After years of foolishly running my online business via public WiFi, I decided to start using a VPN to secure my communications (and access a bit of out of market sporting events while traveling).
But I found out that finding the right VPN to suit my needs was a bit complicated. There’s no such thing as a general “best” VPN – instead, they all have to make tradeoffs that fit many but not all needs. ExpressVPN and NordVPN were two that I looked at closely.
I reviewed ExpressVPN here and reviewed NordVPN here. I combined my notes from those posts to write this ExpressVPN vs. NordVPN post around the most common VPN considerations. You can skip to my conclusion here.
But first, here’s a bit of background.
ExpressVPN is perhaps one of the most leading VPN providers. The company has been around since 2009 and has grown significantly since. It currently boasts 145 server locations spread across 94 countries, with over 1,000 servers in total. They are based in the British Virgin Islands.
NordVPN is a 10 year old VPN provider based in Panama. They are smaller than ExpressVPN but have a rapidly growing customer base. They claim to be the “world’s most advanced VPN” with a focus on privacy.
They both have advantages & disadvantages in my experience. This ExpressVPN vs. NordVPN comparison will look at each based on pricing, features, performance, usability, customer service, and market focus.
Disclosure – I receive referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All opinions and data are based on my experience as a paying customer performing independent research.
Pricing is subjective, but most people like saving some money when they can. So, the price can be a major factor in determining what VPN service is the best one for you.
Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN offer the same types of subscriptions. Subscribe for one month, six months, or twelve months, with the six and twelve-month options billed in full, rather than monthly. They both bundle all features into a single plan. There’s no a la carte choice of connections & features.
This is the pricing structure for both companies:
There isn’t much of a difference in the one and six-month options, but you’ll save almost $31 paying for a NordVPN annual subscription over ExpressVPN’s. That’s a significant price difference.
I like to look at trial periods or money back guarantees too, which provide more security for your purchase. But, these two services tie it up once again. They both offer 30-day money back guarantees where they’ll refund your full purchase if you’re not satisfied and let them know within 30 days.
It’s clear to me that these two providers know they’re two of the best out there, so they’re getting competitive with their pricing. They both also allow plenty of payment options, including BitCoin.
ExpressVPN and NordVPN are very comparable in this area. I wouldn’t necessarily suggest ordering a monthly subscription for either, but both companies’ annual subscriptions can save you a lot of money. If you don’t like it, you’re always covered by the 30-day guarantee.
Features and Customization
If there’s one thing both VPN providers do well, it’s that they pack their services full of features. Security and customization are high on the list of priorities for both companies. And, they’re both very similar in the features they offer.
Here are a few things both VPN providers have or allow:
- P2P/torrent sharing
- 256-bit encryption
- Kill switch technology if your VPN connection drops
- Multiple device support
- Access geographically-blocked content
- Mobile apps
- Smart DNS
- IP Masking
- No speed limits
To my surprise, though, it seems that NordVPN has a small leg up on ExpressVPN here for a few reasons.
First, NordVPN allows six simultaneous connections compared to ExpressVPN’s three. Of course, when you’re traveling on business, you may not need more than three connections at a time. This would allow your tablet, laptop, and phone to all get connected at once.
But, think of how many things connect to your network at home. You may have multiple computers, gaming systems, and other devices. So, if you’re planning to use your VPN at home, NordVPN can protect several devices’ connections at once.
Second, NordVPN has a very strict no-log policy. As in, it keeps no record at all your connections, history, or internet usage. The company is based in Panama, which has zero internet surveillance by its government, and therefore no reason to store any logs.
ExpressVPN doesn’t keep any logs that can identify your personal information, but it does store connection logs with timestamps. As we’ll see in the performance section, this practice is arguably to optimize & stabilize their network. That said, if you are looking for a provider that does not log anything (ie, they have a real-time wipe of server information), then NordVPN wins on that feature.
Caveat – Note that no VPN is 100% secure. Your traffic is still routing through a company. Any company can go out of business or go rogue. If you are trying to avoid your American ISP – then you are simply replacing distrust of Comcast/Charter with the trust of your VPN. If you are a political activist where trust is a life or death situation, you need to be using something like Tor. This is a segue to ExpressVPN’s / NordVPN’s other unique features, but the point remains using a VPN does not instantly create security/privacy. That is something you do via aligning company incentives (ie, paying for companies who maintain security) & being proactive.
Both NordVPN and ExpressVPN make using Tor simple & straightforward. ExpressVPN even has a .onion address on the dark web so you can manage your account there.
These are important issues to consider, but note that both services hold their own against other VPNs. They’re both packed with all the features you’d expect to have for your money to keep your activity and information safe on the internet. NordVPN just provides a few extras as icing on the cake.
Performance and Speed
ExpressVPN is known for being one of the speediest VPN providers. The fact that it has 145 server cities in 94 countries, and continues to expand these numbers, gives it an incredible speed performance for users all over the world.
*Aside – The “all over the world” is essential to this section. Speeds are inherently affected by distance, so the closer you are to your target server – the better the speeds will usually be (all things equal). So, one important factor in addition to server numbers is the diversity of servers and server countries. I am in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. If you are reading or regularly travel to Europe or Asia – then your point of judgment will be different.
Although upload and download speeds with ExpressVPN are typically a bit slower than speeds when you’re not using a VPN, this goes with any VPN service. ExpressVPN’s are only slightly lower, and you can almost always guarantee uptime without dropped connections. Here are my baseline speeds followed by ExpressVPN’s typical speed test.
Speeds with ExpressVPN usually hovered around 82% of non-VPN speeds. Latency was a bit higher, but did not prevent streaming. And critically, bandwidth speeds remained steady even when connected to overseas connections.
One of the downsides of NordVPN, according to customers and speed tests, is its inconsistent speeds. This downside is partly due to the inherent tradeoff with privacy (remember the no-log policy) in addition to their server network locations.
Depending on where your location is, more importantly, your time zone, you may notice significant lags in your upload and download speeds.
NordVPN currently has servers located in 58 countries. It boasts over 800 servers, but there aren’t as many locations to choose from as ExpressVPN. And, it, unfortunately, appears that their servers are getting overcrowded, since different times of the day significantly affect speeds. Here’s their server map to give you an idea.
Note how more than half of their 58 countries are in Europe. That’s not a lot of server diversity, especially if you are in the Americas.
Those using United States servers, for example, report that the peak period of internet usage in the United States during the day bogs down server speeds. Unless you’re using a local server, you may need to study up on time zones to avoid cluttered, slow servers. Here’s my typical test with NordVPN.
That’s not bad, per se. And the latency is wonderful. But it’s nowhere near ExpressVPN’s bandwidth. Additionally, I usually had wide variance with NordVPN throughout the workday. That said – my England connections were great – on par with ExpressVPN.
If you are in Europe / West Asia, then NordVPN can go head to head with ExpressVPN due to their heavy server presence in Europe. If you are anywhere in the Americas, Africa or East Asia, then the lack of servers and lack of network optimization options will drag down your performance.
Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN couldn’t be easier to set up and get started. Their websites are extremely clean and streamlined, so it’s simpler to find the information you’re looking for and subscription and download links.
When you sign up for either service, you can choose to use Bitcoin if you want your payment details to remain completely anonymous. If you don’t use it, you’ll need to pay with a credit/debit card or PayPal, which of course will provide payment details.
You’ll also need a valid e-mail address to sign up, but you can always create a new one that doesn’t give out any identifying information. This is standard for most VPN services.
Once you’re signed up, you can download the client for either service. They both have software available for Windows, OS X, Android, and iOS devices.
Both VPN’s clients have clean, simple interfaces that won’t leave you wondering what to do next. If you’re looking for a client that’s as straightforward as possible, you can get that from either one.
It’s especially convenient that NordVPN helps you choose the best server depending on what for you are using the VPN. Choose from Security, P2P, Streaming, and Anonymity, and the client will suggest a proper server location based on that need.
This is ideal for newer users who don’t know much about locations. Of course, you can always choose your server if you want more control of your options.
The two clients have very similar setups. They both offer almost the same set of features, like a kill switch and choice of protocol. They even provide explanations of the advanced features so beginners can learn about everything they offer.
Here’s ExpressVPN’s app.
Here’s NordVPN’s app settings page.
Either one’s a winner in this area.
Everyone is sure to have different experiences with customer service for the same company. So, it’s important to pay attention to consistency & access across multiple channels to try to judge the company’s attitude towards service.
When you’re traveling, you shouldn’t have to worry about downtime and other issues affecting your internet connection from your VPN. You’ll need a reliable service that has quick and thorough customer support if an issue does arise.
It seems that you’ll find that more with ExpressVPN. Being a bigger company, it has one of the best customer support teams you could want in a VPN provider. You have 24/7 access to the support team through live chat, but you can also use the website contact form or e-mail the company directly. They even have nifty diagnostics within their app.
The troubleshooting and support guides on the site are also excellent for fixing several more core issues, so it’s good to check there first.
This isn’t to say that NordVPN’s customer service is bad, but it doesn’t quite live up to ExpressVPN’s standards. It also has a 24/7 live chat support team and a direct email or contact form option. Just be aware that NordVPN explicitly states on its website that the latter two options may result in up to 48 hours of turnaround time for a response.
NordVPN does have a small FAQ section and some set-up tutorials, but it’s all basic. Anyone looking for more advanced troubleshooting will have to contact customer support via support ticket.
I don’t know the behind the scenes of the two companies, but just from surface observations on how they’ve structured their support, ExpressVPN seems to have a bigger emphasis on fast, effective support.
NordVPN and ExpressVPN are so similar in several ways that it’s clear they’re marketing to the same audience. They’re both feature-packed services with budget-friendly options and organized, simple clients that beginners to advanced users can benefit from.
That said, NordVPN’s marketing definitely highlights their specific security features (even if they are shared with other VPNs). Their no-log policy is one that stands out but also has an inherent tradeoff with performance – in addition to their “double-encryption” feature.
ExpressVPN marketing presents them as the everything for everybody VPN…for a price. Their price point is higher than most VPNs, including NordVPN’s. But they also seem to have more investment in terms of servers & support.
If no-log policies are your priority, then NordVPN is going to win for you. If you are a businessperson or simply someone who wants a balanced, convenient VPN, then ExpressVPN will likely fit your needs more.
ExpressVPN vs NordVPN Conclusion
This review is like comparing apples to apples. Both services are solid options, and they work to balance each other out in all areas. Where one lacks, the other excels, and vice versa.
Either VPN provider is a good option for beginner to more advanced users. Their simple clients will get you set up and secured fast, and you can always spend time learning about more advanced features as you go.
If you are – in Europe / West Asia; value a no-log policy; and/or want cheaper annual pricing – then you should go sign up with NordVPN here.
If you are – wanting a reliability and convenience; in the Americas, Africa or East Asia; and/or want consistent support – then you should go sign up with ExpressVPN here.
Kudos on securing your Internet – be sure to use your VPN consistently :)