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TunnelBear Review

Last updated: July 8 2020 By Dean Chester
Pros of TunnelBear Cons of TunnelBear
  • Free plan
  • Owns its DNS servers
  • Colourful animated UI
  • Supports all major platforms
  • Kill Switch
  • Unstable speeds
  • 500 Mb per month for free
  • Leaks unprotected traffic
  • Doesn’t support certain modern platforms
  • No settings for alternative VPN clients and routers
  • Limited functionality on iOS

TunnelBear review

TunnelBear is one of the most popular VPN providers with a free plan. Though its popularity has somewhat decreased by 2020, right now the provider recovers its past demand.

Why do people like TunnelBear?

The main reason for it is that it has a full-functionality free plan. To many customers, it’s also important that the provider has modern settings that allow using torrents and bypassing censorship more efficiently.

TunnelBear is a freemium (free + premium) VPN. It means that its financial model is based on drawing users to the premium plan through the free one.

What other peculiarities does TunnelBear have?

  • 500 Mb of traffic per month for free;
  • Incredible graphical user interface;
  • Support of the major platforms.

But popularity and a free plan aren’t enough to trust a service. We subjected TunnelBear to thorough testing that found some security issues. Besides, we weren’t satisfied with the servers’ speeds.

We also checked how true the provider’s claims of bypassing VPN blocks are. The result was also not particularly satisfying.

If you combine it with the fact that TunnelBear has servers only in 23-24 countries (very few compared to NordVPN with 59 countries or Surfshark with 61 countries), you’re bound to ask if it’s worth it to use this provider’s services.

It likely depends on what platforms you want to use it on and what you need it for heavily.

Read on and we’ll describe all quirks of TunnelBear in detail including its data leak problem and the ways to avoid it.

TunnelBear: Fail

You can use the quick nav menu to jump to the section you want to read:

Take a look at the main characteristics of TunnelBear:

Supported platforms All OSs, browser extensions
Encryption standard AES 256
Data leaks Windows
VPN protocols OpenVPN, IKEv2 on iOS
Jurisdiction United States
Servers Servers in 24 countries
Logs Doesn’t keep logs
Torrenting +
Streaming Doesn’t support streaming

As the spreadsheet shows, the service won’t help you unblock geo-restricted video content (Netflix, Hulu, and other video services). It also has a security issue on Windows.


6 differences between TunnelBear and other VPNs

TunnelBear is likely the most colourful VPN service. Its apps have animations that depict a bear digging a tunnel from your location to the location you choose. The names of many features contain bear-related terminology. Thanks to the bear, it’s fascinating and very clear to use the service.

But it’s not only the interface that matters.

What peculiarities does TunnelBear have?

  1. The amount of free traffic is lower than that of some other free VPN services.
  2. All countries are available on the free plan.
  3. User-friendly animated apps.
  4. OpenVPN is available on every OS except for iOS.
  5. After 2-3 hours of using the service, an extra 1 Gb of traffic may be added. This possibly happens after you turn apps for all the OSs on.
  6. The Windows app loads the CPU considerably.

These are the “outer” differences of this provider. There are also inner quirks some of which become apparent only when you study the service more thoroughly. More on that in the Research of TunnelBear (pros, cons, tests, advice) chapter.


Free use of TunnelBear

It’s no secret that its free plan is the main reason for TunnelBear’s popularity. Let’s delve into the peculiarities of its free version.

The first and main one is a significant traffic limit. The provider only offers 500 Mb per month free of charge.

What can you do within this limit? It’s hard to tell. We spent around half of it within two hours, and we haven’t watched a single video. It seems right impossible to stretch 500 Mb for a month unless you use the VPN to access just one website or to download a single small file from the torrents.

There are no more limits on the free version, which sets TunnelBear apart from its competitors. Most VPNs restrict not only traffic but also the number of available countries on the free plan. A few examples of it are hide.me and Windscribe.

Curiously, it’s the second time (the first one occurred when we tested TunnelBear in the spring of 2019) when the remaining traffic was increased by 1 Gb after we have installed apps for all the OSs.

These are all the quirks the free version of TunnelBear has.


Research of TunnelBear (Pros, cons, tests, advice)

Do you know that TunnelBear with its default settings doesn’t grant you full data protection?

Or, perchance, you wanted to try it for streaming? We’d recommend against it.

Or to bypass the Great Firewall of China? No luck here, either.

In this chapter, we’ll tell you why TunnelBear isn’t as good as it may seem, describe its performance on all the available platforms, take a look at customer reviews, and study its Privacy policy.

Chapter contents:

Security of TunnelBear

TunnelBear security test

Take a look at the picture. Do you see the IP addresses marked with red? This is the outgoing traffic from the testing computer that wasn’t protected with TunnelBear on. The IP address of a VPN server is marked with green and as you can see, only about 80% of traffic went to it.

What is it if not a protection failure?

The entirety of the traffic has to go to the tunnel as it happens with NordVPN, for example.

But there’s a silver lining. After a bit of a brainstorm, Dean and I tried out various combinations of settings and found the one that makes TunnelBear safe. You need to turn the kill switch on (it’s called VigilantBear in this service):

The setting to get rid of the security issue of TunnelBear

After you do it, TunnelBear works as intended:

TunnelBear’s performance after you turn VigilantBear on

By the way, the Mac app doesn’t have such an issue despite having almost the same functionality.

TunnelBear has a small advantage. It uses its DNS servers, which you can see in the screenshot:

TunnelBear has its DNS servers

It’s good for the protection of the web-addresses you visit. Many VPNs don’t maintain their DNSs but either don’t protect DNS queries at all or use free public services.

So, TunnelBear has an imperfection in its transmitted data protection on the one hand and, on the other hand, has an advantage in its DNS structure.

TunnelBear features tests

What can TunnelBear do? Does it meet the modern requirements for virtual private network? The tests we’ve conducted answer these questions. Jumping ahead, we’ll say that the speed of this service left us disappointed. There is no Netflix support and no way to use non-standard devices.

1. Speed

TunnelBear’s speed fluctuated from low to very low. Compared to free services, it was acceptable most of the time (our tests took three days) but if compared to paid services, it was slower than that offered by modern VPNs (more than 50 and even 100 Mbps).

TunnelBear: first speed test of a JP location
The first speed test in Japan

TunnelBear: second speed test of a JP location
The second speed test in Japan

The situation with the European and US locations is marginally better. At some points, the speed rose to 20-30 Mbps on the European servers while the US ones all had speeds below 7 Mbps.

Our subjective feeling of using TunnelBear can be described as a “nuisance”. It’s related not only to the significant drop in the Internet speed but also with the increased load on the CPU. It caused the cooler to turn on constantly, making the noise level higher. More on that later on.

5 out of the 10 tested locations of TunnelBear*

Location Download/upload speed (Mbps)
US 5/7
Netherlands 15/10
Japan 3/4
Canada 6/6

*- Shown here is the approximate average speed. Throughout the 3 days of testing, the speed changed considerably.

2. Streaming

Netflix doesn’t work with TunnelBear

If you’re looking for a VPN service for Netflix, then TunnelBear isn’t your best option. If in the spring of 2019 it worked with this video service, now it does not. It can be a temporary problem but as of the moment of writing this review, we couldn’t unblock Netflix.

Lately, Netflix has been especially active in blacklisting the IP addresses of VPN services and fewer VPNs cope with its support than ever before.

TunnelBear failed to unblock Hulu, either:

Hulu doesn’t work with TunnelBear

3. Torrenting

Generally speaking, TunnelBear works with torrents but has a few problems on some servers.

TunnelBear: Torrenting doesn’t work on one of the locations

The screengrab shows that using one TunnelBear server, the download wouldn’t continue.

This situation only occurred twice and was easily fixed by changing the location.

So is TunnelBear a good service for torrenting?

It is if you use its paid version or don’t need more than 500 Mb of free traffic.

4. Google Search and using Gmail

There was only one case when we had trouble accessing Gmail for three days of testing TunnelBear. It was caused by an extremely slow connection speed:

TunnelBear: Gmail loading error

Google Search worked without demanding me to confirm that I’m not a robot. This issue is especially relevant with free VPNs because many of their IPs are used in violation of the terms of service.

5. IP leak test with an unstable connection

Do you know that when your mobile Internet connection is unstable or when you reconnect from one access point to another or the mobile Internet, a temporary disconnection from the VPN server happens? After that, when the connection to the Internet is restored, some time has to pass before the VPN turns on again. During that time, your IP address, transmitted data, and visited addresses remain unprotected.

To prevent this from happening, many VPNs use a kill switch which blocks the traffic of the device.

TunnelBear has this feature. Here, it’s known as VigilantBear.

At the same time, this feature doesn’t protect the connection reliably with some VPNs. For an example, look no further than to this comparison of NordVPN and ExpressVPN. There was an IP leak found in ExpressVPN even with the kill switch active.

We tested TunnelBear in the most difficult environment and its VigilantBear protected the traffic on Android safely. The test on the iPhone was also passed even though it was the system itself that deserved the credit and not TunnelBear. On iOS, the provider uses a built-in IKEv2 protocol instead of OpenVPN.

We don’t conduct such a test with desktops because it’s not often that one uses a laptop while on the move. The kill switch also works better on Windows and Mac than on mobile platforms.

So, the test is successful. TunnelBear is safe to use under any conditions.

6. Other issues with TunnelBear

In this section, we’ll enumerate all the other problems and inconveniences we’ve encountered during the tests of TunnelBear.

1) The connection was often blocked on Windows even with VigilantBear (kill switch) and the VPN off.

TunnelBear: DNS problem with the VPN turned off

As you can see in the picture, the “No internet” error appears in the browser with TunnelBear being turned off. It happens because the app sometimes disconnects from a server incorrectly. The VPN connection isn’t active anymore and the DNS record points at the server. The server doesn’t answer DNS queries and the whole situation results in being unable to open websites by their names.

It is solved by reconnecting to the Internet, in our case, through a Wi-Fi network.

2) Heavy CPU load on Windows. Take a look at this screenshot of ‘’Task manager’’:

TunnelBear: Heavy CPU load

Inside the red rectangle are the two processes that collectively hog around 40% of the CPU’s capacity when we’re using TunnelBear. Not only does it affect the other apps but it also depletes the charge in the autonomous mode and can significantly increase the noise the cooler makes.

3) Almost useless GhostBear feature.

 After some countries (mainly China) started prohibiting the use of VPNs and blocking such connections, some VPN services began developing ways of disguising a VPN. The thing is, any VPN protocol leaves its traces. Even if the data is reliably protected, the transferring technology has its footprints. To circumvent this problem, modified protocols started to emerge the footprints of which were altered (VPN obfuscation). GhostBear is an example of such obfuscation.

But what went wrong?

Well, the problem is, the governments of the censoring countries block not only VPN protocols but also IP addresses of the used servers. TunnelBear, despite its popularity, doesn’t have too many servers and at least, most of them are already blacklisted.

So what is the point of this technology?

There isn’t much, indeed. It can be useful in corporate networks that forbid the use of a VPN or in the countries in which the provider’s IP addresses aren’t blocked yet. In China, though, they are blocked.

4) The choice of countries is narrow and there’s no ability to choose different servers within one location.

For a VPN service that costs upwards of $4.99 per month, 24 available locations are too few. But the main issue here is that you can’t choose a specific server within a country. For example, it would’ve been convenient to choose various IP addresses when testing Netflix but TunnelBear provides no such possibility.

5) SplitBear is only present on Android.

The SplitBear function (split tunneling) is used to choose apps that have to be used without the VPN. This undoubtedly useful feature is only available on Android. But why? It’s not like it has no use on desktops.

We listed all the advantages and disadvantages of TunnelBear in this section and the previous ones. But not all of them can be seen on every platform. To make it easier for you to decide whether or not this VPN is a good one for you, we’ll describe the peculiarities that TunnelBear has on every platform it supports: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, and web browsers.

TunnelBear for Windows

All the major flaws described in this article are mostly relevant to the Windows version:

  • Increased load on the CPU
  • Disconnection issue (DNS)
  • Absence of SplitBear

In our opinion, TunnelBear for Windows isn’t a very good app. Its drawbacks directly affect the convenience of using the VPN for virtually any purpose.

What features and settings of TunnelBear are available on PC?

  1. OpenVPN protocol (UDP and TCP)
  2. VigilantBear (kill switch)
  3. GhostBear (obfuscation)
  4. Choice of 24 locations in 24 countries

Pros of using TunnelBear on Windows:

  • Vivid and user-friendly interface
  • Reliable protection of IP addresses when VigilantBear is on
  • Identic functionality on the paid and free versions
  • No Netflix support (true on all platforms)

Cons:

  • Loads the CPU
  • Doesn’t fully protect traffic with the default settings
  • Possible issues with the Internet after a disconnection
  • The GhostBear feature is not very useful
  • No SplitBear

You can download TunnelBear for Windows from this page of the official website or directly from Amazon.

TunnelBear for Mac

The TunnelBear VPN app for Mac has the same functionality as the PC app:

  1. OpenVPN protocol;
  2. VigilantBear;
  3. GhostBear;
  4. Choice of 24 locations in 24 countries.

At the same time, it doesn’t have the drawbacks of the Windows version:

  • No unencrypted data leaks
  • No failures at a VPN disconnection
  • No extra load on the CPU

Apart from certain issues with its speeds, lack of Netflix support, and the small choice of countries, we liked TunnelBear on macOS.

You can download the TunnelBear app for macOS by signing up on the official website or from Amazon. It’s not present in the Apple App Store for Mac.

TunnelBear for Android

The Android version is the most robust one. Aside from the features available on Windows and Mac, the Android app offers the SplitBear function (Split tunneling) that allows selecting programs that shouldn’t be tunneled.

TunnelBear has also passed a thorough security test in real-life conditions.

It’s really easy to use TunnelBear on Android. The app is great for free use and has decent functionality with its paid version. Just like its counterparts for the other platforms, it doesn’t support Netflix and Hulu, its speed is inconsistent and can be low. Another drawback is the fact that you can’t choose servers within a country.

You can download TunnelBear for Android either from this page of the official website or from the Google App Store.

TunnelBear for iOS

The version for iOS is, on the contrary, the most barebones one. Not even OpenVPN is available on it.

Characteristics of TunnelBear for iPhone and iPad:

  • Native iOS support of the IKEv2 protocol
  • 23 locations in 23 countries
  • No kill switch
  • No VPN connection settings

To be blunt, TunnelBear for iOS is a minimalistic VPN with a standard tunneling protocol and a small choice of countries.

It can be installed from the Apple App Store.

TunnelBear for Chrome

Aside from VPN apps, TunnelBear offers browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.

These proxy extensions have very low-end functionality. They do not differ much from the vast majority of other VPNs’ extensions. The only big difference is that these ones don’t have a WebRTC block setting.

TunnelBear for Chrome allows opening websites through proxy servers in 23 countries.

TunnelBear for other platforms

Sadly, TunnelBear doesn’t support routers, game consoles, TVs, Kodi, and other platforms.

Generally, if a VPN service uses OpenVPN without offering manual settings for this protocol, it is an average or poor-quality VPN.

TunnelBear could’ve been called a top-tier VPN but in our opinion, it’s a product that pays more attention to marketing than to technology. That’s why it doesn’t support less popular platforms such as Linux.

Customer reviews

Thanks to its considerable following, TunnelBear has no shortage of real customer reviews. Let’s unravel what Redditors praise or criticize the provider for.

Most of the time, users talk about TunnelBear not supporting Netflix:

Reddit: TunnelBear doesn’t support streaming
TunnelBear doesn’t support Netflix

Also, users focus on the fact that 500 Mb is too little.

Reddit: 500 Mb is nothing
500 Mb is nothing

Positive comments praise the UI of TunnelBear and its performance with torrenting:

TunnelBear: positive comment about torrenting”
TunnelBear is good for torrenting

Generally speaking, TunnelBear is used for a variety of purposes: torrenting, gaming, website unblocking. Streaming is the only thing that’s left out in the cold. The free version is considered to be too limited in terms of traffic.

Privacy policy analysis

TunnelBear’s Privacy policy contains usual claims that the service doesn’t collect or store personal information:

TunnelBear explicitly does NOT collect, store or log the following data:

  • IP addresses visiting our website
  • IP addresses upon service connection
  • DNS Queries while connected
  • Any information about the applications, services or websites our users use while connected to our Service

There’s one fact that confirms these words. Starting in 2016, TunnelBear has undergone several independent audits with “full-body scans”. These audits have checked and proved the “No logging” policy of the service.

There is no other information useful or interesting to the customers in the Privacy policy.


Analysis of prices and plans of TunnelBear VPN

TunnelBear has 2 pricing schemes:

Regular

  • limited free plan with 500 Mb monthly (1000 Mb if you write a Twitter comment);
  • full-featured 1-month plan;
  • full-featured long-term plan with a discount.

Price of the 1-month subscription: $9.99 per month

Price of the 1-year subscription: $4.99 per month

TunnelBear for unregistered users

This billing is in effect for unregistered clients.

For registered ones, the pricing is different:

With fixed prices

  • limited free plan;
  • full-featured plan at a fixed price ($4.99 per month);
  • expanded full-featured plan at a fixed price ($5.75 per month).

The expanded full-featured plan available at a fixed price includes personal customer support as an extra.

Tariffs of TunnelBear

Once again on how the paid plan is different from the free one:

  1. No bandwidth limit
  2. 5 simultaneous device connections
  3. Customer support

It’s worth noting that we tested the free version of TunnelBear on 4 devices simultaneously, which makes the second point irrelevant at this moment.

TunnelBear gives no refunds if you cancel the service:

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.


History of TunnelBear and information about the owner

Location of TunnelBear VPN
Image taken from Google Maps

TunnelBear was founded in 2011. On paper, it is owned by Canadian company TunnelBear LLC.  However, this company is managed by the American Internet security giant McAfee which in turn belongs to Intel since 2010.

The acquisition of TunnelBear took place in the spring of 2018. How much the deal was done for isn’t known.

A widespread opinion is that the merger with McAfee affected the privacy of the TunnelBear users negatively. Though the provider remained under the Canadian jurisdiction after the deal was done, it became subject to American laws as well automatically, potentially endangering its American users’ privacy. Besides, both countries are members of the 5 Eyes intelligence alliance.

Address of TunnelBear LLC:

310 Spadina Ave 200,

Toronto, ON M5T 2E7, Canada

Website:  tunnelbear.com


My conclusion

So is TunnelBear VPN worth using?

Yes, if you like a high-quality beautiful interface, ease of use, or need VPN obfuscation for Windows, Mac, or Android. At the same time, you don’t need a huge choice of locations (countries). In this case, TunnelBear, though only its paid version, will suit you.

If you’re looking for a free VPN, think if 500-1000 Mb per month would be enough for your needs. Unfortunately, it’s too little in most cases. That’s why our recommendation is to find a more suitable free service on our website.

No, if you plan on using a VPN for free as a universal tool on an everyday basis or on watching Netflix. Apart from that, its lacking speeds and poor location choice make us not consider it one of the best paid services.

To summarize:

+ Has a free version

+ Good data protection (if you tweak the settings)

+ Owns its DNS servers

+ Doesn’t keep logs

+ Kill switch

+ Supports paying with cryptocurrencies

DNS failure on the computer after using TunnelBear

Barebones iOS app

No streaming support

Doesn’t have certain features available among its competitors (apps for TV platforms, Kodi, etc.)

Too few VPN locations

Canadian and US jurisdiction

To help us develop this article further, you may leave a comment down below. Ask us a question or share your experience with TunnelBear VPN!

Thank you for paying attention to our work.

VPN-Review - Chief Editor
Dean Chester
Cybersecurity and online privacy expert and researcher. He's been published on OpenVPN, EC-Council Blog, DevSecOps, AT-T Business, SAP Community, etc. Dean has been testing VPNs for 8 years.

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7.9 Based on 3 reviews
Speed
Customer Score: 
6
Ease Of Use: 
7
Features: 
6
Pricing: 
7
Support: 
7

It is a fine service but not without its share of problems that stop me from using it. Last time I did, I found Tunnelbear a bit slow. I couldn’t play certain online games because of it.

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Nice review
Customer Score: 
10
Ease Of Use: 
10
Features: 
9
Pricing: 
10
Support: 
9

Hi there! That’s a really nice review you got here! I really have nothing but good things to say about Tunnelbear and I’ve been using it for years. I just slightly disagree with what you say about the speeds being poor. I think that for me they were good lately. I mean, I get to watch vids in hd and ultra hd no problem. Anyway, keep up the good work!

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Use the full version please!
Customer Score: 
7
Ease Of Use: 
8
Features: 
8
Pricing: 
7
Support: 
8

If you wanna use Tunnelbear, you should go for its standalone version (the app). The extension I’ve been using is poor because it has a lot of trouble connecting to the server-especially in the incognito mode!

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