No matter where you look online, there are a few names that dominate the best VPN recommendations – and ExpressVPN and Surfshark often sit very near the top. However, when comparing ExpressVPN vs Surfshark, how do they really stack up when directly compared?
Both based in the privacy-friendly British Virgin Islands means you can expect comprehensive zero-logging policies across the board. However, the two providers have very different target markets. Does more expensive really mean more powerful?
Before we pit them head to head, we'll run down the tale of the tape between the two. Then we'll dive deeper into each important section before delivering our objective verdict.
ExpressVPN vs Surfshark at a glance
ExpressVPN – our #1 rated VPN service
In terms of sheer power and functionality ExpressVPN wins out every time, and if you're after the best service available it's the only choice. You'll be able to customize your experience further and access more server locations – plus you can now claim three months free.
Surfshark – cheap enough to forgive any shortcomings
While it's not quite as powerful as Express, Surfshark has well and truly earned its titles as the best-value VPN on the market. For just $2.30 a month you'll get a top-tier VPN service which can rival the very best, and for those looking to save money it's an excellent option.
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ExpressVPN vs Surfshark: Which is more affordable?
Let’s face it, price is a big factor for most people – so we’ll open up with some numbers.
ExpressVPN kicks off at $12.95 for a single month, and drops to $9.99 a month on a six-month plan – pretty average prices, and nothing to shout about. If you sign up for a 12-month plan and take advantage of the exclusive Tom’s Guide offer which will bag you three months free, you’ll be paying a pretty reasonable $6.67 a month. You can find all the latest ways to save with our ExpressVPN promo codes.
With Surfshark, if you go for a rolling monthly plan you’ll be paying the same as ExpressVPN, $12.95. Commit for a year and you’ll start saving, though, as the price drops to just $3.99. The real bargains start when you commit for two years, with the price dropping to just $2.49 a month. What's more, Surfshark also often offers plans with free time included, which drops the effective monthly price even further.
Although Surfshark used to be even cheaper (that was almost three years ago), it’s still a serious bargain, and as our top-rated cheap VPN there’s no way it can’t win this round. However, it's worth noting that Surfshark's prices do increase upon renewal, while ExpressVPN's stay the same. It still works out better value, though, especially with one of our Surfshark VPN promo codes – and if you cancel and resubscribe in two years, you'll be able to take advantage of another introductory rate.
ExpressVPN vs Surfshark: Which is faster?
Beyond price, connection speed is one of the biggest factors when choosing a VPN.
We test all our VPNs on our superfast 1Gbps US and UK connections to get a good idea of what peak performance we can expect from each service.
Express delivered speeds topping out at 560Mbps when using the LightWay protocol, which is excellent. Surfshark topped out at staggering 950Mbps when using WireGuard, which makes it the fastest VPN we've tested. However, any typical user not studying the numbers would be hard-pushed to tell the difference in-use.
Using OpenVPN on the same connection, ExpressVPN topped out at an impressive 355Mbps, while Surfshark lingered at around 190Mbps. That's a clear difference, and could make a difference if you need to use VPN obfuscation to avoid your ISP or government finding out you're using a VPN.
In truth, with domestic connections rarely reaching above 100Mbps, you're very unlikely to be able to tell the difference between the two. However, Surfshark takes this round thanks to it's quite frankly searing performance in our testing.
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ExpressVPN vs Surfshark: Which is more secure?
Although Surfshark is a cheap service, it wouldn’t be as popular as it is without some serious privacy and security tools. It runs a private DNS on every one of its servers – meaning your traffic never has to go through a third party’s hands, plus a wide choice of protocols, a kill switch and MultiHop.
ExpressVPN, however, features all of these (except Multihop, which is just about the only feature not included) alongside fully audited servers and privacy & no-logging policies. In fact, over 12 months in 2022, ExpressVPN underwent 12 individual audits, all with great results,. That's more than any other VPN provider.
Thankfully, Surfshark has finally taken and passed an audit of its no-logs policy and server infrastructure – although it was admittedly late to the party. However, due to ExpressVPN's rigorous and continued commitment to auditing, this round has to go its way.
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ExpressVPN vs Surfshark: Which is better for Netflix?
Before Netflix changed its VPN blocking tech, both services were just about flawless when it came to unblocking Netflix, featuring on our Netflix VPN, iPlayer VPN and streaming VPN guides. However, things have changed since mid-2021.
Both providers have been pretty reliable, but we've also seen coverage vary quite drastically. No VPN has been unaffected by these, but ExpressVPN and Surfshark, along with NordVPN and ProtonVPN, have weathered the storm best.
Right now, both providers can unblock Netflix, but Surfshark just has the edge since in our testing it was able to unblock a few more different regions. Things are very likely to fluctuate, however – and we'll update this page as and when they do.
ExpressVPN vs Surfshark: Which is better for torrenting?
One of the most popular reasons to get is VPN is for protection when torrenting, and again, both services provide great solutions.
Both providers have a kill switch (excellent if you’re planning on downloading large files and don’t want to risk a dropped connection), split tunneling to separate traffic, and good connection speeds.
However, what sets them apart is the fact that every single one of ExpressVPN’s 3,000+ servers is optimized for P2P, meaning that whichever server you choose (perhaps there’s one you that you notice consistently gives you the best speeds) will be able to be used for torrenting.
While Surfshark is a serviceable torrenting VPN and can certainly get the job done, it’s not quite as tailor-made for sharing P2P as Express. It starts off with a similar number of servers, but not every one of them is P2P compatible. While the app can automatically detect torrenting traffic and will switch you to a suitable server, this does mean you’ll have a smaller selection of servers, which might result in slower speeds.
While both do work very well, ExpressVPN is simply better suited to sharing P2P.
ExpressVPN vs Surfshark: Which has better apps?
One of the most important features of a VPN, the apps’ interfaces and ease of use can make a huge difference to the end user, and seeing as both VPNs feature on our Fire Stick VPN and Android VPN guides, both impress.
Surfshark’s desktop client and mobile apps are the epitome of simplicity, with very few options on the opening screen except for your selected server and an on/off button. That’s really useful for experts and newbies alike, as it makes getting up and running a breeze. However, Express is no different, with a simple, attractive design over every platform.
Neither skimps on features behind the scenes too much, either – and all of them are easily accessible with just a tap or two. ExpressVPN does, however, boast a few more options to play around with. For many that’s probably not a huge bonus, but for advanced users Express’s apps will prove a little more useful when it comes to customization.
ExpressVPN vs Surfshark: Which has better support?
ExpressVPN has long delivered the gold standard of VPN support, and that doesn’t look like changing any time soon. With a huge knowledgebase of articles plus almost instantaneous 24/7 live-chat support, there’s really nothing we can fault.
Surfshark also provides a great support service, but its help articles are a little thin on the ground compared to Express. In the vast majority of cases you’ll be able to find what you need, but Express’s depth and breadth of content really stands out.
ExpressVPN vs Surfshark: Final verdict
When it comes to the final verdict, if money is no object then it’s quite clear that ExpressVPN is the superior service. With more powerful apps, a long history of auditing and world-class security, there’s a reason why it’s been out #1 rated VPN for a long time – plus, Tom’s Guide readers can now claim three free months to make their money go even further.
However, when looking at Surfshark, you’ve got to consider the price – at less than $2.50 a month it comes close to Express in most areas – and is arguably better for streaming. And, while many people quite understandably want the best of the best (we don’t blame you), all that’s often needed is a cheap service that fulfills the basic tasks you need it to. Surfshark does that and more with aplomb, and is certainly worth your time.
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Mo is VPN Editor at Tom's Guide. Day-to-day he oversees VPN, privacy, and cybersecurity content, and also undertakes independent testing of VPN services to ensure his recommendations are accurate and up to date. When he's not getting stuck into the nitty-gritty settings of a VPN you've never heard of, you'll find him working on his Peugeot 205 GTi or watching Peep Show instead of finally putting up those shelves.