We thought “what better way to start our VPN reviewing journey than to try the service with the highest recommendations?” ExpressVPN is the culprit, in this case, as it currently stands sky-high on almost all rankings available on the word wide web.
Initially, we suspected that this might be only a sneaky marketing scheme, but after running some tests on our systems we reached a verdict that you’ll discover for yourself in this article.
The tests we’ll run against this VPN include but are not limited to various security-related ones that check for IP address leaks, DNS leaks, and WebRTC leaks and also speed tests to check how several ExpressVPN servers behave when we’re connected to them.
The tools we’re going to use are IP X, for checking the service for any security leak it might have and Netflix’s fast.com, which will let us subjectively analyze the speed parameters for various servers that we were connected to.
Express VPN International Ltd., which is established in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) is the company that developed and supports the ExpressVPN service.
Not much more is known about the company itself except the facts that its location is in the BVI (as mentioned above), they have staff all around the world and the service has been operational since 2009.
However, this lack of information should not throw you off from relying on them as a trustworthy VPN service provider, since the practice of holding off information from the wide public is a common practice among VPN companies.
The justification between this decision (withholding apparently vital details) is quite of a necessity in order to prevent authorities from trying to coerce VPN companies through legal channels to disclose client information forcefully.
On the downside, the lack of company details might also be perceived as a subterfuge by the masses, since the company’s identity isn’t entirely revealed, therefore not 100% transparent to their users. You should take into consideration the fact that, since the company is located in the British Virgin Islands, US and Europe cyber-security rules cannot be applied to the company’s servers data.
As mentioned above, the company is located in the BVI, which is a group of islands in the Caribbean that are self-governing. This means that it has its own set of laws that are elected by its citizens, national police and an independent judiciary.
These self-imposed laws are the set of rules companies have to follow and are in no way connected to the UK, since they were enacted in the BVI.
SIGINT Seniors Europe, also known as “14 Eyes” is a group of 14 countries with active foreign intelligence agencies, which frequently share critical information with one another, such as military or anti-terrorism data.
You must understand that these agencies operate on an international scale, without limiting themselves to the borders of the nations where they’re located. Therefore, running a VPN service in one of those countries might be risky for its users, regarding privacy. However, since the BVI has no foreign intelligence agencies, and it is not part of the “14 Eyes” association, the risk of privacy breaches is kept to a minimum.
Data logging at its finest
First of all, ExpressVPN never claimed that they don’t log any of the data you might be generating whenever using their services. Nevertheless, that shouldn’t put you off, since the data they’re logging can’t be really tied to you in any circumstances and let us show you why.
First of all, the data collected by ExpressVPN consists of applications (along with their versions) that were successfully activated, dates (and not times) you connected to the VPN, the server of your choice and the total amount of data (MB) transferred per day. There is little to no chance that this type of data can violate your privacy.
Now for the data that isn’t logged: IP addresses (source and VPN), browsing history, traffic metadata or destination, DNS queries, data content, and timestamp or connection duration.
Therefore, you can see for yourself that your privacy is not going to be compromised by the information that ExpressVPN does log. Recording application-related data is absolutely necessary for troubleshooting some issues that might arise, providing tech support to customers, fix network issues and providing users with country-specific advice on service usage.
In the spotlight
July 2017 was the year when ExpressVPN released an open letter where the fact that Apple had removed all the VPN applications from its App Store in China was mentioned. Apple’s response was that the Chinese Government requested this and as a result, 674 VPN solutions were removed from the App Store.
On another note, ExpressVPN was involved in the Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov’s assassination investigation, since one of the ExpressVPN servers was apparently used to remove some relevant information from the assassin’s Facebook and Gmail accounts.
During this event, Turkish authorities seized the said server and attempted to retrieve any useful information, but failed to locate any logs to help them with the investigation. The company’s comment on the lack of data on their server was that it verifies their claim that no user activity and connection logs are stored.
The comment is as follows: “While it’s unfortunate that security tools like VPNs can be abused for illicit purposes, they are critical for our safety and the preservation of our right to privacy online. ExpressVPN is fundamentally opposed to any efforts to install ‘backdoors’ or attempts by governments to otherwise undermine such technologies.” (Source)
In December 2017, the company announced a project (“Privacy Research Lab”) that was aimed to help users determine whether their VPN provider is leaking network traffic, true IP addresses and DNS or not in various situations, such as when switching from a wired to a wireless connection. Some open source leak tests were released and are still available on GitHub.
ExpressVPN: a quick introduction
ExpressVPN, as its name indicates, is a VPN service (which stands for Virtual Private Network) that aims to provide the end users with increased privacy and data protection by routing their Internet traffic through a proprietary server and not keeping proof of their online activities.
The company behind the ExpressVPN project claims that they don’t keep data or activity logs on their servers and that their product is a privacy and security utility that masks users’ IP addresses and also their web traffic. Therefore, any third-party attempt to break the users’ cover can prove ineffective if the developers’ recommendations are followed precisely.
The company released a series of application that was designed to work with several devices and operating systems, such as Windows, iOS, Mac, Android, Linux, Blackberry, PlayStation, Xbox, Apple TV, media streamers and even routers. The utilities showcase a 4096-bit RSA key, an AES 256-bit cipher as well as SHA-512 authentication, while also making use of TLSv1.2 in order to keep the user traffic secure and away from the prying eyes of tracking services.
The VPN protocols that these applications support include UDP (OpenVPN), TCP (OpenVPN), SSTP, L2TP/IPSec as well as PPTP, thus providing the end-users with a broader range of possibilities when it comes to data protection.
Downloading ExpressVPN to your device
Depending on the device you want to download the application on, you’ll have to access a different link. Luckily for you, all of them are available in the same webpage, making it easy for you to access the one you’re interested in. Once you’re on their website, head to this link, buy a subscription plan. After doing so, look for the “Products” button at the top of the page, hover your mouse cursor over it and either select the device type from the dropdown menu or hit the “See All Apps” button.
Note that while some of the device pages have a “Download App” button (Windows, Mac), others have a “View Compatibility” button, which lets you in on some additional information regarding configuring ExpressVPN successfully. In the most fortunate cases, clicking the “Download App” button instantly downloads the setup package.
Getting to the dashboard
A quicker way to get hold of these packages would be through the setup page after you sign in your account (assuming that you’ve already created an account).
Note that attempting to access this page without being signed into your account will either display an error or prompt you to sign in your account. Here you can also find an activation code that will be requested from you if you install ExpressVPN on Windows, Mac, Linux or a router. After logging into your account you are redirected to your dashboard.
The dashboard lets you quickly navigate to perform various account-related actions such as viewing your invoices, adding a credit card to your account, access the referral system, view DNS settings, copying the activation code that’s needed during the setup, managing subscription details and setting up ExpressVPN on all your devices (up to three at the same time).
Clicking the “Set Up on More Devices” button lets you quickly download the app on your current device as well as access and copy the activation code mentioned above. Among the device types you can set up this app on it is possible to find Windows, iPhone, iPad, iPod, Mac, Android, Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox, Apple TV, Fire TV, Kindle Fire, PlayStation, Xbox, Linux, Router and MediaStreamer. Alternatively, you can access a “Manual Config” section which is kinda self-explanatory.
Installing ExpressVPN on your computer
As it can be easily noticed from the screenshots in the “ExpressVPN Installation Process” gallery attached below, the setup shouldn’t pose any threat to any users, regardless of whether it’s a seasoned user or a novice one we’re talking about. Installing the application to the target computer can be easily done by simply launching the setup kit and following the instructions provided by the wizard. Users are given the chance to configure the destination path that the installer will deploy the VPN client to, with no additional setup needed.
Once the installation process has been finished, you will be greeted by the application’s main window or activation screen, which will require you to copy and paste the subscription code associated with your account. Usually, it can be found on the website, on the page that you download the client installation package from and copying it to the clipboard can be accomplished with just one click. After pasting it into the dedicated field in the activation screen, you simply need to click the “Sign In” button so that the app can be activated and loaded on your system.
After the application has been successfully installed, you can either jump into the action quickly by simply clicking a button or configuring some of the parameters for a while before sealing the deal and ultimately securing your connection. ExpressVPN has a Smart Location module that automatically picks the server and country that are most suitable to your needs and suggests that you connect to them without any other configuration.
However, if you at least want to choose the server, you can easily do so by clicking the “Choose Location” button and picking a country and server from the menu that you just accessed. Here, you can find a wide variety of countries and servers, as you will see later in this article, which are organized by “Recommended,” “All” and “Recent” ones, so that you can view them in an easier manner. If you need a little guidance, take a look at our “ExpressVPN Configuration Process” gallery to see exactly how to choose a server from the “VPN Locations” window.
Technically all you need to secure your connection is deciding on a server and location and clicking the big power button in the main window, but some users are more curious than others, so let’s explore the rest of the settings you can alter. First things first, accessing them can be done by clicking the hamburger button in the main screen and choosing “Options” from the menu.
Detailed settings adjustments
In the “Options” window you’ll be able to choose from various settings categories ranging from protocol and account to browsers and advanced ones. However, general settings can be also configured from the same window without breaking a sweat.
As you can clearly see in the screenshots, general settings include modifying ExpressVPN’s startup behavior (launching on startup and connecting to the last used location), shutting down all traffic if the VPN disconnects, allowing access to various local network devices such as printers or file servers and manage connections on a per-app basis. The last setting can be only modified if the VPN is off and refers to letting all apps use the VPN freely, refusing certain apps VPN access or permitting access to some apps exclusively, depending on the users’ preferences.
Moving on, protocols can be easily configured by simply clicking the radio buttons next to the protocol you’re interested in. Protocols are as mentioned above: UDP (OpenVPN), TCP (OpenVPN), L2TP/IPSec, PPTP and SSTP. Additionally, there is one extra option that lets the application pick the protocol most appropriate for your network automatically.
The “Account” tab doesn’t stand for much except for letting you view a bunch of details about your ExpressVPN account, such as its status and expiry date. You can also sign out of your account by using the dedicated “Sign Out” button or even refer friends for free service in return by clicking the second suggestive button in the “Account” tab.
In a similar manner to the accounts category described earlier we have the “Browsers” section which only lets us install browser extensions in a quick way and checking the browsers that they work on. At the time of our testing, the only available browsers that supported the ExpressVPN extension were Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.
Finally, we have the “Advanced” tab in the configuration window. This is the most complicated part of ExpressVPN, although seasoned users might think otherwise since there’s really nothing complex going on here. You can choose to share crash reports, speed tests and whatnot with the ExpressVPN’s developers, prevent IPv6 address detection while connected, opt to use exclusively ExpressVPN DNS servers when connected, optimize your Windows networking to increase VPN speed and change the language, most of which you can do with the click of a button.
So there you have it, the full installation and configuration process that can guarantee you a full proof security and privacy protection with the possibility of choosing your favorite server by country as a bonus.
Network Lock, Tor, Split Tunneling and Torrenting
There is a bunch of features that ExpressVPN provides you with in order to increase your privacy and online security which we’re going to discuss before proceeding to the next part of our review.
First thing first, we’re going to provide you with some details regarding the Network Lock or, how some people refer to it by, the Kill Switch. Before we go into that matter, we should give you the inside scoop. Sometimes, when you’re connected to the Internet, your connection might drop all of a sudden, and the next course of action that your computer takes is to connect you to the next best one that is available.
For VPN users, this thing can be catastrophic, since if you’re connected to a private VPN server and it loses connectivity, your computer will look for the next available connection (which is your default, unprotected one) and link itself to it. The consequence is that you’re now on an unsecured connection and the worst part is that you probably have no idea about it, since your computer usually doesn’t notify you whenever it connects to another network.
ExpressVPN’s kill switch, which is called the Network Lock, prevents that from happening and automatically pulls the plug whenever your connection drops so that your computer is unable to connect to the Internet unless you reconnect through the VPN server. This kill switch is enabled by default and can’t be modified if you’re already connected to a VPN server, so if for some reason you decide to disable it, you must do it while the VPN service is inactive.
The concept behind this technology is a little bit more complicated than the previous one, but it’s just as easy to understand.
The need for split tunneling arose when VPN users had to use various devices on a remote network such as network printers or local storage devices while still protecting their privacy through a VPN server. Simple enough, right?
So what split tunneling does is that it lets you choose which devices that are currently connected to your router are connected to a VPN server and which ones are connected to the Internet directly. This can help you download in complete safety without compromising the speed of other Internet services, print documents on your printer without revealing your online identity and even stream online content such as movies while using local services.
Both Mac and Windows editions of ExpressVPN include a “Connection Per App” feature that let you decide which application should be VPN-protected and the ones that are not.
Tor, which is another popular anonymity service, can be used in conjunction with ExpressVPN to further increase your online privacy. The “science” between this technique which is also known as “Tor over VPN” is that you can benefit from Tor network’s complete privacy protection without any node knowing your home IP address or your ISP flagging you for using Tor since all the traffic is encrypted.
More so, using Tor from a location that currently bans it, such as schools, certain countries or some corporations, is also possible thanks to the VPN servers. The only thing you need to make sure of before using this technique is that you must connect to the VPN server before accessing the Tor network. This way, if there’s some Tor-related bug, you’ll have an extra security layer to protect your privacy.
Torrenting is another pressing matter when using a VPN since most of the traffic is nowadays being heavily monitored and you might want to cover your tracks as thoroughly as possible.
The very nature of using P2P (peer-to-peer) services is that it exposes the IP address of each and every one of its users so that you know where you’re getting your files from. If that IP address happens to be your real one, you can get busted by various third-parties you don’t want to get involved in the first place, since metadata and location can be easily figured out from there.
However, if you use a VPN service such as ExpressVPN, the chance of this scenario happening is significantly reduced, if not completely eliminated and let me tell you why. When you use a VPN service, your IP address is replaced by another one, the address of the VPN server you’re currently connected to. That IP address is more often than not shared by numerous other users, so the chance of your activity being traced back to you as an individual is almost null. Furthermore, ExpressVPN has a policy that prevents them from keeping logs that can be used to identify you, so the risks are non-existent.
IP binding and using the Network Lock
If you’re crazy-careful with your anonymity when using torrents, you’re probably already familiar with the practice of IP binding. uTorrent users, for example, configure this service so that their downloading and uploading activities are limited to a single IP address, the most popular cases are where you use the IP address of a secure VPN server.
However, if you’re using ExpressVPN and have the Network Lock feature active (it is enabled by default), IP binding is not anymore a necessity. As stated above, if your VPN-routed Internet connection suddenly comes to a halt, the download along with any other traffic will automatically be cut and your privacy will remain untainted.
Healthy advice for safe practice
Whenever you feel like using services that the authorities might find highly questionable, such as simply connecting to the Tor network or downloading the contents of a torrent file from the Internet, there are some rules that you should follow for the sake of your privacy and security.
Not only authorities are the ones that want to get their hands on your data, but also certain users that can use this information to blackmail you, for instance.
So, the first step before doing anything that might compromise you is to check if your VPN is active, double-check if the server you’re connected to is the one you chose and not some randomly-picked one and, most important, run an IP check in your browser. No service is infallible and you might think that you’re 100% protected when, in fact, some software or hardware component might’ve failed you and exposed your tracks completely online. Be safe.
List of server countries
At the time we wrote this article, ExpressVPN boasted an outstanding amount of over 3000+ servers in 160 server locations in 94 different countries. Therefore, you are provided with a remarkable level of flexibility when it comes to choosing the server that better suits your needs.Europe
- United Kingdom
- Isle of Man
- Czech Republic
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- United States
- Costa Rica
- Hong Kong
- Republic of Korea
- Philippines (via Singapore)
- Sri Lanka
- New Zealand
- South Africa
Services it unlocks
During our testing here at FindYourVPN.com, we didn’t find a service that this VPN client wouldn’t be able to unlock. We have tested the product extensively on a large number of services, more of which were popular than others, but ExpressVPN managed to provide us with access to each and every single one of them.
Among the services we tested against were social network websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, vk.com, Instagram, Snapchat, Kik and Telegram, various Google services that were otherwise not available such as YouTube Premium and other sites of interest such as Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon Prime.Here's a complete list of services that ExpressVPN can unlock for you:
- Amazon Prime
- BBC iPlayer
- PlayStation Vue
- Sky Go
Sometimes a website appeared temporarily unavailable or still detected the original location, but this can be easily fixed by removing the cookies and cached contents from your browser of choice and try loading the locked contents again. However, before accessing the services of your choice we strongly recommend you clear your cache and cookies from your browsers and try using the incognito modes since cookies are widely known as being capable of storing sensitive content and leaking it when you least expect it.
More so, not all of the servers might be able to unlock the services listed above, but only certain ones. We could go on rambling about the details and disclose the ones who can successfully unlock the service you’re looking for, but that might trigger the service to block ExpressVPN’s server. Instead, we encourage you to contact ExpressVPN’s support team and ask them to guide you in picking the most reliable server to unlock the service you want to use.
As stated in the testing and tools article, in order to make the review as honest and transparent as possible we’re going to perform a series of tests so that you can see exactly how reliable is this VPN provider. The tests range from various leaks such as IP, DNS, browser fingerprinting, location, user agent or browser leaks to speed tests that can prove you once and for all that using a VPN does not necessarily make your connection completely unusable.
The purpose of these tests is to make you understand the true purpose of these operations and how they can help you pick a decent and reliable client whenever you feel ready to take this step. First of all, we need to mention that the test will all be completed by using a website that’s widely available for everyone that wants to try on their own and replicate the results.
The website we’re going to use is the IP X one that we mentioned in the testing description article and speed will be tested by using Netflix’s Fast.com website. It is worth saying that ExpressVPN has developed its own suite of testing tools that can be accessed directly from their website.
The tools consist of an IP address checker, a DNS leak test and a WebRTC leak test. Each of the tools’ pages also includes additional information that might be handy to you. This includes basic information regarding IP addresses, why can’t you go online without one, what can it reveal about you, how to change it, what is WebRTC, how does a WebRTC leak jeopardize your privacy, what is DNS, what causes a DNS leakage and more. If you are a new VPN user, you might want to consider reading that material thoroughly, since understanding it can make you more proficient in choosing and using a VPN service.
ExpressVPN test results
The first thing that the site checked against were a series of IP Geolocation indicators such as the IP address, the PTR, country, city,
coordinates, ASN, ISP, domain name and IP type. The first thing we noticed was that the IP-type was recorded as being non-residential (data center), the country and city were 100% accurate and the IP address pointed out to a totally different value than our original one. No surprise there, we’re all satisfied.
Moving on, IPv6 geolocation and DNS information were absolutely not available, which is a very good thing since some VPN clients leak IPv6 and DNS information unwillingly to your ISP. As for web browser fingerprinting, the displayed IP address was a local one, as it should, indicating that there are no leaks there.
Other tests revealed that some information can’t remain 100% anonymous, but that’s totally normal. These data bits show us if you have enabled cookies, the number of your CPU cores and resolution. However, the Flash and Java parameters were masked, which, again, is a good thing.
Another test was aimed at the TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) connection, which let us see when the device was first seen and updated on the server, the value of the total flows and the detected OS (which was obviously masked to show Linux 2.2.x – 3.x [generic] when in fact we were using Windows 10). Additional data included the MTU, network link (which successfully pointed out that we’re using a VPN or IPsec), language (which wasn’t properly detected), distance and the uptime of the server.
At the bottom of the window, you’ll be able to find an overall rating as well as other TLS tests that are graded based on their overall reliability. Other TLS tests included ones for insecure cipher suites, TLS version, ephemeral key support, session ticket support, TLS compression support, BEAST vulnerability, unknown cipher suites supported and at the end, we were prompted with a list of given cipher suites to consult.
Last, but not least, the speed tests, which were completed using Netflix’s Fast.com tool revealed that our Internet speed values when we were actively connected to the VPN servers ranged from 370Kbps to 39 Mbps, as you can observe in the screenshot below. This result is remarkably good, given that the servers and locations we chose have been at least pretentious when using other similar tools.
The complete results are, as you can see in the screenshots below, the following:
- Africa (South Africa server) – 24 Mbps;
- Asia (Hong Kong server) – 21 Mbps;
- Europe (Germany – Frankfurt server) – 37 Mbps;
- North America (USA – Washington DC server) – 39Mbps;
- South America (Argentina server) – 370 Kbps;
- Australia (Melbourne server) – 6.9 Mbps.
As we already pointed out in our early articles, we highly encourage you to perform the same tests in the same way we did and leave us some feedback in the comments section with your results. We’re interested in knowing if your results were different or the same as ours. We used average hardware equipment since we understand that not every user owns high-end technology. However, the gear you use should only affect the VPN’s speed and overall performance, without poking any holes in your security system.
That concludes our testing procedures, we have checked for various leaks and breaches in security, while also focusing on speed, since a 100% secure connection that runs at 50 Kbps is of little or no use to us.
If you want to check out our results and compare it with yours, you can do it by accessing this link.
Free vs Pro
As you probably noticed, there is no way that ExpressVPN can be used for free, at least not in the beginning, as you have to buy a license before you can launch it on your computer. More so, you are provided with various payment plans, so you can choose the one that suits your needs the best.
The lack of a free service can be frowned upon by many users, mostly novices who don’t understand the costs of running so many servers and keeping them private on its entirety. However, the fact that its features cannot be accessed without paying a fee can make the client seem a bit exclusive and premium-like, which, in our opinion, isn’t bad judgment, given the number of supported countries and servers provided to you as well as its guarantee to not store any activity or traffic log on their servers.
You should also take into consideration that once you purchase a subscription plan for ExpressVPN, you can install the service on three different devices simultaneously using the same access code.
The plans they offer are,
- 1 Month – 12.95$ – Buy Now
- 15 Months (Including 3 Free months) – 6.67$ per month (Totally 99.95$) – Buy Now and Save 49%
- 6 Months – 9.99$ per month (Totally 59.95$) – Buy Now
The 15 Months plan is currently the most popular choice since it offers you a 49% discount. Therefore you can pay 99.95$ per year (6.67$ per month) instead of 155.4$ per year (12.95$ per month).
Another positive thing about purchasing an ExpressVPN license is that you’re provided with multiple payment methods, so you don’t need to stress about finding the right one for you. You can view a list of accepted payment methods below.
- Credit cards:
- American Express
- VISA Electron
- Diners Club INTERNATIONAL
We have encountered no crashes or random errors during ExpressVPN’s uptime on our computer, we even made a few stress tests to see how far it can go without crashing and not even once did it randomly interrupted the connection. Things are looking good.
As for the customer support, well, you can choose to do anything from sending an email, filing a support ticket, searching for articles in their support database, viewing a series of troubleshooting guides and receiving setup instructions directly from their website to talking to “a human” (as they state on their website) through live chat.
If you’re nervous that this VPN client won’t satisfy you, then you’ll be glad to learn that all the plans that were mentioned above are covered by a 100% refund policy that lasts for your first 30 days of service. What does that mean? If for any reason you decide that this product is not good for you in the first 30 days, you can request your money back.
To draw the line, we enjoyed testing and using ExpressVPN. Even on a lower-end laptop computer such as our old faithful Toshiba Satellite, it performed well without hogging too many resources, it could be easily installed and configuring it could be easily done without additional assistance from any help documentation.
Testing revealed that it’s a reliable choice when it comes to security, but it also has the advantage of being a “speedster” (so far it has the fastest servers according to Fast.com). The company is trustworthy when it comes to security and privacy since they don’t keep any traffic or activity logs. Unfortunately, no free service is provided to the end users who might just want to try it before buying it, but there’s a 100% money-back guarantee on the first 30 days.
It is a bit disappointing that they don’t offer a lifetime subscription, but, as they say, lack of sustained revenue means that some things such as security and customer service must be cut.
+ Performs great even on lower-end machines; (5)
+ Can be easily installed even by novices; (5)
+ Both secure and high-speed servers; (5)
+ Large server network; (5)
+ No-log policy, trustworthy company; (5)
– Services are a bit pricey and no trial; (4.5)
ExpressVPN receives a 4.91/5 rating.