If you're tired of green-on-black hackertext and overall "edginess" in your security products, you're not alone. TunnelBear VPN heads the opposite direction with bright colors, excellent design, and a cadre of cute but powerful bears. It's bursting with charm, yet it also delivers excellent security tools at a good price. It's an VPN that you'll actually enjoy using and an Editors' Choice winner, too.
What Is a VPN?
When your VPN is active, your web traffic travels through an encrypted tunnel to a server managed by the VPN service. That keeps your information safe from data thieves and other ne'er-do-wells lurking on public networks. It also helps protect against ISPs selling anonymized metadata about your web habits. When your traffic exits to the web through the VPN server, you appear to have an IP address at that server's location. This protects your real identity as you browse the web.
TunnelBear Pricing and Features
TunnelBear is one of the few providers I've reviewed that offers a truly free VPN service. However, the free TunnelBear tier restricts you to only 500MB of data per month. You can earn more data by Tweeting about the company, which can raise your limit to a total of 1GB for one month. The free version of HotSpot Shield limits you to 500MB per day, while the ProtonVPN free subscription has no data limit.
If you decide to pay for TunnelBear, it won't break the bank. You can snag the Unlimited plan for $9.99 per month or $59.88 per year. That's slightly below average $10.10 per month for a VPN, and the quality of service makes it an even better value. Hotspot Shield, by comparison, costs $12.99 per month, while Mullvad is a mere $5.54 per month.
There is an added cost to that low price tag: TunnelBear doesn't offer much beyond VPN protection. NordVPN and ProtonVPN are among the few VPNs that offer mulithop connections, which use a second VPN server for extra security. Several offer split tunneling, which allows you to designate which apps'; traffic travels inside or outside the VPN connection. TunnelBear has none of these.
You can pay for TunnelBear using major credit cards or anonymous Bitcoin transactions. Other VPN services such as TorGuard go even further, accepting prepaid gift cards from merchants like Starbucks and Subway. The next time you receive one of these as a gift, consider putting it toward a VPN instead of a venti mocha.
With either a free or a paid account, you can use up to five devices on a single TunnelBear account. That's average for VPNs, but many services offer more. Some services, such as TorGuard, will let you purchase additional device connections using a sliding scale. Avira Phantom VPN, Encrypt.me VPN, Ghostery Midnight, Surfshark VPN, and Windscribe VPN are notable for placing no limit on the number of simultaneous connections. (Note that Encrypt.me is owned by J2 Global, which owns PCMag's publisher Ziff Davis.)
Previously, TunnelBear forbade the use of its services for P2P file sharing or BitTorrenting. Thankfully, those days are gone. You can now use it to torrent over VPN to your heart's content.
TunnelBear secures your connection with the OpenVPN protocol for Android, macOS, and Windows. This is my preferred protocol, as it is newer, faster, more secure, and open source.
The TunnelBear iPhone app, meanwhile, uses the IKEv2 protocol, which is a good option for that platform. IKEv2 is also available for the Windows and macOS clients. You can't change which protocol TunnelBear uses in its app, but that's fine for most users.
Some VPNs, including NordVPN and Mullvad, have begun deploying the next-generation WireGuard VPN protocol. While also open-source, this super-fast VPN protocol is still experimental. The fact that TunnelBear doesn't offer it isn't a problem. Yet.
Servers and Server Locations
The more server locations a service has, the more options you have for spoofing your location. A lot of geographic diversity also means you are more likely to find a close-by server when traveling abroad, which will likely be faster and more resilient than a distant one would be.
TunnelBear offers servers in 23 locations. This collection covers the essentials, but is on the low side. TunnelBear's offering completely ignores Africa, the Middle East, and much of South America, an omission that is, sadly, not unusual for VPN companies. ExpressVPN covers 94 countries and CyberGhost comes close behind with servers in 90 countries.
Total server count isn't really a good metric for quality. A large company with lots of subscribers will surely have more servers, and companies of all sizes will spin servers up and down as needed. That said, more options is always a good thing.
At last count, TunnelBear has around 1,800 servers across the globe. That's a robust offering, besting the majority of VPN services, but it's not among the largest collection of servers. ExpressVPN, Hotspot Shield VPN, Private Internet Access VPN, and TorGuard VPN all offer more than 3,000 servers, and both CyberGhost and NordVPN boast over 5,000 servers.
Virtual servers are software-defined servers, which means several virtual servers can run on a single physical server. It also means that a virtual server can be configured to behave like it's located in one country, when it's actually in another. Sometimes, this is a good thing, because a server can be in a secure location while providing coverage to a nearby unsafe location. It becomes an issue when companies aren't transparent about where your data is headed.
TunnelBear told me that it has dedicated servers in all of its locations only uses virtual servers to handle unexpected demand. Those virtual servers are located in the country they claim to be. If you're using TunnelBear, rest assured that your data is exactly where it's supposed to be.
Your Privacy With TunnelBear
Beyond its cute and powerful bears, TunnelBear's greatest strength is its stance on privacy. It has one of the best privacy policies I have seen, explaining in great detail and with plain language, exactly what it collects and why. It also includes discussion sections, where the company explains how it arrived at a particular decision. For example, a pull-out section talks about how the company used to gather users' names to customize communications, but decided that this information didn't need to be gathered or stored and that its loss could put customers at risk. Other VPN companies should take note of this approach.
Notably, TunnelBear says that it will not disclose, sell, or trade personal information with third-party companies. TunnelBear does use third parties for payment processing, but this is not unusual. Additionally, a company representative confirmed to me that TunnelBear's only source of revenue is subscriptions—not data mining or ad retargeting. The company says it does not collect information about user activity, nor does it store originating IP addresses, timestamps, or DNS queries.
For free subscribers, it does record the overall bandwidth in order to enforce its data cap. This is reset to zero at the end of each month.
TunnelBear has the notable distinction of having completed not just one, but three independent code audits and publicly released the results of those audits. That's great, and I'm pleased to see that TunnelBear is committed to an annual public review process. A company representative described these audits to me as, "security audits of our whole stack, which includes our backend servers, our VPN servers and VPN clients."
Additionally, TunnelBear says that it has taken steps to limit the damage a successful attack on its server infrastructure might cause. The servers themselves contain no identifiable information about users, and the drives are encrypted. Some companies now run their servers "RAM only," and TunnelBear should consider doing the same. TunnelBear says it would "expedite the communication of any breach or risks" to its customers, should they occur.
Security is really an issue of trust. Even if a company does everything right, it doesn't matter much if you, the customer, don't trust them. I recommend that consumers consider this information, and choose a service with which they feel comfortable.
Hands On With TunnelBear
When I went to sign up for a VPN for myself, I showed my partner all of the top-rated services I had reviewed. I explained what I thought made the best the best, and then asked which my partner would actually use on a daily basis. They didn't miss a beat, and picked TunnelBear. We have used it ever since.
TunnelBear currently offers clients on Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows. For this review, I tested the Windows client on an Intel NUC Kit NUC8i7BEH (Bean Canyon) desktop running the latest version of Windows 10.
The TunnelBear client is quite charming, dressed in bold yellow. The app has a tongue-in-cheek attitude that it brings to every aspect of its app. It's cute and colorful, without ever being overbearing or cloying. For example, whenever you connect to a VPN server, a notification appears bearing a bear with a hat representative of that country.
The app is built around a central map of the world displaying the company's server locations, shown as Mario-esque pipes. Select your desired location from the menu above, switch protection on, and you're treated to a surprisingly smooth animation of a bear tunneling away from your current location. All the TunnelBear apps use the same design, so you'll have a familiar experience no matter where you go with TunnelBear.
As much as I love the TunnelBear apps, they have remained fairly static for several years. It would be nice to see them get a tune-up, without losing their panache in the process.
Unlike many Windows VPN apps, TunnelBear includes a minimized mode. This is more functional than the Taskbar shortcut but less graphical than the full-blown app.
TunnelBear doesn't have many locations to choose from, but a location search box would be an excellent addition—as would a list of servers, with some basic information such as load and ping time. NordVPN and others provide detailed information about specific servers, which can be useful when you need a connection in a very specific location.
The TunnelBear app does include some advanced features, such as Trusted Networks, which is basically a whitelist of Wi-Fi networks you trust. Another important feature is Vigilant Mode. This prevents data from slipping through your internet connection during the seconds it takes TunnelBear to reconnect should you become disconnected. The GhostBear feature aims to circumvent VPN blocking by disguising VPN traffic as normal HTTPS traffic. A TunnelBear representative told me that the company advises that users switch on GhostBear only when absolutely necessary, as it can reduce performance. It's an impressive offering, but not unique. Many other companies offer similar custom tools designed to circumvent censorship.
TunnelBear does not offer split tunneling in its Windows app, which would allow you to designate which apps send traffic through the VPN tunnel and which app's traffic should travel in the clear. It's useful for accessing LAN traffic, and for keeping certain low-risk activities like gaming or video streaming speedy and unblocked by the VPN. ExpressVPN and a handful of other services offer this feature.
One thing you don't want your VPN doing is leaking your personal information. When I test VPNs, I check to see if my IP address changes and the name of my ISP is hidden, and I use the DNS Leak Test to see if DNS information is, well, leaking. TunnelBear passed all these tests easily, but its possible other servers could be misconfigured.
TunnelBear and Netflix
While no one can tell you're a dog online (or a bear, for that matter), streaming companies like Netflix can tell where you live and will block you if you're spoofing your location. That's because companies often have to honor geographic restrictions with the content they provide. Unfortunately, when I tried to stream a movie from Netflix while connected to a TunnelBear VPN server, I was blocked. That was true when I tested the service, but your mileage may vary—as is always the case when your try to use a VPN with Netflix.
Most VPN companies that include ad blocking tend to do so on the network level, purporting to block the ads before they even reach your computer. TunnelBear doesn't do this. Instead, the company has launched a stand-alone browser plug-in called Blocker. This retains TunnelBear's trademark bears and charm, and is surprisingly well polished for a Chrome plugin.
I actually prefer this approach, since it gives users far more control over what is blocked and when. That's especially important because blockers can break elements in sites, making them virtually unusable. Sometimes, enduring a few ads is the price to pay to see a working site.
Similarly, TunnelBear launched a password manager called RememBear. Currently, the company offers RememBear clients for Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows. It's free to use on one device, but if you want the convenience of syncing across all your devices, you'll have to pay $36 per year (or $60 every two years). We found it to be a good service that handles the basics in a fun, whimsical fashion, with plenty of animated bears. However, it lacks advanced password-management features such as two-factor authentication, secure sharing, and password inheritance.
TunnelBear also offers browser plugins for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera, which function as proxies to reroute your traffic through a TunnelBear server. This encrypts your browser traffic—and only your browser traffic—differently than the VPN app. It's useful because it offers protection for just about any device that can run a browser. It's not, however, a substitute for the service's complete VPN protection, which is what I test.
No matter the VPN you choose, you'll see an impact on your web-browsing experience. That's because you're adding some extra hoops for your traffic to jump through. Speeds are a perennial concern for consumers, but I try and discourage anyone from using speed results alone as a benchmark for choosing a VPN service. At PCMag, we use the Ookla speedtest tool to gauge the impact a VPN has on performance. (Note that Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, which also owns PCMag.) We have a whole feature on How We Test VPNs, so do read it for more on our methodology and the limits of our tests.
TunnelBear had a mixed showing in my tests. It reduced upload speed test results by 62.9 percent, which is better than the median for that category. It can't claim the same for download speed test results, which it decreased by 74.7 percent, or latency, which it increased by 96.5 percent. The high latency is not too surprising since TunnelBear has only a few US servers, meaning your data will likely travel further to stay within the US. Testing from New York, my traffic was sometimes routed to a Canadian server, probably because it was closer.
You can see how TunnelBear compares in the chart below with the top nine performers among the over 40 services we tested. These results are presented in descending order by download result.
Hotspot Shield VPN currently holds the title of fastest VPN, but Surfshark isn't far behind with a truly stunning upload speed test score. As I said, however, I discourage people from focusing too much on speed, as it is difficult to measure and not nearly as important as a VPN's features or overall value. Keep in mind, too, that the performance you experience will likely differ greatly from mine.
This VPN Is Just Right
What TunnelBear does right is make a security product you'll actually use. It's not a perfect product, but it's a product that perfectly fits into your life. It's an Editors' Choice winner, along with ProtonVPN.
Excellent privacy policies
Annual independent audits
Friendly, approachable design
Browser extensions, including stand-alone ad blocker
Good speed test results
Lack of geographic diversity in server locations
Few advanced features
The Bottom Line
If you're tired of edgy security products, let the strong-but-cute bears of TunnelBear VPN defend your web traffic. Easy to use and easily affordable, it's an Editors' Choice winner.
TunnelBear doesn't have the largest network, or the most apps, or the longest of feature lists. But it does a good job of simplifying VPNs for novice users, there's an excellent privacy and no-logging policy, and we have to applaud any VPN provider which gets its software and systems independently audited. TunnelBear is not for experts, but it's a must-try for casual or less demanding users.
- Clear no-logging policy
- Bitcoin support for one-year plans
- Annual independent security audits
- 23 locations only
- Short on features
- Doesn't unblock Netflix, iPlayer or very much else
- No money-back guarantee
VPNs can seem like a complicated technology, packed with low-level geeky details that hardly anyone understands, but check the TunnelBear site and you'll quickly realize this service does things differently.
The Canadian-based, McAfee-owned company doesn't drown you in jargon. There's little talk of protocols, no mention of encryption types, barely any technical terms at all. Instead the site focuses on the fundamentals, such as clearly explaining why you might want to use a VPN in the first place.
This approach won't work for everyone. If you're an experienced user and want to get down to the technical details of the service, for instance, you're likely to be disappointed. For example, the Support site returns one article if you search for DNS, one for OpenVPN, and nothing at all for MTU. Although the site is easy to follow, there's not much depth - meaning that TunnelBear still comes up a little short of the likes of ExpressVPN and NordVPN.
The service has a relatively small network, with locations in 23 countries only covering North America, Europe, Brazil, Mexico, Japan, India, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, and – a new addition since the last review – Finland.
Setup is easy on all the main platforms, thanks to custom clients for iOS, Android, Mac and Windows, as well as extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera. But again, there's not a lot for demanding users, with no help for getting the service working on routers, games consoles, Chromebooks, Linux, with OpenVPN, or anything else.
Still, if you're happy with the regular apps, TunnelBear's support for up to five simultaneous connections means you'll be able to have most of your devices running at the same time.
TunnelBear's free account provides a horribly limited 500MB of traffic a month, barely enough to run even a single simple speed test.
Its monthly plan gives you unlimited data for a reasonable $9.99 a month, though. The price drops to an effective $4.99 a month on the annual plan, or $3.33 if you sign up for three years.
The three-year plan also comes with full use of the RememBear Password Manager at no extra cost. That's normally priced at $2.50 a month on its longest two-year plan.
If you'll use RememBear, that's a great deal, but if you only need the VPN, there are much cheaper providers around. As we write, Private Internet Access has a one-year plan plus two months free for $2.85 a month, while Surfshark’s two-year plan is a monthly $1.99.
If you do sign up for TunnelBear, keep in mind that there's no money-back guarantee. The small print says: "While all amounts paid are non-refundable, certain refund requests for subscriptions may be considered by TunnelBear on a case-by-case basis." Presumably you might get a refund if you've had really bad service, but it's entirely up to the company to decide what should happen. Not quite as friendly as the cuddly cartoon bears suggest, then.
There's a small plus in TunnelBear's Bitcoin support. This is limited, though – it's available with the one-year plan only, not the monthly or three-year options – and elsewhere, there's no PayPal support; it's strictly card-only.
TunnelBear even went so far as to hire independent specialists to run a public security audit on its site and services (Image credit: TunnelBear)
Privacy and logging
The logging policy is clearly described, with TunnelBear explaining that it does not collect "IP addresses visiting our website", "IP addresses upon service connection", "DNS Queries while connected", or "Any information about the applications, services or websites our users use while connected to our Service." As a result, the company says, it can't link any of its users to an action carried out by a specific IP address. Sounds good to us.
The service does record what it calls 'operational data', updating this when you connect to the network. That includes the OS version of your device, TunnelBear app version, whether you've been active this month and the bandwidth you've used. Not quite zero logging, then, but it's far less than we've seen elsewhere, and there's nothing here that anyone could use to begin to link you to a specific online action.
While that looks great, there's normally no way to tell whether you should trust what a VPN provider is telling you. But TunnelBear is a little different. The company now has independent specialists Cure53 run an annual public security audit covering many different areas of the service.
The audit results weren't perfect (we would have been suspicious if they were), and the report detailed several vulnerabilities, with two of them critical. That's no surprise when a service puts itself under this level of scrutiny, though, and all issues are now fixed.
Overall, we must applaud TunnelBear for its level of transparency, which tramples all over most of the competition. Most VPNs have never had any form of security audit, and the providers who have actually made some movement in this direction, typically have one-off audits with a far narrower scope. That's just not good enough, and it's great to see TunnelBear leading the way.
While we can't begin to compete with Cure53, we ran our own far simpler privacy tests on TunnelBear's Windows app, and these also delivered positive results. There were no DNS or WebRTC leaks to give away our identity, and the VigilantBear kill switch immediately blocked internet access when the VPN connection closed.
TestMy.net was one of the service's we used to test TunnelBear's performance (Image credit: TestMy.net)
To check out TunnelBear's performance, we first logged on to each server, recorded the connection time, ran a ping test to look for latency issues and used a geolocation check to verify that the server was indeed in the advertised country.
We ran this test twice, 12 hours apart, and managed to connect to each server without difficulty, no retries required. Connection times were consistently fast. The ping times were variable, but not enough to show any significant issue.
Next, we used benchmarking websites including Netflix's Fast, TestMy.net and Ookla's SpeedTest to check TunnelBear's best download speeds from both the UK and the US.
Our nearest UK server averaged 66Mbps on our 75Mbps test line, only around 6% down on our speed with the VPN turned off.
US speeds averaged 200Mbps on a 600Mbps connection. That's a good result, especially as we were testing in late March 2020, when most people were in coronavirus-related lockdown and internet and VPN traffic was running at record levels.
TunnelBear was unable to unblock Netflix in the US in our tests (Image credit: Netflix)
One of the major selling points of a VPN is that it can make you appear to be visiting a website from another country, perhaps giving you access to content you wouldn't be able to view otherwise. But this doesn't always work, so we test all VPNs with Netflix and more to see if they can give us access to various streaming sites.
We logged into TunnelBear's UK location and tried accessing BBC iPlayer, but the site noticed our VPN-based trickery and warned 'this content is not available in your location.'
There was more success with US-only YouTube channels, where we were able to stream videos without difficulty. That's a plus point, but not a major one, as just about every VPN with a US location can do the same.
US Netflix is generally much more of an unblocking challenge, and this time it seemed too much for TunnelBear. Whatever we tried (including connecting to the UK and France), Netflix displayed its standard 'you seem to be using an unblocker or proxy' error message and refused to stream any content.
There was no luck with Amazon Prime Video, either. Forget accessing US content, we couldn't even stream UK movies using our UK account.
The misery continued with Disney+, where for some reason the site wouldn't even allow us to log in with the VPN enabled. Why? We've no idea. This all added up to a poor unblocking performance, though. If you're hoping to access geoblocked content, check out your target sites with the free TunnelBear plan before you part with any cash.
While its site may not advertise it, TunnelBear fully supported torrenting in our tests (Image credit: uTorrent)
VPNs usually don't like to shout about their torrent support, and it's not difficult to see why. Torrent users are likely to gobble up much more bandwidth than others, and if that involves downloading illegal stuff, it could generate more attention from the copyright police.
TunnelBear takes this quiet approach to an extreme, though, with only one reference to P2P and torrents on the entire TunnelBear website (and that was a general reference which said nothing about P2P support).
Undaunted, we raised a query with the support team, and a polite response soon arrived. TunnelBear supports torrents at all locations, the agent explained, but they also recommended specific tunnels (Canada, US, UK, Romania, Netherlands, Germany, Sweden) if we had problems elsewhere.
TunnelBear offers VPN clients for most major platforms (Image credit: TunnelBear)
Getting started with TunnelBear begins by handing over your email address to create an account. Accept the free option or hand over your cash for one of the paid plans, and you're offered a choice of apps for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, as well as browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera.
If you're looking for anything more advanced, you're going to be disappointed. There's nothing for routers, or games consoles, or smart TVs, or anything else. There are no links to installation guides or troubleshooting advice. Bizarrely, the page doesn't even link to TunnelBear's OpenVPN configuration files, to help you set up other devices manually. These are available, but you have to look very hard to find them (we tracked them down by checking a support document on Linux installations).
If you're happy with TunnelBear's main apps, you're unlikely to notice any issues (if anything, the focus on the major platforms makes the website easier to navigate). But given that TunnelBear does have useful setup information regarding Linux, OpenVPN and more, we think the website should make this more accessible to its users.
TunnelBear's Windows Client is clean, simple and to the point (Image credit: TunnelBear)
TunnelBear's Windows VPN client opens with a grey world map, centered on your current location, with all the other VPN locations highlighted.
Map interfaces can look good, but they're not very practical to use, and this one is no exception. There's no zoom option to help you get an overview, for instance, and although you can click and drag to move your viewpoint, this won't wrap around. If you start in Europe and scroll to the left to view California, for instance, you can't continue in the same direction and cross the Pacific to Asia. You're forced to scroll back across the US, the Atlantic, and Europe, instead.
If you're not a fan of map view, you can also view TunnelBear's server locations in a list (Image credit: TunnelBear)
You can also select your location in a more conventional way, by clicking the current destination at the top of the screen and choosing something else from a drop-down list. That's probably simpler, especially as TunnelBear has responded to our complaint from the last review, and now lists locations in alphabetical order.
Once you've chosen a location, clicking On gets you connected, and the client displays a 'connection' animation, panning the screen and plotting a line across the map to your destination.
TunnelBear also displays native Windows desktop notifications to tell you when it connects or disconnects, which is handy as you're able to tell when your connection is protected, even if the Windows client is minimized or covered by another application window.
TunnelBear only has a few server locations in North America (Image credit: TunnelBear)
Switching locations has also got easier since our last review, as there's no longer an annoying 'are you sure?' style question when you click a country. But do it from the map and the client still wastes time on its pointless connection animations, panning from the country you've clicked, to your current location, then back to your physical location, then back to the selected country again. (Fortunately, you can avoid this by choosing a country from the drop-down location list.)
The client doesn't have many settings, but the few you get are very useful. You can have it load when Windows starts, for instance, then automatically activate the VPN whenever you access a wireless network which isn't on a custom Trusted Network list (everywhere but home and work, say).
A VigilantBear setting is essentially a kill switch, blocking all internet traffic if the VPN drops to prevent any identity leaks. We tested this by forcibly closing our VPN connection and it performed well, detecting the problem, blocking internet access, warning us with a desktop notification and reconnecting within seconds.
The Obfsproxy-based GhostBear attempts to make your activities look more like regular internet traffic, perhaps helping you connect in countries like China which try to detect and block use of VPNs.
Although TunnelBear's Windows client doesn't give you any option to change protocol, you can opt to use TCP rather than UDP connections, perhaps improving reliability.
Overall, TunnelBear's Windows client isn't bad, and the recent small fixes have removed some of its previous irritations. But there's lots of scope for improvement, and the basic feature list could disappoint experienced users.
This is the interface of TunnelBear's iOS app (Image credit: TunnelBear)
TunnelBear's Android and iOS apps have a very similar look and feel to the Windows edition. There's a world map with VPN locations highlighted, a list of locations as a simpler alternative, a small number of useful settings, and not much else.
The map works a little better than the desktop version. It wraps as you expect, for instance (you can keep swiping left or right and get back to where you started). There's still no zoom, but the Android app can at least switch from portrait to landscape to give you a better view.
Server selection looks much the same, as you're able to choose locations from the map or the location list. But this time both options prompt for confirmation before they'll connect, so you could require an extra tap.
TunnelBear's Android app shares a similar look to its iOS counterpart (Image credit: TunnelBear)
The Android Settings box has a few fun options, including the ability to enable or disable Bear Sounds, or to display fluffy clouds on the map. Not exactly essential, but they raised a smile anyway.
However, you get most of the benefits of the desktop client, too, like auto-connect whenever you're not accessing a trusted network, the VigilantBear kill switch, and GhostBear to try and avoid VPN blocking.
There's also a welcome bonus in SplitBear (aka split tunneling), where you can choose apps which will always use your regular connection, rather than be routed via TunnelBear. You may never use this feature, but if you find the VPN breaks a particular app, you'll be glad it's there.
Recent Android improvements are mostly under the hood, though still sound worthwhile, with the company claiming that 'speeds have increased, connections are more reliable and overall stability has improved.' That works for us, and we certainly didn't notice any reliability or stability issues, although it's hard to spot those anyway during a short-term review.
The iOS app is mostly about the core basics. You can forget split tunneling, a kill switch or GhostBear-type obfuscation, for instance. But you do get the ability to auto-connect with all but trusted networks, as well as an option to enable or disable Bear Sounds, so it's not all bad.
Put it all together and our verdict on the mobile VPN apps is much the same as the desktop client. They get the job done and they're fine for simple use, but there are plenty of better and more feature-rich VPN apps around.
TunnelBear even offers browser extensions for most popular web browsers (Image credit: TunnelBear)
Installing TunnelBear's browser extensions can make the service easier to operate, by allowing you to choose a location, connect and disconnect from inside your browser. The extensions work as proxies and so only protect your browser traffic, but if that's all you need, the extra convenience could make them worth a try.
The Chrome extension added an icon to our address bar, and tapping this enabled connecting to new locations from a drop-down list. There's no tiny map to indicate your location – this has been ditched from the extensions – so you just have a country name and a simple On/Off button.
There are no extra features, no WebRTC or tracker blocking or anything else. But the extension does have a small usability plus in its keyboard shortcut support. If you want to keep your hands off the mouse, pressing Ctrl+Shift+U will connect you to the VPN, and pressing it again will toggle the connection off when you're done. (A separate Alt+Shift+N shortcut toggles the connection on and off in Incognito mode.)
We checked the Firefox extension to see if it had any more options, but no, it looked and worked much the same as the Chrome version.
The browser extensions follow a very similar pattern to the apps, then – they are short on features, but relatively simple, and fine for the target audience of casual users.
TunnelBear's knowledgebase provides customers with a good deal of quality information on its services (Image credit: TunnelBear)
TunnelBear support starts with its web-based help site. This is presented in a clear and simple way, with large icons pointing you to key areas (Getting Started, Troubleshooting, Billing), and basic articles on the most common questions ('Why should I trust TunnelBear?', 'Why can't I access the content I want?', 'Does TunnelBear keep logs?').
Go searching for answers and you'll find TunnelBear's knowledgebase doesn't have a lot of content, but what you get is well presented and gives you a decent range of information. The Connection Issues page doesn't just offer generic 'reinstall'-type ideas, for instance. It links you to TunnelBear's Twitter page to look for service information, suggests trying out the service on another network, and points you to settings which might help.
Despite its beginner-oriented approach, there's also room for just a few more advanced tweaking ideas, with recommendations for ports which should be opened.
There's no live chat support, but if you need more in-depth help, a Contact page allows you to send a message to the support team. This prompts you for the type of problem, affected locations, operating system and so on, a smart way to ensure beginners provide all the key information.
We kept our test question simple, and had a friendly, helpful and accurate reply in three and a half hours. We would still prefer the near-instant response of quality live chat – because if your problem is complex and requires a lot of back and forth, questions and answers, it could take a very long time to find a solution – but as email support goes, TunnelBear isn't bad at all.
It's not the largest, fastest or most powerful of VPNs, but TunnelBear's ease of use and strong focus on opening up its systems to scrutiny deserve a lot of credit. Worth a look for all but the most demanding users.
TunnelBear is a high-speed VPN that operates servers in 20+ locations. It offers some of the best security features around, including high-end encryption and an automatic kill switch.
Streaming – Does TunnelBear Work with Netflix?
- Netflix US: No.
- Hulu: No.
- HBO GO: Yes.
- BBC iPlayer: No.
Unfortunately, TunnelBear wasn’t able to unblock Netflix US, Hulu, or BBC iPlayer during my tests. For consistent geoblocking across all the popular streaming platforms, we suggest using a more prolific and established VPN like one of these vendors. (A quick aside, that I was able to stream HBO GO in high definition.)
If you’re looking for a VPN for streaming, TunnelBear isn’t the best service for you. Instead, I’d recommend NordVPN or CyberGhost.
High-speed connections are crucial for any VPN user. It’s normal to experience some speed loss when you connect to a VPN because your data has to travel farther to reach the VPN server, but the difference should be barely noticeable with a premium VPN.
When determining the speed of an internet connection, we measure three things:
- The download speed is the rate at which you can pull data from a server to your device. The higher this number is, the faster your internet connection will be. This is measured in megabits per second (Mbps).
- The upload speed is how quickly you can send data from your device to others. The higher this number is, the faster you will be able to send files and upload things. This is measured in megabits per second (Mbps).
- The ping is how long it takes your connection to respond after you’ve sent a request. The lower this number is, the faster your connection will be. This is measured in milliseconds (ms).
While testing TunnelBear, I measured my speed while connected to a local server as well as a server in the US. Your connection will usually be quicker when you’re connected to a local server because your data doesn’t have to travel as far.
My speed before connecting to TunnelBear was 12.72 Mbps download, 0.91 Mbps upload, with a ping of 31 ms.
When I connected to TunnelBear’s Australian server, my speed remained almost the same. My download was 12.25 Mbps, my upload dropped a tiny bit to 0.75 Mbps, and my ping increased to 54 ms. I didn’t notice a difference in the overall speed of my connection on this server.
When I connected to TunnelBear’s US server, my download speed dropped to 4.90 Mbps. My upload speed was 0.83 Mbps, and my ping increased to 277 ms.
Although my data had to travel halfway across the world to the US server, my connection was still very fast. I was able to stream videos in high definition, send emails, and browse without much of a delay.
Is TunnelBear Good for Torrenting?
Yes, TunnelBear supports P2P connections.
Security – Is TunnelBear Safe?
TunnelBear uses high-end security protocols to protect your information. It also publishes regular, independent security audits to give its users an insight into its policies and security tools.
Does TunnelBear Keep Logs?
TunnelBear does not keep logs. But it is based in Canada, which is a member of the 5/9/14-Eyes Alliance.
Is this a concern for regular VPN users? Not really. Since it doesn’t keep any logs, TunnelBear wouldn’t have any information to give surveillance authorities even if it was summoned by the government to do so.
Does TunnelBear Have an Ad Blocker?
Yes, but it isn’t built into the app. TunnelBear’s ad and tracker blocker is a separate program available for free as a browser extension.
Does TunnelBear Work in China?
Yes. TunnelBear’s GhostBear feature disguises your internet traffic so that it can bypass China’s firewall and VPN blocks. It’s built into the app, and included with all of TunnelBear’s subscriptions.
Price and Value for Money
There’s no doubt that TunnelBear is feature-rich. But, there are VPNs available in the same price range that are even better value for money because they can do more. For example, NordVPN can unblock streaming services and offers 24/7 customer support.
Does TunnelBear Have a Free Version?
TunnelBear offers a free account that grants users 500MB of free data per month.
TunnelBear’s Refund Policy
According to TunnelBear’s Terms of Service, all subscription fees are non-refundable. However, certain refund requests may be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Is TunnelBear Compatible With My Device?
TunnelBear’s premium subscription allows for up to five simultaneous connections.
There are apps available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.
TunnelBear uses 256-bit AES encryption.
Its GhostBear mode disguises your VPN traffic as regular traffic so it can bypass deep packet inspection. This is useful for users in countries where internet surveillance and censorship is an issue.
Its VigilantBear mode acts as an automatic kill switch. It will stop unprotected data from leaving your network in the event your VPN connection fails.
When I reached out to TunnelBear via email, I received a response from ‘Paddlington Bear’ within two hours.
I still prefer the option of receiving an instant reply via live chat, but I’m impressed with TunnelBear’s quick turnaround. Cute bear puns aside, their reply was informative, polite, and helpful.
It took just under five minutes to download and install TunnelBear’s Windows app.
The website states that users need a minimum of Windows 7 to run the app. I was testing it on my Windows 8 PC, but when I opened the .exe file to install it, a dialog box popped up to inform me I’d have to upgrade to Windows 8.1.
So, I had to leave my computer to download the update and install it before I could use the VPN. This isn’t enough to put me off using TunnelBear, but it’s definitely something to be aware of if you’re running an older operating system.
After that, things went smoothly. The app is easy to use and understand. It’s ready to go as soon as you log in, and its simple visual server map makes it easy to get started.
You can set the app to connect or disconnect automatically based on a list of networks you trust.
Changing servers is easy. All you need to do is click on the location you want to tunnel to on the map, and the app will do the rest.
Overall, the app is beautiful and very simple to use. I recommend it for complete beginners and VPN veterans alike.
TunnelBear is secure and easy to use. It offers great connection speeds, and some very useful privacy tools, like its GhostBear mode.
Unfortunately, it was not able to bypass Netflix US’ VPN block. So, if streaming is your main concern, I’d recommend trying a leading vendor instead. Check out our top five recommended VPNs for unblocking Netflix. With these vendors, you have speed, reliability, and safe streaming.
However, if you’re security-minded, or looking for a VPN that works in China, TunnelBear may be the best choice for you.
TunnelBear is a large VPN service owned by the US cybersecurity company McAfee. While you often see it recommended on various sites, TunnelBear also has some noteworthy shortcomings that I found in this review.
On a positive note, it is one of the few VPNs that has undergone a third-party security audit. On a negative note, I found it to be slow, the server network is tiny, support is limited, and it simply does not work with many streaming sites, among other issues…
Read on for an honest TunnelBear VPN review…
Pros of TunnelBear
- User-friendly apps and browser extensions
- Secure, passed a third-party audit
- Free plan (500 MB of data)
Cons of TunnelBear
- Slow speeds
- Based in Canada (Five Eyes)
- No cryptocurrency or PayPal payments
- No refunds
- Small server network
- Not a good choice for torrenting or Netflix
- Limited support
Additional research findings:
- Bought out by US cybersecurity company (McAfee)
- Does TunnelBear work in China?
- TunnelBear logging policies
- TunnelBear VPN support
Now let’s dive in to the results.
Here are the pros of TunnelBear VPN:
1. User-friendly apps and browser extensions
For this TunnelBear review I tested out the Windows and Mac OS apps. Both of these VPN clients did well in tests and I did not identify any privacy or security issues. Here’s a screenshot of the Windows client:
TunnelBear VPN offers applications for Windows, Mac OS, iOS and Android. TunnelBear also offers browser extensions, which we will cover in detail further below.
Linux – TunnelBear supports Linux, even though they currently do not have a dedicated Linux app.
Routers – Using a VPN on a router is not possible with TunnelBear VPN at the moment. This is because TunnelBear does not provide OpenVPN configuration files to be used with routers/modems.
Overall TunnelBear is somewhat limited when it comes to supporting a diverse array of operating systems and devices. It also does not support Windows mobile devices, Apple/Android TV, or gaming systems. For a fully-featured VPN with a large lineup of apps, ExpressVPN would be the best option. (See also my comparison between NordVPN and ExpressVPN in terms of apps.)
TunnelBear VPN browser extensions
The TunnelBear browser extension is a lightweight encrypted proxy that you can control from the browser window. TunnelBear offers browser extensions for:
I tested the TunnelBear Chrome extension for this review and found it to work alright. Here is the TunnelBear Chrome extension in action, which you can see in the upper right corner of the browser.
I also tested this out by running one VPN server on the desktop VPN client and using a different server through the Chrome extension. For everything done in the Chrome browser, this essentially creates a double-hop connection with traffic being encrypted across two separate servers. Your IP address and DNS requests would match up with the desktop client for everything outside the Chrome browser.
Here you can see that I’m connected to the Denmark server with the Chrome extension, while at the same time the desktop VPN is also encrypting all traffic through the Norway VPN server.
There are also a few other VPNs that offer browser extensions, including VPN.ac, ExpressVPN, and also NordVPN.
2. Secure, passed third-party audit
TunnelBear offers good data encryption using the 256-bit AES OpenVPN for Windows, Mac OS, and Android. The IKEv2 protocol is used for iOS, and it can also be used through the Windows client.
Both OpenVPN and IKEv2 are secure and reliable VPN protocols. Each has pros and cons.
OpenVPN is open source, but it requires the use of a third-party client and is more CPU-intensive. IKEv2 can be used natively on various devices (no app required) and runs with less CPU, but it is also not open source.
TunnelBear offers a basic leak protection option which is called VigilantBear. This feature acts as a kill switch to block traffic when there is no active VPN connection and can be activated directly within the VPN application.
I ran both the Windows and Mac OS apps through a round of VPN tests to check for leaks and problems. Everything worked well without any leaks to report.
I did not find any leaks or issues with the TunnelBear desktop VPN clients.
The TunnelBear Mac OS client also did not have any leaks in my tests.
It is important to remember to enable VigilantBear (the leak protection feature) to be protected against data leaks.
TunnelBear security audit
TunnelBear is one of the few VPN providers to undergo a third-party security audit. The audit was performed by Cure53. Here is a brief summary of the findings:
Cure53’s complete report is available on their website. To summarize, they discovered 2 “critical”, 5 “high”, 3 “medium”, 7 “low”, and a few “informational” issues – all of which were promptly fixed. The more serious vulnerabilities would have required an attacker to have direct access to the device, and be logged in as a guest. However, under those circumstances it would have allowed attackers to escalate app permissions to give them root access to a device, modify executables and bypass non-strict host matching.
There have been a few other VPN services that have undergone security audits, including ExpressVPN (with browser extensions).
TunnelBear’s first security audit was completed in 2017, then they followed this up again in October 2018. According to their website, the goal is to do an audit every year.
3. TunnelBear free VPN plan
Another benefit with TunnelBear is the free VPN plan. Unfortunately, you are limited to only 500 MB of data. I used up all the data in about 10 minutes running through a few VPN speed tests.
Within the TunnelBear VPN app, it shows you the data that’s remaining. Here you can see the data when I began testing for this review:
While the 500 MB may help some to get a feel for TunnelBear, it is really inadequate compared to some other free trial VPN services.
For example, Windscribe offers 10 GB per month. Another example is Trust Zone VPN that offers 3 GB of data.
If you want more data for the TunnelBear free plan, you can do promotional tweets of TunnelBear for an extra 1 GB.
Again, this is pretty inadequate if you want to test the VPN on all your devices. When you run out of data, you will be alerted in the app and all connections will be blocked.
It did not take long to run out of 500 MB of data.
So now let’s look at the regular prices
In terms of pricing, TunnelBear is in the middle of the road. It is certainly not a cheap VPN, but it’s also not extremely expensive. Here are the current prices of TunnelBear VPN.
The basic price tiers for Tunnelbear are free (500 Mb of data), $9.99 (monthly), and $4.99 (annually). There are certainly cheaper options available, such as NordVPN, and also more expensive VPNs as well.
I’m not aware of any VPN coupons or discounts that TunnelBear is offering.
If you’re looking for ways to save money, you can also pick up an ExpressVPN 49% coupon that includes three months free. Additionally, there is also NordVPN discount for 70% off. These are two popular VPNs that performed well in testing and are based in privacy-friendly jurisdictions.
Cons of TunnelBear
Now let’s take a look at the cons of TunnelBear VPN.
1. Slow speeds
One major drawback with TunnelBear VPN is the slow speeds.
For this updated TunnelBear review, I tested servers throughout Europe, the United States, and Canada. All tests were conducted on a 160 Mbps baseline connection from my physical location in Western Europe. Here are the results.
TunnelBear server in Switzerland: 39 Mbps
Considering that my baseline connection speed is 160 Mbps and Switzerland is very close to my physical location, these speeds are very bad.
Next up was a TunnelBear server in the United Kingdom: 5 Mbps
Unfortunately, all of the TunnelBear servers I tested in the UK and Europe were sub-par, providing only a fraction of my full baseline speed. If you need a VPN for the UK or Europe, I’d consider other options.
Next, I tested servers in the US and Canada.
Here I am testing TunnelBear’s only United States server location: 5 Mbps
It did not matter whether I used the Windows or Mac OS client, the speeds with TunnelBear were consistently slow.
Latency problems – In the image above with the US speed test, you can see my latency is 329 ms. This is quite high, even considering the distance between me and the server location. When running speed tests, I would frequently get a latency connection error. This meant the latency was too high to even run an accurate speed test.
I also ran some tests with the Tunnelbear server in Canada, and the results were slightly better at around 29 Mbps.
Conclusion on speeds – Based on all the tests I ran for this TunnelBear review, I must conclude that TunnelBear is simply not a fast VPN service. This of course is problematic if you need a fast VPN for torrenting, streaming HD videos, downloads, etc.
2. Based in Canada (Five Eyes)
TunnelBear is a VPN based in Canada. As we explained before, Canada is not a good privacy jurisdiction and is a member of the Five Eyes alliance. This means that Canada collects and surveillance data with other countries, such as the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand.
TunnelBear is a global company. Although our physical servers are located in many different countries around the world, TunnelBear does not store Personal Data outside of Canada’s physical borders. By using our services, you authorize TunnelBear to use your information according to Canada’s laws, regardless of which country you are located in.
As a Canada VPN service, TunnelBear abides by all Canadian laws.
3. No cryptocurrency or PayPal payments
When attempting to subscribe to a TunnelBear subscription to run some tests for this review, I noticed a problem. The only supported payment method is with a credit card. On the pricing page, they claim to support Bitcoin with the official Bitcoin logo.
But when you go to actually purchase a subscription, there is no option to pay with Bitcoin. There’s not even an option to pay with PayPal, which is very strange. Nearly every VPN service supports PayPal payments and/or Bitcoin – but not TunnelBear.
This means you are locked in to using a credit card and also providing your real name. This also makes it harder for you to get your money back if there’s a dispute, as PayPal generally favors the buyer.
This leads us to another major drawback with TunnelBear…
4. TunnelBear has no refunds
If you read through the Terms of Service, you see that TunnelBear does not offer any refunds.
While all amounts paid are non-refundable, certain refund requests for subscriptions may be considered by TunnelBear on a case-by-case basis and granted at the sole discretion of TunnelBear.
Not having any refunds is definitely not the norm in the VPN industry, even with free trial VPN services. The average is about 7 days, but there are more and more VPNs offer 30 day money-back refund windows.
Given the extremely short trial period (500 MB of data does not last long) and their stance on refunds, there is definitely more risk with TunnelBear. If you aren’t happy with the VPN after paying for a subscription, there’s not much you can do.
5. Small server network
Another drawback with TunnelBear is that it has a very limited (small) server network. This is especially noticeable in the United States and Canada.
With nearly every VPN I’ve tested, there are numerous server locations in the United States and Canada to choose from. TunnelBear, however, does not give you any choices and you can only connect to “United States” in the VPN client.
Therefore, for the entire North American continent, TunnelBear users have only three server choices:
- United States
Based on my tests, it appears the United States servers is located in California. The Canada server seems to be in Toronto.
6. Not good for Netflix or torrenting
Is TunnelBear a good VPN for Netflix?
Based on my tests, TunnelBear does not work with Netflix, returning the infamous proxy error with the US server.
Fortunately, there are many other Netflix VPN services to consider.
Regarding torrenting and P2P file sharing, TunnelBear is also not a good choice. While I did not see any explicit policies that prohibit torrenting, the speeds are a major issue. With such slow speeds and a limited server selection, torrents will be very slow and time-consuming. Check out
7. Limited support
Last, but not least, is the issue of support.
With TunnelBear, support is very limited:
- No live chat support at all
- “Help” section takes you to a generic page for FAQs
- No clear ways to email questions or submit help tickets
Previously, TunnelBear offered email support. I would rate it as mediocre.
Today, however, there does not appear to be any obvious option to email support or submit a help ticket – at least for those of us with a free plan. This is a major drawback, especially when you consider it in light of the fact that they don’t offer refunds.
If there is a way to reach TunnelBear VPN support, they have done a great job making it difficult to find. Not looking good!
Additional research findings
Here are some additional findings for this TunnelBear review.
Tunnelbear VPN bought by McAfee
Tunnelbear VPN is a service offered by Tunnelbear Inc. that appears to be based in Toronto, Canada.
However, in March 2018, TunnelBear VPN was purchased by McAfee, the US cybersecurity company.
This is part of the growing trend we’ve seen of VPNs getting bought up by large companies. CyberGhost VPN was also acquired by a large advertising/tech conglomerate.
Since the purchase, it doesn’t seem like much has changed. I could not find any mention of McAfee on the website. Additionally, the purchase details (price) of the deal were also not disclosed publicly.
Does TunnelBear work in China? (Obfuscation GhostBear feature)
TunnelBear provides an obfuscation (Stealth VPN) feature called GhostBear.
This basically hides (obfuscates) your VPN traffic to protect you against deep packet inspection (DPI) and VPN restrictions. Obfuscation is a must-have feature where VPNs are getting blocked. This is often the case in restrictive countries, such as China and Saudi Arabia, as well as with work or school networks.
The GhostBear obfuscation feature is available on Windows, Mac OS, and Android. You can enable the GhostBear feature under Settings > Security as seen below with the TunnelBear Windows client.
GhostBear is an obfuscation feature to get around VPN restrictions.
Tunnelbear uses Obfsproxy as its primary obfuscation feature.
Note: I have not heard any reports of TunnelBear working well in China, since the vast majority of VPNs there are getting blocked. See the best VPN for China for more information.
TunnelBear logging policy
Here is how the “no logging” policy is being marketed on the website:
Now we will take a look at the fine print.
- Operating system version
- TunnelBear app version
- Active for the month (1 or 0)
- Monthly bandwidth usage
Is this a big deal?
Probably not, but it all depends on how much privacy and security you are looking for.
There are also a few VPNs with no logs that have been verified.
TunnelBear review conclusion
After thoroughly testing TunnelBear and researching this VPN service, I can’t say I’m a big fan. There are many outstanding issues that need attention.
Sure, TunnelBear has gotten some good press because of its security audits, but this good PR is overshadowed by numerous shortcomings with the VPN itself.
Also, when you consider the price, it’s definitely not what I’d consider to be a “good deal”. At about $5 per month (annual plan), you really aren’t getting much for your money:
- Slow speeds
- No access to Netflix and other streaming sites
- No refunds
- Extremely small server network (only one server in the US!)
- Limited customer support
Final verdict: Not recommended
Intuitive design • Seamless integration across multiple devices • Strong security features
Free plan offers a paltry 500MB of data • Download speeds slower than expected • No Netflix
Lightweight and incredibly easy to use, TunnelBear is a great introduction to VPNs, even without Netflix access. But it could be faster.
With privacy an ongoing concern, finding ways to safeguard your data and obscure your web browsing should be easy. Virtual Private Networks (VPN) have a long history among safety-minded internet users. Generally, the trade-off is you need some technical know-how and be able to settle for lower internet speeds for the sake of security, but that's becoming less true every day.
TunnelBear is just one of many VPN services looking to stake a claim as the VPN for the masses. With an intuitive interface, lightweight design, and relatively fast browsing speeds, TunnelBear is worth your attention.
Bear-ly there design (Ease of use)
Downloading the TunnelBear app for Android was a breeze. A quick registration followed by an email verification and I was ready to hop from tunnel to tunnel.
Whenever you access the internet, you need to do so through an Internet Service Provider (ISP). The thing is, everything you do online is in some way recorded by your ISP, even if that data isn't readily accessible. By contrast, a VPN masks your internet and activity and IP address by routing it through the VPN provider's servers rather than your ISP's.
The app is super responsive and intuitive. A vibrant map greets you with your home tunnel and available tunnels across the world. Your bear serves as a friendly guide to your current VPN location. I may physically be in Brooklyn, but my bear and IP address are in New Jersey. I was told to click on the button and I was now on a VPN.
The TunnelBear UI on Android.
Free users have a monthly data limit of 500MB. At first that seems fine, maybe even more than enough! However, mindless web surfing can quickly sap you of that precious data. TunnelBear offers a $9.99/month option or a yearly membership for $59.88, which adds up to a 50% discount.
If you want to remain a free user, there are ways to get a gig of data by downloading TunnelBear on your computer, referring a friend, or by tweeting about TunnelBear.
If you never interact with the options found within the TunnelBear app, you'll still have a great experience, but you'll be missing out on some great security features.
Within the Android [you can only toggle sound in iOS] app you can toggle sounds, vibrations, or add some fluffy clouds to the map. That last feature is purely cosmetic, but it does add a level of zen to the app. The best features involve a series of bear variants that add additional layers of security.
GhostBear turns encrypted data into something that resembles normal internet data. While
the link found in the app to the relevant article didn’t work [the link works now] this feature is not available on iOS due to design restrictions, GhostBear is generally useful because it makes it harder to figure out if you’re using a VPN. ISPs could use a tool that identifies VPN traffic to throttle speeds and limit its use on its service, according to TunnelBear. The explanation gets pretty technical, but GhostBear is great for countries with restrictive internet laws.
VigilantBear halts all traffic if your connection is disrupted.This helps mask your internet activity in the event the VPN is cut off. But again, it's only available on MacOS, Windows, and Android — not iOS.
SplitBear lets you select apps that are exempt from TunnelBear. This would be good for any apps that don’t use an internet connection or if you’re trying to save some data by exempting bandwidth-heavy apps. Though, this feature only works on Android devices.
A seamless experience
The TunnelBear app was ideal for a first-time VPN experience. I had it on in the background, surfed the web, and never noticed its presence. However, it was a bit of a battery hog if it was working in the background, but you can easily disable background activity to solve that problem.
TunnelBear acts as a proxy for Chrome browsers and ChromeOS. Just download it as an extension, select your server location from a drop-down menu, and you’ll be in business. Same map of bears tunneling from location to location, same level of security.
How TunnelBear makes itself known on macOS.
Ditto for the TunnelBear experience on a MacBook Air. Just download TunnelBear, toggle it on, and start browsing on a VPN. I experienced similar browsing speeds and no quirks across all devices.
The need for speed
A VPN is only as great as its speed, or rather, by how little it slows down your internet experience. Functionality and convenience matter, and it’s important that a new-to-you technology nails that experience. VPNs may still be labeled as a “useful, but not necessary” piece of technology.
My wife, as the personal anecdote that proves a fact, doesn’t quite see the value of using a VPN even though she understands today's concerns about internet security and privacy. She can see the value, but it’s not a necessity. A lightweight app that does not disrupt her web experience, however, may be the “What’s the harm?” gateway to larger VPN adoption.
So far, I’ve experienced no performance setbacks while using TunnelBear. Sites I frequently visit load as expected. There is, at times, an incredibly minor hitch before a new site loads, but I’ve experienced much longer delays for no apparent reason using a regular browser and WiFi. Overall, it’s a smooth experience.
After enjoying the speed and convenience of the default server, I decided to go international with TunnelBear. The first stop was Canada, or Toronto to be more specific. Again, there may have been a hitch once or twice when first loading a site, but nothing that was incredibly distracting or made browsing a burden.
Internet speed without a VPN.
TunnelBear does slow down your connection.
Going even further, I tunneled to Brazil. Again, the speed was relatively fine for the TunnelBear app. The delay was a little more noticeable on this server, but it was something you could quickly forget once you start browsing.
However, TunnelBear isn’t the fastest VPN around. Running online speed tests for my regular connection compared to a U.S. server and a German server reveal a 20Mbps dip in download and upload speeds. I could stream allowed Netflix content without any real buffering issues, but you may have to pause and allow some time for buffering if your speed drops.
Internet speed using TunnelBear's German server.
Netflix and TunnelBear
Privacy and security is great and all, but sometimes you just want to watch Netflix while traveling and have access to the same library of content you have at home. However, the streaming service has been actively blocking VPN and proxy activity since 2016 to protect regional licensing agreements.
TunnelBear is affected by this. You're out of luck if you want to see your home Netflix selection while you're in another country.
At first I thought I encountered no issues with Netflix across devices. I tested the default server on my Chrome browser and was able to binge U.S. content without an issue. So far, so good.
Tunneling to Germany seemed to pose no problems. Same great Netflix experience, now with a section dedicated to "US TV" and distinctly German titles populating the Action and Comedy sections.
But once I clicked on that foreign content, Netflix stopped my activity and asked to me to turn off my VPN. I was busted. Looks like I won’t do any Netflix and TunnelBear-ing any time soon.
TunnelBear won't help if you're trying to access your Netflix library abroad.
TunnelBear once had a strict no torrenting policy, but that seems to have changed. There are conflicting reports on the internet, but more recent comparisons [took out link — it doesn't work anymore]x indicate you can torrent while using TunnelBear.
A seaworthy bear
Any VPN can promise private browsing, but there could be leaks that will quickly eliminate that veil of security. Luckily, there is a quick way to ensure nothing is escaping your secure connection. All you have to do is search for a DNS leak test.
A domain network service (DNS) leak occurs when any traffic escapes the secure network. If you visit a website and that site's request for your IP address is sent to your ISP's server and not your VPN, you have a DNS leak. A DNS leak is a major security flaw that could reveal your location or what you're viewing on the web.
Finding a DNS leak test requires a quick Google search. Plug in the term and click on as many tests as you like. If a simple or extended test reveal just one server, you have a secure connection. I tested for DNS leaks and found none. TunnelBear said I was in Toronto and the tests confirmed that.
Turning off the advanced security features on TunnelBear did not lead to leaks. That's comforting to know that, even if you're using the vanilla version of TunnelBear, you'll be secure.
On the privacy side, TunnelBear says it logs a small amount of user data. For example, it does collect email addresses when you register for an account, but it claims to not log the IP address when you initially connect to a server. You can read the full to understand what data TunnelBear collects, but know that it’s not enough to identify you or your habits.
A VPN for the rest of us
TunnelBear is a great introduction to VPNs. There were no technical hurdles to prevent you from getting online, and you can use it across multiple devices. It’s what you want from an everyday VPN even if download speeds could be better. If you’re curious about browsing securely, give a shot. You won’t be able to stream your personal Netflix abroad, but you can surf the web with ease and peace of mind.
You could be looking for a VPN for the sake of privacy, to protect your anonymity online, or to watch the United Kingdom’s Netflix because It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia isn’t available in your region and you can’t live without it. OK, maybe I’m getting too personal. Anyhow, in today’s TunnelBear review, I’m going to see if they have more to offer than bear puns (which to be honest, I can’t get enough of). TunnelBear was founded back in 2011 and now has servers in more than 20 countries around the world. With both name brand recognition and millions of users, I’m excited to try it out for myself.
In this TunnelBear VPN review, I’ll review their pros and cons, the company itself, its features, and how it performed for me. Then, I’ll talk about what subscription options are available with TunnelBear, what the customer support is like, what the apps are like, and then how it compares to the rest of the competition. Let’s jump right in!
Pros and Cons of TunnelBear
Before we get down into the details, here are the main pros and cons of TunnelBear.
What We Like
- Doesn’t log files: Many VPNs claim this, but TunnelBear can back up their claims because they’ve been audited by an independent third party.
- Free version: You can use TunnelBear for free if you stay below 500 MB per month.
- Excellent app ratings: TunnelBear’s iOS and Android apps have an average rating of 4.5 out of five stars.
What We Don’t Like
- Five Eyes Country: TunnelBear is located in Canada, which means they could be legally forced to share your data, although they do have a no-logging policy.
- Netflix: Unfortunately, I couldn’t get Netflix to work on any of TunnelBear’s servers.
- Not the best customer support: Customer support was sometimes slow and unhelpful, according to TunnelBear customers.
TunnelBear Servers by Country
TunnelBear was founded in 2011 in Toronto, Canada. Is Canada a good place to start a VPN company? Well, Canada is one of the founding members of Five Eyes, an international surveillance alliance that could force VPNs to hand over people’s data. Okay, so it’s not an ideal location for a VPN, but don’t give up hope. As I’ll discuss below, TunnelBear has a no-logging policy which means they shouldn’t have any data to hand over.
At the moment, TunnelBear has servers in 23 countries around the world. Internet speed is strongly related to your distance from the nearest server. Unlike other VPNs, TunnelBear doesn’t say how many servers they have. That information is nice to have because too many users and not enough servers could mean a slow internet connection. But no worries, as you can look below for my TunnelBear speed test results. For now, let’s see what kind of features TunnelBear has to offer us.
Basically, TunnelBear works by creating a virtual private network when you’re connected to the Internet on your home connection or when you’re using Wi-Fi in public. This means your Internet Security Provider will only see you accessing the VPN servers, and not what websites you’re going to. Plus, your IP address will be hidden, as well.
Will TunnelBear Log My Data?
TunnelBear’s No Logging Policy. Screenshot from TunnelBear’s website.
The answer to this question is always complicated. VPNs have to log some data in order to verify payment, send you emails, and help you with customer support. Besides basic information like email address and payment details, TunnelBear also collects:
- Which operating system you use
- Which months you used TunnelBear
- Total amount of data used in the current month
- Operational events, such as when you created your account, made a payment, etc.
This is middle of the road for VPNs. Some log less and some log more. You can decide whether this information is too much for you. The point is, TunnelBear will never log your web traffic, which is the purpose of having a VPN in the first place.
Does TunnelBear Have A Kill Switch?
TunnelBear Kill Switch. Screenshot from TunnelBear Windows app.
A kill switch, also known as a network lock feature, is an application feature that “kills” your internet if your VPN connection is lost. This feature could save your skin if you’re a journalist or downloading a torrent that might be copyrighted content. Without a kill switch, a momentary outage could expose your private IP address. Luckily, TunnelBear does have a kill switch, called VigilantBear, on Windows, Mac, and Android.
Does TunnelBear Offer Split Tunneling?
Split tunneling is a feature allows you to route some web traffic to your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and some through an encrypted VPN tunnel. For example, this feature would let you watch Netflix through your ISP unencumbered, while you are surfing the web with your VPN at the same time. TunnelBear does have split tunneling, but only on Android. They call this feature SplitBear.
Can I Use Netflix with TunnelBear?
The battle between Netflix and VPNs has been raging for years now. Unfortunately, in the Netflix vs. TunnelBear fight, Netflix is currently on top. What I mean is that in the tests I performed in the United States and European Union servers, TunnelBear doesn’t work with Netflix.
Can I Torrent with TunnelBear?
In the past, the answer would have been no. TunnelBear used to block access to P2P downloads, but now torrenting does seem to work on TunnelBear. With that said, if you’re going to be torrenting often, I would recommend a VPN that has servers designed for P2P file transfers, like FastestVPN.
How Encryption Works
With all your data being transported through that shiny, new VPN tunnel, you might be wondering how secure that tunnel is. At least I would hope so! If you can’t trust the encryption of your VPN, then it’d be better to stick with your regular ISP. TunnelBear uses AES-256 for data encryption, SHA256 for data authentication, and 2048-, 3072-, or 4096-bit DH group for handshake encryption. Here’s a brief summary of this technical jargon means.
Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is an encryption algorithm used to encrypt data with a 128-, 192-, or 256-bit key lengths. AES-256, AES with a 256-bit key, is ubiquitous in the encryption field because it’s fast, secure, and doesn’t use much computing power. The United States uses AES-256 to encrypt top-secret information, which is why sometimes you will see this advertised as “military-grade encryption”.
Secure Hashing Algorithm
SHA, or Secure Hash Algorithm, creates a “hash” of unique characters that can be compared to authenticate passwords or keys. This is done rather than sending sensitive information in plain text across the internet. SHA256 is 256-bit SHA and is considered secure by the information security (infosec) community.
Diffie-Hellman Key Exchange
The Diffie–Hellman (DH) key exchange is a way of sending cryptographic keys over a public channel. The higher the number of bits, the more secure the key exchange. TunnelBear uses 2048-bit DH for Windows, 3072-bit DH for MacOS and iOS, and 4096-bit for Android.
Internet protocols determine how data packets are sent across a network. The degree of security a VPN has depends on the protocol chosen. TunnelBear uses OpenVPN/IKEv2 on Windows, OpenVPN on MacOS and Android, and IPSec/IKEv2 protocols on iOS. All of these protocols are considered highly secure by the infosec community. You can find more information below on these VPN protocols.
OpenVPN is an open-source VPN protocol used to make secure tunnels for your web traffic. OpenVPN is sometimes referred to as the gold standard when it comes to VPN protocols, and rightly so because it offers a good balance of speed and security. It offers up to 256-bit encryption using the Open SSL library and many other security features that can be configured as desired with protocols such as PPTP, L2TP, IKEv2/IPSec, SSTP, and more.
Internet Key Exchange version 2 is a widely used VPN protocol that automatically re-establishes your connection with your VPN after you’re disconnected from the Internet. This comes in handy when you would like to switch between Wi-Fi and mobile hotspots, which happens all the time when you’re on a mobile phone.
IPSec, or Internet Protocol Security, is a collection of internet protocols to securely send data over an internet connection. These protocols can authenticate and encrypt the packets of data sent. As I mentioned, IPSec can use a variety of ciphers and algorithms, so its strength depends on the algorithms used.
Now that we know TunnelBear’s features, let’s see if it’s fast and secure. To perform well, a VPN needs to be lightning-fast and not leak my IP address, no matter what. Let’s see how well the TunnelBear performs across the platform.
Whichever VPN you choose, you’ll have to accept the fact that it will slow down your Internet at least marginally. The extra protection from VPN security protocols comes at a price. Please note that your Internet speed is determined by many factors— time of day, location, Internet Service Provider, VPN server distance, and of course the VPN service provider. So TunnelBear may be faster or slower for you. I’m testing TunnelBear in Warsaw, Poland on a Macbook Pro and Lenovo ThinkPad.
TunnelBear Download Speed Tests
When it came to download speeds, TunnelBear performed better on my Mac than on my Windows computer, with a 45% decrease on my Macbook Pro and a 53% decrease on my Windows computer. For percentages, these are pretty average. But I will say that I’m surprised that my Mac download speed stayed above 250 Mbps.
TunnelBear Upload Speed Tests
For upload speeds, TunnelBear slowed down my upload speed significantly more on the ThinkPad than on the Macbook Pro, with a difference of about 82% compared to 15% on the Macbook Pro. This time the difference was massive, with my Mac performing remarkably better.
TunnelBear Ping Tests
And finally, I want to take a look at ping, or latency. This time, my Windows computer came out ahead. While TunnelBear increased latency by 182% on my Windows, my ping increased 467% on my Mac. That’s pretty bad for my Mac, considering the server I was connecting to was close to me. Overall, TunnelBear performed well on my Mac, and was mediocre on my Windows laptop.
DNS Leak Test
DNS stands for Domain Name Server, which is the address of the sites you visit on the internet converted to numbers, “198.105. 232.4” for example. Sometimes, even after connecting to a VPN, your computer will continue to use your ISP’s DNS addresses instead of the VPN’s. This DNS leak will give away your private IP address and make your VPN useless. I performed DNS leak tests on both my Mac and Windows computers and found that TunnelBear passes DNS leak tests.
WebRTC Leak Test
Are you going to use your VPN with web browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, or Opera? If so, you need to know about WebRTC leaks. WebRTC, otherwise known as Web Real-Time Communication Test, allows web browsers to communicate directly with each other rather than going through an intermediate server. WebRTC makes for faster speeds for video chat, live streaming, and file transfers. You’re probably waiting for the bad news.
Well, any two devices that are communicating with WebRTC need to know each others’ private IP addresses. So theoretically, a website or third party could use WebRTC to detect your real, private IP address. That’s no good. What’s the point of an encrypted VPN tunnel if your browser will give away your private IP address anyways? I tested TunnelBear and luckily, TunnelBear doesn’t allow WebRTC leaks.
TunnelBear Subscription Information
Now that you know how TunnelBear performs, let’s see if you can afford it. Something I like about TunnelBear is that you can try it out without pulling out your credit card. With a free account, you can try out TunnelBear and get 500 MB a month. Unfortunately, 500 MB doesn’t last long if you want to listen to music or watch videos. In that case, you’ll need to upgrade to a paid subscription.
TunnelBear Subscription Options
Fortunately, TunnelBear subscription prices are pretty reasonable, ranging from $5 to $10 a month. If you want to purchase TunnelBear for a team, that will cost you $5.75 a month per user. These prices aren’t bad, quite a few VPNs out there make you shell out more. You can pay for TunnelBear using a credit card, bitcoin, or jars of honey. Yea, you read that right. You can actually pay with jars of honey. If you’re a beekeeper, this is the VPN for you.
Screenshot from TunnelBear’s Twitter.
You’ll be able to connect five devices simultaneously on one subscription. However, all the devices must use different protocols (see above for more information). With any subscription, you’ll be able to switch between an unlimited number of servers.
Apps are nice and all, but what if you want to connect TunnelBear on a device that doesn’t use iOS, Android, Mac, or Windows. In that case, you’ll need to manually configure TunnelBear. You can only manually configure TunnelBear on Linux. You’re out of luck if you were hoping to connect TunnelBear with eReaders, Windows mobile devices, AppleTV or AndroidTV, game systems, or on routers.
TunnelBear has browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera, in case you’re someone who doesn’t like to bother with apps.
TunnelBear Customer Support
TunnelBear Customer Support. Screenshot from TunnelBear website.
If you’re having trouble connecting to TunnelBear or with your account, that’s where customer support comes in. Let’s see if TunnelBear’s customer support is there when you need it.
TunnelBear offers help through email support tickets 24/7/365. I’m glad they are always available, but I wish they were had a customer service phone number or even live chat support. Waiting on an email can be frustrating when your VPN cuts out during the season finale of Stranger Things. I will say they have an extensive FAQ that should be able to answer most of your questions without getting customer support involved at all.
Customer Support Ratings
The TunnelBear app has a rating of 4.2 on Google out of 10 reviews, which is pretty good. However, the reviews were a little polarized, with eighty percent of the reviews giving five stars and 20% of the reviews giving one star. The majority loved TunnelBear, but a few hated it.
When I looked at reviews mentioning customer support specifically, two came up— both negative. It seemed like some people had issues customer support couldn’t solve, and one mentioned disappointment at the lack of phone support.
The TunnelBear App
TunnelBear has mobile apps for iOS and Android so that you can use a VPN on the go. Both apps are highly rated, receiving 4.4 stars on the Google Play store and 4.6 stars on the App Store. Vera Stieler wrote in a recent five-star review,
“Been using Tunnelbear for years on several devices now and have no complaints whatsoever. A huge shoutout to the customer service who recently helped me with a question I had. You guys rock! ??”.
TunnelBear Vs. NordVPN
NordVPN is one of our top VPN choices, so let’s see how it compares to TunnelBear. TunnelBear has servers in 23 countries but doesn’t say how many servers they have. NordVPN, on the other hand, has a whopping 5,241 servers in 59 countries. More than likely, NordVPN will have a server closer to you, probably offering faster speeds.
TunnelBear vs NordVPN Feature Comparison
NordVPN is based out of Panama, a country not part of any international surveillance alliance. This differs for TunnelBear, which is headquartered in Canada, a member of the Five Eyes international surveillance alliance. They both have kill switches and they both allow torrenting. TunnelBear offers split tunneling on Android, while NordVPN doesn’t offer split tunneling on any device.
While NordVPN lets you stream Netflix, unfortunately, TunnelBear does not work well with Netflix. They both give you anonymous IP addresses that are shared with other users, helping to keep you anonymous.
When it comes to price, it depends on how long you want to commit. If you just want to pay monthly or yearly, TunnelBear is cheaper. If you can commit to two or three years, then NordVPN becomes cheaper. Overall, NordVPN and TunnelBear are similar and the winner depends on what you’re looking for in a VPN. For most users though, I would recommend NordVPN because it works with Netflix, and not being located in a Five Eye country is a big privacy plus.
Recap of TunnelBear
In summary, I think TunnelBear is a good VPN with a few disadvantages, namely not working with Netflix, being located in a Five Eye country, and slower speeds on Windows. However, you know what they say: “different strokes for different folks”. So let’s break down TunnelBear to see if it will be a good fit for you.
TunnelBear is the VPN for you if you like…
- No data logging: TunnelBear is one of only a handful of VPNs that have been audited by a third party.
- Free version: You can get 500 MB per month to try out TunnelBear to see if you like it.
- Excellent app ratings: With an average rating of 4.5 out of five stars, TunnelBear must be great on mobile devices.
But steer clear if any of the following are deal-breakers…
- Five Eye country: Canada, or another Five Eye partner country, could force TunnelBear to hand over your data (although this shouldn’t matter because of TunnelBear’s no-logging policy).
- Netflix: Don’t count on TunnelBear to bypass Netflix’s geographical restrictions.
- Customer support lacking: No phone or live chat support.
TunnelBear is a solid VPN option for modest users who would rather have high-grade privacy protection than access to Netflix.
- Passed a public audit
- Has a decent free plan
- Can be paid for in Bitcoin
- Limited platform support
- Doesn’t unblock Netflix
- Unknown money-back guarantee
TunnelBear is a Toronto, Canada-based VPN service with a premium and free version, counting over 21 million users all over the world. It was founded in 2011 and acquired by cybersecurity giant McAfee in 2018.
In addition to the free service, TunnelBear offers two paid subscription plans - a 1-month and 1-year option. The monthly version costs $9.99, while the annual is billed $59.88 every 12 months (the equivalent of $4.99 per month).
Teams can get favorable subscription options with prices beginning at $207 per year for a three-member group. Unlike other plans, this one comes with a 7-day free trial.
Payments can be made by credit cards and Bitcoin, but the latter is only possible if you’re buying an annual plan.
Things get a bit tricky if you need a refund. The company says all amounts paid are non-refundable but they may be issued on a case-by-case basis, which is a rather arbitrary policy and big minus.
The provider has limited platform support. Its apps can be installed on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android devices, and there is support for Linux, albeit limited. Specifically, the website includes a support document and OpenVPN configuration files you can use to enable the service on your Linux device.
Protection can be expanded to Chrome, Firefox, and Opera by installing the respective browser extensions. The limit of five concurrent connections cannot be extended by setting the VPN on a router, nor can it be installed on game consoles or smart TV, as this provider doesn’t support any of them.
What you get
The free plan will give you a measly 500MB of data per month and a limitation to only once connection. Since this is surely not enough, you might want to take a look at the premium options, which remove the data traffic cap, allow up to five simultaneous connections, and give you access to priority customer service.
The provider facilitates access to a modest network of servers, covering only 22 countries.
Most VPN providers offer access to geographically restricted services, and this is partially true for TunnelBear. For example, you can safely stream all geo-blocked YouTube content, but try connecting to Netflix or BBC iPlayer and you’ll have no success.
Torrenting, on the other hand, is available with no limitations and the customer support team can even suggest the optimal servers for such purposes.
A Trusted Networks list allows you to add wireless networks you believe are safe, as well as enabling automatic TunnelBear activation when trying to access one that isn’t on it.
SplitBear, or a split-tunneling feature, is available on the provider’s mobile clients. It lets the user choose which apps should be routed through the VPN tunnel and which should have regular Internet access.
TunnelBear provides perfect privacy with the help of AES-256 encryption, and OpenVPN and IKEv2 protocols. These are used interchangeably in the Windows and iOS clients, activated by literally ‘racing each other to see who’ll connect first’. This means you can’t choose which one you want. OpenVPN is used as a default in Android and Mac apps.
Unknowingly connecting to a malicious party disguised as a TunnelBear server is prevented with the use of an encryption handshake. On top of that, the SHA-256 data authentication prevents harmful activities like the man-in-the-middle attacks.
To make sure your sensitive data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, TunnelBear uses a kill switch called VigilantBear. It is the industry-standard tool that shuts down the entire Internet connectivity on your device whenever the VPN connection is interrupted.
A GhostBear feature will try to additionally protect your encrypted data from being detected. It does this by masking your VPN activities as regular Internet traffic. You can try this option if you’re located in an anti-VPN country that is constantly on the lookout for VPNs so it can block them, like China. Do note that GhostBear is unavailable for iOS due to the restrictions in the way iOS is designed.
As an additional privacy guarantee, we are presented with the usual list of data the provider promises not to log. This includes IP addresses, DNS queries, and websites, apps, and services opened under the VPN. Some information is collected though, such as which TunnelBear app you used, on which OS, how much bandwidth was used, as well as if you used the provider’s apps in the past month. According to the company, this minimal amount of information is necessary for its operation.
To prove it has nothing to hide, TunnelBear has brought in an independent auditor to examine its platform and publish an extensive report on it. The company conducting the audit, Cure53, discovered no critical security issues. TunnelBear has done this commendable deed for two years in a row.
TunnelBear connects without difficulties, providing fast connection times, and solid local download speeds for the UK. However, testing in the US brings somewhat less enthusiastic results, peaking at 95Mbps on a 475Mbps line.
Users have access to a decent knowledge-base on the website, divided into categories - Announcements, Getting Started, Billing & Payments, Troubleshooting, TunnelBear for Teams, and Contact Us. You can also read the TunnelBear
If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you might think of using the last category in the support site - Contact Us, but don’t hope for a quick response. The contact options don’t include live chat so you’ll only be able to directly talk to someone working there if you answer a questionnaire and describe your problem in a contact form. To access it, however, you need to create an account, which isn’t ideal.
TunnelBear is a solid VPN service for users who demand superior privacy. Specifically, it has multiple high-quality security tools. It is a bit limited in other areas, like platform support, number of servers, pricing plans, and it doesn’t offer access to any of the popular streaming channels like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, or Amazon Prime.
Our score: 4/5
Client software platforms: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Chrome, Firefox and Opera extensions
Supported protocols: OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPSec
No. of servers: About 1,500
No. of countries: About 22
Country of registration: Canada, but under U.S. ownership
Payment options: Credit card, PayPal, Bitcoin
Real name necessary? No
Encryption protocol: AES-256
Data usage: Unlimited
Bandwidth usage: Unlimited
Max. no. of simultaneously connected devices: 5
Customer support: Email
TunnelBear VPN provides access to servers in 22 countries. This allows subscribers to pretend to be in any of those locations to bypass geoblocks and locally-enforced censorship. Paid plans give subscribers access to all of the servers. However, it should be noted that it is impossible to connect to the Australian server using the free plan.
Subscribers can use TunnelBear to connect to its servers using a desktop PC, laptop, smartphone, tablet, or even on a VPN-friendly router. And, because each premium account permits five simultaneous connections, you can connect using most of your devices at the same time.
VigilantBear (Kill switch)
A kill switch stops you from leaking unencrypted data to your ISP if the VPN connection accidentally drops out. To protect your privacy, TunnelBear VPN provides a kill switch called VigilantBear. For more information, you can read the privacy and security section later in this review.
TunnelBear is based in Canada, which used to mean the service was not considered suitable for Torrenting. Thankfully, TunnelBear has changed its official stance and now states that the service can be used both for downloading P2P and for accessing Tor.
This change of heart comes with the much-needed reassurance that TunnelBear no longer keeps connection logs, making time-correlation attacks a thing of the past. It also means that the company has no data to hand over to the Canadian authorities, should they come knocking.
GhostBear is TunnelBear’s VPN obfuscation technology (sometimes also referred to as ‘stealth mode’). Obfuscation conceals OpenVPN traffic from your ISP and helps people to get around VPN firewalls in locations such as Iran and China. It does this by implementing a choice of TCP over port 443 or by using obfsproxy (users have the option of either). This makes VPN encryption less detectable by governments, ISPs, and businesses by making it seem like normal HTTPS traffic.
Leaving GhostBear disabled doesn’t really make you any less secure, but it is an excellent extra feature for people that need to disguise their VPN use from their ISP or for users that need to evade ISP throttling in places where VPN use is restricted or blocked by the government (China, Iran, etc). It is worth noting that GhostBear will potentially slow down your internet connection a bit more than using the VPN without it.
Does TunnelBear unblock Netflix?
No, sadly TunnealBear does not unblock Netflix US, Netflix UK or even BBC iPlayer. The speed of the VPN is more than enough to stream content from your local providers, but the company has explicitly stated that it doesn't allow access to geoblocked content. This is pretty disappointing considering the cost of the VPN and largely leaves us recommending that you look elsewhere if you need a VPN that can access Netflix US.
Pricing and plans
TunnelBear VPN provides three different subscription options: 1-Month, 1-Year, and an exclusive 2-Year plan for ProPrivacy readers. The Free plan permits subscribers to download 500 MB of free data every month. Free users are given access to all servers apart from Australia (so 21 locations in total).
The paid plans can be purchased either for monthly or yearly use. The monthly plan will set you back $9.99 per month and it is recurring so you will need to cancel it manually if you want to stop paying to use it. If you’re willing to pay upfront, you save a substantial amount of money with the 1-year plan, which equates to $4.99 per month ($59.88 for the year) and the exclusive 2-year plan at $4.17 per month ($99.99 for both years).
Sadly, TunnelBear has dropped its 30-day money-back guarantee, instead opting for non-refundable purchases. In select circumstances, the company might grant a refund, but we would suggest trying the service using its free tier before committing to a purchase.
Speed and performance
We test TunnelBear's connection speeds by using our scientific server-based VPN speed testing system. For more information about how our speed tests work you can read our full article here. Our speed test system is automatically updated 3 times a day, which means that we always have access to up-to-date speed data in real-time.
During our tests, we found Tunnelbear to provide fast connection speeds, that are suitable for streaming in HD and doing other data-intensive tasks.
According to our tests, over the last six monthsTunnelBear has provides average download speeds of 40.8Mbit/s and Max Speed/Burst Results of 411 Mbit/s. These speeds put TunnelBear in amongst the very best VPNs on the market, and while it isn't the fastest VPN on the market it is an extremely well-performing service.
|IPv4 leak detected?|
|WebRTC leak detected?|
|ProPrivacy.com SpeedTest (max/burst)||189.99|
|ProPrivacy.com SpeedTest (average)||73.64|
We tested for IP leaks and DNS leaks using ipleak.net. The good news is that we didn’t detect any IP or Domain Name System (DNS) leaks while using TunnelBear. We also detected no IP leaks on IPv4 or IPv6.
However, while using IPv6 we did detect WebRTC leaks on both Windows and Mac, which means that you will need to disable WebRTC in your browser (or use a WebRTC blocking extension) if you want to use this VPN securely. Alternatively, you could disable IPv6 connections on your device.
Tunnelbear claims to have a fix for WebRTC leaks under development, however, at the time of writing the problem persists.
Ease of use
Signing up to TunnelBear VPN is an easy process all round. To access the free version, users must enter an email address and password. Following that, the site automatically redirects users to the downloads page. At this point, users can select software for the platform they require. Subscribing to a paid plan will require additional payment via credit card or Bitcoin (PayPal is not supported anymore).
Once on the download page, simply download the TunnelBear client for the platform you need. The software downloads quickly and a setup wizard walks you through the process on installation without a hitch. Once installed, you can log in using your email and password.
After logging in, TunnelBear provides a quick walkthrough to explain the VPN's capabilities. Finally, it asks subscribers to check their inbox for an account confirmation email. As long as the account is verified, users can begin using the VPN software (free or paid).
The TunnelBear Windows VPN Client
The TunnelBear Windows VPN has been designed with great care. The client looks great and is fun to use: this is pretty rare. In keeping with its image, the software is filled with bear joes and amusing bear graphics. By default, TunnelBear connects to a random server situated close to you. If you require a specific location, then you will need to select it from the list of server locations and click connect.
In the upper left corner, users can access a drop-down menu where they can change the VPN's Settings. In "General", subscribers can elect to set TunnelBear to run when they start up their computer. In addition, they can ask the client to send them notifications about various things (disconnections, disruptions to service, and network status information).
In the Security tab, users can enable VigilantBear (the kill switch) and GhostBear (stealth mode) feature for bypassing firewalls. Using the kill switch is recommended at all times to stop data from leaking to your ISP: this guarantees your privacy. GhostBear is only necessary for people living in locations where VPN obfuscation is necessary (for getting around Firewall or bypassing ISP throttling). GhostBear is actually TunnelBear's implementation of Obfsproxy.
Under Trusted Networks, users can add known networks and enable TunnelBear to connect to a VPN server every time they connect to an unknown network (perfect for people who use random public WiFi hotspots regularly).
Finally, the Account tab can be used to manage your subscription, request support using the ticket system, or to log out of TunnelBear VPN.
As well as Windows, TunnelBear offers an iOS VPN app. The iOS client provides L2TP/IPsec encryption instead of OpenVPN encryption, so if you require OpenVPN you will also need to use third-party OpenVPN connect software (TunnelBear can help you to get this setup).
TunnelBear also provides an Android VPN app that uses OpenVPN, and is similar in design to the iPhone version. Tunnelbear will work as a Linux VPN, however, it is important to note that Linux user will require the third-party OpenVPN client.
Overall the apps are very similar on all platforms, are easy to use and provide similar connection speeds across the board.
TunnelBear also has a browser extension that is free to download and can be used with either Chrome or Opera (but not Firefox). The browser extension is a nice addition, but remember that it is a proxy service as opposed to a full VPN service (it only proxies data within the browser). The browser extension is multi-platform (works with Linux, Chrome OS, OS X, and Windows).
|Free trial||Yes - 7 days|
|Money-back guarantee length||30|
TunnelBear has a dedicated Help page that can be found in the small menu at the bottom of any page. This resource consists of information regarding "Status Updates", "Getting Started", "Accounts & Payments", "Browser Extension Help", "Windows App Help", "Mac OS X App Help", "iOS App Help", and "Android App Help". These articles can be easily found using the page’s search button.
For anybody that can't find an answer on TunnelBear's help page, it is possible to contact TunnelBear directly. Sadly, the firm doesn't have a live chat feature, so you will need to use the online contact form. Subscribers and non-subscribers can use this feature to ask questions about the service.
To test TunnelBear's customer support, I sent their representatives a question about encryption on the platform to see if anything had been changed or improved since the last time I reviewed them last year. As was the case last time I received an email telling me to expect a response within 24 hours.
My response arrived within 24 hours, but I did have to ask for clarification on one point which wasn't answered clearly. Despite this slight hitch, I found them to be very friendly and eager to help. What's more, I did get the details I wanted in the second response. Not the best customer support in the world, but not bad either.
Privacy and security
|IPv6 leak protection|
|WebRTC leak protection|
TunnelBear stores some minimal logs for a month. This is what TunnelBear says about having to comply with the authorities in Canada:
“In the event TunnelBear is required to comply with law enforcement where subpoenas, warrants or other legal documents have been provided, valid under Canadian jurisdiction, the extent of disclosure is limited to the Personal information you provided upon registration as well as the overall number of connections, overall MBs used that month.”
The highly minimal nature of what is kept by TunnelBear means that subscribers really never need to worry about what they use the VPN for. Even if served a warrant by the authorities TunnelBear VPN would have very little to hand over of any real value.
TunnelBear Terms of Service
It is worth noting that TunnelBear is based in Canada, a country that is a part of the infamous Five Eyes Treaty. Canada has been found snooping on citizens several times in recent years, but this doesn't stop TunnelBear from protecting your data.
While required to hand over data if approached by authorities, TunnelBear holds no connection logs or identifiable logs of any kind. As such, the most that the authorities should be able to get from the company is your name, email address and payment details. It is also one of the only providers to perform regular full system, code and infrastructure audits by trusted third-party firms, and publish the results.
However, it worth bearing in mind that TunnelBear does pretty much wash its hands of any responsibility for a number of things in its Terms of Service:
As you can see TunnelBear absolves itself of responsibility for just about everything. In addition, TunnelBear clearly states that users can't:
It also asks users to always abide by the laws of their own country and of the country that they tunnel into. All points that are definitely worth bearing in mind (especially because it is based in Canada).
When it comes to encryption, TunnelBear provides access to two different VPN protocols. The Windows, Android, and Mac OS X clients all implement OpenVPN. iOS users get the choice of either L2TP/IPsec) or IKEv2. Thus, anybody wishing to connect via OpenVPN on iOS will need to do so using the third-party OpenVPN Connect software (which is free).
Strong 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) encryption with SHA256 authentication is used across the platforms, apart from iOS 8 and earlier (which is encrypted with 128-bit AES encryption and uses SHA-1 for data authentication).
All this information is available on TunnelBear’s blog, which is a fantastic level of transparency. Also positive: TunnelBear does not provide Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) - an out of date form of VPN encryption that is now considered insecure and we always recommend against.
It is also worth noting that TunnelBear has now released updated software that protects against IPv6 leaks, and we found this to work successfully (last time we reviewed the service these were in Beta).
In this TunnelBear review, we discovered a sweet looking and easy to use VPN service that is ideal for beginners. The free plan allows users to get a taste of the service, though 500 Mb per month certainly won't be enough to use the service for anything considerable (such as streaming movies with privacy). The free version is useful for people living in conflict areas, or locations where heavy censorship is in place. It will allow them to access news websites and do other non-data-intensive tasks in times of need.
TunnelBear in brief:
- P2P allowed: No
- Business location: Canada
- Number of servers: Unknown
- Number of country locations: 20
- Cost: $60 (billed annually)
Besides being a popular VPN, TunnelBear is known for two things: puns and skeumorphic design. The company has since given up one of those things, and it wasn’t the puns. For years, TunnelBear’s desktop program looked like an antique radio made out of wood. You selected your preferred country connection from a drop-down menu and flipped the switch to connect. That was pretty much it.
All that changed in late 2016, when TunnelBear overhauled its desktop program to something more modern but with that TunnelBear flair.
When you first open up TunnelBear you’re confronted with a world map with some extra detail. The trees, for example, change based on the continent or region you’re viewing (palm trees in the Middle East, Umbrella Thorns in Africa). Your pre-VPN connection location is signified on the map with a sheep, but once you turn on the VPN it turns into a bear.
TunnelBear’s interface with a connection to Australia.
Each available TunnelBear country location has an empty barrel (bear, bear-el, get it?) icon on it. Select the country icon you want, and the program will connect.
If you don’t like the map method there’s also a drop-down list at the top with the name of every country.
That’s the primary part of the desktop program. The left-hand panel also has a settings cog icon where you can activate TunnelBear’s extra features.
Features and services
On the whole, TunnelBear is a simple service without a lot of frills, but it does have a few key features worth checking out. Under Settings > General > Notifications, TunnelBear has a setting that will alert you when you connect to an insecure Wi-Fi access point. Many VPNs have a similar feature, but often that feature simply calls any Wi-Fi access point insecure unless you connect to that service’s VPN.
TunnelBear, by comparison, only alerts you to true weaknesses like basic WEP security or a Wi-Fi point that doesn’t have a password.
TunnelBear’s security settings.
Moving on to Settings > Security, TunnelBear has a kill switch feature called VigilantBear that will block all internet traffic when you disconnect from the VPN. A second setting called GhostBear is an anti-censorship and restriction mechanism that works to make your encrypted VPN data appear like regular network traffic. For Americans, this can be useful if you’re on a network that throttles VPN traffic, for example.
Finally under Settings > Trusted Networks, TunnelBear lets you automatically activate TunnelBear on any Wi-Fi network that doesn’t appear in your Trusted Networks list. Adding a new network is as simple as connecting to it and clicking Add to Trusted Networks.
TunnelBear offers desktop programs and mobile apps for Mac, Windows, Android, and iOS. There are also proxy browser extensions for Chrome and Opera. The service allows you to use up to five devices at once on a single account.
While most features are available on every platform (not including the browser extensions), the GhostBear feature is currently unavailable for iOS. TunnelBear says this is due to the limitations Apple puts on third-party providers.
TunnelBear’s speed scores were impressive. Nearly every download speed in the USA, Germany, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom scored double digits, with capable upload speeds.
As we said in our VPN primer, online speeds can vary wildly in pure Mbps tests from day to day and even hour to hour, which is why I don’t bother to publish specific measurements. Unfortunately, sometimes even a generic percentage score won’t tell the whole story of how well a VPN can perform.
The bottom line is that TunnelBear is capable and fast for most country connections.
Update: This article was updated on July 17, 2017 with updated speed scores.
Privacy, anonymity, and trust
TunnelBear does not collect the IP address you use to connect to the VPN or visit TunnelBear’s website, nor is any of your online activity logged when using the VPN.
When you sign up for an account, TunnelBear only asks for an email address. However, it may also collect the Twitter account of users who use a promotion for a free gigabyte of data after tweeting a message about TunnelBear.
Payment options include Bitcoin, PayPal, and credit cards, meaning you can choose the amount of anonymity you’re comfortable with when paying for the VPN.
TunnelBear is also upfront about its team and the company’s address—all of which is available on the TunnelBear site. The company is located at 141 Bathurst Street, Suite 101 in Toronto, and its CEO is Ryan Dochuk. You can find a complete listing of the TunnelBear team on the company’s website.
As TunnelBear is located in Canada all personal information is handled according to Canadian law.
TunnelBear is a good VPN, and its speeds should meet the needs of most VPN users. However, the service won’t help if your primary goal is accessing Netflix USA from overseas. Privacy-minded users may not like that TunnelBear collects some data from users, but, again, it’s very generic information and doesn’t include browsing activity. If that still concerns you, TunnelBear says it recently concluded a third-party code audit for the company’s apps and servers that will be released in the coming months.
Editor’s note: Because online services are often iterative, gaining new features and performance improvements over time, this review is subject to change in order to accurately reflect the current state of the service. Any changes to text or our final review verdict will be noted at the top of this article.
Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
TunnelBear is an easy-to-use VPN that doesn't overwhelm with features or too many country choices. It has consistently respectable speeds across most country locations to satisfy any casual VPN user.
- Easy-to-use interface
- Good speeds
- Good Wi-Fi security detection
- Logging of generic data
Ian is an independent writer based in Israel who has never met a tech subject he didn't like. He primarily covers Windows, PC and gaming hardware, video and music streaming services, social networks, and browsers. When he's not covering the news he's working on how-to tips for PC users, or tuning his eGPU setup.
While TunnelBear is a decent VPN, you can get better quality VPNs at an affordable price. Surfshark, for example, offers premium VPN features for a super low monthly fee — so you don’t have to settle for less.
Don’t get TunnelBear if you plan on using it while torrenting, because they have a strict no torrenting and P2P file sharing policy. If you need a VPN for torrenting, we recommend NordVPN.
TunnelBear has been on the market for 7 years now. But has it stood the test of time because of good service, or is it just all the adorable bears?
Formed in 2011 by Ryan Dochuk (Corporate Bear) and Daniel Kaldor (Quantum Bear) and based in Toronto, Canada, TunnelBear has built a pretty solid base as a reliable VPN.
TunnelBear includes a kill-switch, called VigilantBear, which is constantly being checked, tested, and upgraded. Another handy feature, GhostBear, can allow you to disguise your connection. This can help to bypass walls so you can watch US Netflix or BBC iPlayer, however these don’t always work.
With all that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the features and options offered by TunnelBear VPN.
Important to know
Founded date: 2011
Keep logs: Yes
Device per license: 5
Platforms windows mac linux android ios
We ran speed tests multiple times during our use of TunnelBear, and they generally came out similar to our normal download speeds. However, sometimes when connected to the US server, the speed test demonstrated very low speeds, which was very frustratimg when watching YouTube videos and even general browsing.
If you find your connection is a little choppy at the best of times (even without using a VPN), you can try turning on the TCP override, which can improve the stability of your connection. We found that this worked quite well, but didn’t always improve the speed of our connection.
|Download speed reduction||Upload speed reduction||Ping time to Google.com||Average time to connect (seconds)||Unblock successful for|
|TunnelBear VPN||17% (UK)||17% (FRA)||321.83ms||12|
|Average score of top 10 VPNs||19% (UK)||17% (FRA)||25ms||9|
Why Most Speed Tests are Pointless & How We Correctly Test VPN Speeds
Speed determines how fast content uploads, so if you're torrenting or streaming, you want the speed to be somewhat identical to your regular internet speed. Since a VPN encrypts your data, it usually takes a bit longer to send your data back and forth, which can slow down your connection. However, if your ISP deliberately slows down your connection (also known as throttling) a VPN might increase your internet speed. Testing a VPN is somewhat pointless because new servers pop up and affect speed. Your speed can also differ according to your location, so your speed test might not match ours. Having said that, we tested the speed in numerous locations to provide you with the average.
As mentioned above, TunnelBear runs in over 20 countries around the globe. When you first connect, TunnelBear will automatically connect you to your closest server, which for us was Hong Kong (apparently Singapore didn’t feel like playing that day). You can easily toggle this to connect to your required country by either going to the server you want and clicking on the tunnel there to connect, or by selecting it in the drop down at the top of the screen. This makes it really easy to change to the country you need for streaming.
Another benefit is that TunnelBear offers connections on up to five devices, including desktop PC (both Mac and Windows), laptop, and both Android and iOS smartphones/tablets. So you can reasonably be connected to servers on all of your devices at once.
As you can see, TunnelBear has servers in both the US and the UK, so you can access popular streaming services such as the ever-elusive US Netflix, or BBC iPlayer. However, during our use of TunnelBear, we found that accessing BBC iPlayer was virtually impossible due to BBC cracking down more on connections that even slightly resemble a VPN. We did manage to access US Netflix, though, so that’s a big tick in the pro column.
GhostBear – TunnelBear’s obfuscation technology – is definitely an option to try and make your connection look more like a regular internet connection, acting as a kind of “stealth mode”. It can slow your connection speed a bit, though. It’s important to note that you’re still protected without GhostBear switched on – it just adds another layer to try and help you access those streaming services you so crave. We didn’t find that it helped us get past the BBC issues, though.
It’s important also to note that P2P downloads and torrenting are not permitted using TunnelBear VPN, so those looking for a VPN that could enable this should look elsewhere.
TunnelBear also offers VigilantBear, which acts like a kill-switch and will protect your data until you have a more secure connection. For anyone that values privacy in their VPN usage, this is a feature to keep in mind. The TunnelBear team have also been known to post on their blog about improvements they have made to the VigilantBear system, so your privacy is definitely a going concern.
See all supported locations...
TunnelBear is so easy to use and ideal for first-time VPN-users. The download is quick, easy, and adorable (not many VPNs can claim that last one).
The interface is set up like a map of the world, with different pipes in each of the 20 countries offered.
You can simply scroll to the one of your choice and tap/click to connect. Or, on the desktop PC interface, you can select ‘Auto’ in the drop-down, and TunnelBear will tunnel to the closest or quickest server available. As you can see, though, both interfaces are extremely easy to use and understand. The graphics for connection are charming, and the bear will roar on the phone app once it has connected to the server.
The menu items in the interface are generally very easy to understand and, where they might be a little more complex, TunnelBear has provided links to explain what the feature is for.
OpenVPN is implemented by TunnelBear for Windows, Mac, and Android devices – something to keep in mind for those who have a different, preferred protocol. For iOS devices they use either Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) or Internet Protocol Security (IPsec).
When it comes to bypassing the Netflix VPN block, TunnelBear is not consistent. On a good day they will get you access to the US Netflix, but we don’t recommend using TunnelBear if Netflix is a priority for you.
TunnelBear does offer Customer Support, but only through a ticket/email system, where you fill out a contact form on the website itself. The FAQs section is extensive, though, and does offer a lot of answers, often with strategies to implement to help fix basic problems.
We personally tried out the contact form to see how quickly and efficiently TunnelBear support would get back to us, and the results were good. We decided to ask about the issues we were having connecting to BBC iPlayer, and we received a response in less than 24 hours. The answer was helpful, if not capable of solving our problem. However, it did come across as a little like a template to copy-paste and, without access to a live chat feature, it is hard to test whether the ‘Support Bear’ in question was actually responding, or just sending a rote response.
However, you will notice that the offer of a refund was made, despite TunnelBear mentioning in its Terms and Conditions that it doesn’t offer them. Perhaps TunnelBear is experiencing difficulties because of the increased vigilance of services like US Netflix and BBC iPlayer, and so a refund for ‘unused tunnelling time’ has become more acceptable?
After this, we requested a refund as offered and it was actioned within 24 hours – a cancellation of our paid service, as well as a refund of our most recent payment. The impression we get is that TunnelBear will try to fix your problem as best they can, but will also acknowledge when it is just the streaming service you are trying to access getting tougher security.
While the support didn’t have a live chat feature, the support is quick and also friendly, and the efficiency with which they gave us the refund and made everything simple for us.
|VPN vendor||Email response time||24/7 support||Live chat||Refund policy||Native English|
|TunnelBear VPN||6 hours|
How We Test Customer Support and Why Should You Care
We personally test the customer support team of every VPN we review. This means asking technical question through the live chat feature (where applicable) and measuring the response time for email questions. Whether you need to connect to a specific server, change your security protocol, or configure a VPN on your router, finding a VPN with quality customer support should be important to you.
While TunnelBear do not offer a money-back guarantee, they do offer a free version of their VPN. This plan, called “Little Bear”, involves 500mB of data per month (which goes up to unlimited with a paid plan), and all of TunnelBear’s servers are available. However, a little birdie (ie. Twitter) has indicated that you can get an extra gigabyte of free data added to your account if you tweet about TunnelBear.
The two paid TunnelBear packages are called Giant, and Grizzly.
The Giant option is a monthly payment, which you pay at the same time each month, while the Grizzly version is a yearly payment and you can use this coupon to save 50% of the price of the Giant option, but you have to pay upfront for the entire year.
The payment options are pretty slim – TunnelBear has removed Paypal as an option in recent times, so they mostly accept Credit Card or Bitcoin, if you’d like to remain anonymous.
In general, TunnelBear is a fairly solid VPN, offering servers in multiple countries, helping to grant access to streaming services as best they can, and putting customer’s privacy at a high priority. We recommend it for those new to using VPNs, and those who are partial to bears who like to tunnel.