In 2017, the open web became a scary place. That was the year the U.S. government gave internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast and Verizon carte blanche to monitor our browsing activity and then sell it to the highest bidder.1
Like I said, scary times — if you weren’t using a VPN you could trust. With a quality VPN shielding your devices, you didn’t have to worry about greedy ISPs because your browsing history, and everything else you did online, was completely hidden.
IPVanish (2012) and ExpressVPN (2009) have been around long before 2017. They both have the software and server tech to keep our data safe from snooping ISPs. But which of these VPN services is the better choice for our households? In this hands-on IPVanish vs. ExpressVPN Guide, we’ll compare the test results and find out.
Did You Know: More than half the population (61 percent) of the United Arab Emirates downloaded a VPN in 2020, the highest per capita VPN use rate in the world.
IPVanish vs. ExpressVPN at a Glance
Do you like your VPN apps to work right out of the box? Who doesn’t? IPVanish and ExpressVPN both score big points here with products that are really easy to use and generally bug-free. If anyone wins in the geek department, it would be IPVanish with all the extra data visualizations they fit onto their dashboard. Otherwise, whichever VPN service you go with, you’ll be shutting out your ISP on pretty much any OS or device you use — mobile, desktop, TV, or router.
As far as server numbers go, ExpressVPN (with their 3,000-plus servers in 94 countries) is going to give you more coverage than IPVanish, which runs 1,600 servers in 55 countries. But numbers aren’t everything. VyprVPN, a Switzerland-based VPN I really like, only operates 700 servers — and still delivers great performance. (Check out my complete VyprVPN review for more on that).
Plus — and this is really the point — server numbers aren’t what makes a VPN secure. It’s the server hardware that does that, and we’ve got plenty to talk about there. Just understand for now that with both IPVanish and ExpressVPN your data is safe from corporate snoopers, hackers, and identity pirates, which are all on the rise.2
FYI: Want insider tips on everything VPN? Head over to our Total VPN Guide.
Finally, in terms of the price, if you’re looking for a steal, neither of these best-in-class VPNs quite fit the bill. That said, at $4.58 per month (with secure cloud storage) IPVanish is still a chunk cheaper than ExpressVPN ($8.32 per month). As always, there’s a reason for that, so let’s dig a little deeper.
Pro Tip: As a rule of thumb, it’s best to steer clear of month-to-month VPN subscriptions. You’ll save plenty of money with a yearly (or multiyear) subscription. Plus, most money-back guarantees are only good with yearly subscriptions.
IPVanish vs. ExpressVPN Under the Microscope
IPVanish vs. ExpressVPN on the Day to Day
Is IPVanish trying to do too much with its dashboard? I’ll say this. It was neat to have my server, connection times, and transfer speeds in one place when I tested IPVanish. (Or actually two places: You get numbers down below and a speed graph up top.) Those upload and download speeds would come in handy if I was troubleshooting a speed issue, for sure. But was I hanging out there while I went about my daily business? Nope, and you probably won’t be either.
One thing that did impact my day-to-day experience was the glitchy resizing I experienced with IPVanish. I can’t say for sure if this is a general issue with the desktop client, or just a Mac bug. Otherwise, I was happy with IPVanish — via both desktop and mobile — which are pretty much the same.
Did You Know: Download speeds usually take center stage in VPN reviews, but don’t forget your upload speeds. You need both for stable internet connections.
Like their slogan, ExpressVPN apps “just work,” which is all most of us want from our VPN. The ExpressVPN desktop app fits in the corner of your screen or can be minimized in the toolbar (if you’re on a Mac like me). All I had to do was hit the big lime green button and I was browsing anonymously in my one-man tunnel, with no leaky DNS requests for my ISP to scoop up.
If I wanted, I could let ExpressVPN choose the best server for me with Smart Location, but that didn’t always work well. If you take a speed hit, like I did when I went hands-on with ExpressVPN, you can always manually choose your server and protocol yourself.
Winner: I’d go with ExpressVPN for overall ease of use
FYI: Choosing the right protocol can really impact your VPN performance. There are protocols known for reliability (like industry standard OpenVPN) and protocols known for serious rubber burning, like the newer, lighter WireGuard.
IPVanish vs. ExpressVPN Under the Hood
First off, neither IPVanish or ExpressVPN are what you’d consider “technical VPNs.” If you’re shopping for one of those, check out CyberGhost. CyberGhost plans offer great value for your money, and the advanced tech is still user-friendly.
That said, neither of these VPN services is a light switch either. There’s definitely some screwdriver room if you’re an incorrigible VPN tweaker like I am.
One thing I especially liked about IPVanish’s advanced tweaks was a small but very well-thought-out detail. When you go into IPVanish’s server connection settings — something I always recommend doing before you launch your VPN for the first time — you don’t just find a run-of-the-mill “automatically connect on start-up” option. You can actually tell IPVanish to always “connect to fastest server” or even “fastest server in country.”
Why is this nice? Simply because finding your optimal connection is the first thing you do when you connect, and IPVanish cuts that step out of your start-up process. Like I said, not a mindblow, but an “aha” moment for sure, in the sense that I’m wondering why other VPNs don’t offer something like it.
Pro Tip: A DNS server — short for Domain Name System server — is the middleman that processes all your internet requests. When you use a VPN service, your requests flow through their airtight, heavily encrypted DNS servers and not right into the clutches of your ISP.
Other advanced features from IPVanish you’ll probably use are a kill switch (got to have one of those) and a scrambler. A kill switch nixes your internet connection if something goes wrong and your VPN quits on you.
As for the scrambler, sometimes you don’t want to flaunt your VPN, such as when you’re trying to unblock Netflix while traveling. Toggle on the scrambler and IPVanish will make Netflix think you’re connecting via a normal internet connection. Pretty neat.
ExpressVPN comes with some convenient gadgets under the hood, too. My favorite was “allow access to local network devices.” Let me break this one down for you because it’s really useful.
When your computer tells your printer to print, it does that over your local network because, unless you’ve rigged your router with firmware, your printer can’t go through your VPN. That’s potentially a pain because it would mean disconnecting from your VPN every time you wanted to print. ExpressVPN’s LAN access takes care of that, so you can print locally and browse securely via your VPN at the same time.
Did You Know: LAN stands for local area network. When your household devices communicate with each other via your router, they’re using your LAN. When you use a virtual private network (VPN), your computer connects to a secure network outside your LAN.
Of course, ExpressVPN gives you a kill switch, too. It’s called “network lock.” And you get split tunneling, aka “manage connection on a per-app basis.” If you haven’t noticed, ExpressVPN really tries to make their dashboard language as jargon-free as possible. The jury’s out if that’s actually helping here.
Never tried “split tunneling”? When you split your VPN tunnel, you’re simply rerouting specific traffic outside your VPN — and always to websites or apps that you trust. Why would you want to do this? One, VPNs can slow your browsing down a little. The fewer requests you run through your tunnel, the better. Two, some apps just don’t like VPNs. If you trust an app that’s iffy about VPNs (for me, Dropbox), just tell ExpressVPN to pull it out of your tunnel.
Winner: This is a tough one, but I’d say tweak for tweak, we’re at a draw.
FYI: ExpressVPN’s split tunneling feature will get you onto your banking app, but if you want to fool Netflix, you’re going to need IPVanish’s scrambler or a really stealthy server.
IPVanish vs. ExpressVPN — Pricing Options
Hop on over to our IPVanish pricing page and you’ll see that they’re really pushing their cloud storage service, SugarSync. A VPN with 500 GB of storage at $4.58 per month is pretty sweet without a doubt. That’s only $54.99 per year. Without SugarSync, your monthly rate drops to $3.75 (or $49.99 per year). And that includes a 30-day, money-back guarantee, so no need to test-drive IPVanish’s $10.99 monthly option.
Can you find cheaper? Sure. CyberGhost’s premium option is $2.25 per month for three years. VyprVPN, a great balance of tech and user experience, is an eye-popping $1.67 per month. After that, you climb up into the mid-range “technical” VPNs like Windscribe VPN and KeepSolid Unlimited VPN, and finally into the upper VPN echelons, which brings us to ExpressVPN.
FYI: Feature-packed Surfshark usually starts a feeding frenzy with its $2.49 per month price tag. We definitely liked what we found in our latest Surfshark analysis.
ExpressVPN costs a no-nonsense $8.32 per month by the year (on sale now for $6.67), or $12.95 by the month. Is it worth it when you can grab IPVanish with 500 GB of secure cloud storage for cheaper?
ExpressVPN’s day-to-day app experience says yes. So let’s see how it compares to IPVanish in terms of privacy and performance.
Pro Tip: There are a number of reasons you might want to invest in secure cloud storage. Backing up and transferring your files securely are at the top of the list, but quality storage services like SugarSync can also wipe your devices remotely. So if someone steals your laptop, they’ll be stealing a shell.
IPVanish vs. ExpressVPN — Performance
Chances are, if you’ve got a fast, stable router connection, most of the VPNs we review won’t give you any headaches once you find the right server(s) for your needs. This can take some trial and error, even if your VPN helps you out with a smart connection feature.
IPVanish and ExpressVPN aren’t hot rods, but they didn’t slow my 160-180 Mbps line down once I found the right connections. And I did have choices with both. IPVanish let me connect over OpenVPN UDP and TCP, as well as IPSec and IKEv2. (WireGuard seems to be in beta because it’s not in general circulation yet.) ExpressVPN comes power-packed with its fiendishly light, in-house Lightway protocol.
Speaking of Lightway, when I ignored ExpressVPN’s pre-selected Smart Location, and fired up a server closer to home, my connection improved significantly (300 Mbps on a 400 Mbps line). I didn’t manage to hit those speeds with IPVanish over OpenVPN. I guess I’ll just have to wait for WireGuard. For the time being, ExpressVPN would be my winner here.
Did You Know: OpenVPN protocols give you two ways to connect to your VPN: TCP (Transmission Control Protocol), which is lossless but slower, and UDP (User Datagram Protocol), which is faster and works well for VoIP and online gaming.
IPVanish vs. ExpressVPN — Privacy and Logging
I’ve already covered basic privacy features like kill switches and IPVanish’s privacy-minded scrambler feature. I’ll add DNS integrity to our privacy checklist, because IPVanish and ExpressVPN performed fine here. Neither ever exposed my IP address.
It’s true that, if you get down to brass tacks, IPVanish lags a little with its tunnel encryption (AES-256-CBC with a 2048-bit key versus ExpressVPN’s AES-256-GCM, ChaCha20/Poly1305 and 4096-bit key). But for day-to-day security, you’re more than covered with either service.
Did You Know: AES stands for Advanced Encryption Standard, a symmetric block cipher the U.S. government adopted to keep classified information safe.
As for logs, both companies are clear about not collecting any data that could possibly be linked to your account. British Virgin Islands-based ExpressVPN would be at the obvious advantage here because they’re outside the 5 Eyes, a government intel-sharing cabal that includes the U.S. and Canada. (IPVanish is based in Orlando, Florida.)
But the biggest privacy advantage ExpressVPN has over IPVanish is its server technology. The ins and outs of DNS server tech get geeky fast, but here’s the gist.
ExpressVPN owns and operates its own fleet of 3,000-plus RAM-based DNS servers. That means every request we send through ExpressVPN’s servers — every last URL, email, and password — is wiped daily like clockwork. There is literally nothing to hack. This degree of hardware security is highly unusual in the industry.
And we don’t have to take ExpressVPN’s word for it. Unlike IPVanish (and plenty of other VPN providers out there who claim to operate all their points of presence), ExpressVPN puts its entire infrastructure — server hardware, code, and logs — to a yearly independent audit.3 (Just a heads-up. You’ll need an ExpressVPN account to access the full report.)
FYI: The alternative to RAM-based servers are servers that run off hard drives, which happens to be the industry standard. The risk here is that hard drives need to be manually wiped (so data sits around longer).
Winner: ExpressVPN, hands down
IPVanish vs. ExpressVPN: Which Is the Better VPN?
IPVanish has some great things going for it. Its easy-to-use, mostly bug-free apps come with some particularly convenient advanced features and a lot of data on display. IPVanish is also as serious about privacy as a 5 Eyes VPN provider can get without third-party security audits.
But where IPVanish stands out is its very attractive $4.58 per month pro package, which comes with 500 GB of secure storage via SugarSync.
Is that enough to get you to turn your back on the most secure browsing experience in the industry (according to the cybersecurity experts at PwC)? Or is it enough to ignore powerful, gorgeous-looking apps that run fast and steady on any of your devices, browsers, or TVs? For this reviewer, it isn’t. That’s why, if I had to put my money on one of these best-in-class VPNs, it would be on ExpressVPN.
Pro Tip: Thinking about uploading your family videos to the cloud? Consider that a single 1080p HD movie file gobbles up about 10 GB.
At $3.75 per month, IPVanish’s premium yearly package is cheaper than ExpressVPN’s ($8.32 per month). That higher monthly fee pays for ExpressVPN’s unmatchable TrustedServer technology.
Both IPVanish and ExpressVPN have apps for Macs, Windows, and Linux, Android, iOS, and Fire TV along with router firmware and browser extensions (IPVanish has Chrome only). But ExpressVPN also works with a range of gaming devices, media player platforms, and TVs, including Samsung, Android and Apple TVs, Roku, and Nvidia Shield.
Yes, in our tests, both VPN services unblocked Netflix for streaming. But ExpressVPN also unblocked Amazon Prime Video and HBO Max.
IPVanish manages 1,600 servers in 75 locations, which they claim to own. ExpressVPN runs a fleet of 3,000-plus RAM-based, privately owned, and independently-audited servers in 160 locations, making it one of the most secure VPNs in the world.
IPVanish was founded in 2012. ExpressVPN has been around since 2009.