While some VPN services market themselves as being suitable for a plethora of different uses, My Expat Network is clear in it’s purpose: it’s a service intended to help expats living abroad watch TV services from their old home countries. Unusually, the service is clearly split into two alternative services, one for UK access and one for the USA.
My Expat Network doesn’t pretend to be “all things to all people,” and support leaves much to be desired. However, it gets the basics right and performance is decent.
While some people use VPN services for anonymity or to bypass censorship, it’s fair to say that probably the most common use is to access streaming media services from other countries. My Expat Network is quite upfront about this and markets its service purely as a means of accessing foreign TV services.
While it’s fair to say that there are other services that do more, and others that do the same in a slightly more refined way, this doesn’t change the fact that My Expat Network does what it sets out to do perfectly well. If it meets your requirements, it deserves a slot on your shortlist.
Packages & Pricing
As stated above, My Expat Network has a slightly unusual approach to selling its VPN package. Essentially, the UK and USA services are marketed and sold separately.
It’s important to point this out, as many competing services sell all-in services with access to VPN servers in multiple countries for one price.
Prices vary slightly depending on the service you choose:
The UK service, as shown above, costs £5 per month for PC / Mac access OR tablet / mobile access. Alternatively, you can pay £7 per month for access from any device.
The prices for the US service are slightly different:
The US service is cheaper (when taking into account exchange rates) at $5 per month for PC / Mac access or $6.50 per month for access from any device. There is no “mobile / tablet only” option for the USA service.
The difference is real life cost due to the exchange rate seems a little unfair. At current exchange rates, the total annual cost of the “all-in” US service works out to $78. The UK service works out to the equivalent of $128. This doesn’t seem quite fair.
My Expat Network don’t offer any free trials of their services, however they do state in their FAQs that a one-month money-back guarantee is available if there are problems with the service.
For the purposes of this review, we decided to subscribe to (and concentrate on) the UK-based service.
My Expat Network handle their customer support via an outsourced Zendesk platform. This is a ticket-based helpdesk system. Although 24/7/365 support isn’t advertised, the provider states that they will reply to queries on the “same day.”
We sent a query to the support department to test their response, but a reply only came about 36-hours later, not quite meeting the “same day” promise.
My Expat Network do offer one rather novel service: the ability to request that one of their staff members install the software for you via a remote connection. The service costs £25 and must be requested via the support ticketing system.
Being techies ourselves, we didn’t avail ourselves of this service, but it could be useful to those timid of technology. The price compares favourably to what it would cost to call in a private IT professional.
My Expat Network do not offer any telephone support.
Security and Privacy
We found it challenging to find detailed technical information on how My Expat Network actually works. We eventually found information on the protocols used when we clicked through to subscribe. The service uses OpenVPN on computers and L2TP/IPSec on mobile devices.
We browsed through the FAQs and “Instruction Guides” sections, but found nothing about encryption levels. We then turned to the “Helpdesk and Support” section:
Unfortunately, searching for words like “encryption” only revealed discussion of “encrypted tunnels” but didn’t tell us exact details, such as whether these are 128 or 256-bit.
So that we could test both desktop and mobile services, we decided to subscribe to the UK VPN Multi-use service at £7 per month. This allows you to use the service on up to three devices at once.
All of My Expat Network’s payment processing is handled by PayPal:
Clicking the “Subscribe Multi-Use” button took us directly to PayPal. Rather than paying by card, we set up a recurring monthly subscription using our existing PayPal funds.
As soon as our payment was complete, we were given a username and password (whilst still within PayPal’s system). We had previously been advised to note this down. We also received a confirmation email from PayPal.
Unusually, we weren’t redirected straight back to the providers web page. We instead went back to that browser tab manually, where we were able to enter our new username and password into a login box.
Installation and Configuration
We decided to use a Mac running OS X Mountain Lion for our testing, so chose the Mac OSX option on the login box (shown above).
When we clicked the “Login” button, we expected to be taken to a customer area, but instead a .ZIP installation file began to download. We referred to the Mac instructions to see what to do next.
Essentially, all we had to do was unzip the file we had downloaded and drag the application (.app) file to our Mac’s “Applications” folder. We then had to enter our system password to “change ownership” of the file.
Having done this, a new connectivity icon appeared in our Mac’s menu bar:
Getting to this point was relatively straightforward and well-documented. While the process could be made more user friendly for novices, we have seen worse combinations of setup steps and instructions.
We clicked on our new menu item and selected “Connect MyExpatNetwork.” Connection was almost instantaneous. After connecting, we checked our IP address, which was now located in the south of England. We browsed to a popular UK-based streaming media site and were instantly able to access region-locked content.
We had a quick look in the “VPN Details” menu. This primarily allowed us to make cosmetic changes to the VPN software and access log files – we were not able to access any significant encryption or protocol settings.
Connection speeds and reliability
As usual, we carried out some speed tests in order to assess the performance of the My Expat Network Service. First we used Speedtest.net to perform a test whilst disconnected to get a benchmark download speed figure:
This download speed of just under 5Mbps was fairly typical for this particular test location. Next, we connected using the VPN client software and ran the test again:
This was very pleasing result, with the download speed only dropping by under 0.5Mbps as a result of being connected to the VPN.
As we were only testing the UK-based My Expat Network service, this was the only desktop test we could complete.
My Expat Network only provide client software for Windows PCs and Apple Macs, but the service’s compatibility list is significantly more broad:
As well as also supporting Linux, My Expat Network provide manual setup devices for all a wide range of mobile devices including Windows Mobile, which most providers ignore. They also provide router-level support for those using Sabai branded VPN routers.
We decided to use the manual setup instructions to put My Expat Network to the test on an iPhone 4S.
My Expat Network on the iPhone
Setting up My Expat Network on an iOS device essentially involves manually configuring a new VPN connection via the device’s setup screens.
The process is reasonably well documented, with screenshot instructions. Once again, we’ve seen simpler setup procedures with better instructions, but seen far worse too.
We followed the process as described, at one point having to refer back to the username and password we were given during PayPal signup. After doing this, we had a new L2TP VPN connection to My Expat Network, which connected first time, albeit somewhat slowly.
We decided to run a couple of speedtests whilst connected via 3G – both to look at the performance overhead and to confirm that the service works over a cellular connection.
First we ran a test with the VPN disconnected:
Then we ran a second test whilst connected to My Expat Network’s UK-based L2TP server:
This test result wasn’t quite as impressive as what we’d seen on the Mac; the L2TP connection reduced our mobile download speed by about 1.5Mbps. This was an average but acceptable result.
Most VPN service providers offer a login-protected customer area. My Expat Network doesn’t do so and, in fact, even supplies password details via PayPal’s payment system.
The only logon-protected part of the site is used to trigger the download of the VPN client software, which is pre-configured for each customer and pre-populated with passwords and configuration settings.
While we would quite like to see an area that centralizes billing details, support requests and account information, the slightly unusual way that My Expat Network does things works well enough – and the pre-configured client software is a big plus point for novice users.
- Simple, focussed product
- Good download performance on our Mac
- Pre-configured client software
We weren’t so sure about
- Split UK and US services
- Cluttered website
- Support query not answered within promised timescale
- Pricing disparity between UK and US versions
My Expat Network isn’t the slickest VPN service we’ve come across, but it does its job pretty well. Everything works, technically-speaking, and performance is either very good (desktop) or the acceptable end of average (mobile).
It is a shame about the pricing disparity between the UK and USA versions of the solution, especially when many VPN products offer access to servers in both (and sometimes more) countries for one price. It was also disappointing to hear nothing but “radio silence” from the support department. Even so, this solution did nothing else to significantly annoy us while we reviewed it, so we walked away with a reasonably positive impression.