ExpressVPN Review

Paul BischoffTECH JOURNALIST, PRIVACY ADVOCATE AND VPN EXPERT

ExpressVPN gets a lot of praise, but it costs more than most of its competitors…

So is it really worth it?

What does ExpressVPN offer that others don’t?

Most VPNs use the same underlying technology, so I have to wonder how much better it can possibly be.

Is it better than NordVPN, PIA, Cyberghost and other highly rated services?

In my 2019 ExpressVPN review, I sought to find out whether the benefits really outweigh the cost. I tested the service on both desktop and mobile 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.

ExpressVPN review

During my time with ExpressVPN, I used it to secure my connection while on a trip to China and to unblock 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 service.

ExpressVPN Summary

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. I challenge anyone to find a VPN with more advanced security while keeping the experience simple and novice-friendly.

ExpressVPN Key data

OVERALL RANK:  #1 of 42 VPNs
Speed
Score: 10/10
Tested Speed:106 Mbps
Video Streaming Support:4K UHD
Streaming
Score: 10/10
Netflix:Yes
Other Streaming Services:Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, HBO, Hulu
Security
Score: 10/10
Encryption Type:256-bit AES w/ Perfect Forward Secrecy
Kill Switch:Yes
Log Policy:No identifying logs
Protocols:OpenVPN, L2TP, PPTP
Value for Money
Score: 7/10
Lowest Monthly Cost:8.32
Money Back Guarantee:30 days
Websitehttps://www.expressvpn.com

ExpressVPN pros and cons

Here’s a summary of what I liked and didn’t like during my time with ExpressVPN.

Pros:

  • Very fast speeds across all servers
  • Advanced security on both apps and servers
  • Easily unblocks streaming sites from abroad, including US Netflix
  • Works in China and the UAE
  • Zero logs
  • 24/7 live chat support

Cons:

  • Slightly more expensive than rivals
  • Streaming servers aren’t labelled
  • Occasional dropped connections

I’ll go into more detail about each of these points below.

Speed: Is ExpressVPN fast?

Yes!

ExpressVPN topped the list in our latest round of speed testing, and by a wide margin at that. While connected to most servers, I had plenty of bandwidth to stream 4K video or video chat in high definition.

Across all locations and times tested, ExpressVPN averaged 106 Mbps download speed.

express speedtest

International servers were located in North America, Europe, and Asia. You won’t notice much of a bandwidth difference unless your home internet speed is well over 100 Mbps. Here are the average speeds for servers in each region:

  • North America (nearest): 117 Mbps
  • Asia: 96 Mbps
  • Europe: 107 Mbps

 

OpenVPN is the default protocol for 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.

expressvpn windows protocols

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 either near yourself or the game servers.

expressvpn speed test windows

The desktop app comes with a built-in speed tester that measures ping time and download speed to all 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.

Apps: What devices work with ExpressVPN?

ExpressVPN makes apps for more types of devices than any other VPN provider I know of:

  • Windows
  • MacOS
  • iOS
  • Android
  • Android TV and Nvidia Shield
  • Linux
  • 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.

ExpressVPN Windows app
ExpressVPN Windows app

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.

expressvpn android 2019 ss
ExpressVPN app for Android: Connect, Locations, and Settings

Upon first installing ExpressVPN, I have to verify my device with a code listed in 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 constantly type in my username and password for subsequent logins.

Once I was all set up, I got access to thousands of servers 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.

expressvpn-browser-extension

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 enables you to hide your 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 to which you’re connected.

MediaStreamer DNS

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 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 privacy benefits as the normal VPN, though.

Unfortunately, devices connected through MediaStreamer also count against your five-device limit.

Router firmware

expressvpn router ss

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.

expressvpn router manage devices

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 three-device connection allowance isn’t enough, this is a good option.

Streaming, Netflix, and Kodi

Does ExpressVPN work with Netflix?

Yes.

ExpressVPN has reliably worked with Netflix nearly since Netflix first started blocking VPN users. However, not every server location works. At the moment, 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.

Each country has its own library of shows and movies on Netflix. ExpressVPN can unblock the US, UK, Japan, Canada, and France versions of Netflix, among others.expressvpn windows connected

In addition to Netflix, I’ve found that ExpressVPN unblocks a wealth of other region-locked streaming sites, including:

  • Hulu
  • BBC iPlayer
  • Amazon Prime Video
  • Crunchyroll
  • Sky TV
  • YouTube

… 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 apps for Linux, Android TV, and Fire TV let you connect pretty much any Kodi device to the VPN.

Does ExpressVPN allow torrenting?

Yes.

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.

expressvpn general settings

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 is available on the desktop apps, while a simpler kill switch comes built into the mobile apps.

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.

Security, privacy, and logging

A lot of VPNs make big claims about their security 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 and is beyond the jurisdiction of the UK and other high surveillance countries.


expressvpn logging policy ss

The company doesn’t log any of my internet traffic, nor does it record your IP address or the IP address of the server 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 connection, ensuring no one can decipher the contents of my online communication. Here are the encryption specifics:

  • 256-bit AES channel 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 windows advanced options

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.

expressvpn leak test 2019

Like most other VPNs, ExpressVPN assigns users shared IP addresses. 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.

expressvpn dns leak test

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 servers never retain sensitive user data, even by accident. No other VPN providers I know of offer a similar feature to TrustedServer.

ExpressVPN’s servers have been audited by PwC, a major auditing firm, to confirm compliance with its own privacy policy. PwC also audited TrustedServer.

« 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 encryption works and how long it would take to break it.

Encryption explained

Does ExpressVPN work in China?

Yes.

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.

expressvpn support live chat

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.

Aside from 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.

ExpressVPN pricing

ExpressVPN is a bit pricier than most.

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.

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Do I recommend ExpressVPN?

After weeks of testing ExpressVPN for myself, would I recommend it to others?

Definitely.

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.

ExpressVPN alternatives

I like ExpressVPN a lot, but I appreciate that some people want something cheaper or with more simultaneous connections.

NordVPN allows up to six connections and comes in at as little as half the price for plans of a similar duration, pending current discounts. It’s a bit slower but offers many of the same benefits to security, as well as the ability to unblock streaming sites, torrent, and access the web from China.

CyberGhost is another budget option with an allowance of up to seven devices. 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.