ExpressVPN vs. Surfshark 2023: Which VPN Is Better?
Why should VPNs be on every computer and laptop? Because they offer an affordable way to enhance your privacy online, secure public network connections, and bypass censorship and geoblocking. The real question is not whether you should have a VPN, but which is best for your needs. Two of the most popular choices are Surfshark and ExpressVPN.
Both services finished in the Top 3 of our extensive comparison of 27 VPN providers. By itself, this is more than reason enough to put them head-to-head and see where each excels.
ExpressVPN vs. Surfshark
Installation and Features
Since VPNs are used on a daily basis, they should be as simple as possible. With ExpressVPN and Surfshark, there really isn't much to complain about in this area: Both offer intuitive clients that provide access to all important features with just a few clicks.
Surfshark has an expandable user interface, through which it's possible to select a server location. ExpressVPN's interface is a bit more streamlined, offering server choices in a second window.
VPN connections can be established in just a few seconds with ExpressVPN's app.
Both providers also include the most important features. These range from a kill switch (which automatically severs your connection if a disruption is noticed) and split tunneling (for only routing specific apps through your VPN tunnel).
ExpressVPN's browser extension serves up several more security options, like HTTPS Everywhere. This automatically connects you to the secure HTTPS version of a website whenever available.
Surfshark's package of features is even larger: In addition to the ability to use a static IP, you can also set up two separate VPN tunnels to route your traffic through, which goes far in boosting your security. As if that wasn't enough, you'll get a simple ad blocker and an email leak checker.
Surfshark offers even more features than ExpressVPN, such as multi-hop routing and static IPs.
Even though we preferred ExpressVPN's app, Surfshark offers a few more features and carries the round.
When rating server networks, two figures matter: How many servers does a provider have, and how many countries are these spread across? ExpressVPN is ahead with around 3,000 servers and 160 locations in 94 countries to Surfshark's 3,200 servers across 65 countries.
Both VPN providers have nearly the same numbers of severs, however, ExpressVPN's are spread across considerably more countries.
The second round goes to ExpressVPN, owing to its server presence in more countries.
We measured the performance of each provider from our sample using a server based in Frankfurt with a 1 GB/s connection. In order to ensure comparable average values, we connected multiple times per day to random ExpressVPN and Surfshark servers in both Germany and the US. Our findings are presented in our performance ranking below:
The providers are nearly identical in terms of upload speeds, however, for downloads, Surfshark has a slight edge.
But speed isn't the only factor in this category. For VPNs, how well they're able to circumvent geoblocking and allow users to stream content from abroad is just as important. Once again, there's nothing between the pair, as foreign content on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and BBC iPlayer was readily accessible with either.
If planning a trip to China, both are reliable and able to overcome the Great Firewall.
As such, ExpressVPN and Surfshark are both performance heavyweights. Whether for streaming content from abroad or use in China, there's very little separating them. Since Surfshark's download speeds are somewhat higher than ExpressVPN's, it emerges victorious but just by the smallest of margins.
Security and Privacy
To determine how secure a VPN is, we pay attention to what VPN protocols it supports. With Surfshark, these include WireGuard and OpenVPN, two of the safest options. OpenVPN is also offered by ExpressVPN, however, instead of WireGuard, you'll get its proprietary Lightway protocol, which allegedly provides a similar level of security. Both providers encrypt connections with AES-256, the current industry standard.
Our tests didn't find any leaks with either Surfshark or ExpressVPN.
Equally important for security is whether a provider logs and stores information about you, your connections, and your activities. Both ExpressVPN and Surfshark promise not to retain traffic logs or other information that might disclose your identity.
Thankfully, you won't have to take either at their word as both ExpressVPN and Surfshark regularly submit to independent audits (ExpressVPN from PwC, and Surfshark with Cure53), that assess how truthful their guarantees are.
Another factor that plays a role in determining a provider's security is its location. Both value the tropical lifestyle and are based in the British Virgin Islands, which is known for its lax data privacy laws. This has advantages and disadvantages: Each advertises that they can guarantee greater anonymity owing to where they're headquartered, however, this is a double-edged sword, as you'll also have less legal recourse if they misuse your data.
Ultimately, opting for a VPN provider that operates in a country with loose data privacy laws is a matter of taste. In any case, both VPNs offer similar degrees of security.
Good customer support is comprised of two things: One is a solid help center with comprehensive articles that can be full-text searched. In the event that you can't find the answer to your question, you'll need the second component, a staffer who is capable of quickly providing you with a competent and helpful answer.
In terms of the first aspect, ExpressVPN and Surfshark offer equally good static content.
When evaluating each provider's live chat, we were connected to support staffers within minutes.
Both VPNs also offer direct assistance in the form of a live chat and support ticket system. Response times in the first option were short, with our emailed queries answered after seven (Surfshark) and 20 hours (ExpressVPN).
Overall, even though Surfshark's reply came faster, there's too little to distinguish between the two.
So far as pricing is concerned, both providers charge depending on the length of the contract. ExpressVPN is offered in 1, 6, or 12-month packages, whereas Surfshark is available for 1, 12, or 24 months (the two-year subscription is the most affordably priced, per month).
Below, you can find a detailed overview of each VPN's pricing:
|24 months||12 months||1 month|
|Contract Period (Months)||24||12||1|
|Number of Devices||unlimited||unlimited||unlimited|
|Number of Servers||3,200||3,200||3,200|
|Number of Countries||100||100||100|
|No Server Logs|
|12 Months||6 Months||1 Month|
|Contract Period (Months)||12||6||1|
|Number of Devices||5||5||5|
|Number of Servers||3,000||3,000||3,000|
|Number of Countries||94||94||94|
|No Server Logs|
There isn't much difference in either's monthly subscription rates, however, as the contract's duration goes on, Surfshark offers progressively more competitive prices. As noted above, its two-year subscription costs less than a third of ExpressVPN's most affordable monthly price.
As such, Surfshark emerges as the clear winner.
Both providers did well in the customer reviews we assessed from various aggregators. ExpressVPN was commended on its performance and user-friendliness, whereas Surfshark received plaudits for its good price-performance ratio.
Once again, there was very little separating the two, however, ExpressVPN's ratings were slightly better than Surfshark's.
Surfshark Customer Ratings
ExpressVPN Customer Ratings
After seven rounds, three went to Surfshark (features, performance, and pricing), two to ExpressVPN (server network and customer reviews), and two were undecided (customer support as well as security and privacy).
For good reason, both VPNs are among the most popular, performing equally well in all of the areas we assessed. However, since Surfshark offers these capabilities at a more attractive price and for longer, we feel confident calling the final result in its favor.
Overall winner: Surfshark
Detailed reviews of all 27 VPNs from our sample can be found in our comprehensive VPN assessment.