the most far-reaching and reliable server networks.
Setup process: There’s no getting around it: Setting up a VPN on an Xbox is not as straightforward as downloading and installing a VPN app on a laptop or smartphone. Nonetheless, we did our best to choose the VPNs that are easiest to set up using the recommended workarounds.
Looking at those three factors, we present to you the best VPNs for Xbox in 2023.
What is latency? Latency, also called ping, is the time it takes for a data packet to reach a server measured in milliseconds. It measures the responsiveness of a network and is a critical metric when choosing an internet connection to use for online gaming.
Performance: NordVPN wasn’t the fastest VPN we tested. Using our Xbox Series S’s built-in network test,1 we measured averages of 212 Mbps for downloads and 198 Mbps for uploads. The in-game ping while playing Apex Legends also hovered between 40 to 60 ms (milliseconds), which let us play without lags, but wasn’t the lowest among our five top picks. ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access earned that honor with their ping, which ranged from 25 to 40 ms. For reference, the ideal in-game latency for Apex Legends is 120 ms or lower. Above that, you’ll start to see some lag.
Server availability: Compared to other VPNs on this list, NordVPN has the fewest server locations. It has servers in 60 countries, whereas ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access have over 90 locations, and Surfshark and CyberGhost have over 100. However, NordVPN has one of the largest server fleets. In those 60 countries, it has over 5,800 servers.
Setup process: For setup, we found that the easiest ways to connect our Xbox S to NordVPN were either to set up NordVPN on a laptop and use that laptop as a virtual router or to use NordVPN’s Smart DNS feature.
The former connected our Xbox to an encrypted VPN tunnel and changed our location based on which server we connected our laptop to. The latter changed our Xbox location but didn’t provide any encryption. That’s the thing about connecting an Xbox to a VPN: Because there are no native VPN apps for Xbox, you’ll have to rely on workarounds.
What We Like:
Steady and reliable performance even on overseas servers
5,800+ servers means you won’t have to share server bandwidth with lots of users
Easy to set up either as a VPN for a virtual router or with SmartDNS
Strong protection against DDoS
What We Don’t Like:
Not the fastest option
Difficult to set up as a router VPN
60 server locations isn’t many compared to other top options
You’re probably wondering why we picked NordVPN as the best-performing VPN for Xbox given that it wasn’t the fastest and it didn’t have the lowest latency. Well to start off, NordVPN’s performance wasn’t bad; it met our latency and speed requirements. Its real advantage was that it was the most reliable and stable VPN we’ve ever used.
To test the latency or ping of VPNs, we connected our console to each VPN’s closest server for optimal results. We then played a round of Apex Legends while monitoring the in-game latency. Again, for NordVPN, it ranged from 40 to 60 ms.
After that, we connected each VPN to overseas servers (mostly in Australia) to measure their non-optimal performance. The latency of the other VPNs shot up by about 20 to 30 ms, but with NordVPN, it remained at 45 to 60 ms. That’s the kind of performance you want to see in a VPN for Xbox, especially if you’re planning to use it to play on a different game server. While it’s not the fastest, it is plenty fast whether you’re connected to a server near you or across the globe.
What is SmartDNS? SmartDNS is a VPN feature that allows you to change your device’s location but not the IP address. It changes your device’s Domain Name System (DNS) server to make it appear to the services you’re using that you’re in a different location, but it doesn’t encrypt your data. It’s often used on devices that don’t support VPN apps but need a location change to stream or view georestricted content, such as gaming consoles and smart TVs.
Performance: ExpressVPN was among the fastest gaming the VPNs for Xbox we tested. We measured a 223 Mbps download speed and 201 Mbps upload speed while connected to a server nearest us, and the in-game ping was somewhere in the range of 25 to 40 ms. Again, that’s the lowest ping we experienced throughout the test, matched only by Private Internet Access’ proxy server.
Server availability: ExpressVPN also offers a deep bench of servers and server locations to choose from. We found it to be a good VPN for connecting to Asia Pacific game servers, one of the most competitive regions in online gaming. Exploring ExpressVPN, we found that it has good VPN servers in Singapore, fast VPN servers in Hong Kong, and a large collection of VPN servers in Australia. And even while connected to those servers thousands of miles away, ExpressVPN’s speed remained decent. Our in-game latency remained at around 50 to 80 ms.
Setup process: We normally try to stay away from VPN routers — routers that tunnel all network traffic to a VPN without needing VPN apps — because it’s usually a pain to set up a VPN router. We once broke a brand-new Asus router trying to get it to work with a VPN. That said, ExpressVPN offers a ready-to-go VPN router called Aircove. There’s no extra setup needed; Aircove comes with ExpressVPN, so all we had to do was add it to our network and connect our Xbox to it. And once we did, it tunneled our Xbox’s traffic to the ExpressVPN server we selected.
What We Like:
Easy-setup VPN router
Servers in 90+ countries
Easy to change servers as needed
Aircove can connect any number of devices to ExpressVPN
What We Don’t Like:
Aircove’s price ($189.90)
ExpressVPN subscription cost (minimum of $8.32 monthly)
Noticeable speed disparity when connecting to distant servers versus nearby servers
No smartphone app controls for Aircove, only a web dashboard
For many of the VPNs we tested, we used a virtual router setup. We installed the VPN on our Windows laptop and then connected our Xbox to the laptop’s hotspot to give it a VPN connection.
ExpressVPN’s Aircove router works the same way, but it’s an actual router — a high-performance router at that. It has Wi-Fi 6, the latest Wi-Fi standard with fast and reliable signal transmission; the Wi-Fi network is WPA3 encrypted, the latest Wi-Fi security technology; and if you want to enjoy a more stable connection, you can do what we did and connect your Xbox to Aircove via one of its gigabit Ethernet ports (there are five). You don’t get that option with a virtual router setup, and because the Aircove is an actual router, it performs better than a laptop’s hotspot. That’s why we experienced top speeds with ExpressVPN.
Of course, the Aircove is not the only VPN router there is. We’ve been able to turn an Asus router into a NordVPN router before, but again, the process is painstaking, and if you don’t do it right, you risk ruining your router. That’s what happened to us on the first try. So if you have the technical know-how, you could turn your regular router into a VPN router and save $190 (the cost of Aircove). If you want the easy way, ExpressVPN’s Aircove router is a good investment. It’s the best VPN router, after all.
Just bear in mind that ExpressVPN doesn’t come cheap. That’s actually one of the main reasons why it came in second to NordVPN. Besides the router’s $189.90 price tag, you’ll need a subscription to keep the VPN running. And ExpressVPN’s cheapest plan costs $8.32 per month if you buy a whole year. That’s $99.95 for the year, just a few bucks short of NordVPN’s two-year subscription.
3. Private Internet Access VPN - Best Option for Proxy and SmartDNS
Performance: Private Internet Access performed the best among our top five picks. The in-game latency was on par with ExpressVPN, ranging from 25 to 40 ms. By the way, we got the same latency when we played Apex Legends without a VPN, so using Private Internet Access didn’t seem to make our network any slower. The same goes for the download and upload speeds: 239 and 231 Mbps, respectively. That’s a normal reading for our 250 Mbps fiber-optic internet plan. There’s a reason for those fast speeds that we’ll share below.
Server availability: Depending on the setup process, we either had one, five, or 91 server locations to choose from with Private Internet Access. Using the proxy setup, which was the one we mainly used, we got a Dutch IP address. Using the SmartDNS approach, we got five options: Germany, U.K., U.S., Netherlands, and Japan. And using the virtual router setup, we got 91 locations from all over the globe.
A virtual router setup is ideal if you need IP address change to different locations. For example, it allowed us to change our Xbox location to Germany to play in a Fortnite mini-tournament hosted there by friends we met online.
Setup process: We know from our test of the best Apple TV VPNs that Private Internet Access, as a virtual router VPN, puts up decent but not the fastest speeds. This time around, we decided to test it as a proxy because we recently tested the best proxy servers and Private Internet Access came out on top.
The setup process was quick and easy. We simply entered the proxy IP address and port into our Xbox’s network settings. After hitting Save, all our Xbox traffic got routed to a proxy server in the Netherlands. As you saw above in the performance section, the proxy did not disappoint.
What We Like:
Affordable subscriptions (minimum of $2.19 per month)
Fast and near-lossless proxy connections
SmartDNS and virtual router setup options
91 server locations
What We Don’t Like:
Only one proxy server location
Proxy has no encryption
Slower with a virtual router setup
SmartDNS doesn’t always work
Let’s talk about proxy, why we opted to use Private Internet Access proxy server, and whom it’s best suited for. A proxy is a little different from a VPN. It routes your traffic through a server just like a VPN does, but it doesn’t encrypt your data. It can change your IP address but not shield your traffic, so it’s less secure. However, it’s because of that lack of encryption that proxy servers usually outperform VPNs in terms of speed.
We got an IP address in the Netherlands when we connected to the Private Internet Address proxy. That’s nearly 4,000 miles from where we live, but our internet remained very fast. Our Xbox’s connection averaged 239 Mbps for downloads and 231 Mbps for uploads. When we tested out PIA’s VPN on the Netherlands server, our readings dropped to 217 Mbps (download) and 199 Mbps (upload). Our in-game ping also shot up from the 25-to-40-ms range to the 60-to-90-ms range. The VPN was usable, but the proxy performed much better.
Private Internet Access’ proxy wasn’t perfect, though. It had one location in the Netherlands only, so if we wanted to, let’s say, play on a game server in Asia, it wouldn’t work. So if you want to connect to different locations, use the PIA VPN. Although it doesn’t perform as well as the proxy, it’s still fast. If you want to just change your location to any country and enjoy the fastest speeds, we’d recommend using the proxy. For example, when the U.S. servers of Apex Legends timed out, we kept playing by connecting to the proxy in the Netherlands.
The best thing about the proxy is that it is included with Private Internet Access. So with PIA, you can really take your pick between using a proxy and a VPN without paying more. Better still, you won’t pay top dollar for a VPN plan. A three-year plan costs $79; that’s $2.19 per month.
Performance: We’d say that Surfshark is a good alternative to NordVPN in terms of performance. It wasn’t as reliable — for example, the in-game latency swayed more drastically (30 to 60 ms) compared to NordVPN (40 to 60 ms). However, we had good speed readings from Surfshark, and it was also stable on most of the servers we tried. When we connected to a German VPN server, the ping stabilized at 70 to 80 ms and the download speed was 198 Mbps — still almost 80 percent of our internet speed.
Server availability: Surfshark has one of the largest fleets of servers among the dozens of VPNs we’ve tested. It has 100 server locations — the same as our next pick, CyberGhost — and it has over 3,200 servers in total. Moreover, we like that Surfshark servers have 10 Gbps ports,2 similar to the top-performing VPN for Xbox, NordVPN, which started upgrading its servers as far back as 2020.3 Surfshark is right on NordVPN’s heels in terms of server infrastructure and performance.
Setup process: To set up Surfshark, we used the virtual router approach. We found it the most fitting because Surfshark is one of the best VPNs for Windows. The Windows VPN app was easy to set up and use, and it let us change our VPN connection’s location quite easily to any of Surfshark’s 100 locations. It also helps that Surfshark has a video tutorial on how to set up a VPN-protected hotspot;4 we didn’t need it, but it can be a big help to VPN beginners.
What We Like:
Reliable speed and performance
100 server locations
10 Gbps ports that can absorb DDoS attacks
Connects unlimited devices
What We Don’t Like:
Challenging to set up on a real router
SmartDNS offers U.S. locations only
Drastic ping changes (but didn’t exceed 120 ms)
Takes time to connect at times
Have you ever had someone threaten to hack you or find where you live after beating them badly in a game? Professional gamers are at risk of more than just getting shot down in-game; there are also real risks of real-life, physical attack. For example, DDoS attacks are common in gaming communities. A DDoS attack is when someone hacks multitudes of devices only to send junk traffic to your device, causing your network to bottleneck and eventually shut down.
Using a VPN can help prevent a DDoS attack, and Surfshark is especially good at it. The 10 Gbps ports we mentioned earlier can absorb the brunt of DDoS attacks, for example. And since Surfshark has thousands of servers, you can easily switch to a different one to avoid the flood of junk traffic.
We also like that Surfshark offers optional packages that include the VPN and its antivirus software. A VPN-only Surfshark subscription costs $2.39 per month at the cheapest if you buy a two-year plan or $3.99 if you buy a one-year plan. A VPN with antivirus software costs $3.06 monthly for two years or $4.09 monthly for one year.
We tested Surfshark’s antivirus and it did great in detecting and preventing malware-based attacks. It once stopped a computer worm from spreading on our laptop. While the antivirus software doesn’t work on Xbox, it kept our laptop, which we were using as a virtual router, in tip-top shape to keep traffic flowing without performance issues.
Performance: CyberGhost is another solid performer. It didn’t do well in any particular area, but we experienced good speed and latency readings from our CyberGhost connection. Connected to the closest server, we enjoyed speeds of 217 Mbps (download) and 181 Mbps (upload) and an in-game latency range of 50 to 90 ms. Our one gripe is that when we connected to a server overseas in Australia, the latency fluctuated between 50 and 120 ms. There was one time it reached 128 ms, which is a little over the 120 ms we recommend for Apex Legends.
Server availability: In terms of server selection, CyberGhost offers 100 locations and over 9,000 unique servers. The majority of the servers are in Europe and Asia, which we think are good locations to choose if you want a more competitive environment. The Japan server is also good if you want early access to anime-based games. For example, One Piece Odyssey, based on the hit anime series “One Piece,” was released in Japan on Jan. 12, a day before it was released everywhere else.
Setup process: For the setup, we used CyberGhost on a Windows laptop as a virtual router. The process was the same as it was with all the other VPNs, like NordVPN and Surfshark, we set up using this approach.
In addition, though, we also set up CyberGhost as a virtual router VPN using a MacBook. Yes, a MacBook can also work as a virtual router, but it only works with VPNs that use the L2TP protocol. Besides CyberGhost, none of the other VPNs we tested use L2TP anymore because although it’s fast, it is generally less secure.
Works as a virtual router VPN for MacBooks (because of L2TP)
Deep server reach in Europe and Asia
Apps for Windows and macOS are easy to use
What We Don’t Like:
Seven-device limit per account
Difficult to use as a router VPN
Slower speeds (but still decent)
SmartDNS option is limited to three locations
CyberGhost is a good value VPN. It wasn’t the fastest VPN for Xbox, but it worked just fine in optimal conditions. The latency was slightly higher (50 to 90 ms) compared to Surfshark and NordVPN, but we didn’t have any problem with lags — at least not when we were connected to the nearest server.
We also appreciate that CyberGhost’s server selection list on Windows and macOS gives you a general idea of which servers have the lowest latency at any given time. The in-game latency is usually higher than the server ping shown on the app, but we found that connecting to a server with green latency bars (as opposed to the ones with orange or red) always produces in-game latency of below 120 ms. So that’s something to keep in mind.
The price was what we really liked, though. A one-month CyberGhost subscription costs $12.99, lower than Surfshark’s $15.45 monthly plan. And if you’re willing to sign up for longer, you can get CyberGhost for $2.37 per month (or lower if there are deals) with the two-year subscription. That’s $56.88 total for a full two years of access.
What You Need to Know Before Using a VPN With Xbox
Before you make a decision on which VPN for Xbox to buy, it’s best that we make clear that the Xbox doesn’t have native support for VPNs. We see a lot of user reviews complaining that a VPN company claims to work on Xbox but doesn’t have an app in the Microsoft Store on their console. So before you choose a VPN, consider which setup method suits you best. Your options are:
Virtual router via a Windows laptop
VPN on router
Each has pros and cons.
The virtual router method is usually the easiest because all you’ll need to do is set up a VPN on your Windows computer and connect your Xbox to the computer’s hotspot. However, there are limitations.
For one, you need a laptop or computer with a hotspot function. Most new laptops have this, but you should still check before choosing this method. Also, you’ll have to use Wi-Fi to connect your Xbox, and as we all know, wireless connections are often less reliable than Ethernet connections. You also have to bear in mind that adding a virtual router also adds another stop for your traffic. Your Xbox traffic goes from your console to the laptop to your home router and then to the VPN server before reaching its destination. All those checkpoints can slow down your internet connection.
On the other hand, the upside is because your computer controls the VPN connection, it’s easy to adjust the settings. You can also quickly change your VPN server. Doing so changes your PC’s virtual location, and the change will take effect on your Xbox as well. You can change servers using the VPN app in just a couple of clicks.
Setting up or buying a VPN router is a much more permanent solution than the virtual router approach. With a VPN router, the VPN connection is established at the network level, so all devices connected to the router enjoy VPN tunneling. You’re also likely to get more reliable connections because routers are built for directing traffic, as opposed to laptops used as virtual routers, where the hotspot function is secondary.
The downside of most VPN routers is you can’t really adjust the VPN connection easily after the initial setup. If you chose to connect the router to a U.S. VPN server, for example, you can’t get a U.K. IP address without having to go through the setup process again. One exception is Aircove, because it comes with a web dashboard where you can manage your VPN connection. That’s why it’s the best router VPN we recommend.
SmartDNS is another popular workaround for consoles, smart TVs, and set-top boxes that don’t have VPN support, such as Apple TV and Xbox. However, it’s not actually a VPN. It doesn’t change your IP address and doesn’t encrypt your data. What Smart DNS does is change your device’s DNS server.
The DNS is like a phonebook that internet-connected devices use to translate human-readable domain names (for example, www.security.org) to machine-readable IP addresses (for example, 220.127.116.11). Usually, your device uses the DNS server from your internet provider.
The websites you visit can see which DNS server made a connection request. So, if the request came from your ISP’s DNS, they’d know that you’re browsing from your ISP’s location. SmartDNS changes your device’s network settings so that it uses the VPN’s designated DNS server. Since DNS requests will be coming from there, websites will think you’re browsing from the SmartDNS server’s location.
Setting up SmartDNS is quick and easy; however, it’s not always foolproof. Some websites or services can detect your real IP address and location even if you use SmartDNS.
Proxy is another workaround for devices that allow the setting up of a proxy connection, including the Xbox. It works kind of like a VPN. It routes your traffic to a proxy server and thus hides your real IP address behind the server’s IP address. Proxy servers don’t encrypt data, though, but because of that, they tend to be slightly faster than VPNs. Just don’t count on them for privacy.
The biggest downside of using a proxy is that most services don’t offer as many proxy server locations as VPN server locations. For example, Private Internet Access has only one proxy server in the Netherlands compared to its 91 VPN servers in different parts of the world. You’ll have to make sure to pick a service with proxy servers in the location of your choosing.
Free VPNs for Xbox: Yay or Nay?
We’re sure some of you are wondering if a free VPN could work, and the answer is yes. We’re always wary about recommending free VPNs because many of them contain malware, log and sell usage data, or just aren’t good enough for privacy. The very few trustworthy free VPNs we found have limitations like data usage caps and reduced server availability.
For the purpose of gaming on an Xbox, though, the best free VPNs could work. Let’s take TunnelBear, for example. TunnelBear is a free VPN that gives users 8,000 MB per month and access to over 40 server locations without speed limits.
An hour straight of playing Fortnite uses 40 to 100 MB of data.5 So let’s say the average is 70 MB. With TunnelBear’s 8,000 MB monthly allowance, you get almost 115 hours of playtime assuming you don’t download anything. And what’s great about gaming with a VPN as opposed to streaming Netflix with a VPN is you don’t always have to be connected. For example, if there’s a game update, you can disconnect, download the new content, and then reconnect, saving you hundreds of MB of data. With streaming, the streaming service will see your real location if you disconnect from the VPN.
Conclusion: Is Using a VPN for Xbox Really Necessary?
We always recommend the use of a VPN on any internet-connected device. That’s good for your online privacy and digital security. However, we also recognize that using a VPN is not always ideal, especially for gaming consoles. As we learned from our VPN speed tests, a VPN can slow down your internet connection, even if it’s just a little bit. There’s also the fact that VPNs are not as easy to set up on a gaming console as a smartphone or computer.
So, to answer the question: No, using a VPN for Xbox is not absolutely necessary. However, there are benefits to connecting your Xbox to a VPN, including increased privacy and access to more entertainment options. If you want to use a VPN to gain those advantages, we support your decision, and that’s why we made this list of the best VPNs for Xbox.
And now, let’s answer some frequently asked questions about VPNs for Xbox.
The best VPNs for Xbox are the ones that provide the best speeds, server locations, and user experience. From our experience testing the best VPNs on the market, we found that NordVPN, ExpressVPN, Private Internet Access, Surfshark, and CyberGhost best match those criteria.
Yes, you can. There are free VPNs that offer private and secure VPN connections, but they typically have limits. For example, they may give you a data allowance per day or per month, or they may limit your access to some servers. If you really want a free VPN for Xbox, we recommend TunnelBear and Privado VPN, which offer 8 GB and 10 GB of data per month, respectively.
All Xbox models starting from the Xbox 360 S have Wi-Fi, so they can all connect to a VPN if you set up a virtual or real VPN router. Newer models like the Xbox One, Xbox Series S, and Xbox series X can also use SmartDNS and proxy.