Key Takeaways: Surfshark vs ExpressVPN
- The main difference between ExpressVPN and Surfshark is that ExpressVPN is more consistent, and near-distance latency is low, making it the better service for things like gaming.
- ExpressVPN is better than Surfshark, thanks to consistent speeds, security features built into every server and solid privacy.
- Surfshark is cheaper than ExpressVPN and boasts unique features such as CleanWeb 2.0, multi-hop servers and IP rotation.
If your search for a virtual private network (VPN) has culminated in an ExpressVPN vs Surfshark stalemate, we’ll help you make an informed decision. ExpressVPN and Surfshark are both top-tier VPNs; neither is a bad choice. However, one might be better suited for your needs and preferences than the other.
For example, if you need a VPN for streaming, ExpressVPN’s unmatched unblocking ability and fast speeds sway the odds in its favor (read our best streaming VPN guide). On the other hand, if you need to share a VPN with your family, Surfshark’s unlimited simultaneous connections make it the best bet (read our best VPN for multiple devices guide).
You don’t have to make the decision uninformed. In this guide, we will walk you through the main features of both Surfshark and ExpressVPN. We dug deep into each product to reveal their similarities and subtle differences to help you choose between the two.
Updated this comparison to reflect the most recent VPN speed test results.
07/16/2023 Facts checked
This ExpressVPN vs Surfshark comparison was rewritten after our experts tested the services, showing how the VPNs are similar and different from each other.
Average speedDownload Speed91 MbpsUpload Speed9 MbpsLatency6 ms
- : PayPal, Credit card, Bitcoin, PaymentWall
- : 5
Average speedDownload Speed96 MbpsUpload Speed9 MbpsLatency121 ms
- : PayPal, Credit card, Google Pay, Amazon Pay
- : Unlimited
How Did We Rate ExpressVPN vs Surfshark
During our rigorous testing, we noted where the virtual private networks were similar and areas where they differ. While these services have a lot in common, it’s the differences that will help you choose between the providers. If you want to learn even more about each service, read our ExpressVPN review and Surfshark review.
Surfshark vs ExpressVPN: Overview
If you’re short on time, here’s a sneak peek at how ExpressVPN and Surfshark compare on various fronts. We will do into more detail afterward about the similarities and differences of Surfshark vs ExpressVPN.
|$6.66 / month(All Plans) 30-days money-back guarantee||$2.49 / month(All Plans) 30-days money-back guarantee|
|Payment methods||PayPal, Credit card, Bitcoin, PaymentWall||PayPal, Credit card, Google Pay, Amazon Pay|
|Supports split tunneling|
|Free trial available||7 days (mobile only)|
|Worldwide server amount||3,000+ servers in 94 countries||3,200 in 95 countries|
|Desktop OSes||Windows, MacOS, Linux||Windows, MacOS, Linux|
|Mobile OSes||Android, iOS||Android, iOS|
|Browser extensions||Chrome, Firefox, Edge||Chrome, Firefox, Edge|
|Can be installed on routers|
|Can access Netflix US|
|Can access BBC iPlayer|
|Can access Hulu|
|Can access Amazon Prime Video|
|Encryption types||256-AES, ChaCha20||256-AES, ChaCha20|
|VPN protocols available||OpenVPN, IKEv2, Lightway||OpenVPN, IKEv2, WireGuard|
|Enabled at device startup|
|Passed DNS leak test|
|Malware/ad blocker included|
Let’s dive straight into the similarities. Here, we’ll show you what ExpressVPN and Surfshark have in common.
Both VPNs are easy to use and connect. As the best VPN for beginners, ExpressVPN stands out for its sleek and clean user interface. The UI is as simple and clutter-free as it gets, with just a power button (to connect or disconnect) and the location picker on the main screen.
Surfshark’s UIs on desktop, Android and iOS devices aren’t as sleek as those of ExpressVPN. Still, the learning curve is flat. It takes a single click to connect to a preferred location thanks to the logically organized menus.
Money-Back Guarantee & Free Trials
Both Surfshark and ExpressVPN offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. The money-back guarantee gives you ample time to test the VPN before making a commitment. You can use the refund window as a sort of free trial.
However, the refund period isn’t a traditional free trial. You’ll still be charged, but if you cancel the subscription within 30 days, you can claim a full refund hassle-free. Read our guides on how to claim an ExpressVPN refund and how to cancel Surfshark for a full refund for more information on that process.
DNS Leak Protection & Kill Switch
DNS leaks occur when your DNS requests are sent via unencrypted tunnels or to a server other than the VPN’s (read our DNS leak guide). These data leaks can reveal information about you to your internet service provider (ISP), government agencies or malicious snoopers.
Both Surfshark and ExpressVPN come with built-in DNS leak protection. This prevents leaks that could reveal your identity or digital trail. We tested Surfshark and ExpressVPN, and neither leaked our IP addresses.
Beyond DNS leaks, your IP and traffic could leak if the VPN connection accidentally drops. Thankfully, both providers have a kill switch, which cuts your internet when the VPN connection drops.
Both ExpressVPN and Surfshark VPN have knowledgebases packed with helpful guides and tips to help users solve common issues.
If you encounter technical issues requiring a human touch, you can find help via 24/7 live chat with both providers. Live chat offers near-instantaneous responses, and the quality of answers is excellent thanks to the well-versed support agents.
You can also use email to engage support agents on a deeper level or attach a screenshot of the issue you’re experiencing. Sadly, neither VPN provider offers user forums or phone support.
Whether you want to watch live sports on your smart TV or access geo-restricted content on your mobile devices while on the move, you can’t go wrong with either VPN.
The providers have arguably the best device compatibility, with native apps for:
- 📺 Smart TVs (Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV and more)
Both VPN services are compatible with routers if you want to protect connected devices at home. You can use the VPNs with gaming consoles like PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo Switch via a router. In addition, they offer reliable browser extensions.
Streaming Performance & Smart DNS
ExpressVPN and Surfshark are among the best VPNs for streaming. Both Surfshark and ExpressVPN unblock all major streaming services on the first attempt, including Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu, HBO Max, BBC iPlayer and Amazon Prime Video.
Both VPN providers come with private DNS services to help you unblock streaming services on smart TVs that don’t support VPN apps. A smart DNS changes your IP, but doesn’t encrypt your traffic. As a result, it delivers a faster performance but doesn’t offer VPN-level security.
Surfshark’s SmartDNS provides U.S.-based IP addresses, meaning you can only unblock U.S. streaming services. If you want to access U.S. and U.K. streaming services, such as BBC iPlayer, ExpressVPN’s smart DNS feature — called MediaStreamer — provides both U.S. and U.K. IP addresses. Read our ExpressVPN MediaStreamer guide to learn more.
Both ExpressVPN and Surfshark are as secure as it gets, thanks to solid encryption and VPN protocols. VPN protocols work in unison with encryption ciphers to form the encrypted tunnel. Surfshark pairs both the WireGuard and OpenVPN protocols with AES 256-bit encryption. ExpressVPN uses AES 256-bit encryption with OpenVPN and the ChaCha20 cipher with its Lightway protocol.
These protocol-encryption combinations create virtually unbreakable VPN tunnels. However, if speed is a top priority, the Lightway-ChaCha20 and WireGuard-AES-256 combinations are the best bets.
Perfect Forward Secrecy
Surfshark and ExpressVPN both use perfect forward secrecy (PFS). With PFS, the apps change encryption keys periodically to protect your traffic from future attacks. PFS generates new encryption keys when you terminate a VPN session, so even if a hacker gets one key (which is highly unlikely), they won’t be able to decrypt your entire traffic thread.
ExpressVPN is the better VPN service on this front, as it changes encryption keys every time you start a new session or every 15 minutes. Surfshark changes the encryption keys every time you start a new session, meaning longer sessions don’t benefit from the dynamic encryption keys.
Both ExpressVPN and Surfshark support app-based split tunneling. You can choose which apps can access the internet directly and which will be routed through the VPN. For example, you can access Netflix U.S. on an unprotected channel while downloading torrents with VPN protection.
ExpressVPN and Surfshark’s split tunneling is unavailable on Linux and iOS. Surfshark doesn’t support split tunneling on Mac, while ExpressVPN offers support up to macOS 11.
Both ExpressVPN and Surfshark adhere to strict no-logging policies, meaning they don’t collect, store or share user data. Both VPNs’ no-logging policies were verified by independent security audits. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) audited ExpressVPN’s no-logs policy and found that the provider adheres to that logging policy. The story was the same when Deloitte audited Surfshark’s no-logs policy.
In addition to the no-logs policy, ExpressVPN and Surfshark are among the first providers in the industry to upgrade to RAM-based servers.
The RAM servers (or TrustedServer technology, as ExpressVPN brands it) automatically wipe data and browsing history with every server reboot. This prevents the server from accidentally retaining data that could expose user activity if government authorities or hackers were to seize it.
Both ExpressVPN and Surfshark have a similar number of server country locations. Surfshark offers VPN servers in 100 countries, while ExpressVPN has VPN servers in 94 countries.
Surfshark and ExpressVPN’s fleets of servers consist of both virtual and physical servers. You can read our physical vs virtual server guide to learn more.
Obfuscation disguises your VPN traffic to make it look more like regular internet traffic. It enables you to use a VPN where VPNs and anonymizers are banned, without the authorities noticing. While both providers support obfuscation, implementation differs slightly.
Obfuscation is built into all ExpressVPN servers. Regardless of the server you connect to, your VPN traffic is obfuscated, which is why it’s the best VPN for China.
Surfshark uses obfuscation (called “camouflage” mode) on all servers, but there’s a slight difference. The technology isn’t activated on all servers by default. You have to switch to the OpenVPN protocol to enable obfuscation.
In this section, we’ll reveal how ExpressVPN and Surfshark differ, to help you make an informed buying decision.
Connection speed is crucial for watching movies, downloading torrents and playing online games. When evaluating connection speed, we consider three key factors: upload speed, download speed and latency (read our latency vs speed guide).
ExpressVPN is a speed maven that had perennially ranked as the fastest VPN until recently, when NordVPN edged ahead (learn more in our VPN speed comparison). When compared to Surfshark, ExpressVPN offers slightly better performance.
With near-distance speeds, our latest automated testing results suggest that both providers lose less than 10% of unprotected download speeds, which is excellent. However, Surfshark is more inconsistent.
The providers deliver near-identical performance on the upload front, but ExpressVPN is again more consistent. What’s more, Surfshark’s near-distance latency is quite high, which will be a disadvantage for gaming.
Surfshark has a slight edge over ExpressVPN on international download speeds. The services are neck-and-neck on the upload speed front, but Surfshark edges it out with a slightly lower ping rate. Overall, both VPNs offer excellent speeds that qualify them for our fastest VPNs list.
ExpressVPN and Surfshark differ slightly in the available VPN protocols and encryption standards. Out of the box, Surfshark and ExpressVPN automatically choose the best VPN protocol and encryption type based on your internet connection and device. However, you can adjust the VPN protocol option manually.
The providers have ditched the low-security protocols to retain highly secure protocols on desktop. Surfshark and ExpressVPN both support OpenVPN (with TCP and UDP options) — a tried-and-tested protocol.
However, they differ when it comes to the choice of modern protocols. Surfshark offers Wireguard — a lightweight protocol that is as secure as OpenVPN but offers better speeds. ExpressVPN, on the other hand, offers its proprietary Lightway protocol (with TCP and UDP), which is also secure and faster than OpenVPN.
In addition to OpenVPN and WireGuard, Surfshark supports IKEv2 on mobile. This protocol is secure (though not as secure as OpenVPN) and offers better stability on mobile devices.
Extra Advanced Security Features
Surfshark offers some additional security features over ExpressVPN, including rotating IPs and NoBorders mode. The former changes your IP every five to 10 minutes, without altering your virtual location. Unfortunately, IP rotation only works with regular servers, not static or multi-hop servers.
The NoBorders mode is an advanced feature that helps Surfshark users in restrictive regions use the VPN more effectively. It scans your network, and when it notices any restriction, it serves up a list of servers that can circumvent those restrictions.
ExpressVPN and Surfshark Headquarters
Both providers were initially headquartered in the British Virgin Islands — a privacy-friendly jurisdiction with no mandatory data retention laws. Surfshark moved its base to the Netherlands, another country with privacy-friendly laws. Neither country belongs to Five Eyes, Nine Eyes or 14 Eyes alliances.
Ad- and Malware-Blocking
Beyond the privacy tools, Surfshark’s CleanWeb blocks ads and pop-ups, alerts you of data breaches on websites you visit, and detects malware and malicious activity. It even filters out video ads on your smart TV.
ExpressVPN does not include an ad or malware blocker in its app. However, it does offer Threat Manager, which blocks third-party trackers on iOS, Android and Mac.
Dedicated and Static Servers
Unlike ExpressVPN, Surfshark offers dedicated and static IP addresses. Surfshark has 36 free static servers spread across Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore, the United States and the United Kingdom. For more on the difference between static and dedicated IPs, check out our guide to the best VPN for dedicated IPs.
In addition, Surfshark introduced dedicated IPs in June 2023. Each dedicated IP costs $3.75 per month. Currently, the VPN provider offers dedicated IP addresses in the U.S., the U.K., Germany and the Netherlands.
ExpressVPN doesn’t offer multi-hop servers, which route your internet traffic through two servers for extra protection. Meanwhile, Surfshark VPN offers 12 preconfigured multi-hop server combinations:
- 🇩🇪 Germany
- 🇳🇱 Netherlands
- 🇸🇬 Singapore
- 🇸🇬 Singapore
🇭🇰 Hong Kong
- 🇬🇧 U.K.
- 🇬🇧 U.K.
- 🇺🇸 U.S.
- 🇺🇸 U.S.
- 🇦🇺 Australia
- 🇺🇸 U.S.
- 🇫🇷 France
- 🇩🇪 Germany
In addition, Surfshark has introduced a custom multi-hop feature — called Dynamic MultiHop. This feature lets you choose the entry and exit servers to create custom multi-hop connections.
Simultaneous connections refer to the number of devices that can be connected to the VPN at the same time.
ExpressVPN supports five simultaneous connections. You can install and log in to ExpressVPN on an unlimited number of devices, but only five can be connected to the VPN at once. One loophole to this five-device limit is to install the VPN on your router. The router will count as one connection, but it will protect all connected devices.
Surfshark doesn’t cap the number of simultaneous connections, making it ideal for large households or those who want to split the bill with others.
Plans and Pricing
Both providers offer three plans; neither VPN offers a free plan. For the monthly plan, Surfshark costs $15.45 and ExpressVPN will set you back $12.95, which is on the higher side of the VPN pricing spectrum.
However, Surfshark boasts a larger discount for its extended plans, making it cheaper than ExpressVPN when you commit long term.
- Unlimited GB bandwidth, Unlimited devices, Secure VPN, Ad blocker, Cookie pop-up blocker.
- Unlimited GB
- Everything in Starter, plus Antivirus protection, Identity protection, Email Breach and Credit Card Alerts, Online Alias
- Unlimited GB
- Everything in One, plus Data removal
- Unlimited GB
After the monthly plan, Surfshark offers one-year and two-year plans. The one-year plan costs $3.99, and the two-year plan costs $2.49 per month, which is the cheapest around after CyberGhost VPN and Private Internet Access.
Meanwhile, ExpressVPN offers a six-month plan and one-year plan, the latter of which comes with three free months. The six-month plan costs $9.99 per month, and the one-year plan costs $6.66 when you factor in the free months.
You may also want to refer to our VyprVPN vs ExpressVPN guide to see how Vypr also offers competitive pricing plans but also how it differentiates itself from our top pick.
Which Is Better: Surfshark vs ExpressVPN?
Both Surfshark and ExpressVPN are top-quality VPNs that will serve you well, and the “best” VPN will depend on your needs. The final decision is up to you, but here are the best use cases for each service.
We Recommend ExpressVPN If You Want…
- Faster streaming: ExpressVPN combines excellent unblocking ability and high speeds to deliver an interruption-free streaming experience.
- Excellent gaming experience: ExpressVPN near-distance latency and consistent speed lets you play online games with smoother gameplay.
- Obfuscation built into all servers: If you’re in a country where VPN services are banned, you can connect to any ExpressVPN server and use the VPN without the risk of getting caught.
We Recommend Surfshark If You Want…
- Unlimited simultaneous connections: Surfshark is ideal for large households and friends who want to split the bill.
- Multi-hop servers: Surfshark multi-hop servers add an extra layer of protection and are ideal for journalists and human rights activists.
- More affordable pricing: Surfshark’s one-year plan is cheaper than ExpressVPN’s equivalent option.
If You Want to Consider Other Services, Check Out…
Average speedDownload Speed94 MbpsUpload Speed9 MbpsLatency7 ms
- : PayPal, Credit card, Google Pay, AmazonPay, ACH Transfer, Cash
- : 6
Average speedDownload Speed74 MbpsUpload Speed9 MbpsLatency46 ms
- : PayPal, Credit card, bitcoin, Amazon Pay
- : 7
Average speedDownload Speed93 MbpsUpload Speed9 MbpsLatency10 ms
- : PayPal, Credit card
- : Unlimited
- : PayPal, Credit card
- : 30
Average speedDownload Speed94 MbpsUpload Speed9 MbpsLatency3 ms
- : PayPal, Credit card
- : Unlimited
The Verdict: Why We Think ExpressVPN Wins
ExpressVPN and Surfshark have a lot in common — both services are easy to use and offer excellent device compatibility. They also offer top-notch security and privacy, and unblock all popular streaming services on the first attempt. However, they differ subtly on various fronts.
Considering all factors, ExpressVPN edges Surfshark out on the key categories — it takes the lead when it comes to speed, streaming and security. However, you can try ExpressVPN’s 30-day money-back guarantee and also try Surfshark’s month-long money-back guarantee to see which one works best for you.
What do you think of our ExpressVPN vs Surfshark comparison? Have you used either of these VPN providers? Which VPN do you think deserves a point in a category they lost? We’d like to hear about it. As always, thanks for reading.
FAQs: ExpressVPN, Surfshark
In our testing, ExpressVPN is overall better than Surfshark, though it’s pricey. It has fast and consistent speeds, solid security and privacy, and it delivers the best streaming performance.
Both VPNs unblock Netflix on the first attempt. However, ExpressVPN has the edge, thanks to its fast and more consistent speeds, which guarantee interruption-free Netflix streaming all the time.
Surfshark delivers slightly better torrenting performance than ExpressVPN when downloading small torrent files. However, if the torrent files are large (and might take longer to download), ExpressVPN may be the best bet because of its consistent speeds.
Yes. We’ve been testing and comparing top-tier VPNs for years, and ExpressVPN keeps cementing its spot as the best VPN. For a comparison between it and another top provider, check out our NordVPN vs ExpressVPN article.