Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, are usually pretty easy to use. There’s a lot of complex technology working in the background to make this happen, though, and many providers (understandably) want to let potential customers know all about it. The problem is that unless you’re a computer networking specialist, most of this is likely to go over your head.
Here’s the good news: we’ve put together a comprehensive, side-by-side comparison of Surfshark and ExpressVPN so that you can tell at a glance which features they each offer. Of course, we’ll also explain what some of the more advanced features do, in order to give you a better understanding of your security setup. With that out of the way, let’s get started:
Both ExpressVPN and Surfshark make excellent choices and you won’t go too far wrong with either. ExpressVPN and Surfshark are both compatible with popular streaming services including Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, HBO and many more. Both VPNs scored well in our speed tests and offer strong security, although ExpressVPN edges it in both of these categories. If you want the best all-round VPN go with ExpressVPN. If you are on a budget go with Surfshark’s discounted 2 year deal which is hard to beat when it comes to value for money.
Pricing and discounts
|Subscription periods||One month||One month|
|One year||Six months|
|Two years||One year|
|Special offer||81% discount on two-year plan||Three months extra free and 49% off a one-year plan
|Highest price per month||$12.95||$12.95|
|Lowest price per month||$2.49||$6.67|
|Money-back guarantee||30 days||30 days|
These services both cost $12.95 USD for a single month of coverage, which puts them firmly at the higher end of the pricing spectrum. That said, both Surfshark and ExpressVPN offer significantly reduced prices for users who are willing to commit to longer subscriptions upfront.
ExpressVPN comes very close to cutting its monthly price in half if you sign up for its annual plan. Surfshark goes even further, though, with a one-year subscription costing just over $55. If you’re considering the annual plan, though, you really may as well pay an extra $4.68 and get a whole year of additional coverage for $59.76.
Each of these VPNs includes a 30-day money-back guarantee. Although you will have to pay upfront, this means you can try them both out and claim a full refund if they fail to impress you. Additionally, Surfshark now offers a 7-day free trial for users who sign up using Google Play or iTunes.
Best Deal for Surfshark:Save more than 80% by choosing Surfshark’s two-year plan.
Best Deal for ExpressVPN:Get 49% off and an extra three months free with ExpressVPN’s one-year subscription.
|Simultaneous connections||No limit||5|
|Operating system apps||Windows, Linux, MacOS, Android, iOS, Amazon Fire TV/ Firestick||Windows, Linux, MacOS, Android, iOS, select routers|
|Manual install devices||Routers, set-top boxes||Select routers|
|Split tunneling||Yes||Windows, MacOS, and Android only|
|Free extras||Malware-scanning, ad-blocking, and anti-tracking features. Browser extensions (Chrome, Firefox)||Browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox|
These services both offer excellent multi-platform support, with apps for all major operating systems, as well as command line-based installers for Linux systems. Users can take advantage of browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox, although it’s worth noting that these don’t secure traffic from any of your other apps.
There are a couple of differences between Surfshark and ExpressVPN, though. For instance, Surfshark has a built-in ad-blocker and malware-scanner, plus tools that alert you to any data leaks you may have been affected by. It also lets you search anonymously. On the other hand, ExpressVPN offers custom firmware for supported routers, and unlike its rival, does not need to be configured for use in countries with heavily-censored internet access.
One of the biggest advantages Surfshark has over ExpressVPN (and most other services on the market) is that it allows an unlimited number of simultaneous connections. This makes it especially attractive to people who want to share their VPN with their family. ExpressVPN only permits users to connect five of their devices at once, although this should be ample for most users.
|Netflix||US, UK, France, India, Japan, Netherlands, Belgium, Canada||10+ libraries including Netflix US, UK, Japan, France, and Australia|
|Hulu||US, Japan||US, Japan|
|Amazon Prime Video||US, UK||US, UK|
As you can see, both of these VPNs do a fantastic job at unblocking geo-restricted streaming services. Now, obviously, we can’t test every streaming service in the world. As such, there may well be platforms Surfshark can unblock that ExpressVPN can’t, and vice versa. However, in our tests, the only real difference between these two VPNs was that ExpressVPN could access a few more regional Netflix libraries. It should be noted that many services can only unblock Netflix US, if that, so Surfshark is already exceptional in this regard.
Plenty of countries restrict access to specific websites. That said, China’s internet-filtering tools (known collectively as the Great Firewall) are some of the most advanced in the world. As a result, most VPNs are blocked and simply won’t work on the mainland.
Happily, both ExpressVPN and Surfshark can bypass Chinese internet restrictions. ExpressVPN does so without any special configuration required, while Surfshark users may need to enable the NoBorders mode (Settings > Advanced > NoBorders) first. The most important thing to remember is that the Surfshark and ExpressVPN websites are blocked, which means you’ll have to install the app before arriving in China.
Setup and interface
|Automatic setup wizard||Windows, Android, MacOS, Linux, iOS||Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Linux, some routers|
|Main location selection||List-based||List-based|
|Extra settings pages||Yes||Yes|
Surfshark’s desktop apps are straightforward enough. The main screen features a list of your most recently-used servers and a simple location-selection button. If we had to find a complaint, it’d be that certain options (such as the kill switch and NoBorders mode) are hidden away in the settings menu instead of being on the features tab.
ExpressVPN’s app is very similar, although its quick-connect button is much larger and dominates most of the main screen. You shouldn’t have any issues finding the options you need since the settings menu is broken down into several categories. As a bonus, users can add certain websites to their shortcuts and have a link to them appear after you connect for faster access.
Surfshark’s mobile apps are almost identical to the desktop ones. The only real difference is that instead of being on the left-hand side of the screen, the tabs are now on the bottom. Additionally, some features aren’t available, like the NoBorders mode (although mobile users can still use the privacy-focused Shadowsocks protocol). On the plus side, Surfshark’s Android app allows you to automatically match your phone’s GPS location to your server location without the need for any third-party apps.
Mobile ExpressVPN apps have a lot in common with their desktop equivalents, except, as with Surfshark, they have a pared-down selection of features. In fact, the only options in the settings menu are for auto-connection, wifi protection, split tunneling, and protocol selection. All in all, though, the mobile apps remain easy to use and keep you just as safe as when you’re on a desktop computer.
Servers and Performance
Straight away, we can see there’s a huge difference between these networks. However, it’s important to note that while Surfshark has fewer servers than its rival, ExpressVPN’s is one of the largest on the market. Further, ExpressVPN covers more countries than almost any other major VPN, so this shouldn’t be considered a failing on Surfshark’s part. Unfortunately, neither service provides a detailed breakdown of the servers it has in each region, so it’s difficult to say which is more reliable during peak times.
Both VPNs are fast enough for HD streaming. ExpressVPN is faster overall, with an average speed of 58 Mbps to Surfshark’s 40 Mbps. Additionally, ExpressVPN’s speeds are more consistent whereas Surfshark tends to slow down significantly when you connect to faraway servers. This can be frustrating when all you want to do is stream safely.
Take a look below for the full list of countries where Surfshark and ExpressVPN have servers:
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||✔||✔|
|Isle of Man||✔|
|United Arab Emirates||✔|
While ExpressVPN has servers in far more countries, Surfshark actually covers a few locations its rival doesn’t. Specifically, these countries are Paraguay, Libya, Nigeria, and the United Arab Emirates. Given the tumultuous political situations in these regions, it’s likely Surfshark is using virtual servers to provide access. This simply means that the servers aren’t actually in your chosen country, they’re just pretending to be.
For most people, there’s no noticeable difference between a virtual and physical server. That said, they can lead to your data being subject to different laws than you expected. This isn’t a major issue though since both ExpressVPN and Surfshark follow a strict no-logging policy. To their credit, both providers offer a full list of their virtual servers.
|VPN protocols||OpenVPN, IKEv2, Shadowsocks (currently in beta)||OpenVPN, IKEv2, L2TP|
|OpenVPN data encryption||AES-256||AES-256|
|OpenVPN control channel encryption||RSA-2048||RSA-4096|
|Cloaking technology||NoBorders obfuscation||Cipher block chaining|
|App security||Kill switch (all platforms)||Kill switch (desktop and routers only)|
|DNS status||Private DNS||Private DNS|
Users can connect via the OpenVPN and IKEv2 protocols, whichever service they choose. That said, ExpressVPN also supports the older L2TP protocol, which is easier to block but more secure. On the other hand, Surfshark lets its customers use the privacy-focused Shadowsocks protocol.
Both providers use 256-bit AES encryption, which is effectively impossible to crack. ExpressVPN’s RSA keys are slightly more secure, though, as they’re 4096 bits long. In other words, they’re twice as long (though not necessarily twice as secure) as Surfshark’s. Each offers a kill switch that stops sending traffic the second your connection drops, ensuring you never accidentally browse unprotected.
These services each have their own way of keeping you safe online. ExpressVPN uses a technique called cipher block chaining, which means you can’t decrypt a packet of data without access to the one before it. Simply, unless an attacker can crack the service’s encryption and capture your entire session’s traffic from the start, your data cannot be read. Surfshark, on the other hand, uses a special NoBorders mode to let you browse freely. We’re not entirely sure how this feature works, but other VPNs achieve similar results by reshaping your data to hide the easily-recognizable signs of VPN traffic.
|HQ base||British Virgin Islands||British Virgin Islands|
|Connection logs||Some, for diagnostic purposes||Some|
|User details for signup||Email address||Email address|
|Anonymous payment options||Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple||Bitcoin|
One thing is clear from the table above: these services really do take user privacy seriously. ExpressVPN and Surfshark are both based in the British Virgin Islands. This is a country with no mandatory data-retention laws that’s far from the influence of the 14 Eyes security alliance. Further, neither keeps any logs that could personally identify you.
It’s possible to sign up for either VPN anonymously by using a throwaway email address and paying with Bitcoin. Surfshark accepts a couple of other popular cryptocurrencies as well.
|Dedicated IP address possible||No||No|
These services both use a shared address system, meaning that everyone on a particular server shares the same IP address. This enhances your privacy by making it more difficult, if not impossible, to tell which user accessed which websites.
Neither VPN really allows users to obtain a dedicated IP address. You can connect to the same Surfshark server each session, ensuring you have the same IP address at all times. Similarly, neither offers a NAT firewall, largely because they block all incoming requests by default.
|Live chat||Yes (ZenDesk)||Yes (outsourced)|
|Average email response time||2 hours, 36 minutes||52 minutes|
|Searchable knowledge base||Yes||Yes|
Both Surfshark and ExpressVPN offer round-the-clock support via email and live chat. There are also large, searchable databases addressing the most common questions. If you’d prefer a video guide, you’ll find these on the official Surfshark and ExpressVPN YouTube channels.
The majority of your questions can likely be answered in seconds over live chat. That said, we wanted to see how responsive staff were if contacted via other methods. This way, we could tell how quickly you should expect a response if the helpdesk became temporarily unavailable or you couldn’t access the company’s website. Below, you’ll find the questions we asked and the results of our testing:
|Question||Initial response time||Number of emails||Question answered|
|Can I install this VPN on my Amazon Firestick?||3 hours, 24 minutes||1||Yes|
|Will I be able to use this VPN in Turkey?||3 hours, 34 minutes||1||Yes|
|Can I unblock Netflix US with this service?||1 hour, 52 minutes||1||Yes|
|Question||Initial response time||Number of emails||Question answered|
|Can I install this VPN on my Amazon Firestick?||2 hours, 7 minutes||1||Yes|
|Will I be able to use this VPN in Turkey?||7 minutes||1||Yes|
|Can I unblock Netflix US with this service?||23 minutes||1||Yes|
Both providers responded extremely quickly to email inquiries. In fact, these are some of the fastest average response times we’ve seen. Further, while some of their answers appeared to be pre-written, Surfshark and ExpressVPN both went into great detail explaining how to configure their services for use on an Amazon Firestick. Most importantly, they each encouraged users to contact them again with any other issues they might have.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
If there’s one thing we’ve learned during this testing, it’s that these are both high-end VPNs. Surfshark manages to provide comprehensive security and privacy protections, steady speeds, and fantastic unblocking ability at a very affordable price. What’s more, it even works in China! Whether you’re looking to torrent, stream, or just browse privately, Surfshark would be an excellent choice.
That said, we think ExpressVPN is slightly better, all things considered. For one, it offers access to servers in a whopping 94 countries, meaning you can unblock content from almost anywhere. Further, it comes with its own router firmware, works in China with no configuration required, and provides higher, more consistent speeds than Surfshark does. Simply, if you’re in the market for a privacy and security-focused VPN that can handle anything you throw at it, ExpressVPN is the one to go for.