ExpressVPN is a virtual network provider (VPN) founded in 2009. They are based in the British Virgin Islands and serve a far-reaching global customer base.
ExpressVPN has become one of the name-brands in the VPN industry due to its longevity (seriously, VPNs churn & burn all the time), their press coverage, their focus on product usability, and savvy advertising. ExpressVPN offers a single plan for access to their network of 1000+ servers across 94+ countries via a range of devices including Android, iPhone, Mac & Desktop.
After years of foolishly running my online business via public WiFi (though more secure now than then ), I decided to start using a VPN to mask some of my communications and access a bit of out of market sporting events while traveling.
But I found out that – similar to web hosting – there is no such thing as a “best VPN provider”. In fact, it’s like a whole world of confusing information because even trustworthy information is near-useless since it’s so complex.
This ExpressVPN review is my notes from trying them out for my own purposes as a privacy-aware, traveling, US-based businessperson who needs good usability and good pricing. I am not a political activist or someone who regularly travels to firewalled countries.
Whether you are looking for a VPN for privacy on public networks, for website access, for avoiding geotargeting , for masking communications or all the above, hopefully, this ExpressVPN review will be useful.
What is ExpressVPN?
ExpressVPN is a commercial Virtual Private Network (VPN) currently owned by Express VPN Ltd., a shell company based in the British Virgin Islands established in 2009. Their software allows you to route all your Internet traffic through their network so that you can mask your destinations, locations, and other characteristics that show up with your Internet connection.
ExpressVPN offers all the standard features of a VPN with a focus on reliability, usability, media streaming, and customer support. They have a large marketshare in the VPN market. And yes, their corporate location will be both a pro & con in this review.
Is ExpressVPN Safe?
Yes, ExpressVPN is safe*. They are owned by a large, growing company with a straightforward and open business model (aka, the customer pays money for a service) and audited services & financial records by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC). They’ve been around for a while and have high standards of disclosure from many non-profit industry watchdogs.
*The asterisk here is that the company is still anonymously owned in the British Virgin Islands. This offshore location affords both the company and its customers a high degree of privacy from law enforcement and national surveillance programs…but also means that customers do lack the protection of those same law enforcement agencies. Additionally, all commercial VPNs suffer from the same group of risks outlined by the US National Institutes of Technology’s Empirical Analysis in 2018 .
Is ExpressVPN Good?
Yes, ExpressVPN is a solid VPN all-around. They have tradeoffs for sure, and they aren’t right for everyone. But they offer everything most customers want in a VPN at with an extra layer of privacy that US-based VPNs can’t offer.
So here’s the rest of my ExpressVPN review – structured with pros & cons based on my experience as a customer so you can figure out if ExpressVPN is a good fit for you, or if you want an alternative paid VPN.
ExpressVPN Pros / Benefits
ExpressVPN is one of the most popular VPN providers in the world – and for good reason. They do a lot of things right. Here’s their “5 Reasons Why” corporate pitch –
The wide range of features offered means that the service is suitable for most people. Here’s what I found they do particularly well.
Plan Pricing Structure
ExpressVPN only offers a single plan with various purchase options. It’s simple and straightforward.
The plan costs $12.95 per month if paid monthly, $9.99 per month if paid six months up front, or $8.32 per month if paid a year up front.
Though ExpressVPN doesn’t offer a free trial like some providers, they do offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. It’s a great way to make sure you like the service before committing.
In addition to paying with PayPal or a credit/debit card, ExpressVPN accepts bitcoin payment for anyone concerned with privacy. You do have to provide an email address, but it can easily be a throwaway Gmail.
Range of Platforms
ExpressVPN is available for use on all platforms, including Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, and routers.
The service can be used on up to five devices simultaneously. You get unlimited bandwidth, unlimited speed, and unlimited server switches.
You activate via a downloadable app. It’s simple to install and simple to use. I was up and running on my Macbook Pro in less than 2 minutes.
Server Locations & Location Options
ExpressVPN is headquartered in the British Virgin Islands , ideal for a VPN provider due to their legal status.
The offshore location protects the company from law enforcement agencies like the NSA, giving your online browsing history an extra legal layer of security and protection.
However, it’s worth noting that the British Virgin Islands are under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. Though they’re a sovereign nation and have no data retention laws, it’s not unreasonable to assume the UK government could apply pressure if they decided to.
ExpressVPN currently boasts a lineup of over 1,000 servers located in 145 locations in 94 countries around the world. And they’re adding new servers all the time.
Perhaps the most noticeable thing about ExpressVPN is their high number of servers.
Like I mentioned several times above, they have more than 160 locations spread out across more than 94 countries.
Look! I’m digitally in England!
Even though that’s more than enough servers for anyone’s needs, the company is dedicated to always adding more. There are new servers available on a regular basis.
Not only do the 1,000+ servers give you a lot of options, but they also ensure reliable performance and high uptimes. ExpressVPN features 99.99% uptimes and very fast speeds (covered in the Performance section).
In addition to standard servers, ExpressVPN also offers a unique feature called “stealth servers.” These Hong-Kong based servers are specifically designed to bypass government censorship in China.
Security and Encryption
ExpressVPN features OpenVPN AES 256-BIT Encryption with RSA-4096 and SHA-512 HMAC authentication. Unlike other VPN providers, there’s no way around this type of encryption. You can’t customize your encryption settings to your personal preferences.
Though this won’t be a problem for VPN beginners, it might turn some more experienced VPN users the wrong way. The reason is that while OpenVPN encryption is the strongest around, it sometimes negatively impacts performance, particularly speeds.
In addition to its strong encryption standards, ExpressVPN further protects your privacy by not keeping any usage logs. The company doesn’t keep traffic logs in case there’s ever a breach of their records.
Because ExpressVPN uses only shared IPs, a single IP can never be tracked back to you.
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 one of ExpressVPN’s 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.
That caveat said – a unique privacy feature that helps ExpressVPN stand out is their .onion address. The company maintains a dark website to avoid censorship.
The .onion address enables you to easily access and sign up for ExpressVPN even in countries where VPN services are outlawed.
The final security feature worth mention is the Internet kill switch. Earlier versions of the service don’t include this tool, but the latest does.
The kill switch simply allows you to immediately cut all online activity if you’re unexpectedly compromised.
Another aspect that I love about ExpressVPN is the (near) complete anonymity they offer upon signing up. You have to provide an email address, but it can be a throwaway.
Not only can you access the .onion version of the site with a Tor browser , but you can also use Bitcoin to pay for the service.
This is a one-two punch of extreme privacy options that few other VPN providers offer.
There’s a lot to love about ExpressVPN, but its intuitive user interface is perhaps its single best feature.
The very term “Virtual Private Network” screams “technical & pain in the ass to use” but ExpressVPN has taken some serious lessons from modern web apps on usability. They have a super smooth user flow. The app is literally a big green button.
Combine ExpressVPN’s ease of use with its high performance and stellar security, and it’s not hard to see why this provider is the top choice of so many people around the world.
The ease of use starts with the signup and download process. Once you install the VPN client, you’ll be asked to enter the activation code for each device.
Entering the code manually for each device allows you to start using the VPN immediately without needing to log in before each session.
About the actual ExpressVPN app itself – it’s arguably the simplest and most straightforward VPN app around.
All you have to do is select your preferred server and hit “Connect.” You can even “Star” the server, so it’s bookmarked for easier access in the future.
For years, I had procrastinated using a VPN consistently due to the inconvenience. But with that inconvenience gone – I find myself actually using my VPN every day.
And that’s important because online security is just like offline security. Sometimes it’s not about whether you have the best lock possible…it’s about whether you actually use the lock consistently. On that point, ExpressVPN does very well.
Additionally, I found their actual website to be very useful. The website is smartly laid out to make it easy to find the information you need. Useful features for ExpressVPN newcomers include the “Take a Tour” section which details what a VPN is and why you could benefit from one.
The security, privacy, and overall ease of use of ExpressVPN would be all but worthless if it weren’t backed up by superior performance.
Thanks to unlimited bandwidth and over 1,000 servers (and growing) in more than 94 countries (and growing), slow speeds are rarely a problem.
Of course, you’ll notice a slight lag in speeds when you switch from normal online use to VPN use. My speeds usually hover at 50% of my non-VPN speeds.
ExpressVPN’s speeds are not the fastest that I’ve ever used, but they are among the most *consistent* through the day. In fact, they have a handy speed tester directly in their app –
I’ve noticed no noticeable lag while using my usual online services.
I used the TraceRoute command to compare the “hops” it takes to work with the VPN. As long as I’m using a server in my same region, it’s surprisingly quick.
Here’s my packet’s journey to nateshivar.com with no routing to ExpressVPN.
Here’s my packet’s journey to nateshivar.com routing via ExpressVPN’s Washington DC server.
Literally only a couple more hops with 2ms additional lag.
Exact speed and performance vary depending on the particular server you’re using. Though most are in the same ballpark, it might take some “shopping around” to find the fastest one for your needs. For example, if you are using a server in England while you are in America, the round-trip times will have more lag.
Also of note is that certain servers don’t allow you to access Netflix. You can fix this by contacting ExpressVPN’s 24/7 live chat support to find which servers can access Netflix at that time.
Customer support is really tough to judge in any review. For any company of any significant size, there are going to be both naive lovefests and overblown horror stories. The issue with both is that they are anecdotal. The tough thing about customer support is trying to infer if the company views support as a cost or an investment.
I try to look for telltale signs for each.
ExpressVPN offers 24/7 live support is provided 365 days a year. You can reach support staff by live chat or email. The ones that I spoke to seemed to be fine.
Unfortunately, ExpressVPN doesn’t currently offer live phone support (see cons/disadvantages).
Also notable about ExpressVPN customer support is the vast number of resources available on their website. Most of the time you won’t even have to contact a representative to find the answers to your questions. They also do a good job of preventing issues in the first place. They have small touches to make the customer service experience faster & more effective, such as the “click to highlight log” on their app –
Overall, I’d say that ExpressVPN treats customer support as an investment while trying to cut down on inefficiencies – for better and worse.
ExpressVPN Cons / Disadvantages
Since there is no such thing as a “best VPN” – only the best for your lifestyle – there’s going to be disadvantages with every VPN. And ExpressVPN is no different. Additionally, like any large VPN, there are going to be plenty of ExpressVPN complaints around the web – either real or anecdotal. Here’s how I perceive ExpressVPN’s bigger picture disadvantages.
Price Point / Free Trial
ExpressVPN is expensive compared to most other VPN providers. While you won’t be paying an arm and a leg, you’re definitely paying more than for the competition.
In my opinion, that extra money is more than worth it. Pay slightly extra, and you can rest assured you’re getting good connections with a range of servers. You are also aligning ExpressVPN’s financial incentives away from advertising & making money with data.
You can pay for a full year of service up front which will lower the monthly price of ExpressVPN from $12.95 to $8.32. But the bottom line is that they are a pricier option than many competitors.
Additionally, they do not offer a free trial. To test their service, you have to pay for at least a month. They do give a 30-day money back guarantee, but the lack of a free trial can put off anyone who is simply curious about VPNs.
Limited Settings & Configurations
With many technical services, there is a tradeoff between control & convenience. If you give users more control, that leads inevitably to feature & option overwhelm. On the flip side, if you focus too much on simplification and offer ultimate convenience, then advanced users will complain about lack of control.
ExpressVPN offers some level of control. They have a few protocol options, and you can choose your server location. But that’s pretty much it. If you are an advanced user trying to perfectly balance speed & security, ExpressVPN will have limited configurations for you.
Experienced VPN users can’t customize their settings nearly as much as they’re able to through other providers.
Phone Support & Ownership
This disadvantage short and straightforward – you can only get in touch with ExpressVPN via chat or email. For some, this is not a big deal at all. For others, it’s a deal-killer. If phone support is your thing, then ExpressVPN might not be the best fit for you.
Also, the whole mysterious owner via a shell company in the British Virgin Islands is great and all for a privacy narrative….but it’s also good for conspiracy theory narratives.
Even though I think their location is a pro overall, I do think it’s worth mentioning in the cons because they could do better or create some halfway solution. They could disclose some of their large corporate shareholders or at least have some sort of About ExpressVPN story about their founders or something.
There are a lot of VPNs out there. Some great, some not so great. Here’s how ExpressVPN compares directly to 4 of the ones that I’ve used.
ExpressVPN vs. NordVPN
NordVPN is a very well-known commercial VPN in addition to ExpressVPN. ExpressVPN has a better reputation for privacy & customers support. However, NordVPN has a focus on higher speeds and a more torrenting-friendly setup. If your priority is speed, I’d go with NordVPN. But if you are looking for a more balanced VPN, I’d go with ExpressVPN.
ExpressVPN vs. IPVanish
IPVanish is a very well-known US-based VPN. ExpressVPN has a better privacy reputation due to their ex-US location in addition to a better refund window and media streaming options. IPVanish is significantly cheaper though and bundles productivity software with their plans. They are also anecdotally faster than ExpressVPN. If you prefer price & speed, I’d go with IPVanish. If you prefer streaming options with better support and usability, I’d go with ExpressVPN.
ExpressVPN vs. CyberGhost
CyberGhost is a popular European-owned VPN with a focus on peer to peer sharing and streaming. ExpressVPN has a better global privacy options (notably China, Middle East and Australia) in addition to better usability and refund window. CyberGhost is significantly cheaper with higher available speeds – especially for peer to peer and streaming. If you prefer better support and overall usability, I’d go with ExpressVPN. If you prefer better pricing & performance, I’d go with CyberGhost.
ExpressVPN vs. ProtonVPN
ProtonVPN is a small but popular Swiss-owned VPN. They gained fame via their popular privacy-first email service and partnership with Mozilla. ExpressVPN has a much broader network, better pricing, better apps, and better support. ProtonVPN though has a limited, but still free plan. They also have an even better privacy reputation than ExpressVPN due to their public ownership in a famously privacy conscious country. If your focus is on a VPN’s general features like usability, streaming availability, etc – then ExpressVPN is simply still a bigger, better option. But if your main focus is rock-solid, independent privacy considerations, then I’d go with ProtonVPN.
ExpressVPN Review Conclusion
Different VPNs are suited to different people’s needs.
You should break down the reasons why you want a VPN. Then base your final decision upon your intended use. However, no matter the reason you want a VPN, you must choose a provider that’s reliable and trustworthy. That’s where ExpressVPN does well.
If you are looking for an approachable, trustworthy, high-performing VPN for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, or Linux with good server options, then you should sign up for ExpressVPN here.
If you are looking for a cheaper VPN, one with phone support and/or one for a privacy edge-case, then ExpressVPN might not be the best fit. You can use this comparison chart to sift & sort many of the other privacy oriented options or use my VPN quiz to sort some of the premium VPN services that I’ve tested.