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NordVPN vs Surfshark: which should you get?

nordvpn vs surfshark vpn
(Image credit: Future)

While safety online should be paramount for anyone with an internet connection, there’s also a lot more a good VPN can do for you. The hardest part of getting set up with a VPN, though, is picking the right one.

That’s why we’ve taken it upon ourselves to compare providers head to head, pitting them against each other in a number of different areas to figure out which is best at what, and who you should choose to sign up with. This time around, we’re comparing two VPNs that offer great value for money: NordVPN vs Surfshark.

If you’re reading this article you’ve likely heard of NordVPN: it’s been ruling the waves for a long time, with over 12 million users and excellent additional features alongside the essential VPN clients.

Surfshark is no minnow, though, and is one of the best-value VPN services available to date – but can it sink the titanic NordVPN? Read on to discover which is the best VPN for you…


First impressions and specs

NordVPN vs Surfshark: specs comparison

Number of servers:
NordVPN: 5,200+ / Surfshark: 1700+

Server countries:
NordVPN: 59 / Surfshark: 63+

Maximum simultaneous connections:
NordVPN: 6 / Surfshark: Unlimited

Money back guarantee:
NordVPN: 30 days / Surfshark: 30 days

Lowest monthly cost:
NordVPN: $3.71 / Surfshark: $2.49

After a few moments of downloading and permitting system access, both NordVPN and Surfshark fire up without a hitch – and they're lovely to look at. 

NordVPN features a map interface with server locations dotted around the world, flanked to the left by a traditional server list. Surfshark forgoes any map, but features a clear server list and a big ‘connect’ button. It’s debatable how useful Nord’s map is, but it’s a nice touch.

While NordVPN has more than twice the number of servers, Surfshark has locations in a few more countries. That’s unlikely to make any difference to the average user’s experience, but the number of simultaneous connections might. 

Surfshark’s unlimited connections policy is perfect for those with tons of devices – if you want to stay protected on a couple of phones and PCs, your Xbox and PlayStation, plus your smart TV and anything else, Surfshark can do it all with one subscription.

NordVPN vs Surfshark: Plans, pricing and trials

NordVPN starts at $11.95 for its one-month plan, and its six-month plan comes in at $9.00 a month. Surfshark’s one-month and one-year plans are similar, at $12.95 and $6.49 a month respectively.

If you’re willing to pay up front and sign up for longer, both VPNs offer substantial savings. NordVPN offers two years for $3.71 a month, saving you 70% compared to the one-month plan.

However, Surfshark’s two-year plan is truly tempting at an unbeatable $2.49 a month – there’s a reason it tops our best cheap VPN list.

Both offer 30-day money-back guarantees, so for sheer bargain value Surfshark is the clear winner here. But how does it stack up against Nord in terms of functionality?

NordVPN vs Surfshark: Privacy 

Surfshark offers a good selection of security features, including support for OpenVPN UDP, TCP and IKEv2 protocols, alongside AES-256 encryption and a useful kill switch to protect you if your connection fails. Double-hop (routing through two VPN servers) and split tunnelling are nice added features to provide extra protection – although split tunnelling is only currently available on Windows and Android.

NordVPN offers protocol switching, top-class encryption, a kill switch and more, but also adds a number of unusual features such as ‘Onion over VPN’ which routes your connection over the Onion network, and support for Nord’s proprietary high-speed protocol NordLynx. 

Both VPNs make it easy to access all the essentials the vast majority of users will need, but NordVPN just pips Surfshark to the post with extra functionality for those who’ll actually use it.

NordVPN vs Surfshark: Logging 

Both providers claim not to keep logs, and are based in countries that do not demand the storage of user data – NordVPN in Panama and Surfshark in the British Virgin Islands.

That’s a good start, but we like to see proof to back up these claims – usually in the form of independent audits. The good news is that NordVPN has had its claims of zero-logging proven by Price Waterhouse Cooper.

Surfshark undertook an audit of sorts by Cure53 in 2018, but this only examined its browser extensions, and we’d also like to see more clarity in its privacy policy. If only for reasons of transparency, NordVPN takes this one.

NordVPN

NordVPN (Image credit: NordVPN)

NordVPN vs Surfshark: Performance

For many, the most important feature of a VPN is simply how well it works in day-to-day use. 

Surfshark is a seriously swift swimmer, and in our full review we reported a very minimal reduction in speed compared to our unprotected UK connection. NordVPN also impresses here, with a similar 6-8% drop in connection speed reported. 

Tested on a UK line that maxes out at 110Mb on Ookla’s Speedtest, both performed reliably with no missed connections – Surfshark regularly gave us speeds of around 106Mb, while Nord averaged at 105Mb. There’s really nothing to separate them.

In the US, NordVPN proves to be fractionally faster, but both provide stellar performance in the States and across a range of servers worldwide.

Nord’s wider selection of servers could prove to be useful if you just have to find a steady connection in a certain country on the other side of the world, but realistically, either VPN is a great choice for those who prioritise speed over everything else.

NordVPN vs Surfshark: Streaming

Beyond maintaining a perfect connection, having access to the world’s entertainment at your fingertips is a make or break feature of any VPN.

Surfshark knows this and touts its ability to access 14 countries’ Netflix libraries. In our test it didn’t disappoint, unblocking every location we tried. Although not such a challenge, it also accessed geo-blocked YouTube content, too.

NordVPN, on the other hand, doesn’t overtly advertise itself as being able to give you access to overseas Netflix libraries. However, it too managed to unblock all the Netflix locations we tried, along with YouTube.

iPlayer is often the hardest to beat, and proved a little more difficult than Netflix for Nord – to access it we had to resort to using its browser extension. Impressively, Surfshark had no such problems, and viewing great BBC TV was plain sailing. 

For pure streaming simplicity Surfshark takes this one – but both rightly feature on our best Netflix VPN list.

NordVPN vs Surfshark: Torrents

Surfshark claims to be the ‘best VPN for torrenting’, and while that’s easy to say, it does make it simple by automatically connecting you to a suitable server when it detects P2P activity. Combine that with the great speeds offered and you‘ve got a pretty useful VPN for your torrenting needs.

NordVPN doesn’t boast about its torrenting abilities on its homepage, but although it keeps quiet about it, many of its servers work perfectly for P2P activity.

Just like Surfshark, although some of Nord’s servers aren’t torrent-friendly, if the app detects P2P traffic it will automatically switch you to a server that is.

Both function well, but if you’re a big P2P-er then it might be worth checking out ExpressVPN, which we rate as the best all-round VPN for torrenting.

Surfshark

Surfshark (Image credit: Surfshark)

NordVPN vs Surfshark: Mobile apps

With over 10 million downloads and an impressive 4.4 rating on Google Play, NordVPN’s mobile apps are popular and powerful. 

On Android and iOS you’ll get the choice of a number of protocols including NordLynx, plus some nifty features such as auto-connect and a list of favourites. You'll also get some device-specific options on both, such as adding quick connect to Siri.

Surfshark’s apps are also fully functional, with a selection of protocols and encryption methods available alongside a kill switch and additional features such as HackLock and BlindSearch. 

Surfshark’s layout is pleasing too: the app opens up with a quick-connect button, with tabs below for the full server list, additional features and settings.

Nord’s map interface is retained from the desktop client, but proves itself to be a clunky way of navigating servers on mobile. Thankfully there’s a quick connect button there too, and a full list is just a swipe away.

Although it works once you're used to it, we can’t help but think NordVPN’s map could be replaced with a server list from the start. However, both providers’ apps are simple and easy to navigate – just like the desktop versions – and don’t sacrifice too much functionality.

NordVPN vs Surfshark: Support 

Having great support is a massive bonus for VPN customers – as anyone who’s used one knows, things can go wrong from time to time. The important thing is that fixing them is as simple as possible.

NordVPN’s instant chat support is excellent, with responses coming swiftly – far better than sending an email and waiting hours for a reply. Nord’s written help articles are also very useful too, with plenty of information to get you up and running.

Surfshark also offers live chat support, and responses are quick and friendly. It also appears that the user guides and troubleshooting articles have been improved since our last review, so it’s great to see the company dedicating time to improving customer support. 

Both support services work well, so whichever you pick, you'll be in good hands.

NordVPN vs Surfshark: which is better?

Both NordVPN and Surfshark are impressive services that do everything you’re likely to need – and which one we’d recommend depends on what exactly you want from your VPN.

For those that will appreciate spending as little as possible on a genuinely full-featured VPN, we’d have to steer them towards Surfshark – it offers truly outstanding value for money.

If you’re after the peace of mind a big name can provide along with marginally better privacy credentials, then that small extra outlay for NordVPN may very well be worth it. Either way, these are two of the finest VPNs on the market, and we're happy recommending both.

Mo Harber-Lamond

Mo Harber-Lamond is eCommerce Editor at Tom's Guide, and contributor for TechRadar. He focuses on cyber security content for Tom's Guide, and creates insightful content across the board to help readers make informed buying choices.