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NordVPN vs. ExpressVPN: Which should you buy?

The Best VPN Services for 2017
The Best VPN Services for 2017 (Image credit: Windows Central)

These two VPN services are among the best available now. Either one is going to deliver a high level of privacy for your online traffic, but there are some differences — especially in pricing plans, server locations, and jurisdiction — that set them apart.

NordVPN vs. ExpressVPN at a glance

NordVPNExpressVPN
Servers5,242 in 62 countries2,000+ in 94 countries
ProtocolsIKEv2/IPsec
OpenVPN
L2TP/IPsec
SSTP
PPTP
IKEv2/IPsec
OpenVPN
L2TP/IPsec
SSTP
PPTP
JurisdictionPanamaBritish Virgin Islands
Devices6 simultaneous3 simultaneous
Bandwidth capUnlimitedUnlimited
LogsAlmost noneAlmost none
Payment optionsCredit card
Cryptocurrency
Cash
Other (AliPay, etc.)
Credit card
Bitcoin
PayPal
Other (AliPay, etc.)
Support24/7 live chat24/7 live chat

NordVPN vs. ExpressVPN servers and locations

Any good VPN service is going to have a lot of servers spread out across many countries, allowing customers to find something close and reliable to connect to. NordVPN has 5,242 servers to choose from — including those designed specifically for P2P sharing, double VPN coverage, Onion over VPN, and obfuscation to get around network firewalls — but they're spread out over fewer countries than ExpressVPN.

ExpressVPN has fewer servers (just more than 2,000) to connect to with no specialized options, though they are spread out over 94 countries, making its service more accessible to certain people in those locations or for those who wish to appear inside those countries. With both services, you get unlimited bandwidth to work with, so there's no fear of throttling or not being able to switch between servers as much as you'd like.

Both NordVPN and ExpressVPN use 256-bit AES encryption and give you plenty of VPN protocol options for myriad devices, including OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPsec, and L2TP/IPsec. However, only ExpressVPN lets you switch between protocols within its app, while NordVPN uses OpenVPN by default. Another thing to note is that NordVPN uses a 2,048-bit RSA key for HTTPS connections, while ExpressVPN has stepped things up to a 4,096-bit RSA key for the handshake. While this might not be a huge difference in security at the moment, ExpressVPN is setting itself up better for the future as RSA levels are cracked.

NordVPN vs. ExpressVPN jurisdiction and log keeping

From NordVPN's privacy policy.

From NordVPN's privacy policy.

Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN make it clear that they keep almost no logs that could be used against you, which would essentially defeat the purpose of a VPN in the first place. ExpressVPN's privacy policy mentions that no activity, connections, traffic, data, or DNS info is kept, but it also mentions that it keeps certain information — like the given name, email address, and payment info — in order to keep your subscription and account in order.

From ExpressVPN's privacy policy.

From ExpressVPN's privacy policy.

NordVPN's privacy policy says pretty much the same thing, with no connections, traffic, IP addresses, and other data being logged. As is the case with ExpressVPN, some information is required to keep your account in order, including email address and payment information. NordVPN operates under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Panama, which has no data retention laws, making it easy to avoid keeping logs. ExpressVPN operates under the jurisdiction of the British Virgin Islands (BVI), which likewise has no data retention laws.

Bottom line? If you use a throwaway email address, pay with something that's untraceable (like Bitcoin), and give a phony name (in the case of ExpressVPN), you should be mostly in the clear when it comes to privacy. Remember, this doesn't mean you're free to commit illegal activities.

NordVPN vs. ExpressVPN features and devices

NordVPN and ExpressVPN have an abundant selection of extra features over and above the regular connection protection. Both offer a killswitch that cuts all traffic if the connection to the server is interrupted, both have DNS leak protection that guards against your ISP seeing your real traffic, and both have apps for plenty of popular devices, including Android, iOS, macOS, Windows, and Linux. Both can also work with routers that have been flashed with popular firmware, like Tomato and DD-WRT.

ExpressVPN takes it a step further, offering apps for Chromebook, Kindle Fire, Nook, and BlackBerry, as well as offering browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari (NordVPN works with Chrome and Firefox). There's also a specialized MediaStreamer tool that works with consoles and certain smart TVs, extending coverage even further.

Unfortunately, ExpressVPN only works simultaneously on three devices, while NordVPN works simultaneously on six devices. Setting up a VPN at the router level will take care of this, but many people will rely solely on an app on their phone and PCs. Considering the price difference between the two services, choosing one or the other will likely weigh heavily on this difference.

NordVPN vs. ExpressVPN pricing and payment options

NordVPN pricing.

NordVPN pricing.

NordVPN offers a few different subscription plans with specials popping up frequently. The three standard deals start with monthly and ascend to a two-year deal that will save you the most money. For about $12 you can get a month, for about $84 you can get a year, and for about $96 you can get two years. These are all billed once, so you'll pay the lump sum despite the monthly cost coming out quite differently. Know you'll need a VPN for two years? The price will work out to about $4 per month rather than $12 when paying on a monthly basis.

If you aren't particularly concerned about covering your tracks, regular credit cards are accepted. However, you can also pay anonymously with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, as well as third-party payments systems like AliPay. If you live in the U.S., there's also the option to pay cash at Fry's and Micro Center.

ExpressVPN pricing.

ExpressVPN pricing.

ExpressVPN likewise has three standard subscription options, though they differ from NordVPN. One month costs about $13, six months costs about $60, and a full year costs about $100. You'll pay more here than with NordVPN, and there's also no long-term plans for those who know they'll need a VPN for years to come and want to save some money.

Like NordVPN, there are plenty of ways to pay, including credit card, Bitcoin, PayPal, and third-party payment systems. Both services offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can essentially try them out for free for a month before making a final decision.

Go with NordVPN for a more affordable option

NordVPN offers many of the same perks as ExpressVPN and will indeed keep your privacy intact. It's also about half the price when dealing with yearly subscriptions, and it can be used on twice as many devices simultaneously.

ExpressVPN is better for those in select countries

This premium VPN service doesn't have the same number of servers as NordVPN, but it does spread out what it has to more countries. If you need a server in a specific location not offered by the competition, ExpressVPN should be a better choice.

We test and review VPN services in the context of legal recreational uses. For example:

1. Accessing a service from another country (subject to the terms and conditions of that service).

2. Protecting your online security and strengthening your online privacy when abroad.

We do not support or condone the illegal or malicious use of VPN services. Consuming pirated content that is paid-for is neither endorsed nor approved by Future Publishing.

Cale Hunt
Cale Hunt

Cale Hunt is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on laptop reviews, news, and accessory coverage. He's been reviewing laptops and accessories full time since 2016, with hundreds of reviews published for Windows Central. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user, and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.