In terms of speed, security, privacy and features, ExpressVPN is outstanding. It is everything one could look for in a strong VPN service and offers this for a fair price – if you’re willing to sign on for extended periods at a time. Learn more.
August 06, 2020•
ExpressVPN is one of the biggest and most popular names in the VPN business. Established in 2009 and run by a British Virgin Islands-based company, it has been offering security and privacy for a long time now.
While it is by no means the cheapest service existing, I believe that there is much to look forward to in ExpressVPN. Their sheer volume of features combined with a large spread of server locations makes it a service hard to beat.
Pros of ExpressVPN
Cons of ExpressVPN
ExpressVPN’s Plan & Pricing
The service is run by Express VPN International Ltd., a British Virgin Islands (BVI)-based company. While normally where the company is based shouldn’t give its products any different a rating, in this case I must disagree.
You see, it is important to note here that the ‘British’ in the title is nominal at best, since the BVI is self-governing. In fact, its entire legal system is its own and in no way related or subordinate to the United Kingdom.
It is also important (from a VPN perspective) that there are currently no data retention laws in the BVI. Even if a foreign interest were to attempt to force a BVI company to produce records in relation to any investigation, such an order must come from a BVI court. The legal procedure is long and tedious and the end of the day, if the offence being pursued is not also an offence under BVI law, there can be no case.
Let’s sum this up clearly
If you’re using ExpressVPN anywhere around the world and there are investigations against you, ExpressVPN cannot be forced to provide evidence of your Internet activity.
Building on that privacy factor, ExpressVPN also has a kill switch (Network Lock), which comes into play should your Internet connection to the VPN server get dropped. If this situation arises, the kill switch will immediately cut all data traffic to and from your device. This is to ensure that there is no data or IP leak, since the VPN tunnel has been compromised.
As an example of this, let’s say that you have Network Lock enabled and are torrenting. If the connection to the VPN server gets cut for any reason, all your Internet activity will be stopped. At least until you connect to another VPN server.
To test this, I tried a simple file download and, in the process, switched off my VPN software. Immediately I got an error message from the file server notifying me that the download was blocked.
To make sure that the Network Lock works, I made sure to also run a test for DNS Leaks. If the Network Lock didn’t work, running a DNS Leak tool would let me know. ExpressVPN has a tool you can use for this, or alternatively there are also other third-party tools such as DNS Leak Test.
All you need to do is visit the site and it will automatically test your connection. Match their test with the VPN server you connected to. If they match, you’re fine.
This builds more on the premise of privacy rather than security. When we say logging, we’re discussing the data that is collected about you during your Internet sessions. This would likely include information such as IP address, URLs you visited, etc. In general, all your internet activity.
As one of the top VPN providers around, ExpressVPN explicitly states that it does not keep logs of your activity. According to them, they have “carefully engineered our apps and VPN servers to categorically eliminate sensitive information”.
The company summarizes its position and policies very neatly into a single sentence:
As a result, ExpressVPN can never be compelled to provide customer data that do not exist.
Let’s put this into perspective again. If the VPN service provider doesn’t keep this type of information, there is no way that they can produce it if any attempt is made to force them to (e.g. through court order).
If you’ve decided to run ExpressVPN off your router instead of through apps on individual devices, Split tunnelling is something you may need. It allows you to access the internet and at the same time also use another device on the network, such as a remote printer. The ExpressVPN App for your router can support this and is configurable to your desire.
For example, you can configure to protect all your computers on the network to pass their traffic through the VPN but leave your printer open for normal traffic. If you’ve shared it, someone else could still use that printer.
I tried out 5 different geographic locations and I did notice a degradation in service the further away I got from my real location. Under normal circumstances, I’m able to get close to the full 500 Mbps speed advertised by my ISP.
Of the most important features a VPN provides, we’ve already hit privacy and speed. Security is another key element and when it comes to VPNs there are two aspects of it; the type of encryption they use to secure your data and the protocols which they use to carry your data. ExpressVPN Advanced Encryption Standard with 256-bit keys (AES-256).
This standard of encryption secures many government secrets around the world. Breaking it down, a 256-bit key means that there are A LOT of possible combinations to try to break before your data can be read by anyone else.
VPNs rely on two key components to keep your identity and activity safe. One is the encryption I discussed above, but there is also the means that data is passed, which is through a secure tunnel. Each type of tunnel has different characteristics but are mainly leveraging on a combination of compatibility and speed.
ExpressVPN gives you a choice of different tunnelling protocols. You can be as paranoid and niche as you like, or simply let ExpressVPN choose for you. Each protocol of course has its own pros and cons, so you’ll have to figure out what is optimal in speed and security for yourself.
As mentioned earlier, ExpressVPN maintains servers in 148 cities across 94 Countries. These are categorized under four main regions: Americas, Europe, Asia Pacific and Middle East & Africa. However, not all of them offer the same tunnelling protocols.
Although ExpressVPN offers a choice of 7 different security protocols, not every single server on their network supports all of them. Thankfully, their large number of servers means that even if you encounter one which won’t support a protocol you want, you will likely be able to find a nearby alternative.
Each ExpressVPN subscription supports 3 simultaneous connections to the Internet.
For home, you can just set it up on your router and you’ll be covered. If you’re out of the house, I can’t really see you using more than a laptop, your smartphone and a tablet (even if at the same time).
Once you’ve signed up for an account, you’ll be given a password to use for your account – please change this as soon as you can. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be taken to an instruction page and given an option of where you’d like to install your VPN service on.
There are detailed instructions (along with videos!) of how to setup ExpressVPN with almost all devices known to mankind. OK, that might be a little overboard, but I am certain that almost all mainstream devices are there.
Just follow the guides, young grasshopper. Besides, even if you DO face any problems, remember that fantastic customer support I mentioned earlier? Just reach out and touch someone.
If your ISP is using PPPoE for connecting to the Internet, you won’t easily be able to install the VPN on your router. You will need an additional router to manage the VPN connection. The only possible way to work around this is to flash your router firmware to a specialized type such as OpenWRT, which can manage two different WANs simultaneously.
While VPN providers are offering the theory of privacy and security, I have often wondered how, since there must be a money trail if users are paying by credit card, or even PayPal. However, thanks to the new cryptocurrency crazy, service providers have hopped on the bandwagon and now ExpressVPN accepts payment in BitCoin.
Through this method, you can really remain anonymous since there’s no way to trace the payment back to you.
For those who do not yet have any BitCoin, you need two things; a) a BitCoin Wallet and b) some BitCoin. Investopedia has a useful How to Buy BitCoin Guide.
Peer-to-peer file sharing is something that has for a long time been debated around the world. Many large companies have been pressuring ISPs to track and penalise P2P users for everything from software piracy to DMCA violations.
Using a VPN removes the threat of persecution for P2P users, but the catch is, some VPNs won’t allow P2P activities, or restricts them. No such problem with ExpressVPN though, they even have a page teaching their users HOW to setup a torrent client on their service!
I was able to gain as much speed in my torrents on ExpressVPN as I get usually, which is quite awesome (at least on my another 50Mbps line);
Again, another company which tries to restrict their users’ access is Netflix. This company locks users down by region, allowing different region users to access different content. ExpressVPN also helps Netflix users gain access form anywhere and teaches you how to do it on their service. See how to unlock Netflix contents.
It was just as well that I encountered issues trying to setup ExpressVPN on my TP-Link Archer C7, so I had a good excuse to try out their customer support. My destination was their support database, which unfortunately wasn’t much help in my case.
Next up, I tried their Live Chat service, which was astonishingly fast. Within seconds a customer service assistant had hooked up to my chat and we were on the go. During the service chat, the customer service assistant was both knowledgeable and helpful.
Although we could not fix the issue through chat, I was guided through the process via email (for transferring images to and fro) and once done, they mailed me a copy of the entire chat transcript. Talk about service!
Now I’m not a tech illiterate, but I can see how helpful a combination of these processes would be for a newbie to VPNs.
I absolutely rate their support system top grade!
While it’s true that ExpressVPN has often been labelled as pricey (and to an extent, I concur), I’d like to bring up a variant of the construction theory into play here – you can choose two out of three; cheap, good and secure. What would your choices be, when it comes to looking for something to supplement your security and privacy?
A month-to-month subscription of ExpressVPN will set you back $12.95, but this drops drastically by as much as down to $8.32 per month if you opt to make payment in 12-month blocks.
Pricing for ExpressVPN is easy to follow. If you pay month-by-month, you’ll be facing a heavy tag of $12.95 a month. If you choose to pay every six months then that reduces to $9.99 a month, payable in advance.
The best rates come with annual up-front payment for which the rate goes down to $8.32 a month (a whooping 35% discount). That means you get 6 free months compared to if you’re doing monthly payments!
Those prices include all the bandwidth you can handle as well unlimited connections to that huge number of server locations anywhere around the globe. Change servers once every 5 minutes if it pleases you!
In any case, ExpressVPN also offers a 30-day money back guarantee, which means they’re quite sure you won’t be facing buyer’s remorse.
For me, this was a first foray into the real world of VPNs. True, the technical knowledge was there, but hands-on experience was not. I have to say that the technical skills are not difficult and can be picked up with a little reading.
ExpressVPN was a pleasure to test, in more ways than one. It’s a great service that offers all the functionality I need (I love Torrenting) and some I don’t need (I don’t use Netflix) and at a long-term subscription cost of around $8 a month. Small price to pay for peace of mind.
My only hiccup was encountered in the modem setup, since my broadband uses PPPoE to connect and I had no spare to setup ExpressVPN on. Make sure you pay attention to my earlier warning on this if you intend to sign up.