ExpressVPN vs NordVPN: which VPN should you get?

Depending on what tech advice website you go to, you'll usually see one of two companies at the top of their list of best VPNs.

While many experts deem ExpressVPN to be the number one in the world, plenty of others reckon NordVPN is top of the tree. So who's right?

As the two titans of the industry, pitting ExpressVPN vs NordVPN is a bit like comparing Samsung mobiles to iPhones. These are the two providers that are leading the charge when it comes to quality, usability and innovation of VPNs.

Here, we put the two head-to-head on distinct categories such as performance, usability, streaming, price and more to help you decide which you should choose out of ExpressVPN and NordVPN.

ExpressVPN vs NordVPN: Specs

ExpressVPN vs NordVPN: specs comparison

Number of servers:
ExpressVPN: 3,000+ | NordVPN: 5,000+

Server countries:
ExpressVPN: 94 | NordVPN: 60

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: $3.29 (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 when using one of the best 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 $4.99 per month 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. Check out the ExpressVPN promo codes currently available to potentially save even more.

The star of the show is NordVPN’s two-year plan, though, which is currently being offered at only $3.29 a month. That's excellent value, so long as you don't mind committing for double the length of time. Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN offer a 30-day money-back guarantee.

If you're happy to sign up to two years of NordVPN (which is paid in full upfront) then the service edges things in terms of pricing. And it often puts special VPN deals in play, like an extra few months or years on top of the usual subscription length. Don't forget about NordVPN promo codes that can save you even more.

But ExpressVPN has now brought a 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: Security and privacy

NordVPN and ExpressVPN both tote impressive privacy credentials, with industrial strength AES-256-GCM encryption and Perfect Forward Secrecy (meaning that even if one session is compromised, your next will be protected again through the use of a different key) at their foundation.

Both claim to block DNS leaks, and our tests backed this up. 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.

And both ExpressVPN and NordVPN have two of the best best Android VPN apps available and certified by the ioXt Alliance - a cybersecurity watchdog of sorts, and yet another sign that these two VPNs really take mobile security seriously.

We shouldn't ignore the blips, either. Nord's 2018 data breach is now a distant and fading memory. It rocked our confidence, but we admired how it reacted at the time to bring in PricewaterhouseCoopers to verify and green-tick its no-logging policy. ExpressVPN is now owned by Kape Technologies Plc, which has a somewhat checkered past and the fact that its CIO was implicated in a spying probe isn't a particularly good look (although, in our view, a bit of a storm in a teacup).

So 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. We think that generally you can put your trust in either one.

ExpressVPN vs NordVPN: Logging and privacy

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 so there would be no way of tracing anything back to you. Nord similarly "guarantees a strict no-logs policy".

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

(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 open-source Lightway and NordVPN's version of WireGuard it calls NordLynx.

In our most recent speed testing, it was the latter that had the edge, especially when it came to US server connections as we recorded a jaw-dropping 760Mbps download speed at its highest compared to Express's 630Mbps. 

But even using the more traditional OpenVPN connection, speeds still impressed. On our US test line, ExpressVPN averaged around 380Mbps, while NordVPN peaked at 350Mbps and we recoded speeds as 'low' as 220Mbps.

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. Either way, these two providers have fully earned their place in our fastest VPN round-up.

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, reliably unblocking Disney+, YouTube and the notoriously difficult BBC iPlayer. 

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 matched Express's unblocking prowess on most services.

2021 saw Netflix really up its game when it comes to stopping VPNs from geo-spoofing locations and accessing overseas catalogs. ExpressVPN has been one of the very best at responding, and usually gives access to US, UK and Canadian Netflix from abroad. Nord's form had been a little more patchy, but has turned things around is now more than a match for Express in the Netflix VPN department.

That makes this yet another category where the two are difficult to seperate.

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 being used on a smartphone

(Image credit: Future)

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 its proprietary NordLynx protocol is a real standout feature. 

ExpressVPN’s apps are also well-featured, with a selection of protocols (including its own Lightway) 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 a slightly jarring 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?

The ExpressVPN vs NordVPN debate isn't likely to end any time soon. 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 Marshall

Adam was formerly the Content Director of Subscriptions and Services at Future, meaning that he oversaw many of the articles TechRadar produces about antivirus software, VPN, TV streaming, broadband and mobile phone contracts - from buying guides and deals news, to industry interest pieces and reviews. Leading and developing a great team, Adam also dusted off his keyboard to write articles for the likes of TechRadar, T3 and Tom's Guide.