Expat Surfer is a simple VPN service with a simple purpose: allowing expats to obtain a UK based IP address. This can then be used to access UK-specific content or for anonymity or extra security whilst using WiFi hotspots. There are undoubtedly other services out there that offer more countries and protocols for a similar (or lower) price, so Expat Surfer needs to do something special to attract a customer base. Sadly, it doesn’t quite manage it.
Expat Surfer is the polar opposite of many VPN services, which seek to offer a plethora of connectivity options across a wide range of operating systems and devices. Expat Surfer is a UK VPN service for Windows and Mac. That’s what’s promised, and that’s what you get. If this was coupled with great performance and a low price, we’d be recommending it, despite it’s extremely limited list of features. Sadly the price is too high and the performance is inconsistent too.
Packages & Pricing
Expat Surfer offer a single VPN package, available on a monthly or annual basis. As with most services, you save a little money if you are willing to commit to the service for a year at a time.
The price seems fairly average, but there are a few reasons why it is, in actual fact, reasonably expensive.
Firstly, the prices are in Pounds Sterling, where many services are priced in dollars. Based on the exchange rate at the time of writing, this converts to $8.22 per month or approximately $107 per year.
Secondly, once you come to order a service, you are told that VAT (Value Added Tax) at 17.5% must be added on if you are an EU resident, increasing the price further. Worryingly, the 17.5% rate quoted is out of date, as the UK rate was increased to 20% as far back as 2011 – this rang some alarm bells as to how regularly the Expat Surfer site is updated. However, when we came to ordering the service, VAT was, in fact, added on at the correct rate of 20%.
The final thing to take into account when considering pricing is that this is a service that only provides a UK IP. Many services provide multiple country options for a single subscription cost.
As shown above, Expat Surfer do offer a 2-day free trial, but you must provide credit card payment details up-front. The free trial is unavailable to those who choose to pay via PayPal.
Expat Surfer also state that they offer no refunds whatsoever, due to “misuse of credit cards.” This is a little worrying, as most services offer at least some level of guarantee.
When we browsed to Expat Surfer’s contact page, we encountered two pieces of information that are usually hard (or impossible) to find: a phone number for the company and an address!
There is also an email address for enquiries, and a contact form on the website.
No mention is made of 24/7 support, or a specific response time to queries. We sent a general query, but didn’t receive any response during the time we carried out and wrote up our review.
Security and Privacy
It was fairly easy for us to gain answers to our questions related to security and privacy.
The FAQ section revealed that the only protocol on offer is the older PPTP standard. Expat Surfer don’t offer either L2TP or OpenVPN, which are both newer standards which many companies do provide.
All encryption is 128-bit, as revealed on the provider’s home page.
Some users of VPN services are concerned with how their usage is monitored. Expat Surfer explains in the FAQ section that there is “no way” that staff can monitor how you are using the service, however it is unclear whether logs are maintained. We sent a support query on this topic but didn’t receive any response.
As we prefer to pay by PayPal for our review accounts, we were unable to avail ourselves of the two-day free trial. As such, we subscribed to the monthly package at £6.99. Once the VAT was added on, this became £8.39.
We were required to provide username and password details when registering, and were asked if we resided in the EU. Other than this, we had to provide a minimum of personal details.
After selecting the PayPal payment method and clicking “submit,” we were taken to a PayPal checkout page.
Clicking the “Check out with PayPal” button redirected us to PayPal. We authorised the payment, and were immediately sent back to the Expat Surfer website. About 15-minutes later, a welcome email arrived.
Installation and Configuration
We used an Apple Mac laptop to test the service. This was running the latest version of OS X – Mountain Lion 10.8.
We found the setup instructions via a link in our welcome email. We were a little disappointed to find that the instructions only referred to OS X 10.5 and 10.6, omitting the two most recent versions of the operating system. We also noticed, at the same time, an absence of instructions for Windows 8.
As you can see from the screenshot above, instructions are also offered for the iPad, even thought iPad compatibility is not mentioned as a feature on the main website pages.
We clicked on the instructions for OS X 10.6, as these were closest to the operating system we were using.
The instructions we found were of a good standard, with both a “quick setup” section for experts and a more detailed set of instructions, with screenshots, for the less technical.
Even though we were using a more up to date version of OS X, the instructions were easy enough to follow as minimal changes have been made to the Mac’s “System Preferences” menus in recent iterations of the operating system.
We were quickly able to create a new PPTP VPN connection using the instructions provided, along with our passwords, and the server address provided in our welcome email.
We hit “Connect” and our connection worked first time, giving us an IP address in the UK. We were then able to access region locked British content.
Connection Speeds and reliability
The speed tests we ran on Expat Surfer were interesting, to say the least.
First we ran a speed test prior to connecting the VPN, which produced a normal benchmark speed of just under 7Mbps from our testing location.
We then connected the VPN, and ran another test, resulting in the following result – which was highly disappointing:
We couldn’t quite believe the download speed was so poor, so we disconnected and reconnected and tried the speed test again.
This time the speed was far more reasonable, albeit still over 2Mbps slower than the disconnected benchmark.
Curious, we continued to run repeated tests. One of which produced the following result:
Had speeds like the one above been consistent, we would have been delighted. However, with our next test we were, once again, down to speeds in the 1Mbps range.
Unfortunately, we had to conclude that the performance of Expat Surfer’s service is far too inconsistent. Whether this is due to an underspecified or overloaded VPN server, we cannot confirm, but it’s hard to recommend a service that can provide both some of the best and some of the worst speeds we’ve seen, all in a single testing session!
Expat Surfer’s compatibility list is short and only includes support for Windows and Mac OS. In addition, as mentioned above, the setup instructions have not been updated to include the latest versions of these platforms (OS X Lion and Mountain Lion, and Windows 8).
As shown below, there is also a setup guide for iPad, even though compatibility with the device isn’t highlighted anywhere else on the site.
It’s fair to assume that both the iPhone and iPod touch would also work with the service, as they use the same iOS operating system, but we didn’t put this to the test. As all the service essentially provides is access to a PPTP server, it’s quite possible that techies could get it working on other platforms and devices too, but these are not configurations the provider advertises support for.
Expat Surfer’s customer area is as basic as can be:
All you can do from here is change your password or account email address and refer to your past payment history.
Simple, basic service
We weren’t so sure about
Out of date instructions that don’t cover recent operating systems
No response to our support query during the review
Highly inconsistent performance
Overpriced for such a simple service
“No refunds” policy
We have no objection to pared-down VPN services. After all, some people don’t need all the “bells and whistles” and therefore benefit from the simplicity of a reduced feature-set.
However, when a service is as “bare bones” as this, it needs, at the very least, to perform consistently well, and come at a price that corresponds with its reduced abilities. Sadly, Expat Surfer doesn’t manage to tick either of these boxes.
There are, simply, a lot of better options out there – which are cheaper, faster and more up to date, leaving nothing left here to really recommend.