ExpressVPN and Surfshark VPN are two of the leading names in the VPN industry. But in some ways, they are very different. While ExpressVPN is a conservative, longstanding veteran, Surfshark VPN is a relative newcomer with rapid innovation, numerous features, and low prices. So between these two industry leaders, which one comes out on top in our ExpressVPN vs Surfshark comparison?
Based on the latest test results, Surfshark VPN is the winner for 2023. In comparison to ExpressVPN, Surfshark offers faster speeds, better apps, more security features, and better support for streaming. Finally, Surfshark VPN is also much cheaper than ExpressVPN and is an overall better value (see the coupon in the table below).
This table highlights the main facts about each VPN:
|Location||British Virgin Islands||The Netherlands|
|Logs||No logs (audited)||No logs (audited)|
|Torrenting||All servers||All servers|
|Support||Knowledge Base; 24/7 live chat||Knowledge Base; 24/7 live chat|
|Apps for||Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS||Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS|
|Coupon||49% Off >||82% Off + 2 Months Free >|
We tested and examined each of these VPNs in ten different categories — and the test results revealed a clear winner. If you’ve been wondering whether to go with Surfshark or ExpressVPN, this comparison guide will give you a definitive answer.
Here are the areas we’ll examine in this Surfshark VPN vs ExpressVPN comparison:
- VPN Apps
- Logging and Privacy
- Netflix & Streaming
- Prices and Refunds
So let’s get to it, starting with examining the VPN apps.
VPN Apps comparison
Both Surfshark VPN and ExpressVPN offer good VPN apps that performed well in our tests. The main areas we are focusing on here are the design and usability of the VPN apps (user experience).
First, let’s take a look at the ExpressVPN apps. Below you can see that the ExpressVPN desktop client is clean, minimal, and not overly cluttered.
You can get access to more features by clicking the three lines in the top-left corner. This will open up a second window on your desktop. For me, this is a drawback because a second window takes up more space on your desktop, rather than having all features right in the same window.
Additionally, switching to a different server usually opens a second window which includes a list of server locations to choose from. The only exception to this is if you select one of the two quick-connect server locations that ExpressVPN sometimes displays at the bottom of the app window.
Not adjustable – Another drawback with the ExpressVPN desktop apps is that the size is not adjustable.
Surfshark VPN apps
In contrast to ExpressVPN, Surfshark VPN apps include all features and settings within the same window. In other words, a second window will not pop up. Below is the Surfshark Windows VPN app we tested, which allows you to select different tabs on the left to change servers, features, etc.
To switch servers, features, or settings, simply select the appropriate tab or icon on the left side of the Surfshark VPN desktop app.
Another big difference between the Surfshark VPN and ExpressVPN desktop apps is that the Surfshark app is customizable. For example, if you want to expand the app, you can simply click the side and then drag it to the size you want. When you make it wider, the Surfshark app will adjust to include server locations and connections status all in the same window. This allows you to easily click a location and switch servers in just a few seconds.
Overall, I would rate the Surfshark VPN apps better than ExpressVPN. While they are both user-friendly, the Surfshark app does not require a second window to open up for features and servers and it is also more customizable.
Winner for VPN apps: Surfshark VPN
Speed test results
Many people want a VPN that delivers the best performance possible. Speed is particularly important for those using a VPN for streaming, torrenting, and other high-bandwidth activities.
Testing variables – All of the Surfshark vs ExpressVPN speed tests below were conducted on a 500 Mbps connection using the official VPN apps. Both of these VPNs have released new VPN protocols to deliver faster speeds, and I used these protocols for the tests:
- Lightway protocol with ExpressVPN – This protocol promises to be faster and more lightweight than OpenVPN, while also delivering better mobile performance. Like OpenVPN, it uses an AES cipher.
- WireGuard protocol with Surfshark VPN – The WireGuard VPN protocol is taking the VPN world by storm because it is extremely fast and very secure, with the upgraded Chacha20 ciphers. It delivers speed, reliability, and security, while also being open source (and used by many other VPN services).
Test #1: Seattle, USA
Here was the ExpressVPN server in Seattle: 136 Mbps
This is not a very good speed test result from ExpressVPN. I would expect over 200 Mbps, especially considering the short distance (low ping) between me and the VPN servers.
The Surfshark server in Seattle: 308 Mbps
Now we’re talking. Surfshark VPN was more than twice as fast as ExpressVPN with servers in Seattle. That is a huge difference. And at over 300 Mbps, you can enjoy the best speeds for any high-bandwidth activities.
Test #2: Los Angeles, USA
ExpressVPN server in Los Angeles: 209 Mbps
At over 200 Mbps, we see ExpressVPN performing better than the previous location, but still not close to Surfshark.
Surfshark server in Log Angeles: 346 Mbps
Here we can see that Surfshark is still about 137 Mbps faster than ExpressVPN.
Test #3: New York, USA
ExpressVPN server in New York: 214 Mbps.
This is about on par with our other ExpressVPN speed test results. Now for Surfshark.
Surfshark server in New York: 397 Mbps.
At nearly 400 Mbps, Surfshark is one of the fastest VPNs we have tested. With the New York server location, Surfshark VPN is nearly twice as fast as ExpressVPN.
Lastly, we also tested servers in the United Kingdom.
Test #4: United Kingdom
ExpressVPN server in the UK: 235 Mbps.
This was the best speed test we’ve seen from ExpressVPN. But again, it’s still not on par with Surfshark.
Surfshark server in the UK: 330 Mbps.
This was the slowest Surfshark speed test result, but it is still nearly 100 Mbps faster than ExpressVPN.
Why is Surfshark VPN so much faster than ExpressVPN?
It’s clear from our test results that Surfshark VPN is faster than ExpressVPN in all locations that we tested. One of the reasons for this is that the WireGuard VPN protocol used by Surfshark is faster than the Lightway protocol used by ExpressVPN. Another reason is that Surfshark VPN has a faster server network with more bandwidth available to its users. So is Surfshark the fastest VPN we have tested? Not quite.
Fastest VPN tested – Right now the fastest VPN we have tested is NordVPN with the WireGuard protocol. Surfshark VPN is the second fastest WireGuard VPN we have tested.
But aside from WireGuard, NordVPN also offers very fast speeds with the OpenVPN protocol, as well as with all Double-VPN server configurations. You can see it outperforming ExpressVPN in our ExpressVPN vs NordVPN comparison.
To get the fastest VPN speeds possible, then check out NordVPN with WireGuard.
However, for the price, Surfshark is still hard to beat as it significantly outperforms ExpressVPN in all locations.
Winner for speeds: Surfshark
Reliability: Which is better?
Both Surfshark and ExpressVPN are reliable VPN services that consistently work well. If your biggest concern is reliability, you can’t go wrong with either of these VPNs. We’ll examine each below.
Surfshark VPN reliability
Based on all of the tests we ran for the Surfshark review, we found this service to be very reliable. Here are some reasons why:
- Reliable VPN apps – The Surfshark VPN apps we tested were very reliable and did not suffer from bugs, timeouts, or any other failures.
- Reliable servers – The Surfshark server network offers consistently fast and reliable performance.
- Stable connections – Connections with Surfshark were also reliable, without frequent drops or disconnects.
In short, Surfshark is a very reliable VPN service. Now let’s examine ExpressVPN.
Similar to Surfshark, ExpressVPN is also a reliable service:
- Reliable VPN applications: Whether you are using the Lightway or OpenVPN protocols, ExpressVPN offers reliable VPN apps.
- Reliable servers: Even though the speeds aren’t quite as fast as with Surfshark, the ExpressVPN server network is still reliable.
- Reliable Connections: We did not find any connection problems when testing out ExpressVPN.
Tiebreaker: Streaming and performance
Many people use a VPN to stream media, and therefore streaming reliability is a big consideration. Unfortunately, ExpressVPN did not do well with streaming some content. Specifically, we found ExpressVPN getting blocked by BBC iPlayer, as we’ll cover more below in the streaming category.
Surfshark is very reliable for accessing streaming websites, as our tests verified below. The fact that it offers more reliability with streaming and also speeds means that it wins this category.
Reliability Winner: Surfshark
Perhaps you just need a basic VPN to hide your IP address. If this is the case, either of these VPNs will do.
However, if you want a VPN that offers lots of features, then you will want to take a closer look because there is a big distinction for this category.
ExpressVPN is a fairly basic VPN service without many bells and whistles, so to speak.
One of the main features of ExpressVPN is split tunneling. This feature allows you to route specific apps or websites outside of the VPN tunnel. We also see this feature with both NordVPN and ProtonVPN. You can see the split tunneling option with ExpressVPN below:
A split tunneling VPN feature is fine, but I don’t see this as a major addition to any VPN service. And Surfshark has the feature as well.
One big new feature for ExpressVPN is called Threat Manager. Threat Manager is a combination ad blocker, tracker stopper, and malicious website filter. Available in ExpressVPN’s macOS, iOS, and Linux apps, Threat Manager can do its job as long as you are connected to an ExpressVPN server.
The Lightway protocol is unique to ExpressVPN because they built it from the ground up (unlike WireGuard with Surfshark). And while Lightway does offer faster speeds than OpenVPN, it does come with a few noteworthy drawbacks. Here are a few areas where Lightway differs from Surfshark VPN:
- Lightway is not as fast as WireGuard.
- Limited adoption: Lightway is only used with ExpressVPN, while WireGuard is trusted and used by many VPN providers.
While Lightway is not a terrible option, it still lags behind the WireGuard protocol. Meanwhile, the WireGuard VPN protocol is now supported by Surfshark and NordVPN, as well as many other VPN services.
With a single ExpressVPN account, you can have up to 5 devices connected to the VPN simultaneously. If you need more than 5 devices connected simultaneously, ExpressVPN offers a customized router called Aircove, which can protect every device connected to that router.
There are pros and cons to this approach, including the costs and headaches of installing a new router. But if you want to use ExpressVPN with a lot of devices connected simultaneously, it is good to know there is a way to get it done.
There are a few other security aspects of ExpressVPN that they brand as features. One example of this is running all servers in RAM-disk mode, which they call the TrustedServer feature. But again, Surfshark also runs all servers in RAM-disk mode and does not call this a feature.
So let’s examine Surfshark features now.
Surfshark VPN features
When it comes to features, Surfshark really stands out from ExpressVPN.
Here are some of the big areas where Surfshark offers more features than ExpressVPN:
- MultiHop servers – You can select from fourteen different MultiHop (double-VPN) server configurations. This adds an extra layer of encryption by routing your traffic over two different VPN servers.
- Dynamic MultiHop servers – You can create your own MultiHop connections by selecting the entry and exit servers.
- NoBorders – This feature allows you to get around VPN blocks in places that use censorship to inhibit VPN users. The NoBorders feature is useful if you need a VPN for China or VPN for UAE, where VPNs are blocked.
- Camouflage mode – This hides your VPN traffic by encapsulating it with an additional layer of HTTPS encryption. This way, even your ISP won’t know you are using a VPN.
- Bypasser – This is a split tunneling feature, just like we discussed above with ExpressVPN.
- Rotating IP – This feature rotates your IP address automatically while keeping your VPN location the same. It makes it much more difficult for even strong hostile entities to track your activities. Atlas VPN has a similar feature, as described in our Atlas VPN vs Surfshark comparison.
- Static IP servers – These servers give you the same IP address every time you connect to them. You may share this IP address with multiple other users.
- Dedicated IP servers – These are static IP servers where you do not share the IP address with anyone else. As implied by the name, the IP address is dedicated to your use alone.
Just from the list above we can see that Surfshark offers many more features than ExpressVPN. But there’s more.
CleanWeb – CleanWeb is a VPN ad blocker. This will block ads, trackers, and even ransomware and other types of malware from loading on your device. You can enable it directly in the Surfshark app and it will work on your entire operating system through the VPN itself.
VPN kill switch – A VPN kill switch automatically cuts your connection to the internet if for some reason the connection to the VPN server drops out. While ExpressVPN’s Network Lock kill switch automatically stops all network traffic if the VPN connection fails for any reason, Surfshark’s kill switch is more nuanced.
As you can see in the image above, the Surfshark kill switch has both a soft mode and a strict mode. The soft mode blocks traffic if the connection is lost by accident or interrupted, but it does not block traffic if you turn off the VPN connection manually. The strict mode blocks traffic if the connection is lost for any reason, including if you disconnect manually.
WireGuard advantages with Surfshark
Recall that ExpressVPN does not support WireGuard and has instead developed its own Lightway protocol. But Surfshark implemented WireGuard, like many other VPN services. Here are some benefits of the WireGuard VPN protocol:
- Fast to establish a connection (often under a second)
- Seamless transition between networks, such as when switching from WiFi to 4G
- Improved battery life with mobile devices
- Improved reliability and fewer dropped connections
As we saw earlier, ExpressVPN allows for 5 simultaneous connections and offers a custom router for situations where 5 simultaneous connections are not enough. Surfshark takes a different approach. With Surfshark, you get unlimited simultaneous connections. You can have as many devices actively using the internet as you wish, all for the price of a single subscription.
There are pros and cons to this way of handling large numbers of connected devices, just as there are to the, “add a router” approach. But it is good to know that both VPNs offer a solution to the modern problem of many devices all using the internet simultaneously.
To sum everything up with features, Surfshark offers better and more features than ExpressVPN.
Features winner: Surfshark
Security and encryption
With security, both Surfshark and ExpressVPN are on solid ground. So let’s examine each one.
Encryption – Both Surfshark and ExpressVPN utilize strong encryption standards.
- ExpressVPN: Data is encrypted with an AES-256 cipher, SHA-512 hash authentication, and a 4096-bit RSA key exchange.
- Surfshark: Data is encrypted with an AES-256 cipher, SHA-256 hash authentication, and a 4096-bit RSA key exchange.
The encryption used by each VPN is basically the same. While there is a small difference in hash authentication, both standards are considered very secure.
VPN protocols – Both ExpressVPN and Surfshark support the standard VPN protocols, as you can see below.
- ExpressVPN: OpenVPN UDP, OpenVPN TCP, IPSec/IKEv2, IPSec/L2TP, and Lightway protocol
- Surfshark: OpenVPN UDP, OpenVPN TCP, IPSec/IKEv2, Shadowsocks, and WireGuard
The big difference here is that Surfshark is using a widely adopted VPN protocol with WireGuard. In contrast, ExpressVPN is using a self-developed protocol called Lightway, which no other VPNs are using at this time.
While both VPNs offer secure protocols, Surfshark has a slight edge with its support of WireGuard.
Server security – With server security, both ExpressVPN and Surfshark do well.
Here are some factors to consider when looking at ExpressVPN:
- All servers run in RAM-disk mode. This offers a high level of security because data cannot be stored on any server.
- Uses some virtual server locations.
Now looking at Surfshark:
- All servers operate in RAM-disk mode (just as we see with ExpressVPN).
- Uses a few virtual server locations for exotic locales (just like ExpressVPN).
Both Surfshark and ExpressVPN come out equal with server security.
Leak protection – No one wants a VPN with data leaks. A leak could cause all sorts of problems for you, ranging from getting blocked from accessing your favorite cryptocurrency exchange to getting accidentally swept up in a copyright lawsuit while doing P2P file transfers. Fortunately, both Surfshark and ExpressVPN protect you in this regard. They both have built-in leak protection features that I tested and found to work well:
- IPv4 and IPv6 leak protection
- DNS leak protection
- Kill switch to block traffic if the VPN connection drops
Both ExpressVPN nor Surfshark are secure. Neither suffered any data leaks in my tests.
Overall Security winner: Tie
Logs and Privacy
Both Surfshark and ExpressVPN are solid choices when it comes to logging policies and privacy. But there is a slight difference that makes ExpressVPN come out on top.
Surfshark logging policy
Surfshark respects your privacy, therefore we are committed to not process any data related to the online activity of our users. Surfshark is based in the British Virgin Islands, which does not require data storage or reporting. We do not collect IP addresses, browsing history, session information, used bandwidth, connection time stamps, network traffic and other similar data.
Until recently, we had to take Surfshark’s word for it that they were a no-logs VPN. That changed in January 2023 when they announced that their no-logs statement had been verified in a third-party audit conducted by Deloitte, one of the Big Four accounting firms.
ExpressVPN logging policy
Like Surfshark, ExpressVPN is also a no-logs VPN service, as they explain on the website:
ExpressVPN is a premium VPN provider focused on user privacy and anonymity. Our network is built around specifically NOT knowing the internet activities of our users. As privacy is a core part of our service offering, ExpressVPN is in the business of protecting our users’ private internet data.
Verification: ExpressVPN has completed numerous third-party audits, including a third-party no-logs audit. The audit was carried out by PWC and verified the no-logs policy and privacy protection measures are in place.
Jurisdiction: BVI vs Netherlands
Another important consideration with privacy is where the VPN is legally located (jurisdiction). Some VPN providers are located in a bad privacy jurisdiction, such as the US or UK, and this means they can be forced to log user data and hand it over to governments. We discussed this in the IPVanish review, where they were forced to log user data for the FBI, all while claiming to be a “zero logs” VPN.
Today, ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands. The BVI is an excellent privacy jurisdiction that protects users. Surfshark, however, is based in The Netherlands. While this is not an ideal privacy jurisdiction, being located in Europe, it is also not a horrible location either.
Conclusion on privacy and logs – This is a very close category, with both VPNs doing well. However, because ExpressVPN has passed a third-party audit to confirm the no-logs policy, it comes out on top.
Logs and privacy winner: ExpressVPN
Surfshark and ExpressVPN are both good options for torrenting, but this category was not a tie. When we look for the best VPN for torrenting, there are two big factors to examine:
- Speeds – You will want a fast VPN for torrenting that can facilitate large file transfers. Surfshark is the winner here.
- Leak protection – Nobody wants to get a DMCA notice because their VPN was leaking when torrenting movies. Fortunately, both of these VPNs offer great leak protection.
The real difference between ExpressVPN and Surfshark when it comes to torrenting is download speed. Recall that we were able to get up to 397 Mbps with Surfshark in our download speed tests:
And another great thing about Surfshark is that every VPN server in the network is P2P-friendly. Therefore you don’t have to worry about torrenting restrictions or blocks with this VPN.
Torrenting winner: Surfshark
Netflix and streaming support
VPNs are extremely popular for streaming and unblocking content from around the world. This is a critical category in our VPN reviews.
ExpressVPN offers good access to Netflix, but only with a few Netflix regions. Based on my conversations with ExpressVPN support, and also testing the service for the ExpressVPN review, here are the drawbacks I noted:
- Fewer Netflix regions are supported. The main regions supported by ExpressVPN are USA, Japan, and UK, but a few other regions may also work.
- Slower speeds (but you should still have plenty of speed to stream Netflix in HD with ExpressVPN).
If all you need is USA Netflix, ExpressVPN should be fine.
Surfshark supports a far larger selection of Netflix regional libraries. Surfshark officially supports 15 different Netflix libraries. We rate Surfshark as one of the best VPNs for Netflix.
In the past, ExpressVPN was blocked by some of the most popular streaming services, BBC iPlayer in particular. They seem to have that problem solved, but it throws a bit of a cloud over their streaming support.
Surfshark stands out from ExpressVPN in the streaming category for these reasons:
- More Netflix regions supported
- Continuous access to a larger number of streaming sites and services
Here we found Surfshark VPN to work perfectly with BBC iPlayer (no blocks):
Surfshark is the big winner in the streaming category because it works with more services around the world than ExpressVPN.
Netflix and streaming winner: Surfshark
Prices and refunds
In the price category, there is a huge difference.
First, let’s just compare the prices of Surfshark and ExpressVPN:
Monthly Plan: $12.95/mo
6-Month Plan: $9.99/mo
15-Month Plan: $6.67/mo
Monthly Plan: $12.95/mo
6-Month Plan: $6.49/mo
2-Year Plan: $2.30/mo (deal)
Surfshark offers significantly lower prices. We consider it to be one of the best cheap VPNs on the market, under $4 per month.
In contrast to Surfshark, the cheapest monthly rate you can get on ExpressVPN is $6.67. This means ExpressVPN is almost triple the cost of Surfshark. The cheapest price you can get with Surfshark is $2.30 per month with the two-year plan when you use this coupon for three months free >>
With both Surfshark and ExpressVPN, you get a 30-day refund window with all subscription plans. This is great, especially with many VPNs offering only a 7-day refund window. Note that many VPNs are moving to the 30-day refund window, as we discussed in our NordVPN vs IPVanish comparison.
Prices and refunds winner: Surfshark (by a mile)
Who offers the best value?
The last thing in our comparison of Surfshark and ExpressVPN is the question of value.
Which VPN offers the best value for your money?
We’ve seen that Surfshark is significantly cheaper than ExpressVPN. However, even more important than price is the fact that Surfshark offers more value for your money in these areas:
- Faster speeds than ExpressVPN
- More features than ExpressVPN
- Better support for streaming services (not getting blocked like ExpressVPN)
- Unlimited simultaneous connections vs six simultaneous connections
- Cheaper price
In addition, Surfshark’s decision to implement the WireGuard VPN protocol gives it a big edge over ExpressVPN, which uses the self-developed Lightway protocol. WireGuard certainly seems like the future of VPNs, especially with its top-notch performance on mobile devices and blazing-fast speeds.
It seems clear that Surfshark gives you more bang for your buck, as the saying goes.
Value winner: Surfshark
Which VPN is better?
Based on our 10 test categories, it is clear that Surfshark VPN comes out on top and is a better VPN service than ExpressVPN. This becomes clear when you realize that Surfshark VPN won in eight categories, ExpressVPN was the winner in one category, and one category was tied:
- VPN Apps – Surfshark VPN
- Speeds – Surfshark VPN
- Reliability – Surfshark VPN
- Features – Surfshark VPN
- Security – Tie
- Logging and Privacy – ExpressVPN
- Torrenting – Surfshark VPN
- Netflix & Streaming – Surfshark VPN
- Prices and Refunds – Surfshark VPN
- Value – Surfshark VPN
Overall winner: Surfshark VPN
For the record, we like and recommend both of these VPN services.
However, in the past year, we have seen Surfshark VPN improve rapidly while ExpressVPN has lagged behind in a few key areas.
Ultimately, either of these VPNs may be the right choice for your unique circumstances. And both offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, which means you can test each one risk-free and keep the service you like the best.
Whichever VPN you decide to go with, be sure to get the best savings with the discounts below:
This discount link drops the price of Surfshark down to $2.30 per month.
So now let’s take a look at the best deal from ExpressVPN.
This discount link drops the price of ExpressVPN to $6.67 per month and includes three months free.
And if you have used either of these VPNs, feel free to drop a comment below to help others decide which one to go with.
This Surfshark VPN vs ExpressVPN comparison guide was last updated on June 30, 2023.