Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN are leading VPN providers and, at Comparitech, we find it hard to choose between them. In this review, we will examine the attributes of each of these top picks and see which is better suited to various tasks in 2021.
If you can’t pick between ExpressVPN and NordVPN, we recommend NordVPN. It’s a great low-cost option with the current discount, boasts one of the fastest speeds of any service in our speed tests and is great for streaming. NordVPN offers top-notch security features and a no-logs policy. ExpressVPN is still a great choice in 2021, though. It’s a little more pricey but also offers a hefty discount when on promotion and works especially well with services like Netflix.
By working through an attribute-by-attribute analysis, we can accurately compare between these two services. Here’s what we found in our NordVPN vs ExpressVPN comparison:
Summary: ExpressVPN vs NordVPN
Pricing & discounts
|Subscription periods||1 month||1 month|
|6 months||1 year|
|1 year||2 years|
|Special offer||Three months free with a 1 year subscription||72% discount & 3 months free on the 2-year plan|
|Highest price per month||$12.95||$11.95|
|Lowest price per month||$6.67||$3.71|
|One year price||$99.95 (actually for 15 months)||$59|
|Money-back guarantee||30 days||30 days|
Both companies offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. We have tested these and can testify that both providers honor this pledge without asking you to provide a reason or prove why the service doesn’t work for you.
ExpressVPN gives you three months free on a one-year term, making it a better deal if you’re looking for an annual plan. NordVPN offers steep discounts on longer terms, so you can get a rate of $3.71 per month if you’re willing to commit to pay upfront for two years of service. NordVPN’s two year deal also includes an additional 3 months free.
|Operating system apps||Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Amazon Fire, select routers||Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Amazon Fire|
|Manual install devices||Set-top boxes and certain routers||Certain routers, and set-top boxes|
|Split Tunneling||Yes||Windows only|
|Free extras||Browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari||Browser extension for Chrome and Firefox. Ad and malware blocker|
ExpressVPN and NordVPN are two of the few VPN services to offer command-line utilities for easy installation on devices running Linux. Both providers also offer native apps for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, and Amazon Fire devices.
ExpressVPN beats NordVPN in the router stakes because it has its own easy-to-use custom firmware that works with select routers. That said, NordVPN can be manually installed on a wide range of routers too. It even provides an extensive library of tutorials which explain how to install the VPN on various router types.
The simultaneous connection allowance of NordVPN is slightly higher than that of ExpressVPN (six versus five). In both cases, if you install the VPN on a router, that counts as just one connection from your allowance.
NordVPN has an ad-blocker and malware-protection system called CyberSec. This can be turned on within the app.
|Netflix||Over a dozen libraries including the US, Australia, Japan, and Canada||Over a dozen libraries including the US, the UK, Japan, and Canada|
|Hulu||US, Japan||US, Japan|
When it comes to unblocking geo-restricted streaming sites, both ExpressVPN and NordVPN are certainly up to the challenge. There really aren’t many streaming services you can’t access from abroad with either of these services, although ExpressVPN has been inconsistent with BBC iPlayer in recent months.
Both of these providers work very well with Netflix, and in NordVPN’s case, every server we’ve tested works. However, if the library that corresponds to your server location can’t be unblocked, NordVPN will automatically redirect you to the US Netflix library.
If you have a Kodi box, you can use either of these VPNs to get around regional restrictions on TV services. Neither ExpressVPN nor NordVPN has an app that can be installed on a Kodi box. However, the range of VPN protocol options that both present (see below) mean that there are plenty of options in case your particular Kodi box doesn’t support OpenVPN.
If you’re using Kodi on your computer, you can control your geolocation using the native ExpressVPN or NordVPN app installed on your device.
Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN perform well in China. The main ExpressVPN website is actually blocked by the Chinese government, but the company provides an alternative address for users in China.
ExpressVPN is very aware of the challenges of keeping its service available in China. Although the service works in the People’s Republic, there are sometimes service outages. However, both of these services have a solid record when it comes to getting around newly introduced blocks from the Chinese government.
Setup and interface
|Automatic setup wizard||Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Tomato and DD-WRT routers||Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Linux|
|Main location selection||List based||Map based/List-based|
|Extra settings pages||Yes||Yes|
The ExpressVPN app is small and keeps mobile-friendly proportions even when it is used on a PC or Mac. Everything is neatly organized, with the settings and servers each having their own screen. We liked that your most-recently-used server was easily accessible from the main page too, since this saves the hassle of trying to remember, for instance, which server was able to unblock a particular Netflix library.
The NordVPN main screen shows a map of the world with a marker in each country where the company operates servers. There’s also a list view on the left (or at the bottom of the screen on mobile devices). The server list separates general-purpose servers from those designed for P2P traffic or Tor over VPN connections, so it’s always easy to find exactly what you need.
Servers and performance
Although ExpressVPN has server locations in more countries, NordVPN has more options in its server network overall.
NordVPN has a server feature that ExpressVPN doesn’t offer, which is VPN chaining (also known as multi-hop VPN or double-hop VPN). This routes your traffic through two servers, encrypting packets twice over. This is an interesting security feature, but it will slow down your connection somewhat. Alternatively, NordVPN allows you to route your data through its servers before passing it through the Tor network.
Here are the countries in which each VPN provider has servers:
|Costa Rica||United States|
|Austria||Bosnia and Herzegovina|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||Czech Republic|
|Isle of Man||Moldova|
|Moldova, Republic of||Spain|
|Korea, Republic of||South Korea|
|Lao People's Democratic Republic||Taiwan|
|AFRICA AND MIDDLE EAST|
|Kazakhstan||United Arab Emirates|
Based on our latest speed test results, both NordVPN and ExpressVPN are among the top ten fastest providers. There is a pretty substantial difference between the two, though. ExpressVPN’s new Lightway protocol saw it top the table with an average speed of 135 Mbps. NordVPN came in second, averaging 115 Mbps thanks to its speedy new NordLynx protocol.
|Average Connection Speed - North America (USA)||111.7 Mbps|
|Average Connection Speed - Europe (UK)||122.3 Mbps|
|Average Connection Speed - Asia (Hong Kong)||112.0 Mbps|
|Average Connection Speed - North America (USA)||135.7 Mbps|
|Average Connection Speed - Europe (UK)||134 Mbps|
|Average Connection Speed - Asia (Hong Kong)||136 Mbps|
|VPN protocols||OpenVPN, Lightway, L2TP, IKEv2||OpenVPN, NordLynx|
|OpenVPN data encryption||AES-256||AES-256|
|OpenVPN control channel encryption||RSA-4096||RSA-2048|
|Cloaking technology||Cipher block chaining||Obsfproxy|
|Extra transmission protection||Double-hop routes|
|Leak protection||DNS, WebRTC, and IPv6||DNS, WebRTC, and IPv6|
|App security||Kill switch (desktop)||Kill switch (desktop and iOS), automatic wifi protection, ad-blocking, malware-scanning|
|DNS status||Private DNS||Private DNS|
Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN offer multiple VPN protocols to secure your internet traffic. ExpressVPN allows OpenVPN, IKEv2, and L2TP connections, plus it has its own proprietary protocol, Lightway, that blends speed and security. It’s also more lightweight, meaning it should be less taxing on your device’s battery.
NordVPN too, has its own protocol. It’s named NordLynx, and is based on WireGuard, considered by many the next big thing in digital security. NordLynx is easier to audit than OpenVPN and boasts higher speeds, especially if your chosen server is a long distance away.
Both companies use AES encryption with a 256-bit key. This provides cast-iron online security because the cipher is uncrackable. ExpressVPN has a slight advantage in the security that it offers for the control channel. This cipher is used for session establishment and to protect the distribution of AES keys. Both NordVPN and ExpressVPN use RSA encryption for this channel, but ExpressVPN uses a longer key — 4,096 bits against the 2,048-bit key used by NordVPN.
This security level is particularly important if you are in China. It is believed that the Chinese authorities can now crack RSA with a 1,024-bit key and is working on the 2,048-bit key version. If and when they get there, NordVPN will be completely insecure in China, but it will be some time before that happens. ExpressVPN has over-engineered its control channel encryption to ensure total security.
Both companies scramble the encrypted content of packets to prevent any repeated data creating patterns in the encrypted transmission.
DNS calls are unencrypted, so if a VPN lets your computer carry on using the default DNS service nominated by your Internet Service Provider (ISP), then all of the websites that you visit could be logged by your ISP, hackers, or government spooks tapping the line. Fortunately, both ExpressVPN and NordVPN force all DNS references to travel down their encrypted tunnels, preventing any outsiders from seeing your activity on the web.
Both providers have the same security options in their apps that help you to prevent your real IP address from being exposed. You can instruct both apps to start when the operating system boots up, which means that you can set them to run on your computer all of the time.
Both apps include a kill switch option. This prevents you from accidentally browsing with the VPN disconnected. NordVPN allows you to either use a regular kill switch or one that only affects specific apps. ExpressVPN doesn’t have that per-app option, but it does offer split tunneling across all of its apps. This allows you to nominate apps to bypass the VPN and keep all others protected.
|HQ base||British Virgin Islands||Panama|
|User details for sign up||Email address||Email address|
|Anonymous payment options||Bitcoin||Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple|
Neither company is based in a ‘Five Eyes’ country, so they are both free from security agency pressure to disclose the details of their users’ online activities or cooperate with US or UK court orders to trace a particular customer.
ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands, which has no data retention laws. The location of NordVPN in Panama is not quite as safe as it may at first seem. The country has some Draconian copyright laws and has been forced on a number of occasions to cooperate with the US authorities. However, NordVPN does not have any servers in its home country, enabling it to avoid government pressure to disclose information.
All VPNs say they don’t keep any logs. However, when you dig a little deeper, what they often mean is that they don’t keep any activity logs. An activity log would record every action performed by the user, including websites visited and data downloads. Unfortunately, by tracing a connection from its destination back through to its originator, prosecutors and law enforcement agencies can track you to your door. A VPN breaks the chain of that trace, but connection logs can be used to trace a user through the VPN.
NordVPN doesn’t keep any logs at all. ExpressVPN does, but goes out of its way to avoid storing any data that could identify you. Its logs include your account ID, the date (not time) of connections, the location connected to and from, and the total amount of data transferred. The fact that the company does not record your real IP address should make it impossible to trace you.
This brings up the question of whether it is possible to open an account anonymously. If you have to give your credit card to open an account, then you can be traced through that. Your identity can also be traced through your email account.
Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN allow you to pay with cryptocurrencies, which means you can’t be traced through your bank. With ExpressVPN you can also choose to pay through a Mint card, which is a pre-paid card that you load up with cash in stores and doesn’t require you to identify yourself. With both services, you need to give an email address. However, you can just use a burner email address. So, with both providers, it is possible to create an anonymous account and prevent anyone from linking your activities to your real identity.
The levels of privacy offered by ExpressVPN and NordVPN are excellent. This is one of the reasons that both of these services are good choices for those who like to torrent. Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN are open about their support for torrenters, so you don’t need to be coy about your activities if you need to contact customer support with questions about optimizing your setup for P2P traffic.
|Static IP address possible||No||In France, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, or the US|
VPNs can use different methods to mask your IP address. Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN use the shared address method. In this scenario, all of your outgoing traffic is labeled with the VPN server’s IP address. All the other users connected to that server at the same time also get represented by the server’s IP address. Anyone trying to trace activity from the target website back to the originator will arrive at the VPN server and will not be able to tell which VPN customer originated that request.
Shared IP address systems are managed by a system called “port address mapping” (PAT). You may have read about the protection that some VPNs offer with a NAT firewall. This is actually PAT. The address translation system makes it impossible to identify an IP address behind the gateway and this automatically creates a firewall. Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN give you NAT firewall protection.
In some circumstances, you may need your own private IP address. This is particularly important if you want to accept incoming connections. In this instance, the NAT firewall will not apply to your connection. You would need a private, or ‘static,’ IP address if you want to set up your own server. This might be for your own website, for a gaming server, or to create your own cloud data storage system.
You can’t get a static IP address from ExpressVPN. However, NordVPN offers the service for an extra $70 USD per year. You can choose to have an IP address from the UK, the USA, the Netherlands, France, or Germany. It doesn’t matter where you live or where you actually are.
NordVPN no longer offers acces to anti-DDoS servers. However, all VPNs offer a degree of DDoS protection because anyone hoping to launch a DDoS attack against you would first need your IP address. When you use the internet connection through a VPN, no one ever sees your IP address, just the IP address of the VPN server that you are connected to. Therefore, anyone thinking that they are launching an attack against you would actually be attacking the VPN server. These have much greater capacity than your computer and so they can absorb most attacks. NordVPN can give you extra DDoS protection if you are likely to be the target of large and frequent attacks. ExpressVPN doesn’t offer that service.
|Average email support response time||49 mins||3 hours, 45 mins|
|Searchable Knowledge Base||Yes||Yes|
Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN are industry leaders in customer support. Both have a live chat facility on their websites, staffed with knowledgeable experts. In regular visits to both chat systems, we found ExpressVPN quicker to connect.
We also tested out email responses for each provider. ExpressVPN and NordVPN both responded quickly and thoroughly to a simple streaming-related question. ExpressVPN did fumble a bit on one seemingly straightforward question about DNS leaks by providing a lot of information about the topic without actually answering our question. However, upon follow-up, the question was answered promptly. ExpressVPN had the best average response time (1 hour 40 mins compared to NordVPN’s 3 hours 24 mins). Here are the results from asking each team three questions.
First ExpressVPN’s results:
|Question||Initial response time||Number of emails||Question answered|
|Does ExpressVPN unblock Netflix UK?||1 hour 24 mins||1||Yes|
|Is there protection against DNS leaks?||2 hours 29 mins||2||Yes|
|If I pay with bitcoin, will I be billed automatically at the end of a cycle?||1 hour 8 mins||1||Yes|
Now NordVPN’s results:
|Question||Initial response time||Number of emails||Question answered|
|Can NordVPN unblock Netflix UK?||1 hour 24 mins||1||Yes|
|Is there protection against DNS leaks?||3 hour 49 mins||1||Yes|
|If I pay with bitcoin, will I be billed automatically at the end of a cycle?||4 hours 59 mins||1||Yes|
To their credit, both VPN services did actually send replies to all questions — some VPNs don’t. Although the response times for some queries seem long, these are actually some of the fastest responses in the industry.
The winner: NordVPN
ExpressVPN is a fantastically versatile service that outperforms most of its rivals when it comes to speed and accessing regional Netflix libraries. It’s strong on privacy too, and we still think it’s an excellent choice for those who don’t mind spending a little more each month.
Ultimately, though, NordVPN is the better option. It’s almost as fast, has more servers to choose from, and provides more control over your security setup than ExpressVPN does. It’s a solid choice for streaming too, thanks to its strong unblocking ability and dedicated IP address option.
We ran a series of tests on ExpresssVPN and NordVPN to compare these two services. Our tests and research included:
- Speed tests
- DNS leak tests, IP leak tests, WebRTC leak tests, IPv6 leak tests
- Ability to access region blocked streaming services including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Disney Plus, BBC iPlayer and others
- Ability to evade censorship in China
- Comparison of privacy and logging policies
- Range and ease of use of apps
- Customer support
- Comparison of servers and countries covered
You can read more here on our VPN testing methodology.
NordVPN or ExpressVPN FAQs
Does NordVPN run obfuscated servers?
NordVPN allows its users to access special obfuscated servers for even greater online anonymity. Better still, this functionality is built into all of its apps, so you can browse safely regardless of which device you’re using. If you’d like to start using these obfuscated servers, you can find setup guides for each operating system in NordVPN’s knowledge base.
What works better on a game console - NordVPN or ExpressVPN?
First things first: since Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch and the other major games consoles don't currently offer a NordVPN or ExpressVPN app, you’ll have to install the VPN directly on your router. ExpressVPN offers custom firmware for this exact purpose that greatly simplifies the process. Alternatively, if you just want to unblock geo-restricted apps and services, you can take advantage of either VPN’s Smart DNS feature.
There’s no definitive answer to which is better; it all depends on your needs. ExpressVPN is the faster service, for instance, but NordVPN has far more servers to choose from. On the plus side, both providers put your security and privacy first, so whichever you choose, you can game and stream with total peace of mind.
Has ExpressVPN ever been hacked?
Theoretically, any piece of software can be hacked if the attacker is determined enough. That said, ExpressVPN hasn’t had any data breaches, leaks, or privacy scandals. Here’s something that might reassure you: this VPN doesn’t log any identifiable data. This means that even if it was hacked, your privacy would remain intact since there’d be no way to tell which user accessed which site.
ExpressVPN vs NordVPN, which one is winning more customers?
This is difficult to accurately say, since neither provider publishes user data. However, ExpressVPN has around 180,000 downloads on the Google Play Store, plus a further 112,000 on the Apple Store. Meanwhile, NordVPN has closer to 350,000 on Google Play, and 146,000 in the Apple Store.
There are a couple of problems with this method. First, it doesn’t account for Windows, MacOS, or Linux users. Second, it’s possible some users are installing the service multiple times across all of their devices. However, NordVPN only allows one more simultaneous connection than ExpressVPN, so this is unlikely to be solely responsible for the higher number of installs. In other words, it appears that on mobile devices at least, NordVPN is more popular.
Which one has the easiest to use VPN apps?
Here’s the good news: whether you choose ExpressVPN or NordVPN, you’ll be presented with a neat, easy to use app. Neither is especially difficult to use, and each has its advantages over the other. For instance, ExpressVPN has browser extensions that let you control the main app right from your browser. NordVPN, on the other hand, lets you connect to any server (including its special, privacy-optimized ones) without ever leaving the main screen. Ultimately, it all comes down to personal preference, but there’s really no wrong choice.
Which is better for Android TV, ExpressVPN or NordVPN?
Realistically, both ExpressVPN and NordVPN are solid choices for Android TV. Which is better really depends on your needs. Are you on a slow connection and looking for a VPN that has minimal impact? If so, ExpressVPN might be the better option. On the other hand, if you’re interested in unblocking geo-restricted streaming services, NordVPN works more consistently.
Still having trouble deciding? Don’t worry: both services offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. This means you can try them for yourself before committing to one or the other.
Which VPN is better for the dark web NordVPN or ExpressVPN?
ExpressVPN is an excellent choice for day-to-day browsing but if you’re thinking about dipping a toe into the dark web, we’d recommend using NordVPN instead. This service is almost as fast as its rival, plus it has a better selection of privacy features.
NordVPN’s star feature is its specially-optimized Onion over VPN servers. These remove the need for you to use the Tor browser at all, and they encrypt your traffic, adding another layer of protection on top.