TunnelBear Review

TunnelBear is probably the best free VPN out there, but that isn't saying much: it won't get you into every streaming service and speeds are mediocre at best. However, as you can read in this TunnelBear review, it's free and secure, so it may be worth a shot.

Anna Millere
By Anna Millere
— Last Updated: 2021-02-22T11:28:50+00:00
Starts from $ 333 per month
Free plan available Save 67 % (All Plans)

TunnelBear VPN, based in Canada, is known mainly for its affordable prices and whimsical bear-themed marketing. As some of you may know, McAfee bought the company in 2018, a purchase which we’ll delve deeper into later in our TunnelBear review.

Key Takeaways:

  • TunnelBear comes with an aesthetically pleasing UI design that’s good for beginners.
  • The VPN offers a free option of 500MB, which can be increased to 1GB by tweeting about the TunnelBear VPN.
  • TunnelBear uses a strong AES-256 encryption and OpenVPN, L2TP and IPSec protocols.
  • While TunnelBear VPN’s speeds were inconsistent as well as its geo-unblocking abilities, we could still access Netflix U.S. and HBO Max.

Despite TunnelBear VPN having some attractively priced plans and a free version to try, it still didn’t make it on our list of best VPNs this year (maybe next year).

Overall, there are many things to love about this cute, cartoon bear VPN, but its connection speeds aren’t as impressive as ExpressVPN, and we were left a little disappointed by its geo-unblocking capabilities, as well. However, we’ll let you come to your own decision after reading this in-depth TunnelBear review.

  • While TunnelBear isn’t the best free VPN when compared to the likes of Windscribe, it does offer you an opportunity to test out its features before committing to a paid plan. Its free version also lets you use the kill switch function and the SplitBear split-tunneling feature if you’re running it on an Android device.

  • We think that TunnelBear is a fairly safe VPN service. It comes with AES 256-bit encryption and an OpenVPN protocol that guarantees your online security. Additionally, its privacy policy is very adamant about letting you know that it doesn’t keep logs or share your data with any third party.

  • Yes, TunnelBear is effective for hiding IP addresses while users are online. We tested it out ourselves and can confirm that neither our DNS nor IP address was leaked.

  • Unfortunately, TunnelBear isn’t the best option for Netflix. While it could unblock Netflix U.S. and even Japan, Netflix UK was all still blocked. If you’re looking for a VPN that’s good for Netflix, check out NordVPN or ExpressVPN.

  1. 1
    • Payment methods: Credit card
    • Simultaneous connections: 5
    • Unlimited bandwidth
    • Can access Netflix US: No
    • Allows torrenting
    • No-logging policy
  2. 2
    • Payment methods: PayPal, Credit card, Bitcoin, SOFORT, AliPay, UnionPay, iDeal, WebMoney
    • Simultaneous connections: 5
    • Unlimited bandwidth
    • Can access Netflix US
    • Allows torrenting
    • No-logging policy
  3. 3
    • Payment methods: Credit card, Google Pay, AmazonPay, ACH Transfer, UnionPay, Crypto Currencies
    • Simultaneous connections: 6
    • Unlimited bandwidth
    • Can access Netflix US
    • Allows torrenting
    • No-logging policy
  4. 4
    • Payment methods: PayPal, Credit card, bitcoin
    • Simultaneous connections: 7
    • Unlimited bandwidth
    • Can access Netflix US
    • Allows torrenting
    • No-logging policy
  5. 5
    • Payment methods: PayPal, Credit card, AmazonPay
    • Simultaneous connections: 10
    • Unlimited bandwidth
    • Can access Netflix US
    • Allows torrenting
    • No-logging policy

Strengths & Weaknesses

Pros:

  • Affordable subscription plans
  • Conducts annual public full-scope audits
  • User-friendly interface
  • Thorough privacy policy
  • Strong encryption & protocols

Cons:

  • Only 5 simultaneous connections available
  • Not many servers offered
  • Blocked by some streaming services
  • Inconsistent download & upload speeds

Features

80 % – Good

TunnelBear isn’t as jam-packed with features as the CyberGhost VPN. However, as you’ll see in this TunnelBear review, it comes with all the basics.

On its “general settings” page, you have the option to launch TunnelBear on startup. This saves you from manually starting the VPN when you fire up your device and is especially useful when using public WiFi.

Right under the “launch at startup’’ function, you can see the “enable TCP override’’ option. This may help improve performance if you’re experiencing a laggy connection. The TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) is the most commonly used protocol due to its reliability, but it might slow down the VPN’s performance.

TunnelBear vpn services
TunnelBear also includes the TCP override feature.

We also like the ‘’fastest tunnel’’ feature, which ensures you have the fastest connection possible by determining which country is closest to you. 

You also have the option of enabling general notifications, which lets you know when you’re connected or disconnected from the VPN and if it detects an unsecured network.

TunnelBear VPN Security Features

In the security settings, you’re presented with VigilantBear and the GhostBear features. VigilantBear acts as a kill switch function, which blocks all traffic if the VPN disconnects and reconnects. This is very useful when torrenting or attempting to access restricted content.

TunnelBear’s other interesting security feature, GhostBear, tries to hide the fact that you’re using a VPN. With it, you can use TunnelBear even in repressive regimes that would ban you from using a VPN.

using tunnelbear security
TunnelBear offers VigilantBear and GhostBear features.

With the TunnelBear VPN, you can also set your own trusted network, usually your home or office internet. These are the networks you generally consider safe, allowing the VPN to automatically connect to an unsecured network, such as the coffee shop, and disconnect when at home or work.

What About Split Tunneling?

TunnelBear VPN does offer split tunneling — or as they call it, SplitBear — but there is a catch. It’s only currently available for Android devices, which is a bit of a letdown since it’s such a useful feature.

Split tunneling allows you to cherry-pick which apps will remain protected by the VPN, such as streaming sites, and which apps will continue to run on your regular networks, like internet banking and YouTube.

Overall, TunnelBear doesn’t fall short in the features offered, especially on the free plan. However, if split tunneling is something you need on all devices, check out Surfshark.

TunnelBear Features Overview

  • General

    • Payment methods: Credit card
    • Accepts cryptocurrency: No
    • Simultaneous connections: 5
    • Supports split tunneling: No
    • Unlimited bandwidth
    • Free trial available
    • Refund period
    • Worldwide server amount: 26 countries
    • Desktop OSes: Windows, MacOS, Linux
    • Mobile OSes: Android, iOS
    • Browser extensions: Chrome, Firefox, Opera
    • Can be installed on routers: No
  • Streaming

    • Can access Netflix US: No
    • Can access BBC iPlayer: No
    • Can access Hulu: No
    • Can access Amazon Prime Video: No
  • Security

    • Encryption types: 256-AES
    • VPN protocols available: OpenVPN, IKEv2
    • Enabled at device startup
    • Allows torrenting
    • No-logging policy
    • Passed DNS leak test
    • Killswitch available
    • Malware/ad blocker included
  • Support

    • Live Chat: 24/7
    • Email support: 24/7
    • Phone support: No
    • User forum: No
    • Knowledgebase

Pricing

90 % – Excellent

We found TunnelBear VPN’s pricing plans to be affordable and fair. While it’s not the cheapest VPN we’ve seen, it’s low-cost monthly and annual plans offer the important features necessary, with a decent number of servers. Plus, its free plan of 500MB (which can be increased to 1GB) allows users to give this VPN a whirl before fully committing to it.

TunnelBear Free Version

As we already mentioned, TunnelBear comes with a free plan where you can test out all the features without limitations. If you simply want to use the VPN casually while browsing in public areas, that may even be enough, considering you can increase it to 1GB just by tweeting about how great TunnelBear is.

However, while the free option is a nice touch, it’s not the best free VPN option out there (though it comes a close second), especially compared to its top competitor, Windscribe. In comparison, Windscribe offers a lot more regarding features, speed performance and data. You can read more about how these two VPNs compare in our Windscribe vs TunnelBear article.

Free
  • 500MB
  • Included Devices: 5
Individual
  • Unlimited GB, five devices, priority customer service
  • Bandwidth: Unlimited GB
  • Included Devices: 5
  • Bitcoin
Teams
  • Unlimited GB, five devices per user, centralized billing, account manager, price per user per month
  • Bandwidth: Unlimited GB
  • Included Devices: 5
  • Bitcoin

TunnelBear’s Paid Plans

The paid plans give you access to unlimited data, a kill switch, GhostBear and five simultaneous device connections. While five devices aren’t bad, it’s still not great — other VPN providers, such as Hide.me VPN, offer 10, while Windscribe is unlimited. You also get priority customer service, though this isn’t much of an advantage since TunnelBear’s support is mainly email-based.

The monthly plan costs $9.99 per month, which isn’t bad for a VPN. After the monthly plan comes the annual package at $59.88 per year, which breaks down to $4.99 per month. However, the best deal is the $120 three-year plan, which amounts to $3.33 per month.

Lastly, there are the team plans, which are created for businesses. The team plans works out to $5.75 per user per month, with the annual plans costing the same but billed on a per-year basis. If you have more than 200 employees, you’ll need to connect with a TunnelBear representative, but we imagine that you could still get a fair deal.

TunnelBear Payment Options

Regarding payment options, TunnelBear is pretty flexible. It accepts credit cards, cryptocurrency including bitcoin, PayPal and jars of honey. You read that right. Apparently, customers can send over a couple of jars of honey in return for a VPN subscription — but don’t take our word for it.

based in toronto tunnelbear
TunnelBear accepts various forms of payment, including jars of honey.

While we like TunnelBear’s trial period, 500MB doesn’t seem like a whole lot to work with for a VPN. Plus, the 1GB increase only comes by tweeting about it, and we aren’t sure if many users are up for that. Regardless, its affordable monthly and yearly plans make up for it.

Regrettably, TunnelBear VPN doesn’t offer a money-back guarantee, and it only gives refunds on a “case-by-case basis,” so it’s not exactly set in stone.

User-Friendliness

85 % – Very Good

The TunnelBear download process is very quick: you need only to provide your email address, create a password and you’re ready to go.

TunnelBear also offers a visually pleasing interface that’s easy to use. While it may be too far to call it the best VPN for PC, it has some pretty solid points.

tunnelbear review ease of use
TunnelBear provides an aesthetically pleasing UI that’s easy to follow and use.

For one, the desktop version is easy to navigate, and it includes a green map display with Mario-style tunnels marking each country. When you first open the app, the map is gray, inviting you to ‘“turn TunnelBear on.’’

Once it’s on, simply pick the country you want and the bear graphic quickly digs to (and connects to) the chosen server. After that, you’ll get a quick notification that you’re protected. For those of you who are more fond of practicality without the gimmicks, you can choose the country from the dropdown menu at the top of the map, but we don’t mind the cute animation.

If you’re using a free version, a little popup appears on the bottom-right side, letting you know how much data you have left. You also get the option to either tweet about the service for 1GB extra worth of bandwidth or to upgrade.

TunnelBear VPN Mobile Version

After we installed the free Android TunnelBear mobile app, we actually got an extra 1GB add-on, which was a nice surprise.

Although the display is still quite similar to the PC version — except the map is in full-screen mode — it’s easier to navigate using your finger. As we mentioned before, TunnelBear offers the split tunneling feature (SplitBear) on Android, so we had access to this as well.

toronto canada vpn app
The TunnelBear Android app version.

However, we didn’t like that there is no easy dropdown menu on the app version to choose a country. You basically need to hover around the map until you find your desired location. This is a bit of a nuisance, especially when you want to quickly connect and go (or if geography isn’t your strongest point).

Overall, while the split tunneling function was a great addition, we thought the desktop version was much easier to navigate and wasn’t as clunky.

TunnelBear Compatibility 

In terms of compatibility, TunnelBear covers the most important bases, which are Windows, macOS, iOS and Android devices. It also offers browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera, and while it won’t make our list of the top VPNs for Chrome, it’s a good start.

However, we were disappointed that it doesn’t really offer full support for the Linux operating system. Instead, it does provide instructions for installing TunnelBear on the latest version of Ubuntu. There’s still no sign of offering router compatibility, unfortunately.

Speed

65 % – Decent
LocationPing
ms
Download
Mbps
Upload
Mbps
Unprotected1949.3244.59
Singapore
53
18.26
12.85
United States
418
7.71
1.13
Australia
236
9.47
4.49
United Kingdom
786
3.06
0.00
Brazil
752
4.37
0.72
Japan
167
12.54
4.04
Average
402
9.24
3.87

It’s important to note that with any VPN provider, you will see at least some drop in your internet connection speed. This is due to the encryption process of your data, which the VPN uses to make sure everything is safe and secure. However, if you need a VPN that’s fast, we recommend that you check out this list of the fastest VPNs.

We used speedtest.net to carry out the testing, first marking our unprotected speed from our location in Vietnam. For the first speed test, we connected to TunnelBear’s ‘’fastest’’ option, which automatically connects you to the closest and most optimal country on the list. During this testing it was Singapore.

Although the drop we experienced with the Singapore server was a little above 50 percent, it was still sufficient enough to not notice any connection breaks on streaming sites like Netflix or YouTube. So far, so good.

Once we branched out a bit and connected to the U.S., the drop was far more significant. The same goes for Brazil, Australia and the UK. It’s already stated on TunnelBear’s official website that users may experience a bigger reduction in their speeds when connecting to a further location, so we expected it.

However, when we returned to Asia, the server in Japan redeemed itself, and it was possible to fire up Netflix Japan to stream shows in relatively decent quality.

Overall, TunnelBear really does what it says on the tin. The countries closest to us performed well, which sufficed for streaming, browsing and some light gaming. However, it was disappointing to see the U.S. perform so badly. Nonetheless, if you’re happy to use the VPN’s recommended server connection, then TunnelBear VPN is a good choice.

Security

90 % – Excellent

Regarding security, we have no complaints about TunnelBear. It offers AES 256-bit encryption, which is the best option out there. If you want to learn more about that, check out our guide on the various types of encryption.

TunnelBear also provides the standard OpenVPN/IKEv2, an open source protocol for macOS, Windows and Android. This means it’s extremely trustworthy and guarantees a secure browsing experience (you can learn more about the different protocols here). 

However, on iOS, it employs the L2TP (Layer Two Tunneling Protocol) paired with the IPSec (IP security). L2TP is what allows data to travel from one network to another, and together with the IPSec encryption protocol, it guarantees full protection.

DNS test results
We didn’t experience any DNS leaks with TunnelBear.

We also ran a quick DNS leak test, ensuring none of your data is accidentally shown to your ISP or any other prying eyes. For our test, we used TunnelBear’s own BearsMyIP.  No DNS leaks were detected.

Privacy

84 % – Very Good

TunnelBear has always been very open about its privacy policy, even going as far as to publish three annual independent security audits, which shows its willingness for total transparency.

used tunnelbear audit
TunnelBear has been independently audited by Cure53.

Cure 53, a German cybersecurity firm, ran the tests and initially found a few issues, which TunnelBear promptly fixed. There has been no 2020 audit.

After going through TunnelBear’s privacy policy ourselves (which was simple to read), it’s easy to see that TunnelBear is honest about the data it collects and why. Examples include your email address for marketing purposes, Twitter ID, financial and operational data. Apart from that, it promises not to keep or store your IP address, DNS queries or any info regarding the websites you visit.

TunnelBear’s Relationship With McAfee

Some users grew concerned when McAfee bought TunnelBear in 2018, and rightly so since McAfee’s reputation isn’t exactly stellar, since it focuses heavily on ads to earn a profit. However, on TunnelBear’s website, it does say that TunnelBear operates independently, with no TunnelBear customer information shared with McAfee. 

While it still may not be 100 percent reassuring, we haven’t heard any negative information regarding this change yet.

Streaming Performance

50 % – Poor

Regarding TunnelBear VPN’s streaming performance, it was surprising to see that even though its speeds weren’t very high, it could still access various streaming platforms. The platforms we could access include HBO Max and Crunchyroll U.S. 

While the video quality on Crunchyroll or YouTube wasn’t HD in the U.S., Australian or Brazilian servers, it was still enough to provide a decent viewing experience.

The streaming sites we couldn’t access include Amazon Prime Video and BBC iPlayer. However, Netflix was a mixed bag. 

Can TunnelBear Unblock Netflix?

Surprisingly, TunnelBear could unblock Netflix U.S., which was a nice discovery, and we could even stream a couple of shows without too much buffering. Netflix Japan was also accessible. Unfortunately, Netflix UK still had its guard up, so we had no luck there.

As a free VPN, TunnelBear does a pretty good job. However, if you opt for a paid plan, chances are you want to have unrestricted access to the most popular channels, including all of Netflix’s global libraries. If that’s the case, check out our top recommended VPNs for unblocking Netflix this year.

Server Locations

55 % – Fair

In terms of server locations, we couldn’t pinpoint the exact number; however, we know that TunnelBear VPN offers access to 23 countries around the world. When we emailed customer support about it, they said that TunnelBear has hundreds of servers available, but because of privacy reasons, they can’t disclose exactly how many.

hong kong tunnelbear
TunnelBear has access to 23 countries worldwide.

This includes three locations in Asia, 12 in Europe and the rest are spread throughout South America, North America, Australia and Canada. It was a little disappointing to see that there are no servers in the Middle East or Africa. For a complimentary version, that’s still pretty good but nowhere near HideMyAss or NordVPN with regard to server count or spread.

It’s also impossible to see which cities you’re connected to as the map isn’t 100 percent accurate. However, TunnelBear connects to each country pretty quickly. 

Customer Support

70 % – Decent

The TunnelBear support page is bear-themed and easy to follow. Plus,TunnelBear offers an informative FAQ section and an interesting blog for added information. However, the only way of contacting the team is via email.

Since it claims to reply in 24 hours or less, we decided to test it out and were happy to see that our query about servers was answered in less than 12 hours. The reply itself was also friendly, informative and full of bear puns.

However, it would have been nice if they included live chat support, like NordVPN offers, for a faster response time.

The Verdict

TunnelBear is an easy-to-use VPN that’s a good start for beginners. Its aesthetically pleasing UI is simple to navigate, and its bear-themed style makes it look approachable and even fun to use. TunnelBear also has a transparent logging policy, strong AES 256-bit encryption with the OpenVPN protocol and affordable plans with a free version to test it out for yourself.

However, we feel that it falls short when it comes to its upload and download speed, its limited split tunneling option and lack of customer support options. Hopefully, we will see TunnelBear grow into something even better in the future and make it on our top VPN list. 

Have you tried TunnelBear yet? What do you think is its chief selling point? Let us know what you think about our TunnelBear VPN review in the comments below. Thanks for reading.

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