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Starlink VPN: How does it really work?

Starlink satellite internet and VPNs are a match made in heaven — one lets you connect from anywhere, the other lets you choose almost any virtual location. In this article, we explore how Starlink VPNs work, what unique challenges they have to overcome, and how they benefit Starlink users.

Starlink VPN: How does it really work?

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Can you use a VPN with Starlink?

Yes, you can use a virtual private network (VPN) with your Starlink connection — and if you value your online privacy, you probably should. While many satellite internet services have issues with VPN connectivity, Starlink routers are designed to play nice with VPN services.

How does Starlink work with a VPN?

Starlink routers come with a built-in VPN passthrough feature, allowing your devices to “tunnel” through the router to reach your VPN server. The reason you need VPN passthrough in the first place is because satellite internet services approach NAT in networking slightly differently from land-based ISPs. Let’s take a deeper look at the issues involved.

What role does NAT play in satellite VPN setups?

NAT (network address translation) allows you to map a local IP address to a public one — and you need a public IP address to properly configure a VPN gateway. In traditional home internet setups, NAT takes place in your router. This is the reason you can set up a VPN on many routers to protect your whole network.

The majority of satellite internet connections, however, use CGNAT (carrier-grade NAT), which employ middlebox network address translator devices for NAT. In effect, your home router is plugged into another router, acting as a local device with a private IP address. This means that if your internet service provider uses CGNAT, you can’t set up your router as a VPN gateway.

Can you install a VPN on your Starlink router?

You can only install a VPN on your Starlink router if you’ve got a Starlink Business (Priority), Mobile, or Mobile Priority plan — these Starlink satellite internet plans have optional configurations available for public IP addresses. If you’re on Starlink Standard, you’re stuck with CGNAT and a private IP address. If you wish to use a VPN, you’ll have to install a VPN app on your device and connect to VPN servers directly.

What is Starlink VPN Passthrough?

VPN passthrough is a special router feature that allows a VPN client to connect to a VPN server outside of your original network. While VPN passthrough is mostly needed for VPN connections that rely on outdated VPN protocols like PPTP, L2TP, or IPsec, it also helps a VPN service tunnel through CGNAT routers like Starlink — without VPN passthrough, your VPN traffic runs the risk of running head-first into the router’s defenses.

What are the benefits of using a Starlink VPN?

A reputable VPN offers several important benefits for Starlink users. We have covered the general pros and cons of VPN use in depth in the past, but it pays to have another look at the advantages of having a Starlink VPN.

  • Increased security. SpaceX claims that a Starlink router beats most home networking hardware when it comes to security, but the internet says otherwise. A number of exploits have surfaced over time, showing how dedicated hackers can infiltrate Starlink networks and prey on user data. The bottom line is that it pays to have another, independent layer of security when you go online — and a reputable VPN service provides just that by encrypting your online traffic.
  • Enhanced privacy. Anyone monitoring your connection, from criminals to your internet service provider (ISP), can sift through your unencrypted traffic to discover your online activity. While CGNAT does make tracking down individual users more difficult by lumping their activity into a single shared IP, determined ISPs can still use timestamps to deduce where you went online and when. However, if you use a trustworthy VPN service to encrypt all online traffic going to and from your device, all anyone will know is that you’re connected to a secure VPN server.
  • Your choice of IP address. Satellite internet services may have trouble connecting to certain websites due to how CGNAT handles IP addresses. Some servers refuse connections from all known CGNAT public addresses, while others may put specific addresses on blocklists if they’ve been used for attacks in the past. When you use a VPN, websites will see the IP address of your chosen VPN server, letting you safely access content with Starlink. As a bonus, changing your IP address also changes your virtual location, giving you access to local versions of websites and apps.

What are the downsides of using a VPN with Starlink?

Unfortunately, using a VPN with Starlink does have one potential drawback — your online security may come at the cost of your internet speed. Because your online traffic has to be encrypted, routed through a secure VPN server, and decrypted again before reaching its final destination, a VPN will likely increase latency and slow down your connection.

Not all VPNs are created equal, however. Choosing a reputable service known for its VPN speed can go a long way to mitigate any slowdown you experience — with the fastest VPNs, the drop will be imperceptible.

Should you use a VPN for Starlink?

The brief rundown on the advantages and disadvantages of Starlink VPNs should make our advice abundantly clear — yes, you should absolutely use a VPN for Starlink. Even if online privacy and security are not your primary concern (spoilers: they should be), there are numerous other uses for a VPN in your daily life.

For example, we’ve already mentioned that changing your virtual location can let you access local versions of websites and services. By connecting to a VPN server in a specific country, you get to explore that country’s version of the internet, including the local websites, e-shops, and chat rooms. Hopping from IP to IP not only helps you avoid price discrimination and shop around for the best deal, but it also lets you evade many forms of online censorship.

The above works in reverse, too — if you find yourself abroad missing your favorite shows from home, you can simply connect to a VPN server in your country to safely watch all your content. This is a great option for foreign workers that must temporarily relocate to countries where Starlink is their only reliable internet option.

How to set up a VPN with Starlink

Setting up a VPN to get private internet access with Starlink is simple. Once you’ve purchased a VPN subscription and created an account with your VPN service provider, all you need to do is:

  1. Make sure your device is connected to your Starlink network.
  2. Download your desired VPN app on your device and install it.
  3. Open the VPN app and log in to your VPN service account.
  4. Select a VPN server location to connect to. Some VPN apps (including NordVPN) give you the option to “quick connect” — in that case, the app itself will select the best VPN server for you.

Which VPN should you use with Starlink?

Ideally, you want to use a Starlink VPN that gives you the most options and the least headaches — if you’re reluctant to turn on your VPN because it keeps interfering with your digital life, it’s the same as having no VPN at all. Here’s what you should consider when evaluating VPN services for Starlink.

First things first — should you use a free VPN or a paid VPN? While free VPNs might save you some money on subscription fees, you frequently lose out on user experience. Free VPNs are often lacking in server locations, connection speed, and security features. Some may even sell your traffic data to cover their costs! For the best time online, we recommend getting a reputable paid VPN.

Next on your list is VPN speed. Low speeds can really hurt your plans to safely stream content, work remotely, and play online games with VPN protection. Look for VPNs that have servers close to your physical location and use the latest VPN protocols — like NordLynx, NordVPN’s proprietary high-speed and privacy-friendly protocol based on Wireguard.

Finally, have a look at the features included in your VPN service to see if they fit well with your online lifestyle. Some extras really enhance your everyday digital experience — for example, NordVPN’s Threat Protection Pro keeps you safe from malware in downloads, malicious links, and annoying ads. Others, like Meshnet, help you circumvent Starlink’s shortcomings by allowing direct connections to other devices for remote access, file sharing, and LAN gaming.

Potential connectivity issues with a Starlink VPN

Starlink works well with most VPNs, but you know the drill — any time two technologies meet, there’s bound to be some friction. Below are the most common VPN connectivity issues reported by Starlink users.

You’re unable to establish a connection to a VPN with Starlink

Starlink’s VPN passthrough feature should let your VPN connection through — if your Starlink router is configured properly, your VPN connection issues probably lie elsewhere. Here’s what you can try if your VPN is not connecting:

  • Check your internet connection. If your internet connection is spotty, your VPN client won’t be able to properly connect to a VPN server. Try disconnecting and reconnecting to your home network or restarting your Starlink router. If you have another router handy, connect it to Starlink using the latter’s “bypass mode” and try establishing a VPN connection with the new setup.
  • Try a different server location. Sometimes, picking a different VPN server is all it takes — the server you were trying to connect to may have simply been congested or down for maintenance.
  • Restart your device. “Turn it off and then on again” doesn’t sound like serious advice, but it is a valid way of dealing with certain problems — for example, when your device is overheating or your VPN client is glitching out.
  • Check your VPN settings. Try different VPN protocols to see if you can connect — even with VPN passthrough, Starlink tends to work better with modern VPN protocols like OpenVPN and WireGuard.
  • Disable firewall or antivirus. Some cybersecurity products block VPN traffic by default. If your VPN connection works after disabling your firewall and antivirus, you will need to add your VPN app to their exceptions.
  • Reinstall your VPN software. If all else fails, try deleting the VPN app from your device, downloading the latest version from an official source, and doing a full installation with the recommended settings.

Your Starlink VPN connection drops randomly

A VPN connection may drop for any number of reasons (in fact, top VPNs have features like Kill Switch to protect your data when you lose connection), but in Starlink’s case, the culprit is most likely satellite switchover. Some VPN protocols are sensitive to the momentary disconnects that happen when your service switches satellites, resulting in your VPN client losing its connection to the VPN server.

If you keep getting disconnected from your VPN with Starlink, try switching protocols in your VPN settings. For example, the IKEv2/IPsec protocol is frequently used in mobile networking for its resiliency, being able to quickly re-establish a VPN connection when your device switches networks.

Your Starlink VPN speed is lower than expected

All VPNs will slow down your connection, although the dip in speed should be barely noticeable with the fastest VPNs. For the best VPN speeds, make sure to pick an uncongested VPN server close to your physical location — the shorter the distance, the quicker your data will reach its destination. If your VPN speed is still hurting, try switching VPN protocols (preferably to Wireguard or Wireguard-based solutions like NordLynx).

You’re experiencing high VPN latency

Just like with connection speed, you should expect slightly worse latency when using a VPN with Starlink. The solution to high latency issues is the same as the one for slow connection speeds — switch to an uncongested VPN server closer to your physical location to shorten response times.

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