Last update: 08.09.2019
I tested ExpressVPN hoping to find the best VPN service on the market. For a frequent traveler, a VPN tool fit for any purpose is essential. ExpressVPN often gets praised as just that sort of VPN, but so do many others.
Is ExpressVPN safe to use? Does it offer top-of-the-line AES-256 encryption? Can I stream Netflix with it? How good is it for torrenting? And finally, how fast is ExpressVPN – really? After all, this is not the cheapest VPN service out there and I want to get my money’s worth.
I explore these and other questions in this new ExpressVPN review, so stick around.
- Rank: #1
- Based in: British Virgin Islands (BVI)
- Servers and locations: 3,000+ servers in 94 countries
- Logs: minimal data collection
- Encryption and protocols: main protocols OpenVPN and IKEv2, military-grade encryption (AES-256)
- Netflix: Yes
- Torrenting: Yes, P2P allowed on all servers
- Apps: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, Router, Chrome, Firefox
- Support: 24/7 live chat
- Price: from $8.32/month
- Free version or trial: No
- Website: expressvpn.com
Security and privacy features
ExpressVPN is one of the most secure and private VPN services on the market. In order to protect user anonymity, VPNs must consider many different aspects. Few do this as well as ExpressVPN, which has a particularly rich set of cybersecurity features.
Encryption and tunneling protocols
With ExpressVPN, your data is protected by the strongest encryption on the market – AES-256. This is an unbreakable cipher, currently used by government institutions, banks, and the military.
In other words, your data is safe even if a hacker (or the NSA) intercepts your connection. 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is simply too much to handle for brute force attacks.
ExpressVPN uses the following tunneling protocols:
- OpenVPN UDP
- OpenVPN TCP
These security protocols are responsible for creating encrypted connections between you and the VPN server. OpenVPN (default on most apps) and IKEv2/IPsec are the primary tunneling protocols – they will be enough for most users.
Of the other available options, take care not to use PPTP unless you know what you’re doing. This is an outdated tunneling protocol with weak cryptography and serious vulnerabilities.
To summarize, you can rest assured that ExpressVPN is one of the most secure services available.
The ExpressVPN kill switch is known as the Network Lock. If you’re doing something sensitive and your VPN connection drops, the kill switch will stop all traffic and protect your real IP address from leaking.
The kill switch is a crucial security feature – any serious service should have it.
You can use the Network Lock feature on all desktop apps. To activate it, go to the General settings menu and tick the first box under the Network Lock section. You can also make it ignore LAN traffic – some will find this very convenient.
ExpressVPN‘s Network Lock is a very reliable kill switch. We tried several ways to interrupt our VPN connection, but the app managed to protect our identity every time.
No identity leaks
VPN services are susceptible to various kinds of leaks – DNS, IPv6, WebRTC leaks, the list goes on. ExpressVPN has features addressing all these risks. The virtual private network has private, zero-knowledge, encrypted DNS servers and leak protection measures built into the apps and extensive tests reveal no leaks of any kind.
As the image above shows, the VPN doesn’t leak your IP, WebRTC requests, or DNS queries.
To prove their commitment to a leak-free service, ExpressVPN offer various leak testing tools on their official website. Under the Products section of the site, you will find an IP leak test, a DNS leak test, and a WebRTC leak test. Give them a try to make sure your security has not been compromised.
Privacy-friendly location: British Virgin Islands
The company behind ExpressVPN is registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). This puts it outside the scope of the 5/9/14 Eyes intelligence country group. It is not subject to EU data protection laws or the far-flung reach of US Intelligence. While the BVI is a British overseas territory, it enjoys a high level of autonomy and has no data retention laws.
Operating under the jurisdiction of the BVI allows ExpressVPN to maintain a strong user-privacy standard. For example, they are not legally obliged to collect sensitive user data or honor subpoenas from the US (and other Western states).
No logging policy
This bold claim has already been proven on at least 2 occasions:
At the end of 2017, Turkish authorities seized an ExpressVPN server. They were hoping to obtain information related to the killing of a Russian ambassador in Ankara. Unfortunately for them, all this did was give ExpressVPN some free advertising.
The no logging promises were also independently audited by PWC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) – one of the most respected auditing firms in the world. After rigorous testing they were able to confirm the truth behind ExpressVPN’s claims about their logging practices.
In April of 2019, ExpressVPN announced their TrustedServer Technology. It eliminates the need to use hard drives on VPN servers, which instead run purely on RAM.
TrustedServer reduces the risk that user data can fall into the wrong hands. Whereas the data on regular servers has to periodically be deleted, on ExpressVPN servers it gets destroyed automatically with each reboot. Yet another example of a privacy by design approach.
If you’re worried about visiting the ExpressVPN website or are unable to reach it, you can visit their Tor (.onion) website instead. This is useful if VPN websites are blocked in your country or if you want to keep buying one a secret.
The onion website is only reachable via the anonymous Tor network. In other words, it’s very difficult to find out you’re using a VPN if you got it off the ExpressVPN Tor site.
Speed: the fastest VPN?
Indeed, ExpressVPN has some of the best speeds on the market.
However, where ExpressVPN impressed me most is consistency. We ran speed tests with servers on 4 different continents and got very similar download speeds across the board.
Perhaps with 3,000+ servers in 160+ locations across 90+ countries this is only natural. So just how fast is ExpressVPN?
First, we tested our connection speed without a VPN:
- Download: 236.04 Mbps
- Upload: 238.56 Mbps
- Ping: 4 ms
ExpressVPN USA server speed results
- Download: 63.92 Mbps (73% drop-off)
- Upload: 49.13 Mbps (79% drop-off)
- Ping: 142 ms
ExpressVPN Netherlands server speed results
- Download: 55.99 Mbps (77% drop-off)
- Upload: 49.48 Mbps (79% drop-off)
- Ping: 42 ms
ExpressVPN Australia server speed results
- Download: 59.38 Mbps (75% drop-off)
- Upload: 4.20 Mbps (98% drop-off)
- Ping: 324 ms
As you can see, the download speeds are similar despite USA and Australia being on opposite sides of the globe. The numbers are virtually the same in Europe as well. The upload speed and ping change, but there’s little ExpressVPN can do about that.
Reviewers tend to agree that ExpressVPN has great performance. Yet speeds depend on many variables, so testing for yourself is a good idea.
How to install it
Installing the app is a breeze. Here’s how you do it:
- Go to the ExpressVPN website, hover over Products and choose your platform
- Click Download App (or, if you haven’t created an account yet – do so through Get ExpressVPN), and Save File
- Once the installer has downloaded, run it from your browser or find it in your download folder and then run it.
- Windows will ask: Do want to allow this app to make changes to your device? Choose Yes
- Once the installer does its job, you’ll be met with the following screen, following which you will complete the installation (Windows will again ask you to allow the app to make changes to your device)
To subscribe, the website will ask you to choose one of three pricing plans, create an account, and pay for the service.
How to use ExpressVPN
Once the installation is complete, you can have a look at the client. The first thing you’ll have to do is enter the activation code, which you will find on the subscriptions page of the ExpressVPN website.
What will strike you immediately is the minimal design of the Windows client – just a large connection button, a smaller hamburger menu button at the top left for more options, and the “Smart Location”/”Choose Location” buttons.
There is no default server the VPN will connect to, but it does offer the Smart Location feature, which will calculate the best server based on download speed, latency, and distance. If you decide to choose a server from the list, the speed test will help you find the most relevant choices.
We found that, if anything, the app may actually be too simple – customization options are somewhat limited. Nonetheless, the most important choices are still there.
You can pick your desired server, choose the security protocol, manage the Network Lock (kill switch), turn IPv6 and DNS leak protection on or off, set up split tunneling, etc.
Apps and extensions
ExpressVPN has clients for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, as well as for routers.
You’ve already heard about the Windows client. The ExpressVPN Mac client is almost identical in both appearance and functionality. Both of these share one very important function to make your VPN life easier – Split Tunneling.
This sci-fi-sounding term refers to the ability to choose which data flow goes where. For example, let’s say you want to use torrents discretely, but would rather do everything else through a regular connection. With split tunneling, you can make ExpressVPN send only uTorrent traffic through a VPN tunnel.
The ExpressVPN Android app, available for Android 4.2+, can either be found on Google Play or downloaded directly as an .apk file found on their website.
The look stays the same, while the functionality is only slightly different.
One of the main differences is that Android supports fewer security protocols. However, the most important one – OpenVPN – is still available. In general, the ExpressVPN Android client seems to be almost as secure as the desktop versions.
The ExpressVPN iOS client (for iPhone and iPad) looks pretty much the same as ExpressVPN for Android.
It doesn’t support all the security protocols available on the desktop either, but otherwise, security seems good.
Usually, VPN providers don’t pay too much attention to Linux users. This makes hardcore tech people understandably upset and they flood comment sections to no avail. Well, ExpressVPN Linux is a thing – there are custom apps for Ubuntu and Fedora.
You will find browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari as well. These are not fully autonomous – rather they let you control ExpressVPN straight from your browser of choice.
The browser extension can also help users spoof their HTML5 location, features HTTPS Everywhere, and blocks WebRTC leaks, among other features.
Finally, there’s the custom ExpressVPN router app, which makes using their VPN on the router level a lot more straightforward.
The advantages of using your VPN at the router level
There are several bonuses when using the service on routers:
- You will never have to worry about forgetting to connect.
- It’s a good way to bypass the 5 simultaneous connection limitation. The router is just 1 device, but it works as a funnel for all the traffic that goes through your wifi.
- It’s a good way to make use of the ExpressVPN split tunneling feature. Used on the router client, split tunneling allows you to split your traffic by device rather than by app.
You can find a list of router models that support the ExpressVPN router firmware on their website. There are some things you should consider before picking a router for your VPN service—you can read more about it on their website.
Netflix and other streaming services
ExpressVPN unblocks Netflix USA regardless of where you are located. There are plenty of servers to choose from in the United States and other Netflix-critical areas, such as the Netherlands. I tried several, and they all worked without fail. In addition, the focus on performance means your streams will look almost as good as using a regular connection (the speeds were enough for Ultra HD across the board).
Using ExpressVPN SmartDNS, you’ll also have access to the MediaStreamer feature. This will let you watch on more or less any device (Amazon Firestick, PS4, Xbox, etc.). Finally, ExpressVPN Kodi is definitely a thing—although there’s no custom app, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something better for Kodi.
ExpressVPN for torrenting
There are generally three routes VPN service providers take with regard to P2P: 1) block all P2P traffic; 2) block P2P traffic on some servers; 3) allow P2P traffic everywhere. ExpressVPN falls into the third category.
Additionally, the VPN’s strong security features (particularly the kill switch) and absence of leaks makes it great for torrenting in countries where copyrights are robustly enforced. Torrenters will also appreciate that this service has no bandwidth limit and the speeds are great.
Perhaps the only thing lacking is that ExpressVPN does not offer a free SOCKS5 proxy, but the split tunneling function partially makes up for it.
ExpressVPN works in China!
Yes, the Great Firewall of China is no match for ExpressVPN – at least for now.
Whether it’s censorship or more sinister things you want to avoid in China, this VPN will do the job. You can even get it from their .onion page to avoid being seen entering the “shop.”
Yet there’s good reason for some skepticism with regard to ExpressVPN in China. Namely, the service doesn’t have a “stealth protocol.” China is known to employ Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) – an efficient method for finding VPN traffic on the network. A stealth protocol helps to hinder the effectiveness of DPI by scrambling the traffic. Although reports maintain that Express functions in China reliably, the absence of a stealth protocol makes it potentially less secure.
ExpressVPN has support worthy of an industry leader. It will please both those who prefer dealing with issues themselves and those who would rather ask for assistance. You will find:
- An extensive list of troubleshooting guides
- An Internet Privacy How-to guide page
- Support tickets
- A 24/7 live chat
There will always be cracks in the support system, but with ExpressVPN these seem to be minimal.
The service is on the expensive side of the market. Here are the pricing plan options:
- 1-month plan for multiple devices (up to 3): $12.95
- 6-month plan for multiple devices (up to 3): $59.95 ($9.99/month)
- 1-year plan for multiple devices (up to 3): $99.95 ($8.32/month)
All pricing plans offer the same features, so you won’t feel forced into a more expensive deal. There is no ExpressVPN free version, lifetime subscription and no free trial for the desktop versions. With that said, the provider does offer a 30-day no questions asked money-back guarantee. While we haven’t tested it, all sources seem to suggest the refund comes quickly!
Each subscription allows 5 simultaneous connections. It sounds great, but in reality, other top VPN services will let you use a bigger number of devices at any given time.
Bottom line of our ExpressVPN review
In terms of quality, there is no question that Express is one of the best. Its security is as great as its speed test performance, and you’ll have someone to help you troubleshoot 24/7. Power users may want more advanced options to tinker with, but for most, the only real drawback will be the high cost.
If you’re looking for top-notch security, great speeds, and awesome entertainment options, ExpressVPN will deliver!