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? I’ll answer these questions in this ExpressVPN vs Private Internet Access comparison.
Editor's disclosure: We are aware of and concerned about the Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) recently released by the US Department of Justice. It names Express VPN’s CIO Daniel Gericke among the persons who received monetary penalties and agreed to “full cooperation with the relevant Department and FBI components” due to their past misuse of covert surveillance tools, targeting US citizens, as well as journalists and political parties.
At the moment, there are no direct connections established between the misuse of such tools and ExpressVPN. To stay informed on the issue, we suggest reading our full story about the agreement here.
ExpressVPN vs. PIA
|Country:||British Virgin Islands||USA|
|Locations:||94 countries||77 countries|
|Pricing:||from $8.32/month||from $2.69/month|
|Current deal:||12 Months + 3 Months FREE!||Get PIA, now 79% OFF!|
|VPN protocols:||Lightway, IKEv2/IPsec, OpenVPN (UDP/TCP)||Wireguard, IKEv2/IPsec, OpenVPN (UDP/TCP)|
|Logging:||No logs||No logs|
|Support:||Knowledge base, FAQs, email, live chat||Knowledge base, FAQs, email, live chat|
|Platforms:||Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS||Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS|
Speed and performance: ExpressVPN vs. PIA
ExpressVPN has a reputation of being one of the fastest VPN service providers. In my experience, this claim is true thanks to Lightway, their revolutionary in-house tunneling protocol.
We tested various servers and usually got the result of ~250 Mbps in terms of download speed. This is actually great: I didn’t feel any difference in my internet connection no matter if I watched videos or played online games.
Now, it’s a real shame that we couldn’t test the speed results of WireGuard when using Private Internet Access VPN. You see, WireGuard 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, secure, and, apparently, not compatible with our Windows testing device, even with the help of customer support.
This reason alone might be enough to make ExpressVPN the winner in the speed category (but it’s not the only one).
Comparing the speed of OpenVPN
As I couldn’t test the WireGuard protocol of PIA VPN, it made sense to compare the second best option - OpenVPN.
- Baseline: 1 ms, 300 Mbps download, 300 Mbps upload
|OpenVPN TCP||ExpressVPN||PIA VPN|
|Download average||103 Mbps||38 Mbps|
|Upload average||97 Mbps||41 Mbps|
Using both versions of OpenVPN can be a hit and miss with Private Internet Access VPN. That’s because the speeds might greatly differ depending on the country the server is based in. For example, when connected to the Indian server, my download speed was only 13 Mbps with OpenVPN TCP (I was left with only 3.5% of my baseline speed).
However, it skyrocketed to 265 Mbps when I connected to a Swiss server afterwards. This makes sense because Switzerland is much closer to my original location.
|OpenVPN UDP||ExpressVPN||PIA VPN|
|Download average||165 Mbps||140 Mbps|
|Upload average||110 Mbps||137 Mbps|
As you can see, ExpressVPN had better speeds on average when using the OpenVPN protocol. In addition, the speed fluctuation wasn’t as drastic as with PIA VPN.
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 I tested it on. It worked with Netflix US, BBC iPlayer, Youtube, and even DAZN (which usually resists the efforts of VPN service providers). 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. I couldn’t access the US and UK libraries of Netflix (even though the site didn’t display any error messages). Surprisingly, I was able to view the geo-blocked content of Indian Netflix (which is still better than nothing).
Additionally, I had no luck with DAZN or BBC iPlayer either. However, I could watch geo-blocked content on Youtube just fine (which isn’t that impressive, because virtually all VPNs are capable of this).
All in all, it’s quite clear that those who crave geo-blocked movies and shows should choose ExpressVPN instead of Private Internet Access VPN.
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, both ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access will suit you well.
However, advanced users will notice that they can do a bit more with ExpressVPN, which offers Smart DNS (MediaStreamer) and Stealth servers.
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 its Windows, macOS, and Android applications, 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 Israel.
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.
RAM-only servers, or TrustedServer technology, is a feature unique to ExpressVPN. This means that its servers use volatile memory, which needs power to maintain the stored information. In other words, the servers of ExpressVPN are physically incapable of storing any of your data logs because they constantly get wiped out.
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).
For more ExpressVPN features check our ExpressVPN review.
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. In addition, unlike Private Internet Access, ExpressVPN has been independently audited.
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, it's something that might concern potential buyers – so, we'll call this a draw.
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.
However, the VPN also allows you to choose ChaCha20/Poly1305 encryption when the Lightway protocol is in use. This cipher is a real lifesaver when it comes to weaker mobile devices.
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, it gives you a wide selection of encryption options to choose from:
- AES-128 (CBC)
- AES-128 (GCM)
- AES-256 (CBC)
- AES-256 (GCM)
- No encryption (your IP will still be hidden)
And while the default encryption method of ExpressVPN is AES-256, Private Internet Access leaves you with AES-128 (CBC) as the default option.
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.
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
- L2TP/IPsec. The oldest protocol supported by ExpressVPN. Select it only if you can’t connect by using any other protocol
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)
Unfortunately, WireGuard didn’t work on our device, so we couldn’t test it.
When it comes to jurisdiction, I 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. I also like that ExpressVPN uses RAM-only servers that wipe out their data with every reboot.
On the other hand, 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. While the kill switch of both VPN services acts similarly, ExpressVPN also lets you choose to block LAN traffic.
It’s really interesting how ExpressVPN covers more countries, even though Private Internet Access has almost ten times more servers.
|Middle East and Africa||5||10|
As a result, 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 $2.69 a month - together with 2 months for free.
You'll also get 10 simultaneous connections instead of 5, 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.
|Plan||ExpressVPN||Private Internet Access|
|6-month plan||$9.99 a month ($59.95 a year)||-|
|1-year plan||$8.32 a month ($99.95 a year) + 3 months free||$3.33 a month ($39.95 a year)|
|2-year plan||-||$2.69 a month ($69.95 for two years) + 2 months free|
|Check Pricing||Check Pricing|
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 $59.95 and $99.95 respectively.
Right now, the 1-year plan comes with a discount: you get three months for free, which reduces the monthly fee to $6.67 instead of the regular $8.32.
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 $2.69 a month (or $69.95 for two years). This particular plan also comes with Boxcryptor - Cloud Security License for secure cloud storage.
You can also purchase PIA VPN for a year for $3.33 a month (or $39.95 a year). Buying the monthly subscription is the most expensive option, costing you $9.95 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
|ExpressVPN||Private Internet Access|
|Supported OS||Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS||Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS|
|Other software and devices||Android TV, Fire devices, routers||-|
|Browser extensions||Chrome, Firefox||Firefox, Chrome, Opera|
In this ExpressVPN vs Private Internet Access battle, the choice of applications can greatly impact your decision. In short, I’d recommend ExpressVPN for those who want to set up the VPN on their router or a smart TV, as PIA VPN simply doesn’t offer such choices.
On the other hand, Private Internet Access offers 10 simultaneous connections, while ExpressVPN gives you only 5 (however, this problem is eliminated when you set up the service on your router). PIA VPN also has a browser extension for Opera.
I 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.
However, I find PIA’s apps for Windows and Mac a bit more convenient. That’s because it’s really easy to access all sorts of information about the connection like the protocol, encryption, and the port in use.
Additionally, I 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 and a kill switch.
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.
However, I don’t think that a single instance proves that the customer support of Private Internet Access is worse than the one of ExpressVPN - and that’s why I declare no winner in this category.
Which is better: ExpressVPN or Private Internet Access?
|Ease of use||✔️||❌|
When we stack ExpressVPN vs. PIA, it's doesn't take too long to see which of the two is the better VPN service. ExpressVPN is faster, more secure, has better streaming capabilities, and has a longer list of features. 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.
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