Express VPN Review (2019): Read This Before You Pull the Trigger

ExpressVPN was founded way back in 2009, originating from Tortola, British Virgin Islands and still operating under the same jurisdiction as a non-member of the 5, 9 or 14-Eyes agreement.

Spec-wise, we’re looking at 256-bit AES encryption and a choice of OpenVPN, SSTP, L2Tp/IPsec, and PPTP protocols, as well as a no logging policy and over 2,000 available servers.

ExpressVPN looks like a winner on paper, but how does this thing perform in the real world? Let’s find out.

PROS

  • Clean, minimal interface
  • Operating under a favorable jurisdiction
  • Fast server speeds
  • Large number of countries and severs
  • Compatible with all major devices and applications
  • Strong security and encryption standards
  • No viruses or malware
  • Strict no-logging policy
  • Allows torrenting
  • Has a kill-switch feature
  • Offers 24/7 live chat support

CONS

  • Doesn’t work with Netflix or Hulu
  • Limited to 3 devices
  • No phone support
  • Limited public information about the company
  • On the pricey side

Speed & Expectations

It’s important to understand that a speed reduction is normal with any VPN provider because you’re essentially adding more layers between your local machine and the data source.

The level of speed reduction you can expect to see largely depends on your physical proximity to the VPN server, as well as encryption level, protocols, server load and ISP speed restrictions.

So while a speed increase is possible using a VPN like this one, it’s still a pretty rare outcome and only tends to happen when using an inefficient internet service provider.

Speed Test Results

In order to get a fair overall rating for any VPN speed test, we decided to measure the following metrics in aggregate:

  1. Download speed: The rate at which data is transferred from the server to your device. This is measured in megabytes per second (mbps) and a higher number is better.

  2. Upload speed: The rate at which data is transferred to the server from your device. This is also measured in megabytes per second (mbps) and a higher number is better.

  3. Ping (or latency): Tested by “pinging” the server, it’s the amount of time it takes for it to receive and process your request. This is measured in milliseconds (ms) and a lower number is better.

Before doing any comparison, however, we needed to calculate a baseline score for the same metrics without the use of a VPN.

The results were as follows:

The totals and averages were as follows:

METRICTEST 1TEST 2TEST 3TEST 4TEST 5AVERAGE
DL speed (mbps)86.983.285.388.183.485.4
UL speed (mbps)11.711.812.111.912.111.9
Ping (ms)10.010.010.09.010.09.8

Now, using ExpressVPN, we threw on our lab coats and meticulously tested all three metrics across various countries to build an accurate picture of overall speed.

For the United States, we ran 5 tests using ExpressVPN and got the following results:

The totals and averages are as follows:

METRICTEST 1TEST 2TEST 3TEST 4TEST 5AVERAGE
DL speed (mbps)23.024.625.327.021.524.3
UL speed (mbps)10.810.711.010.711.010.8
Ping (ms)21.022.018.019.017.019.4

Compared to our baseline:

  • Download speed decreased by 61.1 mbps (-71.6%)
  • Upload speed decreased by 1.1 mbps (-9.2%)
  • Latency increased by 9.6 ms (+98.0%)

For Europe, we ran 5 tests using ExpressVPN and got the following results:

METRICTEST 1TEST 2TEST 3TEST 4TEST 5AVERAGE
DL speed (mbps)30.435.539.635.437.135.6
UL speed (mbps)8.710.48.69.08.89.1
Ping (ms)104.0105.0103.0105.0105.0104.4

Compared to our baseline:

  • Download speed decreased by 49.7 mbps (-58.3%)
  • Upload speed decreased by 2.9 mbps (-24%)
  • Latency increased by 94.6 ms (+965.3%)

For Asia, we ran 5 tests using ExpressVPN and got the following results:

The totals and averages are as follows:

METRICTEST 1TEST 2TEST 3TEST 4TEST 5AVERAGE
DL speed (mbps)29.731.233.631.926.530.6
UL speed (mbps)7.88.38.28.07.37.9
Ping (ms)218.0218.0217.0218.0218.0217.8

Compared to our baseline:

  • Download speed decreased by 54.8 mbps (-64.2%)
  • Upload speed decreased by 4.0 mbps (-33.5%)
  • Latency increased by 208 ms (+2,122.4%)

For South America, we ran 5 tests using ExpressVPN and got the following results:

The totals and averages are as follows:

METRICTEST 1TEST 2TEST 3TEST 4TEST 5AVERAGE
DL speed (mbps)4.52.63.85.65.04.3
UL speed (mbps)3.82.82.82.44.73.3
Ping (ms)163.0165.0159.0159.0160.0161.2

Compared to our baseline:

  • Download speed decreased by 81.1 mbps (-95.0%)
  • Upload speed decreased by 8.6 mbps (-72.4%)
  • Latency increased by 151.4 ms (+1,544.9%)

For Africa, we ran 5 tests using ExpressVPN and got the following results:

The totals and averages are as follows:

METRICTEST 1TEST 2TEST 3TEST 4TEST 5AVERAGE
DL speed (mbps)25.528.125.730.431.628.3
UL speed (mbps)7.47.65.26.97.97.0
Ping (ms)251.0251.0251.0251.0251.0251.0

Compared to our baseline:

  • Download speed decreased by 57.1 mbps (-66.9%)
  • Upload speed decreased by 5.0 mbps (-41.5%)
  • Latency increased by 241.2 ms (+2,461.2%)

Speed Test Results (Summary)

METRICUSEUROPEASIAS. AMERICAAFRICA
DL speed (mbps)24.335.630.64.328.3
Vs baseline-71.6%-58.3%-64.2%-95.0%-66.9%
UL speed (mbps)10.89.17.93.37.0
Vs baseline-9.2%-24.0%-33.5%-72.4%-41.5%
Ping (ms)19.4104.4217.8161.2251.0
Vs baseline98.0%965.3%2,122.4%1,544.9%2,461.2%

Performance & Features

I’m sure we can all agree speed is a decisive factor when it comes to choosing a VPN in 2019. A slow provider is a bad provider, period.

That being said, there are a number of other specs and features that should be considered for maximum utility, especially when privacy and security aren’t your primary reasons for buying a VPN.

The following aspects in particular:

  1. Number of servers: 2,000+ servers. How many active servers are available to connect to across all countries, regardless of their physical location.

  2. Number of countries: 94 countries. How many countries the total number of servers cover, regardless of how many are located in a single country.

  3. Number of connections allowed: 3 connections. How many devices can be connected to a server (or number of servers) based on a single VPN account or subscription.

  4. Torrenting allowed: Yes. Whether you can download and share files on a peer-to-peer or P2P network as opposed to a single server.

  5. Kill switch available: Yes. Whether the VPN software can disable your connection to the network in the event you disconnect from the VPN server. This prevents your IP address from being exposed.

Performance & Features (Summary)

FEATUREGRADE
Server count2,000+ servers (excellent)
Countries supported94 countries (good)
Connections allowed3 connections (okay)
Torrenting allowedYes (good)
Kill switch availableYes (good)

ExpressVPN comes in strong with over 2,000 servers across a very respectable spread of 94 countries. You’ll struggle to find numbers like this with the vast majority of providers out there.

As for your connection (or device) limit, you’ll be allowed up to 3 simultaneous connections which is pretty standard and nothing to get excited about. I think they could have done better here considering cheaper alternatives, like Avast, offer up to 5 connections.

If you’re into P2P file sharing and torrents in particular, you’ll be pleased to know ExpressVPN won’t stand in your way, and the company openly supports uTorrent on their website.

Finally, as you might expect, the much loved kill-switch feature is present on all versions of ExpressVPN, including desktop and mobile.

Privacy & Security

If there’s only one reason to purchase access to a virtual private network, it’s to protect yourself and your privacy online.

Otherwise, whether you’re browsing from public hotspots like coffee shops, airports and hotels, or even just using your wifi at home, it doesn’t take much for hackers and other unscrupulous professionals to gain access to your personal information.

A VPN will make this much more difficult to accomplish by masking your IP address and encrypting all of your data over the network. They can’t steal what they can’t see, right?

Of course, nothing is 100% unbreakable and some VPN’s suffer from vulnerabilities that make them an easy target.

We looked at the following:

  • DNS leaks: None found. When your network’s DNS (domain name system) is revealed to your ISP despite using a VPN service. Such leaks are hugely detrimental to your anonymity online.

  • IP leaks: None found. Similar to a DNS leak, this reveals your true IP address on the network which allows third parties to gain access to your sensitive information. Another anonymity killer.



  • WebRTC leaks: None found. WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) is a protocol used by modern browsers that supports peer-to-peer applications. It can also pass your true IP address over the network despite the use of a VPN.

  • Chrome extension leaks: None found. Chrome has a feature called DNS prefetching that serves to reduce latency by pre-resolving domains you’re likely to visit. It also introduces a potential DNS leak when using a VPN browser extension.

  • Encryption: OpenVPN, SSTP, L2Tp/IPsec, PPTP. When connected to a VPN server, all data that is passed through is encrypted and secured. Various encryption methods and protocols are used, and some combinations are safer than others.

  • Logging policy: No logging. Many VPN companies keep a record of server activity, including information like your name and email, as well as usage time and bandwidth data. It’s best to avoid these VPN’s for full anonymity.

  • Viruses/Malware: None found. Poorly guarded servers can be a target for virus and malware infection, potentially affecting anyone who connects to that same server. A great VPN should also have solid server security.

Privacy & Security (Summary)

VULNERABILITYRESULT
DNS leaksNone found
IP leaksNone found
WebRTC leaksNone found
Chrome extension leaksNone found
Encryption usedOpenVPN, SSTP, L2Tp/IPsec, PPTP
Logging policyNo IP addresses (source or VPN), Browsing history, Traffic destination or metadata, DNS queries
Viruses/malwareNone detected

As usual, we tested for DNS, IP, WebRTC and Chrome extensions leaks but were not able to find any traces of vulnerability on all three counts in the case of ExpressVPN.

Security-wise, we’re looking at AES 256 encryption along with OpenVPN, SSTP, L2Tp/IPsec, PPTP protocols. Aside from L2TP/IPsec which should only be used in special circumstances, most experts would consider this to be gold standard in terms of specs.

Note: If you’d like to dig a bit deeper on this subject, ExpressVPN has a handy guide explaining the different protocols they use.

Moving onto the all important logging policy, ExpressVPN hits all the right notes by not logging your IP addresses (source or VPN), browsing history, traffic destination or metadata, or DNS queries.

It does, however, track app versions, dates, server locations and the total amount of data transferred per day. While not ideal, these are arguably insignificant data points and their reasons for doing so are well justified here.

Last but not least, our thorough checks for viruses and malware turned up nothing but green lights across the board.

Usability

With privacy and security out the way, it’s time to take a hard look at the usability aspects of this VPN software, something that’s all too often overlooked when comparing your options.

Namely, we’ll be diving into the following:

  1. Streaming/Geo-spoofing
  2. Compatibility
  3. Overall UI/UX

Streaming/Geo-spoofing

It doesn’t matter if you’re on vacation, you live abroad, or you just like watching shows that are outside your region, using a VPN is an effective way to getting past geographic streaming restrictions by masking your IP address.

This is often referred to as “geo-spoofing” and most online streaming services like Netflix or Hulu actively fight geo-spoofing by regularly blocking IP’s associated with VPN’s. As a result, only committed VPN providers tend to offer this perk.

To see how well ExpressVPN performs here, we tested the software against all major streaming services using servers from the US, Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa.

  • Netflix: Detected. We were met with the usual Netflix “Streaming Error” with every server location we tested, meaning they knew we were using a VPN server.

  • Hulu: Detected. Again, we got the “Video not available in this location” error with every server location we tested. Looks like they’ll be no late night binges of Castle Rock.
  • YouTube: Undetected. Boom. We got our first win as we successfully managed to stream region-locked YouTube content using ExpressVPN.

  • Kodi: Undetected. Streaming video with Kodi was also a success, a solid result considering some load delay and pixelation issues with previous VPN tests. *cough* Avast.

  • Skype:

  • Facetime:

Streaming/Geo-spoofing (Summary)

SERVICEUSEUROPEASIASOUTH AMERICAAFRICA
NetflixNoNoNoNoNo
HuluNoNoNoNoNo
YouTubeYesYesYesYesYes
KodiYesYesYesYesYes
Skype
Facetime

Considering the price-point (more on that later), having no support for both Netflix and Hulu in any of the countries we tested is hugely disappointing, especially given how well ExpressVPN has performed so far.

When you also factor in that many cheaper alternatives are able to offer at least some kind of support here—such as shown in our Avast SecureLine review—it becomes an even harder pill to swallow.

Still, if it’s any saving grace, and it really isn’t, you won’t have any trouble with regional YouTube content, streaming on Kodi, or doing video calls over Skype and Facetime.

Overall, it’s fair to say we’re not too impressed with the results, and if streaming is one of your primary reasons for purchasing a VPN, this could well be a deal breaker for you.

Compatibility

It’s easy to forget the range of devices we access and use on a regular basis, each of which rely on different operating systems, as well as use different programs to navigate the web.

Before making a decision on which VPN to use, it’s important to identify any incompatibilities that may leave you vulnerable when switching devices, or even just switching browsers.

To see how well ExpressVPN performs here, we tested the software with the Tor browser, iOS devices, Android devices, Smart TV’s, Amazon Firestick, Mac, Windows, and routers.

The results are as follows:

  • Tor browser: Supported. ExpressVPN works in combination with Tor (also called “Tor over VPN”) to offer the highest level of anonymity and protection.

  • iOS (iPad, iPhone): Supported. ExpressVPN runs smoothly on all tested iOS Apple devices, including the latest versions of iPad and iPhone.

  • Android: Supported. You guessed it, ExpressVPN also plays nice with Google’s Android OS, including all smartphones, tablets, laptops, and even TV media sticks.

  • Smart TV’s: Supported. While smart TV’s can rely on a range of different operating systems (most commonly Android OS, we were able to get ExpressVPN working in our own testing.

  • Amazon Firestick: Supported. Despite a number of VPN providers being incompatible with Amazon Firestick, we were able to get this one running with no issues.

  • Mac: Supported. Mac users rest assured, our testing revealed that ExpressVPN runs seamlessly on the latest version of MacOS.

  • Windows: Supported. Microsoft Windows users needn’t be left in the dust either, ExpressVPN has you covered.

  • Routers: Supported. Yep, we have a full house. The ExpressVPN app can run on the network layer and is compatible with most routers.

Compatibility (Summary)

ENVIRONMENTRESULT
Tor browserSupported
iOS (iPad, iPhone)Supported
AndroidSupported
Smart TV’sSupported
Amazon FirestickSupported
MacSupported
WindowsSupported
RoutersSupported

We tried our damndest to find some kind of incompatibility between ExpressVPN and mainstream devices, browsers and operating system. We failed spectacularly.

Not only does it cover all the usual suspects such as Android, iOS, Mac and Windows, but it also works with other, often forgotten devices like your TV and media stick.

Most notably, you can also run this thing on the network level via router to automatically secure any device that connects to it — something that can’t be said for the majority of VPN services.

Overall UI/UX

When looking to buy a VPN, it’s important not to get so caught up in the all the features and specifications that you overlook the experience of using that software as a whole.

So let’s go through the process of setting up and using ExpressVPN, and I’ll give you my initial thoughts along the way.

Starting with the download screen, ExpressVPN recognizes your device—a Mac in this case—and gives you the suitable download link along with your unique activation code.

Streamlined and easy, so far so good.

The setup wizard is like any other, walking you through things likes terms and conditions, install destination, install type, and account details:

Fast forward a few minutes and you’ll be launched into the minimalistic ExpressVPN application.

Here’s what is looks like:

Of course, you have the usual connection status indicator, as well the current selected server destination.

Below this, ExpressVPN shows you recently used server locations and their recommended—or ‘Smart’—location.

Clicking the ellipsis (three dots) icon will open up the server locations interface, and unlike many VPN providers, ExpressVPN opts for an organized list-based approach:

Personally, this is my preferred view when it comes to server locations as I’m not having to rely on my awful geography skills to find what I need.

The default list is set to ‘Recommended’ which narrows down the available countries considerably, but you can find all 94 countries under the ‘All’ tab, or using the handy search bar.

For countries with multiple server options, you can click the arrow beside it to expand and select a specific server:

You’ll see the ‘Selected Location’ value change when selecting a different server, but unlike other VPN’s, ExpressVPN won’t automatically connect to it until you hit the big red power button.

Once you do, you’ll see a temporary connection animation followed by the classic green “Connected” status:

Interestingly, ExpressVPN doesn’t give you much information here, whereas other VPN’s will show you things like real IP address, the server IP address, and your total connection time.

What you do get, however, is an app launch dock to open specific programs on your device. A very strange decision considering you won’t have this open all the time, not to mention I already have a native app dock.

I should say that you can hide this dock in the settings menu which can be accessed through the hamburger icon:

Other changes include connecting to the last used server on launch, enabling (or disabling) the kill switch, choosing your preferred protocol, and installing the ExpressVPN browser extension.

That more or less covers the desktop application, but how does it compare to the mobile experience?

We went through the same installation and setup process using an Android smartphone with the ExpressVPN app:

The first time you launch the app, it will ask you to sign in with your existing account or start a 7-day free trial.

Although we have a premium account with ExpressVPN, I opted for a trial here just to see if there were any restrictions.

As it turns out, the only difference was a banner at the top of the screen with the remaining trial days left. Everything else looked and felt very much like the desktop version of ExpressVPN:

The only thing missing here is the launch dock we saw on the desktop version. I have zero issues with that.

Overall, both the desktop and mobile versions were easy to use, super nippy, and just a pleasure to use from beginning to end.

Aside from the lack of IP and connection information, my experience with the software was virtually faultless.

Pricing & Refunds

When it comes to VPN pricing, you can find just a provider to fit just about any budget. We’re talking from as little as few bucks a month, and many multiples of the same amount.

As for ExpressVPN, their pricing page is as follows:

Like most VPN services, the bigger your commitment, the bigger the monthly discount you’ll get.

But this pricing isn’t like most VPN services. At $12.95 a month, we’re already way up at the higher end of the scale and a 35% discount on a 1-year contract is still considerably more than most alternatives.

As for payment methods, ExpressVPN accepts everything from credit card, PayPal, Alipay and even cryptocurrency.

Finally, while their free trial only extends to the mobile version of ExpressVPN, you will have 30-days to request a refund on the desktop version if you decide it’s not your thing.

For comparison, the following table shows pricing, trials and refund periods across popular VPN providers:

VPN PROVIDERANNUAL COST (MONTHLY)TRIAL OFFEREDREFUND OFFERED
Avast SecureLine$6.677-days30-days
NordVPN$6.997-days30-days
ExpressVPN$8.32No30-days
CyberGhost$5.257-days45-days
PureVPN$2.913-days ($2.50)31-days
TunnelBear$5Limited free accountNo
Private Internet Access$3.81No7-days
IPVanish$6.49No7-days
Windscribe VPN$4.08Limited free account3-days (conditional)

There’s no arguing the fact that ExpressVPN is an expensive option in the VPN marketplace, and that ultimately makes it a poor choice for those on a strict budget.

Given how well this provider has performance in our testing, we’d say this a much better pick for those with an open-ended budget and a strong focus on performance.

Support

Let’s face it, it doesn’t matter how well a VPN has performed if the right support channels aren’t in place. So let’s explore those.

The support page offers a few options right of the bat, including troubleshooting guides, setup guides, and a live chat option:

The troubleshooting section is essentially a knowledge-base, and while it did cover a lot of potential issues, I did find myself hitting dead ends with some slightly more ambitious searches.

For example, my search for “Tor” and “logging policy” brought back no relevant results, as shown below:

Instead, ExpressVPN reserves some of these crucial topics for blog posts or even dedicated pages on their site.

For example, here’s their page on VPN logging policies:

I feel it’s a bit of an oversight to exclude these queries from the knowledge-base on the basis they’re covered elsewhere.

Fortunately, ExpressVPN is one of the few providers to offer 24/7 support in the form of live chat, and I wasted no time putting them through their paces.

In terms of the response time, Olly—the live chat rep—responded in a matter of seconds and answered all my questions without hesitation:

I was also given an email support line with a promise of equally fast response depending on the complexity of the issue.

Moving over to social media, ExpressVPN is active on both Twitter and Facebook but they do seem to push people toward their dedicated support channels which is fair enough.

So what’s missing here?

Well, there’s no community forum or phone support but I think these can be forgiven with the quality of support offered through live chat and email. Besides, who wants to actually talk to people these days?

Support (Summary)

SUPPORT CHANNELPERFORMANCE
Knowledge baseGood — not great
Community forumNon-existent
Email (or contact form)Very fast response
PhoneNon-existent
Live chatVery fast response
Social mediaDirects to other support channels

Other Tech-Blogger Reviews

As always, we’ve tried to be as objective as possible throughout this review in order to help you make the right decision for you… but our opinion can only reflect our own experience.

In order to pain a broader picture of ExpressVPN and what others think of this provider, we did a meta-analysis of 10 other reputable tech bloggers.

Here are some snippers of a few we looked at:

While there were a couple anomalies to account for we found the average score for ExpressVPN was 4.7 out of 5 (normalized from various types of rating scales).

The most talked about issues were the 3-device limit, the high-end pricing and, interestingly, the lack of any public information about who’s running the company.

Looking at the ExpressVPN Wikipedia page, the concerns around company background is somewhat justified though I think you have to expect as much from a company that deals in privacy and security.



The biggest outlier we found had to be Tom’s Guide, who gave ExpressVPN a relatively low final rating of 3 out of 5 stars.

Among the reasons listed were, once again, the low device-limit and premium pricing, but also mentioned “frequent connection problems” and “no ad-blocker”.



We can’t attest to any connection problems from our own testing, and while an ad-blocker is a nice feature to have, we feel it isn’t necessary and certainly shouldn’t have such a strong bearing on the final verdict.

One thing we didn’t see mentioned too often were the Netflix and Hulu streaming issues we faced, something that could easily be a decisive factor to serial bingers.

Overall though, the vast majority of reviews speak highly of ExpressVPN despite the limitations and controversial pricing.

Our Verdict

ExpressVPN is highly regarded as one of the best VPN’s around and after putting this thing through the wringer a few times, we can see why.

It offers competitive speeds, strong security and encryption, a HUGE range of server locations, torrenting, a strict no-logging policy, compatibility with almost any device, and to top it off, 24/7 live chat support.

That being said, the 3-device limit and inability to stream Netflix or Hulu from any country is a pretty big deal, especially at this higher-price point where support for these features are expected.
Everything considered, we give ExpressVPN an overall rating of 4.7 out of 5 and would recommend it for those who want a premium VPN experience at any expense.

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