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NordVPN vs. ExpressVPN: which VPN is better?

NordVPN vs ExpressVPN

Comparing NordVPN vs. ExpressVPN is a tough task. Both sit at the top of our VPN rankings in 2021, and there’s no provider that currently challenges the status quo. However, the question remains – which of the two is better?

In this comparison, I’ll look at how each service ranks in categories such as security, privacy, speed, price, and streaming. This should give you an idea of whether NordVPN or ExpressVPN suits your needs better.

NordVPN vs. ExpressVPN

NordVPNExpressVPN
Rating:4.9 ★★★★4.6 ★★★★
Country:PanamaBritish Virgin Islands
Locations:59 countries94 countries
Pricing:from $4.13/monthfrom $8.32/month
VPN protocols:NordLynx, IKEv2, OpenVPN (UDP/TCP)Lightway, IKEv2, OpenVPN (UDP/TCP)
Logging:No logsNo logs
Netflix:YesYes
Torrenting:YesYes
Support:Knowledge base, FAQs, email, chatbot, 24/7 live chatKnowledge base, FAQs, email, 24/7 live chat
Platforms:Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOSWindows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS
Website:Nordvpn.comExpressvpn.com

Winner: NordVPN logo

Speed comparison: NordVPN vs. ExpressVPN

Baseline: 1 ms, 300 Mbps download, 300 Mbps upload

I compared the speed test results of ExpressVPN and NordVPN separately with each available tunneling protocol. NordLynx and Lightway were pitted together as in-house flagship products.

The numbers below are average download and upload speeds from different countries – Switzerland, UK, US, Argentina, India, Japan, and Australia. Therefore, the distance to the server location had a major impact on the results.

NordVPN’s NordLynx and ExpressVPN’s Lightway are two different protocols, so comparing them might look weird to some of you. However, both are named as the successors for OpenVPN and IKEv2 in terms of speed and security. This means that the results below should be the best what each provider has to offer at the moment.

As you can see, NordVPN offers better performance when downloading, but the upload numbers are pretty even. When counting the drop-off percentage, that’s 14% vs. 45% for download and 54% vs. 57% for upload.

NordLynx vs. LightwayNordVPNExpressVPN
Download average259 Mbps196 Mbps
Upload average137 Mbps130 Mbps

IKEv2 is available on both VPNs, so the results are not impacted by the different technologies behind the protocols. NordVPN offers faster download and upload, but ExpressVPN is significantly behind only when we’re talking about the latter. In terms of drop-off, that’s 83% vs. 98%.

IKEv2NordVPNExpressVPN
Download average227 Mbps202 Mbps
Upload average52 Mbps5 Mbps

OpenVPN UDP usually shows better results than TCP. This time, downloading with NordVPN was a bit faster. However, ExpressVPN showed way better upload results. The drop-off difference was 78% vs. 63%.

OpenVPN UDPNordVPNExpressVPN
Download average197 Mbps165 Mbps
Upload average65 Mbps110 Mbps

OpenVPN TCP offers a more stable connection at the cost of performance. This shows in my test results as well, but NordVPN took a serious hit, reducing the speed by 96%. In the meantime, ExpressVPN managed to stay afloat with pretty solid numbers.

OpenVPN TCPNordVPNExpressVPN
Download average13 Mbps83 Mbps
Upload average10 Mbps36 Mbps

NordVPN is ultimately a faster VPN, but ExpressVPN comes pretty close, especially with OpenVPN connections. That said, seeing how other protocols provide much better speeds and security, NordVPN victories are more significant and thus gives the service an edge.

Winner: Draw

Features overview

Both contestants have quite a few features to offer. However, NordVPN simply has more of them. See the feature comparison below to learn if ExpressVPN lacks something you would definitely need.

Winner: NordVPN

Split tunneling

Split tunneling is a great feature that allows users to choose which apps will use VPN and which ones will connect directly. It’s very convenient when you, for example, want to watch Netflix US and at the same time be able to read localized news portals. Both services have it, but ExpressVPN offers more compatibility.

ExpressVPN split tunneling screen

In this case, you can either include or exclude the listed apps from using the VPN. NordVPN works in a similar fashion but supports Windows and Android only. In the meantime, ExpressVPN allows split tunneling on Mac as well.

Smart DNS

This feature is a godsend to any serious streamer. First, it unblocks Netflix and other platforms without traffic encryption or sending the connection through a VPN server, which means much better speeds. Second, it works on a number of devices that don’t support VPN, such as some smart TVs and game consoles.

ExpressVPN calls it MediaStreamer and we had it up and running on PC. However, it didn’t work on our Xbox, so you may want to install it on your router instead.

NordVPN’s version is named SmartPlay, and it also supports a bunch of media devices. The key difference from ExpressVPN is that this feature is integrated into the VPN, but also works outside it (it’s not merely a Smart DNS feature). This means you will have more choice in how you use it.

RAM-only servers

ExpressVPN was probably the first provider to switch to RAM-only servers back in 2019, naming the feature TrustedServer. That’s a big improvement from the security standpoint because all data is wiped out after a reboot. Furthermore, each time the latest software is installed and the owner knows what exactly is running. In contrast, traditional servers rely on updating the old configuration, which is more vulnerable.

ExpressVPN country list

NordVPN is also gradually increasing the number of RAM-only servers. Now all standard servers are diskless, leaving specialty servers for the next step. Additionally, they’ve started adding 10 Gbps servers for better performance.

Stealth VPN

Stealth VPN is a great way to maintain connection when the website or an app blocks you because you’re using a VPN. Also, it’s the best tool against Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) used by China.

NordVPN calls this feature Obfuscated servers, and you can find them under Specialty Servers (see the image above). It makes your traffic look like a regular HTTPS, and this way fools the censorship. ExpressVPN also has Stealth VPN, but it works automatically if the app determines that this is necessary.

Exclusive features

This whole section is dedicated to NordVPN and the extra features that it offers.

NordVPN CyberSec screen

CyberSec is an anti-malware tool. Essentially, it blocks ads and malicious websites that were blacklisted by NordVPN’s DNS servers.

Double VPN, also known as multi-hop, is a feature that adds extra protection by connecting through two VPN servers instead of one.

Onion Over VPN (Tor over VPN) can be found under specialty servers. By turning it on, your traffic passes a NordVPN server and then runs through at least three Tor nodes.

SOCKS5 proxy is a feature favored by many torrenters. You can set it up on your favorite P2P client and be sure that your traffic will be protected even if you forget to turn on the VPN client.

For more NordVPN features, take a look at our NordVPN review.

NordVPN vs. ExpressVPN: which one is more secure?

This time we have no winners and no losers because both NordVPN and ExpressVPN offer top-notch security and privacy. They are using military-grade encryption and industry-standard tunneling protocols in OpenVPN and IKEv2. While it’s a bit too early to talk about WireGuard and Lightway, both should be even more secure than the rest.

Even though NordVPN holds the advantage because of its extra features (CyberSec, Double VPN, Onion Over VPN), to me it’s not enough to win in this category.

Winner: Draw

Jurisdiction

NordVPN is registered in Panama, while ExpressVPN is located in the British Virgin Islands. Neither of these countries has data retention laws, which means the VPNs can have a true no-logs policy. Besides, neither of them belongs to the Fourteen Eyes intelligence alliance.

Logging

NordVPN and ExpressVPN have had their no-logs policies independently audited by PwC, a global accounting company. In addition to that, ExpressVPN’s policy has been proven in court. In 2017, their Turkish server was seized by the local authorities with hopes to find information about the assassination of the Russian ambassador. As you can guess, they found nothing.

Netflix and streaming performance

Choosing any of our contestants for streaming is an excellent choice. They unblock not only Netflix US but other libraries as well. The same can be said about BBC iPlayer, YouTube, DAZN, and many more.

I also liked that ExpressVPN and NordVPN allow streaming on all servers. So when you decide to watch your favorite show, you don’t need to switch server first. Most importantly, the speeds should be enough for HD or even 4K video quality.

Smart DNS support is another great option that both providers have. I’ve discussed this in the features overview section above, so I’ll only repeat that it allows unblocking streaming platforms on smart TVs, game consoles, and other media devices without the VPN app.

Winner: Draw

Torrenting and P2P

Once again, it’s hard to declare a winner in this category. Both contestants offer great speeds and plenty of servers to choose from. While NordVPN has almost twice as many of them, P2P is allowed on specialized servers only.

In the meantime, ExpressVPN allows torrenting on all servers. Furthermore, this VPN is available in 94 countries compared to NordVPN’s 59, so chances you’ll find a server that’s in your location or next to it.

Contrary to NordVPN, ExpressVPN doesn’t have a free SOCKS5 proxy. On the other hand, you can get a similar result with split tunneling, which is available on Windows, Mac, and Android. NordVPN also has this feature but doesn’t support it on Mac.

Winner: Draw

Plans and pricing

Both providers have three different plans to offer. However, the pricing, the amount you save, and the maximum contract length differs significantly.

PlanNordVPNExpressVPN
Monthly$11.95$12.95
Six months$9.99/month
One year$4.92/month$8.32/month
Two years$4.13/month
Check PricingCheck Pricing

As you can see, ExpressVPN’s best deal is the annual plan for $8.32/month. That gives you a 35% discount. Alternatively, you can choose a six-month plan for $9.99/month that doesn’t offer any discounts. Finally, there’s the priciest monthly option for $12.95.

In contrast, NordVPN offers a bi-annual option for $4.13/month only. That’s 65% off the monthly price of $11.95. Its one-year deal is $4.92/month, offering a still-solid 58% discount.

It should be obvious now that NordVPN is way cheaper than ExpressVPN. It also offers a plan that’s twice as long. Even if we compare the annual deals, you’ll be paying 70% more for ExpressVPN.

The good thing is that both services have a 30-day money-back guarantee. Therefore, you should have plenty of time to test each one thoroughly before committing long-term. Neither of the two has a free version or a free trial, although NordVPN gives 7 days to Android users if you download the app from Google Play Store and care to enter your payment details

Winner: NordVPN

China and countries with restricted internet access

You can use NordVPN and ExpressVPN in China. In fact, they’re among the best services for countries where internet access is restricted. However, the method that each uses for handling VPN bans is totally different.

ExpressVPN doesn’t offer an option to turn on Stealth VPN. Instead, this feature engages automatically whenever it sees that you’ll have to deal with DPI. Unfortunately, this works only if you set your tunneling protocol to automatic.

On the contrary, NordVPN has specialty Obfuscated servers to select from. While this is more convenient, the chances are that you’ll need to set up a special app to make it work, at least in China. You can find the instructions for major platforms on NordVPN’s website.

Finally, NordVPN has the edge because of its other handy features. One is Double VPN that uses two servers instead of one for added protection. The other is Onion Over VPN that adds Tor relays on top of your encrypted connection.

Winner: NordVPN

Server locations

NordVPN has nearly twice as many servers. On the other hand, ExpessVPN offers 60% more countries to choose from. Let’s compare their server lists in more detail and see which one comes out as the winner.

NordVPNExpressVPN
Servers5,400+3,000+
Countries (total)5994
Americas713
Europe3647
Asia Pacific1126
Middle East & Africa45

The table above shows that in some regions, NordVPN is not that far behind when we talk about global coverage. For example, the situation in the Middle East and Africa is almost identical. Also, in Europe, ExpressVPN has only 30% more countries.

The biggest discrepancy is in the Asia Pacific, though. Here NordVPN has more than two times smaller coverage. On the other hand, NordVPN has converted much of its network to colocated servers, which are owned and maintained by the company.

Winner: Draw

Apps, interface, and ease of use

NordVPNExpressVPN
Supported OSWindows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOSWindows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS
Other software and devicesAndroid TV, Fire devicesAndroid TV, Fire devices, routers
Browser extensionsChrome, FirefoxChrome, Firefox
Simultaneous connections65

Both VPNs offer great compatibility. You’ll find apps for all major platforms plus browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox. Yet ExpressVPN has one client that NordVPN misses, and that’s a router app. While you can manually configure the latter to work with the most popular router brands, it’s still not as convenient as just downloading and installing the service right away.

Additionally, ExpressVPN has clients for Kindle Fire and Chromebook. Both providers offer manual configuration for NAS devices, but ExpressVPN also adds Nvidia Shield. Finally, the difference in simultaneous connections is negligible, especially when you can remove the limit by installing the VPN on a router.

Winner: ExpressVPN

Desktop apps

While NordVPN and ExpressVPN Windows and Mac apps are easy to install and use, they offer a totally different approach. The former has a small mobile-like screen with a huge Connect button, and the latter works best in a maximized window where you can see the map with available server locations. Both styles have their pros and cons, so it’ll be up to you to decide with the one you fancy more.

NordVPN country map

Interestingly, NordVPN has two apps for macOS. The one available on the Apple Store is “the right one” as it supports all tunneling protocols, including NordLynx. The version from the provider’s website is more of a sideload that supports OpenVPN only but has more features.

ExpressVPN app screen

ExpressVPN has an interesting feature named Shortcuts. You can add up to five links to the websites you usually launch after connecting to a VPN. This feature is available on Android as well. Learn more about this great feature in our ExpressVPN review.

When it comes to Linux, neither provider has a GUI. You control everything using command lines instead. NordVPN has .deb and .rpm packages, while ExpressVPN supports Debian, RedHat, and Arch-based distros.

Mobile apps

Android and iOS clients look pretty much the same. At the same time, they are also quite similar to their desktop counterparts. However, there are some features not available on Windows and Mac.

NordVPN’s Android app doesn’t have a kill switch of its own. Therefore, you’ll need to use the native Always-on VPN setting. In contrast, you can’t turn off the iOS kill switch. Finally, Apple users get the IKEv2 protocol and can register their emails to get notified if the Dark Web Monitor feature finds them leaked.

In the case of ExpressVPN, the Android version is superior to the iOS. It has split tunneling and a kill switch, two of the essential features. Moreover, there’s Protection Summary informing when the IP is hidden and the Data Breach Alert that notifies if your email has been found in a leak.

Customer support

NordVPN and Express VPN offer quality customer support. To start with, both have a 24/7 live chat. The waiting times are short at the worst of times, and support representatives are polite and knowledgeable.

Additionally, both providers have email support. If the issue is more complex, solving it via live chat might be impossible. In any case, I don’t recall waiting for more than a few hours before getting an email reply.

Last but not least comes the knowledge base. Here you’ll find FAQs, setup guides, and much more. Kudos to ExpressVPN for adding French, Dutch, Italian, German, Spanish, and Portuguese translations.

Winner: Draw

NordVPN vs. ExpressVPN – which one wins?

CategoryNordVPNExpressVPN
Speed
Features
Protection
Streaming
Torrenting
Price
China
Server locations
Ease of use
Customer support

Winner: NordVPN logo

Based on the results in each category, we can declare NordVPN as the winner. However, ExpressVPN is close to an unprecedented draw. In fact, both services are great and have very few flaws.

ExpressVPN and NordVPN turned out to be equally fast, but ExpressVPN is more compatible with various platforms. Both services performed equally well in protection, streaming, torrenting, servers, and customer support battles. Finally, NordVPN showed who’s the boss in features, China, and especially price sections.


More VPN comparisons

Surfshark vs. NordVPN: how do these VPNs compare?

IPVanish vs. NordVPN: which would be your choice?

CyberGhost vs. NordVPN: which VPN to choose?


FAQ

Is NordVPN better than ExpressVPN?

Yes, but only slightly. However, its biggest advantage is a much lower price.

Has ExpressVPN ever been hacked?

No, it hasn’t. At least there’s no public information available on this.

Is NordVPN good for gaming?

Yes, it is. It provides some of the best speeds and has a huge server list. Therefore, you should be able to find one that’s close to your location and has a low ping.

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Comments 17
  1. ANDREW says:

    I’m choosing between these two providers NordVPN vs ExpressVPN ios app and speed is the main issue. I heard NordVPN speed has been great since they implemented NordLynx, are there any more reasons to choose Nord over Express? (the price doesn’t matter).

    • Mindaugas Jancis says:

      Good day, ANDREW. I’m afraid there aren’t many reasons to use NordVPN if the price is not a factor. I’d say that this service has more features and works more reliably in China. On the other hand, ExpressVPN supports more devices and even has a router app. If these arguments mean nothing to you, I’d suggest flipping a coin 🙂

  2. Guadalupe F says:

    There are not a lot of differences between nordvpn and expressvpn, as you have mentioned it’s nearly a draw, and I totaly agree. Can you please, explain me, how did you measure the speed, did you use ookla speed test, or you have your own create speed test software?

    • Mindaugas Jancis says:

      Hey, Guadalupe. Yes, we ran Ookla speed tests in different countries using different tunneling protocols.

  3. monty says:

    I wonder who would be the winner in speed expressvpn vs nordvpn vs ipvanish. Ipvanish was my number 1 provider a couple of years ago, but recently I’ve using it for a while. Now, I see that everything changed, so I have no clue what provider to choose for streaming and torrenting next.

    • Mindaugas Jancis says:

      Hello, monty. I believe you should switch to either ExpressVPN or NordVPN because IPVanish cannot compare with those in the speed department. As for P2P and streaming, both contestants of this battle are equally great.

  4. Edgar Aser says:

    Kodi is amazing and the main point : it’s free! There are many apps that I want to install, but I’m afraid, that they might be dangerous. Which vpn for kodi nordvpn expressvpn or pia would be the best option here? It must have powerful security features, and completely block unwanted attackers. And also hide my activity from the government.

    • Mindaugas Jancis says:

      Hi, Edgar. Thanks for the comment. I’d say that you can choose either NordVPN or ExpressVPN, depending on your personal preference. They both offer everything that a good Kodi VPN needs.

  5. Magnus says:

    I want to hide my Tor connection from my internet service provider and other third parties. I know, that even innocent browsing can cause trouble. Which one nordvpn or expressvpn for dark web is a better choice? I really don’t care about the price, so the only part I’m interested in is dns leak and privacy.

    • Mindaugas Jancis says:

      Hello Magnus,
      Neither of these two had any DNS leak issues in the past. Additionally, their no-logs policies have been independently audited, and both are registered in privacy-friendly countries. The only advantage that NordVPN has is its Onion over VPN feature.

  6. dice roll says:

    Both vpns seem to be very reliable and worth trying . However, I have one question: which provider is the best : nordvpn vs expressvpn for hulu i want to try watching both Japan and US libraries.  

    • Mindaugas Jancis says:

      Dear dice roll,
      Both VPNs are really great for streaming, including Hulu. I suggest trying them both to see which works better. Just don’t forget that you’ll need a US credit card to subscribe to Hulu.

  7. Jay says:

    Why does expressvpn show less servers than nordvpn? I mean nord has 5,400+ while express has only 3,000+ , but if you look at the number of countries : nord 59 and express 94. How is that possible? I assumed that, the more countries the vpn covers the more servers it has. 

    • Mindaugas Jancis says:

      Hello, Jay. Technically, you can have only one server per country and advertise yourself as a global service. In reality, the number of servers depends more on their quality and the number of users. Some VPNs invest more in the most popular destinations, such as the US, especially if the number of subscribers keeps rising. On the other hand, users will choose a VPN that has servers in their location and around.

  8. Dana says:

    Hey there! Wanted to say thank you for this detailed expressvpn vs nordvpn for beginners article. Very detailed, you managed to explain in a very simple and understandable language . I know, these two providers are the giants of VPN industry, and I am considering getting one of them. This article helped me to decide.

  9. Tonio says:

    nordvpn vs expressvpn which is better for torrent? nordvpn has that super fast wireguard (nordlynx) protocol , however expressvpn also added new protocol (lightway). since it’s all new to me, i’m lost which one is faster and more suitable for torrenting.  

    • Mindaugas Jancis says:

      Dear Tonio,
      I’d say that in this case, everything depends on your needs. NordVPN is faster, but not by much. ExpressVPN offers servers in more countries, but will you ever use them? Finally, NordVPN has a SOCKS5 proxy, but ExpressVPN’s split tunneling can do the same job. However, I must point out that the former is considerably cheaper.

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