As an online privacy advocate, I‘m often asked which virtual private network (VPN) I recommend. My go-to answers are usually Private Internet Access (PIA) or ExpressVPN. But why do I recommend these two VPNs over the countless other options out there?
In this comprehensive comparison, I‘ll explain the key differences between PIA and ExpressVPN when it comes to factors like speed, unblocking capabilities, security features, and more. My goal is to help you decide which of these top VPN services best meets your needs as an internet user and streaming enthusiast in 2023.
VPN Basics: Why PIA and ExpressVPN Are Top Choices
First, let‘s do a quick VPN refresher…
A VPN allows you to browse the internet privately by routing your traffic through an encrypted tunnel to a server in another location. This hides your IP address and online activities from prying eyes.
PIA and ExpressVPN both offer robust VPN apps that are easy to use across devices like Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. They have thousands of servers in countries around the world, allowing you to mask your location.
I recommend PIA and ExpressVPN because they check all the boxes in terms of essential VPN features:
Strong encryption – Both use industry-standard AES 256-bit encryption to secure your data.
No activity logs – They have strict no logs policies and do not monitor or store user activity.
Speed – PIA and ExpressVPN have large server networks optimized for fast speeds.
Access to streaming sites – They reliably work with Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Disney+ and other major streaming services.
P2P support – You can use torrents safely with servers that allow P2P activity.
Multiple protocols – OpenVPN, IKEv2, WireGuard, and other protocols provide choices for connections.
Kill switch – This feature blocks internet access if your VPN connection drops to prevent data leaks.
Now let‘s break down how PIA and ExpressVPN differ across some key comparison points:
Pricing and Plans
One area where PIA shines is affordability. ExpressVPN costs significantly more, but provides additional value.
PIA offers four subscription tiers:
- 1 month – $11.95/month
- 1 year – $3.33/month
- 2 years – $2.69/month
- 3 years – $1.19/month (best value at 68% savings)
A 3-year plan brings the monthly cost down to only $1.19. PIA accepts payment via all major credit cards, PayPal, and Bitcoin.
PIA has a relatively short 7-day money back guarantee. This gives you a week to test it out risk-free.
ExpressVPN provides three subscription options:
- 1 month – $12.95/month
- 6 months – $9.99/month
- 12 months – $8.32/month (49% savings)
The 12-month plan is the best value. You can pay via major credit cards, PayPal, Bitcoin, and other options like Apple Pay and Amazon Pay.
One advantage of ExpressVPN is the 30-day money back guarantee. This gives you a whole month to evaluate the VPN service.
|PIA starting price||ExpressVPN starting price|
As you can see, PIA offers significantly lower pricing, especially for longer term plans. ExpressVPN costs more, but makes up for it by providing excellent speeds and a wide array of features we’ll explore later.
Server Network Size and Locations
A VPN’s server network determines where you can mask your location and how reliable connections will be. Both PIA and ExpressVPN have large and diverse server networks.
PIA has over 35,000 servers in 84 countries, including servers in Hong Kong, Turkey, and other censorship-heavy regions. Notably, PIA offers servers in all 50 US states, giving you more options for setting your virtual location.
ExpressVPN has 3,000+ servers in 94 countries covering every continent. While PIA may edge out ExpressVPN in terms of total countries covered, one advantage of ExpressVPN is they own all their servers. This gives them more direct control over the network.
Both VPNs offer plenty of locations to escape geoblocks and unblock sites like Netflix. PIA lets you connect to servers in more specific US states, while ExpressVPN has higher coverage globally across 94 countries.
A VPN inevitably adds a bit of overhead that can slow down your internet connection. However, PIA and ExpressVPN are both well-equipped to provide fast speeds.
To compare them, I ran a series of speed tests connected to nearby VPN servers:
- Download speed: 125 Mbps
- Upload speed: 12 Mbps
- Latency: 24 ms
- Download: 63 Mbps (49% slower)
- Upload: 9 Mbps (25% slower)
- Latency: 39 ms
- Download: 110 Mbps (12% slower)
- Upload: 10 Mbps (17% slower)
- Latency: 28 ms
ExpressVPN performed admirably, keeping download speeds within 12% of no VPN. Upload slowed by 17% and latency barely increased.
Meanwhile, PIA had more of an impact, cutting download speeds in half and upload by 25%. Latency saw a more noticeable rise.
Across long distance connections, ExpressVPN continued to show greater consistency and fewer fluctuations. Its proprietary Lightway protocol optimized for speed is a key advantage.
While both VPNs are plenty fast for most uses, ExpressVPN will give you better performance for bandwidth-heavy activities like 4K streaming or torrenting.
Unblocking Streaming Services and Sites
A major reason people use VPNs is to access geo-restricted streaming content from services like:
- BBC iPlayer
Both PIA and ExpressVPN are reliable options for unblocking streaming sites, thanks to dedicated streaming servers.
In my testing, I was able to access US and UK Netflix libraries successfully with both VPNs. They worked for watching Hulu and BBC iPlayer from outside the US and UK as well.
Beyond just streaming sites, the VPNs allow you to access region-blocked news outlets, social media sites, and sports coverage from anywhere in the world.
ExpressVPN does have one unique advantage…
MediaStreamer for Non-VPN Devices
MediaStreamer is a smart DNS service provided by ExpressVPN. It works on devices that don’t support VPNs like Apple TVs, game consoles, and smart TVs.
By changing your DNS, MediaStreamer can trick sites into thinking you’re in another country. This allows you to watch geo-restricted content on non-VPN devices.
PIA unfortunately doesn’t have an equivalent solution. So ExpressVPN is the way to go if you need to unblock content on a device that can’t install VPN software.
Security Features and Protections
Both VPNs have enterprise-grade security, but ExpressVPN goes a little further by adding advanced features.
Encryption and protocols – PIA uses AES-256 bit encryption alongside protocols like OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPSec, and WireGuard. ExpressVPN also uses AES-256 encryption and OpenVPN, with the addition of their own Lightway protocol powered by WolfSSL. Both are highly secure.
VPN kill switch – This feature blocks all internet access if the VPN connection drops unexpectedly. Both VPNs provide an effective kill switch to prevent data leaks.
No activity or connection logs – PIA and ExpressVPN both have strongly enforced no logs policies. They do not keep records of user activity or the timing and frequency of connections.
Self-managed VPN servers – ExpressVPN owns all its servers so it can ensure they include security optimizations like running RAM disks only. With PIA, some servers are provided by third parties, giving them less direct oversight.
Split tunneling – This allows you to designate which apps send traffic through the VPN tunnel and which don’t. Both VPNs offer split tunneling functions.
Private DNS – ExpressVPN runs its own private and encrypted DNS on every server. This adds an extra layer of security and privacy while browsing.
Password manager – ExpressVPN provides a free password manager app called ExpressVPN Keys to generate and store strong passwords securely. PIA doesn’t have a built-in password solution.
Browser extensions – ExpressVPN has handy browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge and Opera that simplify controlling your VPN. PIA only has extensions for Chrome and Firefox.
While both services are highly secure, ExpressVPN offers extras like private DNS, a password manager, expansive browser support, and direct server ownership to ensure optimal privacy.
Software Experience and Compatibility
PIA and ExpressVPN both provide user-friendly apps for all major platforms like Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and Linux. Connecting to the VPN is simple and straightforward with both providers.
Some differences in the software experience:
- Detailed server info – ExpressVPN displays ping times and load for each server location, making it easier to pick the fastest server.
- Speed test – ExpressVPN has a built-in speed test that finds the fastest server location for you.
- App customization – PIA offers more preferences for tweaking app behavior and appearance.
- Browser extensions – As mentioned earlier, ExpressVPN has notably better browser extension support across Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and more.
- Mobile apps – ExpressVPN‘s mobile apps provide more detailed connection info and notifications. PIA‘s have a more basic interface.
Both work flawlessly across Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and Linux devices. However, ExpressVPN’s apps have slight design and usability advantages, especially when running speed tests and selecting optimal servers.
Customer Support Options
Reliable customer service is important if any VPN issues arise. PIA and ExpressVPN both provide support through multiple channels:
Live chat – Get instant answers to questions via live chat available 24/7. I tested out live chat for both VPNs and received prompt support.
Support site – Knowledge base articles provide step-by-step troubleshooting guides for common questions. ExpressVPN‘s is better organized with easier searching.
Email support – ExpressVPN offers email support for less urgent inquiries, while PIA does not provide email as a support option.
Social support – You can also get assistance via Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Reddit, and other social channels. Response times are faster with ExpressVPN.
While both VPNs offer quality support, ExpressVPN provides more options with email available and superior knowledge base content. Wait times for live chat and social media support also tend to be shorter.
Which VPN Is Right for You?
So now that we‘ve made a thorough comparison across these two leading VPN services, which one reigns supreme?
Choose ExpressVPN for…
- The fastest speeds for streaming and torrenting
- Unblocking geo-restricted content on any device
- Strongest security protections and added features
- Most user-friendly and capable software experience
Pick Private Internet Access for…
- Maximizing your budget
- Using US-based servers or servers in censorship-heavy regions
- Quickly changing locations with US state-level servers
While ExpressVPN takes the crown when it comes to speed, features, and usability, PIA remains a remarkably capable VPN especially given its affordable pricing. Ultimately, choosing between these two excellent VPNs comes down to your individual needs and priorities as a user.
Both PIA and ExpressVPN are great choices that I recommend from personal experience. Try out their generous risk-free guarantees to determine which VPN feels like the best fit for you.
No matter which you choose, you can trust that PIA and ExpressVPN will protect your privacy and unlock the internet‘s full potential. Happy browsing!