For the past several years, ExpressVPN has well and truly taken up the best VPN mantle, and rave reviews from users and industry experts alike have cemented it as the VPN to beat. In our full and unbiased ExpressVPN review, we unpack everything the provider has to offer and see if it can live up to the hype.
Based in the privacy-friendly British Virgin Islands, ExpressVPN was established in 2009 and since then has been on a race to the top. Its generous amount of global servers gives it worldwide appeal, and it’s used by millions.
However, with somewhat hefty subscriptions costs it’s not the very cheapest, so here we’ll be seeing if, under the skin, ExpressVPN is genuinely worth the money, and how it compares to the competition.
If you’re interested in a particular aspect of ExpressVPN, you can jump to the following sections by clicking the navigation bar at the top of the page. If not, then keep scrolling for our full, in-depth ExpressVPN review.
ExpressVPN 1-minute review
Starting at $12.95 a month on a rolling monthly basis, and dropping to $6.67 a month (including the three months free available to Tom’s Guide readers), ExpressVPN is no bargain basement VPN. However, users are treated to a 30-day money-back guarantee, during which they can test the full service and claim a full refund if they’re not happy. And now, those signing up to a 12-month plan will also get a free year of cloud backup from Backblaze.
ExpressVPN uses industry-standard 256-AES encryption and a 4096-bit RSA certificate, with support for plenty of protocols including the super-fast proprietary protocol Lightway. You’ll also get Perfect Forward Secrecy, and all Express’s 3,000+ servers are RAM-only (known as TrustedServer), meaning none of your data can be physically be stored. Plus, its no-logging policy has been independently audited, backing up the strong claims made on-site.
Speeds are excellent, and ExpressVPN's in-house and open-source protocol LightWay delivers excellent connections of well over 500mbps. Some WireGuard-enabled VPNs can top that, but in practice that will be plenty fast enough for almost any user. And, importantly, connections are reliable and rarely, if ever drop out.
That’s good news, since it’s great for unblocking pretty much every streaming provider we tried too – regional Netflix, BBC, iPlayer, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and more. And, P2P sharers will be pleased as every server is optimized for torrenting – although the website seems to keep it pretty quiet.
In terms of usability, ExpressVPN’s apps are available on a wide range of devices, and not just typical desktop and mobiles systems. You’ll get access to a dedicated router app, a Linux client, and MediaStreamer (Smart DNS) support for games consoles to name a few. All of these are easy to use and powerful with in-depth setup guides.
The limit of five devices is something of a drawback, and disappointing considering the price. Another small gripe is that while the browser extension is powerful, it relies on having ExpressVPN installed on your PC or Mac – not great for those looking for a browser extension to avoid just that.
However, with excellent support – both written articles and 24/7 live chat – any issues you have should be sorted easily, and if we’re honest, few VPNs offer everything ExpressVPN does in one package, and none do it as well.
Keen to get stuck into the nitty-gritty details of ExpressVPN? Just keep scrolling, as we’ve got everything you need to know, right here.
While not directly related to ExpressVPN's performance or usability, the biggest change in recent months is undoubtedly the fact that the VPN was acquired by Kape Technologies for almost $1bn. Kape also owns Private Internet Access, CyberGhost and ZenMate.
We're fairly confident that ExpressVPN will stay independent in terms of its product – as have its stablemates – and while Kape has a somewhat chequered past, we're confident that this hasn't compromised ExpressVPN's privacy. For more info, read ExpressVPN's own article on the matter.
Product-wise, we're very pleased to see Express's own protocol Lightway go fully open-source.
Its router app has also seen improvements. Now, you can group you devices, meaning that all your Smart TVs, for example, use a particular server for streaming overseas content, while your smartphones use a local server.
Finally, ExpressVPN's Windows app is becoming more accessible, with narrator support and keyboard navigation. We're pleased to see ExpressVPN introducing these easily missed features, as many providers neglect this sort of update.
ExpressVPN on paper
Number of servers: 3,000+
Number of countries: 94
Platforms supported: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, BlackBerry, Kindle Fire, Nook, routers, consoles (MediaStreamer), Amazon Fire TV Stick, Apple TV, Boxee, Chromebook, Windows Phone
Simultaneous connections: Five
Split tunneling: Yes
Kill switch: Yes
Supported protocols: Lightway, OpenVPN UDP, OpenVPN TCP, L2TP/IPSec, IKEv2
Country of registration: British Virgin Islands
Support: 24/7 live chat, email, knowledgebase
ExpressVPN price: how much is it, and is there an ExpressVPN free trial?
To start off, let’s look at the numbers – an area in which plenty of potential users will make up their minds.
Like just about every VPN provider, if you go for a one-month rolling plan you’ll be paying the most – $12.95 to be exact. If we’re honest, this is really only any good for true commitment-phobes, or those signing up to test out the service.
Sign up for six months and you’ll see that price drop to $9.99, which isn’t bad, but it’s still fairly expensive compared to other providers. ExpressVPN is one of the only providers to offer a mid-length plan like this, though, so we’re sure it’ll appeal to some users.
You’ll get the best value if you sign up for a year, and without any deals or discounts you’ll be paying $8.32 a month – which, overall, works out at $99.95 a year. That’s still substantially more expensive than cheap VPN providers like Surfshark, whose longest plan dips under $2.50 a month. However, if you sign up through Tom’s Guide, you’ll be able to claim three months free on any 12-month plan, which takes the monthly cost down to a much more reasonable $6.67.
It’s also worth noting that other cheaper providers may crank up the price upon renewal. If you’re in it for the long haul, your ExpressVPN outlay will stay the same for an indefinite amount of time (sans the three months free, of course), whereas providers like IPVanish and Surfshark offer admittedly tasty introductory offers, but increase to prices similar to or even more than ExpressVPN after the first term’s up.
In terms of payment methods, there’s a good selection on offer. Alongside traditional methods like PayPal and credit card, you’ll also be able to use Bitcoin, and other payment providers including AliPay, Yandex Money, WebMoney and more. Most of all, we’re pleased to see Bitcoin support, as this can help make the whole paper trail more difficult to link back to you.
If you fancy a VPN free trial, downloading the Android or iOS app will get you seven days free, and plans of any length come with a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can make sure the service suits you before you commit – be aware that this chargeback is only available once, though.
Thankfully, cancellation is straightforward. All you need to do is contact the support team and request your refund, and they will oblige – there’ll be no investigation into how much you’ve used the service, and as long as it’s within the 30 days, you’ll get your money back. That displays impressive confidence on ExpressVPN’s part.
The question most will be asking, then, is whether ExpressVPN offers enough to justify its slightly higher price – and whether any sacrifices are worth it to save a couple of dollars a month.
How private is ExpressVPN?
The core of any great service, privacy is absolutely make or break for VPN providers. And, while other providers might make flimsy promises, ExpressVPN has some serious tech on show to prove it.
To kick off – and be forewarned that we’re getting technical here – ExpressVPN uses a 4096-bit SHA-512 RSA certificate, employs industry-standard AES-256-CBC to encrypt its control channel and HMAC to safeguard against real-time alteration of regular data. When we inspected the OpenVPN config files, we confirmed this was absolutely the case.
To give you even more protection, Perfect Forward Secrecy is also present, meaning that you’re given a new session key each time you connect, and a new one every 60 minutes after that. That means that even if your connection is somehow compromised, all they’ll get is a maximum of 60 minutes of data before they’re booted.
While the extent of which isn’t made public, ExpressVPN also has a number of obfuscated servers which are very useful for using it as a China VPN. These servers cloak the fact that you’re using a VPN at all, and can sidestep regional VPN blocks, or even make it useable at places like universities that may restrict VPN use.
Finally, ExpressVPN’s Android app has recently been given the ioXt certification. That means the design of the app and service has been investigated on a low level, so users can be sure that the software is behaving in the correct way. Undertaking these tests yourself is a tricky task, so this certification is a big green tick in our books.
How secure is ExpressVPN?
ExpressVPN runs its own zero-knowledge 256-bit encrypted DNS on every one of its servers. This eliminates the need to use the vulnerable OpenDNS or any other third-party DNS services. These third parties are liable to log your DNS requests and, if unencrypted, offer up a handy way for hackers to intercept and alter your requests.
While we didn’t go super in-depth with this, brief testing on websites such as IPLeak and DNS Leak Test proved that ExpressVPN indeed does not leak DNS information – and if you want to use it, the apps also provide this service too.
You’ll also get a simple and functional kill switch to cut your internet in the event that your VPN-protected connection fails, which is very useful for torrenting. If you didn’t have this, you could be browsing or downloading for hours without realising you were disconnected.
Finally, we get to the fact that every one of ExpressVPN’s servers is 100% RAM-only. Compared to traditional hard-disk servers, RAM-only servers are physically unable to save information after power-down (even after a complete wipe, data can sometimes still be retrieved from hard drives). This follows VPN best practice to a tee, and leads us very well onto…
Does ExpressVPN keep logs?
ExpressVPN seems confident enough in its reputation to not plaster its homepage with claims of zero logging. You’ll have to do a bit of digging to find out.
On its ‘What is VPN’ page, you’ll find out that ExpressVPN believes that ‘privacy is a fundamental right. We don’t keep connection or activity logs, and we never share your details with anyone.’ What’s more, to clarify this you’ll find a simple, effective no-logging statement written in plain English (you’ll see that this is something ExpressVPN does very well later on, too).
You’ll see that ExpressVPN does not keep track of the IP address used to connect, your login time, the IP you’re assigned, any of your traffic, or any information concerning the pages you visit.
However, there are still some minimal logs kept, namely the date (not time) of when you connect, your server choice, the amount of data transferred, and the version number of your client. Without the time, IP, or browsing data though, it’s impossible to use this to link any action taken on the web to any specific ExpressVPN user.
Another positive is that fact ExpressVPN is based in the privacy-friendly British Virgin Islands, just like competitor Surfshark. The BVI has no laws requiring companies based there to submit data to the UK or US, and it’s also not part of either the 5 Eyes or 14 Eyes alliances. This, combined with the fact Express logs no personally identifiable data and is very clear about what it does keep track of, makes for pleasing reading for the privacy-conscious.
However, don’t take our word for it – ExpressVPN has been independently audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers, and while we’re not permitted to quote from the report, it is freely available to read for anyone.
How fast is ExpressVPN?
Having good connection speeds is essential, even for the most privacy-focused user. And now, with the advent of WireGuard, many VPNs are pushing speeds to levels we've never seen before, and now that gaming VPN services are becoming popular, it's imperative for any provider to ensure they're not left behind. Thankfully, ExpressVPN's Lightway can keep up with the pack.
To briefly summarize our methodology, we used a Windows 10 machine to connect ExpressVPN to the nearest location (US and UK). To test the speeds we used a number of different speed test sites and services, and we noted down at least five results from each. We repeated the process three times, using OpenVPN and Lightway.
Starting off on our 1Gbps US line, ExpressVPN’s OpenVPN connections were impressive, delivering speeds of around 310Mbps. That's consistent with our last test results, and although a couple of providers were marginally faster (Hide.me at 390Mbps and ProtonVPN at 400-600Mbps), it's safe to say ExpressVpn delivers some of the fastest OpenVPN connections around.
When using Lightway, speeds shot up to 580Mbps, which is comparable to most other services' WireGuard speeds. Some, such as NordVPN, CyberGhost, and IPVanish deliver faster connections still, but for the average user on average home Wi-Fi, there would be no discernible difference in performance.
How good is ExpressVPN for streaming?
It’s no longer a secret that one of the most tempting VPN uses is unblocking streaming content on Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime and many more.
ExpressVPN isn’t shy – its website overtly states which services you’ll be able to unblock (hint: it’s pretty much all of them). This can only be good news, as it means the provider is essentially holding itself to these claims, and using them as direct selling points.
We tested all the services – Netflix, Amazon, iPlayer, and Disney+ - from a selection servers worldwide.
Recent changes Netflix has made to its VPN detection system means just about every Netflix VPN has had serious issues with the streaming site. However, ExpressVPN has somehow found a fairly reliable way around this, and is currently the only service we tested that can unblock the US, UK, Canadian and Australian libraries.
Amazon Prime unblocking doesn’t work the same way as Netflix (your content is limited to your sign-up country), but if you’re abroad and want to watch shows from back home, ExpressVPN works well too. In our testing it reliably accessed US content from the UK.
BBC iPlayer can be troublesome for many VPNs and the BBC has invested a lot of money into protecting its free-to-watch content. However, ExpressVPN had no issue unblock the British streaming site, and got us access every time we tried. Disney+ finished our testing on a high, with all our attempts being successful.
However, losing access to certain streaming sites is an issue all VPNs have to combat, as IP addresses are blocked and different protections are put into place.
When ExpressVPN has had these issues, users haven’t been left in the dark. If you have trouble with a certain service or server, it’s well worth opening a live chat and firing a question at a member of the team. They’ll usually give you a straight answer, and advice to remedy the situation.
Also, it’s worth noting that ExpressVPN has a dedicated Smart DNS function called MediaStreamer, which lets users streaming on non-VPN supporting devices like Smart TVs and game consoles switch location and watch geo-blocked content. Out of the VPNs that offer Smart DNS (and not all do), ExpressVPN’s MediaStreamer is probably the easiest to use.
- Check out which VPNs work with Netflix
How good is ExpressVPN for torrenting?
While not hugely publicised on the website, every VPN server ExpressVPN offers is optimized for P2P sharing – which is more than most other providers can say. That means there’s no faffing around trying to find a torrenting server, because whichever one you choose will be suitable.
If you find other applications affected by ExpressVPN, you’ll also be able to activate split tunneling. This allows you to separate the traffic from certain apps – in this case your torrent client – and direct that through the VPN while leaving the rest of your inter use unaffected.
There are also no caps on data transfer, and you’ll never have your connection throttled. Plus, the excellent privacy and security features, alongside Bitcoin support and no activity logs make ExpressVPN an excellent option if you’re looking for a torrenting VPN.
How easy is it to install ExpressVPN?
For many people, setting up a VPN can be a daunting experience, but ExpressVPN has quite effectively taken the stress out of it. Unlike most providers, to download ExpressVPN you’ll have to sign up and make an account first. However, once you’ve done that, the process is very simple.
From the homepage, ExpressVPN will detect your system OS and direct you towards the version it thinks you need – and it’s always been correct in our experience. If you want to download a different version, you can also select that from the navigation bar at the top of the site.
Incidentally, these pages are far more than just, say, links to the Google Play Store. You can go there if you want, but you can also download the .APK files for the Android VPN version, and even use a QR code to email yourself a setup link.
Once you’ve downloaded and installed the app on whatever device you’re using, you’ll be prompted to verify with an activation code. Thanks to this you don’t need to enter your login details, which is more welcome than you’d think. And that’s all there is to it.
If you’d prefer to use a different client, you can do this easily by using Express’s OVPN configuration files.
How good are ExpressVPN's desktop apps?
The bread and butter of any VPN service, desktop VPN apps should be simple, clear, and give you access to everything you’ll want to do in a couple of clicks. ExpressVPN does not disappoint.
With an initially simple interface, you’ll see the automatically chosen Smart Location plus a huge, inviting on/off button. If you just want to get protected and forget about it, all you need to do is click that button.
Clicking the selected location will bring up a list and search box for choosing a different server, and the app also allows you to choose favorites and displays your two most recent servers. You’ll also be able to connect to your last three locations through a system tray icon on Windows, and the menu bar on Mac, without opening the app.
You won’t find much information about the health of any particular server from the server list, but a built-in speed test is also easily available and can give you exact data on whatever servers you wish.
Open settings, and you’ll have a choice of protocols, including Lightway, OpenVPN UDP, OpenVPN TCP, L2TP/IPSec, and IKEv2 (support for the ancient and vulnerable PPTP has been dropped). You can toggle the reliable kill switch from here, alongside IPv6 leak protection and DNS settings. You also get access to split tunneling, which allows you to select which apps route through the VPN and which don’t.
How good are ExpressVPN's mobile apps?
In terms of interfaces, both the Android and iOS apps are very similar to the desktop versions – and both are available from their respective apps stores. Setup is super simple on both systems, and just requires you to enter your login details and accept a couple of permissions.
Both versions include some interesting extra utilities beyond VPN protection, including an IP address checker, a DNS leak tester, a WebRTC leak tester, and a password generator. Neither of the mobile apps support the useful speed test that the desktop version provides, so there’s no easy way of telling how quick a server is before you connect, but Smart Location can usually solve this.
The iOS version has a couple of limitations thanks to the OS. You don’t get split tunneling or a kill switch – both of which the Android version has – but you do get the option of automatic reconnection, which is as close to a kill switch as iOS will allow. It’s not perfect, but it’s about as good as we’re going to get with Apple’s software for now.
While they lack some other expert features such as the ability to set your preferred DNS servers, ExpressVPN’s mobile apps are powerful, well designed and, importantly, easy to use. We’ve seen some others provide marginally more in-depth apps, but unless you’re genuinely going to miss DNS customization, these mobile versions will be more than enough.
How good is ExpressVPN's browser extension?
ExpressVPN also offers a useful browser extension, available for both Chrome and Firefox. And, unlike some competitors, it’s not a simple proxy – this is a full-blown VPN in your browser. While this does mean you’ll have to have the standalone client installed as well, it does give you some serious added benefits.
In effect, it means you don’t have to switch between windows to change settings (again, more useful that you might think), but there are a few extra bonuses. Firstly, the extension will enforce HTTPS Everywhere, prevent HTML5 geolocation from revealing your true location, and it also blocks WebRTC leaks.
While the extension doesn’t offer everything the app does (no favorites, for example), it’s a useful addition that you may or may not want to use. We certainly welcome the choice.
However, many users of Chrome VPN extensions (and browser VPNs as a whole) use them because they don’t want to install a true VPN client on their PC – and in this case, ExpressVPN’s browser add-on won’t fit the bill. But, in terms of features, it’s one of the very best.
What customer support does ExpressVPN offer?
While ExpressVPN has proven to be very stable in our experience, like any complex software, problems can crop up – from server upsets to lost Netflix access. This is when it’s important to have an experienced customer support team on hand when you need it the most.
Your first port of call should ExpressVPN’s encyclopaedic raft of articles and setup guides, which cover topics as varied as remedying connections that drop out, setting up the VPN on a router, how to cancel your account and how to set up MediaStreamer.
These articles don’t go on for thousands of words, but they’re not too brief either – you’ll get the background info necessary to understand the problem, and then the steps you need to take to resolve it. Each app also has a dedicated setup guide, and we’re comfortable saying they’re the best-written FAQ articles from any VPN.
If you don’t want to search through that, though, you’ll want to hop on the 24/7 live chat – and boy, are they good. We asked a whole bunch of admittedly geeky questions, and each time a real person replied within minutes – it was evident we weren’t talking to a bot.
Even if you think you might not need this sort of support, it’s incredibly useful when you come up against an issue that you can’t work out – or can’t be bothered to do the digging around to resolve yourself. Plus, they can also tell you the best servers at any given point to use to access blocked Netflix locations, and that’s a really useful tool in itself.
Just about every aspect of ExpressVPN impresses, with simple apps that make it easy to access all the expert-level features on offer – and we’d hope so. Any less than that would draw our attention even more towards the hefty price tag, but as it stands, it’s thoroughly worth the extra expenditure to access what’s quite possibly the most polished and usable VPN service on the market today.