ExpressVPN vs Private Internet Access: which VPN is best for you?
You’ve probably heard a lot of good things about both ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access VPN. Usually, the general knowledge goes like this: the former is the fast one, while the latter will unblock all the streaming services you want thanks to its huge server fleet.
But now – there's an update to all this. After the $936m acquisition by Kape Technologies, Private Internet Access and ExpressVPN are actually owned by the same company. So, is there a difference anymore?
Which VPN truly deserves your hard-earned money and can be titled as the best VPN for you? We’ll answer these questions in this ExpressVPN vs Private Internet Access comparison.
ExpressVPN vs. PIA
|Private Internet Access VPN
|🥇 Overall rank:
|#4 out of #42
|#15 out of #42
|3,000 + servers in 105 countries
|30,000 + servers in 91 countries
|📖 No logs policy:
|ExpressVPN coupon 49% OFF + 3 months FREE!
|PIA coupon 82% OFF
|🔒 VPN protocols:
|Lightway, OpenVPN, IKEv2
|Wireguard, OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPsec
|🍿 Streaming services:
|Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Disney+, and more
|Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, BBC iPlayer
|Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS
|Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, Chrome, Firefox, Opera
|📥 Simultaneous connections:
|Knowledge base, FAQs, email, 24/7 live chat
|Knowledge base, tickets, live chat
Speed and performance: ExpressVPN vs. PIA
To find out which VPN is the fastest between two, we test their fastest tunneling protocols available. For ExpressVPN it's the in-house built Lightway tunnel, meanwhile PIA goes with the market-leading WireGuard protocol.
- Baseline: 1 ms, 300 Mbps download, 300 Mbps upload
|237 Mbps/ 222 Mbps
|111 Mbps/ 168 Mbps
|251 Mbps/ 225 Mbps
|140 Mbps/ 222 Mbps
|112 Mbps/ 52 Mbps
|57 Mbps/ 88 Mbps
ExpressVPN has a reputation of being one of the fastest VPN service providers. In our experience, this claim is true thanks to Lightway, their revolutionary tunneling protocol.
We tested various servers and usually got the result of ~250 Mbps (80% speed retention) regarding download speed. This is actually great: we didn’t feel any difference in our internet connection no matter if we watched videos or played online games.
Now, when using Private Internet Access VPN, you get the WireGuard tunnel which is one of the best tunneling protocols we have today, rivaled only by the likes of Lightway and NordVPN’s NordLynx. It’s extremely fast and secure if a VPN has everything under control overall. However, during our tests, PIA performed noticeably worse than its competitor, no matter what server location we tested. The average download speed it maintained was around as low as 103 Mbps (34% speed retention), which is more than twice slower as ExpressVPN.
Netflix and streaming performance
It’s no secret that most people subscribe to a VPN service solely to watch geo-blocked content. However, things can turn sour very quickly as soon as your favorite streaming site blocks your VPN (and there’s still 10 months left to your subscription).
For this not to happen, you have to choose a VPN with a long history of bypassing geo-restrictions. Just like ExpressVPN.
To my delight, it was able to unblock every streaming site we tested it on. It worked with Netflix US, BBC iPlayer, Youtube, and more. It’s also worth noting that ExpressVPN’s MediaStreamer feature will help you watch geo-blocked content on your smart TV or almost any other device that doesn’t support VPNs.
Now, we come to Private Internet Access. The situation is a bit sadder: it didn’t perform nearly as well as ExpressVPN. We could only access the UK Netflix library, while US content was out of reach. Moreover, we were able to view geo-blocked content of Indian Netflix.
Besides Netflix, we also were able to unblock the UK-exclusive BBC iPlayer. PIA also had no trouble unblocking geo-restricted YouTube videos, but that's not particularly impressive among VPNs.
Both ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access VPN are great for downloading and uploading files through BitTorrent and other torrent clients. All servers of these two VPNs support P2P and torrenting, so you won’t have to use a server that’s already crowded.
There are some differences between the two services, though. You see, PIA VPN also offers a SOCKS5 proxy that you can use on your torrenting client.
Obviously, speeds are also important - you don’t want to spend an hour downloading a single file. Luckily, you won’t be disappointed no matter which VPN you use. With ExpressVPN, my speed varied from 6 to 15 MB/s. When using Private Internet Access, however, the speed was even better - it went from 10 to 15 MB/s. Of course, speed depends on a lot of different factors, and your situation may differ.
For the majority of average users, the selection of features is not the most important thing about a VPN. For example, not everyone understands what to do with a proxy even if they have one. So, if you just casually use a VPN to unblock content, ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access will suit you well. Both providers overlap regarding particular features like Smart DNS, but there are a few differences, too.
Split tunneling is one of the most useful VPN features. Basically, it lets you include or exclude the applications that use VPN traffic. For example, you may want to browse safely while listening to Spotify, which you can exclude from the VPN connection list for better performance.
ExpressVPN lets you use split tunneling with Windows, macOS, Android, and routers using Device Groups, while PIA VPN allows it on Windows, macOS, Android, and Linux apps.
Both Private Internet Access VPN and ExpressVPN support port forwarding, which lets you access your device from anywhere, host servers for multiplayer games, run your own website, etc.
To set up port forwarding with ExpressVPN, you have to use its proprietary router application, while PIA VPN lets you do it on one of its desktop or mobile apps.
Unlike ExpressVPN, Private Internet Access VPN offers you a SOCKS5 Proxy, as well as Shadowsocks. Using a proxy might come in handy when torrenting or trying to bypass the Great Firewall of China (in this case, Shadowsocks is your savior). You can route your connection through the UK, Japan, Switzerland, Canada, the US, and the Netherlands.
As ExpressVPN has no trouble unblocking a myriad of streaming sites, its Smart DNS (or MediaSteamer) feature is a real life-saver if you want to watch movies, shows, or sports on your smart TV or any other device that doesn’t support VPN services. Thankfully, Private Internet Access also offers Smart DNS if you'd like to unblock video content without the VPN app.
Sometimes, schools and businesses can monitor your online activity by using deep packet inspection. In this way, they can detect that you’re using a VPN, thus blocking the VPN traffic.
Luckily, ExpressVPN has a way to bypass this. As soon as it becomes necessary, you are switched to a Stealth server, not allowing anyone to detect that you’re using a VPN. In this way, you may even have some luck using ExpressVPN in countries that block VPN traffic (i.e., China).
On the other hand, PIA grants obfuscation using Shadowsocks. While not as convenient as what ExpressVPN offers, it can still get the job done.
In fact, both ExpressVPN and PIA include extra security features, responsible for preventing malware and enhancing online privacy. With the latter you get an ad blocker, also known as MACE, which blocks all adware at the DNS level. Consequently, you won't have to face YouTube ads, pop-ups, banners, and other type of adware any longer.
In the meantime, ExpressVPN has its Threat Manager. Although it doesn't block ads, it can help you avoid trackers and other third parties' criminal intentions. This way, the number of targeted ads you receive will decrease as well as the chance of getting your online identity stolen.
Moreover, ExpressVPN can cover password management needs at no extra cost using the Keys feature. Besides that, Device Groups enables split tunneling capabilities on routers.
Security and privacy
Both VPN services offer great encryption and security. However, there are some slight differences. For example, ExpressVPN chose a more privacy-friendly country to base its business. But they both run RAM-only servers that ensure the maximum level of privacy, and their privacy policies have been approved by the court, meaning there are no dark intentions against these VPNs' users.
However, a report on ExpressVPN's Chief Information Officer Daniel Gericke revealed him to be an ex-member of Project Raven. It was responsible for developing hacking and cyber-espionage tools for the UAE to spy on its political opponents, journalists, and other governments.
While there is no set connection between Project Raven and ExpressVPN beyond the previous workplace, we cannot overlook it as it's something that might concern potential buyers.
ExpressVPN uses AES-256 encryption by default. It’s the current golden standard of encryption, used by most services that deal with sensitive data in transit.
The VPN is also powered by ChaCha20/Poly1305 ciphers when the Lightway protocol is in use. It will default to Poly1305 on most gadgets, while lower-end routers and mobile devices will switch to ChaCha20.
ExpressVPN also uses SHA-512 hash function for authentication, as well as perfect forward secrecy, which means that the encryption keys are constantly changing for enhanced security.
Now, things are a bit more interesting with Private Internet Access VPN. For example, you can choose your preferred encryption standard from the options below:
For authentication, PIA VPN uses SHA-1 and SHA-2 hashing algorithms. ExpressVPN uses the SHA-512 hashing algorithm (a version of SHA-2), which makes these services equal in that regard.
Currently, one of the biggest strengths that a VPN can be proud of is RAM-only server infrastructure. Luckily, both ExpressVPN and PIA have this on their side. This means that its servers use volatile memory, which needs power to maintain the stored information. In other words, PIA and ExpressVPN servers are physically incapable of storing any of your data logs because they constantly get wiped out.
The selection of tunneling protocols can make or break a VPN. Whether you prioritize speed or stability, a wide range of options will always make things much easier.
So, ExpressVPN supports the following tunneling protocols:
- Lightway. Available on Windows, macOS, Linux, and Android, this protocol is extremely fast and reliable
- OpenVPN (UDP/TCP). Probably the most popular tunneling protocol. Its UDP version is faster, while the TCP variation offers more stability
- IKEv2/IPsec. A good choice for mobile devices
When it comes to Private Internet Access, you also get the staple protocols:
- WireGuard. This is an extremely fast and secure protocol comparable to ExpressVPN’s Lightway
- OpenVPN (UDP/TCP)
Even though at first glance the list of protocols might indicate a draw, PIA's WireGuard tunnel isn't as advanced as the Lightway protocol, moreso, ExpressVPN is way faster. All in all, Private Internet Access doesn't fall far behind ExpressVPN's protocol choices but the latter is simply better at the moment.
When it comes to jurisdiction, we prefer ExpressVPN. That’s because it’s based in the Virgin British Islands, a privacy-friendly territory. On the other hand, Private Internet Access VPN is based in the USA, one of the founders of the Five Eyes alliance. This country is also known for its intrusive government that may spy on digital businesses.
In addition, ExpressVPN has been independently audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which strongly suggests that all its privacy statements are true. The service also boasts subsequent audits by Cure53 and KPMG to further enhance the service's reliability. However, considering the past events with their Chief Information officer and his relation to Project Raven, it makes it harder to evaluate whether ExpressVPN deserves further user trust.
Sure, the VPN’s site will keep your email address, payment info, cookie identifiers, your country of origin, and the ZIP code. However, you can avoid this by paying with cryptocurrency.
A kill switch is an essential security feature of any VPN. It disconnects your device from the internet if the VPN connection is compromised, protecting your real IP address in the process.
Fortunately, both ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access VPN offer this feature for all its users, no matter what app you're using, whether it's for the iPhone, Windows PC, and others.
Both providers no longer disclose the exact number of servers they operate. Regardless, it's vital to analyze the countries they cover.
|Middle East and Africa
ExpressVPN offers more variety when it comes to American, European, and Asian Pacific coverage. On the other hand, Private Internet Access gives you more freedom when choosing a server in the Middle East or Africa.
When it comes to servers themselves, a small part of them are virtual - that is the case with both ExpressVPN and PIA VPN. What does that mean? Basically, the IP of a virtual server doesn’t match the server’s physical location. Having virtual servers becomes necessary due to the regulations of certain countries (like Russia).
Plans and pricing
When it comes to prices, Private Internet Access VPN is the clear winner. No matter which plan you buy, you will pay less than subscribing to a corresponding ExpressVPN plan. If you like what PIA VPN offers and are ready to commit, you can even get its 2-year plan for as low as $2.19 a month - together with 3 months for free.
You'll also get unlimited simultaneous connections instead of the 8 that ExpressVPN offers, which can be really useful if you have lots of devices or a big family.
However, don’t base your decision solely on money. If, for example, you want to get a VPN for watching geo-blocked content, then you should go with ExpressVPN, as Private Internet Access can’t unblock most streaming websites.
|Private Internet Access
|$9.99 a month ($59.95 a year)
|$8.32 a month ($99.95 a year) + 3 months free
The pricing of ExpressVPN
As you can see, ExpressVPN is one of the more expensive VPN services. Its 1-month plan costs$12.95 (slightly more than the industry average), while its 6-month and 1-year plans cost $9.99/month and $8.32/month respectively.
Even though there’s no free version of ExpressVPN, you can use their 30-day money-back guarantee and get what you paid with no questions asked.
You can pay with a credit card, PayPal, Bitcoin, and a bunch of rarer payment methods like UnionPay.
The prices of Private Internet Access
If you’re ready to use Private Internet Access for a long time, you get a great deal, paying only $2.19/month. This particular plan also comes with Boxcryptor - Cloud Security License for secure cloud storage.
You can also purchase PIA VPN for 6 months for $7.50 a month. Buying a monthly subscription is the most expensive option, costing you $11.95 a month.
Just like ExpressVPN, Private Internet Access offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. According to user experience, you can claim it multiple times, which is quite generous on PIA’s part.
The service lets you pay with credit cards, PayPal, and various cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin.
Platforms, interface, and ease of use
|Private Internet Access
|Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS
|Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, Chrome, Firefox, Opera
|Other software and devices
|Android TV, Fire devices, routers
|Firefox, Chrome, Opera
In this ExpressVPN vs Private Internet Access battle, the choice of applications can greatly impact your decision. In short, we'd recommend ExpressVPN as it has a router applet which allows you to connect unlimited devices simultaneously and all of its apps are simple to use even for a beginner.
At the same time, Private Internet Access offers Unlimited simultaneous connections and it also has a browser extension for Opera.
We find a lot of similarities between the desktop apps of ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access. Both VPNs display a small main window with a huge button to initiate connection in addition to having a separate window for the settings menu.
Moreover, it’s really easy to access all sorts of information about the connection like the protocol, encryption, and the port in use.
Nevertheless, we think that Linux users might be happier with PIA’s application because it offers a nice user interface just like the Windows app, which makes it much easier to use than ExpressVPN. It’s also worth mentioning that the Linux app of Private Internet Access allows split tunneling.
The mobile versions of Private Internet Access (Android and iOS) don’t differ much from their desktop counterparts. Of course, this concerns only the main window - when you open the settings, the tab is made to fit the narrow smartphone screen.
Feature-wise, there’s also not a lot of differences in comparison to PIA’s desktop versions. Just keep in mind that the iOS app doesn’t support split tunneling for the time being.
Now, the mobile versions of ExpressVPN are in a similar situation. Their design is almost identical to the desktop apps aside from the settings menu.
However, there are some differences between the Android and iOS applications, the former being the superior one. That’s because the Android version of ExpressVPN offers split tunneling.
|24/7 live chat
|Guides or articles
Even if you’re one of those unlucky users who stumble across technical problems quite often, the customer service options of ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access should be enough for you.
First of all, both services offer extensive knowledge bases. Setup guides, FAQ sections, and troubleshooting articles are abundant on the official pages of ExpressVPN and PIA VPN.
Next, come email tickets and live chat options for those who want to talk to a real human being. So, we tested the live chat of both ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access. While the customer agent of ExpressVPN was able to help us, the customer representative of PIA struggled to solve our problem related to the implementation of the WireGuard protocol.
Which is better: ExpressVPN or Private Internet Access?
|Ease of use
Putting all the results together, ExpressVPN is a winner today. Although, we have to admit that both are very good VPN services.
To summarise, ExpressVPN is way faster, has more features, and has done more to prove its worth of trust. Though, it's also more expensive than Private Internet Access. So if you're on a tight budget, PIA might be a better option for you.
But the last selling point is streaming. While PIA does unblock several popular streaming sites, ExpressVPN knocks out all favorite streaming platforms with one hit and continues delivering excellent video quality.
More VPN comparisons
Is Private Internet Access better than ExpressVPN?
Private Internet Access is better than ExpressVPN in terms support for torrenting and price. However, ExpressVPN beats it when it comes to speed, security, features, and streaming capabilities.
Is PIA a good VPN?
Yes, Private Internet Access is a good VPN service. It offers a huge server and country selection, supports Unlimited simultaneous connections, and is capable of unblocking Netflix and a couple of other streaming platforms.
Is ExpressVPN still secure?
Yes, ExpressVPN meets the standards of a safe VPN service, including strong encryption, the selection of tunneling protocols, including the in-house built Lightway tunnel, server infrastructure, and the no-logs policy.