ExpressVPN VS PrivateInternetAccess | Head to head comparison

In this article, we will compare two of the world's most popular VPN providers side by side. Both ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access are outstanding services that have a lot to offer. However, picking between them can be pretty tough. That is why we have devised our VS articles – which pit VPNs against one another in order to reveal exactly which is the best.

Read on to find out exactly how each service differs, and why one of these VPNs is considered the best option for most people's needs.

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Quick Answer

If you are already pretty close to deciding, you may want a quick answer. In this section, you can look at what our experts decided – after considering each of the 11 vital VPN categories we have devised.

There is absolutely no doubt that both services are exceptional. However, by reading each of the detailed comparison categories below, you may ultimately decide that one service is better for your particular needs.

For this reason, we urge you to look closely at this entire article because it will help you make the best possible choice. That said, our experts have decided that ExpressVPN is the best option for most people's needs.

ExpressVPN has a wider choice of servers, it is consistently faster, provides access to more sought-after streaming services than PIA, and it has better customer support.

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Pricing

Generally speaking, most people consider pricing to be a category that can be decided in a non-subjective manner. After all, one service will usually be cheaper than another (and one is).

With that said, it is important to recognize that, with VPNs, you usually get what you pay for. Thus, opting for a VPN just because it is cheap VPN – is usually a recipe for disaster.

Despite this, we have judged this category on price alone. We feel that we are safe to do so on this occasion because both services are two fo the best VPNs around, and neither will put your privacy or data security at risk – or result in a poor VPN experience. So, which service is cheaper?

PIA Pricing

A one-month subscription to PIA will set you back $11.95. That is exactly one dollar cheaper than the cost of ExpressVPN. Considering the ways in which ExpressVPN out-performs PIA, this price difference seems reasonable.

A one-year subscription to PIA, on the other hand, reduces the cost of a subscription to just $4.16 per month. This is substantially less than the price quoted by Express of $6.67.

What's more, PIA permits subscribers to reduce their payments even further with a two-year subscription. This reduces the cost of a subscription to pay just $2.59 per month, which is an extremely affordable price point.

This makes PIA in excess of half the cost of ExpressVPN, which is nothing short of a bargain. Because, even after considering ExpressVPN's advantages over PIA, it is extremely hard to conclude that ExpressVPN is twice as good as PIA.

Winner: Private Internet Access

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Features

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ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access both have custom apps for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. This means that you can easily use the VPN on a wide cross-section of devices with just a single subscription. However, PIA lets subscribers install and use the VPN on 10 devices rather than five, which is important for larger families or people who own many devices.

Both services provide all of the most important VPN features you would expect to see in a premium service; including a kill-switch, DNS leak protection, and OpenVPN encryption. So, what sets these two providers apart?

Firstly, ExpressVPN provides obfuscation. This is a useful feature that consumers living in overreaching countries may need – to ensure they can conceal VPN use from their ISP and the government. ExpressVPN also provides a SmartDNS service, which can come in handy for bypassing certain geo-blocks.

Both PIA and ExpressVPN provide split-tunneling to their users, which is great. However, only PIA provides port forwarding, which is a desirable feature for anybody who likes to torrent. So, if you do intend to use sites like The Pirate Bay – you may prefer PIA.

It is also worth mentioning that PIA provides much more granular control over encryption standards within its apps. Some advanced users may find this useful, and it is definitely something extra that can come in handy when attempting to get better speeds.

On the other hand, ExpressVPN provides exceptional speeds even when connected using OpenVPN at full strength, which largely negates the need to provide access to weaker encryption in its app. Plus, Express has now also introduced its new Lightway protocol as an extra of its own – which will make ExpressVPN overall better for streaming in HD, gaming, videoconferencing, and other data-intensive tasks.

ExpressVPN also has servers in 94 countries, which makes it more useful than PIA (which only has 74 countries) for bypassing international geo-restrictions and censorship. Thus, we believe that ExpressVPN is slightly better for the average consumer in terms of features.

Having said that, this was an extremely close race. And both services have distinct advantages that may appeal to certain individuals, so there is some subjectivity involved (that largely revolves around why you specifically want or need a VPN).

Winner: ExpressVPN

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Routers Supported

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Installing a VPN directly on a router is the easiest and best way to protect every device on your home network; without needing to install VPN software on each individual device. This is a great way to ensure that all of your family's devices are always protected by the VPN.

By connecting to the VPN at the router level, you automatically ensure that every desktop PC, laptop, tablet, smartphone, games console, smart TV, and IoT device in a home is automatically being protected by the VPN connection. So, how does each VPN compare in this category?

Want a VPN pre-installed on a router?

Either service can be purchased pre-flashed on a router from FlashRouters, which means you can easily get the VPN setup on a pre-purchased router if you like. In addition, both services have set up guides for getting the VPN working on a wide choice of compatible routers.

We feel that ExpressVPN has better setup guides for a greater number of router models and firmware types. Thus, while both do offer router functionality and advice, ExpressVPN is the slight champion.

Winner: ExpressVPN

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Unblocking

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Whether a VPN can unblock many sought after international services will have a massive bearing on how useful that VPN is. As you can see in the table above, both services unblock a wide range of services. This makes both services suitable for streaming content from around the world.

Netflix libraries

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The good news is that both PIA and ExpressVPN can unblock the US Netflix catalog, which is the most desirable catalog because of the extensive amount of content it can allow Netflix subscribers to unblock.

However, ExpressVPN provides access to a total of 24 catalogs, which is far more impressive than what PIA can offer to its users. This makes ExpressVPN far more useful for taking advantage of our StreamCatcher tool.

Winner: ExpressVPN

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Torrenting

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Many people want to use a VPN to conceal their torrenting from their ISP. A reliable VPN will provide encryption to ensure that your ISP, the government, and copyright holders can't find out what you seed or leech using a torrent client.

A VPN will also allow you to access torrenting sites in a country where they are purposefully blocked; without your ISP, or the government finding out (potentially to prosecute you for piracy).

Unfortunately, not every VPN permits P2P connections (and not all VPN providers are based in a jurisdiction conducive to protecting torrenters). The good news is that both ExpressVPN and PIA permit P2P connections. In fact, users can torrent throughout both of those server networks.

Perhaps the only problem with PIA is its base in the USA. This theoretically means that it could be served a gag order and warrant by the US government. However, PIA has proven its no-logs policy in court – which generally negates these concerns (but more on this later).

PIA provides a SOCKS5 proxy (which can provide faster speeds for torrenting) and port forwarding; which helps with seeding and permits torrenters to maintain a better download to upload ratio (and will usually also improve seeding speeds).

Winner: Private Internet Access

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Setup & Usability

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Both ExpressVPN and PIA have custom apps for all popular platforms. This makes setting up the VPN on Windows, macOS, Android, or iOS extremely easy. However, PIA also has a GUI VPN for Linux (and setup guides for installing it), which gives PIA a slight edge. ExpressVPN also has a guide to set up the VPN manually on Linux using CLI, so it isn't actually lacking much.

Other than that, the setup process is extremely similar for both services, and the VPN apps are easy-to-use with either provider. In addition, both have superb resources such as setup guides, FAQs, and a knowledge-base, which will help you to solve any setup problems you may encounter.

Perhaps the only drawback with PIA is that users can manually alter the encryption strength inside the app. This can lead to confusion if you are a beginner. However, having this extra functionality is useful for some people, and the VPN comes setup securely by default so it shouldn't really be an issue.

Beyond that, we find both services to have well-constructed websites that are easy to navigate, and full of useful information. Their apps are well-designed, self-explanatory, and easy on the eye. Thus, most users will find either service ideal in terms of usability.

Winner: It's a draw

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Mobile features

Both ExpressVPN and PIA have dedicated mobile apps for both Android and iOS. Those apps are available on the regular Google Play and Apple app stores, which makes getting hold of them easy. The apps themselves are pretty similar and offer much the same functionality as their desktop counterparts.

The ExpressVPN Android app has a built-in kill-switch to prevent accidental leaks should the VPN drop out. However, on iOS you will not find a kill-switch. PIA, on the other hand, has a kill-switch on both Android and iOS.

With PIA, Android users can select from either OpenVPN or WireGuard protocols. iOS users may select from those two protocols and IKEv2. ExpressVPN, provides either OpenVPN (UDP or TCP) or L2TP/IPsec on both Android and iOS. In addition, ExpressVPN's new Lightway protocol (a customized version of WireGuard) is available on Android, but not yet on iOS.

Finally, split tunneling is available with both providers on Android, but with neither provider on iOS. As you can see, this makes both VPNs extremely similar, in terms of features, on both mobile platforms.

Winner: It's a draw

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Performance & Speed

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Where speeds are concerned, both of these providers are outstanding. They are both market-leading VPNs that will allow you to stream in HD, play online games, engage in video conferencing on Skype or Zoom, and to make VoIP calls without issues.

With that said, we do test these VPNs three times per day using our in-house server-based speed test system. To perform those regular scientific tests, we use the OpenVPN UDP protocol for consistency. The image below shows you how the two VPNs compared during a six-month period in 2020.

PIA and Express VPN Speeds

As you can see, both VPNs provide outstanding averages. However, ExpressVPN has better download speeds (approximately 10Mbps faster). As a result, most people will probably prefer ExpressVPN for performing data-intensive tasks.

Winner: ExpressVPN

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Security

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The technical security provided by a VPN can make or break its service. Flaws in the apps, poor encryption implementation, or critical IP and DNS leaks will cause your ISP (or local network administrators) to detect what you are doing online. This destroys your privacy and results in the VPN giving you a false sense of security.

The good news is that both ExpressVPN and PIA provide strong OpenVPN encryption on every platform. This is ideal, because the OpenVPN protocol has been thoroughly audited numerous times, and is widely considered the holy grail of VPN encryption.

A thorough examination of ExpressVPN's OpenVPN implementation reveals that the service uses an AES-256 cipher with HMAC SHA-256 for data authentication and RSA-384 for the handshake. Perfect Forward Secrecy is provided using a DH-2048 Diffie-Hellman key exchange.

PIA employs an AES-256 cipher with HMAC SHA-256 for authorization and RSA 4096 for the handshake. Perfect Forward Secrecy is provided using the same DH-2048 Diffie-Hellman key exchange as ExpressVPN.

Thus, both VPNs implement OpenVPN in a completely secure and trustworthy manner, and there is a negligible difference between the two platforms. In addition, both VPNs self-host DNS requests. And they both use bare-metal servers (ExpressVPN uses SmartDNS routing to provide a few of its IP addresses).

During our tests, neither VPN suffered from critical IP, DNS, or WebRTC leaks. However, you will need to install ExpressVPN's browser extension to be absolutely sure you don't get WebRTC leaks on IPv6 (a perfectly reasonable way to prevent WebRTC leaks, in our opinion).

As you can see, these two VPNs are almost identical when it comes to technical security. However, ExpressVPN does provideleobfuscation, which PIA does not. Despite this, we find it to be too close to confidently pick an outright winner.

Winner: It's a draw.

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Privacy

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When it comes to privacy, PIA is at an instant disadvantage due to it being based in America. The US is the home of the NSA and the CIA, and it is a country that can serve companies with gag orders and warrants that force it to comply with government data requests while also keeping it a secret. For obvious reasons, this may put some people off using the service.

To PIA's credit, however, the company has proven its no-logs claims in court on two occasions. This goes a long way to showing that the VPN puts user privacy first, and that it does what it says on the tin. However, due to ExpressVPN being based in the British Virgin Islands, we would have to acknowledge that Express has the jurisdiction advantage.

Want to pay anonymously?

 

The good news is that both ExpressVPN and PIA can be purchased using Bitcoin for added anonymity, and neither requires anything but an email address to sign up (and you could easily use a burner email).

Finally, ExpressVPN has had a full audit of its infrastructure and logging policy, and the auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers has attested to the veracity of the platform. PIA has not had a formal security audit of this kind, but it has open-sourced its VPN clients, which means that it can be independently audited (this is an excellent move from PIA, but until it has been thoroughly audited the benefit is minimal).

Winner: ExpressVPN

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Customer service

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Both of these providers offer outstanding customer support via 24/7 live chat on their websites. Both live chat services are highly efficient, polite, and able to deal with technical queries about their services. In addition, both VPNs have excellent guides, blogs, and FAQ resources on their websites that subscribers can choose to either use independently – or be linked to by live chat agents in order to find the help they need.

Unfortunately, neither of these services has a VPN free trial or free subscription plan, but this is not unusual for services of this caliber. The good news, however, is that both services have a 30-day money-back guarantee. This will let anybody trial the VPN for a month if they want to.

The good news is that (unlike with some VPNs) these 30-day money-back guarantees even apply to customers who purchase a single-month contract. To conclude, both these services are exemplary when it comes to customer support.

Winner: It's a draw

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Conclusion

In this article, we have carefully compared two of the world's leading VPN providers side by side. After careful review of all of their fundamental features across 11 carefully devised categories, our VPN experts have concluded that ExpressVPN is the winner.

Both services are exceptional, and it is definitely possible that some users may prefer PIA (if they want to torrent and require port forwarding, for example). For this reason, it is definitely worth trialing these VPNs personally by taking advantage of their money-back guarantee.

With that said, ExpressVPN has definitively has come out on top in a majority of categories. For this reason, we must conclude that Express is a better service for most consumer's needs.

Outright Winner: ExpressVPN

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