Finding the right VPN service is no small task. There are numerous providers out there that excel in different areas and offer different pricing plans. In this ExpressVPN vs Private Internet Access comparison, I’ll check how these two VPN heavyweights stack up against each other in the areas of security, privacy, speed, support, and compatibility, and find out which one is better. Here’s a quick rundown.
|“Best for” winner||N/A||N/A|
|“Best for” nominee||Best for torrenting||Best for Android, Best for iPhone, best for Mac, best overall|
|Price starts from||$6.67/month||$2.69/month|
|Review||Read ExpressVPN review||Read PIA review|
ExpressVPN is rightfully often mentioned as one of the best premium services, but it gets burdened by the high price, among other things. If you want a tl;dr summary, Private Internet Access isn’t perfect, but it has several aces up in its sleeve to be the better service for regular users.
Security of ExpressVPN and PIA
Winner: Private Internet Access
|Protocols||OpenVPN, IKEv2, L2TP/IPsec, PPTP||WireGuard, OpenVPN, IKEv2|
|Security features||Network Lock, split tunneling, zero-knowledge DNS||PIA MACE, Split tunneling, Shadowsocks, SOCKS5 proxy, HNS|
Several years ago, Private Internet Access would have been bashed to bits by ExpressVPN. Now it’s just not the case anymore. PIA innovated their service and stepped ahead of the still-reliable ExpressVPN.
Even though the encryption ciphers they use are the same (PIA offers some choice in the matter), when it comes to tunneling protocols, there are some crucial differences. PIA is one of the few VPNs that have successfully implemented the WireGuard protocol. It’s still in the early adoption stage but the added speed and security do count. ExpressVPN continues to use OpenVPN and IKEv2, which are still very secure but are outperformed by WireGuard every step of the way.
PIA allows its users to select the authentication standard, handshake, and level of encryption. It also features a network kill switch and doesn’t have DNS or IPv6/WebRTC leaks. I checked this when I connected to PIA’s Mexican server (220.127.116.11) and saw the correct IPs in the leak test.
ExpressVPN didn’t drop the ball there, either. Their service is still without DNS, IPv6, WebRTC leaks. It helps that they’re using zero-knowledge, encrypted DNS servers. You can see that it displays the correct IP address.
Both services have a reliable kill switch and will shut down your internet in case your VPN server disconnects.
Moving on to other security features, PIA’s MACE blocks domains used for ads, trackers, and malware. When enabled, it will work as though you were using an adblocker. Sadly, ExpressVPN has no reply here.
PIA even offers a free SOCKS5 proxy, split tunneling, and Shadowsocks. ExpressVPN has the split tunneling feature as well, but that’s pretty much it.
Finally PIA uses the Handshake Naming System (HNS). It works by decentralizing the DNS system and circumvents DNS-level blocking. This will help to access some sites that otherwise wouldn’t be accessible.
To sum up, PIA is the stronger tool when it comes to security.
Privacy of ExpressVPN vs Private Internet Access
|Jurisdiction||The British Virgin Islands||United States|
|Logging||Court-proven and independently-audited no-logs policy||Court-proven no-logs policy|
|Anonymous payment||Cryptocurrencies, gift cards||Cryptocurrencies, gift cards|
In terms of privacy, jurisdiction is what makes or breaks a VPN service. It’s only natural to want your VPN to be located as far away from non-privacy-friendly countries as possible. ExpressVPN has the edge there: the British Virgin Islands is a privacy-friendly location with no data retention laws. In comparison, the United States is one of the worst locations for a VPN you can find. It’s also a member of the Five Eyes alliance.
However, no-logs policies of both providers are pretty solid. ExpressVPN had their no-logs policy tested when Turkey’s officials seized one of their servers but didn’t manage to find anything. Law enforcement agencies have been asking PIA for data for years, but always unsuccesfully. So, you shouldn’t worry too much about your data ending up in someone else’s hands.
When it comes to anonymous payment options, you can buy ExpressVPN with cryptocurrencies and gift cards. You can make sure that your name won’t be indicated on your bank account.
Private Internet Access also has multiple crypto-options and accepts gift cards.
In short, both services are very close, but ExpressVPN wins because its located outside the United States – a pretty bad place for your privacy. This is especially true after the renewal of the Patriot Act. If you just don’t want your ISP, faculty, or workplace to know what you’re doing online both services are fine. If, however, you’re an undercover agent trying to overthrow the oppressive government, you should probably steer clear of PIA.
ExpressVPN vs PIA speed and performance
|Average speed||106 Mbps||109 Mbps|
This section is where my previous opinion about WireGuard truly comes to light. This tunneling protocol is a game-changer. There was a time when ExpressVPN was the fastest VPN around, but the introduction of WireGuard has allowed some providers to catch up.
ExpressVPN server in the US
- Download: 165 Mbps
- Upload: 12 Mbps
- Ping: 114 ms
ExpressVPN server in Germany
- Download: 171 Mbps
- Upload: 75 Mbps
- Ping: 27 ms
Private Internet Access server in the US
- Download: 125 Mbps
- Upload: 84 Mbps
- Ping: 108 ms
Private Internet Access server in Germany
- Download: 140 Mbps
- Upload: 85 Mbps
- Ping: 47 ms
As you can see, in this case PIA and ExpressVPN results on European and North American servers are almost the same. The most notable deviation is in ExpressVPN’s US server upload speed.
With 3000+ servers in 90+ countries, ExpressVPN has a great server list. But so does PIA – 12300+ of them in 74+ countries is nothing to scoff at.
For the sake of argument I can add, that ExpressVPN server base is more evenly spread so it’s probably going to be easier to connect if you’re living in some remote location. PIA, on the other hand, has more servers in Europe and North America. This means that potentially you could see bigger speed drops when connecting to Asia or Australia. With that said, I expect PIA’s numbers to grow once they’ve finished implementing WireGuard.
In conclusion, ExpressVPN and PIA are more or less equally fast at the moment.
ExpressVPN and PIA apps: ease of use and support
|Other apps||Chromebook OS, Fire TV & Fire Stick, Android TV, Routers||Chromebook OS, Android TV (same Android apps)|
|Browser extensions||Chrome, Firefox||Chrome, Firefox, Opera|
|Devices per account||5||10|
|Customer support||24/7 live chat, email, FAQ, tutorials||Live chat, support ticket, knowledgebase, forum|
Both services support all major desktop and mobile platforms. Including macOS, Windows, Linux, Android, and iOS. ExpressVPN prides itself on having a router app. It’s one of the rarely found VPN features. Plus they strongly advertise their MediaStreamer feature – a DNS server that adjusts to the content that you want to unblock even when your device doesn’t natively support VPN apps. This means you can unblock content on your Apple TV or PlayStation.
While PIA doesn’t have a router app, you can get it to run manually by following instructions on their site. Both providers also offer browser extensions for Chrome, and Firefox, with PIA even going one step further and offering an addon for Opera.
If you hate having a cluttered user interface, you’ll like either VPN. Both are easy to set up and have intuitive interfaces that are both functional and friendly for beginners. PIA is more generous with options and settings. Users who like to tweak everything will surely have a better time with PIA.
With that said, some users will definitely hate that PIA’s desktop apps are glued to the system tray on Windows.
If good customer support is important to you, there’s plenty of good things to say about both services. ExpressVPN with troubleshooting guides and 24/7 live chat delivers about the same quality as PIA. They also have a ticket system and live chat. In short, you shouldn’t have too much trouble sorting things out if something doesn’t work.
ExpressVPN is far less generous when it comes to simultaneous connections. They offer only 5 of them when PIA has 10. That’s twice as many devices. Overall, we can see that both services are catering to similar users. With either of them, you’re getting a similar level of ease of use and support. In this sense, they’re pretty equal. The main thing that you should consider before buying is – do you need a router app and are you OK with a lower number of simultaneous connections. If the answer is yes, then pick ExpressVPN, if not – PIA is a better choice.
Torrenting and P2P with ExpressVPN and PIA
Winner: Private Internet Access
|Allowed on||All servers||All servers|
|Free SOCKS5 proxy||No||Yes|
ExpressVPN and PIA are both excellent services for P2P. The speeds matter in this section so both VPNs are great and neither service limits P2P traffic, which means you can torrent on any server.
PIA gets an extra point for having a free SOCKS5 proxy, which ExpressVPN lacks. Instead, the latter has the Split Tunneling feature, allowing you to choose which apps go through the VPN and which don’t. This is a nice feature, for more than just torrenting, but the SOCKS5 proxy will have less of an impact on your connection speed.
PIA even adds the Port Forwarding feature, which is great if you want to maintain a download/upload ratio. However, keep in mind, that this feature reduces your anonymity.
In the end, PIA has more features relevant to torrenters. Good speeds combined with SOCKS5 proxy and port forwarding is a combination that just cannot lose.
Netflix and other streaming platforms
|Other Netflix libraries||Yes||Netherlands|
With ExpressVPN you can unlock many Netflix libraries. This includes, but is not limited to US Netflix.
This provider also has great speeds that are suitable for high-quality streaming. PIA, on the other hand, can also bypass Netflix blocks but provides fewer libraries.
ExpressVPN unblocks streaming platforms beyond Netflix as well. You can comfortably watch Sling TV, Hulu, BBC iPlayer and more. I didn’t notice buffering issues or lag. PIA is simply less capable in this sense and won’t give you BBC iPlayer or Hulu, for example.
Kodi fans will be happy to hear that these services will pair with all major platforms. You even can install PIA’s SOCKS5 proxy directly onto the Kodi app.
In short, ExpressVPN is a more versatile service that is better at circumventing intricate geo-blocks imposed by the streaming services. If watching videos online is one of the main reasons why you’re getting a VPN, then you should think twice before getting PIA.
China and other restricted countries
|Works in China||Yes||Depends on region|
|Tor over VPN||No||Yes|
ExpressVPN and PIA work in China. However, according to user reports, ExpressVPN is somewhat more reliable at bypassing The Great Firewall of China. It doesn’t help that PIA has very few servers in Asia. This means that China-based users may have to deal with slower connection speeds. With that said, you may still be able to use it.
PIA redeems itself by offering Shadowsocks. This disguises VPN traffic, making it more difficult for the government to recognize and block it. A feature such as this is essential to have when accessing the internet in China.
It’s also strange that ExpressVPN doesn’t have a “stealth mode” feature, which should be a must when looking for VPNs for China. There is also a lack of extra security features like Tor over VPN and the like. PIA offers Tor over VPN and it works without problems, though it will reduce your connection speed.
Despite the negatives, ExpressVPN is still better when judged purely from a reliability standpoint. So why a draw?
Well, despite legally being located in the British Virgin Islands, ExpressVPN has long been rumoured to be a product of Network Guard (formerly Chengbao), a Hong Kong company. Whether this is the case or not, with China trying to take control of Hong Kong, ownership may be a big issue for ExpressVPN.
ExpressVPN vs PIA pricing comparison
Winner: Private Internet Access
|Money-back guarantee||30 days||30 days|
Price is the ultimate shortcoming of ExpressVPN. You’ll be surprised to find out that their cheapest plan still costs almost three times more than the cheapest PIA plan. It’s not like ExpressVPN is head and shoulders above PIA – as the rest of this comparison has shown, the VPNs are very close in terms of what they offer.
Additionally, Private Internet Access offers 10 simultaneous connections (double the number offered by ExpressVPN)
Sadly, neither service offers a free trial. However, both have a 30-day money-back guarantee. Although it’s not intended use, you can subscribe for a month, test it and ask for a refund on the 29th day. That way you’ll get a good idea of their service level, speeds, and even customer support.
ExpressVPN vs PIA – which is better?
Winner: Private Internet Access
|Total wins||2 out of 8||3 out of 8|
Having compared two of the best-known VPN providers, I conclude that Private Internet Access is the slightly better option. Additionally, it’s a lot cheaper than ExpressVPN, making it the much more appealing choice.
When comparing those two I left out some more in-depth information which would still be useful to you if you’re choosing a VPN service. To learn more check our ExpressVPN review. The same goes for the competitor, head to Private Internet Access review to get the full picture.