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Surfshark vs PIA in 2023: Detailed VPN Comparison

If VPN affordability is a driving factor, there’s no doubt you will edge toward Private Internet Access or Surfshark. Even so, you have to pick one over the other based on your needs. In this Surfshark vs PIA guide, we’ll examine and compare the two VPNs to help you make an informed decision.

Samson Max
By Samson Max (Writer, Linking Editor)
— Last Updated: 2023-03-23T12:55:49+00:00 Facts checked by Eugenie Tiu

Surfshark and Private Internet Access (PIA) are two of the most affordable virtual private networks (if not the cheapest) in the industry. However, despite sitting on the lower end of the pricing spectrum, their capabilities vary. In this Surfshark vs PIA throw down, we’ll dissect the VPN providers to help you pick one that best meets your needs.

Key Takeaways:

To see what sets PIA and Surfshark apart, you have to rigorously test each VPN, which can be a lengthy and time-consuming process. We did the legwork for you and prepared a Surfshark VPN vs Private Internet Access comparison summary to help you make a quick yet informed decision. If you just want a quick answer, Surfshark wins, but only just.

  • 09/05/2022

    Updated the comparison with the latest speed results for each VPN.

  • Surfshark surpasses PIA performance in speed, streaming, torrenting and customer support. Moreover, it equals Private Internet Access in security, privacy and user-friendliness.

  • Surfshark is a trustworthy VPN that has never had any incident of security or privacy breach.

  • Yes, PIA is a strong VPN that offers solid security and privacy.

$2.49 / month(All Plans) 30-days money-back guarantee$2.19 / month(All Plans) 30-days money-back guarantee
Payment methodsPayPal, Credit cardPayPal, Credit card
Accepts cryptocurrency
Simultaneous connections Unlimited Unlimited
Supports split tunneling
Unlimited bandwidth
Free trial availableOnly on Android/iOS apps
Refund period
Worldwide server amount3,200 +, 140 server locations in 95 countriesservers in 78 countries (no exact data)
Desktop OSesWindows, MacOS, LinuxWindows, MacOS, Linux
Mobile OSesAndroid, iOSAndroid, iOS
Browser extensionsChrome, Firefox, Safari, EdgeChrome, Firefox, Opera
Can be installed on routers
Can access Netflix US
Can access BBC iPlayer
Can access Hulu
Can access Amazon Prime Video
Encryption types256-AES, ChaCha20128-AES, 256-AES
VPN protocols availableOpenVPN, IKEv2, WireGuardIPSec, OpenVPN, WireGuard
Enabled at device startup
Allows torrenting
No-logging policy
Passed DNS leak test
Killswitch available
Malware/ad blocker included
Live Chat24/724/7
Email support24/724/7
Phone support
User forum

Surfshark vs PIA Detailed Comparison & Testing

Our Surfshark vs PIA VPN comparison is a bit like a nine-round boxing match. Each round represents a key VPN aspect such as speed, pricing, features, security, privacy, streaming and more. 

We’ll put the VPN services through a barrage of tests and evaluations in each round, and weigh their performances. The VPN that delivers the best performance will get a point, and in case a tie occurs, both services will get a point. We’ll tally the points at the end of the final round, and the VPN with the most points will be our winner.

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    • : PayPal, Credit card
    • : Unlimited
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  2. 2
    • : PayPal, Credit card
    • : Unlimited
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    Visit Private Internet AccessReview

1. Speed

While a VPN service slows down your connection, the fastest VPNs ensure that the impact on upload and download speed is minimal. They maintain good internet speeds, allowing you to enjoy interruption-free streaming, torrenting, online gaming and browsing. We did a batch of speed tests to see how Surfshark stacks up against PIA on this front (see our detailed VPN speed comparison).

Surfshark vs Private Internet Access Speed Test Results

Download Speed (Higher is better)
Upload Speed (Higher is better)
Latency (Lower is better)
Source: Cloudwards VPN Speed Test. We test daily. Data from 05/09/23 to 06/07/23
Data for region:

When you look at the two VPNs’ performance with the U.S. server — closest to our testing location, you’ll see that Surfshark slightly outperforms PIA in download speed. They are about equal in upload speeds. Meanwhile, Surfshark has high latency compared to PIA, which means it might not be the best VPN for gaming.

Taking a global look, you’ll see that Surfshark has a much better worldwide server performance with download speeds — Surfshark loses only 10% of its unprotected speeds while PIA loses about 50%.

With global upload speeds, both Surfshark and PIA fluctuate quite a bit. However, with latency, Surfshark generally has lower ping than PIA, but it’s much less consistent.

Download Speed (Higher is better)
Upload Speed (Higher is better)
Latency (Lower is better)
Source: Cloudwards VPN Speed Test. We test daily. Data from 05/09/23 to 06/07/23
Data for region:

Overall, Surfshark offers the better global performance while PIA offers the better U.S. performance, but we will give the win to Surfshark this round.

2. Features

If you’ve already ruled out Private Internet Access because of its poor speeds, its features might change your mind. Like Surfshark, PIA comes packed with all the essential VPN features and spruces up its core with premium add-ons. 

PIA vs Surfshark VPN OS Support

PIA and Surfshark offer native apps for Android, iOS, Windows, macOS and Linux operating systems (OSes). The VPN services also work seamlessly with smart TVs (such as Apple TV), gaming consoles, routers and major web browsers such as Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

Surfshark device compatibility
Surfshark offers native apps for major desktop and mobile operating systems, and works with routers, gaming consoles, browser extensions and smart TVs. 

You can install both Surfshark and PIA on as many devices as you like. However, you can only set up 10 simultaneous connections with PIA. Surfshark lets you have unlimited simultaneous connections.

Internet Kill Switch and Split Tunneling

Surfshark has the most basic form of a kill switch that cuts off your device from the internet when the VPN connection drops. PIA has a similar tool as well as an advanced kill switch that prevents you from connecting to the internet unless the VPN is active.

PIA offers a VPN and advanced kill switch.

Both providers support app- and IP-based split tunneling. In addition, Surfshark supports URL-based split tunneling. However, PIA split tunneling is available for desktop and Android OSes, whereas Surfshark works on Windows and Android only.

Surfshark Bypasser
Surfshark supports both URL- and app-based split tunneling.

Additional VPN Features

Beyond the commonplace features, the VPN providers come packed with advanced security features, some of which are paid add-ons. First among these is the ad blocker, which is available from PIA as PIA MACE and from Surfshark as CleanWeb.

PIA port forwarding
With PIA port forwarding, you can enable inbound data to bypass the NAT firewall to boost your internet connection speed.

They also offer antivirus tools as paid add-ons, namely SurfsharkONE and Antivirus by PIA. In addition, PIA has an Identity Guard — an email breach monitor available in the client control panel. The tool scans and monitors your email address to see if it has ever been part of a known data breach.

Surfshark and PIA offer all the standard features and strengthen that suite with bells and whistles. They have all the features you want in a modern VPN, and that makes it difficult to separate them on this front. However, the presence of Identity Guard and Surfshark’s lack of split tunneling in macOS tips the odds in favor of PIA.

3. Pricing

As we’ve seen, the providers come with the fundamental VPN features and are equally endowed with advanced features. In this section, we’ll add money to the equation to find out the value you get with each VPN.

Surfshark and PIA pricing Comparison

One-month plan$12.95 per month$9.95 per month
Six-month plan$6.49 per monthN/A
One-year planN/A$3.33 per month
Two-year plan$2.30 per monthN/A
Three-year planN/A$2.03 per month

If affordability was to sway your decision, there’s no doubt you’d edge toward PIA. Its monthly plan is $3 cheaper than Surfshark’s, and the extended plans offer big discounts. For example, the three-year plan costs $2.19 per month (if you include the three free months), which represents an 80% discount. Surfshark is also affordable, but can’t match the pricing set by PIA.

Beyond the base pricing, both VPN providers charge additional fees for their add-on features. Surfshark One, for example, will set you back $1.49 per month. On the other hand, the amount you cough up for PIA add-ons depends on the length of subscription.

Add-on/plan:One-month planOne-year planThree-year plan
Antivirus$1.49 per month$1.27 per month$1.12 per month
Dedicated IPs$5 per month$4.25 per month$3.75 per month

Free Trial and Money-Back Guarantee

Mobile and Mac users get a seven-day trial with Surfshark. PIA has a seven-day trial too, but it’s only available on mobile devices. However, the lack of a free trial on Windows shouldn’t worry you because both VPN services offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. Even better, getting a PIA or Surfshark refund is straightforward.

If you have read our other Surfshark VPN comparisons, you already know that the provider always dominates this category. In this review, though, Surfshark has met its match, and there’s no denying that PIA is the cheaper VPN. As a result, PIA takes the point to surge ahead of Surfshark in our matchup.

4. Security & Privacy

Before you fork out the cash and invest in a VPN, you have to examine how secure it is. When it comes to VPN security, the quality of the VPN protocols and encryption standards dictate its strength.

Surfshark lets you choose between OpenVPN (UDP and TCP), WireGuard and IKEv2 for your VPN protocol. All these protocols use AES 256-bit encryption (read our encryption guide to learn more).

Surfshark protocols
Surfshark apps use secure protocols and solid AES 256-bit encryption. 

PIA, by contrast, uses OpenVPN out of the box, but you can change that to WireGuard on all platforms, plus IKEv2 on iOS. If your internet connection isn’t stable, PIA lets you decrease the packet size for optimal VPN performance.

pia protocol settings
Unlike most VPNs, PIA multi-hop reroutes your traffic through a proxy. 

Additional Security Features

While both offer multi-hop features, they function differently. Surfshark multi-hop sends your traffic through two VPN servers, whereas PIA multi-hop reroutes your VPN traffic through a proxy. 

PIA multihop
Unlike most VPNs, PIA multi-hop reroutes your traffic through a proxy. 

Additionally, the two providers support obfuscation, a technology that makes your VPN traffic look like normal internet traffic. Beyond that, Surfshark has the unique NoBorders mode which enables you to access censored content in restrictive countries. 

Surfshark & Private Internet Access No-Logs Policies

Surfshark and PIA remain true to their strict no-logs policies, meaning they don’t collect, store or share user data, traffic logs, IP addresses or information about the websites you visit.

However, Surfshark does log user ID and connection timestamps related to the VPN server you connect to. Thankfully, the provider expunges that information after 15 minutes. PIA, on the other hand, keeps your payment information and email address, which it claims to use to keep the service running. 

Beyond that, Surfshark offers Surfshark Incogni — a tool that automates the management of data removal requests. However, since this is a standalone tool, it has no bearing on Surfshark’s performance in this category.

The two providers offer strong security, with solid VPN protocols, encryption standards and an excellent set of advanced security features. In addition, they adhere to a strict no-logs policy and have had no instance of a security breach in the past. Taking all factors into consideration, the VPNs are comparable in this category and a tie is a fair result. 

Round: Security & Privacy
No clear winner, points for both
Visit Surfshark2
Visit Private Internet Access3

5. Streaming

The best VPN for streaming offers excellent download speeds and the ability to unblock streaming services. However, speed only becomes relevant after you get into the streaming service, so the real question is, do these VPNs unblock the right platforms?

Private Internet Access streaming is a mixed bag. We had to switch between servers to find one that could unblock the U.S. streaming services. After multiple attempts, we were able to get into Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus. Sadly, we couldn’t find a way around HBO Max and BBC iPlayer geoblocking.

PIA for streaming
Even though PIA struggles to unblock streaming services, it offers an excellent buffering-free experience. 

Surfshark did a better job, getting us into Disney Plus on the first attempt. However, it took us several attempts to find our way into Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer and HBO Max.

Can Surfshark VPN or PIA Unblock Netflix?

Both Surfshark and PIA are adept at Netflix streaming. The only issue is that they take several attempts to unblock this platform, but beyond that streaming is smooth sailing. Videos take a while to load with PIA, which is in line with its sluggish download speeds. Interestingly, once they load, the picture quality is good, and buffering is a non-issue.

Surfshark and PIA aren’t the best streaming VPNs. However, among their frailties, Surfshark has an edge as it unblocks HBO Max and BBC iPlayer — two streaming services PIA can’t unblock. As a result, Surfshark wins.

6. Torrenting

The best torrenting VPN should have fast download speeds and solid online security. Surfshark and PIA meet the latter criteria, but their download speeds aren’t the best. We downloaded a 1GB test torrent file using a 3 Mbps internet connection to see how they compare.

VPN:Top download speedDownload time
PIA0.38 MB/s83 minutes
Surfshark0.43 MB/s75 minutes

Given PIA’s crawling download speeds, we expected it to falter in our torrent download tests. Surprisingly, the VPN delivered a decent performance, with top download speeds of 0.38 MB per second. Despite PIA’s best effort, it took 83 minutes to complete the torrent download, compared to Surfshark’s time of 75 minutes.

As a result, Surfshark takes the point here. Check out our Surfshark vs NordVPN and Surfshark vs ProtonVPN to see how it compares to other best VPNs for torrenting.

7. Server Locations

As always, we evaluate VPN server performance through two lenses: server count and geographical diversity. We give more weight to the geographical distribution, because the wider it is, the bigger the pool of country-specific IP addresses you have. A bigger server count, on the other hand, means you have more server options in a specific region.

Surfshark hasn’t been in the VPN industry for long, but it has already amassed more than 3,200 servers, which is impressive. The provider offers VPN servers in more than 65 countries, including some overlooked regions such as Africa and the Middle East.

Surfshark Windows app
Surfshark server network includes shared IP, static IP and multi-hop servers. 

PIA doesn’t publicize the total number of servers in its fleet. We contacted PIA support on the same, but the agent didn’t disclose the exact number. The last time PIA published its number, it had over 3,400 servers, but whether the number of VPN servers has increased or decreased remains an open question. PIA has VPN servers in 84 countries with the largest portion being in the U.S.

Besides the regular servers, PIA also offers dedicated IP servers, albeit at an extra cost (see our pricing section). Surfshark, on the other hand, has static IP servers, but those are available for free. Read our dedicated vs shared vs static IP guide to learn more.

PIA dedicated IP
PIA dedicated IP assigns you a static IP that’s exclusively yours. 

Assuming PIA has maintained its fleet of servers at 3,400, then it means the provider outperforms Surfshark on this front. Moreover, PIA has VPN servers in 19 more countries than Surfshark. For these reasons, we give PIA the accolade and a point in this category. 

8. User-Friendliness

Besides offering the right features, a VPN should flatten the learning curve to enable you to make the most of its capabilities. In this section, we turn our attention to the subjective realm of user-friendliness to see how easy (or difficult) it is to use these VPNs. 

We begin on a bright note: Both Surfshark and PIA sport a modern-looking, no-frills user interface (UI). The desktop apps open to a neat UI, with clearly labeled items so you don’t have to guess your way around it. You can search for the server you want to connect to by country name or scroll through the entire list of server locations.

Surfshark server options
Surfshark has a clean UI that makes it easy to use.

Beyond that, altering the default settings of either Surfshark or PIA is also a cinch from the “settings” tab. Every setting is intuitively placed and takes the touch of a button to turn on or off features like the kill switch, split tunneling and auto-connect.

pia settings
Like Surfshark, PIA is easy to install and use, even for total beginners. 

VPN Service Mobile Apps

Surfshark’s Android app is as powerful and easy to use as the desktop version. It comes with all the features including a kill switch and split tunneling. The iOS app mirrors the desktop’s ease of use, but lacks a split tunneling feature.

Surfshark Android app
Surfshark’s Android app layout is identical to its desktop version and is easy to use. 

PIA mobile apps outperform the desktop version in terms of ease of use. For example, the Android app adds a “quick settings” option in the main window to help instantly access and configure features such as the VPN kill switch and automation. The iOS app is easy to use too, and has additional features such as the IKEv2 protocol.

PIA Android app
The PIA Android app is easier to use than the desktop versions.

Both Surfshark and PIA are super easy to use, even for beginners. You won’t struggle to connect to a VPN server or tweak the settings to suit your preferences. Since the two providers exhibit no frailty in this category, we’re obliged to declare a tie and hand them a point apiece.

Round: User-Friendliness
No clear winner, points for both
Visit Surfshark5
Visit Private Internet Access5

9. Customer Support

Surfshark and PIA have self-service options to help you find solutions to some issues on your own. They both offer a knowledgebase and FAQs, with a library of helpful articles and guidelines to cover most of the billing, installation and technical issues. 

Beyond that, they offer live chat support that works best if you have a problem that requires an immediate human agent touch. We contacted each support team via live chat, and they both offered satisfactory responses. However, PIA agents took a little longer than Surfshark to respond to our questions and weren’t as well versed on the topics.

PIA live chat
PIA offers live chat support, but the agents sometimes take too long to respond to queries. 

In addition, Surfshark and PIA offer email ticket support. The ticket support is ideal when you want to engage the agents on a deeper level and attach screenshots to the problem you’re facing. Unfortunately, though, the two providers don’t offer phone support.

By looking at the available options, it’s difficult to separate PIA and Surfshark because they offer similar support options: live chat, knowledgebase, FAQs and email support. However, the sluggish response of PIA agents on live chat is a strike against the service, and it tips the odds in Surfshark’s favor. 

The Verdict

Our Surfshark vs Private Internet Access matchup was decided by the slimmest of margins. Surfshark garnered six points, compared to the PIA tally of five; however, there’s more to the bout than the total scores.

Both PIA and Surfshark exchanged equal blows in two categories: security and user-friendliness. PIA outperformed Surfshark in features, pricing and server locations. On the other hand, Surfshark got the better of PIA in speed, streaming, torrenting and customer support.

The decision as to which VPN to subscribe to depends on your needs. If you want to stream movies or download torrents, Surfshark is the safer bet. However, to unblock geo-restricted content across the globe, PIA gives you better options.

What do you think of our Surfshark vs PIA comparison? Have you used these services before? Is there a category you think the providers won, drew or lost unfairly? We’d like to hear about it. As always, thanks for reading.

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