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
|Country:||Panama||British Virgin Islands|
|Locations:||59 countries||94 countries|
|VPN protocols:||NordLynx, IKEv2, OpenVPN (UDP/TCP)||Lightway, IKEv2, OpenVPN (UDP/TCP)|
|Logging:||No logs||No logs|
|Pricing:||from $3.71/month||from $8.32/month|
|Apps:||Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS||Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS|
|Support:||Knowledge base, FAQs, email, chatbot, 24/7 live chat||Knowledge base, FAQs, email, 24/7 live chat|
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, ExpressVPN offers slightly better performance. However, the difference is negligible when counting the drop-off percentage. That’s 45% vs. 49% for download and 57% vs. 62% for upload.
|NordLynx vs. Lightway||NordVPN||ExpressVPN|
|Download average||183 Mbps||196 Mbps|
|Upload average||116 Mbps||130 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%.
|Download average||227 Mbps||202 Mbps|
|Upload average||52 Mbps||5 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%.
|Download average||197 Mbps||165 Mbps|
|Upload average||65 Mbps||110 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.
|Download average||13 Mbps||83 Mbps|
|Upload average||10 Mbps||36 Mbps|
All in all, both are almost equal across the board.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
This whole section is dedicated to NordVPN and the extra features that it offers.
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 services 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 $3.71/month only. That’s 68% 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
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.
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.
|Middle East & Africa||4||5|
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.
Apps, interface, and ease of use
|Supported OS||Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS||Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS|
|Other software and devices||Android TV, Fire devices||Android TV, Fire devices, routers|
|Browser extensions||Chrome, Firefox||Chrome, Firefox|
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
NordVPN vs. ExpressVPN – which one wins?
|Ease of use||✘||✔|
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.
Yes, but only slightly. However, its biggest advantage is a much lower price.
No, it hasn’t. At least there’s no public information available on this.
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.