You’ll have to dig deep to find a reason to pick between these VPN juggernauts — which is exactly what we did.
There’s a great scene in “Moscow on the Hudson” where Robin Williams is in a supermarket in New York City trying to buy coffee. Except he’s just defected from the Soviet Union circa 1984, and there are too many coffee brands to choose from. Way too many. It drives Williams into a panic.
I think it’s safe to say that plenty of us feel a little like Robin Williams in NYC when we’re shopping for a VPN. Too many attractive VPN services beckoning us, with no way to decide. Well, the good news is that the right VPN for you is out there. Finding it is usually just a matter of comparing the handful of services that really catch your eye.
Tip number one: Don’t leave NordVPN or ExpressVPN off of your long list. They’re both top-notch, ultra secure, incredibly popular VPN providers that set the bar for VPN excellence. Is either a contender for your next VPN? That’s what we’re going to find out in this comprehensive NordVPN vs. ExpressVPN comparison.
NordVPN and ExpressVPN: Similarities You’ll Appreciate
Ease of Use
One good sign a VPN is right for you? You’re comfortable using its apps. Seriously, there’s nothing better than a bug-free VPN app. (And nothing worse than getting into a VPN app logjam that no amount of live chatting can get you out of.)
I’ve spent a lot of time on the NordVPN and ExpressVPN dashboards, so I can vouch for both. These are both very polished products with low learning curves and almost zero hassles. You’ll be up and running confidently right out of the gate with either option.
Connected Device Limits
ExpressVPN protects up to five devices at the same time, while NordVPN protects six. How does that compare to other VPN services? Sure, you’ll find some outliers like Surfshark’s heroic unlimited connections, and ProtonVPN’s subpar two connections, but in my experience, five or six devices is pretty standard.
What does this mean for you? If you’re the VPN master of a growing household, and you want to protect every device your kids are watching Ryan Kaji unbox videos on (please tell me I’m not the only one), five or six simultaneously connected devices probably won’t cut it. Otherwise, if it’s just the adults in the family, with a computer and a phone apiece, you’ll be just fine.
Pro Tip: Both NordVPN and ExpressVPN give you the option of installing their VPNs directly on your router so that your whole network is protected. That’s a great way to get around their device limits. If you’re fully committed to the VPN lifestyle, you can even buy an ExpressVPN or NordVPN router. Just keep in mind that installing a VPN on a router, while hugely rewarding if you get it right, isn’t always a walk in the park.
Private Web Browsing
Privacy is the real reason most of us are shopping for a VPN. Privacy also happens to be where both NordVPN and ExpressVPN really tower over a lot of the competition in any VPN pricing tier.
To start with, both companies advertise a zero-logs policy. While this may sound like just another five syllables of VPN jargon, it’s actually worth spelling out.
When you entrust a VPN provider with your online privacy, they should actually be doing two things for you. First and foremost, they should be securing any data you send via your VPN against any third-party intrusions. That’s so you never fall victim to crimes like credit card fraud and identity theft (both of which made the FBI’s Top 12 Cybercrimes of 2020,1 by the way). Second, VPN providers themselves should be blind to your activity. This is where zero-logs policies come in.
Pro Tip: To learn more about what it’s like using NordVPN day to day, head on over to my in-depth NordVPN review.
VPN providers that claim zero-logs policies really shouldn’t be recording anything about your activity while you’re connected to the web via their apps — not even bare bones session data like how much bandwidth you use or when you connect.
I’ve dug a lot and according to my research, both NordVPN and ExpressVPN are pretty close to zero logs. Or maybe a better way of putting that would be that both companies are “zero activity and connection logs.”
ExpressVPN, for example, keeps tabs on a few things (I suspect NordVPN does the same): connection dates (not times), server locations, data used, and app versions. But they don’t keep IP addresses or connection times, so there’s no way to actually connect you to any of that activity. Server choice and app versions are for support and crash reports, by the way, and are almost universal.
I make a point of this not to bore you with a lot of technical detail, but because plenty of VPN companies that boast similar policies aren’t quite as “Swiss” about it. More importantly, if you can’t trust your VPN provider to be up front about what it does with your data, who can you trust?
FYI: Swiss VPN providers actually do exist. ProtonVPN and VyprVPN are two of the best VPNs we’ve reviewed this year. ExpressVPN and NordVPN are actually based in the British Virgin Islands. This means they enjoy the same freedom from any international intelligence sharing agreements2 as their Swiss counterparts, but have better daiquiris.
Second, ExpressVPN owns and operates its own diskless RAM servers. (NordVPN is almost, but not quite, there.)3 This is a huge security challenge few VPN providers live up to.
Why should you care about this? Because there’s no physical data left behind with RAM. Even if a hacker penetrated a diskless network, there would be nothing of yours to take.
Finally, I’ve tested both services multiple times and have yet to turn up a single DNS leak in either. This means that the chances of bad actors intercepting any DNS requests you send through your VPN tunnels are virtually nil.
With identity theft on the rampage,4 when a VPN service takes extra steps like these to keep my data safe, it isn’t just a selling point, it’s a privacy benchmark I don’t want to live without. So kudos to ExpressVPN here.
Pro Tip: DNS leaks happen when your VPN tunnel sends data to a third-party server that doesn’t belong to your VPN provider. That data could be the URL of a site you just visited. It could also be a password or a credit card number. That’s why it’s a good idea to focus not just on server numbers when you’re shopping for a VPN service, but on server quality, too.
Instead of throwing a bunch of state-of-the-art encryption acronyms at you, I think you’ll appreciate the fact that both NordVPN and ExpressVPN give you a bunch of uber-secure protocols to encrypt your VPN tunnels.
Protocols, by the way, are the instructions your VPN uses to operate and secure its device-to-server tunnels. Sometimes — as we’ll see in a sec — finding the best protocol for what you want to do can take some trial and error. So having a selection is definitely a plus.
FYI: Looking for a Swiss-based VPN with powerful protections? If so, head over to our analysis of ProtonVPN. It’s our next-favorite pick behind Express and Nord.
Another plus for any of us who visit r/cybersecurity at least three times a day? Both NordVPN and ExpressVPN now come with their own ultra-light, next-generation protocols. So if OpenVPN’s 70,000-plus lines of code just makes you think of a 20-pound platter of Christmas ham, you’re going to have a lot of fun hot-rodding around the web in these super-light speed demons.
NordVPN vs. ExpressVPN: Pricing and Subscriptions
Your research may have taken you to other VPN services that are considerably lighter on the wallet than either NordVPN or ExpressVPN. VyprVPN’s three-year pricing plan (at $1.67 per month), for example, is one of the cheapest I’ve seen. If you think that price tag is too good to be true, you may be surprised. Find out in my in-depth VyprVPN review.
NordVPN and ExpressVPN are in a different price tier altogether. While NordVPN is, at the time of this writing, offering a sweet two-year deal, when the honeymoon is over, you’re looking at $9.82 per month. Pricing for ExpressVPN is $8.32 per month on the yearly plan, so on costs we’re at a pretty even draw.
Pro Tip: VPN providers offer annual rates for a reason. It’s better for them to have you as a long-term customer than on the fence every month about whether you want to renew. But choosing a yearly plan makes more sense for you, too. First, you always save money. Second, it’s actually no fun to have to commit to a subscription 12 times a year, especially if you’re happy with it.
Want a little advice? When it comes to VPNs, put good customer support high on your must-haves list. VPN technology is fiendishly complex. And I’m not talking about manually installing your VPN on your router either. Unblocking Danish Netflix on a Saturday night can be a pain, too.
Bottom line: You want reliable, knowledgeable, timely help (from humans) when you need it. And both NordVPN and ExpressVPN offer that in spades with 24/7 live chat support and quick email responses.
On the other hand, if you’re like me and actually like doing a little research, you’ll also be happy to know that both NordVPN and ExpressVPN have serious support documentation libraries.
NordVPN’s blog is a virtual wikipedia of VPN knowledge. But their support center is good too with plenty of easy-to-follow guides and FAQs. My only gripe here would be that NordVPN could have organized their information a little better. If I need a Mac VPN setup guide, for example, why should I have to go hunting for it? Compare that to ExpressVPN’s neatly organized library of setup guides, which is a piece of cake to use and covers pretty much every device in your house but your toaster.
ExpressVPN has also produced some outstanding explainer videos on their site. Another plus in my book: Their troubleshooting FAQs are bundled together in one place by category and are just a click away from their main support page.
NordVPN vs. ExpressVPN: Differences That Matter
This isn’t exactly what you think. I’m not going to recommend ExpressVPN over NordVPN because it has servers in 94 countries (compared to NordVPN’s 62). Or because NordVPN happens to have 5,200 servers while ExpressVPN only has 3,000. Nice to know, for sure, but these numbers shouldn’t influence your decision to subscribe to one service over the other.
What may make a difference to you is that NordVPN actually helps you choose servers based on what you want to do with your VPN. It works like this. NordVPN has servers optimized for different activities, like torrenting or using the Onion browser to access Tor. They’ve got a few other optimizations that are even more specialized, like Obfuscated Servers (in case you live in a country with internet restrictions) and Double VPN (for an extra layer of security when you connect).
Does ExpressVPN offer a comparable feature? I got to the bottom of this in my nut-and-bolts ExpressVPN review.
Winner: NordVPN. They’ve got more servers, which isn’t the only performance factor, but it could mean faster connections for you. Plus, by recommending the best servers for your activities, NordVPN will actually help you use your VPN more efficiently.
Did You Know: Facebook is banned in China, Iran, Syria, and North Korea. But Facebook itself banned over 1.3 billion accounts5 in October and December 2020 to combat fake news.
The really nice thing about both NordVPN and ExpressVPN is that, if you want, you can use them both out of the box without much configuring. Just click on a server and you’re ready to go.
The other really nice thing about both services is that there is plenty of additional power packed into their dashboards right under the hood. And you don’t have to spend any time getting it to work for you.
ExpressVPN’s key added value is its airtight security. So there’s nothing for you to even do here. It’s always working in the background. But if you do end up exploring extras, you will find Private DNS and TrustedServer technology listed as features. Together, these features guarantee two things.
One, you are always, at any moment you connect to your VPN, sending your data through ExpressVPN’s privately owned and operated (physical) servers. Two, each and every server (they’ve got 3,000) starts over clean upon every reboot with zero data and the latest version of their OS and software, security patches included.
Another way to put that? After familiarizing myself with ExpressVPN’s privacy specs, I actually felt something I’d never felt before: pity for hackers.
NordVPN can’t quite compete with Express VPN’s security game — they’re currently at work in Finland building a fleet of private servers that will essentially do the same thing — but they’ve got other very nice features that will help you in your daily VPN use.
First, NordVPN offers “Onion over VPN” support for anonymous browsing on the Onion Network, aka Tor. NordVPN essentially gives your access to the Onion Network via one of their own specialized servers, so you don’t have to download the Tor browser. Not many VPN providers go out of their way to make this so easy.
FYI: Tor isn’t the Antichrist. It’s actually an internet privacy project subsidized by the U.S. government that has, by virtue of the fact that it allows completely anonymous browsing, attracted some bad company. But if you want an ad-free, snoop-free alternative to Google, Tor access might come in handy.
NordVPN also has a Double VPN feature that encrypts and sends your data through two separate servers, giving you an extra layer of privacy.
Double VPN is probably not your go-to feature for sending emails to the kids at summer camp. Then again, you really have no idea what might add your name to a watch list these days, so it’s an option worth having in your VPN arsenal. Just remember that for everyday use, you probably don’t want to use Double VPN because that second tunnel will slow your connection down a bit.
Finally, for $70 per year, you can purchase a dedicated IP address from NordVPN. If you work remotely and your company only whitelists one IP address for you, you may need one. Dedicated IPs are also good for accessing high-security banking apps and unblocking streaming platforms that keep an eye on crowded IPs they suspect of harboring VPN users.
FYI: I haven’t even mentioned CyberSec, NordVPN’s native ad and malware blocker. And even that’s just scratching the surface of the NordVPN ecosystem, which also includes secure cloud storage (NordLocker) and a password vault (NordPass).
Winner? Both services are in the 99th percentile in terms of VPN security, even if ExpressVPN is for the moment a little further along in terms of DNS protection. But if it’s a question of tools you might be using — if not every day, then at least every once in a while — NordVPN might offer more value for money.
NordVPN vs. ExpressVPN: Performance
To set the stage, we put a few parameters in place to gauge performance that will actually be useful for our readers. For example, we know some of you have monster 1 Gbps connections, while others have only a tenth of that speed. Because of that, we run our tests on a line that’s somewhere in the middle: 160-180 Mbps. That’s download speed, by the way. Our upload speeds range from 125 to 160 Mbps.
Another factor we considered is that nearly everyone is looking for the fastest server connection. ExpressVPN actually finds one automatically with its Smart Location feature. Ditto for NordVPN (unless you chose a server by activity from its Specialty Server menu). For our tests, we let both apps find the fastest servers for us.
Finally, while ExpressVPN’s Lightway and NordVPN’s NordLynx protocols may be blazing fast on paper, they don’t always work that way in practice. So for our speed tests, we used tried-and-true OpenVPN protocols, which many of you with VPN experience already use anyway.
Pro Tip: Don’t think ExpressVPN is a great fit for you? Check out our latest comparison guide to NordVPN vs. ProtonVPN.
Now for the goods.
NordVPN looks great here with a tiny (1 millisecond) increase in latency and a slight (11 percent) hit to our download speeds. But look at those upload speeds! Smokin’, right? NordVPN had indeed found us a fast connection which went above and beyond what we needed to browse, stream, or download without any buffering or stalling.
When we put ExpressVPN’s Smart Location to the test, the results weren’t so hot. First off, our speeds tanked, dropping from a pretty impressive 180 Mbps to a pretty sluggish 53 Mbps.
The good news is that as soon we chose our server ourselves, we were back in the game with respectable upload (126 Mbps) and download (94 Mbps) speeds.
What does this mean for you?
Like snowflakes (the water-based crystals, not the generation after the millennials), no two connections are alike. You may see blazing speeds using ExpressVPN’s Smart Location with any of its protocols. That’s because you may be connecting from a location with more servers or during a time with less traffic. You also may just have a better line. There are just too many moving parts in the process to make a one-size-fits-all prediction.
That said, NordVPN definitely gave us a smoother experience using its out-of-the-box features, and faster overall speeds even without its lighter, speedier proprietary protocol.
Winner: It’s a tie
Pro Tip: If you’ve ever had a conversation about VPN performance, latency has probably come up. This technical-sounding term is really just the lag in between when you send a request through your VPN to the time that your server receives it. Most of the time, it’s so lightning fast you won’t even notice it. (That’s why latency is measured in milliseconds.)
A Closer Look at NordVPN and ExpressVPN Pricing
In my experience, pricing tables can be a little deceptive. NordVPN’s plans and pricing are no exception. Obviously, NordVPN’s two-year intro plan makes the most sense. Just keep in mind that once the party’s over, you are looking at $119 per year, or $9.82 per month. That’s without a password manager or any secure storage, which you can purchase from NordSec (NordVPN’s umbrella company), if you’re into that.
ExpressVPN (refreshingly, I’ve got to say) has no special offers. It’s $8.32 per month for 12 months. That comes out to just shy of $100 per year.
As I said above, your decision to subscribe to either service probably won’t boil down to a $20 bill.
Should I Subscribe to NordVPN or ExpressVPN?
In many ways, NordVPN and ExpressVPN offer a comparable service. They’ve both got well-engineered, bug-free apps, industry standard encryption, bulletproof privacy, solid performance, and stellar customer support.
We can also add pricing to that list because the $1.50 per month you’d be saving with ExpressVPN isn’t a game changer.
Put to the test, NordVPN was our faster VPN, hardly affecting our download speeds and actually boosting our upload speeds. That said, once we ditched ExpressVPN’s Smart Location feature, we were able to get decent speeds there, too. Considering all of that, I really think you’d be fine with either service for the most basic VPN activity.
But maybe you’re looking for more versatility. Maybe you’d like cloud storage, password management, or a built-in malware blocker. Maybe you want the extra layer of privacy a Double VPN gives you when you’re browsing. Maybe you’re curious about Tor but don’t want to jump through the hurdles of downloading a separate browser. Or, more practically speaking, maybe you need a dedicated IP address just to connect for work.
That’s a pretty big list of “maybes.” If any of them speaks to you, I’d say NordVPN — at only $20 more per year — is probably your safer bet.
But again, when it comes to privacy and keeping your online activity under wraps, there’s no better service than ExpressVPN.
So when the dust settles, I have to give the slight edge to ExpressVPN.
On its yearly plan, ExpressVPN ($99.84) is $20 cheaper than NordVPN ($119).
Both of these VPN powerhouses are based in the British Virgin Islands, which has no treaties with U.S. or European governments and is outside the reach of the 14 Eyes.
In our tests, NordVPN was faster using an OpenVPN protocol.
NordVPN has more (5,200) servers than ExpressVPN (3,000). But ExpressVPN has greater server reach (96 countries) versus NordVPN’s still-solid 62.
Yes, you can. If you want to bypass their simultaneously connected device limits, configuring your router to run your VPN — or buying a router that comes with ExpressVPN or NordVPN — is a great option.
NordVPN comes with CyberSec, its own ad and malware blocker. ExpressVPN doesn’t have a comparable feature.