ExpressVPN gets a lot of praise, but it costs more than most of its competitors, (even with the discounted offer it is currently running).
So is it really worth it?
What does ExpressVPN offer that others don’t?
Most VPNs use the same underlying technology, so how much better can it possibly be?
Is it better than NordVPN, PIA, Cyberghost, IPVanish and other highly rated services?
In my 2020 ExpressVPN review, I sought to find out whether the benefits really outweigh the cost. I tested the VPN service on both desktop and mobile devices to answer these questions:
- How fast is ExpressVPN?
- Can ExpressVPN unblock region-locked websites (Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video)?
- Is ExpressVPN safe and private?
- Does ExpressVPN work in China?
- Is it really better than the cheaper alternatives?
I’ll cover all that and more in this review.
During my time with ExpressVPN, I used it to secure my connection while traveling to China and for unblocking video streams that I couldn’t normally access from my home in Canada. I also put it through a battery of tests to gauge its speed and security.
I summarized my thoughts on ExpressVPN below, but read the full review to get a comprehensive look at this premium VPN service.
ExpressVPN is a true jack of all trades, able to unblock all sorts of region-locked content, bypass China’s Great Firewall, and quickly download files. It boasts better performance than most when it comes to streaming. I challenge anyone to find a VPN with more advanced security while keeping the experience simple and novice-friendly.
ExpressVPN Key data
|OVERALL RANK: #3 of 45 VPNs|
|Average Speed *:||135 Mbps|
|Video Streaming Support:||4K UHD|
|Other Streaming Services:||Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, HBO, Hulu|
|Encryption Type:||256-bit AES w/ Perfect Forward Secrecy|
|Log Policy:||No identifying logs|
|Protocols:||OpenVPN, L2TP, PPTP|
|Value for Money||
|Lowest Monthly Cost:||$6.67|
|Money Back Guarantee:||30 days|
How does ExpressVPN compare to other popular VPNs?
Here’s how ExpressVPN compares to two of the most popular and highly rated VPNs out there, NordVPN and Private Internet Access. You can see a more detailed breakdown here of ExpressVPN vs NordVPN.
|ExpressVPN||NordVPN||Private Internet Access|
|Average speed *||135 Mbps||115 Mbps||68 Mbps|
|Encryption Type||256-bit AES||256-bit AES||128-bit AES|
|Kill Switch||desktop only|
|Records Identifying Logs|
|Unblocks Netflix US|
|Unblocks Amazon Prime|
|Unblocks BBC iPlayer|
|Lowest monthly cost||$6.67 per month||$3.71 per month||$2.69 per month|
|Money-back guarantee||30 days||30 days||30 days|
ExpressVPN pros and cons
Here’s a summary of what I liked and didn’t like during my time with ExpressVPN.
- Very fast speeds across all server locations
- Advanced security on both apps and servers
- Easily unblocks streaming sites from abroad, including US Netflix
- Works in China and the UAE
- Zero logs policy
- 24/7 live chat support
- Slightly more expensive than rivals
- Streaming servers aren’t labeled
- Occasional dropped connections
I’ll go into more detail about each of these points below.
Speed: Is ExpressVPN fast?
ExpressVPN is the fastest VPN we’ve tested to date, thanks largely in part to its new, proprietary protocol: Lightway. While many other VPNs jumped on the Wireguard bandwagon, ExpressVPN decided to go its own route and create an all-new VPN protocol. In our tests, Lightway was double and sometimes triple the speed of ExpressVPN’s previous preferred protocol, OpenVPN.
Across all locations and times tested, ExpressVPN averaged 135 Mbps download speed.
We tested servers located in North America, Europe, and Asia. You won’t notice much of a slowdown while connected to ExpressVPN unless your home internet speed is well over 100 Mbps. Here are the average speeds for servers in each region:
- North America (nearest): 136 Mbps
- Asia: 136 Mbps
- Europe: 134 Mbps
We strongly recommend using the Lightway protocol if you want to maximize speed. OpenVPN is also available on all ExpressVPN connections, with the option to connect over UDP or TCP. L2TP and PPTP are also options, though the latter isn’t recommended due to security issues.
In addition to streaming video, ExpressVPN also performed admirably while gaming online. I didn’t notice much lag or high ping times when playing fast-paced games like Rocket League and Brawlhalla. Just be sure to choose a server location either near yourself or the game servers.
The desktop app comes with a built-in speed tester that measures ping time and download speed to all server locations.
Ping time, or latency, is useful if I’m trying to find a server with as little lag as possible. It takes a bit longer to run the download speed test than the ping time test, and the results are questionable–our internal tests show much higher speeds than what the app reports.
Note that these tests can only serve as a general indication of the performance you might see and cannot be considered definitive. The inherent volatility of the internet adds a significant factor of randomness. Users with faster connections will likely see larger discrepancies in speed.
ExpressVPN recently launched its new Lightway VPN protocol, which boost speeds considerably. Lightway is designed to compete with other VPNs that have adopted Wireguard-based protocols like NordVPN, which have shown considerable speed improvements over traditional protocols like OpenVPN and IKEv2. Lightway promises not only faster speeds, but fast switching between wi-fi and mobile networks, as well as strong security.
The new protocol is open source and now available to all ExpressVPN users.
Apps: What devices work with ExpressVPN?
ExpressVPN makes apps for more devices than any other VPN provider I know of:
- Android TV and Nvidia Shield
- Amazon Fire TV
I can connect five devices at once. Most VPNs allow at least five and some go as high as 10 or don’t limit simultaneous connections at all. ExpressVPN recently switched from three to five, so I wouldn’t expect the limit to go up again anytime soon.
App design is fairly consistent across all platforms, so if you know how to use one, then using another should feel familiar. ExpressVPN’s apps are simple to set up and easy to use.
Upon first installing ExpressVPN, I must verify my device with a code displayed on my account dashboard on the ExpressVPN website. Although this takes a bit of extra hassle to set up new devices, it means I don’t have to repeatedly type in my username and password for subsequent logins.
Once I was all set up, I got access to thousands of server locations across 94 countries.
ExpressVPN browser extensions
Desktop browser extensions are available for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox. Unlike most VPN browser extensions, ExpressVPN’s plugins are not standalone proxies. They simply control the main VPN app, which must also be installed on my device. This is useful for Chromebook users, for example, but less so for Mac and PC users.
The ExpressVPN browser extensions come with a few added bonuses, including protection against WebRTC leaks and HTML5 geolocation spoofing, that make them worth installing.
The geo-location spoofing feature hides your true location by doing more than just masking your IP address. Websites can still determine your location through the HTML5 geolocation API, which uses wi-fi and mobile signals, GPS, and other positioning hardware to determine your location. ExpressVPN’s browser extension « spoofs » the location retrieved by the API to a semi-random point near the VPN server location to which you’re connected.
Every ExpressVPN subscription comes packaged with the MediaStreamer smart DNS proxy service. Many devices don’t support VPN apps, but do allow you to change your default DNS servers. For devices like the Apple TV, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, you can go into the internet settings and replace the default DNS server IP addresses with MediaStreamer IPs.
With MediaStreamer set up, I can unblock all sorts of region-locked data content from abroad. That includes Netflix and most other major streaming services, which I’ll cover in more detail a bit later. MediaStreamer doesn’t offer the same security and online privacy benefits as the normal VPN, though.
Unfortunately, devices connected through MediaStreamer also count against your five-device limit.
If your device doesn’t support VPN apps and doesn’t allow you to change DNS servers (Roku, Chromecast), then you can still connect it to the VPN via a wi-fi router. If your router firmware supports it, you can set up a VPN on it manually. However, ExpressVPN has a better option.
ExpressVPN’s router firmware is free and completely replaces a router’s existing firmware. It comes pre-configured with all of ExpressVPN’s servers, as well as a ton of other features that let you control which devices in your home use the VPN, which use MediaStreamer, and which use a standard, direct connection.
You can purchase a router with the ExpressVPN firmware already on it, or install it yourself. If you go the latter route, double-check that your wi-fi router is compatible and that you take proper precautions. If you make a mistake when flashing new firmware, it could permanently damage your router.
A router only counts as one device, no matter how many other devices connect to the VPN through it. So if the five-device connection allowance isn’t enough, this is a good option.
Streaming, Netflix, and Kodi
Does ExpressVPN work with Netflix?
ExpressVPN has reliably worked with Netflix nearly since Netflix first started blocking VPN users. However, not every server location works. If you struggle to find a server that unblocks Netflix, I recommend going to the ExpressVPN website and clicking the live chat button to ask a representative which locations currently work with Netflix. It’s a bit of a hassle but, thankfully, ExpressVPN’s support desk is manned around the clock.
In addition to Netflix, I’ve found that ExpressVPN unblocks a wealth of other region-locked streaming sites, including:
… And many more. Note again that you might need to hit up the customer service desk to ask which servers work with which streaming services.
ExpressVPN works with all of the Kodi add-ons I’ve used. The ExpressVPN software or apps for Linux, Android TV, and Fire TV let you connect pretty much any Kodi device to the VPN. You could also use MediaStreamer with your Kodi device.
Does ExpressVPN allow torrenting?
Unlike most VPN providers, ExpressVPN doesn’t even push me to torrent on specific servers. I usually just pick a fast server near where I live and start downloading.
P2P filesharing is allowed and well protected. A kill switch, or « network lock » in ExpressVPN parlance, stops all internet traffic if the VPN unexpectedly disconnects. That means your P2P traffic is always encrypted no matter what. The network lock feature is available on desktop apps, while a simpler kill switch comes built into the mobile apps.
Does ExpressVPN offer Split Tunneling?
The ExpressVPN apps support split tunneling, which lets you select which other apps use the VPN and which connect to the internet without it. This is very useful for P2P filesharing because you can set your torrent client to use the VPN while other apps connect normally.
To use the split tunneling feature on ExpressVPN:
- Click the hamburger menu (three horizontal lines) and select Options
- In the General tab under Split tunneling, check Manage connection on a per-app basis
- Click Settings
- Next, you choose to either allow only selected apps to use the VPN or prevent selected apps from using the VPN
- Click the + button to add which apps you want to use (or not use) the VPN
Note that even if an app is excluded from the VPN with split tunneling, it will still send DNS traffic through ExpressVPN’s servers.
Security, privacy, and logging
Many VPNs make big claims about their security features and privacy, and ExpressVPN is no exception. I was curious to find out whether ExpressVPN can walk the talk.
ExpressVPN is incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, which has no mandatory data retention laws. It’s beyond the jurisdiction of the UK and other high surveillance countries.
The company doesn’t log any of my internet traffic, nor does it record your IP address or the IP address of the server network to which you’re connected. It only collects dates (not times) that you connected, which location you connected to (not specific servers), and amount of data transferred per day. None of this can be traced back to you and is primarily used for diagnostic purposes and to curb abuse.
ExpressVPN’s logging policies have been put to the test on multiple occasions. In one high-profile case, authorities seized one of its servers in Turkey, saying it was used to hide details regarding the assassination of the Russian Ambassador, Andrei Karlov. The server held no useful information for the authorities, who were investigating the deletion of possible evidence on Facebook and Gmail.
« […] ExpressVPN does not and has never possessed any customer connection logs that would enable us to know which customer was using the specific IPs cited by the investigators. Furthermore, we were unable to see which customers accessed Gmail or Facebook during the time in question, as we do not keep activity logs. We believe that the investigators’ seizure and inspection of the VPN server in question confirmed these points. »
ExpressVPN employs uncrackable encryption on every successful connection, ensuring no one can decipher the contents of my online communication. Here are the encryption specifics:
- 256-bit AES channel strong encryption
- 4096-bit DHE-RSA keys
- SHA512 hash authentication
- Perfect forward secrecy – ensures that even if my encryption key is somehow compromised, it cannot be used to decrypt past sessions
ExpressVPN operates its own private DNS servers, though you can set your own in the app settings.
ExpressVPN is remarkably leakproof. I didn’t encounter any DNS, IPv6, or WebRTC leaks when connected, or even when my connection was unexpectedly disrupted. My real IP address and internet traffic never leaked onto my unencrypted network.
Like most other VPNs, ExpressVPN assigns users shared IP addresses. Dedicated IP addresses are not available. When I connect to a server, I share that server’s IP address with many other users. This makes it more difficult to track online activity back to a single user and adds a significant layer of anonymity.
This year, ExpressVPN introduced a new server-side privacy mechanism called TrustedServer. With TrustedServer, the VPN server software only runs on the server’s RAM and not on the hard disk. Because RAM requires power to store data, the server gets wiped upon every reboot. This helps to ensure that its server networks never retain sensitive user data, even by accident.
« To enable PwC to thoroughly audit our servers, we gave them extensive access to our team and system information. Over the course of a month, PwC interviewed staff responsible for managing our VPN servers; inspected source code, configurations, and technical log files; and observed our server configuration and deployment processes. »
For the extra-privacy conscious, ExpressVPN operates an onion site on the dark web where you can sign up anonymously and pay with bitcoin.
We’ve put together this graphic to show how ExpressVPN’s strong encryption works and how long it would take to break it.
ExpressVPN Top Server locations
ExpressVPN operates more than 3,000 VPN servers in 94 countries, including the USA, Canada, Germany, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Hong Kong, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Australia, India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, and Israel.
Smart location feature
By default, ExpressVPN chooses a server using its smart location feature. Whereas most VPNs’ automatic server selection is based purely on distance to the nearest server, ExpressVPN’s Smart Location goes a bit further. It ranks VPN locations by download speed, latency, and distance.
The Smart location feature is enabled by default in all ExpressVPN apps. It’s indicated by a lightning bolt icon and will be the default server option when you first open the app.
Does ExpressVPN work in China?
ExpressVPN is a veteran VPN provider in China and provides fairly reliable access to the free and open internet from the mainland. I spent some time in Beijing shortly before writing this review and kept ExpressVPN connected on my phone pretty much the whole time. I didn’t have to change any settings; it just works.
Maintaining a VPN that can bypass the Great Firewall is an ongoing battle, so you might experience occasional downtime, especially around politically-sensitive events. But this is the case for every VPN provider, and ExpressVPN always bounces back quickly.
Is ExpressVPN’s customer service any good?
Competent customer support staff are available around the clock via live chat on the ExpressVPN website.
I’ve contacted ExpressVPN’s 24/7 live chat support on several occasions, and never have I had to wait more than five minutes to get a response. The support system uses Zendesk to manage help tickets.
Support documentation is available in English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. ExpressVPN has a wealth of guides on a wide variety of topics across all platforms.
Besides the live chat option, you can submit a ticket on the website or send a direct email. If you don’t trust Zendesk, email is a more private option.
The average customer service response time is an impressive 15 seconds according to this ExpressVPN review video from ProPrivacy.
What is the ExpressVPN upload speed like?
It depends on your location, the server’s location, the VPN protocol, and current network congestion. That being said, ExpressVPN’s upload speeds are close to the same as its download speeds in our tests.
Note that many home internet connections are asymmetrical, which means your max upload speed is considerably slower than your max download speed. This will in turn affect your speed while connected to the VPN.
Does ExpressVPN offer obfuscated servers?
Yes, but they are not labeled, and obfuscation cannot be enabled or disabled by the user.
Obfuscation automatically kicks when needed while using the ExpressVPN app, such as when a user connects from China. In those instances, obfuscation is required to hide the VPN connection from internet service providers and government watchdogs that would otherwise block it.
To the end-user of ExpressVPN, there’s little difference between connecting to an obfuscated server and a non-obfuscated server. Obfuscation might slow down your connection slightly.
ExpressVPN is a bit pricier than most.
Here’s what ExpressVPN costs:
- The 1-month plan costs $12.95
- The 6-month plan is $9.99 per month
- The 12-month plan is $6.67
- Use the coupon below for 3 months free
The monthly ExpressVPN subscription cost of the 12-month plan is calculated based on this deal which includes an additional 3 months free.
The company positions itself as a premium VPN provider. I think of it as the Apple of VPNs.
That being said, it’s not exorbitant; just a couple dollars more per month on average. I’ve certainly seen worse VPNs that cost as much or more.
You can get a significant discount for signing up on the 1-year plan instead of paying month-by-month.
Do I recommend ExpressVPN?
After weeks of testing ExpressVPN for myself, would I recommend it to others?
Definitely. It’s an excellent choice.
If price is not a major concern, you won’t find a better all-around VPN. ExpressVPN performs well on every front, including speed, security, unblocking region-locked sites, evading censorship, and customer support. I would recommend it to everyone from novices to veteran VPN users.
I like ExpressVPN a lot, but I appreciate that some people want something cheaper or with more simultaneous connections.
NordVPN allows up to six internet connections and comes in at as little as half the price for plans of a similar duration, pending current discounts. It’s the second-fastest VPN we’ve tested after ExpressVPN, offers many of the same benefits to security, and has the ability to unblock streaming sites, torrent, and access the web from China.
CyberGhost is another budget option VPN provider that allows up to seven devices to connect at once. It doesn’t work in China and you don’t get as much support for those less-popular operating systems, but it’s fast, secure, and makes unblocking region-locked content a breeze.
ExpressVPN Reviews FAQ
Is ExpressVPN legal?
Yes, using any VPN including ExpressVPN is completely legal except for a small handful of countries where VPNs are banned.
Does ExpressVPN record my data?
Users can opt into sharing additional anonymous app diagnostics like crash reports, usability diagnosis, and VPN connection diagnostics. This includes info about failed connection attempts and speed test data.
Will anyone know if I use ExpressVPN?
It's possible. A VPN is private, but not necessarily anonymous.
Your internet service provider, for example, can check whether you are connecting to a known ExpressVPN server. If you're logged into your Facebook account and use Facebook while connected to ExpressVPN, then Facebook can check whether you are connecting from a known VPN server.
That being said, your ISP cannot see what you're doing while connected to the VPN, and websites and apps cannot see your real IP address.
Can ExpressVPN block ads?
ExpressVPN has no built-in ad-blocking or anti-tracking features. A few other VPNs do, including CyberGhost and NordVPN.
ExpressVPN says users have the right to decide whether they want to block ads and which ads to block. The company recommends installing a free ad blocking and/or anti-tracking extension like uBlock Origin and Privacy Badger, respectively.
How good are ExpressVPN's mobile apps?
ExpressVPN makes mobile apps for Android and iOS. Both are well-designed apps with all of the same features and security that you get on the desktop versions. ExpressVPN’s app is fast and lightweight, so you don’t have to worry about it bogging down your device. I would recommend opting for the Lightway or IKEv2 protocol for maximum speed and efficiency on mobile.
Will using ExpressVPN stop bandwidth throttling?
That depends. If your internet service provider is throttling bandwidth from a specific source or a specific type of data, then yes. ExpressVPN’s encryption will hide the contents of your data and routing it that data through the VPN server hides what website, app, or service you’re accessing. Because your ISP can’t see what you’re doing when using the VPN, it cannot discriminate against specific sources or types of traffic.
However, a VPN won’t help if all of your data is being throttled. If you’ve hit your monthly data cap, for example, ExpressVPN won’t help much. Although encrypted, VPN data still has to pass through your ISP’s network and will count against your data cap.
- ExpressVPN Summary
- ExpressVPN Key data
- How does ExpressVPN compare to other popular VPNs?
- ExpressVPN pros and cons
- Speed: Is ExpressVPN fast?
- Apps: What devices work with ExpressVPN?
- Streaming, Netflix, and Kodi
- Does ExpressVPN allow torrenting?
- Does ExpressVPN offer Split Tunneling?
- Security, privacy, and logging
- ExpressVPN Top Server locations
- Does ExpressVPN work in China?
- Is ExpressVPN’s customer service any good?
- What is the ExpressVPN upload speed like?
- Does ExpressVPN offer obfuscated servers?
- ExpressVPN pricing
- ExpressVPN coupons
- Do I recommend ExpressVPN?
- ExpressVPN alternatives
- ExpressVPN Reviews FAQ
- Is ExpressVPN legal?
- Does ExpressVPN record my data?
- Will anyone know if I use ExpressVPN?
- Can ExpressVPN block ads?
- How good are ExpressVPN's mobile apps?
- Will using ExpressVPN stop bandwidth throttling?