Nearly everyone has heard of ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access (PIA). Both of these VPNs have been around for years and each has millions of users. However, in running dozens of tests for this ExpressVPN vs PIA comparison report, we discovered there was a clear winner in nearly every category.
Some of the biggest differences we noted were in the area of performance, which includes, speed and reliability. We also noted some big differences with unblocking streaming sites, such as Netflix. So without further delay, here are the test categories we examined for this PIA vs ExpressVPN comparison report:
- Company and Jurisdiction (background check)
- Netflix and Streaming
- Security and Encryption
Let’s get started.
1. Company background and jurisdiction
With all of our VPN reviews and VPN comparisons, we first conduct an extensive background check of each service. This includes looking at the VPN’s history, policies, and where it is legally based (jurisdiction).
Private Internet Access background – For many years, PIA was one of the leading VPN services, perhaps peaking in 2017. But a lot has changed since then. 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 online.
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 VPN, ZenMate VPN, and now Private Internet Access
Here is how one person on Reddit summed up the situation with Kape buying PIA:
Do you want to trust your security and traffic to a company that has a history of producing malware? While trust is subjective, we do not any of the VPNs owned by Kape/Crossrider, which includes PIA, CyberGhost, and Zenmate. And to make matters worse, Kape purchased VPN review websites and then placed their products in the top spots.
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. There was also a case where IPVanish was forced to log user data for the FBI, all while claiming to be a “zero logs” VPN.
ExpressVPN background – From everything I could find in my research, ExpressVPN has a squeaky clean background, and we have been following this VPN for years. It has a long track record and continues to grow and gain users worldwide. Unlike IPVanish, ExpressVPN has not had any scandals or issues affecting user privacy. Instead, it has undergone numerous audits to further bolster trust and ensure the highest levels of security.
ExpressVPN Jurisdiction: ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands. The BVI is a great offshore jurisdiction. It is not a member of any surveillance alliances and is also politically and legally independent from external influence. We see other VPNs incorporating in the BVI, too, as we discuss in the ExpressVPN vs Surfshark comparison.
Company and jurisdiction winner: ExpressVPN
2. ExpressVPN vs PIA speed tests
Speed is an important consideration with VPNs, especially since many online activities require lots of bandwidth. We ran all of the PIA vs ExpressVPN speed tests on a 500 Mbps connection using the official VPN apps. With our protocol selection, we used the fastest VPN protocol that each VPN offers:
- Private Internet Access supports the WireGuard protocol, which is the fastest VPN protocol we have tested.
- ExpressVPN supports the Lightway protocol, which is very similar to WireGuard, with similar performance (in most cases).
Using these two respective VPN protocols, we ran speed tests from our US lab. Here are the results:
VPN servers in the United States
First up was an ExpressVPN server in Seattle with download speeds of about 136 Mbps:
This is pretty good at over 100 Mbps, but it’s certainly not the fastest VPN we have tested. Let’s see how Private Internet Access compares.
Here was the PIA server in Seattle with download speeds of 41 Mbps:
As you can see, Private Internet Access is really slow in this test. For this server location, we can see that ExpressVPN is over 150 Mbps faster than PIA.
Next up were servers in Los Angeles.
Here was the ExpressVPN server in Los Angeles, giving us download speeds around 209 Mbps:
At over 200 Mbps, this is a pretty good speed test result. Let’s see if PIA can do any better.
Here was the PIA server in Los Angeles with speeds around 85 Mbps:
Once again we see that ExpressVPN is much faster than Private Internet Access. The last server location we tested in the US was in New York.
Here was the ExpressVPN server in New York with speeds of 214 Mbps:
Another good speed test result from ExpressVPN. Let’s see if PIA can get at least one win.
Here was the Private Internet Access server in New York with speeds around 23 Mbps:
With the New York server location, ExpressVPN is faster than PIA by about 191 Mbps. We’re seeing a pattern here. Perhaps servers in Europe are different?
VPN servers in the United Kingdom
Here was the ExpressVPN server in the UK with speeds of 235 Mbps:
So far, this is the fastest VPN speed test result we’ve gotten from ExpressVPN.
Now here was the PIA server in the UK, giving us speeds of only 10 Mbps.
It goes without saying that this is really slow. PIA is not the best UK VPN is performance is a top priority. For our last server location, ExpressVPN was faster than PIA by about 225 Mbps — a huge margin.
These test results also line up with user feedback and comments about 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 best option.
Note: In comparisons with other VPNs, we’ve found that WireGuard is usually faster than Lightway. For example, in the NordVPN vs ExpressVPN report, we found that NordVPN (with WireGuard) generally outperformed ExpressVPN (with Lightway).
Winner for speed: ExpressVPN
3. Is PIA or ExpressVPN more reliable?
When discussing reliability, we looked at 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?
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 correctly.
Below is a screenshot of the ExpressVPN Windows client we tested out in our review of ExpressVPN.
In addition to reliable desktop clients, ExpressVPN is also one of the best VPNs for Android we’ve tested, with very secure and stable apps.
As we already covered above, speeds were consistently fast with all ExpressVPN servers. Now let’s examine PIA in terms of reliability.
PIA reliability – PIA is also pretty reliable. In the latest PIA review, we found the applications to work well without any bugs, crashes, or other problems. Below I’m adjusting preferences within the PIA Windows client, including the VPN kill switch feature.
While speeds weren’t as fast as ExpressVPN, Private Internet Access was still reliable in my tests. Therefore in the reliability category, it’s a tie between ExpressVPN and PIA.
Winner for reliability: Tie
4. Prices and refund policies
Now let’s examine the prices and refund policies. These two items will be combined into one category since they go together.
Private Internet Access prices
PIA is certainly a low-cost VPN, with the cheapest rate coming in at $2.85 per month with the yearly 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 – Like ExpressVPN, PIA offers 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. We see two other leading VPNs, Surfshark and NordVPN, also offering 30 day refund windows.
Winner: Private Internet Access (PIA is cheaper, and both PIA and ExpressVPN have the same refund window)
5. Features: Is ExpressVPN or PIA better?
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. The one unique feature is a VPN ad blocker, but we also see this in some other VPNs.
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
- Split tunneling VPN feature that allows you to route certain websites or applications outside of the VPN tunnel
- Full streaming support, including Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ and more (tested below)
- Large global server network that is much larger than PIA’s server network
- Browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Chromium-based browsers
We tested out the browser extensions in 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:
While PIA also has browser extensions, they do not come with any extra features like we see above with ExpressVPN. In contrast to ExpressVPN, Private Internet Access does not offer any split tunneling VPN feature, no MediaStream app, a smaller server network, and no obfuscation features. ExpressVPN clearly comes out on top in the features category.
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).
Aside from live chat, there are also numerous support videos and articles available on the ExpressVPN website. In short, support is solid with ExpressVPN. 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.
If you look carefully, you can find live chat on the PIA website. However, support was not very helpful in my tests. When I tried to connect, there was nobody available and the chat simply ended, as you can see below.
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 a global traveler who watches Netflix, this is an area where I’m regularly testing VPNs.
First up is PIA. In my tests, I found that Private Internet Access does not unblock Netflix. Here you can see Netflix is blocking me when connected to a PIA server in the US.
I asked PIA support about this and they told me they have been getting blocked by Netflix in most locations. We also found PIA to be hit or miss with other streaming services, and for example, it’s not the best VPN for Hulu.
Next up is ExpressVPN. ExpressVPN was able to unblock Netflix for me without any issues. The streaming quality was perfect and it remains one of the best VPNs 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+, and more. It is an excellent choice if you need a VPN for streaming.
Streaming winner: ExpressVPN
8. Security and Encryption comparison
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. They support the OpenVPN, IKEv2, and Lightway protocols, with Lightway being a self-developed protocol similar to WireGuard.
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.
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. They support the OpenVPN and WireGuard VPN protocols. 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. On a positive note, it’s great to see that WireGuard is supported with the VPN, but speeds are still far off the mark.
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
In years past, I did occasionally recommend PIA as a basic, cheap VPN. However, Private Internet Access is clearly falling behind based on these test results. The troubling history of the parent company also raises alarm. Consequently, we are not recommending PIA anywhere on this site. There are simply too many red flags.
Meanwhile, ExpressVPN continues to get better. It has made some big infrastructure upgrades for faster speeds while also launching the Lightway protocol. And while it is on the higher end of the price spectrum, it delivers great performance and reliability, along with the highest levels of security. 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.
This ExpressVPN vs PIA comparison report was last updated on August 27, 2021.