TunnelBear Review

TunnelBear is probably the best free VPN out there, but that isn't saying much: it won't get you into Netflix and speeds are mediocre at best. However, customer service is much improved since we last review TunnelBear, so it may be worth a shot.

By Brian MurrayWriter
— Last Updated: 02 Nov'18
2016-12-01T08:35:42-08:00
Table of ContentsRating
Features
75%
Good
Pricing
85%
Very Good
Ease of Use
80%
Good
Speed
70%
Decent
Security
70%
Decent
Privacy
85%
Very Good
Streaming Performance
50%
Poor
Server Locations
55%
Fair
Customer Service
75%
Good
User Reviews & Comments

Decent
Starts from $ 499 per month
Free plan available
best-VPN-reviews

TunnelBear was founded in 2011 and experienced impressive growth thanks in no small part to its excellent branding and marketing. In March 2018, it was bought by McAfee and now provides a virtual private network service and a password manager. If you’re curious about the latter, head to our RememBear review.

TunnelBear’s VPN offers solid functionality, an interface that’s easy on the eyes and an overall pleasant and user-friendly experience. The customer support isn’t the quickest, but it’s helpful, and the plans on offer are affordable and priced fairly for what they offer.

Plus, TunnelBear has a generous free plan and offers solid security on a variety of devices. That said, even with strong performance in all those areas, there are things that hold it back from being at the top of our best VPN list.

In this updated TunnelBear review, we’re going to talk about the highs and lows we experienced when taking the service for another spin. Along the way, we’ll discuss features, speed, pricing and more before giving our verdict on whether you should subscribe.

Strengths & Weaknesses

Pros:

  • Affordable premium plans
  • Generous free plan
  • Excellent customer support
  • User-friendly interface
  • Strong encryption & protocol

Cons:

  • Inconsistent speeds
  • Can’t reach geoblocked content
  • No protocol or encryption options
  • Small list of server locations

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Features

75% - Good

TunnelBear does a good job covering its bases in terms of functionality. It’s available on all major platforms including Windows, macOS, Android and iOS. There are also browser extensions for Chrome and Opera.

Though it’s possible to get TunnelBear setup on Linux, it isn’t entirely supported, and, unfortunately, running TunnelBear on your router isn’t an option.

In the client, there are many familiar and useful features, some of which go by unfamiliar names. For example, what TunnelBear refers to as “VigilantBear” is just a killswitch, which can improve security by blocking traffic while the VPN is connecting or if it disconnects.

There’s also a feature called “GhostBear” that’s designed to make your protected and encrypted traffic look normal. The purpose of that is to make it easier to get around blocked content. We’ll talk more about GhostBear later.

TunnelBear doesn’t have split tunneling or a way to make the VPN automatically connect. Though you can set the TunnelBear client to launch automatically on start-up, it won’t automatically connect.

That said, there’s a way to set up trusted networks and configure the VPN to automatically connect when using an untrusted network. Overall, TunnelBear covers the most important features, with the worst omission being split tunneling.

If you need split tunneling and want to control which applications use a protected connection, take a look at our ExpressVPN review.

TunnelBear Features Overview

Starts from$ 499per month

General

Payment methods
Credit card
Accepts cryptocurrency
Simultaneous connections
5
Supports split tunneling
Unlimited bandwidth
Free trial available
Refund period
Worldwide server amount
22 locations
Desktop OSes
Windows, MacOS
Mobile OSes
Android, iOS
Browser extensions
Chrome, Opera
Can be installed on routers

Streaming

Can access Netflix US
Can access BBC iPlayer
Can access Hulu
Can access Amazon Prime Video

Security

Encryption types
256-AES
VPN protocols available
IPSec, OpenVPN
Enabled at device startup
Allows torrenting
No-logging policy
Passed DNS leak test
Killswitch available
Malware/ad blocker included

Support

Live Chat
Email support
24/7
Phone support
User forum
Knowledgebase

Pricing

85% - Very Good

TunnelBear keeps things simple when it comes to pricing. There’s a generous free plan that offers 500MB of data per month, putting TunnelBear near the top of our best free VPN services list. There are ways to increase that amount, too, such as tweeting about TunnelBear each month for an extra gigabyte of data.

That said, TunnelBear isn’t as generous as Windscribe, which offers 10GB of data for free each month (read our Windscribe review).

Free
  • 500 GB Bandwidth
  • 5 Included Devices
Monthly
  • Unlimited GB Bandwidth
  • 5 Included Devices
  • Bitcoin
Annual
  • Unlimited GB Bandwidth
  • 5 Included Devices
  • Bitcoin
1-year plan $ 4.99/ month
$59.88 billed every year

As for paid plans, there’s one package available in two time frames. You can sign up monthly or annually. Signing up for a year carries substantial savings. Both paid plans come with unlimited bandwidth, but you’re limited to five connections per account.

There’s also a TunnelBear for Teams plan available, but it still only allows for five connections per person and costs more than the consumer plan. If you need access to control panel-style tools to manage your company’s VPN accounts, it might be worth looking at, but for most people, having more control over many accounts isn’t worth the extra spending.

When it comes time for payment, you can use a credit card or bitcoin. TunnelBear has no guaranteed refund period, but it says in its policies that it judges requests on a case by case basis.

Though TunnelBear’s pricing is competitive, it would’ve been nice to see longer sign-up options. Some VPN providers offer two or even three-year plans to increase the savings passed on to the customer.

If you’re interested in that kind of long-term arrangement, read our NordVPN review. With NordVPN, you can get a three-year subscription for the cost of less than two years with TunnelBear.

Ease of Use

80% - Good

TunnelBear has one of the best looking VPN clients on the market. The branding makes the software and website experiences feel cohesive and user-friendly.

On the website, finding where to install the free trial is a breeze, setting up an account is just as easy and figuring out how to upgrade your account is simple. Everything is laid out in a streamlined and straightforward manner.

Once installed, the client is just as easy to use as the website. Most time using TunnelBear is spent on a map screen that has a small bear that shows your current location. The bear sits on a large, monochromatic map that has yellow tubes protruding from the ground in places you can connect to.

By clicking and dragging, you can look around the map. Clicking one of the tunnels will connect you to that location with the VPN. There’s also an option to choose your location by selecting from a drop-down menu, but the country list is not alphabetized and doesn’t show the flag of each country.

That said, we did run into an issue while using the client. Initially, when we connected to the VPN, we’d lose our connection to the internet. That was fixed by going into the settings and turning on TCP override. It seems that the default UDP protocol being used is unstable, but at least the fix was simple and readily apparent.

Speed

70% - Decent

There’s no clear conclusion to draw from our speeding testing. Performance was all over the place and varied wildly from server to server.

Location:Ping (ms)Download (Mbps)Upload (Mbps)
Unprotected (Virginia, United States)1672.025.82
United States3354.515.12
United Kingdom19824.041.60
Switzerland22062.852.56
Japan35223.861.35
Brazil29567.991.91

Starting with the closest server in the U.S., we saw a low ping and lost a reasonable amount of our sustained download speed. It wasn’t the kind of speed that would make it into our fastest VPN roundup, but losing about 30 percent of your sustained download speeds, as we saw, is expected.

Moving to a more distant server in the UK saw an increase in ping, as one would expect, and much worse download performance. More than half of our download bandwidth was gone. In Switzerland, we saw even worse ping times, but, oddly, better download speeds than in the U.S.

Japan was the most distant server we tested, and we saw high ping and a return to more than half of our bandwidth being gone. Finally, in Brazil, we saw poor ping times, as well, but impressive sustained download speeds.

Overall, download speeds were all over the place, with some servers, such as Brazil, having exceptional speeds and others, such as Japan, suffering from a greater than 50 percent loss in speed. If you’re looking for a VPN that offers reliably fast speeds, read our Astrill review.

Unlike download speeds, ping times were consistently poor. With over 300-millisecond ping times, Brazil and Japan caused web browsing to become intolerably sluggish. If you need a fast connection for, say, gaming, then check out our best VPN for gaming article.

Security

70% - Decent

When it comes to security, there isn’t much to note. The protocol and encryption are locked down for the most part. Luckily, however, the choices that have been locked in are generally good.

For those using TunnelBear on Windows, macOS or Android, the VPN uses OpenVPN. By default, TunnelBear uses a UDP connection because it’s faster, but you can change it to TCP if the connection is unstable.

On iOS, the VPN uses IPSec, which is considered a strong protocol that’s easily detected. If you’re curious about VPN protocols, read our VPN protocol breakdown.

As for encryption, TunnelBear uses AES 256-bit on all platforms. If you’re familiar with encryption or have read our articles, you know that AES 256-bit is practically impossible to crack by any known means. To learn more about encryption, take a look at our description of encryption.

We also tested for DNS leaks, which are among the most common ways that your data can slip through the cracks, even when connected to a VPN. Luckily, no leaks were detected, but some websites were still seeing our location as though we weren’t connected, which leaves us with questions about TunnelBear’s security despite its solid choices of protocol and encryption.

Privacy

85% - Very Good

TunnelBear doesn’t have the shortest privacy policy we’ve seen, but the wording and structure make it clear that transparency is a priority. The language is easy to digest and avoids legal jargon, and the policy goes into great detail about what information is kept and how it’s used.

TunnelBear collects minimal information, requiring only an email to sign up for the free tier, and a method of payment for premium plans. There’s also an option to sync your Twitter account for the improved free plan, but that’s not necessary.

TunnelBear also collects operational data, including things such as which operating system you’re using and how much data you’ve used. That data is used to monitor and maintain the VPN network.

TunnelBear doesn’t log IP addresses visiting its website, using the VPN or information regarding what you do while connected to the VPN. That said, there are cookies on the website. They collect non-identifying information about use of the website, though, and are used much like the operational data to improve performance and website layout.

Streaming Performance

50% - Poor

When it came time to test streaming performance, TunnelBear let us down. All the major streaming services blocked it, including Netflix, BBC iPlayer and even Hulu.

To test how streaming would be if it could punch through the proxy denial of those restricted services, we headed to YouTube and Twitch.

On YouTube, we had no problem getting videos to load at 720p, even at 60 frames per second, but some videos would take time to set themselves to 1080p. On Twitch, most streams defaulted to 1080p right away and they were responsive.

It seems like TunnelBear could offer a decent streaming experience if it was able to get through any streaming service’s VPN detection.

If you’re on the hunt for a VPN to watch geoblocked content, TunnelBear isn’t for you. If you’re interested in Netflix, we suggest heading to our best VPN for Netflix article. Alternatively, if you want to watch BBC iPlayer, check out our best VPN for BBC iPlayer roundup.

Server Locations

55% - Fair

TunnelBear offers servers in 22 locations that are decently spread out. Unfortunately, the exact locations aren’t given, but rather just the countries, which limits your options when connecting.

While many VPN providers will offer specific locations such as “New York” and “Washington D.C.” TunnelBear simply clumps an unknown number of servers into a single label such as “United States.”

Many of its servers are clustered in Europe, and some are spread throughout North America, South America and Asia. There are no servers in Africa. Overall, the options outside of Europe are limited.

Twenty-two locations is serviceable, but not impressive. If you’re trying to become a true globetrotter and want access to as many server locations as possible, check out our HideMyAss review. HideMyAss boasts more than 280 locations spread over 190 countries.

Customer Service

75% - Good

As one might expect from all the work that has gone into TunnelBear’s distinctly fluffy and friendly branding, the customer service experience is pleasant. When you submit a ticket the confirmation window says it could take up to 48 hours to get a reply, but our response time was closer to 24.

The responses to our questions were long-winded, but in a good way. There was a thoroughness that’s uncharacteristic of customer support reps. In some cases, we didn’t receive the answer we wanted, but the answer was always clear and well-written.

In addition to customer support tickets, there’s a knowledgebase that’s extensive and easy to browse. Sadly, there’s no live chat or forum. The level of service we received from the email-based support was exceptional, and it’d be great to see the same level of knowledgeable responses applied to live chat.

The Verdict

TunnelBear experienced an almost-meteoric rise when it entered the market and quickly became one of the more well-known names among VPNs. It’ll be interesting to see which direction McAfee decides to take TunnelBear in, but it has a good foundation to create a great VPN provider.

The customer service is top-notch and the client looks great. The ease of use is exceptional, too. That said, there are plenty of areas that need improvement.

If TunnelBear adds more server locations and improves the overall performance of its servers, it would be well on its way, but for now, there are too many areas that feel lacking to get a recommendation from us.

If you’re wondering which VPNs we do recommend, head to our archive of VPN reviews. It’s organized from highest to lowest-rated to make it easy to browse and find the best VPNs.

What do you think of TunnelBear? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks for reading.

TunnelBear Review

A mediocre service with a good free plan.

TunnelBear is probably the best free VPN out there, but that isn't saying much: it won't get you into Netflix and speeds are mediocre at best. However, customer service is much improved since we last review TunnelBear, so it may be worth a shot.
Starts from$ 499per month
Visit TunnelBear
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