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ExpressVPN vs. Private Internet Access: Tested & Compared

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ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access are reliable VPN providers with must-have features, top-tier security, and fast speeds. Plus, as of 2022, they share the same parent company, Kape Technologies.

Does this mean their services are similar?

I put my VPN knowledge to use and found out by putting both VPNs through dozens of comparisons and tests, including speed, torrenting, streaming, and leak tests.

Keep reading to see my results!

Ready for the details? Here’s a sneak preview showcasing my main comparisons and which VPN performed better

  ExpressVPN Private Internet Access Winner
Privacy & Jurisdiction BVI and verified no-logging policy USA, open-source, and (unverified) no-logging policy ExpressVPN
Security & Encryption 256-bit AES encryption, Lightway UDP & TCP protocols, automatic obfuscation 256-bit AES encryption, WireGuard, combined Multi-Hop and obfuscation Tie
Countries & Servers 3,000+ servers in 94 countries 30,000+ servers in 84 countries (last known number) PIA
Speed & Performance Fastest test was with Lightway UDP on a Slovakia server with an 8.09 Mbps drop Fastest test was with WireGuard on a Slovakia server with a 10.19 Mbps drop ExpressVPN
Gaming 11ms ping and no lag with GTA 5, FF14, or CS:GO 11ms ping and only slight lag with GTA 5 – none with FF14 or CS:GO ExpressVPN
Torrenting Port forwarding for routers, P2P on every server, Lightway UDP for fast P2P speeds One-click port forwarding, P2P on every server, WireGuard and SOCKS5 for fast P2P speeds PIA
Media Streaming Unblocks Netflix (US, UK, and more), Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Disney Plus, HBO Max, Amazon Prime, and more Unblocks Netflix (US, UK, and more), Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Disney Plus, HBO Max, Amazon Prime, and more BUT is sometimes unreliable with US streaming services ExpressVPN
Multi-Platform Compatibility Apps for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android, Smart TVs, routers, browsers, and more – 5 simultaneous connections Apps for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android, Smart TVs, routers, browsers, and more – 10 simultaneous connections PIA
Customer Support Reliable 24/7 live chat, support center, guides, video tutorials, and more Reliable 24,7 live chat, support center, guides, some video tutorials, and more, though live chat is sometimes unhelpful ExpressVPN
Usability User-friendly apps for PC and mobile with a simple interface User-friendly apps for PC and mobile with advanced interface Tie
Best Deal Here Here PIA

ExpressVPN vs. Private Internet Access

In the next sections, you’ll find detailed summaries of my ExpressVPN and PIA comparisons – including essential info, unique features, test results, and the ultimate WINNER.

What VPN provider rises above the other? Find out now!

Privacy

Winner: ExpressVPN

When putting ExpressVPN and PIA on the “privacy pedestal” (as I call it), I focused on three things: jurisdiction, logging policies, and independent audits.

Both VPNs had promising results – but there was a clear winner.

Let’s dive deeper.

Jurisdiction

ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands, and Private Internet Access is based in the United States. Already, that’s a big discrepancy.

The British Virgin Islands is one of the best locations for a VPN to be based. It doesn’t have mandatory data retention laws, it’s privacy-friendly, and the only way authorities can get user logs is by taking ExpressVPN to the BVI High Court – a tedious process that doesn’t promise results.

Meanwhile, the United States is one of the founding countries of the 5/9/14 Eyes, an alliance that shares intelligence with its members (and by intelligence, I mean your data).

This is a bad look for PIA, as the only thing stopping authorities from demanding logs is PIA’s no-logs policy. Let’s discuss that next.

PIA’s Logging Policy

PIA claims to be a no-logs VPN. According to its Privacy Policy, it doesn’t collect or store:

  • Browsing History
  • Connected Content
  • User IPs
  • Connection Time Stamps
  • Bandwidth Logs
  • DNS Queries
  • “Or anything like that.”

PIA stores only your email address, payment data, and state/territory/zip code. The reasons for these logs make sense, too – the VPN provider needs them for account management, processing payments, and tax analysis.

Most VPNs collect the same data for the same reasons, so this isn’t a red flag.

But there is a potential problem. The VPN has yet to get a third-party audit confirming the validity of its no-logging policy despite a 2019 blog post that says it’s “reaching out to external auditors.”

So, why is this a potential problem?

Well, PIA was involved in two court cases in the past (here and here) where it was subpoenaed for user logs – and both times, the provider couldn’t hand anything over.

Throw in that PIA is open-source, and anyone can review its code for bugs and vulnerabilities, and there is some level of trust.

pia free and open source software

ExpressVPN’s Logging Policy

ExpressVPN, on the other hand, underwent two third-party audits.

The first was done by cybersecurity firm Cure53 and focused on ExpressVPN’s open-source browser extension(s). In the published results, Cure53 says no security threat with higher severity than a “medium” was discovered, and all security threats were secured immediately upon discovery.

expressvpn logging policy

The second audit was performed by PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) and focused on ExpressVPN’s no logs policy, privacy, and TrustedServer technology.

In the published results, PwC confirmed that ExpressVPN’s privacy features and TrustedServer technology are genuine.

And, more relevantly, it confirmed that ExpressVPN doesn’t store:

  • Browsing History
  • Traffic Destinations
  • Data Content
  • DNS Queries
  • Connection Logs (including your IP, the VPN’s IP, connection timestamps, or session duration)
expressvpn privacy policy

The info ExpressVPN does collect is the same as PIA – namely, your email address and payment details.

Overall, this detailed comparison proves that ExpressVPN is more privacy-friendly than PIA, thanks to its BVI jurisdiction and verified no-logs policy.

  Winner: ExpressVPN.

ExpressVPN is based in the privacy-friendly BVI and has a verified no-logs policy.

Follow-Up: PIA is still privacy-friendly, thanks to its open-source code and two court cases proving its no-logs claims.
Criteria: ExpressVPN Private Internet Access
Does It Store Traffic Logs? No No
Does It Store DNS Queries? No No
Does It Store Connection Logs? No No
Does It Store Browsing History? No No
Is It Audited? Yes No
Where Is It Located? The British Virgin Islands United States

Security & Encryption

Winner: Tie

During my deep dive into ExpressVPN and PIA’s security, I was pleased to see both VPNs don’t cut corners. They offer the best of the best, from secure protocols and military-grade encryption to unique security features and robust leak protection.

Let’s discuss!

ExpressVPN Tunneling Protocols

ExpressVPN offers numerous tunneling protocols, including OpenVPN UDP and TCP, IKEv2, and L2TP/IPsec. OpenVPN TCP is the most secure.

OpenVPN UDP is the best choice if you want security and speed.

And IKEv2 is great for mobile use and still secure enough to keep your data protected.

expressvpn security

All in all, this is a great selection. The only protocol ExpressVPN is missing is WireGuard. But luckily, the VPN provider has a wild card to make up for this: Lightway.

expressvpn lightway

Lightway UDP & TCP

Lightway is ExpressVPN’s proprietary protocol. It’s basically a faster mock-up of OpenVPN that’s just as secure, complete with UDP and TCP options.

It’s actually the fastest protocol I’ve ever tested – even faster than WireGuard!

In fact, when I tested ExpressVPN and PIA’s speeds, I used Lightway and OpenVPN for the former and WireGuard and OpenVPN for the latter.

Lightway UDP gave me the smallest speed drop at 8.09 Mbps.

More info on that in a bit!

Back on the subject, Lightway uses wolfSSL, a reliable cryptography library that meets the superior FIPS 140-2 standard. It’s also open-source, and the code was analyzed by Cure53, which verified its security.

expressvpn lightway protocols

This makes it a reliable choice for speed and security.

Private Internet Access Tunneling Protocols

Private Internet Access offers fewer protocols than ExpressVPN – just OpenVPN (TCP and UDP) and WireGuard. But these are the best and most secure protocols in the industry, so that’s not a bad thing.

pia tunneling protocols

Specifically, I recommend WireGuard. It’s secure and faster than OpenVPN… and PIA isn’t a super-fast VPN, to begin with, so the speed is important here (keep reading for more info on speed).

But if security is your primary concern, OpenVPN UDP is pretty fast, too, and far more secure.

Security Features

PIA and ExpressVPN have numerous industry-standard and unique security features. First, both pair their tunneling protocols with 256-bit AES encryption.

That’s the highest level of encryption you’ll find!

Next, they each offer a form of obfuscation – ExpressVPN via its TrustedServer Technology and PIA via its combined Multi-Hop and obfuscation feature:

  • ExpressVPN’s TrustedServer Technology automatically obfuscates every server, no matter what protocol you use. This means your speeds aren’t negatively affected, unlike most obfuscation features.
  • PIA’s Multi-Hop feature combines a double VPN with obfuscation by rerouting your VPN traffic through a proxy (Shadowsocks or SOCKS5). This is another unique take on obfuscation that improves speed drops, thanks to its use of a proxy instead of a second VPN server.
pia’s multi-hop feature

ExpressVPN and PIA also have kill switches that I tested with great results (no internet after the VPNs disconnected).

And PIA has a malware and adblocking feature called MACE, so you’re safe from phishing sites, annoying ads, etc.

pia mace

ExpressVPN also has a malware and adblocking feature called Threat Manager, though it’s only available for macOS, iOS, and Linux.

This leaves out Android and Windows users, which is a huge disappointment.

ExpressVPN & PIA Leak Tests: IP, DNS, & WebRTC

There are four types of leaks you need to worry about: IP, DNS, WebRTC, and IPv6. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to an IPv6 address, so I couldn’t test for IPv6 leaks.

However, both VPNs claim to have IPv6 leak protection, and considering my leak-free results for everything else, I’m inclined to believe them.

Speaking of those results, let’s take a closer look!

ExpressVPN’s Leak Test Results

I used IPLeak.net to test ExpressVPN for IP, DNS, and WebRTC leaks.

My results showed nothing of my real IP or location – just my VPN server!

Take a look:

PIA’s Leak Test Results

Likewise, when I tested PIA using IPLeak, my results only showed the IP and location of the PIA server I was connected to. So – no leaks here, either!

  Winner: Tie. ExpressVPN and PIA offer secure protocols, robust security features, and reliable leak protection. Follow-Up: Although both VPNs differ slightly in their security offerings, my conclusion is that both are equally secure.
Criteria: ExpressVPN Private Internet Access
Protocols? Lightway, OpenVPN, IKEv2, and L2TP/IPsec OpenVPN and WireGuard
Security Features?  TrustedServer Technology (obfuscation), Threat Manager, and kill switch Multi-Hop (obfuscation and double VPN), MACE, and kill switch
Encryption? 256-bit AES 256-bit AES
Leak Protection? Passed IP, DNS, and WebRTC leak tests Passed IP, DNS, and WebRTC leak tests

Countries & Servers

Winner: Private Internet Access

ExpressVPN and PIA boast massive server networks, though each one excels in different areas. For PIA, it has 30,000+ servers, while ExpressVPN only has 3,000+.

Sometimes, that extra zero makes a huge difference – for example, if you’re a gamer and frequently switch servers to evade DDoS attacks.

But the tables turn when you look at country coverage. ExpressVPN has servers in 94 countries, while PIA has servers in 84. That’s not a huge discrepancy, but it’s enough to make you pause.

expressvpn server locations

Still, both VPNs offer servers worldwide, including in the Americas, Europe, Asia Pacific, the Middle East, and Africa. Here are some locations offered by both VPNs (this is not an extensive list):

  • The Americas: the US, Argentina, Mexico, Panama, and Canada.
  • Europe: the UK (ignoring Brexit), Germany, France, Italy, and the Netherlands.
  • Asia Pacific: Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, and New Zealand.
  • Middle East & Africa: Egypt, South Africa, and Israel.

But there is a catch. PIA’s last known server count is 30,000+.

There’s no way to confirm if the VPN still has this many servers.

When I contacted customer support to double-check, I was told PIA successfully migrated from its legacy servers to its next-gen servers.

I was also told that an updated server count would be added to the website when PIA is done acquiring new servers.

Given that ExpressVPN’s server network is small compared to other VPNs and considering how many servers PIA previously supported, I’m confident PIA’s new server count will still be more than ExpressVPN’s 3,000+.

With this in mind, PIA tentatively pulls ahead of ExpressVPN in this comparison.

The discrepancy between servers is far greater than coverage.

Plus, PIA has servers in the largest countries, so even if your location isn’t covered, you can still find a nearby server in a neighboring area.

  Winner: Private Internet Access. PIA has a larger server network than ExpressVPN and almost as much coverage. However, this decision is based on PIA’s last known count – 30,000+. Follow-Up: ExpressVPN only has 3,000+ servers – a small network compared to other industry-leading VPNs, including PIA. However, 94 countries are still impressive for coverage. 
Criteria: Private Internet Access ExpressVPN
Servers? 30,000+ (last known count) 3,000+
Server Coverage?  84 countries 94 countries
Server Locations? The Americas, Europe, Asia Pacific, the Middle East, and Africa The Americas, Europe, Asia Pacific, the Middle East, and Africa

Speed & Performance

Winner: ExpressVPN

Speed is an important part of any VPN, no matter your activity.

It’s essential for gaming, streaming, torrenting, and even lag-free private browsing.

Luckily, ExpressVPN and PIA are both fast VPNs.

But is one faster than the other? Let’s find out.

Is ExpressVPN or PIA Faster? Speed Tests & Results

I put ExpressVPN and PIA through several speed tests using numerous servers. Here are the details:

  • ExpressVPN:
    • I used Lightway and OpenVPN (UDP & TCP for both).
    • I used three servers: Slovakia, USA – New York, and UK – East London.
    • I tested each server with every protocol and marked the speed drop for comparison.
  • Private Internet Access
    • I used WireGuard and OpenVPN (UDP & TCP).
    • I used three servers: Slovakia, US East, and UK London.
    • I tested each server with every protocol and marked the speed drop for comparison.

Ready to see my results? Take a look!

ExpressVPN Speed Results

ExpressVPN was mostly faster than PIA. Specifically, Lightway UDP with the Slovakia server was the fastest in my tests. This wasn’t surprising, as I’m located in Slovakia.

expressvpn speed test

However, Lightway UDP was also faster than PIA’s WireGuard protocol.

Here’s a table of ExpressVPN’s results (my base speed was 89.12 Mbps):

Servers Lightway UDP Lightway TCP OpenVPN UDP OpenVPN TCP
Slovakia 8.09 Mbps drop 10.94 Mbps drop 11.45 Mbps drop 15.29 Mbps drop
USA – New York 14.11 Mbps drop 20.32 Mbps drop 18.63 Mbps drop 24.14 Mbps drop
UK – East London 10.12 Mbps drop 15.02 Mbps drop 15.78 Mbps drop 17.79 Mbps drop

Private Internet Access Speed Results

PIA was slower than ExpressVPN in most of my tests.

However, WireGuard was faster than my OpenVPN UDP and TCP tests with both VPNs.

Here are my PIA results (same base speed of 89.12 Mbps):

Servers WireGuard OpenVPN UDP OpenVPN TCP
Slovakia 10.19 Mbps drop 13.45 Mbps drop 19.83 Mbps drop
US East 17.29 Mbps drop 21.86 Mbps drop 26.10 Mbps drop
UK London 15.21 Mbps drop 16.41 Mbps drop 20.41 Mbps drop
  Winner: ExpressVPN. ExpressVPN's Lightway UDP protocol was faster than every PIA protocol, no matter the server. It also outperformed PIA in other speed tests – for example, Lightway TCP was faster than PIA's OpenVPN UDP and TCP. Follow-Up: Private Internet Access’s WireGuard protocol was faster than all speed tests performed with OpenVPN UDP and TCP, so PIA is still a fast VPN.
Criteria: ExpressVPN Private Internet Access
Fastest Protocol? Lightway UDP WireGuard
Smallest Drop for SK Server?   8.09 Mbps (Lightway UDP) 10.19 Mbps (WireGuard)
Smallest Drop for US Server? 14.11 Mbps (Lightway UDP) 17.29 Mbps (WireGuard)
Smallest Drop for UK Server? 10.12 Mbps (Lightway UDP) 15.21 Mbps (WireGuard)

Gaming: Latency & DDoS Protection

Winner: ExpressVPN

If you’re an avid gamer, latency and DDoS protection matter as much as speed. After all, you don’t want unbearable lag to be why you or your team loses!

Latency

First, to get an idea of how ExpressVPN and PIA perform during gaming sessions, I spent a few hours playing GTA 5, FF14, and CS:GO.

I used a Slovakia server for both VPNs, the Lightway UDP protocol for ExpressVPN, and the WireGuard protocol for PIA.

play games using expressvpn and pia

Imagine my happiness when both VPNs performed spectacularly!

My only complaint is that PIA gave me a very slight lag with GTA 5, whereas ExpressVPN gave me zero lag.

But it was so slight and infrequent that it didn’t ruin my gaming experience.

gta no lag on expressvpn

Still, to understand why PIA lagged, I performed latency tests with both VPNs. Let’s look at those next.

Latency Test Results

I had another small surprise when both VPNs had the same ping (11ms – my base ping was 9ms)!

This didn’t answer my question about PIA’s small lagging problem, though perhaps my speed test results from the previous section have something to do with it.

Either way, while both VPNs are good for gaming, ExpressVPN had a better performance. 

DDoS Protection

ExpressVPN and PIA both offer robust DDoS protection.

I didn’t experience any DDoS attacks while writing this article and testing the VPNs – not a surprise, as the tests took place over a few weeks.

However, I’ve used both VPNs for gaming many times over the years and never experienced DDoS attacks.

  Winner: ExpressVPN. ExpressVPN has DDoS protection and gave me an 11ms ping with its Lightway UDP protocol and caused zero lag during my GTA 5, CS:GO, and FF14 gaming sessions. Follow-Up: Private Internet Access also gave me an 11ms ping (and has DDoS protection). However, I experienced a slight lag during my GTA 5 session, forcing me to name ExpressVPN as the winner.
Criteria: ExpressVPN Private Internet Access
Ping? 11ms 11ms
Protocol? Lightway UDP WireGuard
Games Tested?   FF14, GTA 5, CS:GO FF14, GTA 5, CS:GO
Any Lag? No lag Very slight lag with GTA 5
DDoS Protection? Yes Yes

Torrenting (P2P Support & Speed)

Winner: Private Internet Access

If you don’t use a VPN while torrenting, you’re at risk of getting caught.

And getting caught means DMCA notices from copyright trolls…or worse. Some countries have consequences as harsh as jail time.

But if your VPN is unreliable or keeps logs, you’re still at risk.

And then, there’s the consideration that many VPNs limit what servers you can torrent on, don’t let you upload (seed), or don’t support torrenting at all.

Luckily, ExpressVPN and PIA are great P2P VPNs. Let’s discuss why.

ExpressVPN – Port Forwarding (Router) & Lightway UDP

As mentioned in previous sections, ExpressVPN’s Lightway UDP protocol guarantees super-fast P2P speeds. Plus, you can torrent on any server!

This already makes it an excellent choice for P2P activities.

But ExpressVPN has one more feature P2P users will appreciate: port forwarding. When you enable port forwarding, your torrent speeds can increase even more.

expressvpn port forwarding & lightway udp

There is a catch, though.

ExpressVPN only supports port forwarding with its router setup.

Since ExpressVPN doesn’t support every router, this means you’re limited on port forwarding possibilities.

So, with that out of the way, I’ll explain why PIA is my preferred choice for torrenting.

PIA – Port Forwarding, SOCKS5, & WireGuard

PIA offers not only the super-fast WireGuard protocol and P2P on every server but also one-click port forwarding and SOCKS5 proxy support.

This gives you plenty of options for increasing your P2P speeds – and enabling port forwarding is as easy as checking a box in PIA’s app!

pia network settings

This is very different from ExpressVPN, with its router setup and somewhat advanced configuration.

Meanwhile, PIA’s SOCKS5 setup is a little more complicated… but still easy!

And ExpressVPN doesn’t offer SOCKS5, so there’s another leg-up for PIA.

But PIA’s unique P2P features aren’t the only reason I recommend it over ExpressVPN. Let’s look at my torrent test results next for a better picture.

Torrent Test Results: Comparison

I used a Slovakia server for both VPNs, Lightway UDP for ExpressVPN, and WireGuard for PIA in my torrent tests. I tested PIA with and without port forwarding. Unfortunately, I couldn’t test ExpressVPN’s port forwarding feature, as my router is incompatible.

Here are my results:

  Average Download Speed Max Download Speed Download Completion Time
ExpressVPN 11.7 MiB/s 15.1 MiB/s 12 minutes
PIA (without port forwarding) 11.1 MiB/s 14.9 MiB/s 14 minutes
PIA (with port forwarding) 12.3 MiB/s 13.4 MiB/s 11 minutes

In the end, ExpressVPN was faster than PIA without port forwarding.

But PIA’s average speed was faster than ExpressVPN with port forwarding, ending with my download finishing faster!

  Winner: Private Internet Access. Thanks to its one-click port forwarding feature (combined with WireGuard), PIA has super-fast P2P speeds, making it the better choice for torrenting. You also have the option of using the SOCKS5 proxy. Follow-Up: ExpressVPN might not have one-click port forwarding, but you can still use port forwarding on its router setup. Otherwise, Lightway UDP still provides fast P2P speeds.
Criteria Private Internet Access ExpressVPN
P2P Support? All servers are P2P-friendly All servers are P2P-friendly
Average Download Speed? 12.3 MiB/s (WireGuard + port forwarding) 11.7 MiB/s (Lightway UDP)
Max Download Speed? 13.4 MiB/s (WireGuard + port forwarding) 15.1 MiB/s (Lightway UDP)
Download Completion Time? 11 minutes 12 minutes
Port Forwarding? Yes (one-click feature) Yes – but only with router setup
SOCKS5 Proxy? Yes No

Media Streaming

Winner: ExpressVPN

If you want a VPN that excels at unblocking geo-locked media streaming platforms (like Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, etc.), ExpressVPN and PIA are both worthy options. But one outperforms the other.

Let’s find out if it’s ExpressVPN or PIA!

ExpressVPN & Media Streaming

Spoiler Alert: it’s ExpressVPN.

expressvpn for streaming

ExpressVPN is easily the best VPN I’ve ever used for media streaming – and I’ve used a lot of VPNs! It unblocks pretty much any streaming service you can think of, including:

ExpressVPN Netflix Test

I tested every streaming service listed above and had immediate success with 5/6 of them.

I struggled with US Netflix, and that’s only thanks to the recent VPN blocks the platform implemented. So, I messaged ExpressVPN support and asked for a recommended server.

I’m happy to report that Netflix US worked!

watch netflix using expressvpn

I also unblocked Netflix UK, Netflix DE, and Netflix NL using the UK – East London, Germany – Frankfurt 1, and Netherlands – Amsterdam 1 servers.

MediaStreamer

ExpressVPN has another feature that will attract media streaming fanatics – MediaStreamer (aptly named). This feature lets you stream geo-blocked content on your Smart TV or game console by changing your DNS address to MediaStreamer’s DNS address.

configure mediastreamer

I’ve used MediaStreamer pretty religiously over the years.

The catch is it only works for US streaming platforms.

But you’ll get access to Hulu, HBO Max, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, and, most of the time, US Netflix!

PIA & Media Streaming

Private Internet Access is also great for streaming geo-blocked media, like Hulu, BBC iPlayer, and Roku, though slightly less reliable than ExpressVPN. When I have issues connecting to a streaming service, support tells me to use the same dedicated streaming servers. Let’s discuss those briefly.

Dedicated Streaming Servers

PIA has dedicated streaming servers in Denmark, Finland, Italy, Japan, Sweden, the UK, and the US. And most of the time, these servers work great! This is awesome, as ExpressVPN doesn’t have any dedicated streaming servers.

streaming servers

But sometimes, I struggle unblocking streaming services like Hulu and Netflix with PIA’s US streaming optimized servers (US East Streaming Optimized and US West Streaming Optimized).

This is disappointing, as even when I ask support for other server recommendations, they point me back to the same ones – very different from ExpressVPN support, who always have recommended servers that work.

This results in a lot of trial and error with PIA’s other US servers.

Fortunately, I usually find one that works. But there are times when I give up and try again a few days later.

SmartDNS

PIA’s SmartDNS feature is actually more flexible than ExpressVPN’s.

First, you can choose a specific device to use it with. These include Apple TV, Chromebook, Chromecast, PlayStation, XboxRoku TV, Other Smart TVs, and Other Devices.

smart dns setup

Then, you can choose from five locations: Germany, the UK, the US, the Netherlands, and Japan.

The catch is that PIA’s US SmartDNS has the same issues as its dedicated servers – it doesn’t always work (unlike ExpressVPN’s MediaStreamer).

Still, I had no issues with the other locations when I tested it with my PS4!

PIA Netflix Test

I tested PIA’s optimized streaming servers with their relevant Netflix libraries at the time of writing. I successfully unblocked all of them – even Netflix US (using the US East Streaming Optimized server)!

pia netflix test
  Winner: ExpressVPN. ExpressVPN unblocks every major streaming service I can think of. And though recommended servers for Netflix US vary, support always recommends newly working ones. ExpressVPN also has MediaStreamer for streaming on Smart TVs and game consoles. Follow-Up: Private Internet Access is also great for streaming, especially with its streaming-optimized servers. However, it's sometimes unreliable at unblocking US-based platforms, like Netflix US and Hulu, even with its SmartDNS. Support never recommends other servers, either.
Criteria: ExpressVPN Private Internet Access
Unblocks Streaming Services? Yes – Netflix (US, UK, etc.), Hulu, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, BBC iPlayer, and more. Yes, but sometimes unreliably – Netflix (US, UK, etc.), Hulu, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, BBC iPlayer, and more.
Best Netflix US Server? USA – Miami 2 US East Streaming optimized
Dedicated Streaming Servers? No Yes, in 7 countries
SmartDNS? Yes (MediaStreamer) Yes

Multi-Platform Compatibility

Winner: Private Internet Access
multi platform compatibility

I already knew ExpressVPN is compatible with dozens of devices, including user-friendly apps for many of them. But I was surprised to see that PIA offers support and apps for pretty much all the same devices.

Even a Linux app! That’s impressive!

vpn provider supported devices

So, overall, you can use both VPNs with:

  • Windows
  • macOS
  • Android
  • iOS
  • Linux
  • Routers
  • FireTV
  • Roku
  • Browsers
  • Smart TVs
  • Game consoles
  • And more

The only minor discrepancy I found is that ExpressVPN has browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge, while PIA covers Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.

Simultaneous Connections

This is where the big divergence happens. ExpressVPN’s simultaneous connections limit is 5 devices. PIA’s is 10. That’s double the amount ExpressVPN offers and ultimately why PIA wins this round.

So, if you want a VPN that your entire family can use at the same time, PIA is the one!

  Winner: Private Internet Access. While both VPNs cover the same devices, PIA’s simultaneous connections limit is 10, while ExpressVPN’s is 5. This makes PIA the best option for multi-platform compatibility.  Follow-Up: ExpressVPN has apps for many devices and supports many more devices, including browser extensions. However, its simultaneous connections limit is 5 – very low compared to PIA.
Criteria: Private Internet Access ExpressVPN
Apps? Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android, some Smart TVs, Firestick, routers, and more Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android, some Smart TVs, Firestick, routers, and more
Other Devices? Roku, game consoles, Smart TVs, and more Roku, game consoles, Smart TVs, and more
Browser Extensions? Chrome, Firefox, and Opera Chrome, Firefox, and Edge
Simultaneous Connections? 10 simultaneous connections 5 simultaneous connections

Customer Support

Winner: ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN and PIA both have 24/7 live chat.

As shown above, I contacted both teams throughout the writing of this comparison guide. Both connected to me within minutes (sometimes seconds) and gave me prompt and mostly-useful answers. 

Specifically, I asked ExpressVPN’s support for a recommended Netflix US server. This was their helpful (and accurate) reply:

expressvpn support

Meanwhile, I asked PIA’s support about a specific number for its server network.

While they couldn’t give me a number, they at least confirmed why and that a new number would eventually be posted.

Here’s that reply:

pia chat support 1

But I have a minor complaint about PIA’s support regarding their response to Netflix US access. As mentioned above, if you’re struggling to access it with the streaming optimized US servers, PIA can’t (or won’t?) give you other recommendations.

This is frustrating, as ExpressVPN’s support team always has a working server or is willing to find a working server.

And I’ve been given this response several times in the past by PIA’s support. However, I couldn’t get a screenshot for this comparison because, at the time of writing, Netflix US is working with PIA’s streaming-optimized US servers.

Moving on, both VPNs also offer extensive help centers with guides, FAQs, tutorials, and more!

Are There Video Tutorials?

ExpressVPN and PIA offer video tutorials, though ExpressVPN’s selection is more extensive. For example, you’ll find set-up tutorials for routers, Smart TVs, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android, and even PS5.

PIA, on the other hand, focuses mostly on privacy news.

But you’ll still find set-up tutorials for routers, Windows, macOS, and a couple of other devices.

  Winner: ExpressVPN. ExpressVPN just barely wins this round, thanks to its reliable 24/7 customer support that always has helpful answers, extensive help center,  and dozens of video tutorials. Follow-Up: Private Internet Access still boasts reliable 24/7 live chat support, though the answers aren’t always helpful. Still, you’ll find plenty of help articles and some video tutorials. 
Criteria ExpressVPN Private Internet Access
24/7 Live Chat? Yes – very reliable with helpful answers Yes – very reliable with mostly helpful answers
Help Center? Yes, with FAQs, set-up tutorials, troubleshooting guides, and more Yes, with FAQs, set-up tutorials, troubleshooting guides, and more
Video Tutorials? Yes, many of them Yes, but not a lot

User Experience & Usability

Winner: Tie

ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access have user-friendly apps for many devices (as discussed above). I used the Windows and Android apps for both VPNs in my usability tests.

Let’s discuss!

ExpressVPN Apps (Windows & Android)

ExpressVPN’s Windows app offers a simple interface with a “Smart Location” feature, making it easy to immediately connect to the fastest server.

The settings are easy to find and navigate. There’s also a split tunneling feature, so you can choose what programs your VPN connection affects.

My only complaint is that ExpressVPN’s server network can be misleading if you don’t know where to look, whereas PIA’s server list is easy to navigate (more on that in a second).

Specifically, when you open ExpressVPN’s server list, you’ll see “Recommended Locations.”

If you click on one with an arrow, like the United States, you’ll see only a handful of servers.

US servers

This is NOT an exhaustive list. If you switch to the “All Locations” tab and find the United States servers, you’ll see many other options.

But other than that, ExpressVPN’s Windows app is very user-friendly.

As for its Android app – I’d say it’s even more user-friendly.

The settings are one click away, you still have access to split tunneling, and you can even set up auto-connect for certain networks.

That said, the Android app still has the “Recommended Locationsissue.

PIA App (Windows & Android)

PIA’s Windows app is user-friendly, though its interface isn’t as simple as ExpressVPN’s.

This is mostly because there are many more tabs with options and customizable features. For example, in the “Protocols”  tab, if you select WireGuard, you can set a Local Port, Connection Timeout, and/or MTU.

pia protocols

OpenVPN has even more options! This is way more advanced than ExpressVPN, which might be a good or bad thing, depending on your technical knowledge.

openvpn

But something PIA shares in common with ExpressVPN is its split tunneling feature. This is easy to find and set up. Plus, you can add applications or IP addresses to the list.

pia split tunneling

PIA also has something similar to ExpressVPN’s “Smart Location” feature that automatically chooses the fastest server. But this is where my complaints start.

First, the “Choose automatically” feature isn’t an immediate option – you have to click into PIA’s server list to access it.

pia smart location

Second, PIA’s app is locked to the system tray on the Windows taskbar.

This means you have to click on the icon every time you want to access the servers or connect/disconnect.

This is super annoying, especially considering ExpressVPN’s app isn’t locked.

On the bright side, PIA’s settings have a moveable window.

But that also begs why PIA can’t do the same for its immediate interface.

Luckily, PIA’s Android app is way more user-friendly.

Unfortunately, you still don’t have immediate access to the automatic connect feature. But without the constant need to reopen the app, it’s easy to reselect it.

There are still a lot of settings and customizable options, too, but the overall interface is easy to use. You can also still access split tunneling, though it’s a bit hidden (under “Per App Settings”), whereas ExpressVPN’s is easy to find.

All in all, PIA and ExpressVPN are both user-friendly, though one VPN might appeal to you more than the other, depending on your technical knowledge.

  Winner: Tie. ExpressVPN is ideal for VPN users with little technical knowledge who want an easy-to-use interface. The only drawback is the “Recommended Locations”  issue. Follow-Up: Private Internet Access is ideal for VPN users with a lot of technical knowledge who like customizing their VPN settings for the best user experience. The downside is that the Windows app is locked to the taskbar system tray.  
Criteria ExpressVPN Private Internet Access
User-Friendly App?  Yes, with a simple interface for VPN novices. Yes, with many customizable options for advanced VPN users.
Drawbacks?  “Recommended Locations” don’t list every server. Windows app is locked to the taskbar system tray.
Split Tunneling? Yes Yes
Easy Connect Feature? Yes – Smart Location Yes

Pricing, Plans, & Deals

Winner: Private Internet Access

The last criteria up for comparison is ExpressVPN and PIA’s pricing, plans, and deals. I’ll discuss subscription fees, payment methods, refund policies, and best discounts.

Spoiler: one VPN is more affordable!

Let’s dive in!

ExpressVPN Plans & Payments

ExpressVPN excels in many areas. Unfortunately, price isn’t one of them.

In fact, ExpressVPN is really expensive, especially compared to PIA.

Even its long-term plans offer little savings.

You can choose between monthly, semi-annual, and annual plans:

If you want to save the most, opt for the 12-month plan. You can pay with most debit and credit cards, prepaid cards, online transfers, PayPal, Bitcoin, and more.

expressvpn payment method

PIA Plans & Payments

PIA is way more affordable than ExpressVPN, no matter the plan.

There are 1-month, 1-year, and 3-year options. The best savings are with the 3-year deal, though even PIA’s 1-year plan is immensely cheaper than ExpressVPN’s.

PIA also has many payment options, including debit and credit cards, PayPal, Amazon Pay, and several cryptocurrencies.

pia payment method

PIA also has affordable add-ons you can purchase: Antivirus and/or a Dedicated IP. These also have several subscription plans, with big savings on long-term plans.

pia add ons

Free Trials & Money-Back Guarantees

Both VPNs offer 30-day money-back guarantees. This means you can try either service risk-free for 30 days and, if you’re unsatisfied, get a full refund.

Both VPNs also offer a 7-day free trial if you sign-up via the Google Play Store (Android) or App Store (iOS).

However, these aren’t covered by the refund policy– so if you purchase the VPN after and decide you’re not satisfied, you can’t go through PIA or ExpressVPN to get a refund.

ExpressVPN & PIA Discounts

Instead, I recommend using our exclusive ExpressVPN and PIA discounts.

You’ll get MAJOR savings on both VPNs and be covered by the 30-day money-back guarantees!

Get your ExpressVPN discount here.

Get your PIA discount here.

  Winner: Private Internet Access. Not only is every PIA plan more affordable than ExpressVPN’s plans, but PIA also offers affordable add-ons – an Antivirus and a Dedicated IP. PIA also supports many payment methods, including several cryptocurrencies.  Follow-Up: ExpressVPN is a premium VPN provider and, thus, charges premium fees. You won't get much savings on long-term plans, though there are still many payment methods, including Bitcoin and PayPal.
Criteria Private Internet Access ExpressVPN
Plans?   1-month, 1-year, and 3-year plans 1-month, 6-month, and 1-year plans
Most Savings?   3-year plan 1-year plan
Payment Methods?  Credit and debit cards, PayPal, Amazon Pay, several cryptocurrencies, and more Credit and debit cards, PayPal, online transfers, prepaid cards, Bitcoin, and more
Refund Policy? 30-day money-back guarantee 30-day money-back guarantee
Free Trial? 7-day free trial on Google Play Store and App Store (not covered by refund policy) 7-day free trial on Google Play Store and App Store (not covered by refund policy)
Add-Ons? Dedicated IP and Antivirus No
Best Deal? Here Here

FAQs

ExpressVPN is faster than PIA if you use its Lightway UDP protocol. However, PIA + WireGuard is faster than ExpressVPN’s OpenVPN protocols. Just keep in mind that speed can vary, depending on your distance from the server.

PIA has better deals than ExpressVPN and more affordable prices in general. Not only is its 1-year plan half the price of ExpressVPN’s, but its 3-year plan is also cheaper than ExpressVPN’s 1-year plan.

Throw in exclusive discounts, and PIA has far better deals.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I’m not confident saying one VPN is better than the other on a grand scale.

Instead, I recommend ExpressVPN for users who prioritize media streaming, simple apps, and activities that require lightning-fast speeds, like gaming.

Meanwhile, if you want a VPN that excels at torrenting, has many customizable options in its apps, and offers amazing deals at affordable prices, PIA is the way to go.

Either way, both VPNs have top-tier security, reliable customer support, and apps for many devices.

Ready to try one yourself? Get your ExpressVPN discount here or your PIA discount here.

THE WINNER IS EXPRESSVPN

Protect private web traffic from snooping, interference, and censorship. All plans are covered by a no-hassle 100% money-back guarantee for your first 30 days of service.

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