Ever get that weird feeling that someone’s watching you when you’re typing in your credit card number to place an online order?
Of course, you don’t. You’ve got a VPN. So no matter how spotty the online checkout security is at, say, Joe’s Keg in Poughkeepsie, your credit card info is 100 percent unhackable.
Bulletproofing our devices against identity theft is crucial these days, for sure. But sometimes we just want to use our VPNs to go about our daily business: send a photo to grandma, share a tweet with a friend, stream season 11 of “The Walking Dead.” And we want to do it as conveniently as possible.
Best-in-class VPNs understand that, and take user experience as seriously as the security behind it. But every VPN provider has a different approach. In this comparison guide, we’re going to take a close look at what our test results have to say about ExpressVPN and CyberGhost, two of our best VPN services this year for privacy and all-around ease of use.
ExpressVPN and CyberGhost: What They Both Get Right
In a crowded market where every single VPN provider is shouting about how secure they are, finding the real McCoy is tricky. But when it comes to online privacy, ExpressVPN and CyberGhost are both the real deal. Neither keeps user logs (CyberGhost doesn’t even keep session logs), and they both shield user data with unbustable industry-standard encryption. They also both own and operate their own servers (more on this down below). Like Hugh Jackman in “The Music Man,” that, folks, is a triple threat.
Speaking of servers, CyberGhost has over 6,700 in 110 locations while ExpressVPN has over 3,000 in 160 locations, so you’d be more than covered with either VPN.
In terms of software — desktop clients, mobile and TV apps, and browser extensions — ExpressVPN and CyberGhost are both easy to install and use across the gamut: Mac, Windows, Linux, Android, iOS, Fire TV, Android TV and Apple TV. So you’d have to look pretty hard for a device that ExpressVPN and CyberGhost don’t cover.
Finally, if speed is something you’re looking for, you’ll be happy to hear that ExpressVPN and CyberGhost both pack fast, secure, next-gen protocols under their hoods. CyberGhost sports the scary-fast WireGuard protocol and ExpressVPN has its own handbuilt protocol, Lightway. Also worth noting: both services support 2P2 file sharing and both unblock Netflix, HBO Max, and Amazon Prime Video.
So, these two VPN providers are A-listers with lots of things in common. Let’s see where they’re different.
Did You Know: Unblocking Netflix to watch films and shows from a foreign country is a snap with a quality VPN, but almost impossible with a free VPN. The only exception we know is Windscribe. Check out our hands-on Windscribe review for the whole story.
ExpressVPN and CyberGhost: Where They’re Different
ExpressVPN vs. CyberGhost — Plans and Pricing
Let’s address the elephant in the room first. CyberGhost is cheaper than ExpressVPN, whether you go with their one-year, two-year, or three-year plan. Even better news for fans of the phantom VPN? Unlike, say, bargain Surfshark plans, which double upon renewal, three-year CyberGhost VPN prices stay cheap at $2.25 per month. (You’re just paying for 36 months upon renewal, not 39.)
All of those CyberGhost plans provide good value for your money. The only thing I definitely wouldn’t recommend is paying by the month. At $12.99, the CyberGhost monthly plan is one of the most expensive options I’ve seen.
There are no gimmicks or deals with ExpressVPN’s plans and pricing — it’s one year for $8.32 per month. Again, no reason to go with the one-month ($12.95) or six-month plan ($9.99).
Looking at those numbers with a wide-angle lens, three years (and three months) of CyberGhost is only $87.75. For the same period, you’d be paying almost $325 with ExpressVPN.
I know, the difference seems almost crazy, but keep in mind that ExpressVPN isn’t an outlier. In fact, $8 per month is par for the course for the very best VPN services. Think ProtonVPN, Hotspot Shield, or NordVPN, three of our top picks this year, which all start at $8 monthly.
That said, prices can be a smokescreen. The best advice I can give, after reviewing pretty much every VPN on the market: Only whip out your credit card when you’re satisfied that the VPN you’re considering can deliver on security and day-to-day user experience.
The best way to do that after reading reviews you trust? Take it out for a test-drive. Both ExpressVPN and CyberGhost have generous 45-day, money-back guarantees, so test-driving either is a cinch.
FYI: If you decide to test-drive a VPN for a month and you’re not happy, canceling the auto-renewal won’t get you your refund. You need to contact support and request your money back, and you need to do that before the trial period expires.
ExpressVPN vs. CyberGhost — Ease of Use
There are two schools of thought when it comes to VPN user experience. There’s the Windscribe camp, which says users should be able to engineer their VPN tunnels themselves, down to port choice and MTU packet size. Then there’s the NordVPN camp, which gives users just as much power, but packs it all under the hood.
While ExpressVPN isn’t quite at the level of NordVPN, at least in terms of powerful privacy features, it’s still firmly in the NordVPN camp. Pick a server location, hit the huge green connect button, and you’re anonymous. Express is that easy to use. It also has a favorites list for safekeeping your go-to connections and a Smart Location feature, which finds your closest (and presumably fastest) server for you.
This whole setup makes using ExpressVPN very easy on the day-to-day, but its app is missing at least two features that would make that experience even better: specialty servers (for doing specific things like P2P file sharing and streaming) and server load data. Seeing server loads can cut down a lot on trial and error when you’re trying to find the best connections for whatever you’re doing with your VPN.
Pro Tip: How do you find the best VPNs? We do it test by test. For the full analysis of our two top VPN picks this year, check out our Complete NordVPN vs. ExpressVPN Comparison Guide.
CyberGhost delivers here with servers optimized for streaming and downloading. (As I discovered when I reviewed CyberGhost, those streaming optimizations get so granular you can even find servers optimized for specific streaming services.)
If you want to go deeper than server tweaks, CyberGhost gets really sophisticated. You can tell CyberGhost to randomly switch up ports, for example. The more variation here, the less likely you’ll be outed by VPN-sniffing apps. And, like plenty of quality VPNs these days, CyberGhost has a customizable, built-in ad and malware blocker.
This last was a bit of a disappointment, actually. It bloated my browser requests and slowed down my connection substantially, so I can’t recommend using it. Ditto for CyberGuard’s ID Guard, which is essentially just a haveIbeenpwned.com integration that checks for email breaches, and their private browser, which is just a DuckDuckGo API.
Pro Tip: Not sure what you should be looking for in a VPN? Check out our Complete 2021 VPN Buyer’s Guide. It’ll take you through all the basics, like what features to look out for, why some VPNs are more secure than others, and how to separate the good deals from the great.
But you get the point. CyberGhost is loaded with features. And that’s really just scratching the surface. If that’s too much already, no problem. Just avoid the Connection Features and Smart Rules tabs and stick with the simple stuff.
Did You Know: Have you been “pwned”? If one of your email addresses or passwords has been compromised in a data breach, you have. The best place to check for breaches is via email security crusader Troy Hunt’s haveibeenpwned.com.
One last thing I have to mention here. CyberGhost sells dedicated IP addresses for $5 per month. Dedicated IPs are one piece of advanced tech you may end up needing, so it’s better to think this through carefully when you choose a VPN.
Do you want to access your company network while connected to your VPN? Do you want snoop-free Zoom connections or an extra layer of security when you access your banking app? If you answered yes to any of these questions, a VPN with a dedicated (unique) IP address may be in the works. So put it on your checklist.
Winner: CyberGhost, if you’re doing more than just connecting
Did You Know: Your VPN provider assigns you a random internet protocol (IP) address every time you connect to the internet. Constantly changing IPs can set off reCAPTCHA alerts and make websites and networks suspicious in general. This is where a dedicated or unique IP address can come in handy.
ExpressVPN vs. CyberGhost — Speed
Personally, while I love testing VPNs on fast lines, in practice I don’t do a lot of heavy lifting. That means sheer speed isn’t as important for me as secure, reliable connections. Considering that the most you need even for 4K streaming is a solid 25 Mbps connection, practically any best-in-class VPN will have you covered.
When I first tested ExpressVPN on a 160 Mbps line, I used the Smart Connection feature and got burnt. My download speed plummeted to under 60 Mbps. As soon as I chose a closer server manually, I was back in business with download speeds peaking at around 125 Mbps. CyberGhost gave me similar numbers over OpenVPN but with better upload speeds.
Recently, I took both services out for one more spin using their next-gen protocols, WireGuard (CyberGhost) and Lightway (ExpressVPN) on a 400 Mbps line. Speeds this time around were a lot better. ExpressVPN maxed out at just over 300 Mbps and CyberGhost hit 250 Mbps, both within the United States.
Of course, that was my experience. Your needs (and base connection) could be different. If your network is more like the Suez Canal, there are VPNs out there that pull bigger loads faster. NordVPN is one of them. In my tests, NordVPN was almost lossless, hitting download speeds of almost 400 Mbps on that same 400 Mbps line.
FYI: Spend a lot of time on Spotify? You don’t need a super-fast VPN to secure your connection. To stream audio, you only need 2 Mbps download and upload speeds.
ExpressVPN vs. CyberGhost — Security and Privacy
You can break VPN security down into two essential parts: privacy from bad actors, internet service providers (ISPs), invasive tracking, etc., and privacy from your own VPN provider.
Wait, I can hear you saying, privacy from my own VPN provider? Yes. If you’re not careful choosing, you could end up jumping from the frying pan of ISP surveillance1 into the fire by entrusting your online activity to a VPN company that sells it. It will probably come as no great surprise that most, but not all, of those companies happen to operate free VPNs (and remember, you get what you pay for).
ExpressVPN and CyberGhost don’t sell user data. Nor would they be required to hand over any user data if subpoenaed by a court within the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or anywhere in Europe. That’s because ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands and CyberGhost is in Romania. Both countries are outside the jurisdiction of the 14 Eyes, a consortium of world powers that have no qualms about dipping into our browsing histories.
Pro Tip: Before the 14 Eyes (and the 9 Eyes), there was the 5 Eyes. The 5 Eyes consists of the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In 2020, Japan asked to join the prestigious cabal of super snoops.
It’s worth highlighting that CyberGhost actually claims2 to collect absolutely no user data, not even the session data needed to police their seven simultaneously connected device limit. CyberGhost also touts a fleet of “NoSpy servers” they manage themselves with “super high premium hardware.”
But herein lies the issue with privacy-minded CyberGhost, and many other top VPN providers like them: They simply don’t run the independent security audits to back those claims up. And, really, “super-high premium hardware”? For a VPN service that lets users choose their own MTU packet sizes, I’d like to see some actual specs here.
ExpressVPN has a different story to tell. They back their claims up with yearly, third-party security audits of their servers, source code, and logs. ExpressVPN also happens to dominate the VPN market with its server technology, and they can explain why: It’s due to their RAM-based, 100 percent privately owned and operated DNS servers that literally wipe themselves clean upon start-up, reinstalls the latest versions of their OS, and uniformly distributes security updates. As a result, security flaws and third-party threats are virtually eliminated.
In other words, using ExpressVPN as your VPN tunnel is as secure as the proverbial Swiss bank vault. If online security is what matters to you, the choice here is pretty simple.
Before we put privacy to bed, one thing I haven’t mentioned is a kill switch, which shuts your internet connection down if your VPN fails. If a kill switch is on your VPN checklist, as it should be, don’t worry: Both ExpressVPN and CyberGhost have one, and each works great.
Did You Know: Switzerland isn’t only known for its super secure banking. The small European country is also outside the jurisdiction of the 14 Eyes, making it the ideal base for VPN providers (like ProtonVPN and VyprVPN).
Which VPN Is the Better Choice, ExpressVPN or CyberGhost?
If CyberGhost’s $2.25 per month pro plan speaks to you (or rather screams at you like James Brown in “Rocky IV”), you’re not alone. That is one hot deal. And it’s not just a bargain price tag. CyberGhost’s cup runneth over with features.
Unlike other “technical” VPNs like, say, KeepSolid VPN Unlimited or Windscribe, you won’t feel like a fool if you can’t handle all of them. CyberGhost makes it really easy to avoid the tech and just focus on what matters: smooth connections with very sharp apps (mobile or desktop) on any device you could imagine. Like ExpressVPN, CyberGhost “just works.”
Until it doesn’t. Which is what I found with some of the extras I got with CyberGhost, like the ad blocker that ended up slowing down my page loads instead of speeding them up.
FYI: Ad blockers won’t supercharge your internet connection, but they will speed up your browsing substantially by cleaning all the hidden scripts, images, and videos ads need to run from your page loads.
My ExpressVPN experience was fundamentally different. Yes, ExpressVPN delivers highly polished products that work on all the devices I have. Yes, it’s a workhorse with enough under the hood — both power and features — to keep me happy on the day-to-day.
But ExpressVPN really stands out for its security. No bells or whistles, just completely private VPN connections guaranteed by flawless server hardware. So, close call, definitely. I love the glowing yellow ghost, its simplicity, and many customizations. But as long as budget isn’t the only issue, ExpressVPN is my go-to VPN here.
The math is clear here: CyberGhost is a lot cheaper. CyberGhost costs $2.25 per month — unless you throw in a dedicated IP address for $5 monthly. ExpressVPN costs $8.32 per month. That higher price buys you one of the smoothest software experiences, and arguably the most secure VPN, on the market.
ExpressVPN is the winner here with RAM-based servers they own and run themselves, backed by yearly, third-party security audits.
ExpressVPN operates over 3,000 servers in 94 countries. CyberGhost operates over 6,700 in 88 countries. These server numbers don’t tell the whole story though. ExpressVPN’s fewer servers are 100 percent diskless (RAM-based), and privately owned and operated — the gold standard of VPN server security. CyberGhost, with over double the servers, can’t make either claim.
ExpressVPN was faster in our latest round of speed tests, peaking at 300 Mbps (download) on a 400 Mbps line.
Yes, ExpressVPN allows five simultaneously connected devices, while CyberGhost allows a more generous seven.
On just about anything but your Game Boy, including Android, Fire and Apple TVs, but also Mac, Windows, Linux, Android and iOS, with browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox.