ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access are both popular VPN services with many users around the world. With that being said, I’m only recommending one in this ExpressVPN vs PIA comparison, because there’s a clear winner.
Here are the different categories we’re going to examine in this ExpressVPN vs PIA comparison:
- Company and Jurisdiction
- Netflix and Streaming
- Security and Encryption
Let’s get started.
1. Company background and jurisdiction: PIA vs ExpressVPN
With every VPN I test and review on this site, I do an extensive background check to see if there are any skeletons in the closet.
Private Internet Access background – For many years, Private Internet Access was one of the leading VPN services, perhaps peaking in 2017. A lot has changed since then, however. In my tests and observations, PIA has been going downhill for the past few years. Many people have been cancelling their subscriptions and venting concerns in various forums.
Then, in 2019, PIA announced that it was selling out to Kape Technologies. The sale of PIA to Kape is quite alarming when you look into the background of Kape:
- Kape (previously named Crossrider) has a history of producing malware and infecting computers through software bundles
- Crossrider changed its name to Kape to distance itself from its controversial past
- Kape now owns CyberGhost, ZenMate VPN, and now Private Internet Access
Do you want to trust your security and traffic to a company that has a long history of producing malware? Of course, trust is subjective, but I will no longer be recommending any of the VPNs owned by Kape/Crossrider (or whatever their new name is).
Unlike PIA, ExpressVPN has not announced any mergers or acquisitions with other cybersecurity companies. It is a big provider in the VPN space and I do not see it getting bought out or merging anytime soon. If that ever changes, I’ll be the first to report it.
PIA Jurisdiction: PIA is based in the United States. The US is a Five Eyes country and that is not good for privacy. There have also been numerous cases of US tech companies being forced to log and hand over customer data, while also being prohibited from disclosure due to gag orders. See for example with Lavabit and also Riseup, an email and VPN service.
ExpressVPN background – From everything I could find in my research, ExpressVPN has a squeaky clean background. It has been operating for a number of years and continues to grow and gain users worldwide. Unlike IPVanish or PureVPN, ExpressVPN has not had any scandals or issues affecting user privacy. Instead, it has undergone numerous audits to further bolster trust.
ExpressVPN Jurisdiction: ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands. The BVI is a great offshore jurisdiction is not a member of any surveillance alliances, while also being politically and legally independent from external influence.
Company and jurisdiction winner: ExpressVPN
2. ExpressVPN vs PIA speed tests
After extensively testing both services for the respective reviews, there is a clear winner in terms of VPN speeds, and that is ExpressVPN.
All speed tests were carried out using OpenVPN with 256-AES encryption. My baseline speed for testing was 160 Mbps with a wired ethernet connection, tested from my location in Germany. First we’ll examine tests with nearby PIA and ExpressVPN servers in Europe (close to my physical location).
Here is a nearby ExpressVPN server in Switzerland. It gave me 150 Mbps, which was very close to my baseline speed.
Unlike ExpressVPN, PIA has a much smaller server network, with limited servers in Europe. Here was a nearby server I tested in Austria.
Private Internet Access server in Austria: 85 Mbps.
These are significant differences in speed, with ExpressVPN performing much better than Private Internet Access.
Next, I tested servers in the United Kingdom.
Here is an ExpressVPN server in the UK, again giving me about 147 Mbps, again close to my baseline internet speed.
With Private Internet Access, my speeds were less than half as fast as ExpressVPN.
Here’s the Private Internet Access server in the UK, but with only about 65 Mbps:
This isn’t horrible, but it’s certainly not the best VPN for the UK in terms of speed.
Additionally, I also tested a few servers in the United States. Again, ExpressVPN was considerably faster than Private Internet Access.
Here is an ExpressVPN server in New York at 141 Mbps:
These are very good speeds, especially considering the longer distance and higher latency.
In comparison, here is the PIA server in New York at about 63 Mbps:
When comparing Private Internet Access to ExpressVPN, there was a clear winner in terms of speeds. ExpressVPN was consistently faster than PIA with all servers I tested.
These test results also line up with user feedback I have received via comments and emails, with PIA falling behind in speeds. We saw similar results with NordVPN coming out on top in the NordVPN vs PIA comparison. If performance is your top priority, then ExpressVPN would be the one to go with.
Winner for speed: ExpressVPN
3. Is PIA or ExpressVPN more reliable?
When discussing reliability, I consider the following areas:
- Apps – Do the VPN apps suffer from bugs or crashes?
- Connections – Are the connections reliable, or does the VPN client randomly disconnect?
- Speeds – Are speeds consistent?
First we’ll look at ExpressVPN.
ExpressVPN is definitely a reliable VPN service. The applications are very stable and do not suffer from dropped connections, bugs, or crashes. In short, everything just works.
Here is a screenshot of the ExpressVPN Windows client I tested out in my review of ExpressVPN.
In addition to good desktop clients, ExpressVPN is also one of the best VPNs for Android we’ve tested, with very secure and stable mobile clients.
And as we already covered above, speeds were consistently fast with all ExpressVPN servers we tested. Now let’s examine PIA in terms of reliability.
PIA reliability – PIA is also pretty reliable. In the latest PIA review, I found the applications to work well without any bugs, crashes, or other problems. Below I’m adjusting preferences within the PIA Windows client.
While speeds weren’t as fast as ExpressVPN, Private Internet Access still has consistent and reliable performance. Therefore in the reliability category, it’s a tie between ExpressVPN and PIA. Both are reliable.
Winner for reliability: Tie
4. PIA vs ExpressVPN: prices and refund policies
Below we will examine the prices and refund policies. These two items will be combined into one category, since they go together.
Private Internet Access price
PIA is certainly a low-cost VPN, with the cheapest rate coming in at $3.49 per month with the two-year price plan.
In terms of value, PIA is not a bad choice, but there are some other great cheap VPNs to consider if you are trying to save money. Now let’s examine the refund policy.
PIA refund policy – Previously, PIA would only give you a 7 day refund window. However, they changed this and now offer a 30-day refund window on all subscription plans. However, there is some fine print to be aware of. PIA will not process a refund through some payment processors, or if they have decided to terminate your account for some reason.
ExpressVPN is without a doubt more expensive than PIA, with their default subscription coming in at $8.32 per month for the annual plan. Fortunately, they are also offering an ExpressVPN discount coupon that includes three months free and drops the price down to $6.67 per month. The coupon will be automatically activated through this link:
We can see that ExpressVPN is more expensive than PIA, but the key question is value (what you get for your money). Read on to see which one comes out on top in the value category.
ExpressVPN refund policy – ExpressVPN offers a 30 day money-back guarantee. The refund is a “no questions asked” policy and does not include any hidden exceptions or clauses. This is the best you will find in the VPN industry, and it is the same as PIA.
Winner: Private Internet Access (PIA is cheaper, and both PIA and ExpressVPN have the same refund window)
5. Features: ExpressVPN vs Private Internet Access
Both ExpressVPN and Private internet offer some decent features, but there is a winner in this category.
PIA features – The main features with Private Internet access are:
- PIA MACE, which is a basic ad blocker
- Kill switch (IP leak and DNS leak protection)
PIA claims to work with different streaming services, but I’ve found it to get blocked more often than not, as I’ll show you below. So overall, PIA is a pretty basic, minimal VPN service.
ExpressVPN features – The main features with ExpressVPN are:
- Built-in Network Lock (kill switch) feature to block all traffic if the VPN connection drops (IPv4, IPv6, and DNS leak protection)
- Obfuscation features to hide VPN traffic as regular HTTPS encryption (useful if you need a good VPN for China, or anywhere else the VPNs are blocked)
- MediaStreamer app that allows you to use the VPN on Smart TVs and other devices that normally don’t work with VPNs
- Full streaming support, including Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Disney+ and more (tested below)
- Large global server network that is march larger than PIA’s server network
- Split tunneling feature that allows you to route certain websites or applications outside of the VPN tunnel
- Browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Chromium-based browsers
We tested out the browser extensions for our VPN for Chrome roundup and were impressed by the features. This browser extension allows you to control the desktop VPN app, but also offers the following added features:
In contrast to ExpressVPN, Private Internet Access does not offer any browser extensions, no split tunneling feature, no MediaStream app, a smaller server network, and no obfuscation features.
Winner with features: ExpressVPN
6. Does PIA or ExpressVPN have better support?
The support category is a big factor to consider. For those who may want help setting up and configuring their VPN, this can be a deciding factor. If things go wrong, and you want immediate assistance, live chat can be critical.
In the support category, ExpressVPN is the clear winner.
ExpressVPN provides 24/7 live chat support directly available through the website (no login required). I’ve tested the support on various occasions and found it to be professional and prompt (no long wait times).
Now let’s examine PIA support.
PIA support – Unlike ExpressVPN, Private Internet Access does not offer reliable live chat support. And this is a big difference.
Officially, you can find live chat on the PIA website. However, support was not very helpful in my tests, with long waits and problems with the chat box. For many years, I’ve seen complaints with the Private Internet Access support staff. Previously, they only offered email support, which was often very delayed. Even though PIA now has chat support, it is not on the same level of ExpressVPN.
Support winner: ExpressVPN
7. Netflix and Streaming: Private Internet Access vs ExpressVPN
Many people are turning to VPN services to unblock streaming websites. This includes using a VPN to unblock Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, and many more. As an expat who watches Netflix, this is an area where I’m regularly testing VPNs.
First up is PIA. I found that Private Internet Access could not unblock Netflix. Here you can see Netflix is blocking me when connected to a PIA server in the US.
While PIA now claims to be a good VPN for streaming, my results say otherwise. I asked PIA support about this and they told me they have been getting blocked by Netflix in most locations. However, they claim that some US servers may work with US Netflix.
Next up is ExpressVPN. ExpressVPN was able to unblock Netflix for me without any issues. The streaming quality was perfect and it remains the best VPN for Netflix. Below I’m testing US Netflix with an ExpressVPN server in Washington, DC.
ExpressVPN officially supports the following Netflix regions: US, UK, Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, and Germany. Additionally, ExpressVPN also works with Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, BBC iPlayer and more. It is an excellent choice if you need a good VPN for streaming.
Streaming winner: ExpressVPN
8. Security and Encryption: ExpressVPN vs PIA
Security is a big consideration when choosing a good VPN service. First, we will look at ExpressVPN.
Encryption and kill switch – ExpressVPN utilizes very strong encryption standards: an AES 256-bit cipher with a 4096-bit RSA key and SHA-512 HMAC authentication. ExpressVPN apps also utilize the “Network Lock” kill switch feature to ensure all traffic remains encrypted in the VPN tunnel. DNS requests are securely translated by ExpressVPN’s DNS servers (no third parties).
Server security – ExpressVPN is one of the few VPNs in the industry that runs all their servers in RAM-disk mode. This ensures no data can ever be stored on a server, since hard drives are not in use, and also protects user data in the event of physical server seizures. ExpressVPN calls this the TrustedServer feature. This offers a higher level of security over most other VPN servers that use hard drives, which contain user data.
Security audits – ExpressVPN has also undergone two separate audits. First, it passed a security audit conducted by Cure53. Second, ExpressVPN passed an audit conducted by PWC to verify its no-logs policy. Very few VPNs have undergone audits like this.
Now we will examine the security of Private Internet Access.
PIA also provides strong encryption standards, but also allows the user to modify data encryption, authentication, and handshake. Below you can see the encryption preferences in the PIA client.
While PIA may be a decent VPN for Windows with these custom encryption options, it also comes with some drawbacks. For starters, PIA does not offer stronger encryption or more security over ExpressVPN. In fact, one can utilize a lower level of encryption with PIA.
Server security – Like most VPNs, PIA does not run VPN servers in RAM-disk mode. This can potentially expose PIA users’ data if a server were ever to be seized.
Audits – Unlike with ExpressVPN, I do not see any evidence that PIA has ever undergone a third-party security audit or no-logs audit.
Security winner: ExpressVPN
Conclusion: ExpressVPN wins
The clear winner of this ExpressVPN vs PIA comparison is ExpressVPN.
Despite being more expensive, I still think it offers a better value. In comparison to PIA, ExpressVPN has much better performance, more features, stronger security, better support, full streaming access, and it has passed third-party audits.
Here’s a recap for each category in this Private Internet Access vs ExpressVPN comparison:
- Company and jurisdiction – ExpressVPN
- Speed – ExpressVPN
- Reliability – Tie
- Prices and Refunds – PIA
- Features – ExpressVPN
- Support – ExpressVPN
- Netflix and Streaming – ExpressVPN
- Security and Encryption – ExpressVPN
Consequently, I would recommend going with ExpressVPN. And they do have a coupon for those interested in test-driving the VPN:
Perhaps you are still on the fence and want to consider other options. If that is the case, be sure to check out the latest test results of the best VPN services.
Lastly, if you have used either ExpressVPN or PIA, feel free to drop a comment below to share your experience and help others decide.