ExpressVPN is well-established in the VPN industry, and we rate it as the #1 best VPN available today. Rave reviews from users and industry experts alike have cemented its reputation as the one to beat. It’s not all hype, though, and here we’ll unpack the minutiae of how and why ExpressVPN is quite such an effective and useful tool.
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 hefty subscriptions costs, it’s not the cheapest VPN on the block, so here we’ll be seeing if, under the skin, ExpressVPN is 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 these links:
ExpressVPN 1-minute review
Starting at $6.67 a month (including the three months free available to Tom’s Guide readers) and maxing out at an eye-watering $12.95 a month on a rolling monthly plan, 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.
ExpressVPN uses industry-standard 256-AES encryption and a 4096-bit RSA certificate, with support for plenty of protocols. You’ll also get perfect forward secrecy, and all Express’s servers are RAM-only (known as TrustedServer), meaning none of your data can be stored. Plus, its no-logging policy has been independently audited, backing up the strong claims made on-site.
Speeds are excellent, although not the absolute best, but for the vast majority of users the trade-off between performance and privacy will be worth it – and most users won’t have an internet connection capable of hitting ExpressVPN’s 150-200Mbps limit, anyway.
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.
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, although the limit of five devices is something of a drawback, and disappointing considering the price.
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.
ExpressVPN’s newest development is the proprietary Lightway protocol, which has a number of surface similarities to the young buck WireGuard – in that it’s brand new, has been developed from the ground up with modern use in mind, and promises swifter, more reliable connections than the tried-and-tested OpenVPN protocol.
Available on Windows, Mac, Android, Linux and routers – with iOS support forthcoming – it’s soon to become open source, and certainly looks promising. We can’t say for sure the exact efficacy of the protocol, but it’s definitely a sign of ExpressVPN’s forward thought. Plus, seeing as the provider looks set on ignoring WireGuard, developing its own modern protocol is the only way to go.
In other news, ExpressVPN also has a bug bounty program, in which you can research the code yourself and report bugs directly to ExpressVPN engineers.
Finally, if you’re a paying subscriber to premium password manager LastPass, or you’re planning on becoming one, you’ll be able to claim a free 30-day ExpressVPN trial – a perfect way to test the service out before you buy.
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.
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 and CyberGhost, whose longest plans dip 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.
The question you really want to ask yourself is whether ExpressVPN offers better value than other VPNs on the market – they might be priced a little lower, but do you have to make any sacrifices to save a couple of dollars a month, and if you do, are you willing to make them?
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 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.
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 claims to use a 4096-bit SHA-512 RSA certificate, employ 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.
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. However, without the time, IP, or browsing data, 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 the report is freely available to read by anyone.
How fast is ExpressVPN?
All that privacy is no good if you’re left buffering, though. Our speed tests were undertaken in the UK and US, using OpenVPN – ExpressVPN’s own protocol, Lightway, is still in beta, so we’re using OpenVPN for definitive results.
Our initial check of 25 servers showed 92% of connections were made with four seconds, including to servers far away from the UK in Pakistan and Cambodia. Our ping tests were also impressive – important if you’ll be using it as a gaming VPN – and servers were located where they claimed to be.
Our European datacentre is capable of around 400-600Mbps, and using that connection, ExpressVPN averaged around 135-140Mbps. While not the absolute fastest results we’ve seen, it’s certainly more than enough for the vast majority of tasks – and few households will have access to a base connection above that, anyway.
Our US connection is also capable of around 600Mbps, and here Express delivered impressive speeds of around 200-220Mbps. That’s about that the same as we recorded last time we tested the service, so we can safely say most users can expect similar performance.
From the UK to more distant servers, speeds were also good. The Malaysia server topper out at 49Mbps; Brazil, 23Mbps; Bangladesh, 26Mbps; and Nepal, 27Mbps. These are more than usable speeds, and even our slowest tested server – Kenya, at 16Mbps – is still fine for streaming in HD and general browsing.
The Lightway protocol is claimed to be able to increase speeds, so while it’s still in beta, we gave it a go. The UK connection got a 37.5% bump up to 165Mbps, and connections to overseas servers also improved – the UK to US, for example, went from 110Mbps using OpenVPN to 135Mbps using Lightway. So, while it’s very new, it looks like a promising development.
How good is ExpressVPN for streaming?
A huge selling point for VPNs is access to Netflix and other streaming services, and ExpressVPN really impresses here.
As a Netflix VPN, you’ll be able to unblock plenty of locations, including the US, the UK, Australia, Canada, France, and Japan amongst others. The fun doesn’t stop there, though.
You’ll also be able to unblock Amazon Prime Video and watch US content, and while this can sometimes be a stumbling block, ExpressVPN got us in without a hitch. YouTube is usually easy, and it was no exception here, and ExpressVPN also unblocked Disney+ with ease.
BBC iPlayer is often the trickiest, and while our first attempts were thwarted by the service’s VPN detecting tech, after a few goes we were able to access it. If you find you’re unable to access any streaming service with ExpressVPN, we’d certainly recommend trial-and-erroring a couple of different servers, and then contacting the support team to advise you.
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.
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 an excellent 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. However, we certainly welcome the choice.
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 a router VPN, 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.