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Surfshark vs. ExpressVPN: VPN speed, security and price compared

It's a close race between two speedy VPNs from the Virgin Islands.

Editors' note: Following the Sept. 13 sale of ExpressVPN to Kape Technologies, a company that has raised significant privacy concerns for us in the past, we're carefully reevaluating ExpressVPN to determine the implications that its new ownership may have on users' privacy. We'll update our recommendations and reviews if and when warranted. 


What makes the competition between Surfshark and ExpressVPN most noteworthy is all that the two virtual private network options have in common. The two VPNs are known for their private, no-logs services featuring competitive encryption and fast speeds. And more pointedly, they're both headquartered in the privacy-friendly British Virgin Islands.

When it comes to a privacy starting point, you want to look for a VPN headquartered or owned by countries outside of the US. While the British Virgin Islands is a UK territory, it isn't explicitly subject to UK data retention laws nor does it participate in intelligence-sharing agreements. Sure, its status as a UK territory gives us pause when considering the potential privacy exposure if political pressure were ever to be applied. But right now, we're feeling the island breeze.

Most recently, ExpressVPN just spent the better part of the past year battling for NordVPN's spot at the top of the VPN industry food chain, but now relative newcomer Surfshark is looking to eat ExpressVPN's lunch. Here's how the two island services stack up when it comes to speed, security and cost.  

Read moreThe best VPN service of 2020

Surfshark

It won't be long until big-name VPNs realize what kind of threat Surfshark really is: It's faster than a VPN of its size should be, has stronger security than you'd expect, offers a suite of impressive features and has cutthroat prices to go with its unlimited simultaneous connection allowance. During our 2020 testing, Surfshark has given even our most highly recommended VPNs a run for their money on speed, security and cost. 

You want to watch Netflix from any country? Surfshark's watertight DNS features make that possible. You want to torrent quickly and privately? Surfshark routes you to its own P2P-configured servers out of the US. You want to block fingerprinting trackers, use a private search engine and camouflage your traffic so it looks completely normal with the assurance of a kill switch? Surfshark's CleanWeb ad-blocker, Blindsearch search engine and on-board obfuscation covers you. 

Read moreHow we evaluate and review VPNs

With more than 3,200 servers in 65 countries, we lost less than 17% of average internet speeds during our most recent speed tests. That's faster than the 27% speed loss we saw in previous tests, and pushes it ahead of ExpressVPN to be the current front-runner in our speed comparisons. 

Surfshark is currently living up to its name with an aggressive pricing scheme. Right now, it's offering an 83% discount, bringing costs down to $2 a month for a two-year plan ($48 billed every two years). ExpressVPN isn't going to get anywhere near those prices right now. 

Read more: Surfshark VPN review: A feature-rich service with blazing speeds and a security focus

ExpressVPN

No matter how fast the service, a secure VPN will always slow your connection speeds -- usually by 50% or more. Combine that with the sluggish speeds of most public Wi-Fi (when you need your VPN the most), and speed moves to the forefront as a crucial feature for many VPN shoppers.

Enter ExpressVPN. This British Virgin Islands-based service offers more than 3,000 servers in 160 locations and 94 countries but it just couldn't quite catch Surfshark. While ExpressVPN muscled its way to the head of the VPN pack in 2019 fueled in large part by its unbeatable 2% speed loss, the speed demon slowed down in 2020 tests, delivering a 52% speed loss. Meanwhile, Surfshark got faster, jumping from 27% to just 17% speed loss. 

Read more: All the VPN terms you need to know

Just because Surfshark beat it to the finish line this time, it doesn't mean ExpressVPN is at all sluggish. It still flies, and most people will have no problems gaming, streaming or even torrenting heavily. In a test round where non-VPN speeds averaged 193 Mbps, ExpressVPN's overall global average speed was 93 Mbps and it hit peaks of 157 Mbps. 

ExpressVPN's easy-to-navigate interface makes it an apt choice for newcomers just learning about VPNs, and its multiplatform compatibility expands its value to a wide base of consumers. These factors more than justify ExpressVPN's slightly higher-than-average prices, starting at about $7 a month (with three months free). It does offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, and you can pay with credit card, PayPal or Bitcoin.

ExpressVPN only offers five simultaneous connections compared to Surfshark's unlimited allowance, but it earned high marks in our list of the best mobile VPN services for 2020, thanks in part to its hyper-flexible platform compatibility. Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Windows, Mac, Linux, PlayStation, Xbox -- if it's something you surf on, ExpressVPN is probably going to work with it. By contrast, Surfshark runs on Linux, Windows, Android, MacOS, iOS, Android TV and Amazon Fire TV.

Read more: ExpressVPN review: A VPN speed leader with a secure reputation

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