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ExpressVPN vs Private Internet Access

Simon Migliano Head of Research at Top10VPN

Simon Migliano is a recognized world expert in VPNs. He's tested hundreds of VPN services and his research has featured on the BBC, The New York Times and more. Read full bio

Our Verdict

ExpressVPN and PIA are both excellent VPN services with fast speeds, strong encryption, and P2P support. However, ExpressVPN is the better VPN overall. It is faster than PIA on long-distance connections, excellent for streaming, and more secure due its diskless server technology. PIA is cheaper at just $2.19 per month, but it failed to unblock popular streaming libraries in our testing.

ExpressVPN vs PIA side by side

ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access (PIA) are two of the best VPNs available. The former has a reputation for its excellent streaming capabilities, while the latter is known for having the largest server network on the market. But are these rumors true?

We wanted to find out if there’s a significant difference between the two VPNs despite being owned by the same company: Kape Technologies Ltd.

In this guide, we compare how ExpressVPN and PIA performed in ten key testing categories, based on our detailed VPN testing process.

Our tests found that both VPNs consistently score highly on our tests for speed, security, and privacy, but there is only one winner overall. So which one is worth subscribing to in 2022?

ExpressVPN vs. PIA: Key Data Compared

Use the table below to compare ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access based on their most important attributes:

Attribute
ExpressVPN
PIA
Overall Rating
9.7
8.8
Ranking
#1
#7
Top Speed (Mbps)
87.46Mbps
93Mbps
Streaming Services
Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Prime Video, HBO, Hulu, DAZN, Disney+
Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Prime Video, HBO, Disney+
No. of Netflix Libraries
10
2
Torrenting Policy
Unlimited
Unlimited
Logging Policy
Anonymous Connection Data
No Logs
Top Encryption Cipher
AES-256
AES-256
Secure VPN Protocols
OpenVPN, Lightway
OpenVPN, WireGuard
Jurisdiction
British Virgin Islands
United States
Native Platforms
Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, Router, ChromeOS
Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, Router
Server Countries
94
84
Server Count
3,000
17,193
Simultaneous Connections
5
10
Smart DNS
Yes
No
Customer Support
24/7 Live Chat
24/7 Live Chat
Free Trial
30-Day Money-Back Guarantee
30-Day Money-Back Guarantee
Cheapest Price
$6.67
$2.19
Full Review
ExpressVPN Review
PIA Review
VPN Website
ExpressVPN
Private Internet Access

In the rest of this article, we will provide an in-depth comparison of ExpressVPN and PIA in the following 10 testing categories. Use the table below to jump to a particular area or find out which VPN is the winner in each testing category:

Category ExpressVPN Rating PIA Rating Winner
Speed & Reliability 9.2 8.5 ExpressVPN
Privacy & Logging Policy 9.6 9.9 PIA
Encryption & Security 9.7 8.8 ExpressVPN
Streaming 9.9 9.0 ExpressVPN
Torrenting & P2P 9.5 8.7 ExpressVPN
Price & Value 7.0 9.0 PIA
Server Network 9.8 9.9 PIA
Bypassing Censorship 9.0 9.2 PIA
Apps & Ease of Use 9.8 8.3 ExpressVPN
Customer Support 9.9 9.4 ExpressVPN

As you can see from the table above, ExpressVPN outperformed PIA in six important VPN testing categories including speed, security, streaming, torrenting, compatibility, and customer support.

Private Internet Access only beats ExpressVPN in terms of logging policy, pricing, server count, and bypassing restrictions in highly-censored countries like China. Keep reading to see these test results in more detail.

Which VPN Is Right For You?

ExpressVPN is the overall winner in this comparison with PIA. Not only is it faster and more secure, it’s significantly better for unblocking international Netflix regions and torrenting. If you’re looking for a good all-round VPN, ExpressVPN is the better choice.

However, just because ExpressVPN won in the majority of testing categories, it’s not necessarily the right VPN for everyone.

Private Internet Access is still one of the best VPN services we’ve tested. It’s more affordable than ExpressVPN, and its ratings didn’t drop below 8 out of 10 in a single testing category. In fact, PIA is still an excellent choice for bypassing censorship, securing your connection on public WiFi, or unblocking US Netflix.

If you’re interested in comparing more VPN services side-by-side, take a look at our VPN comparison tool.

ExpressVPN Is Faster than PIA on International Connections

SUMMARY: Both PIA and ExpressVPN deliver excellent speeds that are fast enough for streaming, torrenting, and gaming. PIA scored a remarkable average download speed of 93Mbps when connecting to nearby servers, but ExpressVPN is significantly faster than PIA for connecting to international servers, especially in the US.

ExpressVPN Speed Rating: 9.2
PIA Speed Rating: 8.5
Speed & Reliability Winner: ExpressVPN

We found out which VPN is faster by testing their speeds when connected to a nearby VPN server. The table below compares the average download speed, upload speed, and ping times of PIA and ExpressVPN in these local speed tests:

OpenVPN Speed Test ExpressVPN PIA
Download Speed (Mbps) 87Mbps 98Mbps
Upload Speed (Mbps) 91Mbps 86Mbps
Latency/Ping (ms) 8ms 13ms
Average Speed Loss (%) 8% 2%

ExpressVPN and PIA’s speed test results on a local (UK-to-UK) connection.

As you can see from these results, both ExpressVPN and PIA perform well on connections to nearby servers. However, PIA is exceptionally fast, with a speed reduction of just 2%, compared to 8% with ExpressVPN.

Over long-distance connections, it’s quite a different story. Our automated VPN speed test tool shows which VPN is faster on international connections from the UK to the US:

Provider speed comparison chart

Over the past eight weeks, ExpressVPN’s international speeds have been consistently faster than PIA’s. We measured an average download speed of 82Mbps compared to PIA’s 65Mbps. That means ExpressVPN slowed our connection speed by 12%, while Private Internet Access slowed it by 30%.

Overall, ExpressVPN and PIA are two of the fastest VPNs we’ve tested. On both local and international connections, both VPN services deliver low latency and speeds fast enough for HD streaming, quick torrenting, and lag-free online gaming.

PIA just surpasses ExpressVPN’s speeds on nearby servers, but ExpressVPN is significantly faster on long-distance connections. On average, ExpressVPN is the fastest VPN of the two, especially for international streaming.

ExpressVPN Logs Anonymous Data, PIA Logs No Data at All

SUMMARY: Both ExpressVPN and PIA have a proven track record for privacy, exemplified by independent audits and real-world tests. Neither VPN logs activity data, but ExpressVPN does store some anonymous connection logs where PIA does not. Despite PIA’s US jurisdiction, this means PIA performs slightly better when it comes to privacy.

ExpressVPN Logging & Jurisdiction Rating: 9.6
PIA Logging & Jurisdiction Rating: 9.9
Logging & Jurisdiction Winner: PIA

The table below compares ExpressVPN and PIA’s logging policies and their jurisdictions:

Privacy Criteria ExpressVPN PIA
Anonymous Connection Data Yes No
Activity Logs No No
Jurisdiction British Virgin Islands (BVI) United States (US)
Externally Audited Yes No

ExpressVPN and PIA’s logging policies and jurisdictions compared.

Both ExpressVPN and PIA have excellent privacy policies. They do not collect any personally identifiable user data, and customers do not even need to provide personal information during the payment process.

ExpressVPN does collect some anonymous connection logs, including the date you connect to the service, your choice of server location, and the total amount of data transferred each day. The company does not log your identity or activity, a fact which has been verified by independent audit.

An excerpt from ExpressVPN's logging policy

An excerpt from ExpressVPN’s logging policy.

The connection data recorded cannot be used to identify you, but it is still not quite the same as having a zero-logs policy. By contrast, PIA does not log any information whatsoever:

the verified no-logs privacy policy from Private Internet Access.

Excerpt from the no-logs PIA Privacy Policy.

Unlike ExpressVPN, PIA’s privacy policy has not been independently audited. However, both ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access have had their privacy claims tested by real-world events.

ExpressVPN had a server seized in 2017, and PIA was subpoenaed for data in 2016. In both cases, neither VPN service had any information to hand over, and no user data was discovered.

PIA’s Jurisdiction Is Less Private than ExpressVPN’s

ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands, which means international authorities have very limited legal power to force the company to hand over user data (if it stored any).

By contrast, PIA is based in the United States, which is one of the least privacy-friendly VPN jurisdictions in the world. US authorities can legally force companies to surrender personally-identifiable user data. Fortunately, PIA does not collect any user data in the first place.

After multiple real-world verifications, it’s clear that you can trust both PIA and ExpressVPN when it comes to privacy and logging practices, regardless of their jurisdiction.

Both VPN Services Are Owned by Kape Technologies Ltd.

Kape Technologies Ltd. acquired PIA in 2019, and ExpressVPN in late 2021. The tech company also runs other top VPN services including CyberGhost and ZenMate.

Kape, previously known as Crossrider, garnered some controversy in the past due to abuse of its browser extension platform under previous management.

However, Kape rectified such oversights in 2014. PIA and ExpressVPN operate independently, with the same privacy protections as they did prior to their acquisition.

ExpressVPN Is a Much More Reliable VPN for Streaming

SUMMARY: ExpressVPN is significantly better than PIA for unblocking international streaming libraries. It unblocks 10 Netflix regions compared to PIA’s 2, and consistently works to access other streaming platforms including HBO, Hulu, and Disney+ with excellent international speeds and zero buffering.

ExpressVPN Streaming Rating: 9.9
PIA Streaming Rating: 9.0
Streaming Winner: ExpressVPN

The comparison table below shows how well PIA and ExpressVPN performed in our streaming tests:

Streaming Test ExpressVPN PIA
US Netflix Yes Yes
No. of Netflix Libraries 10 2
BBC iPlayer Unreliable Yes
Amazon Prime Video Yes Yes
HBO Max Yes Yes
DAZN Yes Yes
Hulu Yes Yes
Disney+ Yes Yes
Smart DNS Yes Unreliable

ExpressVPN and PIA’s access to streaming services.

Compared to most VPN services, PIA is a good VPN for streaming. It unblocks two Netflix regions including the US, and it’s also capable of streaming BBC iPlayer, Prime Video, Hulu, and Disney+.

PIA is good, but ExpressVPN is much better. ExpressVPN bypasses geo-blocks in 10 Netflix regions, and it consistently unblocks BBC iPlayer, Disney+, HBO, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video on almost every server.

Its international speeds are also significantly faster than PIA’s, which results in HD picture quality and very little buffering.

In the video below, you can see ExpressVPN unblocking US Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, and DAZN in real-time:

ExpressVPN works to unblock region-restricted content on the vast majority of streaming services.

Private Internet Access does work with US Netflix, and the VPN app includes a label for servers that are optimized for streaming. Still, it’s just not very reliable. We had to cycle through several servers before finding one that works.

In our most recent tests, ExpressVPN worked to stream the US Netflix library on every single US server except for one. If ExpressVPN isn’t working with Netflix, their customer service is very helpful in suggesting alternatives, too.

Unlike ExpressVPN, PIA’s Smart DNS tool doesn’t work either, which means you won’t be able to use it for streaming on Smart TVs and games consoles.

We did experience some issues streaming BBC iPlayer with ExpressVPN, but it worked after a few tries.

Overall ExpressVPN works with more Netflix regions, it’s faster internationally, and it’s a more reliable VPN for streaming US Netflix specifically. It might be more expensive than PIA, but you get a lot more for your money.

Both VPNs Offer Excellent Encryption & Security Features

SUMMARY: PIA and ExpressVPN offer the strongest encryption and security features available, with granular options to choose the settings that work for you. However, ExpressVPN pulls ahead of PIA due to its exclusive Lightway protocol and diskless TrustedServer technology.

ExpressVPN Encryption & Security Rating: 9.7
PIA Encryption & Security Rating: 8.8
Encryption & Security Winner: ExpressVPN

The table below compares ExpressVPN and PIA’s encryption strength, VPN protocols, and security features side-by-side:

Security Feature ExpressVPN Private Internet Access
VPN protocols IKEv2/IPSec, L2TP/IPSec, OpenVPN (TCP/UDP), Lightway, PPTP IKEv2/IPSec, L2TP/IPSec, OpenVPN (TCP/UDP), PPTP
Encryption Cipher AES-256 AES-256
Kill Switch Yes Yes
Leak Protection DNS, IPv6, WebRTC DNS, IPv6, WebRTC
First-Party DNS Servers Yes Yes
Perfect Forward Secrecy Yes Yes
Split Tunneling Yes Yes
Tor over VPN Yes Yes
Diskless servers Yes No
Open-Source Apps Yes Yes

Comparing ExpressVPN and PIA’s security offering side-by-side.

When it comes to encryption, both ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access are equal in almost every regard. If you’re just looking to stay safe on public WiFi, both options will suit you well.

Both VPNs offer a remarkable level of control over the way your data is encrypted. They use AES-256-CBC encryption, with an additional option for AES-256-GCM on PIA. This is combined with Perfect Forward Secrecy, a 4096-bit RSA key, and SHA-512 HMAC authentication, which verifies your connection to the server and prevents interference with the data being transmitted.

In short, PIA and ExpressVPN offer the strongest encryption available, with granular options to choose the settings that work for you.

The most secure settings aren’t selected by default in PIA, though, so we recommend changing them to OpenVPN UDP, AES-256-GCM, and RSA-2048 in the encryption settings menu.

The PIA encryption settings menu

The PIA encryption settings menu.

PIA Supports WireGuard but ExpressVPN Offers Exclusive Access to Lightway

It’s a close call when it comes to VPN tunneling protocols, too. Both VPNs let you manually choose between OpenVPN, IKE2, and L2TP/IPsec protocols, with the option to pick between UDP and TCP connections.

PIA supports WireGuard, a secure and lightweight protocol that has grown in popularity in recent years. ExpressVPN is missing WireGuard functionality, but it makes up for it with its own open-source protocol called Lightway.

Lightway is exclusive to ExpressVPN. It uses AES or ChaCha20 encryption and performs extremely well in our speed and security tests. With Lightway, you’ll consume less bandwidth and battery power than other VPN protocols due to its small codebase.

ExpressVPN protocol settings menu

You can access the Lightway protocol in ExpressVPN’s ‘Protocol’ preferences menu.

PIA’s protocol selection doesn’t fall far behind, but support for Lightway pushes ExpressVPN slightly ahead when it comes to connection protocols.

PIA’s WireGuard performance also isn’t as impressive as some other top VPNs. Its OpenVPN speeds are often faster, which is contrary to what we usually see.

If you want a quick VPN that supports WireGuard, NordVPN’s speeds are faster than PIA’s.

Kill Switch & Leak Testing

We ran the mobile and desktop versions of both VPNs through IP, DNS, and WebRTC leak tests and found that our identity and location were consistently protected.

Private DNS servers and leak protection are built into both VPN services by default, but you’ll have to enable DNS leak protection manually in PIA’s Windows application, which is an unnecessary shortcoming.

Both services also include an essential VPN kill switch, which automatically disconnects you from the internet if the VPN connection drops, preventing your public IP address from being exposed.

While Private Internet Access includes a kill switch on all versions of its software, ExpressVPN does not include a kill switch on its iOS application. This is especially important if you mainly use a VPN on your iPhone or iPad.

ExpressVPN’s TrustedServer Technology Is a Clear Advantage

When it comes to encryption strength and tunneling protocols, ExpressVPN and PIA are mostly equal. However, ExpressVPN’s proprietary TrustedServer technology presents one clear advantage over PIA when it comes to security.

TrustedServer is ExpressVPN’s name for RAM-only servers, which ensure that no data is ever written to the hard drive of a VPN server. In other words, ExpressVPN is physically incapable of storing data logs because they are constantly and automatically wiped out.

This is an industry-first feature that is unique to ExpressVPN. It offers a significant security advantage over competing VPN services like PIA, which uses traditional hard drives that retain data until it is erased and written over.

ExpressVPN vs PIA: Additional Security Features Compared

For the vast majority of VPN users, additional features are not particularly useful. The most important thing about a VPN’s security is its encryption and protocol strength, which both ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access do very well.

If you’re an advanced VPN user looking for extra features to play with, you’ll find more options with PIA. However, they’re not always effective. ExpressVPN may have fewer additional tools, but those it has are very reliable.

Here’s a table comparing the additional features provided by ExpressVPN and PIA:

Additional Security Feature ExpressVPN PIA
Ad Blocker No Yes
Dedicated IP Addresses No Yes
Multi-Hop No Yes
Malware & Tracking Blocker Yes Yes
Private Browser No Yes
Shadowsocks & SOCKS5 Proxy No Yes

PIA offers more additional features than ExpressVPN, but they’re not always effective.

VPN split tunneling is a useful feature that both services offer on Windows, macOS, and Android. This lets you select the websites, apps, and services you want to route through the VPN’s encrypted tunnel, as well as the ones you’d like to exclude.

Where ExpressVPN’s apps focus on simplicity, PIA’s focus on configurability. In addition to the encryption settings, you’ll find various menus for setting up a dedicated IP address, configuring multi-hop connections, enabling port forwarding, and automating your VPN connection.

PIA Settings and Controls

PIA’s additional features are exhaustive, but might be overwhelming for casual users.

These options are nice to have, especially given PIA’s cheap subscription prices. However, it’s fairly unlikely that most casual VPN users will need this much control over their network. If you’re just looking to establish a private and secure VPN connection in a particular location, it’s much easier to use ExpressVPN.

Both VPN services also include a malware and tracker blocker, but only PIA offers a built-in ad blocker called MACE. Found in the ‘Privacy’ section of the app’s settings, it claims to block access to domains that are known to host ads, trackers, and malware.

You might think this gives PIA an advantage, but MACE is simply not a good ad blocker. It does not block as many ads as alternatives like NordVPN Cybersec, and the inability to adjust its filtering settings means certain websites end up breaking.

PIA Offers Port Forwarding but ExpressVPN’s P2P Speeds Are Faster

SUMMARY: PIA and ExpressVPN are equally safe to use for anonymous P2P file-sharing. Both VPN services support unrestricted torrenting traffic with popular clients including qBittorrent and uTorrent. PIA’s port forwarding feature makes it preferable for seeding, but ExpressVPN is the better torrenting VPN overall due to its fast average bitrate.

ExpressVPN Torrenting Rating: 9.5
PIA Torrenting Rating: 8.7
Torrenting Winner: ExpressVPN

Both ExpressVPN and PIA support unrestricted P2P activity across their entire server network. You can torrent from any server without any bandwidth limits or location restrictions.

We tested both VPN services with popular torrenting clients including qBitTorrent, uTorrent, and Deluge. We were able to successfully torrent files on every server we tested, and we didn’t record any IP or DNS leaks using either VPN.

Combined with AES-256 encryption, effective kill switch features, and safe privacy policies, this makes ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access equally safe for anonymous P2P file-sharing.

Using ExpressVPN with the qBittorrent torrent client

Using ExpressVPN with the qBittorrent torrent client.

If you’re looking to protect your torrenting traffic, you’ll be safe with either VPN. However, they do offer different features for P2P.

For example, if you’re on a network with a strict NAT type, PIA’s port forwarding feature lets you redirect incoming connections to ports 443, 80, 110, 53, 8080, and 9201. You can use this to bypass your NAT firewall, increasing the number of torrenting peers you can communicate with and improving your P2P upload speeds.

ExpressVPN only supports port forwarding on its router app, which makes Private Internet Access the superior choice for seeding torrents.

PIA also offers native support for a SOCKS5 proxy, as well as Shadowsocks. This gives you more options for rerouting your torrenting traffic, but it will not make it more secure.

Despite these extra features, our P2P speed tests found that PIA was slower than ExpressVPN. We measured an average download bitrate of 9.4MiB/s when torrenting with ExpressVPN, which is notably faster than the 6.4MiB/s we measured while torrenting with PIA.

Private Internet Access Is Cheaper than ExpressVPN

SUMMARY: Private Internet Access is significantly cheaper than ExpressVPN. A PIA subscription can cost as little as $2.19 per month if you sign up for 39 months, while ExpressVPN’s cheapest price is $6.67 per month on a 15-month subscription.

ExpressVPN Price & Value Rating: 7.0
PIA Price & Value Rating: 9.0
Price & Value Winner: PIA

The table below compares ExpressVPN and PIA based on their pricing options:

Pricing Option ExpressVPN PIA
One Month Price $12.95 $11.95
Cheapest Monthly Price $6.67 (15 months) $2.19 (39 months)
Free Trial 7 Days (Mobile Only) 7 Days (Mobile Only)
Money-Back Guarentee 30 Days 30 Days

Comparing Private Internet Access and ExpressVPN based on their subscription prices.

PIA’s cheapest monthly price is $2.19, compared to ExpressVPN’s cheapest price of $6.67. PIA is therefore significantly cheaper than ExpressVPN, but you’ll have to sign up for 39 months.

ExpressVPN’s best offer may be more expensive, but it only requires a 15 month commitment.

If you’re not ready to sign up for a long-term subscription, there’s less of a price difference between the two services. In fact, PIA’s monthly subscription cost is just $1 cheaper than ExpressVPN, at $11.95 per month.

Both Private Internet Access and ExpressVPN offer a 30 day money-back guarantee, which effectively allows you to trial each VPN for free for a month. There are no genuine free trials on desktop, but both services offer a seven-day free trial on mobile devices.

Overall, PIA is the clear winner when it comes to pricing in absolute terms. If you’re willing to commit to a long-term subscription, it’s actually one of the cheapest VPNs available.

In comparison, ExpressVPN is more expensive than most VPN services. However, it’s cheapest subscription plan still represents great value given the quality of its service.

PIA Has a Larger Server Network but ExpressVPN Offers More Server Locations

SUMMARY: Both VPN services have impressive server networks, but PIA has the largest total server count of any top VPN service. PIA’s network consists of 17,193 servers compared to ExpressVPN’s 3,000, but ExpressVPN gives you access to 16 more countries.

ExpressVPN Server Network Rating: 9.8
PIA Server Network Rating: 9.9
Server Network Winner: PIA

The table below compares the size and range of ExpressVPN and PIA’s server networks:

Server Feature ExpressVPN Private Internet Access
Total Server Count 3,000 17,193
No. of Countries 94 78
City-Level Servers 160 100

PIA has a huge number of individual servers, but ExpressVPN offers servers in more countries.

PIA has the largest server network of any top VPN service. Its 17,193 servers span 84 countries, including city-level locations in the US, Canada, UK, and Australia. ExpressVPN has a smaller network of just 3,000 servers, but it has servers in 16 more countries and 60 more cities.

The benefit of PIA’s huge server network is that it minimizes server load, which can improve performance and increase the chances you’ll connect to a reliable server that’s close to your physical location.

PIA has more servers in total, which pushes it slightly above ExpressVPN in our server network rating. However, ExpressVPN offers more countries to connect to, and a wider-selection of city-level servers.

ExpressVPN vs PIA Server Menus

Compared side-by-side, ExpressVPN’s server menu is simpler than PIA’s, but it displays less information.

City-level servers allow you to be more specific in your choice of nearby server, which helps you reach the absolute best speeds possible.

If you’re primarily concerned with streaming, the number of countries on offer is equally as important as the total number of servers in the network, too.

PIA and ExpressVPN both offer an impressively large server network with dozens of server locations and city-level options. You’re unlikely to have trouble finding a nearby server with either service, but if you’re judging on sheer server count, PIA wins.

Both ExpressVPN and PIA Work in China Over 70% of the Time

SUMMARY: Thanks to their obfuscation technology, ExpressVPN and PIA both work in China more than 70% of the time. However, PIA’s support for Shadowsocks offers greater control for bypassing censorship, which pushes it ahead slightly in this category.

ExpressVPN Bypassing Censorship Rating: 9.0
PIA Bypassing Censorship Rating: 9.2
Bypassing Censorship Winner: PIA

Both ExpressVPN and PIA include obfuscation technology, which camouflages VPN traffic as regular HTTPS traffic to successfully beat censorship. In our latest tests, both VPN services successfully bypassed geo-blocks in countries like China, Turkey, and Russia.

Bypassing China’s Great Firewall is the ultimate test when it comes to a VPN’s anti-censorship abilities. Here, ExpressVPN outperforms PIA slightly. In the past 12 months of testing, ExpressVPN was able to unblock websites in China 74% of the time, while PIA worked 71% of the time.

The vast majority of VPN services simply do not work in China, so it’s to their credit that both VPNs consistently bypass restrictions in the country.

Private Internet Access unblocking YouTube in China

We were able to access blocked websites when using PIA VPN.

ExpressVPN’s obfuscation activates by default when you switch the tunneling protocol setting to Automatic. In comparison, PIA uses OpenVPN and Shadowsocks, a third-party proxy developed specifically for use in China.

Combined with a good choice of anti-censorship servers, this gives PIA users a greater degree of granular control over how their traffic is obfuscated. These are fine margins though; both VPNs are a safe choice for use in censorious countries like Russia, Turkey, and the UAE.

ExpressVPN’s Applications Are Much Easier to Use

SUMMARY: Both VPNs have easy-to-use apps for all major platforms and devices. However, ExpressVPN’s apps are much simpler and more intuitive to use across all major devices and operating systems. While both VPNs offer router support, ExpressVPN’s Smart DNS works where PIA’s does not.

ExpressVPN Ease of Use Rating: 9.8
PIA Ease of Use Rating: 8.3
Ease of Use Winner: ExpressVPN

The table below shows how ExpressVPN and PIA are compatible with almost every major platform and device:

Compatibility Feature ExpressVPN PIA
Simultaneous Connections 5 10
Desktop Apps Windows, macOS, Linux Windows, macOS, Linux
Mobile Apps Android, iOS Android, iOS
Browser Extensions Chrome, Firefox, Edge Chrome, Firefox
Additional Devices Android TV, Fire TV Android TV, Fire TV
Router Support Yes Yes

ExpressVPN and PIA’s device compatibility compared.

Once again, ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access are mostly equal when it comes to device compatibility. Both services have apps for all major operating systems, and they each have router support, too.

Novice users can set up both VPNs in a few minutes and benefit from a simple “one-click connect” design that will automatically choose a recommended server based on your location.

Here’s a video of us connecting to both ExpressVPN and PIA side-by-side:

Both ExpressVPN and PIA include a simple “one-click connect” feature.

PIA offers 10 simultaneous connections on one subscription, while ExpressVPN only offers five. Despite these limitations, we found ExpressVPN’s apps considerably easier to use.

In fact, ExpressVPN is so easy to use that it’s hard to find a single flaw. Its applications are simple to set up, intuitive to navigate, and well-designed. In our tests, it took less than five minutes to subscribe, install, and start using the VPN apps on almost every operating system.

ExpressVPNs apps are almost identical across devices. In contrast, there are a few notable differences between each PIA app, and its settings menus are complicated to navigate at first.

This may bode well for advanced users looking for lots of intricate settings, but it’s slightly overwhelming for the average user.

Compared to ExpressVPN, PIA Isn’t Always Easy to Use

Our testing surfaced a few small usability issues with PIA. For example, its Windows app runs in the system tray by default, which pins the client to the bottom of your device’s screen. The option to detach it is buried in the app’s settings, which isn’t necessarily obvious.

Similarly, PIA’s Mac app runs in the menu bar by default. This means you can’t place the app in your dock or launch it from Spotlight, and any keyboard shortcuts you may have set up won’t work.

the Private Internet Access VPN app on Mac.

The Private Internet Access macOS VPN application.

We also found PIA’s macOS application was fairly slow to load and operate. The app took around three seconds to load in our tests, which does add up with regular usage.

ExpressVPN’s Smart DNS Works Well, but PIA’s Doesn’t Work at All

PIA’s broken Smart DNS feature forces you to install the VPN on your router if you want to use it on your PlayStation, Xbox, or Apple TV. This will protect all of your devices at once, but it’s much more complicated than using an effective Smart DNS like ExpressVPN’s MediaStreamer.

ExpressVPN MediaStreamer

Our MediaStreamer DNS credentials page in the Account area.

Not only does ExpressVPN’s Smart DNS work, its router app is also one of the best we’ve tested. You can assign each of your devices to a specific group and then easily connect these groups to different server locations.

In combination with its Mediastreamer service, this makes ExpressVPN much easier to use on games consoles, smart TVs, and streaming devices that don’t support native VPN apps.

ExpressVPN Offers Excellent 24/7 Live Chat, PIA’s Is Much Improved

SUMMARY: Both ExpressVPN and PIA excel at customer support. Subscribers to both services get access to 24/7 live chat, an extensive online knowledgebase, and email support for complicated queries. However, PIA has only just reached this level, while ExpressVPN’s support has consistently excelled in all our years of testing.

ExpressVPN Customer Support Rating: 9.9
PIA Customer Support Rating: 9.4
Customer Support Winner: ExpressVPN

Use the table below to compare Private Internet Access and ExpressVPN based on their customer support offering:

Support Criteria ExpressVPN PIA
Live Chat 24/7 24/7
Email Support Yes Yes
Online Knowledgebase Yes Yes
Setup Guides Yes Yes

ExpressVPN and PIA’s customer support options.

Put simply, ExpressVPN’s customer support is exemplary, and has been for a long time. Every paying subscriber gets access to 24/7 live chat, email support, and a huge online knowledgebase of informational guides and setup tutorials.

ExpressVPN live chat conversation

Our conversation with ExpressVPN’s live chat support.

Private Internet Access fell short in this respect for a long time, but recent improvements mean it also offers 24/7 live chat even from within the app itself. In our tests, all of PIA’s support agents were able to answer our questions quickly and politely.

ExpressVPN and PIA are now close to neck-and-neck in terms of customer service, but ExpressVPN claims victory because its 24/7 live chat has never failed to be fast, well-informed, and friendly in all our years of testing.

ExpressVPN vs PIA: Which VPN Is Right for You?

Based on our test results, ExpressVPN is better than PIA, but not by a long way. Both VPNs will safely hide your IP address and encrypt your data, and they both consistently rank amongst the best VPNs we’ve tested.

ExpressVPN is more expensive, but it still represents great value thanks to its fast long-distance speeds, easy international streaming, and seamless security. PIA has an excellent zero-logs policy and lots of extra features, but it simply did not measure up to ExpressVPN in our streaming, torrenting, or usability testing.

Overall, we recommend choosing ExpressVPN if you:

  • Need an all-round VPN for improved privacy, security, and general use
  • Want to stream region-restricted content from overseas
  • Are traveling to China and need to bypass online censorship
  • Are a regular torrenter looking to secure your P2P activity

But Private Internet Access is the better choice if:

  • You need a VPN with port forwarding for seeding torrents or bypassing a NAT firewall
  • You’re on a tight budget, and can’t afford the price of an ExpressVPN’s subscription

About the Author


  • Simon Migliano Head of Research at Top10VPN

    Simon Migliano

    Simon Migliano is a recognized world expert in VPNs. He's tested hundreds of VPN services and his research has featured on the BBC, The New York Times and more. Read full bio