ExpressVPN and ProtonVPN are both popular VPNs with millions of users. However, in our tests for this ExpressVPN vs ProtonVPN comparison, we identified some major differences, particularly in the area of performance. Overall, both of these VPNs are decent options, but there was a clear winner in our test results.
In this ProtonVPN vs ExpressVPN comparison, we compare these two VPNs in eight different areas. Note that some of these categories have subsections, such as security and encryption. In these cases, we will combine our ratings for each individual subsection to choose the overall winner of that section. Here are the eight categories we examined:
- Background and jurisdiction
- Speed tests
- Streaming and torrenting
- Security and encryption
- Price and refund policy
That’s enough of an introduction. Let’s get into the meat.
1. Background check and jurisdiction
VPNs are great for protecting you from outside snoops and protecting your privacy. However, you must rely on their software to encrypt and decrypt your messages. And because a VPN is handling all of your traffic, they could also potentially log what you are doing. This is why finding a trustworthy VPN is so important, especially a VPN that does not keep logs.
Fortunately, both ProtonVPN and ExpressVPN have a good reputation in the privacy community. Neither has been involved in any kind of data or logging scandals, which we had to discuss in the IPVanish review (it was caught logging).
It’s also important to examine the service’s jurisdiction. All else being equal, services based in a country that is part of some major international espionage ring have greater privacy risks. Likewise companies based in countries that demand they log user activities also have greater privacy risks.
ProtonVPN background check
ProtonVPN comes to us from the team behind ProtonMail. The parent company of ProtonVPN is well-respected and based in Switzerland. Switzerland is strong pro-privacy jurisdiction and is not party to any international surveillance alliances, such as we find with the US and UK (Five Eyes).
ProtonVPN’s apps are open source and like ExpressVPN, they have also undergone a security audit.
As discussed in our ProtonVPN review, we consider this service to score high marks when it comes to trust, reputation, and overall security.
ExpressVPN background check
Like ProtonVPN, ExpressVPN also has an excellent reputation. As a premium VPN service, ExpressVPN has a clean record going back many years. To our knowledge they have never violated user privacy or security. Two separate third-party audits attest to the security of their infrastructure and their no-logs privacy claims.
The company is based in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), which is a great jurisdiction for a VPN. This jurisdiction is also shared by Surfshark, which we discussed in the ExpressVPN vs Surfshark comparison. The BVI is a very privacy-oriented place. The government doesn’t require online services to retain data about their users. Many countries do have such requirements, such as the UK and Australia.
Here’s a link to our full ExpressVPN review. Both of these products come from companies with very good backgrounds, have conducted third-party audits, and are based in privacy-friendly jurisdictions. We’ve got to call this category a tie.
Company background and jurisdiction winner: Tie
2. ProtonVPN vs ExpressVPN speed tests
Speeds and reliability are big factors to consider when selecting a VPN. After all, what’s more frustrating than a sluggish VPN that inhibits your day-to-day internet activities?
With this in mind, we ran multiple speed tests with both ProtonVPN and ExpressVPN on a 500 Mbps internet connection from our US-based lab. The speed tests revealed a clear winner with performance.
Note on VPN protocols for speed tests
Right now, many VPNs are adopting the WireGuard VPN protocol due to its superior performance and upgraded encryption. We see this with both Surfshark and NordVPN, as well as OVPN, Mullvad, TorGuard, and many other early adopters. Unfortunately, ExpressVPN and ProtonVPN do not support WireGuard at this time.
Here are the protocols we used for all of the ExpressVPN vs ProtonVPN speed tests:
- ExpressVPN – While ExpressVPN does not support WireGuard, they have released the new Lightway protocol, which is similar to WireGuard with performance, but not quite as fast. We used the Lightway protocol for speed tests with ExpressVPN.
- ProtonVPN – At the time of this comparison, ProtonVPN uses only legacy protocols, such as OpenVPN and IKEv2. We used the OpenVPN protocol for all tests below with ProtonVPN.
Here are the ProtonVPN vs ExpressVPN speed tests:
North American servers
Step 1 in this testing was to check speeds using VPN servers in North America.
ProtonVPN with a Seattle server: 92 Mbps.
ExpressVPN with a Seattle server: 196 Mbps.
While neither service gave very impressive results for a 500 Mbps internet connection, ExpressVPN takes the early lead over ProtonVPN.
Next we tested servers in Los Angeles, California.
ProtonVPN with a Los Angeles server: 82 Mbps.
This was again not very impressive.
ExpressVPN with a Los Angeles server: 231 Mbps.
Here we see that ExpressVPN is much faster than ProtonVPN. It’s clear that ExpressVPN has a big performance advantage over ProtonVPN for servers in the United States. (We also found similar results with servers in Canada.)
Servers in the United Kingdom
We also ran some tests with servers in the United Kingdom. There are many VPN users in the UK and Europe, especially in response to degrading digital privacy measures. So does ExpressVPN or ProtonVPN perform better in the UK?
ProtonVPN with a UK server: 20 Mbps.
Another poor showing from ProtonVPN with the UK server. At 20 Mbps, this is the slowest speed test we have for this comparison guide. Can ExpressVPN do better?
ExpressVPN with a UK server: 235 Mbps.
ExpressVPN blows ProtonVPN away here again, with much faster speeds, over 10 times faster than ProtonVPN.
Looking at everything, we can see that ExpressVPN is much faster than ProtonVPN in all of the server locations we tested. This shows that ExpressVPN’s Lightway protocol has a real advantage over ProtonVPN and the OpenVPN protocol.
Other performance factors
One other big difference we found in the performance category is the time to establish a connection – also known as the handshake. ExpressVPN’s Lightway protocol is incredibly fast to establish a connection, with handshakes around 2 seconds or less.
ProtonVPN was slower to establish a connection than ExpressVPN. This is because OpenVPN simply takes longer with the handshake than Lightway.
Note: You can still use OpenVPN and also IKEv2 with ExpressVPN — but Lightway offers the best performance.
Speed and performance winner: ExpressVPN
Note: While ExpressVPN comes out on top in this comparison test, it could not compete with NordVPN, which uses WireGuard. See the NordVPN vs ExpressVPN comparison for details.
3. Features: Is ExpressVPN or ProtonVPN better?
When need to unblock websites from anywhere in the world, or need to protect against snoops and spies of all sorts, both these VPNs are good choices. Let’s take a quick look at their key features (excluding those that we cover in more depth elsewhere in this article).
ProtonVPN has a network of over 1,000 servers in 54 countries throughout the world. While not huge, this network could well be enough for your needs. Unfortunately, ProtonVPN only gives full network access to premium subscriptions. Here’s the breakdown:
- Free plan: limited-speed access to servers in only 3 countries
- Basic plan provides more access, but you still can’t access all servers, and all Secure Core servers are blocked. Speeds are not great with Basic plans either.
- Plus and Visionary plans to get full-speed access and full network access
Unlike ProtonVPN, ExpressVPN does not restrict servers, speeds, and features to the most expensive plans. In other words, all plans with ExpressVPN are the same in terms of features, servers, and speeds.
When we looked at the ProtonVPN apps, we found some good privacy and security features. These include leak protection features to keep traffic safe, a split tunneling feature, and the Secure Core servers. You can sign up for the service anonymously, and if you move up to the full (very expensive) Visionary plan, they support up to 10 simultaneous connections. Here is the ProtonVPN Windows app we tested:
One drawback with the ProtonVPN apps we tested is that it feels a bit cluttered. This is in contrast to ExpressVPN, which takes a more minimal approach. ProtonVPN offers apps for Windows, Mac OS, Linux, iOS, Android, and several types of routers, including the Vilfo VPN router.
ProtonVPN strongly promotes their Secure Core servers, which are double-VPN servers. What makes Secure Core special is that the servers are physically located in high-security data centers. Check out the Server security section below for more details. (Secure Core servers are restricted to premium plans.)
Note: In comparison to other VPNs with double-VPN servers, ProtonVPN is slow. For example, you can see that NordVPN’s double VPN servers outperform ProtonVPN’s Secure Core servers in our NordVPN vs ProtonVPN comparison.
ExpressVPN has user-friendly, high-quality apps for numerous operating systems, routers, and other devices. Their kill switch, called Network Lock, works great, protecting you against the full range of DNS and IP address leaks. Here is the ExpressVPN Windows app we tested:
ExpressVPN offers a split tunneling feature that allows you to select applications or websites that bypass the VPN connection. This can be useful in some use cases. ExpressVPN offers the split tunneling feature with the Windows, Mac OS, Android, and routers.
ExpressVPN also offers an obfuscation feature makes your VPN traffic look like HTTPS traffic. Since most internet traffic these days is HTTPS traffic, your obfuscated VPN connection becomes indistinguishable from non-VPN traffic. This obfuscation technology makes ExpressVPN one of the best VPNs for China.
Note: ProtonVPN does not have any obfuscation feature and does not work in China, or any location (or network) that blocks VPNs.
ExpressVPN supports five simultaneous connections.
While you can get more simultaneous connections with ProtonVPN (assuming you have money to burn for the Visionary plan) ExpressVPN overall offers much more in the way of features than ProtonVPN.
Features winner: ExpressVPN
4. Netflix, streaming, and torrenting
VPNs are popular for various reasons — but for various reasons, more people than ever are streaming content at home. As such, many people are looking for the best VPN for streaming in order to unblock content from around the world.
Here are the areas we examined to see whether ExpressVPN or ProtonVPN is the best option for streaming:
- You can unblock geo-restricted content from the most popular streaming services. These include Netflix regional libraries, Hulu, Disney Plus, and more.
- You need to have lots of streaming-capable servers throughout the world, particularly in the USA, UK, and other geographic regions that contain streaming servers.
- You must be fast enough to stream HD content without buffering or reducing the resolution to compensate for a sluggish network.
Let’s see how these services do in each of these categories.
ExpressVPN Netflix and streaming
We’ve done lots of testing and ExpressVPN has proven to be one of the best VPNs for streaming. They do a great job unblocking Netflix libraries, have plenty of streaming-capable servers around the world and are fast enough to get the job done right. That’s why you will find them on our list of the best VPN to unblock Netflix. Below I’m streaming Netflix with an ExpressVPN server in Washington, DC.
ProtonVPN Netflix and streaming
ProtonVPN – Even though ProtonVPN is more focused on privacy, they still offer pretty good support for streaming — but there are a few issues we found:
- ProtonVPN again restricts access to streaming servers in their network — unless you have Plus or Visionary account.
- Even with a premium (expensive) subscription, ProtonVPN still has limited access to a wide variety of streaming services.
The screenshot below illustrates both of these points. You can see that access to streaming servers is restricted to Plus (or higher) plans. And you can also see that ProtonVPN only supports three Netflix regions (while ExpressVPN officially supports eight).
ProtonVPN simply does not unblock as many streaming services as ExpressVPN. ExpressVPN is also a great choice if you need a VPN for Disney Plus, which is also growing in popularity.
The other problem we already noted before with ProtonVPN is that the speeds are inconsistent and not as fast as ExpressVPN. This could affect your ability to stream content in HD at all times.
In the streaming category, we see that ExpressVPN does better than ProtonVPN in all three areas for streaming: more servers, faster speeds, more access to a wider selection of streaming services.
Streaming winner: ExpressVPN
Torrenting is a great way to transfer large files such as music and movies. Unfortunately, torrenting can also come with some risk as it is a grey area in terms of copyright laws. Therefore we always recommend using the best VPN for torrenting that includes a secure kill switch to encrypt all internet traffic.
ExpressVPN is pretty fast (thanks to Lightway). They can securely hide your IP address, keep no logs, and give you very solid leak protection. The Network Lock kill switch offers very secure protection against any IP or DNS leaks. This allows you to torrent for hours without worry.
ProtonVPN is slower than ExpressVPN, which can affect torrent speeds in a bad way. With the paid ProtonVPN plans, you get full torrenting support, along with no logs, and leak protection. But if you are like us, you’ll want the fastest speeds possible. Therefore ExpressVPN wins this one as well.
Now, to recap, ExpressVPN comes out on top for both streaming and torrenting.
Note: There are some VPNs that offer dedicated P2P servers for torrenting. In some cases, these servers offer serious performance advantages, as we saw in the TorGuard vs NordVPN review. In the case of ExpressVPN and ProtonVPN, neither offer dedicated torrenting servers.
Overall streaming and Torrenting winner: ExpressVPN
5. Encryption and Security
What good would a VPN be if it didn’t have unbreakable encryption, and ironclad security? Not much.
To be a top VPN you need to use strong encryption algorithms, and secure VPN protocols. (Fast protocols on a fast network wouldn’t hurt either!)
Let’s take a look at how these services rank on encryption and security.
Encryption and protocols
ProtonVPN: ProtonVPN uses the OpenVPN protocol. They use AES-256 encryption and HMAC SHA384 authentication, and a 4096-bit RSA key.
ExpressVPN: ExpressVPN clients use their new Lightway protocol as well as OpenVPN. For encryption and authentication they go with AES-256, SHA-512 HMAC, and a 4096-bit RSA key.
Both of these services use strong encryption and protocols, but ExpressVPN gets the edge thanks to their addition of the speedier Lightway protocol.
Encryption & protocols winner: ExpressVPN
ExpressVPN completed two separate third-party audits. Cure53 audited their browser extensions. PricewaterhouseCoopers audited their no logs policy and other systems they use to protect your privacy.
ProtonVPN has undergone a security audit conducted by SEC Consult. Unlike with ExpressVPN, ProtonVPN has not had any outside audits to verify its no-logs claims.
Security audits winner: ExpressVPN
When it comes to server security, you need to consider online security and physical security. The majority of VPNs protect their servers from internet-based attacks. As can be seen in the Security audits section above, both ExpressVPN and ProtonVPN do a fine job of this.
Physical security is less discussed. Our two contenders take differing approaches to physically protecting their servers. Let’s talk about that now.
In 2019, ExpressVPN completed their move to TrustedServer. TrustedServer is their name for a project that modified all of the thousands of servers in their network to RAM-disk operation, rather than using hard drives. This means that it is impossible to store data on any VPN server. It also offers better security against any kind of server seizure.
ProtonVPN takes a different approach. Their Secure Core initiative physically protects their core servers in what are considered to be secure locations. These are locations with extra physical security that are located in good privacy jurisdiction:
It’s again worth noting, however, that this Secure Core feature in not accessible unless you subscribe to one of the two most expensive ProtonVPN plans.
While the ProtonVPN approach to server security is impressive, so is the ExpressVPN approach. The fact that the ExpressVPN approach applies to every server in their network and is included for all users gives it an edge.
Encryption and security winner: ExpressVPN
6. Privacy: Is Proton or Express the best?
How do ProtonVPN and ExpressVPN compare on this most important VPN characteristic?
ExpressVPN – ExpressVPN is strong on privacy. They have a great reputation, all the privacy features you could ask for, and their systems have been tested, verified, and audited by independent third parties. They’ve even had hardware seized in 2017 by Turkish authorities – but customer data remained secure. You can’t ask for better proof than this.
ProtonVPN – These guys are also strong on privacy. Their apps include all the important privacy protection features, they keep no logs, and their Secure Core architecture goes to extreme lengths to provide physical security when connecting through Secure Core servers. ProtonVPN has also been audited by an outside service.
Finally, the fact that their clients are open source gives confidence that they will continue to protect user privacy in the future, as any changes will be visible to the world.
While they each take slightly different approaches to guaranteeing your privacy, we would trust both of these services.
Privacy winner: Tie
7. Price and refund policies
We’ve got all the technical stuff taken care of. Now let’s talk about the price and refund policy of each.
ProtonVPN pricing is a little confusing. They offer four different price plans. They offer a Free plan, which is nice, but extremely limited. The best use of the Free plan is probably to give ProtonVPN a test drive.
Their Basic plan is reasonably priced, at $4.00 per month, but it too is somewhat limited.
To get full access to all of the ProtonVPN features you need to go to the Plus plan, which supports 5 simultanoues connections at $8.00 per month. That price is pretty high, especially compared to these cheap VPNs.
Their top plan is the Visionary plan, which supports up to 10 simultaneous connections and includes a high-end ProtonMail Visionary account. It sound great, but at $24.00 per month, the price is bordering on ridiculous.
Refunds – ProtonVPN offers a 30-day refund policy. However, they will only refund a prorated portion of the fee you paid. For example, you sign up for the Plus plan, paying $8.00 per month. You request a refund after 15 days. You would receive a prorated refund (in this case $4.00 instead of $8.00) instead of a full refund.
ExpressVPN pricing is simpler. They give you the entire service at all times. The only variable is that they offer cheaper prices for longer commitments.
While ExpressVPN prices are usually around $8.32 per month with the one-year plan, you can get a nice discount with this coupon for three months free and 49% off. Here are the discounted prices with the coupon:
Refunds – Unlike with ProtonVPN, ExpressVPN will give you a 100% refund if you cancel within 30 days of signing up. Simply cancel and request a refund — and you will get all of your money back (not a pro-rated amount).
While ProtonVPN is cheaper with the “Free” and “Basic” plans, to get access to all features, you will need to purchase the “Plus” plan at $8 per month. This is more expensive than ExpressVPN at $6.67 per month.
So to recap, ExpressVPN offers better pricing and also a better refund window.
Price and refund policy winner: ExpressVPN
8. Is ExpressVPN or ProtonVPN the best value?
As always, deciding which VPN is a better value depends a lot on your specific needs. But there are some characteristics that we can all agree add to the value of a VPN:
- Security and VPN protocols: Both VPNs are secure, but ExpressVPN is offering a newer and faster VPN protocol with Lightway, while ProtonVPN is still relying on OpenVPN. ExpressVPN has also undergone more third-party audits.
- Privacy: These VPNs keep no-logs, protect you against leaks, and have third-party audits, we can call this one a tie too.
- Performance: ExpressVPN offers faster speeds and faster connection times (handshakes) with the new Lightway protocol. It beats ProtonVPN hands down.
- Features: ExpressVPN offers more and better features than ProtonVPN.
- Streaming: You get more streaming support with ExpressVPN.
ExpressVPN offers equal or better value for all these areas. And the prices with ExpressVPN are also cheaper when you use this coupon: coupon for three months free.
Value winner: ExpressVPN
Conclusion: ExpressVPN wins
It looks like we have a clear winner. To refresh your memory, here are the results for each category:
- Background & jurisdiction: Tie
- Speed tests: ExpressVPN
- Features: ExpressVPN
- Streaming & torrenting: ExpressVPN
- Security & encryption: ExpressVPN
- Privacy: Tie
- Price & refund policy: ExpressVPN
- Value: ExpressVPN
As you can see, ExpressVPN easily won the ProtonVPN vs ExpressVPN competition. That is not to say that ProtonVPN is a bad service. They would do well against the many other VPN services. of VPN services on the market today. However, when going up against one of the best, ProtonVPN has some work to do.
Whichever VPN you to decide to try, be sure to pick up the best prices with the discounts below:
Have you used ProtonVPN or ExpressVPN? If so, sound off! We would be happy to hear what you think about them. Your input helps us to create better content, and helps your fellow readers make the best decision possible.
This ProtonVPN vs ExpressVPN comparison guide was last updated on August 27, 2021.