Fast VPNs are almost like unicorns: it’s pretty hard to believe that they exist until you see one for yourself. From the outset, ExpressVPN seems to be one of those mythical creatures – a high-speed VPN service that is as versatile as it is private.
This VPN offers some bold promises, and, if I may add, for not such a low price. It remains to be seen whether ExpressVPN can back them up. To find that out, I’ll be going through their speed test results, features, security suite, pricing plans, clients, and their customer support. All aboard the ExpressVPN review!
|Country:||British Virgin Islands|
|Support:||knowledge base, FAQs, email, 24/7 live chat|
ExpressVPN pros and cons
- Record-breaking VPN speeds
- P2P support
- Usable on devices that don’t support VPN clients
- Split tunneling on macOS
- Browser extensions
- Automatic stealth servers
- Superb coverage
- Fast customer support reply times
- Works in China
- Specialized servers
- Dedicated IP option
- Unblocks most streaming services
- Independently audited
- Speeds are inconsistent
- High price
- No extra features
Speed performance: How fast is ExpressVPN?
Baseline: 1 ms/300 Mbps download/300 Mbps upload
Speed is such a central part of ExpressVPN’s brand that it even has a built-in test tool. You can access it by clicking a menu icon in the upper left corner. You can sort their fleet by Speed Index, Latency, or Download Speed after you run it. Which makes choosing the right server easy. Although to have an equal benchmark to other VPN services, we took it for a spin in our usual testing routine.
Lightway (Encryption set on “Automatic”)
|Location||Ping (ms)||Download Speed (Mbps)||Upload Speed (Mbps)|
Using their proprietary Lightway protocol, the connection time was almost instant. The download speeds were very fast, with reductions varying between 8% to 27%. If we account for Indian and Swiss servers, this goes up to 85% and 99%. I wouldn’t look at these numbers as proof that Lightway isn’t a fast protocol. The same locations had poor performance across all our tests, so there’s bound to be misconfigurations.
The upload speeds adhere to the rule of thumb that they’re always slower than the download speeds. Well, for the most part, since there are quite a few exceptions. The lowest speed drop was only 3%, while the highest was 83% in the US, Florida. There were even higher drops in Switzerland and India for 86% and 99% respectively. I’d give them some more time to patch up the issues and then see if the speeds improve. Still, those two critical locations aside, Lightway it’s truly one of the fastest tunneling protocols available today.
|Ping (ms)||Download Speed (Mbps)||Upload Speed (Mbps)||Ping (ms)||Download Speed (Mbps)||Upload Speed (Mbps)|
OpenVPN UDP performance shows some impressive speeds. The drops can be as low as 14%, which is certainly not a bad score. India ruins this otherwise-spotless streak with a 98% reduction. However, the next worst drop was only 65%.
The situation with upload speeds is ambiguous. On the one hand, the best reduction is only 15%, while the worst is, you guessed it, India – 99%. This time, it’s not clear whether it can be brushed off as a glitch in their Indian servers when the next worst option is 96% in the US.
In terms of download speeds, OpenVPN TCP isn’t breaking any speed records. It ranges from 3% speed reductions to 91%. Although India isn’t the slowest country, this still means that on average, the speed reduction will be around an 87% drop if we exclude the three locations that get a bump due to proximity.
The TCP upload speeds are a mixed bag as well, from a 3% drop to a 99% drop. This, excluding the server in my home country, means that the speed will be reduced by up to 90% on average.
|Location||Ping (ms)||Download Speed (Mbps)||Upload Speed (Mbps)|
If IKEv2 wasn’t suffering from the “slow speeds on Indian servers” phenomenon, it would be one of the faster available protocols. The top 3 fastest locations each reduced the download speed by 2%, 12%, and 15%. In comparison, the slowest bunch had dropped like 94%, 37%, and 36%.
In terms of upload rates, the situation is quite dire no matter how you slice it. The best score was an 82% drop. Meanwhile, the best scores are abysmally bad: 7 countries of 10 that we tested had reductions higher than 99%. These results should not belong to a premium VPN’s resume. It also makes much more sense why this protocol isn’t even available on Android.
Overall, ExpressVPN can be blazing fast. It breaks most previous speed records when you pick a nearby country (even if it means picking the same country you live in). That said, it does have some strange drops in random locations and for no apparent reason. This makes the service very inconsistent, which can be a dealbreaker if your needed location suffers from poor performance.
The findings omit the L2TP/IPSec tunneling protocol because all servers failed even to start the test. Not that it matters too much, as it’s not very likely that you will be using it when it’s so scarcely available on their clients.
Streaming: Does ExpressVPN work with Netflix?
Streaming is one of the major attractions why the users flock to ExpressVPN. They have a reputation for being able to unlock anything that watchable online.
Our tests can do nothing else but confirm that it’s perfect for geo-restricted media unblocks. I tested it with the US Netflix library, and it worked flawlessly. The upside is that I didn’t need to pick a specialized streaming server or tick anything. Everything worked out of the box.
Naturally, BBC iPlayer and YouTube didn’t pose many problems for ExpressVPN, either. UK expatriates, and those, who want to see how the ads on YouTube look like in other countries can do so without any problems.
So, going in the test with DAZN, I had high hopes, as the only service which managed to unblock it up to this point was NordVPN. And the hopes were justified – ExpressVPN is just as capable to unblock DAZN.
All of this is good news if you’re looking for a VPN for entertainment. ExpressVPN is competent to deliver in this area.
Is ExpressVPN good and safe for torrenting?
While other VPN service providers are openly advertising servers for torrenting, ExpressVPN isn’t too vocal about it. So, you might think that it’s forbidden, when really this isn’t the case.
They’re actually more torrenting-friendly than some other providers as they’re allowing P2P connections on all of their servers, not just a select few. It took some time before download speeds went up during my tests, but once it happened, the speed was 6-15 MB/s (48-120 Mbps). The speed was prone to fluctuations, but this could be attributed to several factors and doesn’t represent how the VPN will perform on a day-to-day basis.
Split tunneling gives you much more precise controls on how to direct your VPN traffic. So, there are three ways how you can set up ExpressVPN:
- If you use the default option, all your traffic goes through a selected VPN server
- You can exclude select apps from VPN, forcing them to connect directly
- It’s also possible to set it up, allowing only select apps to use a VPN
So, you can tailor this tool directly to your usage. You prefer watching foreign streaming libraries but like to listen to your local charts? Add an exclusion to the Spotify app, and direct the rest of the traffic through the VPN.
The same can be done with browsers, clients, games, and so on. Plus, even if you’re using a VPN, there might be frequent cases when you’d rather be using localized versions of the pages. So, this option saves you the trouble of switching servers each time.
With your subscription, you’re also getting a Smart DNS feature called MediaStreamer. It doesn’t add any additional encryption and has nothing to do with safer or more private browsing. However, it has everything to do with making your streaming experience easier.
This is especially useful when you’re accustomed to watching streaming media on a device that doesn’t support VPN. With MediaStreamer, you can change the DNS address, and the device will act as if it’s using a VPN when connecting to geo-restricted sites. It only works with US libraries, but these are the ones that are the most restricted.
MediaStreamer did work on our test PC, but it didn’t work on Xbox. It seems that Cloudflare DNS settings on the router were overwriting them. The best solution was setting up MediaStreamer directly on the router. That way, I didn’t have to set it up on each household device separately.
Most VPNs can be set up on a router. However, it usually means changing its firmware to some open standard and adding your provider’s configurations. Even then, the experience is quite technical and may heavily restrict your potential features.
ExpressVPN has streamlined this process by introducing a proprietary router app which shaves a couple of steps from the setup that you’d have to perform otherwise. On their support page, you can find guides on how it can be done. You’ll have to download ExpressVPN firmware and upload it to the router. After it restarts, you’ll be able to log in.
Since it’s made from the ground up by ExpressVPN, you can control which devices will be using a VPN, adjust your connection settings, and configure your Port Forwarding settings. It’s a fully functional app that works on routers. Plus, it only reduces your maximum allowed connections by one, so every device connected to this router doesn’t add up to the maximum cap of 5.
ExpressVPN has a feature for those who couple VPNs with particular services or apps. If you frequently launch a specific app immediately after you connect to a VPN server, there are shortcuts.
After you connect to a VPN server, you can right-click the bar under the connect button and select Edit shortcuts. That way, you can add an app or a website link to have it available on the bar. Clicking the shortcut icon will instantly launch the added website or URL link, which saves you the trouble of manually looking for it.
It’s fully customizable, and in total, you can create up to 5 shortcuts. The feature is available for Windows, macOS, and Android users.
If someone is monitoring your VPN connections, they can’t tell what you’re doing online. However, what they usually can tell is that you’re using a VPN. Some particular traits indicate that a user is connected via a VPN. This can be a giveaway sign, which sometimes you’d want to avoid if your country is strictly against VPN usage.
So, stealth servers disguise your VPN traffic as if it were regular traffic. It sends additional data packets, burying the VPN connection giveaway signs underneath. That way, no one monitoring your connection can 100% confirm or deny that you’re using a VPN. So, your privacy is protected.
However, it was pretty difficult to confirm or deny that this feature even exists. ExpressVPN clients don’t have selectable stealth VPN servers. Besides, their marketing department must have forgotten about its existence, as you’ll find no blog posts about it. So, the only way I could confirm that it exists is by contacting customer support and asking directly.
The agent explained that it indeed exists and is available when you connect to their servers using an automatic tunneling protocol. Once the deep packet inspection on your network is detected, your connection automatically switches to stealth servers. So, much of it happens under the hood, without you knowing. This explains why most users report positive experiences in China. Yet, it still doesn’t explain why they’re so secretive about it.
Is ExpressVPN secure?
Although unique features are the most appealing traits of a VPN, its security is paramount. Without it, you can be putting yourself in more danger than you’re already susceptible to. That’s why a privacy-friendly location and security audits also matter when determining its quality. Here’s how ExpressVPN stacks up against the competition.
When you connect to a VPN server, your traffic becomes encrypted. It means that the data stream is unreadable to those who don’t have encryption keys. Otherwise, the only option that remains is to try all possible combinations to guess the encryption key by the sheer volume of attempts. Which is also known as brute-forcing.
However, by default, ExpressVPN uses the AES 256-GCM cipher. Meaning that there is 256-bit-sized key that a hacker would have to guess to go through. So, effectively this method is indecipherable even with the most powerful current home computers.
However, if you select Lightway, you can choose another encryption protocol – ChaCha20/Poly1305. It uses a somewhat different cryptographic library that doesn’t depend on hardware AES acceleration. So, it’s more suitable on lower-powered routers or entry-level mobile devices. Otherwise, if your device is more powerful, AES should be working about as fast as ChaCha20, so there’s no reason to switch.
Your authentication is cleared with the help of the SHA-512 hash function. This solves the problem of using your credentials for login, and not exchanging them in plain text. So, from your credentials, a unique hash is generated, which is stored on their servers. When you’re logging in, the service check if the hashes match. The great thing that in case of a data breach, your password would still be safe. It’s impossible to reverse-engineer a plain text message from a hash.
It’s also worth mentioning that ExpressVPN is opting for a much less frequently found version. They’re using SHA-512, while many VPN services are sticking with SHA-256. So, it would be twice as difficult to go through ExpressVPN to get your data.
The data between your device and the VPN server can be exchanged in numerous ways. Tunneling protocols entirely determine that. ExpressVPN supports several:
Lightway – the newest addition to the service uses lightweight cryptographic libraries to make your connection faster. This is quite true – with Lighway, I connected to the VPN almost instantly. So, it’s perfect for mobile devices or for those who have frequent internet drops. It’s available on Windows, macOS, Linux, and Android.
OpenVPN (UDP/TCP) is one of the most popular but not the most efficient tunneling protocols. It comes in two options: one that favors speed (UDP) and one that favors security (TCP). ExpressVPN doesn’t restrict you, and you can freely choose between UDP and TCP. It’s also available on all ExpressVPN clients.
IKEv2 – in this instance, IKEv2 is a poor man’s Lightway. It shares similar traits like seamless switching and fast connection times. The downside is that, ultimately, IKEv2 is a bit slower. It’s available on Windows, macOS, and iOS.
L2TP/IPsec – one of the worst options as it’s the oldest protocol that ExpressVPN supports. It’s only useful only in cases when other protocols don’t work. Plus, it has much fewer server options. You can use it on Windows and macOS.
If you don’t like to pick your tunneling protocol manually, you can leave it on Automatic. This mode is available by default, and it will choose the best tunneling protocol on the fly. During my tests, it most frequently used Lightway.
ExpressVPN’s kill switch is called Network Lock. It’s usually a central component of the security suite. If you’re using a VPN to protect your identity, the kill switch shuts down your Internet connection when the VPN server’s link is disrupted. This prevents unwanted leaks of your true IP (and location).
You can easily turn on the Network Lock by heading to your settings. It’s also possible to disable or allow access to the other local network devices like file servers and printers. This creates a block so strict that your device gets cut off from the local network. It can be handy if you’re using a VPN in a public place.
Plus, it is possible to set it up in such a way that it also disables specific apps. The feature is available on Windows, macOS, Linux, and Android. Though, iOS users will have to deal with the fact that it isn’t available to them.
However, they do collect some usage information, like successful VPN connections and the aggregate sum of transferred data. Mainly it’s used to improve the service, and if you’re worried, you can opt-out.
Their chosen business location doesn’t interfere with their plans to provide a safe VPN service as they’re in the British Virgin Islands. This country has no legislation concerning data retention. It also doesn’t belong in any of the big surveillance alliances. So, to get the data on any of their customers, you’d first have to obtain an order from their Supreme Court.
Security and privacy audits
In 2017, Turkish police seized one of their servers. They were investigating the death of the Russian ambassador in Turkey. The police had information that the murderer accessed his Gmail account via VPN to delete incriminating emails. So, the raid on the ExpressVPN server had to confirm that there were logs of the connection. Yet they found nothing.
ExpressVPN also put themselves through a series of independent audits that had less to do with assassinations. Their no-logs policy was audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the Big Four accounting companies (which also audited NordVPN). The report indicated that ExpressVPN’s setup is in accordance with their privacy claims.
However, this isn’t the only form how they are trying to keep your privacy safe. Their in-house bug bounty program has been running for years. It covers not only all of their clients but VPN servers and even internal systems. So, any independent tester willing to take a crack at them can do so and even get paid for it. However, there are some rules that you’d still have to follow.
For those, who remain skeptical about obstructions of justice and third-party audits, ExpressVPN has another ace in the hole. TrustedServer technology makes it physically impossible to store data logs because the servers are running only on RAM, storing only working data. So, it allows the data to be exchanged at extremely high rates and instantly purging it the moment it’s not in use.
That way, it’s ensured that safety is a hardwired mechanism. Plus, it makes the maintenance easier. Servers relying on hard drives have to be periodically purged. Even when a service claims not to keep usage logs, technically, the logs are still being made. It’s just that they have come up with a method to delete them regularly. ExpressVPN is immune to those flaws.
Such a mode of operation also means that the software that manages your connections has to be reinstalled every time the server shuts down. So, if a hacker would find a vulnerability and installed a backdoor, it would also be wiped with the rest of the data during the reset. So, with one simple solution, they’re shaving off a long list of potential vulnerabilities. This means that ultimatelym they’re providing a safer alternative to most competitors.
ExpressVPN servers and locations
Server safety is important, but the coverage also matters. As our speed test results indicated, the further you are from the server you’re trying to connect to, the more severe the speed drops.
ExpressVPN has around 3,000 servers, which might not seem that impressive if you compare them to PIA. Although, it’s worth noting that a 3,000 fleet without hard drives is a significantly better option.
On the plus side, it doesn’t seem to impact ExpressVPN coverage:
|Regions||Number of countries|
|Asia Pacific||26 countries|
|The Middle East and Africa||5 countries|
So, generally, you shouldn’t have a hard time finding a location to connect to. Even in Asia, there are more locations that you could choose from that you’d find on an average VPN service. This is also true in Europe, so if you live in one of the smaller nations and are looking for ways to access geographically restricted local content, it will be possible.
Is ExpressVPN illegal in China?
VPN’s are not illegal to use in China. However, they’re frowned upon by the Communist party. Many people use VPNs to bypass the Great Chinese Firewall. So, as such, ExpressVPN isn’t illegal, but neither is it greeted with open arms.
China actively blocks VPN providers. As such, most of them are unable to bypass the Firewall. However, ExpressVPN is keeping a pretty good track record when it comes to going around the restrictions.
You can visit their support page to get the latest updates and tips on how to connect there. They usually don’t recommend manual connections, so your best bet is to keep the client up to date and trying different networks till you find the one that works.
Plans & pricing
Like most VPN service providers, ExpressVPN doesn’t lock particular features behind certain plans. You’re getting the same package. The only difference is the length. The longer the subscription you pick, the better are your savings.
You can choose between three options:
|6-month plan||$59.95 or $9.99/month|
|1-year plan||$99.95 or $8.32/month|
Even though the advertised prices are shown split throughout the subscription, they are pretty high. Even with the 35% discount for a yearly subscription, you’re still paying twice as much as you would be paying with many other VPN services (including their main rival, NordVPN). It would help a great deal if ExpressVPN included an even longer subscription option, which could offer a more affordable pricing tier. As it stands now, this just isn’t the case.
To make matters worse, there’s no free version or free trial. So, if you’re hesitant, the only way back if you don’t like the service is using their 30-day money-back guarantee. Their customer support is quite responsive, so getting your money back shouldn’t be a big struggle.
As for the payment options, you can use a credit card, PayPal, Bitcoin, or other options like UnionPay. So, there are options for those who want to remain private and those who prefer convenience. Keep in mind that the whole sum will be charged at once, so plan the transfer accordingly.
Interface and ease of use
ExpressVPN has a wide variety of clients available. This even includes an app for routers. That said, this should always be the last resort. Usually, routers don’t have hardware capable to deal with the necessary encryption measures. However, the Lightway protocol and ChaCha20 combination should make the performance dip minimal. However, if you want the best possible experience, it does make sense to go to their regular clients instead.
Windows and macOS
Usually, the Windows app is the best version of a VPN that you can experience. However, there isn’t a night and day difference between Windows and macOS versions in this case. Both applications look almost identical and have the same features.
The main window is pretty small and pretty much has one big button to connect. You can even add shortcuts or connect to the most recently used server. If you want to access options, the window will open on the side. At first, I found it a bit clunky. Still, I appreciated that I could change settings and see which servers become available for me.
It’s not a dealbreaker that the app doesn’t have a map. There’s a location filter according to the continent from which you can select the country you need. So, there are no unnecessary complications.
Both Windows and macOS apps have split tunneling, which is rare, to say the least. So, whichever platform you prefer, with ExpressVPN, you won’t be making sacrifices.
ExpressVPN has apps for Debian, RedHat, and Arch-based Linux distributions. None of them require root permissions, which most cautious users will appreciate. The feature suite doesn’t feel lacking. You can list all available servers, use Lightway tunneling protocol, and diagnostics are simple to perform. It doesn’t feel clunky or underdeveloped.
It’s even possible to control the app through a browser extension if you don’t like to use the terminal. So, you can choose the way which seems more convenient to you. That said, some features are missing. For example, there’s no split tunneling. Although very few VPN service providers have split tunneling on their Linux clients, so it’s not an outlier.
ExpressVPN mobile apps
Mobile versions borrow the design logic directly from the desktop counterparts. The country selection tab is identical, but the options tab is modified to fit taller mobile screens. Average users couldn’t tell the Android and iOS versions apart.
That said, Android does have some features that establish it as a better-equipped version. While both apps have auto-connect and can switch between several tunneling protocols. The Android version is the only of the two that has a kill switch, split tunneling, and shortcuts. These differences are significant enough to hail ExpressVPN’s Android client as superior.
Though, I found it odd that it was impossible to enable ChaCha20 encryption when using Lightway. This would make much more sense than using it on Windows. I will be waiting for them to implement this feature.
There are available ExpressVPN browser extensions for Firefox, Chrome, and Edge for those who need a more lightweight option. They can also act as supplements for your desktop app – you can control the app via the extensions.
Otherwise, it protects you against WebRTC leaks and spoofs your geolocation. You can even set it up so that it would connect each time you open a browser. This makes it essentially a better version of the Opera browser with an integrated VPN.
The UI has a dark mode, and I found it much more convenient to use than desktop apps. It shows your connection status more clearly.
ExpressVPN has made their customer support easier by including a lot of useful information on their support website. There you can find a lot of guides and tips with screenshots, and sometimes even videos. This makes setting up your device a pretty easy task when you can access such an extensive knowledge center. It’s also nice to see that it’s kept up to date.
If the issue is too big to solve on your own, you can always reach out to a human. For that, there is the 24/7 live chat or email tickets. If the question is too tricky, the live chat querie might be converted to an email ticket, and you will be contacted later. Keep in mind that the first thing that you will be asked during the session is your email. So, it seems like they’re verifying your account status before providing support.
During our usage, my experience was only positive. When asked, the customer support agents sent me the transcripts to my mailbox, so I could conveniently store the given tips for later.
Is ExpressVPN any good and worth getting?
Overall, ExpressVPN does leave an impression of a trustworthy and capable VPN service. The connection speeds can be pretty fast, it’s possible to unblock most streaming platforms, and torrenting isn’t excluded.
You get all the necessary VPN security features like split tunneling, kill switch, which are customisable. Plus, the router app and MediaStreamer options provide additional value by making it easier to take advantage of your subscription even if your device doesn’t support a VPN.
That said, there’s nothing extra aside from VPN functionalities. You’re not getting dark web monitoring or integrated ad blocks. Although, for the most part, speeds are fast, there were quite a few locations with severe speed drops. So, the consistency will be hit or miss.
It may not be such a big deal, but considering that it’s almost twice the price of the competition for similar yearly plans, you’re in the right to ask for more. If ExpressVPN rethought its pricing plans and fixed the connectivity issues, it would take a step closer to the VPN throne.
Is ExpressVPN good for gaming?
Yes. If you chose a closer location, ExpressVPN’s ping times are acceptable for gaming. If you connect to further locations, this will add more latency, introducing lag to your gaming sessions.
Does ExpressVPN have a free version?
No. ExpressVPN doesn’t have a free version or trial. You can, however, buy the service and use a 30-day money-back guarantee to refund the paid amount.
Does ExpressVPN slow down Internet speed?
All VPNs slow down your Internet speed, not just ExpressVPN. That’s why in our tests, we measure the drop off from the baseline connection to evaluate how much it reduces the speed.
How many devices can be connected to ExpressVPN?
With a single subscription, you can connect to ExpressVPN on 5 devices. You can install it on more than that, but once you exceed the cap, some devices won’t connect.