Surfshark vs. ExpressVPN

For non-technical users, comparing Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) can feel impossible. Particularly when there aren’t obvious, huge differences between them. But although it can seem complicated, most of that techy stuff is behind the scenes. And there are only a few elements you actually need to be aware of.

In this Surfshark vs. ExpressVPN comparison review, we’re going to analyze the key distinctions between two of the biggest VPNs, so you can feel confident choosing the best VPN for you.

Surfshark vs. ExpressVPN: At a glance

Surfshark
ExpressVPN
Devices
Unlimited
5
Server countries
65
95
Protocols
OpenVPN, IKEv2, WireGuard
OpenVPN, IKEv2, L2TP/IPsec, Lightway
Cookie pop-up blocker
Ad blocker
Independent audit
10Gbps servers
*
N/A
24/7 Support
Price
$2.49/mo
$8.32/mo
Money-back guarantee
30 days
30 days

*Available in specific locations only.

Surfshark and ExpressVPN are both well-known premium VPN services, featured on many top-VPN lists. Both services are based in locations free from oppressive/obligatory data retention laws and are not subject to 5/9/14 Eyes surveillance. This means you can expect responsible no-logging practices for the “ultimate digital privacy.” For ExpressVPN, you’ll find the headquarters in the British Virgin Isles, while Surfshark is headquartered in the Netherlands. Either of these locations are ideal for a VPN provider and will ensure your data is completely protected.

Note: Kape Technologies has recently bought ExpressVPN. This firm has a poor record when it comes to privacy, and we’re yet to see the full effects of the takeover.

Server locations

More server locations means more options for disguising your internet traffic. But it’s about more than just the number of different countries you can connect to remotely… By offering more servers, Surfshark provides a less crowded service, meaning faster browsing speeds and a more seamless online experience. 

Surfshark: 3200+ servers in 95 countries

ExpressVPN: 160+ servers in 94 countries

What locations are available?

As you might expect, there’s a lot of overlap between the locations offered by both providers. If you’re looking for servers in Europe, North America, or the UK, either provider will do. 

Yet ExpressVPN definitely offers more location options. So, if you want to connect to more obscure destinations, this is an obvious choice. However, Surfshark takes the gold when it comes to offering servers in restricted countries. Russia and the United Arab Emirates are notable examples of server locations accessible on Surfshark but not ExpressVPN.

How crowded are the servers? 

Surfshark offers over 600 servers in 23 US cities. ExpressVPN offers 23 servers in 14 US cities. This means that if the servers are crowded (i.e., lots of people are logged on), you’ll have more options to switch to a less crowded one with Surfshark than ExpressVPN. 

Key takeaways: ExpressVPN offers more countries for a user to connect to. However, Surfshark offers more servers, so there’s less chance of getting stuck on an overcrowded server. Both providers offer a full list of server countries, so if you’re looking to connect to a specific location, check if it’s available before you commit.

Censorship and restricted countries

If you want to connect to or are in a restricted country, Surfshark’s NoBorders feature has your back! NoBorders will automatically turn on if it notices restrictions on your network – for example, the Great Firewall – and lets you bypass them. This lets you surf the web unobstructed and safely.

ExpressVPN doesn’t provide special features or extra settings for restricted countries. It simply notes that connecting to restrictive countries might take longer than usual.

Surfshark
ExpressVPN
Servers
3200+
160+
Countries (total)
65
94
Americas
9
13
Europe
38
47
Asia Pacific
14
26
Middle East & Africa
4
5

Key takeaway: Surfshark offers a specific feature to help users in restricted countries, unlike Express VPN.

Server speeds

A server’s speed determines your internet speed, which is measured in Gbps (gigabits per second) or Mbps (megabits per second). This simply tells you how fast or slow your data can be transferred.

Netflix recommends the following browsing speeds:

Quality
Server speeds
Minimum quality
0.5 Mbps
Normal quality (less than 480p)
1.5 Mbps
SD quality (480p or better)
3.0 Mbps
HD quality (720p or better)
5.0 Mbps
Ultra HD quality (1080p or better)
25.0 Mbps

Surfshark offers at least one 1Gbps port connected per server. But some locations offer up to 10Gbps servers! ExpressVPN doesn’t state what server speeds you can expect other than “lightning-fast speeds“. However, it does offer a handy VPN Speed Test (Surfshark also lets you test your connection speed).

The fastest protocols (these dictate how a VPN connects and behaves, and we’ll be looking at them in more detail shortly) for ExpressVPN and Surfshark are the Lightway protocol and WireGuard respectively. Both of these protocols come highly recommended and are renowned for being fast and reliable.

We tested the server speeds for both VPN providers across servers in the UK, US, Switzerland, Australia, and Japan. Before testing our speeds using a VPN, we checked our baseline: 300 Mbps upload/download speed. Now we know what speeds we’re starting with, we can better understand how much slower speeds each VPN provides. 

Fastest Protocol
Surfshark (WireGuard)
ExpressVPN (Lightway)
Download average
263 Mbps
198.6 Mbps
Upload average
170 Mbps
165.6 Mbps

We also tested Surfshark and ExpressVPN servers on the OpenVPN UDP protocols (again, we’ll get to what this means shortly):

OpenVPN UDP
Surfshark
ExpressVPN
Download average
123.8 Mbps
186 Mbps
Upload average
140.3 Mbps
160.4 Mbps

In the first protocol test, we found Surfshark offered consistently faster speeds. Whereas ExpressVPN seemed to struggle in some locations. For example, it offered download speeds of 43 Mbps on a Swiss server yet provided 261 Mbps on a UK server.

ExpressVPN did, however, offer the best average speeds on the OpenVPN UDP protocol. But Surfshark still hit higher top speeds, and the difference wasn’t massive.

Note: Other things can affect your internet connection and cause you to reach slower speeds. Results of these tests may vary.

Key takeaway: Surfshark offers consistently faster speeds in almost all locations we tested.

VPN Protocols

VPN protocols often sound complicated and technical, but they don’t need to be.

A VPN protocol is a set of instructions that dictate how a connection will be made between a device and a VPN server. These rules will determine things like your upload/download speeds and how secure your data is.

You may also come across proprietary protocols when comparing VPN servers. These protocols are owned and controlled by the VPN provider and are designed for use within their own services. Proprietary VPNs are popular as they can offer better security, stability, and even boost connection speeds. They can also help VPN providers overcome challenges posed by commonly-used protocols.

Express VPN hosts a proprietary protocol called Lightway, which is the default VPN connection on their servers.

Surfshark doesn’t offer a proprietary protocol, and instead uses the popular and well-regarded  WireGuard. This protocol is much newer than Lightway and only went live in 2020. But, despite being a newcomer, WireGuard is certainly keeping up with many of the most established protocols. With consistent “heavy upgrades,” it’s difficult to say which is better. However, when we tested both protocols, we found WireGuard to be faster than Lightway. 

Surfshark and ExpressVPN also offer standard protocols to choose from:

Protocol
Offered by Surfshark
Offered by ExpressVPN
OpenVPN (TCP/UDP)
IKEv2
L2TP/IPSec
Windows and macOS
Other
Lightway

Key takeaways: Surfshark and ExpressVPN both offer top-quality protocols for users. The fastest for each provider is WireGuard and Lightway, respectively. Either of these are excellent, although Lightway has been around for longer.

Audits

In the past, VPN hosts could rely on just their reputation when establishing trustworthiness. But these days, there’s much more scrutiny involved.

Independent security audits are essential for backing up any claims made by a VPN provider. Audits can be a quick overview or an in-depth analysis of the provider as a whole.

It’s worth mentioning that some auditing firms are more trustworthy than others. So, when comparing VPN audits, you want to ensure a reputable firm completed the audit. Two of the top names in VPN auditing are Cure53 and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Surfshark Audit

In 2018, Cure53 audited Surfshark’s browser extensions. They concluded the extensions “are not exposed to any issues, neither in the privacy nor in the more general security realms.” So far, so good.

The 2018 audit did reveal two “low severity” vulnerabilities. These were quickly fixed and highlighted the transparency and commitment of the company.

In 2021, Cure53 carried out a further audit of the entire Surfshark VPN infrastructure. Again, no serious issues were unveiled, and any raised concerns were swiftly rectified. 

ExpressVPN Audit

ExpressVPN also takes security and trustworthiness very seriously. It claims to “regularly engage independent security auditors and penetration testers.” The details and results of crucial investigations are available for users to download.

However, unlike Surfshark, ExpressVPN requires you to be logged in to access the notes. 

Key takeaways: Surfshark and ExpressVPN have both engaged respected independent security auditors to ensure their services are top-quality. However, you need to be logged into an ExpressVPN account in order to access the results, whereas Surfshark makes them available to anyone who is interested.

Support for customers

Surfshark and ExpressVPN offer similar services when it comes to customer support. You can contact either team via email or live chat.

Customer Service
Surfshark
ExpressVPN
Live chat
Ticket support
Email support
Phone support
Searchable knowledge base
Video guides
Average email response time
2 hours, 36 minutes
52 minutes

We found ExpressVPN’s response times and live chat functions to be a little better on testing. We didn’t have to wait long to be connected to an agent. And the email turnaround was less than half the time vs. Surfshark. We liked not having to fill out a form or enter any personal details before asking our questions.

That said, Surfshark’s knowledge base is more thorough and easier to navigate. You can also search for information from any page on the Surfshark website, whereas Express VPN requires you to go to the Support Center before you can search.

Key takeaways: Both VPN providers offer excellent support teams. ExpressVPN provides slightly faster response times. Surfshark’s knowledge base is more thorough and easier to search.

Security and encryption

Surfshark
ExpressVPN
VPN Protocols
OpenVPN, IKEv2, WireGuard
OpenVPN, IKEv2, L2TP/IPSec, Lightway
OpenVPN data encryption
AES-256
OpenVPN control channel encryption
RSA-4096
Cloaking technology
NoBorders obfuscation
Cipher block chaining
App security
Kill switch (all platforms)
Kill switch (desktop and routers)
DNS status
Private DNS
Private DNS

Key takeaways: Surfshark and ExpressVPN both offer unhackable encryption to keep your online information and activities safe. We couldn’t pick a winner for this category!

Encryption

You’ll notice that many of the security features for these providers are similar. They offer roughly the same protocols and both use AES-256 encryption… Which is basically impossible to crack!

Despite the similarities, with 4096 bits to protect user data, ExpressVPN’s RSA keys are twice as long as Surfshark’s. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re twice as secure! 

This is because decrypting an RSA key requires knowledge of the two prime numbers that created the key (which can be 1024, 2048, or 4096 bits in length), which can’t be calculated in any known way. So, in practice, a 2048 key is just as secure as an RSA-4096.

Kill Switch

Besides long, complicated, thorough encryption, both Surfshark and ExpressVPN offer extra protection through a kill switch.

A kill switch disconnects you from the internet if your VPN connection drops unexpectedly. This means your user data is never vulnerable, and your privacy is always protected. You can find the Kill Switch easily via Surfshark. ExpressVPN calls theirs “Network Lock ” and it’s only available for desktops and routers.

Stealth servers

Surfshark and ExpressVPN use various cloaking technologies to keep you even safer online. These ensure no user data can be read by anyone except the intended recipient.

For ExpressVPN, this is done using a technique called cipher block chaining. This means the only way to decrypt a data packet would be to have had access to the one before it. So, only someone who’s captured your traffic from the very start will be able to read it… Almost impossible!

Surfshark uses a few methods to completely conceal your internet activity. One of these methods is obfuscating. This basically hides the fact that you’re using a VPN and is great for unblocking geo-restricted streaming services. People living in oppressed or censored countries can also benefit from obfuscating.

Besides obfuscation servers, Surfshark’s NoBorders service is specially designed to bypass oppressive censorship. Providing complete, unfiltered, safe access to the internet.

Either of these stealth servers will provide top-quality encryption and security. 

Extra features: ExpressVPN vs. Surfshark comparison

Although the main function of a VPN is to protect user data and identities, VPN hosts offering a superior service will also include a variety of extra features to improve your everyday online life. 

Key takeaway: Surfshark offers a wider range of extra features to enhance your VPN user experience.

CleanWeb

Surfshark’s CleanWeb feature is the adblocker. It prevents malicious ads, pop-ups, trackers, or dangerous websites from accessing your information.

It’s worth highlighting that CleanWeb is not an anti-virus.

Split tunneling

Both Surfshark and ExpressVPN offer a split tunneling feature. Surfshark users will need to look for “Bypasser” on the mobile apps.

Smart DNS

Smart DNS is also available on both Surfshark and ExpressVPN. The feature allows you to bypass firewalls and censorship on devices that don’t usually support VPN connections. For example, your PlayStation or SmartTV.

For Surfshark users, you can activate Smart DNS through your account dashboard. The process is similar for ExpressVPN, but you’ll be looking for “MediaStreamer.”

Double VPN

This feature adds an extra layer of security by routing traffic through two different VPN servers.  ExpressVPN doesn’t offer a Double VPN, so Surfshark takes the gold here with “MultiHop.”

GPS Spoofing

Although VPNs hide your location while you’re online, they don’t automatically override GPS. With GPS Spoofing on Surfshark’s Android app, you can trick GPS-enabled apps into thinking you’re elsewhere. This works for apps like Tinder, Pokemon Go, and more.

ExpressVPN offers some limited GPS Spoofing capabilities. But these are only available in the ExpressVPN browser extension, not on mobile apps.

Price

Before we move on to our conclusion, we have one final, vital aspect to consider… The price.

ExpressVPN starts at $12.95 per month for a monthly plan, then $9.99 per month for a 6-month plan. The cheapest option is the 12-month plan, which is $6.67 per month, plus 3 months free.

Surfshark starts at the same level as ExpressVPN: $12.95 per month monthly or $6.49 per month for 6 months. Where Surfshark really impresses is their 2-year plan, which works out at just $2.49 per month!

Both offer a 30-day free trial, so you can get started risk-free. They also offer cryptocurrency payment options if you want to make a more anonymous sale.

Plan
Surfshark
ExpressVPN
Monthly
$12.95 p/m
$12.95 p/m
6-Months
$6.49 p/m
$9.99 p/m
Cheapest plan
$2.49 p/m (2-year plan)
$8.32 (12-month plan)

Key takeaways: Surfshark is a cheaper VPN service that offers many (if not more!) of the features available via the more expensive ExpressVPN service.

Surfshark vs. ExpressVPN: The scores

Category
Winner
Notes
Server locations
ExpressVPN
94>65. What more can we say?
Server speeds
Surfshark
Although this was a close call, Surfshark provided more consistently fast speeds in our tests.
Protocols
ExpressVPN
Both service providers offer plenty of reliable protocols. However, because it’s been around for longer, the Lightway protocol is just that little bit better than WireGuard (at the moment).
Audits
Surfshark
There are suggestions that the ExpressVPN audit may have been more thorough. However, Surfshark wins for the simple reason that we are able to access and read the report without needing an account. That transparency must be rewarded.
Customer support
ExpressVPN
ExpressVPN offered faster responses to queries and an easier live chat function.
Knowledge base
Surfshark
Surfshark makes it much easier to navigate the website and find the help pages you’re looking for.
Security
Draw
Although ExpressVPN has longer RSA chains, the security levels are incredibly similar for both services.
Extra features
Surfshark
It’s clear to us that Surfshark offers a more comprehensive selection of extra features, including many that aren’t available with ExpressVPN.
Price
Surfshark
Do we really need to explain? At $2.49 per month (on a 2-year plan), there’s no competition!

Surfshark vs ExpressVPN: Which is the best VPN?

Both Surfshark and ExpressVPN are great providers for a VPN service. With either option, you’ll be treated to comprehensive knowledge guides, blogs, YouTube videos… Basically, anything you could need to know to get started and surf safely!

Both providers offer a wide range of beneficial tools and extra features to keep you safe online. So, no matter which you choose, you’re sure to be in safe hands.

But although most of our categories came out close, we can’t help but give the win to Surfshark.

Surfshark wins this comparison for several reasons:

  1. Although ExpressVPN is available in more countries, Surfshark offers more and faster servers to choose from.
  2. The auditing process was more transparent for Surfshark. Plus, you don’t need to log into an account to view the findings.
  3. The ability to enjoy unlimited simultaneous connections is fantastic for families or tech-heavy households.
  4. If you need to show the same IP address but want to stay safe online, you can keep connecting to the same secure VPN server with Surfshark.
  5. The range of extra features like CleanWeb and Smart DNS allows you to get more bang for your buck…

And speaking of bucks, you just can’t argue with that price!

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