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TunnelBear Review

Rebecca Duff
Rebecca DuffUpdated
TunnelBear
Our rating: 3.7
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User-friendly VPN best suited to beginners. Good privacy features and access to Netflix.

What we like
  • Fast download speeds on same-country connections
  • Easy access to major streaming services
  • Simple set-up on most popular platforms
  • Connect securely to 20 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. Performance on local connections is above average, however if you need to connect internationally you’ll be disappointed with the speeds on offer. It’s currently possible to access Netflix and BBC iPlayer, however this isn’t guaranteed and changes from day to day. Custom apps are available for the major platforms but the software isn’t supported by routers, streaming devices or games consoles. There are also no manual workarounds for devices lacking native apps.

TunnelBear offers strong encryption and some advanced privacy features, such as a VPN killswitch and first-party DNS servers. It collects the bare minimum of connection metadata needed to maintain a decent level of server performance, which goes some way to mitigating the fact it’s based in privacy-unfriendly Canada. Customer support lacks live chat but the online knowledge base has enough information to solve most basic problems.

Pricing & Deals

TunnelBear offers both a free plan and two different paid plans. The free package has all the same features as the paid packages, minus the Australian server, however you’re limited to 500Mb of data each month.

There are only two paid options available, called ‘Giant’ and ‘Grizzly’. The Giant plan is on a monthly basis, costing a fairly reasonable $9.99, however signing up to the annual Grizzly plan will only cost you $4.17 per month, saving you 58%.

TunnelBear Pricing & Deals

The prices below include the coupon savings.

12 Months
US$4.17/mo
Save 58%
Billed $49.99 every 12 months
1 Month
US$9.99/mo
Billed $9.99 every month
Get TunnelBear30-day money-back guarantee

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. This is subject to a 500MB data limit, however this should be enough to run a few speed tests and check that you’re happy with everything. 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. The best thing is there’s no limit to the amount of referrals you can make.

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, however it isn’t possible to use PayPal or any other international options.

Speed & Reliability

TunnelBear’s performance was above average on local connections but very disappointing across its wider server network. Connecting to a nearby country you can expect speeds decent enough for buffer-free streaming, however long-distance connections will only be adequate for general browsing. Latency is fairly low but a small network means gamers should probably consider other options, and torrenting is not permitted on any of TunnelBear’s servers.

TunnelBear provides good enough download speeds to stream video without too much trouble on nearby servers, peaking at an impressive 84Mbps in France and 78Mbps in the UK. Transatlantic users may be a little more disappointed, with connections to the US from Europe struggling to reach 17Mbps. It’s good to bear in mind that this is still enough for general browsing or streaming on a single device. Performance over longer distances was unsurprisingly poor, at a paltry 6Mbps in Australia and 11Mbps in Singapore.

We found latency to be fairly low, coming in at an average of 5ms in the UK, however with a limited number of servers available it’s perhaps not the best choice for gamers.

TunnelBear’s connection times are pretty slow compared to top-tier providers at around 15 seconds, but unless you need to frequently switch servers this shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Fortunately we experienced very few connection drops during our tests, however overall performance was far less consistent than we’d like it to be.

Upload speeds on local connections are good but nothing to shout about, coming in at 68Mbps in the UK (we test from London). Again, you can expect decent performance on nearby servers, but connecting internationally we found some servers to be so slow they were almost unusable, such as Australia with uploads of less than 1Mbps. TunnelBear doesn’t permit torrenting on any of its servers anyway, so users of P2P software need to look elsewhere.

While TunnelBear’s performance is impressive across Europe, you’re going to struggle for speed if you want to connect internationally. There are other providers out there that offer much quicker, more consistent speeds across a larger network. The fact that P2P isn’t permitted on any servers will also be off-putting for some.

To read about our speed testing methodologies, please read How we test for VPN speed performance.

Features

Server Locations

20Countries20Countries
20Cities20Cities
-IP Addresses-IP Addresses

TunnelBear has an incredibly small network of server locations with only 20 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.

We were disappointed with TunnelBear’s lack of transparency, as unlike its competitors it was unwilling to reveal the number of servers and IP addresses it makes available to its subscribers. Apparently this number “is always changing” as they’re scaled based on load, however we aren’t convinced by this. A small server network means it’s a lot more difficult for you to get ‘lost in the crowd’, and could also lead to congestion at busier times.

Unfortunately there is no city-level selection choice, but that is to be expected in a network of this size. Europe is served fairly well with 12 countries to choose from, and we were pleasantly surprised to see 4 choices in Asia, including India and Singapore.

South America is limited to only one server in Brazil, and Africa is lacking any coverage whatsoever. This means that if you need access to a truly global network, TunnelBear definitely isn’t the right choice for you. People wanting to connect mainly to the US might also want to consider other options, as not being able to choose a specific state is really frustrating.

You can find the complete list of TunnelBear server locations by country and purpose on their website below.

Platforms & Devices

Apps

Windows LogoWindows
Mac LogoMac
iOS LogoiOS
Android LogoAndroid
Linux LogoLinux

TunnelBear provides custom apps for the usual popular platforms including Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. It is possible to use the software with Linux, however this does require some manual configuration and TunnelBear will only provide a limited amount of support. There is a set-up guide on the website but it’s fairly basic and doesn’t include any screenshots or videos.

Unfortunately it’s not possible to buy pre-configured routers with TunnelBear already installed, nor is it possible to manually configure the software to work on your existing router. This means that you need to install the apps on each device you would like to protect, which is a little annoying, but thankfully TunnelBear allows 5 simultaneous connections.

Browser extensions

Chrome LogoChrome
FireFox LogoFireFox

TunnelBear offers proxy extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera browsers. These are all very easy to download and add to your browser with no manual configuration necessary. They couldn’t be easier to use, allowing you to connect to any of TunnelBear’s global servers in order to hide your true IP address and access censored content.

Unfortunately they don’t include any advanced privacy features, as technically they’re only proxies rather than full VPN extensions. This means that they don’t offer the same level of encryption and should not be used as a substitute for the desktop client, however they are useful bonus features for those seeking a more lightweight browsing experience.

Console & Streaming Devices

It’s not possible to use TunnelBear with any games consoles or streaming devices due to the fact that the software is not supported by any type of router. Usually you’d also be able to share the VPN connection with another device running the TunnelBear app, such as a laptop or smartphone, however it specifically states on the website that this will not work under any circumstances.

If you’re looking for simple plug-and-play solutions for your Playstation, Xbox or Apple TV, there are lots of providers out there that do offer this. TunnelBear’s lack of manual workarounds for these devices makes it clear that anything outside of the popular platforms isn’t their priority.

Streaming & Torrenting

Whilst TunnelBear is currently working with Netflix and other major streaming services, it’s not one of our top choices as access to these sites is very inconsistent and not always guaranteed to work. We’ve been able to watch US Netflix without any issues in our most recent tests, however previously we’ve been faced with the dreaded error message, so it seems quite hit-and-miss at to whether it’ll work from one day to the next.

The situation is much the same with BBC iPlayer, which is currently available, but unfortunately that isn’t always the case. One major downside to watching streaming services through TunnelBear is the lack of city-level choice in each country, meaning that there are no servers to fall back on if your chosen one fails. Hardcore streaming fans might want to look for a provider that offers servers specifically optimized for video.

TunnelBear isn’t a good choice for torrenters or users of P2P software, as due to its jurisdiction in Canada P2P isn’t permitted on any of its servers. If you’re looking for a VPN to use with BitTorrent there are much better options out there.

Encryption & Security

TunnelBear does a lot right for privacy. OpenVPN is the default protocol for all desktop and Android connections, which is great as this is the most secure option, however it’s a shame other standard protocols have been sacrificed for the sake of simplicity. The iOS app uses IPSec/IKEv2. Encryption is via AES-256, a top cipher that’s considered ‘unhackable’.

We love the VPN killswitch (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, so you can be sure that the only person who knows what you’re doing online is you. You’re also protected against DNS leaks, ensuring that your ISP isn’t able to monitor your browsing activity at any point.

Another useful feature offered by TunnelBear is its 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
  • L2TP/IPSec
  • OpenVPN (TCP/UDP)
Encryption
  • AES-256
Security
  • DNS Leak Blocking
  • First-party DNS
  • VPN Killswitch
Advanced features
  • Double VPN

Bypassing Censorship

Following China’s recent VPN crackdown, it’s becoming more difficult to recommend TunnelBear to people mainly wishing to connect out from that country.

It’s not very easy to give a simple yes or no answer, as whilst TunnelBear certainly has the necessary features to bypass the Great Firewall (e.g. GhostBear mode), it often doesn’t work and disconnects far too frequently to be 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. The only advice we can give is to utilise the free trial plan to check if it’ll work for you, however there are much more reliable options out there.

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, however in most cases you should be able to access government-blocked content such as social media and streaming sites.

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 ever seen. It only collects basic connection metadata that’s used for customer support and troubleshooting purposes, including total bandwidth used, total lifetime connections and whether or not you’ve connected in the last month.

We love that no timestamps or IP addresses are logged whatsoever, meaning TunnelBear doesn’t collect any information that could be used to personally identify you. This is a great example of a VPN provider that respects customer privacy while still providing the minimum amount of data to efficiently operate its service.

Jurisdiction

TunnelBear is incorporated in Canada, a nation that unfortunately shares intelligence data with the US and UK. However this shouldn’t be an issue for most, as it doesn’t collect any information that could be traced back to you as an individual.

TunnelBear is required to comply with Canadian law enforcement agencies if they supply subpoenas, warrants or other legal documents. This could be a cause for concern for some, but don’t forget that TunnelBear can’t hand over information it doesn’t have, including your true IP address or any connection times.

Ease of use

TunnelBear’s range of custom apps is either cute or gimmicky, depending on your point of view and how much you like bears. Thankfully 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, located behind the cog icon along the left-hand side of the app. These are well-organized and simple to toggle on and off, however we don’t love that when you click for more information you’re taken to the support section of the TunnelBear website. An element of integrated support would be useful here, as well as some more configurable settings such as split tunneling or IPv6 leak protection.

The mobile apps are very similar to the desktop app in terms of user-friendliness, but clicking and dragging around the map to select a location gets a lot less fun after you’ve already done it several times. You also can’t skip the animations, and we really missed just being able to choose a server from a drop-down list. It’s an original approach that’s best suited to beginners, so hardcore users wanting lots of settings to play with need to look elsewhere.

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. Once you’ve done this, all that’s left to do is enter your login details and begin using the app.

Unfortunately TunnelBear doesn’t provide set-up guides for any devices, including the main platforms, so if you get stuck be prepared to message the support team and wait a few hours for their response. Thankfully the process is that simple you shouldn’t struggle too much.

  • Installing software
  • How to use the app

Customer Support

TunnelBear’s customer support will be good enough for most, however 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 5 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, making it difficult for people who don’t want to hand over their personal details.

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 list of FAQs is extensive and offers basic troubleshooting and technical support, however it’s all quite shallow and doesn’t offer much to curious users who want to delve deeper.

The Bottom Line

What we like
  • Fast speeds of up to 84Mbps on local connections
  • Quick, hassle-free access to Netflix, BBC iPlayer and more
  • Very user-friendly, with instant set-up on most major platforms
  • Connect securely to 20 countries worldwide
  • GhostBear works well to unblock content in high-censorship countries
What we like less
  • Very small server network
  • Inconsistent speeds over long distances
  • Based in privacy-unfriendly Canada
  • Limited device compatibility
  • No live chat feature

TunnelBear is a great beginner’s VPN but is ultimately very limited in comparison to top-tier providers. The free plan is a good way to test out the software to see if you like it, however you’re limited to 500MB of bandwidth which is a little annoying. Speeds are decent on local connections but nothing to shout about, and P2P restrictions mean torrenters should probably look elsewhere. Quick access to Netflix and iPlayer will be a bonus for fans of those services.

In terms of privacy, TunnelBear is about as close to zero logs as you can get, collecting just a small amount of connection metadata for troubleshooting purposes. It packs in the essential features such as a VPN killswitch and first-party DNS servers, but is lacking in a few of the more advanced options we’d expect to see at this price point.

The software is very user-friendly but could be over-simplified for some, with the bear theme strongly implemented throughout. If you’re looking to connect any devices other than laptops or smartphones, TunnelBear isn’t a good choice as it’s not supported by any routers, streaming devices or games consoles. It’s a simple, fun VPN that’s accessible to anyone but ultimately offers a small server network and mediocre performance.

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