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ExpressVPN vs NordVPN: which VPN should you get?

ExpressVPN vs NordVPN
(Image credit: Future)

No longer the preserve of the whiz kid or hacker, VPNs are becoming more and more commonplace around the world. 

This rising usage can be attributed to not only increasing awareness of the importance of online security, but also the ever-expanding range of top-quality VPN providers out there. So, in this head to head, were we’re going to pit two of the biggest hitters against each other in a VPN battle for the ages: ExpressVPN vs NordVPN.

You may have heard of ExpressVPN, and for good reason – with great support and a vast number of servers, ExpressVPN is a premium service through and through. However, NordVPN is a hugely popular rival and also practically a household name at this point, offering everything you expect plus some intriguing in-depth features. 

The best VPN provides the full package – watertight security features, easy-to-use apps and the ability to access geo-blocked websites like Netflix, amongst other things. 

So how do ExpressVPN and NordVPN stand up against each other – and which is worth spending your money on?


First impressions and specs

ExpressVPN vs NordVPN: specs comparison

Number of servers:
ExpressVPN: 3,000+ / NordVPN: 5,400+

Server countries:
ExpressVPN: 94 / NordVPN: 59

Maximum simultaneous connections:
ExpressVPN: 5 / NordVPN: 6

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

Lowest monthly cost:
ExpressVPN: $6.67 (one year) / NordVPN: $4.13 (two years)

From the moment you install them, it's crystal clear why these are two of the biggest beasts in the world of VPN. Both brag fantastic products.

Once installed, both have you logging on to your choice of their vast number of servers within just a few seconds. ExpressVPN with its huge inviting 'on/off' button, NordVPN with its illustrated map of the world and 'Quick connect' option.

As you'll see from the spec comparison, you'll not want for server locations. From Albania to Vietnam, these two providers have put in the hard yards to deliver their users options all over the globe. Nord may have the sheer wealth of numbers, but Express pips it with the variety of locations.

And we also prefer Express's general user experience...just. It's the little things that swing it Express's way, like having selected, smart and recent locations all showing neatly in the interface. And we must say we prefer its simple list of locations compared to Nord's map design - especially on mobile VPN apps.

ExpressVPN vs NordVPN: Plans, pricing and trials

ExpressVPN opens with a one-month plan priced at $12.95, and that’s knocked down to $9.99 a month if you opt for six months. NordVPN only offers one plan lasting under a year, which is one month for $11.95 or$4.92/pm if you sign up for a year.

However, things start to get quite a bit cheaper if you sign up for longer. ExpressVPN’s cheapest is the year-long plan, which currently offers three extra months free, bringing the monthly cost down to only $6.67. 

The star of the show is NordVPN’s two-year plan, though, which is currently being offered at only $4.13 a month. That's excellent value, so long as you don't mind committing that little bit longer.

Both offer a 30-day money-back guarantee.

If you're happy to commit to two years of NordVPN (which is paid in full upfront) then the service edges things in terms of pricing. And it often outs special VPN deals in play, like an extra few months or years on top of the usual subscription length.

But Express has now brought its own freebie to the table. You'll get a year of unlimited secure cloud backup from BackBlaze when you sign up for a year of ExpressVPN now. It's an excellent product and means a free sub that would normally set you back around $60.

ExpressVPN vs NordVPN: Privacy 

NordVPN and ExpressVPN both tote impressive privacy credentials. Both offer Perfect Forward Secrecy, meaning that even if one session is compromised, your next will be protected again through the use of a different key. And both now have their Android apps certified by the ioXt Alliance - a cybersecurity watchdog of sorts, and yet another sign that these two VPNs really take mobile security seriously.

Both also claim to block DNS leaks, and our tests backed this up. However, ExpressVPN runs its own zero-knowledge, 256-bit encrypted DNS on all its servers. Keeping that sort of work under its own roof is a good sign.

NordVPN offers some excellent features like Onion over VPN and a double VPN system, showing that it's a provider that can really flex its muscles when it comes to the subject of security.

It’s difficult to separate the two here, as while NordVPN offers a couple of features not available from ExpressVPN, they’re unlikely to be used by the vast majority of users – and ExpressVPN does have a squeaky-clean track record (although Nord's 2018 data breach is now a distant and fading memory).

ExpressVPN vs NordVPN: Logging 

The logging status of any VPN service is a major selling point, and both have been verified by an independent PricewaterhouseCoopers audit which satisfied their claims of absolutely no logging.

ExpressVPN logs a very minimal amount – just the date of connection and the choice of server. That information alone doesn’t put the user at risk in any way, and as no other data is stored.

In both cases, the logging policies are clear and easy to understand. It’s always a good sign when all relevant information is readily available, and we applaud both services on their commitment to transparency.

ExpressVPN on PC and Windows 10 devices

ExpressVPN (Image credit: ExpressVPN)

ExpressVPN vs NordVPN: Performance

Now onto something that you may notice day-to-day. The performance of a VPN is crucial – if your connection is reduced to a crawl, there’s not much point in being connected at all.

Once again, both providers performed admirably. In part that's thanks to each now making proprietary protocols available for their users: Express's Lightway and NordVPN's version of WireGuard it calls NordLynx.

In our most recent testing, it was the former that had the edge in our testing, especially when it came to US server connections as we recorded a jaw-dropping 630Mbps download speed at its hughest. 

But even using the more traditional OpenVPN connection, speeds still impressed. On our US test line, ExpressVPN averaged around 270Mbps, while NordVPN peaked at 280. From our UK test line, NordVPN had the edge, with highs of 325Mbps compared to Express's 70.

When connecting to farther-flung servers both services did well, but also experienced some very slow connections. However, ExpressVPN proved to be a little more reliable and just has its nose ahead in a footrace.

ExpressVPN vs NordVPN: Streaming

A major reason many might consider getting a VPN is to access geo-blocked streaming services. If that’s you, this is a crucial comparison in making your choice.

ExpressVPN explicitly states which websites it can unblock for you – a bold move as these services are constantly battling to restrict VPN access. However, ExpressVPN backs these claims up, unblocking every one of our tested Netflix servers, YouTube and the notoriously difficult BBC iPlayer (most of the time). 

NordVPN doesn’t explicitly claim to unblock any specific sites on its main homepages, although it does imply that it’ll give you access to ‘entertainment content’. That being said, it successfully unblocked every Netflix location we tried, and YouTube too. 

However, iPlayer proved to be a stumbling block for Nord, and we had to resort to using the browser extension in tandem with the desktop client to unblock the BBC’s streaming service.

While both were (eventually) successful in unblocking everything we tried, ExpressVPN makes the process simpler. No wonder we tote it as the best Netflix VPN available.

ExpressVPN vs NordVPN: Torrents

If you regularly engage in unprotected torrenting activity, you’re exposing your IP address to everyone you’re sharing files with – and a VPN is the perfect safety solution. 

Thankfully, both ExpressVPN and NordVPN offer excellent P2P functionality.

ExpressVPN supports P2P sharing on all of its servers, has no bandwidth restrictions and no data cap. It's a hassle-free experience that also features an effective kill switch that kicks in when your internet connection drops.

NordVPN doesn’t support P2P on every single server, although it can detect if you’re torrenting and will switch you to a server that does support it without you doing a thing. You can also select a P2P-friendly server from the get-go and there's a kill switch there, too.

NordVPN

NordVPN (Image credit: NordVPN)

ExpressVPN vs NordVPN: Mobile apps

Staying safe when connected to public Wi-Fi can be a big concern, especially for those who like to work in cafes or use public transport frequently. This is why excellent mobile apps are an essential feature of any VPN worth their salt.

NordVPN’s mobile apps are powerful – as you’d expect from such a full-featured VPN – and iOS support of their proprietary NordLynx protocol is a real standout feature. 

ExpressVPN’s apps are also well-featured, with a selection of protocols available and a very clean layout. Generally speaking, it's virtually as straightforward to operate Express on your mobile or tablet as it is on your desktop.

And the latter is where NordVPN’s apps falter – upon opening the app, we’re faced with an odd map-based location picker. While there’s a list of servers available if you search for it, the initial layout is awkward. Not a disaster by any means, but a design tweak we definitely think would be worthwhile.

ExpressVPN vs NordVPN: Support 

Even experts can have difficulties with VPNs – there’s a lot to go wrong – so having an effective support service can mean the difference between solving an issue in minutes and never using an application again.

ExpressVPN’s list of troubleshooting guides is long and easy to navigate. There’s very little jargon and it will prove to be useful to even the greenest VPN user.

Although NordVPN’s list of help articles is long, it’s not nearly as simple to work with. However, once you find what you’re looking for, the information is well-presented and useful.

Both services support email and live chat assistance, and both work very well – although if we had to pick, ExpressVPN’s live chat was probably more comprehensive. Available seven days a week, 24 hours a day, there's always somebody available to lend a hand if you're struggling.

ExpressVPN vs NordVPN: which is better?

It was a tough battle, and scalps were taken on both sides. However, as the dust settles, it's easy to see why ExpressVPN pips Nord in our guide to the overall best VPN services.

A worthy contender, NordVPN is a powerful service that offers a lot that others don’t, but for us, ExpressVPN is on balance the stronger choice. You can sign up for ExpressVPN by heading to its website here.

With great apps, strong privacy, excellent unblocking capabilities and an unerring commitment to making everything as easy as possible to use, ExpressVPN is a full, polished package – and is definitely worth the small extra cost if you can afford it. 

Adam is the Editor-in-Chief of Subscriptions and Services at Future, meaning that he oversees many of the articles TechRadar produces about antivirus software, VPNs, TV streaming, broadband and mobile phone contracts - from buying guides and deals news, to industry interest pieces and reviews.