For non-technical users, comparing Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) can feel impossible. Especially when the differences and the techiest stuff are behind the scenes. Don’t fret — there are only a few elements you should be aware of.
In this Surfshark vs. ExpressVPN comparison review, we will analyze the key distinctions between two of the biggest VPNs, so you can feel confident choosing the best one.
Table of contents
Surfshark vs. ExpressVPN: at a glance
OpenVPN, IKEv2, WireGuard
OpenVPN, IKEv2, L2TP/IPsec, Lightway
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Surfshark and ExpressVPN are 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.”
What does “no-logs” mean?
A no-logs VPN service will not track your location, won’t sell any of your data to third parties, and will not know anything about you that isn’t necessary for providing the service itself.
However, a no-logging policy doesn’t mean the company won’t know anything about you. You must provide your payment information to complete a transaction with any service. You may also need to create an account, so a username or an email address will be required. A no-logs policy promises that no other information is collected and used.
For ExpressVPN, you’ll find the headquarters in the British Virgin Islands, while Surfshark is based in the Netherlands. Both locations are ideal for a VPN provider and will protect your data completely.
Key takeaway: Both services are excellent when it comes to privacy. However, it’s worth noting that Kape Technologies has recently bought ExpressVPN. This firm has a poor record regarding privacy, and we’re yet to see the full effects of the takeover.
More server locations mean more options for disguising your internet traffic. But it’s 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 100 countries
ExpressVPN: 2000+ servers in 94 countries
The number of server locations in a region
Middle East & Africa
What locations are available?
As you might expect, there’s a lot of overlap between the locations offered by both providers. Either provider will do if you’re looking for servers in Europe, North America, or the UK.
ExpressVPN offers fewer location options. If you’re looking to connect to less common destinations, both Surfshark and ExpressVPN are reliable choices. However, Surfshark takes the gold when offering servers in restricted countries. Russia and the United Arab Emirates are notable examples of server locations accessible on Surfshark but not ExpressVPN.
Censorship and restricted countries
If you want to connect to a restricted country (or are in one), Surfshark’s NoBorders feature has your back! NoBorders will automatically turn on if it notices restrictions on your network — for example, the Great Firewall of China. This feature 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 those countries might take longer than usual.
How crowded are the servers?
Surfshark offers over 600 servers in 25 US cities. ExpressVPN offers 24 servers in 17 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 takeaway: 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 want to connect to a specific location, check if it’s available before committing.
Also, Surfshark has a unique NoBorders feature to help users in restricted countries, unlike ExpressVPN.
A server’s speed determines your internet speed, measured in Gbps (gigabits per second) or Mbps (megabits per second). This tells you how fast or slow your data transfer will be.
Surfshark offers at least one 1Gbps port connected per server. But some locations offer up to 10Gbps servers! ExpressVPN states you can expect lightning-fast server speeds, but they don’t go into any more detail than that. 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 protocols are highly recommended and renowned for being fast and reliable.
We tested the server speeds of both VPN providers in the UK, the US, Switzerland, Australia, and Japan. Before testing our speeds using a VPN, we checked our baseline: 300 Mbps upload/download speed. Since we know what speeds we’re starting with, we can better understand how these VPN providers perform.
We also tested Surfshark and ExpressVPN servers on the OpenVPN UDP protocols (again, we’ll get to what this means shortly):
In the first protocol test, we found Surfshark offered consistently faster speeds, while ExpressVPN seemed to struggle in some locations. For example, it offered download speeds of 43 Mbps on a Swiss server and 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 slower speeds. The results of these tests may vary.
Key takeaway: Surfshark offers consistently faster speeds in almost all locations we tested.
No one likes buffering when they’re trying to watch their favorite films. That’s why you need a VPN with good speeds to enjoy your chosen media and keep you protected.
Netflix recommends the following browsing speeds:
Recommended speed (Mbps)
High definition (HD) – 720p
Full high definition (FHD) – 1080p
4K/Ultra HD (UHD)
Since Netflix isn’t the only media platform, we dived deeper and found out which streaming sites work with both VPNs:
Amazon Prime Video
Key takeaway: We’re pretty pleased with the results for both VPNs. Looks like the major streaming platforms can keep playing while you’re securing your connection.
Disclaimer: We prohibit using Surfshark services for any unlawful purposes as it is against our Terms of Service. Please be sure to act in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations of other service providers.
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 is made between a device and a VPN server. These rules determine your upload/download speeds and your data’s security.
You may also come across proprietary protocols when comparing VPN servers. These protocols are owned and controlled by the VPN provider and designed for use within their services. Proprietary VPNs are popular as they can offer better security and stability and even boost connection speeds. They can also help VPN providers overcome challenges posed by commonly-used protocols.
ExpressVPN hosts a proprietary protocol called Lightway, the default VPN connection on their servers. Surfshark doesn’t offer a proprietary protocol but 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 faster than Lightway.
Surfshark and ExpressVPN also offer standard protocols to choose from:
Key takeaway: Surfshark and ExpressVPN both offer top-quality protocols for users. The fastest for each provider is WireGuard and Lightway, respectively. Either of these is excellent, although Lightway has been around for longer.
In the past, VPN hosts could rely on their reputation alone to establish 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.
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. Some top names in VPN auditing are KPMG, Deloitte, Cure53, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
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 conducted an independent audit of Surfshark VPN infrastructure. Again, no serious issues were unveiled, and any raised concerns were swiftly rectified.
The 2023 Deloitte audit verifies Surfshark’s no-logs statement.
ExpressVPN also takes security and trustworthiness very seriously. It claims to “regularly engage independent security auditors and penetration testers.” Here are the details:
- Cure53 audit of the VPN browser extension (October 2022)*
- KPMG audit of no-logs policy (September 2022)
- Cure53 security audit of the VPN app for iOS and Android (September 2022)
- Cure53 audit of the Linux and macOS VPN app (August 2022)
- Cure53 security audit of the Aircove router (July 2022)
- Cure53 security audit of TrustedServer (server technology) (May 2022)
- F-Secure audit of the VPN app for Windows v12 (April 2022)
- F-Secure security audit of the Windows v10 VPN app (March 2022)
- Cure53 security audit of the Lightway protocol (August 2021)
- PwC audit of ExpressVPN build verification process (June 2020)
- Cure53 security audit of the VPN browser extension (November 2018)
*To check this audit, you need to have an active ExpressVPN subscription
Key takeaway: Surfshark and ExpressVPN have engaged independent security auditors to ensure their top-quality services. Both have audited the key aspects of a VPN — the no-logs policy and server infrastructure.
Support for customers
Surfshark and ExpressVPN offer similar services when it comes to customer support:
ExpressVPN’s response time and live chat function were slightly better when testing. We didn’t have to wait long to get connected to an agent. And the email turnaround was less than half the time compared to Surfshark. We liked not having to fill out a form or enter personal details before asking questions.
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
Let’s take a closer look at what’s there to keep you safe — protocols, encryption, and a kill switch feature that can be used in the worst-case scenario.
OpenVPN, IKEv2, WireGuard
OpenVPN, IKEv2, L2TP/IPSec, Lightway
OpenVPN data encryption
OpenVPN control channel encryption
Cipher block chaining
Kill Switch (all platforms)
Kill Switch (desktop and routers)
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!
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 (referring to the Rivest-Shamir-Adleman encryption) are twice as long as Surfshark’s. But that doesn’t mean they’re twice as secure!
That’s because decrypting an RSA key requires knowledge of the two prime numbers that created the key, which can’t be calculated in any known way. The length of the key can be 1024, 2048, or 4096 bits. So, a 2048 key is just as secure as an RSA-4096.
Besides long, complicated, thorough encryption, both Surfshark and ExpressVPN offer extra protection through a kill switch.
This feature 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 feature easily via Surfshark. ExpressVPN calls theirs Network Lock, and it’s only available for desktops and routers.
Surfshark and ExpressVPN use various cloaking technologies to keep you even safer online.
ExpressVPN uses cipher block chaining to keep you safe. This means the only way to decrypt a data packet would be to have access to the one before. So, only someone who’s captured your traffic from the start will be able to read it… Almost impossible!
Surfshark uses a few methods to conceal your internet activity completely. One of these methods is obfuscating. It hides the fact that you’re using a VPN and is great for unblocking georestricted 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, and 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, premium VPN providers also include extra features to improve your online life.
Browser extension only
Only for iOS, macOS, and Linux.
Key takeaway: Surfshark offers a wider range of extra features to enhance your VPN user experience.
Surfshark’s CleanWeb feature is an ad blocker. It prevents malicious ads, pop-ups, trackers, or dangerous websites from accessing your information.
It’s worth highlighting that CleanWeb is not an antivirus.
Both Surfshark and ExpressVPN offer a split tunneling feature. Surfshark users will need to look for Bypasser on the mobile apps.
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 smart TV.
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.
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 Dynamic MultiHop.
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, Pokémon Go, and more.
ExpressVPN offers some limited GPS spoofing capabilities. But these are only available in the ExpressVPN browser extension, not on mobile apps.
This feature prevents third-party tracking. It stops apps from communicating with third parties trackers or engaging in malicious behavior. Only available on iOS, macOS, and Linux.
Before we conclude, we have one final, vital aspect to consider — price.
$2.30 p/m (2-year plan)
$8.32 / 12 mo. (1-year plan)
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.
Key takeaways: Surfshark is a cheaper VPN service that offers many (if not more!) features available via the more expensive ExpressVPN service.
Surfshark vs. ExpressVPN: the scores
94<100. What more can we say?
Although this was a close call, Surfshark provided more consistently fast speeds in our tests.
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 for both VPNs are aimed at the same core elements. ExpressVPN has done more testing in bulk, but taking that word for granted without access to some of the reports is hard.
ExpressVPN offered faster responses to queries and an easier live chat function.
Surfshark makes it much easier to navigate the website and find the help pages you’re looking for.
Although ExpressVPN has longer RSA chains, the security levels are similar for both services.
Surfshark offers a more comprehensive selection of extra features, including many that aren’t available with ExpressVPN.
At $2.30 per month (on a 2-year plan), there’s no competition!
So which VPN provider is better?
Much like Surfshark vs. NordVPN, it is an extremely close comparison. Both ExpressVPN and Surfshark are great VPN service providers. With either option, you’ll be treated to comprehensive knowledge guides, blogs, YouTube videos — basically, anything you need 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:
- Although ExpressVPN is available in more countries, Surfshark offers more and faster servers to choose from;
- The auditing process was more transparent for Surfshark. Plus, you don’t need to log in to an account to view the findings;
- The ability to enjoy unlimited simultaneous connections is fantastic for families or tech-heavy households;
- 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;
- 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!
More Surfshark reviews and comparisons
Trying to make sure if Surfshark is for you? To help you make a better decision, here’s a Surfshark review! Maybe you want to know how Surfshark compares to other players in the market. If so, we’ve got you covered!
Is Surfshark a good VPN?
Surfshark is an excellent VPN. It’s among the best VPN services to use AES-256 bit encryption, offer security, and convenience features like a Kill Switch and split tunneling. Having their headquarters outside of the Five Eyes alliance is a huge plus.
Does Surfshark VPN slow down the internet?
Every VPN slows down the download and upload speeds because the data has to make a trip to the VPN servers to get encrypted and decrypted.
With that in mind, Surfshark offers split tunneling, a feature that lets you choose which part of the data stream you want to encrypt and save some internet speed without leaving you unprotected.
Can the police track a VPN?
Authorities can’t track encrypted VPN traffic. But with a court order, they can go to your ISP (Internet Service Provider) and request connection or access to the records. Better choose a VPN provider that uses an obfuscated server and doesn’t log user data. Care to guess who that might be? (*wink wink*)