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TunnelBear Review

Rebecca Duff
By Rebecca DuffUpdated
Our Score7.5
User Rating
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User-friendly VPN best suited to beginners. Good privacy features and decent local speeds.

What we like
  • Fast local download speeds of up to 77Mbps
  • Simple set-up on most popular platforms
  • Connect securely to 22 countries
  • GhostBear works in high-censorship countries
  • Free plan is a great way to test out the software

TunnelBear is an accessible, user-friendly VPN with a sincere approach to online privacy. It performs well on local connections but isn’t as reliable if you want to connect internationally.

Streaming service availability isn’t reliable and you can’t install it at router level, so your extra devices will go unprotected.

We can forgive its less-than-ideal Canadian jurisdiction for its strong encryption, advanced extra privacy features, and minimal logging policy.

Pricing & Deals

TunnelBear offers both a free plan and two different paid plans. Click the link to see our full review of TunnelBear Free.

The two paid options, in keeping with the theme, are named ‘Giant’ and ‘Grizzly’. The Giant plan is monthly, costing a fairly reasonable $9.99 per month, whereas signing up to the annual Grizzly plan will only cost you $4.99 per month, a saving of 50%.

TunnelBear Coupon

TunnelBear Pricing & Deals

Best Value Deal
12 Months
US$4.99/mo
Save 50%
Billed $59.88 every 12 months
1 Month
US$9.99/mo
Billed $9.99 every month

TunnelBear doesn’t offer an official free trial, but you can sign up to the ‘Little’ (free) plan to give you an idea of what it’s like to use the software.

You should definitely do this before signing up to a paid subscription, as all payments are non-refundable (although certain refund requests may be granted at TunnelBear’s discretion).

You can also earn money by getting your family and friends to sign up to TunnelBear. Every time someone subscribes using the link you provide them with, you can earn up to $30 depending on the package.

Payment Options

TunnelBear accepts a fairly limited range of payment methods in comparison to most other VPN providers.

You can pay via credit card, debit card or Bitcoin, but it isn’t possible to use PayPal or any other international options.

Speed & Reliability

TunnelBear doesn’t trouble our top-tier providers when it comes to speed.

Local connections are good enough for buffer-free streaming, but long-distance connections will only be adequate for general browsing. Latency is pretty laggy across the server network, so gamers should consider other options.

TunnelBear peaks at a reasonable 77Mbps down locally, and 31Mbps connecting from the UK to the US East Coast, both of which are plenty fast enough for HD streaming.

Performance over longer distances is improving but still doesn’t match up to that offered by top-tier providers, with 15Mbps from the UK to Australia and 9Mbps to Singapore.

Uploads aren’t as fast at just 40Mbps on same-country connections – they barely reached 5Mbps to distant servers.

To read about our speed testing methodologies take a look at our guide to How We Review VPNs.

Features

Server Locations

22Countries22Countries
22Cities22Cities
?IP Addresses?IP Addresses

TunnelBear has a very small network of server locations, with only 22 countries on offer.

The most obvious locations such as the US, Australia, and Western Europe are all covered, but should you need more coverage outside of these areas you’re better off going with another provider – HideMyAss! has 190 countries, for instance.

TunnelBear isn’t unwilling to reveal the number of servers and IP addresses it makes available to subscribers but we can’t imagine it’s many given the small number of locations on offer.

Unfortunately, there’s no city-level selection choice – people wanting to connect to the US might find not being able to choose a specific state frustrating.

Platforms & Devices

Apps

Windows LogoWindows
Mac LogoMac
iOS LogoiOS
Android LogoAndroid
Linux LogoLinux

TunnelBear provides custom apps for four of the most popular platforms: Microsoft Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android.

It is possible to use the software with Linux, but this does require some manual configuration and TunnelBear only provides a limited amount of support.

It’s not possible to install TunnelBear at router-level, so protection is limited to the supported devices above.

If you’re looking for simple plug-and-play solutions for your Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox, Apple TV and more our top recommendation is ExpressVPN.

Browser Extensions

Chrome LogoChrome
Firefox LogoFirefox

TunnelBear offers proxy extensions for Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera browsers. These are all very easy to download and add to your browser with no manual configuration necessary.

These proxies don’t include any advanced privacy features, nor do they offer the same level of encryption as the desktop client, but they’re definitely useful regardless.

Streaming & Torrenting

During our latest tests we couldn’t access either Netflix or BBC iPlayer, which is disappointing.

Access to these sites has been very inconsistent, working one day and not the next. The lack of server choice is a major hindrance here, so there are no backup options when one server fails.

We couldn’t recommend TunnelBear for big streaming fans – if that’s you then we’d suggest SaferVPN.

After a recent update torrenting is now permitted in all locations worldwide and, thanks to decent local uploads and a minimal logging policy, it does the job well.

Encryption & Security

TunnelBear does a lot right for privacy – it uses OpenVPN for all desktop and Android connections, and IKEv2 for iOS. Both of these are secure and perform well, but we would have liked to see the option to choose between more protocols within the apps.

Encryption is via AES-256, a top cipher that’s considered ‘unhackable’.

We love the VPN kill switch, referred to in-app as ‘Vigilant mode’, that blocks all web traffic if the VPN connection gets disrupted for any reason, preventing your true IP address from being exposed.

TunnelBear operates its own zero-log DNS servers and it passed all of our independent leak tests with flying colors. The DNS leak protection ensures that your ISP isn’t able to monitor your browsing activity at any point.

Another useful feature is TunnelBear’s proprietary ‘GhostBear’ protocol, which scrambles your VPN communications and makes it harder for governments, businesses, and ISPs to detect your connection. It also provides you with a secondary layer of encryption.

Protocol
  • IKEv2/IPSec
  • L2TP/IPSec
  • OpenVPN (TCP/UDP)
Encryption
  • AES-256
Security
  • DNS Leak Blocking
  • First-party DNS
  • VPN Kill Switch
Advanced features
  • Double VPN

Bypassing Censorship

While TunnelBear certainly has the necessary features to bypass the Great Firewall it often doesn’t work, with disconnects far too frequent for it to be considered useful.

Despite this, there are some users that still swear by this service, having never had any issues, and speeds are fairly quick if you connect to the nearby Singapore server.

Due to its proprietary GhostBear protocol, TunnelBear is still a good choice for connecting out from other high-censorship countries such as Iran or Turkey.

A small server network means that performance probably won’t be brilliant, but in most cases you should still be able to access government-blocked content.

Privacy

Logging Policy

TunnelBear is very close to being zero logs, and its privacy policy is one of the most transparent and clearest that we’ve seen.

The following basic connection metadata is used for customer support and troubleshooting purposes:

  • Total bandwidth used
  • Total lifetime connections
  • Whether or not you’ve connected in the last month.

Reassuringly, none of these can be used to personally identify you.

TunnelBear was recently featured in a report conducted by the CDT (Center for Democracy & Technology) on “Signals of Trustworthy VPNs”. In this, it discloses that each server is hardened with full disk encryption, malware and intrusion scans, and intrusion protection techniques. These protect users personal information as much as possible.

Jurisdiction

TunnelBear is incorporated in Canada, a nation that shares intelligence data with the US and UK.

While TunnelBear is required to comply with Canadian law enforcement agencies if supplied with subpoenas, warrants or other legal documents, it doesn’t collect any information that could be traced back to you as an individual.

Ease of Use

TunnelBear’s range of custom apps is either cute or gimmicky, depending on either your point of view or how much you like software laden with bears.

The desktop client is incredibly simple to use: all you have to do is click on a server location on the world map and wait for the bear to tunnel under the earth and pop out in the US, Australia or wherever. We would have liked a little more connection info on the main screen though, such as our new IP address or chosen protocol.

The small number of advanced features are easy enough to find, well-organized and simple to toggle on and off, and the mobile apps are very similarly laid out.

TunnelBear opts for an original approach that’s best suited to beginners, so experienced users wanting lots of settings to play with might be better off with a different provider.

Getting Started

Installation and set-up is incredibly easy and done in just a few minutes, even if you’ve never downloaded a VPN before. All you have to do is download the relevant software from TunnelBear’s website and then follow the prompts given to you by the installation wizard.

There’s no setup guides for any devices, though – including the main platforms. If you get stuck be prepared to message the support team and wait a few hours for a response.

  • Installing software
  • How to use the app

Customer Support

TunnelBear’s customer support is largely good enough, but it can’t quite compete with top-tier providers.

We were disappointed by the lack of live chat feature, and with email responses sometimes taking more than five hours it can get pretty frustrating if you just have a small query. We also don’t like the fact that you have to create an account and sign in to ask a question.

Thankfully the resources on the site are very well-written and make huge efforts to make VPNs accessible to beginners and non-technical people, which is great.

The Bottom Line

What we like
  • Fast local download speeds of up to 77Mbps
  • Simple set-up on most popular platforms
  • Connect securely to 22 countries worldwide
  • GhostBear works in high-censorship countries
  • Free plan is a great way to test out the software
What we like less
  • Very small server network
  • Inconsistent access to streaming sites
  • Based in privacy-unfriendly Canada
  • No live chat feature

TunnelBear is a simple, fun VPN for beginners, but it’s ultimately very limited in comparison to top-tier providers.

Speeds are decent on local connections but nothing to shout about, and access to popular streaming sites like Netflix is very inconsistent and changes from day to day.

It logs the bare minimum – nothing that could personally identify you – and packs in essential security features like a VPN kill switch, even if there aren’t any advanced settings.


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