ExpressVPN Review: Speed And Privacy That’s Worth The Cost
Rating as of based on a review of services March 14, 2023.
ExpressVPN is known for speed, reliability, and a fleet of global servers that dwarfs the competition. Travelers and gamers will enjoy the enhanced features, and everyday users will appreciate top-notch security.
- Media streaming
- Gaming and file sharing
- Breaking geoblocks
Browsing the internet can resemble trekking through the real-life wilderness: you want to have fun, but you need to prioritize your safety and watch out for threats. One of the best (and thankfully, easiest) ways to protect your internet surfing, including sensitive personal information, is with a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
And you can’t do much better than ExpressVPN, a fast and secure service that lets you browse safely around the world — even in countries with restricted online access. When you’re at home, ExpressVPN can cross international borders to bring media to you at competitive streaming speeds. Add above-and-beyond privacy measures, and this VPN is worth the price for many users.
What is ExpressVPN?
VPNs encrypt and route all your internet traffic — including sites you visit, the info you send, and the info you receive—through a private server. This way your online data is invisible to your internet service provider, curious third parties, and even the VPN company itself.
A good VPN has multiple tools to ensure none of your data leaks through the network, especially if you’re using public WiFi. And a really good VPN can cut safely through geographic restrictions, helping you access content around the world.
ExpressVPN has been around since 2009, and it’s already earned a reputation as a global powerhouse with thousands of servers in 94 countries. It’s a great network for travelers and day-to-day users, and it’s constantly rolling out new features. And if you’re just getting started with VPNs, ExpressVPN is surprisingly easy to navigate.
How does ExpressVPN work?
First, you’ll choose between 1 month, 6 months, or 15 months of coverage and pay for the plan you select. ExpressVPN makes the smart move of offering a full refund within the first 30 days, so you have time to try out the service.
You log in with an activation code, and the interface is clean and simple with features that are fairly uniform across all platforms. There aren’t many fancy options for customization, but the basics are easy to find. Here’s what the Windows screen looks like:
ExpressVPN has apps for the most popular platforms and some more obscure ones, complete with setup tutorials. Along with the standard Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android apps, there’s Linux, Chromebook, Android, and Amazon Fire TV, and more — plus browser extensions for Firefox, Edge, and Chrome.
The extensions mainly serve to encrypt your internet browser traffic and “spoof” your HTML5 geolocation. They don’t come with the full slate of VPN protections, but they’re perfectly servable for browsing on public WiFi. I’m a devoted Chrome user on desktop and mobile, but I use Firefox from time to time, and it’s nice to see both plugin options.
You can connect up to five devices at once, or get unlimited device support by connecting the VPN straight to your home router.
The easiest way to get ExpressVPN running is to use the app setup (which ExpressVPN recommends). Built-in features make it simple to connect or disconnect, find or switch servers, test your VPN speed, and take advantage of ExpressVPN’s new Lightway protocol for fast, secure browsing.
The “Smart Location” feature automatically connects you to the best server based on your location. It’s ideal when you’re traveling someplace new (ExpressVPN has more than 3,000 servers all over the world).
You can opt for a different server location if you choose, and/or save your preferred servers. Once you’ve started using the VPN, ExpressVPN will show your most recent locations along with the ones it recommends.
If you have the time and tech skills to set your VPN up manually instead of using the app, you have that option too. Manual setup lets you install a VPN on devices that don’t connect to the ExpressVPN app, or ensure a backup if you can’t connect to the app for some reason.
ExpressVPN defaults to the industry-standard OpenVPN protocols, though you can often access other protocols depending on the device you’re using. Here’s what a manual setup might look like onscreen.
How much does ExpressVPN cost?
When you pick your payment plan, ExpressVPN highlights their 15-month deal (three free months are tacked onto their standard yearlong subscription).
Subscription length Total cost Cost per month
1 month $12.95 $12.95
6 months $59.95 $9.99
12 months $99.95 $8.32
15 months $99.95 $6.67
Like most VPN pricing models, the longer you commit to the service, the less you pay per month. Each subscription plan comes with the same VPN features and a 30-day money-back guarantee. Coupons and deals pop up frequently, so if you buy at the right time, you’ll get an initial discount.
Keep in mind any special deal pricing is likely to be temporary — after the deal period ends, pricing reverts to the original cost.
ExpressVPN is on the expensive side — the industry average monthly VPN price was around $10/month in late 2020, while ExpressVPN charges almost $13 for a one-month plan. And ExpressVPN doesn’t offer the longer two-year terms some providers have. That said, many users find ExpressVPN’s features and speed are worth the extra charge.
To help get your money’s worth, you could take advantage of ExpressVPN’s five-device limit and use one subscription for a whole group or household, or link the VPN up to your router for unlimited device coverage.
And if you’re concerned about payment anonymity, ExpressVPN lets you pay in Bitcoin (of course, they also accept all major credit/debit cards and most online payment platforms).
With over 3,000 servers in 160 locations across 94 countries, ExpressVPN makes it easy to find a server wherever you are — even an uncrowded one with fast traffic.
Since 2019, ExpressVPN has run its servers exclusively on RAM, with no hard drives. That’s a feature not all VPNs offer. RAM doesn’t store data, so your data is automatically erased each time you reboot — even if a hacker does get through, they won’t be able to steal any stored info. And ExpressVPN’s RAM-based “TrustedServer” technology runs the most updated software on each server, so you don’t have to go through manual updates.
A handful of ExpressVPN servers — around 3% of their server fleet — are virtual, which means the server and IP address could be in different countries. Virtual servers allow you to get a decent connection from a country where you aren’t physically located. They’re most helpful in countries with weak infrastructure or highly restricted internet access; ExpressVPN is transparent about its virtual server locations around the globe.
Security and encryption
Like other top-of-the-line VPNs, ExpressVPN uses AES 256-bit encryption (the same virtually impenetrable level of protection many militaries and governments use). Your encryption key changes each time you log in, and their SHA-512 HMAC authentication provides a secret key for secure file transfers.
Besides your payment details, ExpressVPN doesn’t keep logs of your connections, activity, IP addresses, or any other identifying info. The no-log policy helped ExpressVPN pass the “stolen server test” in 2017; when Turkish authorities seized a local server while investigating an assassination, they didn’t find any user data.
ExpressVPN commissioned an independent audit of their no-log policy by respected accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). A proactive audit (before any problems arise) is a good sign that a VPN provider wants to be accountable to its users. Another signal of accountability is ExpressVPN’s “bug bounty,” a reward for users who find security threats in their software.
ExpressVPN enables streaming on a ton of devices, from old-school gaming consoles to “smart TVs” to Roku. Their DNS service MediaStreamer is available to download on devices that don’t support a VPN app.
From there you can access global content from the major international media players — Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO, Disney+, BBC, Netflix — and some lesser-known ones too. There’s a pretty impressive amount of media available, and users won’t get bored. ExpressVPN even keeps a calendar of the best sports to stream.
It’s worth mentioning that ExpressVPN has a great track record of unblocking Netflix with good speed and high-quality images. The number of ExpressVPN servers around the world is a big help. Not every VPN works with Netflix — the streaming service isn’t a fan of VPNs — but ExpressVPN does the job reliably.
A VPN’s security protocols determine the way data is transferred, which affects speed, encryption, and other factors. ExpressVPN already uses industry-leading protocols, and their in-house protocol Lightway is under development to make connections even faster.
OpenVPN UDP is the default protocol on most devices — an open-source, constantly updated protocol that’s the top choice for many VPN users. If you’re on iOS, you can opt for the IPSec/IKEv2 protocol instead.
The new, still-developing protocol from the tech minds at ExpressVPN promises a quicker, more stable connection. Lightway will maintain your connection if you’re switching between networks or your device drops offline, so you’ll be up and running again in seconds. This consistent connectivity promises to be one major user benefit of Lightway, along with vastly improved speeds (ExpressVPN is already pretty fast).
A VPN needs solid customer service options, and ExpressVPN delivers with their live chat support network that runs 24/7. Though the chat line is the fastest, support tickets and email are also reliable. If you prefer DIY troubleshooting, there are plenty of guides on the website to walk you through the necessary steps.
ExpressVPN is fast…really fast. VPNs will always slow down your web browsing speeds a little, but ExpressVPN doesn’t reduce speeds nearly as much as its competitors, even when you’re connecting to servers on the other side of the globe. Users report minimal data packet loss, high-definition images, and swift online gaming speeds.
This efficiency is built into ExpressVPN’s design; its speed tests help you find the fastest server nearby.
The “Smart Location” feature automatically connects you to the best server for your location, which usually means the fastest. And when Lightway rolls out, speeds should improve even more.
ExpressVPN boasts unlimited bandwidth for peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing, or torrenting. All its servers support torrenting, and both downloads and uploads get transferred quickly. The no-log policy means your torrenting activity is private and unleakable (so you can, for instance, get around copyright rules).
A kill switch is an essential feature in a VPN — it keeps your data and IP address hidden if your VPN connection drops out for any reason. ExpressVPN’s kill switch is called Network Lock (or Network Protection on Android), and it’s enabled automatically, with no setup required.
Unfortunately, there’s no kill switch for the iOS app, but other devices — Windows, Mac, Linux, and routers — should have it installed.
If you want to use certain browsers or apps without the VPN, you can manage your content through “split tunneling” — where some of your web traffic is routed through the VPN and some is not. ExpressVPN lets you pick the apps you want to be VPN-connected, and you can change your picks at any time.
DNS leak tests
To avoid any Domain Name System (DNS) leaks, ExpressVPN goes above and beyond. Each server has its own DNS for increased security, and users can run ExpressVPN’s open-source DNS leak tests (as well as IP and WebRTC leak tests) to check for any vulnerabilities.
Even without these tools, users find ExpressVPN to be a remarkably leak-free platform on all devices.
Fans of the free, anonymous software Tor can double up on privacy protection with a “Tor over VPN” system (you connect to the VPN first, then add Tor). The VPN won’t be able to see any of your Tor data or traffic. ExpressVPN even has its own Tor website, if you want to manage your VPN while using Tor software.
Dynamic IP addresses
ExpressVPN uses dynamic IP addresses, which change regularly (as opposed to static or dedicated IP addresses which remain the same). This is a nice extra security tweak that makes your IP address even harder to find. And with 30,000 IP addresses at their disposal, ExpressVPN isn’t running out of them anytime soon.
ExpressVPN has mobile apps for Android and iOS devices (and a Linux app available with Ubuntu and Fedora). The apps are easy to set up and stacked with features, especially for Android — including auto-connect options, data breach alerts, and IP protection summaries.
Note that the iOS app doesn’t have a kill switch, and neither mobile app has the speed test feature (which you may not need, since the ExpressVPN mobile apps are reliably fast). The mobile apps also aren’t Tor-compatible.
Desktop apps for Windows, Linux, and Mac, on the other hand, have all the ExpressVPN security features built right in. Some users find the desktop apps more consistent and useful than the mobile apps, but with five simultaneous connections, you can always install both.
One way to get unlimited simultaneous connections (including mobile devices, game consoles, and TVs as well as desktops) is to install the ExpressVPN app directly on your router.
You can set up the router connection on your own using ExpressVPN’s instructions, or buy a FlashRouter preloaded with the ExpressVPN app (the FlashRouters cost over $200+ each if you’re willing to pay for convenience).
A VPN should ideally be registered in a country that doesn’t have strict data protection laws or international surveillance agreements. This way the local government can’t compel the VPN to surrender any information.
ExpressVPN fits the bill with its headquarters in the privacy-friendly British Virgin Islands (which, despite the “British” name, doesn’t share legal jurisdiction with the United Kingdom).
My experience researching ExpressVPN
I was impressed by how many of ExpressVPN’s tools, like speed tests and kill switches, are built into the app to save users time and guesswork. The “Smart Location” feature in particular makes life a lot easier; I can imagine how helpful this would be when traveling or using various public WiFi hotspots.
A VPN keeps your info highly secure, so it’s easy to forget you still need smart internet habits. To be honest, I’m not always the best at securing my own information — you don’t think a personal data leak will happen to you until it does. ExpressVPN’s security resources include tips to improve your “digital hygiene,” ensuring none of their users are at the losing end of a security breach.
If you need password refreshers, which we all do from time to time, ExpressVPN will cough up passwords unique enough to last you thousands of years.
I also found ExpressVPN to be a great resource for ongoing education about online privacy; since technology changes so quickly, it’s smart to have up-to-date info.
ExpressVPN’s Digital Security Lab, a free research hub available whether you buy the VPN or not, includes articles on telehealth and patient privacy, online safety for specific communities, remote workforce surveillance, and more. If you spend a lot of your life or work online, the Digital Security Lab is worth checking out.
Who is ExpressVPN best for?
Domestic and international travelers should find ExpressVPN easy and secure to use en route, or in far-flung locations where other VPNs may not have servers. Their global server fleet includes servers on six continents (they’re not in Antarctica…yet).
Users streaming international content
If your main VPN goal is to unblock online media and/or use P2P file sharing, ExpressVPN is one of the fastest, most reliable providers. The VPN can pass Netflix’s notorious geoblocking restrictions, without lag or compromised image quality.
Users who need/prefer a language other than English
ExpressVPN’s apps, browser extensions, and setup guides are available in 17 languages (maybe more in the future), including Spanish, Japanese, French, Korean, Italian, and others. You can change languages within the app settings pretty easily.
Not every language appears to be available on every platform, so the usefulness of this feature will depend on what language you speak.
Who shouldn’t use ExpressVPN?
Users whose first priority is cost
ExpressVPN charges more than its competitors, and it offers more speed, security, and access perks for the money (like expansive server locations, international streaming, and the Lightway protocol).
If all you need is a simple VPN for your at-home internet browsing, you may not want to shell out for the extras; another provider’s cheaper but less extensive coverage may be just fine.
Users who don’t need a fast connection
This also comes down to cost — if you don’t do much (or any) streaming or file sharing, and you’re more patient than I am and don’t mind waiting a bit longer for a site to load, a slower but cheaper VPN could save you money.
Pros & cons
- Large collection of global servers — ExpressVPN can link you up to a server almost anywhere in the world, including countries that restrict internet access.
- Speedy connections — The SmartLocation feature and Lightway protocols make sure you’re getting the fastest connection possible wherever you are, even if you’re downloading media.
- Compatible with multiple platforms — Along with common platforms like Windows and Mac, ExpressVPN supports the open-source platform Linux, Tor, gaming consoles...etc.
- Rigorous privacy practices — A tested no-log policy and military-grade encryption ensure your information stays safe.
- Limitations to the iOS app — Right now the ExpressVPN iOS app is missing a few key features — namely the Network Lock kill switch and Tor compatibility.
- No ad blocker — An ad blocker isn’t a feature everyone needs or wants with their VPN (it’s often just as easy to install one separately), but some competitors do offer built-in ad-blocking features that ExpressVPN doesn’t.
ExpressVPN vs. competitors
Simultaneous connections Five (unlimited with router app) Six
Number of servers 3,000+ 5,500+
Jurisdiction British Virgin Islands Panama
Cost (one month) $12.95/month $11.95/month
Cost (six months) $9.99/month N/A
Cost (12+ months) $6.67/month (15 months) $4.92/month (12 months)
NordVPN is right up there with ExpressVPN in terms of industry-leading quality. It offers some of the same next-level features, like RAM servers and Tor compatibility.
Pricing gives NordVPN the edge; it’s cheaper than ExpressVPN for every subscription plan. NordVPN doesn’t offer a six-month option — unless you go month-to-month, you’ll commit for at least a year — but it has great long-term deals.
It doesn’t deliver quite the same speeds as ExpressVPN, however, and it lacks ExpressVPN’s gaming console options.
ExpressVPN is worth the investment for many users, especially if you’re going on the road, or if you’ve tried other VPNs and they didn’t have the features you needed. As always, it’s smart to take advantage of the 30-day money-back guarantee and give the VPN a “test drive” before committing to a year-long purchase.