ExpressVPN VS NordVPN: Two VPN Titans Throw Down in 2021

Picking the best VPN service between ExpressVPN and NordVPN isn’t a straightforward thing. Both VPN providers come packed with features, and they perform so well that there’s little to set them apart. Our ExpressVPN vs NordVPN guide will help you decide which of the two top-shelf VPNs best serves your needs, so read on.

Brian MurraySamson Max
By Brian Murray (Writer) & Samson Max (Writer)
— Last Updated: 2021-09-15T18:04:40+00:00

ExpressVPN and NordVPN are the cream of the crop in the overcrowded VPN industry. They have all the VPN features you’d want in a virtual private network, and their performance is almost faultless. However, as you’ll learn in this ExpressVPN vs NordVPN comparison, the VPNs have subtle differences and one might be better suited to your personal needs than the other. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN are an equal match on the features, security and privacy, user-friendliness and server locations front. 
  • ExpressVPN offers the fastest speeds and the best streaming performance, but NordVPN doesn’t lag far behind and offers the best torrenting performance. 
  • While both providers offer great value for the money, NordVPN is cheaper than ExpressVPN on both short-term and long-term plans. 

To help you decide between these two excellend VPNs, we’ll pit ExpressVPN and NordVPN against each other in a nine-round fray. We’ll dive into both services to determine how they compare in terms of speed, security, streaming performance and more. 

Keep reading to find out which service claims the best VPN crown in this ExpressVPN vs NordVPN comparison. You can read our ExpressVPN review or NordVPN review for more details on either VPN.

  • 09/14/2021 Facts checked

    Cloudwards updated this comparison with a fresh evaluation of ExpressVPN vs NordVPN. We also added more information about Kape Technologies buying ExpressVPN in September 2021.

  1. General
  2. General
    • : PayPal, Credit card, Bitcoin, regional payment systems, WebMoney
    • : 5
    • : No
    • : 3,000+ servers in 94 countries
    • : Windows, MacOS, Linux, ChromeOS, Kindle Fire, Smart TVs, Gaming Consoles
    • : Android, iOS, BlackBerry
    • : Chrome, Safari, Edge, Opera
    • : Credit card, Google Pay, AmazonPay, ACH Transfer, UnionPay, Crypto Currencies, PayPal (via Paddle)
    • : 6
    • : 7 days on mobile
    • : 5,200+ servers in 59 countries
    • : Windows, MacOS, Linux
    • : Android, iOS, BlackBerry
    • : Chrome, Safari, Edge, Opera, Vilvaldi
  3. Streaming
  4. Security
    • : 256-AES
    • : IPSec, OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP, IKEv2, Lightway
    • : No
    • : 256-AES
    • : OpenVPN, IKEv2, NordLynx
  5. Support
    • : 24/7
    • : 24/7
    • : No
    • : No
    • : 24/7
    • : 24/7
    • : No
  • NordVPN is really fast. Though it doesn’t beat ExpressVPN for speed and is still a little inconsistent, it’s fast enough for virtually any speed-intensive activity like streaming, torrenting and gaming.

  • Yes, ExpressVPN is slightly better than NordVPN, as it has faster speeds and excellent streaming performance.

  • Yes, ExpressVPN is really the best VPN service, but NordVPN isn’t far behind in the race for that title.

  • No, ExpressVPN is not illegal, but using a VPN doesn’t change the fact that criminal activity online is illegal.

ExpressVPN vs NordVPN: A Clash of Titans

Before ExpressVPN and NordVPN enter the boxing ring, let’s outline the rules of the game. To ensure our NordVPN vs ExpressVPN matchup is fair, we’ve broken things down into nine rounds, with each section focusing on a vital aspect of VPN performance.

In each category, we’ll evaluate how both ExpressVPN and NordVPN perform head-to-head, and the winner of each round will get a point. However, given how well the two contenders perform, it’s highly likely there could be a tie in some rounds. If this happens, we’ll award both VPNs a point.

Lastly, we’ll tally the points for each VPN at the end of the ninth round and the service with the most points will take the accolade. Let’s get straight to it.

  1. 1
    • : PayPal, Credit card, Bitcoin, regional payment systems, WebMoney
    • : 5
  2. 2
    • : Credit card, Google Pay, AmazonPay, ACH Transfer, UnionPay, Crypto Currencies, PayPal (via Paddle)
    • : 6

1. Speed

Whether you want to binge-watch your favorite movies, play online games or download torrents, speed is of the essence. A few years ago, ExpressVPN would have run away with the crown in this round. However, going by our latest speed test results, the category isn’t so clear-cut anymore.

For years, NordVPN struggled with inconsistent speeds that earned it a one-point demerit in our fastest VPN roundup. However, the launch of the NordLynx protocol seems to have mitigated the inconsistency while significantly improving overall speeds.

ExpressVPN speed test
ExpressVPN comes with a built-in speed test tool.

However, ExpressVPN recently came up with the Lightway protocol. We performed a bunch of speed tests to find out if this new protocol has improved ExpressVPN speeds.

NordVPN vs ExpressVPN Speed Test Results

We first performed speed tests using the tried-and-tested OpenVPN protocol, an option with both ExpressVPN and NordVPN. To see how things have changed, we did another test using the Lightway and NordLynx protocols.

Speed Test Using OpenVPN
Speed Test Using Proprietary protocols

NordVPN still takes a little longer to establish a connection (in some locations), despite Lightway being specifically optimized for near-instant connection times. However, the speed test results confirm it has undoubtedly gotten faster than it once was and is a respectably fast VPN.

The NordLynx protocol delivered download speeds seven times faster than OpenVPN, and that’s great news for avid streamers and gamers. The VPN hit near-unprotected speed in  locations like Australia with good consistency, a result that wasn’t previously achievable. However, its upload speed and latency haven’t shown any notable improvement.

On the other hand, Lightway has made ExpressVPN more than two times faster, which is pretty impressive for an already super-fast service. In our tests, some server locations like the UK and U.S. exceeded our unprotected speed with an unparalleled degree of consistency.

ExpressVPN is still the faster VPN, and is quicker to connect and reconnect using Lightway, so we give the point to ExpressVPN. 

Round: Features
Point for ExpressVPN
Visit ExpressVPN1
Visit NordVPN0

2. Features

ExpressVPN and NordVPN come packed with useful features and support for all operating systems (including smart TVs and routers). Both VPNs come with all the standard features like a kill switch, split tunneling, support for various encryptions and protocols, and protection from DNS and IP leaks. 

However, both ExpressVPN and NordVPN flesh out that core with different bells and whistles. NordVPN offers the CyberSec tool, which blocks ads and malicious websites. ExpressVPN, by contrast, doesn’t offer an ad-blocking tool, but we can argue that there are a lot of quality antivirus and ad-blocking tools out there for free.

NordVPN CyberSec
NordVPN comes with additional security and privacy features like CyberSec and dark web monitor.

Besides that, NordVPN recently added a dark web monitor to its arsenal. The tool, which is currently available for iOS, Android and macOS, scans marketplaces that sell user data to see if your email address comes up. If it finds any exposure, it instantly alerts you so that you can take the necessary security measures.

ExpressVPN, on the other hand, offers its own set of speed and leak tests. Additionally, it also offers a password generator and tool that shows your current IP address. Again, there are free options out there for all of these features — including our own password generator — so they don’t really add much.

Internet Connection Kill Switch

NordVPN has both an internet kill switch and an app kill switch. The former automatically disables internet access if the VPN connection drops. The app kill switch does the same thing, but only for certain apps. NordVPN’s kill switch is a bit overzealous at times, though, and can prevent you from reconnecting to the internet for as long as a minute.

ExpressVPN offers an internet kill switch known as “network lock,” which you can set to allow communication with local devices — like file servers and printers — even if the VPN connection drops. 

ExpressVPN network lock
ExpressVPN network lock automatically disconnects your internet connection when the VPN connection drops. 

By and large, we didn’t find anything conspicuous to separate the two heavy-hitters, leaving this round in a tie. 

Round: Features
No clear winner, points for both
Visit ExpressVPN2
Visit NordVPN1

3. Pricing

Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN offer three pricing plans. ExpressVPN has monthly, six-month and one-year plans, whereas NordVPN has monthly, one-year and two-year plans. 

Like most VPN services, you get access to all the VPN features regardless of the plan you choose. As for the payment, ExpressVPN and NordVPN accept virtually any option outside of hard cash, including PayPal, credit/debit cards and cryptocurrencies.

Monthly Cost Comparison

ExpressVPN Pricing

NordVPN Pricing

The monthly plans for NordVPN and ExpressVPN are the most expensive, a fact common to other VPNs. ExpressVPN sets you back $12.95 per month, whereas NordVPN knocks that price down by $1. 

If you go for ExpressVPN’s six-month plan, you get about a 23 percent discount on the monthly price. You can bring the cost down to $8.32 when you go for the one-year plan, which is as cheap as it gets with ExpressVPN. You also currently get three months for free with this option, which brings the cost down to $6.67 per month.

NordVPN is discounted more deeply than ExpressVPN when you subscribe for extended plans. For example, the one-year plan costs $4.92 per month, which is nearly half ExpressVPN’s price. Even better, NordVPN offers a two-year plan that costs $3.67 per month and has three free months, to boot.

This is one of the most competitive prices out there, about half the price of ExpressVPN and rivaling VPN services like CyberGhost and Surfshark. 

Free Trials

Whether you’re using NordVPN or ExpressVPN, there’s no free trial on your desktop client. However, you can still try out the services for free on the iOS or Android app, thanks to a seven-day free trial. That said, ExpressVPN’s free trial is only accessible where the mobile apps are available in App Store or Google Play Store. 

However, there is a better option: to use ExpressVPN’s and NordVPN’s money-back guarantees as free 30-day trials.

NordVPN and ExpressVPN Money-Back Guarantee Policies

Both VPN services have a 30-day money-back guarantee in place. If you find either VPN provider to be unsatisfactory within 30 days of initial payment, you can contact support and request a full refund. 

However, keep in mind that NordVPN doesn’t refund money for purchases you make through Apple’s App Store (you’ll have to request a refund through Apple, instead). 

As it stands, NordVPN is hands-down the cheaper service between the two on both short-term and long-term plans. For that reason, we’re giving this round to NordVPN. 

Round: Pricing
Point for NordVPN
Visit ExpressVPN2
Visit NordVPN2

4. Security & Privacy

In terms of security and privacy for NordVPN vs ExpressVPN, the two heavyweights are regularly tweaking things on this front to remain a step ahead of the changing online security landscape. Since our last ExpressVPN vs NordVPN matchup, the VPN providers have updated how they secure your connection.

VPN Protocols

ExpressVPN introduced the Lightway protocol, and rather than making it the default option, the provider now recommends leaving that setting on automatic. This way, it can choose the most appropriate protocol based on the quality of your connection. 

However, you can still manually pick a protocol. You can choose OpenVPN, which works great in most networks, L2TP/IPsec for low-risk situations or IKEv2 for excellent performance on mobile. 

ExpressVPN Lightway protocol
Besides working with AES and ChaCha20 encryption, ExpressVPN Lightway supports both UDP and TCP tunneling protocols.

NordVPN, on the other hand, no longer uses OpenVPN as the default protocol. Instead, the VPN provider uses its proprietary NordLynx as the default protocol in Windows, Mac, iOS and Android VPN apps. You can still opt for OpenVPN on all platforms, but IKEv2 is only available on iOS and macOS apps. 

As far as encryption goes, both ExpressVPN and NordVPN support AES-256 (the gold standard for VPN encryption) and ChaCha20 encryption on their various VPN protocols. However ExpressVPN’s Lightway supports both protocols, while NordLynx uses only ChaCha20. Although it’s relatively new, ChaCha20 is as secure as AES, but it handles network changes seamlessly and is faster than AES-256 on mobile.  

NordLynx protocol
NordLynx — NordVPN’s version of the WireGuard protocol — delivers better speeds than OpenVPN. 

Both VPNs also offer “perfect forward secrecy,” which is important to secure communications through chat or email.

ExpressVPN vs NordVPN No Logs Policies

Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN claim to maintain a strict no-logs policy, meaning they don’t collect, keep or share user connection logs, connection timestamps, IP addresses or any other online activity.

However, with the recent news of Kape Technologies buying ExpressVPN in September 2021, ExpressVPN announced that it would be revising its terms of service and privacy policy to “reflect changes in ownership and/or legal entities.” We will evaluate these documents once they are released.

ExpressVPN also claims that it will continue to remain independent from Kape Technologies, which has a shady past that we get into more detail in our CyberGhost Review, another VPN that Kape owns. However, this does cast a shadow over the service.

That being said, NordVPN is not without its own shadows. NordVPN did suffer a server breach some time ago, but, as we describe in this article, it seems to have dealt with the vulnerability quickly and efficiently. We can confidently say that NordVPN is safe to use.

Both companies are based in countries with arguably the best privacy laws and no data retention requirements. ExpressVPN is incorporated in the jurisdiction of the British Virgin Islands, whereas NordVPN is based in Panama. 

Both VPNs are standing equal in this category, though we will continue to keep an eye on ExpressVPN; for that reason, we’re declaring this round a tie.

Round: Security & Privacy
No clear winner, points for both
Visit ExpressVPN3
Visit NordVPN3

5. Streaming

ExpressVPN and NordVPN are some of the best VPNs when it comes to streaming performance. They offer unlimited bandwidth, and instead of providing streaming-specific servers, they both support streaming on all VPN servers. 

You can connect to any server, and Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer and Amazon Prime Video will all work just fine. In fact, NordVPN and ExpressVPN top our best VPN for streaming list. 

ExpressVPN for streaming
ExpressVPN unblocks all streaming sites with ease, including any Netflix library across the globe.   

Fortunately, we never experienced the dreaded proxy error when using ExpressVPN. Once you’re in, ExpressVPN comes into its own, loading videos instantly while being very responsive when scrubbing through a video. Even sites like YouTube and Twitch load at 1080p and 60fps; again, this isn’t surprising given the results we saw in our speed tests.

NordVPN was a bit less consistent in our testing. Sometimes, we had to shuffle around trying to find the optimal server to unblock streaming services, especially over longer distances. Thankfully, with NordLynx, the streams don’t take as long to load as they used to.

NordVPN for streaming
Like ExpressVPN, NordVPN accesses all streaming platforms, but at times you’ll have to switch between servers to do so. 

NordVPN’s streaming performance has improved significantly with the release of the NordLynx protocol. However, the provider is yet to surpass ExpressVPN’s excellent ability to get around geoblocking and load streams as if they were local sessions. For that reason, we’re giving the streaming round to ExpressVPN.

Round: Streaming
Point for ExpressVPN
Visit ExpressVPN4
Visit NordVPN3

6. Torrenting

Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN are excellent for torrenting. They are secure, fast (mainly when you use their proprietary protocols) and come with large networks of servers. However, NordVPN has an advantage over ExpressVPN in that it offers peer-to-peer (P2P) servers. 

To test each VPN provider’s torrenting performance, we downloaded a 1GB file. We put ExpressVPN through the tests first, then downloaded the torrent using NordVPN’s regular servers. Lastly, we tested NordVPN’s P2P servers to see if they enhanced torrenting performance. 

ExpressVPN vs NordVPN Torrenting Speed

ExpressVPN started slowly and spent much of the download time running at around 0.2 MB per second, reaching speeds of 0.36 MB per second by the end of the download. The whole download took 67 minutes. NordVPN’s regular servers got up to speed quickly, reaching a maximum speed of 0.64 MB per second. The download took 59 minutes.

NordVPN for torrenting
Whether you use regular or P2P servers, NordVPN delivers an excellent torrenting performance. 

Using NordVPN’s dedicated P2P servers, the download took 52 minutes, and at one point, the P2P servers were hitting download speeds of 0.73 MB per second. 

Considering we’re using a 3 Mbps internet, this is the fastest torrent download we’ve seen, and it proves that NordVPN is a top choice for torrenting. NordVPN wins this round, further cementing its spot as the best VPN for torrenting. If you still prefer ExpressVPN, check out our torrenting with ExpressVPN guide.

Round: Torrenting
Point for NordVPN
Visit ExpressVPN4
Visit NordVPN4

7. Server Locations

When it comes to VPN servers, we considered two important factors: the number of servers and geographical spread. More servers makes it easier to find a VPN server with an optimal load for fast performance, while a broad geographical spread means you have a large pool of IP addresses to unblock country-specific content. 

NordVPN is the clear winner when it comes to the server count, with more than 5,200 servers — 2,200 more than ExpressVPN. However, raw server counts don’t matter nearly as much as the number and spread of locations (we’ll get to that in a bit). 

Besides that, NordVPN servers are all physical or bare-metal servers, whereas about 3 percent of ExpressVPN servers are virtual. You can read our virtual server vs physical server article to learn the differences. 

The good news is that ExpressVPN uses TrustedServer technology. The RAM-only servers expunge the data stored with every reboot, which means that if hackers or government agencies were to seize that server and successfully overcome the server’s defenses, they would have little to no data to steal. 

ExpressVPN locations
ExpressVPN has over 3,000 VPN servers in 160 locations across 94 countries.

Global VPN Server Coverage

While NordVPN has the most servers overall, ExpressVPN has the most extensive geographical spread, with servers in 160 server locations across 94 countries worldwide. The distribution of locations is excellent, including 46 server locations in Europe, 27 in Asia-Pacific, 16 in the Americas, four in Africa and one in the Middle East, as well as some often overlooked countries like Kenya and Laos. 

NordVPN has server locations in 60 countries distributed across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Americas. There are 38 server locations in Europe, 12 in the Asia-Pacific region, seven in the Americas, one in Africa and one in the Middle East.

NordVPN Dedicated Servers

NordVPN specialty servers
NordVPN offers an array of dedicated servers like double VPN, Onion Over VPN and P2P-optimized servers. 

Though NordVPN doesn’t match ExpressVPN’s geographical distribution, it redeems itself with the specialty servers. Besides the standard VPN servers, everyone has access to four types of dedicated IP servers, namely:

  • Double VPN servers, which send your traffic via two VPN tunnels, making it twice as difficult to decrypt (albeit at the expense of connection speed). 
  • Onion VPN servers, which function as a combination of a Tor network and VPN. Your traffic passes through the NordVPN server and travels via an Onion network before reaching the destination server. 
  • P2P servers are unique servers that deliver the fastest P2P sharing experience.
  • Obfuscated servers, which are specifically designed to hide the fact that you’re using a VPN to circumvent internet restrictions.  

Beyond that, NordVPN offers dedicated IP servers, which are only available when you purchase your own dedicated IP address. Unfortunately, NordVPN specialty servers are not available in all its server locations.

The two heavy-hitters exchanged equal blows in this category. NordVPN took the lead for the extensive server count, but ExpressVPN responded with the best geographical spread. NordVPN would have claimed the win, thanks to its specialty servers, but ExpressVPN’s RAM-only servers offer unparalleled privacy and security, nullifying its lead to send the category into a tie. 

Round: Server Locations
No clear winner, points for both
Visit ExpressVPN5
Visit NordVPN5

8. User-Friendliness

Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN have apps with intuitive UI, which makes the learning curve pretty flat. 

ExpressVPN vs NordVPN Desktop App

ExpressVPN’s software design uses a very clean layout with minimal visual clutter. This compact window has a large “connect” button in the middle with a server menu beneath that.

expressvpn app
ExpressVPN provides a VPN client for each operating system, including Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android and routers. 

NordVPN’s UI, on the other hand, features a large world map. Dots on the map represent server locations, which you can click to connect. 

nordvpn us olympics
Like ExpressVPN, the NordVPN app is super easy to use. 

If you want to tinker with ExpressVPN’s app settings, everything is laid out and labeled well on the “options” tab. 

NordVPN does the same, labeling all options on the “settings” tab, but we don’t like how it tucks away critical options like changing the VPN protocol. NordVPN has placed this option under the “auto-connect” tab, which makes it hard to find. 

VPN Service Mobile Apps

ExpressVPN Android app
ExpressVPN’s Android app is a mini-version of its desktop app.

NordVPN and ExpressVPN offer mobile apps, and like nearly all other VPN providers, they are trimmed-down versions of the desktop apps. They have all the commonplace features like auto-connect options, kill switches and split tunneling, which are just as easy to use. NordVPN’s mobile apps come with a few extras like CyberSec (ad-blocking tool) and the option to set custom DNS. 

Simultaneous Connections

NordVPN offers six simultaneous connections and ExpressVPN provides five. If you need more than the stipulated connections, you can install the router app. It covers all the devices connected to your network and counts as a single device.

To conclude this category, both VPNs are easy to use on both mobile and desktop devices, but ExpressVPN has a slight edge, thanks to the way its settings options are laid out. However, NordVPN offers more simultaneous connections than ExpressVPN. That leaves us with another tie. 

Round: User-Friendliness
No clear winner, points for both
Visit ExpressVPN6
Visit NordVPN6

9. Customer Support

NordVPN chatbot
The NordVPN chatbot routes more complex inquiries to the live chat option for faster response times. 

Live chat is the fastest support channel with both VPN providers, but NordVPN has an added advantage. Its live chat has a chatbot that redirects you to knowledgebase entries for simple issues while escalating complex issues to live agents. 

Both NordVPN and ExpressVPN provide email and knowledgebase support options. ExpressVPN’s knowledgebase is a little more organized and has multiple self-help resources. In addition, it offers a user forum — an option unavailable with NordVPN. Surprisingly, though, the two top-shelf VPNs don’t offer phone support.

We give the accolade in this category to ExpressVPN because it has more support options than NordVPN and its knowledgebase is very well-organized. 

Round: Customer Support
Point for ExpressVPN
Visit ExpressVPN7
Visit NordVPN6

The Verdict: NordVPN vs ExpressVPN

That’s it, a comprehensive ExpressVPN vs NordVPN comparison. As anticipated, many of the rounds ended in a draw, which shows how difficult it is to separate the two VPN contenders. Moreover, categories with a winner were decided by the finest of margins. 

In the end, ExpressVPN beat NordVPN by a single point to claim the overall title as the best VPN provider. However, you can try both providers yourself with their 30-day money-back guarantees. 

What do you think of our NordVPN vs ExpressVPN comparison? Which service do you use, ExpressVPN or NordVPN? Is there a category in which you think either VPN service deserved more points? We’d like to hear about it. As always, thanks for reading.