TunnelBear Review

It's easy to recommend TunnelBear because of its remarkably uncomplicated apps and the option to use a totally free version. The U.S. isn't the safest country for a VPN to be headquartered in, but trust is restored through transparency and routine security audits.

TunnelBear is a VPN service with a cute bear as its mascot that you can watch tunnel its way to other countries as you switch servers. The apps are extremely easy to use even for beginners, and it has a few features you'd expect in any decent VPN.

Since there's a free version, it's great for when you don't need tight security for everything you're doing online. If it's just quick access to public Wi-Fi that you need, or there are some websites you want unblocked, the free app can probably do it despite its monthly data cap.

Feature-wise, it doesn't stand up to most of the competition, but if you're inexperienced or have no interest in tinkering with advanced settings, then it's a good choice for its functional VPN abilities and decent speed.

Some features you'll get with this VPN that you don't always see in other ones, are privacy and security clarity through audits, access to the full list of countries even on the free version, and VPN masking.

Everything to Know About TunnelBear

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What Are the Pros and Cons?

The Good:

  • Has a free plan (500 MB /month)
  • Unlimited bandwidth if you pay
  • Apps are easy to use and understand
  • Unblocks Netflix libraries
  • Simultaneous connections for 5 devices
  • Accepts Bitcoin payments
  • Automatically locates the closest server
  • Optional privacy features
  • Desktop app updates itself
  • Runs on any computer that supports a web browser
  • Free from DNS leaks
  • P2P-compatible

The Bad:

  • Five Eyes jurisdiction
  • Doesn't unblock Hulu or BBC iPlayer
  • No desktop app for Linux
  • Split tunneling only works on Android
  • Browser VPN isn't always reliable
  • Doesn't show your new IP address to confirm it's working
  • Can't change the VPN protocol in the mobile app
  • Doesn't guarantee a refund within 30 days

How Much Does TunnelBear Cost?

Short Answer: As low as $3.33 for three years, but there's also a 100% free version.

Aside from the free version detailed below, TunnelBear offers a plan called "Unlimited" that you can buy in various lengths:

  • $9.99 /month (if you pay monthly)
  • $4.99 /month (if you pay $59.88 yearly)
  • $3.33 /month (if you pay $120 for three years)

As you can see, you'll save more money with a longer plan. If you order TunnelBear for 12 months at the monthly price, you'll spend $120, which is double the yearly plan. That's a 50% savings if you opt for the 1-year plan versus the monthly one. If you go with the 3-year option, you'll save over $200 versus the monthly plan over that same period of time.

TunnelBear definitely isn't the priciest VPN out there, but it's also not the most affordable. ExpressVPN, for example, can only get as low as $8.32 /month and that's if you pay for an entire year upfront. If you're looking for something a bit cheaper, Private Internet Access is under $3 /month if you order three years up front.

TunnelBear for Teams is another plan you can get that's built for businesses. It costs a little more than the personal plan but beyond the normal VPN benefits, it has a dedicated account manager and centralized team billing and management.

You can pay through your phone's app store or with your credit card. Bitcoin is accepted, too, if you prefer to pay that way. It works through BitPay.com, which you can use with various cryptocurrency wallets and exchanges like Coinbase, Binance, and others.

Here are some other things to be mindful of when it comes to payments:

  • Bitcoin is an option only for the 1-year plan.
  • The 3-year option doesn't renew every three years; it's a one-time thing. When the subscription is up, you'll be downgraded to a free account, after which you can, of course, resubscribe if you want to.
  • They don't normally refund purchases, but if you have a strong case for why you should get your money back, you can take it up with their support team within 30 days of the purchase.
  • You might be eligible for a free 1-year plan if you're a journalists or activists.

Can You Use TunnelBear For Free?

Short Answer: Yes, but it comes with a monthly data cap and slightly stricter server selections.

TunnelBear offers a data-restricted free version of their app. Everyone gets 500 MB of data every single month at no cost, and you're not charged if you exceed it because you're kicked off until the 30-day cycle restarts. This is a great way to try out the app since there isn't a trial version, and you still get nearly all the same features as a paying customer.

Some VPNs restrict their free version in other ways like giving you access to just a few servers but permitting unlimited data usage, or locking extra features until you pay for them. TunnelBear's free app chooses to limit your data usage. Most of the same servers, and all the same security features, are available in a paid and a free account, and you won't have lower speeds just because you're not paying (see our tests results).

One exception to this is users in Iran who get 10 GB /month of free data as part of TunnelBear's anti-censorship program. You can read more about that here.

There's a lot of talk around whether free VPNs are worth it, but much of the fear is surrounding too-good-to-be-true VPNs, like ones that offer unlimited premium-level benefits at zero cost. If you can deal with the limited data availability and the option to pick specific servers for some countries, those are really the only differences between a free and paid user—they're subject to the same strong privacy policy. We're comfortable recommending the free app just as much as the paid one.

Is TunnelBear Private?

Short Answer: It's tremendously clear that they care about your privacy and don't keep logs that could trace your activity back to you.

Privacy is at the core of a VPN, so it's important to know whether TunnelBear takes your privacy seriously. Technically, a VPN can see what you're doing while you're using it, but whether or not TunnelBear does should be an important question that you get answered before you start using it.

So what do we know?

For starters, there's an entire 'Trust' page on their site that answers various privacy-related questions that you might be curious about. This extreme transparency isn't something you get with most other VPNs, so it's refreshing to see it here. It's clear, for example, that they're owned by the security software company McAfee and that while their offices are based in Canada, TunnelBear is incorporated in the U.S. state of Delaware.

Here are some more snippets from that page, their privacy policy, and other parts of their website that makes things abundantly clear:

TunnelBear respects your privacy. We will never monitor, log, or sell any of your browsing activity.

TunnelBear does NOT store users' originating IP addresses when connected to our service and thus cannot identify users when provided IP addresses of our servers. Additionally, we cannot disclose information about the applications, services, or websites our users consume while connected to our Services; as TunnelBear does NOT store this information.

In the event TunnelBear is served with a valid subpoena, warrant or other legal document and applicable law requires TunnelBear to comply, the extent of disclosure is limited to the Personal Data listed within this Privacy Notice.

Fortunately, like any good VPN should, they don't log the websites you visit or your real IP address when you connect to the VPN. Here's a rundown of everything they know about you and could share with authorities if forced to:

Does collect:

  • Last name and partial card number (if using a credit card)
  • Total amount of data used in one month
  • Whether you were active on the VPN in the last month
  • Email address
  • Operational events (if you made a payment or collected free data)
  • Operating system and app version

Doesn't collect:

  • Your real IP address when connecting to the VPN
  • DNS queries while connected
  • Connection times
  • Browsing data

What would actually happen if TunnelBear received a request from a government authority to hand over your data? It's first reviewed by their legal team to make sure it's a valid request. But even if it is, given the list above, it's clear that there isn't any data stored by them that will put your privacy at risk. If you're ever concerned about the personal data they have one you, you can see and manage all of it from this page of your account. This document explains everything you'd find there.

TunnelBear also makes it clear that if you're a paying customer, they can see your credit card billing address and IP address that was used when you made a payment (if by credit card or PayPal). They don't store this information themselves but they are able to see it by checking their third-party payment processors. They do this to help prevent credit card fraud.

Despite their strong policy, however, remember that TunnelBear is based in the U.S. Some people avoid VPNs based there because of their affiliation with the Five Eyes.

How Secure Is TunnelBear?

Short Answer: They've never been hacked, don't leak DNS details, pay for routine security audits, and support the tried-and-true OpenVPN protocol.

Like all high-end VPNs, TunnelBear uses ultra-strong AES 256-bit encryption by default. This is built-in to the apps, so you can't disable it or switch over to weaker encryption even if you wanted to.

Multiple VPN protocols are supported, depending on the app you're using. WireGuard is popular due to its speed, but TunnelBear also uses OpenVPN for all their apps and IKEv2.

When you connect to a server, the app chooses the protocol based on which one connects fastest. If you're not sure what to pick anyway, then that's an excellent way to guarantee you'll use the quickest one. If you like to have full control over the VPN's settings, especially from your phone or tablet, there are other VPN apps that provide fine-tune control, like PIA.

According to TunnelBear, they bolster the security of all of their servers by enforcing full disk encryption, malware and intrusion scans, and intrusion protection techniques. They also apply security patches when needed and the entire organization uses hardware-based 2FA.

TunnelBear has routine security audits of their service to prove that they are as secure as they claim to be. They've done this a few times, the first one in 2017. Each one has been completed by Cure53, a third-party company, and every year, all issues were later fixed thanks to the information gathered in the audits.

You can see the most recent security audit through TunnelBear's anti-censorship hub. Here are two snippets from the latest document that summarizes what Cure53 had to say:

After forty days on the scope in October 2020, nine members of the testing team can confirm that the examined TunnelBear compound makes a fairly good impression with regard to security. The project targeted a vast scope, including the TunnelBear clients, applications, browser extensions, frontend part of the public sites, project infrastructure and connected or underlying internal services.

All in all, not many exploitable issues were spotted, and the absence of Critical findings points to a good result achieved by the TunnelBear complex in this October 2020 assignment overall. This is an excellent foundation on which future investments into the project can be built. Cure53 sees the TunnelBear applications as being on the right track towards the main goal of delivering a secure foundation within their operations and customer services.

So, what about hacks? We contacted their support team in 2020 to ask them directly:

Proud to say that TunnelBear has NEVER been compromised. Our focus has always been our user's privacy and security. We were the first VPN company to do annual third party security audits of our site and code. This actually set a trend for other VPNs out there.

Some VPNs leak DNS details to other service providers, meaning that those other companies could potentially see what you're doing even while you're using the VPN. That's why we always do a quick check for DNS leaks when reviewing VPNs.

To do that, we ran a test from IPleak.org and DNSLeakTest.com and got the same result: no DNS leaking.

IPleak.org results for TunnelBear DNS leak test
IPleak.org results

Where Are TunnelBear's Servers?

Short Answer: There are 47 countries with VPN servers, but you don't have the freedom to choose a specific city for all the countries.

TunnelBear isn't forthcoming with how many servers they have, citing "privacy reasons," but we do know that some of the more popular tunnels have hundreds of IP addresses available at any given time.

These are all of the countries that they provide servers in:

  • Argentina
  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • Bulgaria
  • Canada
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Indonesia
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Kenya
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Malaysia
  • Mexico
  • Moldova
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Nigeria
  • Norway
  • Peru
  • Philippines
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Serbia
  • Singapore
  • Slovenia
  • South Africa
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan
  • UK
  • Ukraine
  • USA

One way this VPN is different than most other ones is that you can't select a specific region or server within most of those countries. With the exception of a couple countries, your only option is to choose the country; a server from that location is chosen for you automatically. You also don't have an option to use a dedicated IP address, but they informed us that they'll consider it in the future if there's a demand for it.

If you need access to other countries not supported by TunnelBear, your only option is to go with another VPN that has a wider reach. ExpressVPN is one alternative that supports over 90 countries, and another is Private Internet Access which provides servers in over 80 countries.

What Does TunnelBear Unblock?

Short Answer: It does unblock Netflix, despite what you might read in other reviews. But we couldn't get Hulu to work.

  • Netflix: Yes
  • Hulu: No
  • Disney+: Yes
  • BBC iPlayer: No

Unblocking websites that only work in specific countries is a huge reason many people use a VPN. If you've seen other reviews of TunnelBear online, you'll find that most of them say that a huge disadvantage it has over other providers is its inability to unblock Netflix. Our experience was different.

We've been able to use TunnelBear to watch Netflix shows from various countries, including the U.S., Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, and Ireland. There's a good chance it works from the other supported locations as well.

Here's what it looks like to use Netflix from a server in India, for example. You can see that it shows one of the top TV shows in that country:

Top TV show in India on Netflix
Netflix in India

If you're in a country that doesn't show certain Netflix titles, switching over to one that does is all you need to do to unblock the video.

Below are results where we searched for the same TV show from two countries, one where it isn't available (Ireland, the top image) and one where it is (the U.S.). It was as easy as selecting the country in TunnelBear that we know the show is available from. It just takes a few seconds to reload Netflix and get the new results.

Netflix results for The Twilight Zone
Ireland vs US Netflix results

We've confirmed that TunnelBear also works with other streaming sites like YouTube and Disney+.

What we couldn't get to load was BBC iPlayer, even when connecting to a UK server. GhostBear is a feature included in some of the apps that's supposed to make the VPN less likely to be blocked, but it didn't work to get around BBC's georestrictions.

TunnelBear was also detected when we tried streaming Hulu videos. GhostBear, again, didn't provide any help unblocking the content.

How Much Data Can You Use?

Short Answer: Unlimited data usage for paying customers, at least 500 MB /month for free users.

Basically every VPN that makes you pay will give you unlimited data usage, and that's also true with TunnelBear. You can download and upload as often as you want regardless of the file size or total data usage per month. There's simply no limit.

Free users, however, are restricted to at least 500 MB per month (more if you complete the free data offer). This means that the VPN will stop working once you reach that limit and will only renew once a month has passed. If you're using the free plan, you're told exactly how much data you have left so you can plan accordingly.

How Fast Is TunnelBear?

Short Answer: The median speed we recorded was 115 Mbps, which isn't bad considering our baseline speed was 121 Mbps. However, a 2,000 Mbps network also tested between 120 and 150 Mbps, so don't expect much higher speeds than that.

Let's start with some charts (explanations are futher down the page)...

Here are the results from our slower test network:

TunnelBear speed test results
Baseline speeds vs VPN speeds (slower network)

And these are the results from our faster network:

TunnelBear speed test results
Baseline speeds vs VPN speeds (faster network)

VPNs don't necessarily need to be lightning-fast for everyone, but if you want it to have the least impact as possible on speeds, you might be disappointed with TunnelBear if you typically get really fast downloads.

To get a clear picture of how fast TunnelBear is, we first ran a test before turning the VPN on to get a baseline that we can compare all the other tests to. We took three (here, here, and here) and chose this one for comparison:

TunnelBear speed test result
Baseline speed test
  • Download: 121 Mbps
  • Upload: 15 Mbps
  • Ping: 7 ms

Note: We always use the middle result of three tests for comparison. See How We Test & Rank VPNs for more on this process.

Next, we took three tests again (here, here, and here) to measure the speed while the VPN was enabled:

TunnelBear speed test result
VPN speed test
  • Download: 115 Mbps
  • Upload: 15 Mbps
  • Ping: 24 ms

That difference in download speed here is around 5%, so not bad. But what if your baseline is much higher than ours?

For an even better look at this VPN's speed, we also ran some tests on an ultra-fast network. We took three (here, here, and here) and, again, chose the middle value for comparison:

Speedtest.net results without a VPN
Baseline speed test
  • Download: 2,255 Mbps
  • Upload: 461 Mbps
  • Ping: 10 ms

We then took three more tests once the VPN was connected: (here, here, and here).

TunnelBear speedtest.net results
VPN speed test
  • Download: 117 Mbps
  • Upload: 22 Mbps
  • Ping: 65 ms

It's clear that there was a significant drop in speed all around: both the download and upload numbers sank by a whopping 95% (around 20 times slower than our baseline) and the ping response took six times as long. While there's no doubt that those are big differences, remember that TunnelBear isn't an exception; there are multiple reasons most VPNs slow down your internet.

Here's what all this means...

If your baseline is around 100 Mbps, you won't notice much of a drop. The significant decrease we experienced on the faster network was due to the fact that our starting numbers were so high. Unless you also have a high pre-VPN speed, you can ignore the decrease percentage and just look at the numbers from the results. In other words, don't expect your speed to drop x20 just because ours did, but also don't expect to reach anything over 200 Mbps.

For example, maybe your everyday download speeds are nothing close to 2,000 Mbps. We've also tested this VPN on a network that has a maximum throughput of 15 Mbps, and our average download speed was closer to 12 Mbps, which is clearly a tiny change compared to how the VPN affected the faster network.

The servers used for all of those tests were chosen automatically by the app using the Fastest option, meaning that TunnelBear located the closest server to our physical location so that we'd get the quickest speeds possible. It's clear that this works most of the time when you see the results of tests taken at servers further away:

  • Argentina: 127 Mbps download / 275 ms ping
  • Denmark: 76 Mbps download / 157 ms ping
  • India: 27 Mbps download / 296 ms ping

Since there's also a free version, we ran a few tests with it (on the faster network) to see if TunnelBear adjusts the speed for non-paying users. We weren't able to run all three tests because the 500 MB data limit was reached too soon, but the one we did get seems promising: 149 Mbps for the download and a ping of 66 ms.

Having a fast VPN is super important if you need a quick connection for things that demand it, like video calls or gaming. If TunnelBear's speeds don't look like they'll be good enough for what you need, we've confirmed that there are much faster VPNs available, like NordVPN, VyprVPN, and ExpressVPN.

Are Torrents Allowed?

Short Answer: Torrents worked from all of the countries we tried, but it's really only useful for paying customers.

TunnelBear doesn't explicitly mention on their site or in their apps whether they support torrents, so we gave it a whirl to see how well downloads and uploads upheld during torrent usage on a few of their VPN servers.

We switched to a server in the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, and the torrent worked just fine each time. Of course, the fastest speeds were from servers closest to our real location, but the others worked as well, just with lower performance.

uTorrent running through the TunnelBear VPN
Using a torrent on Windows

One exception is when we tried a server in France. While trying to download the torrent, TunnelBear kicked us off and then reconnected about four times before stabilizing. It ended up working fine but it did take a few tries.

We asked them about this and they said that if you have trouble sharing files on their network, to use a tunnel in one of these areas: Canada, US, UK, Romania, Netherlands, Germany, or Sweden.

Keep in mind that using torrents is usually only a good idea if you're on an unlimited data plan. So if you're paying for TunnelBear, that's great because you don't have a data limit. But the free version can deal with only 500 MB per month, which you could easily reach by sharing just a handful of files.

Which Devices Are Supported?

Short Answer: Phones, tablets, desktops, and web browsers can use the VPN.

There's an app for basically all your devices:

  • Mobile: iPhone, iPad, Android
  • Desktop: Windows (7 and newer), Mac (10.5 and newer)
  • Browser: Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Opera

Some VPNs have a router option that makes it super easy to hook up your TV, gaming console, computers, phones, etc. to the VPN since all of them connect to your router (which is connected to the VPN). TunnelBear doesn't have this option, but it does permit up to five devices to use your account at the same time, so as long as you don't need the VPN on additional devices, the lack of a router option shouldn't be an issue.

We asked TunnelBear about a Linux app and they said they're not actively building one due to limited demand and the complexity of the platform. Setting up the VPN manually, however, is permitted; there are instructions for using OpenVPN on their website.

TunnelBear Desktop App Review

Most VPNs simply have a list of servers to pick from, which is usually fine and is also included in this VPN, but TunnelBear also features a big map that almost makes the app fun to use. The bear digs its way from where you are to the country you chose so that you can easily visualize your new fake location.

TunnelBear Windows app connected to Canada from the U.S.
Windows app connected to a Canadian server

If you've had trouble using other VPNs because your ISP or government detected the encrypted data and blocked it from working, you might have luck using the app's GhostBear feature. It's an option you can enable to attempt to make the encryption less noticeable. Unfortunately, it didn't work when we needed it to unblock Hulu. You can read more about it on TunnelBear's website.

VigilantBear is another important option you can turn on. It's their name for a kill switch that blocks all internet traffic if the VPN disconnects for whatever reason. The idea here is simple: if there's no encryption, there's no internet, which is great for keeping things private.

Here's everything else the desktop app can do:

  • Launch the program at startup
  • Switch to TCP instead of UDP
  • Disable connection notifications
  • Be notified when connecting to unsecured wireless networks (e.g., no password or weak encryption)
  • Keep the VPN running even when the program is closed
  • Change the VPN protocol
  • Collapse the program into a small window for easier management
TunnelBear general settings
Windows app

TunnelBear Mobile App Review

TunnelBear's mobile app is as simple as it can get while still plugging in all the features you need.

The primary screen is for choosing a location, which you can do by selecting the tunnel from the map that's in the country you're interested in, selecting the country from a list, or choosing Fastest to automatically reach the fastest server based on your current location.

TunnelBear Android app screenshots
Android app

Since free users are limited to a certain amount of data every month, your remaining usage is displayed at the bottom of the free app. You can see in our example that we've already redeemed the free extra data offer, so it shows that more than 500 MB of data is remaining.

Split tunneling is supported on Android but it's called SplitBear. It has you select apps that you don't want to use the VPN with. If you're a heavy gamer, for example, and you're on the free version, you might want to save some of your monthly traffic by blocking your games from using the VPN. Or maybe you don't care to have your news and weather apps run through the VPN.

In the menu are all the other options:

  • Enable GhostBear on Android to try to hide the fact that you're using the VPN, something you might do if your ISP is blocking the use of encrypted traffic
  • Toggle VigilantBear (the kill switch) on or off on Android
  • Configure trusted networks on iOS to connect automatically on certain networks

TunnelBear Browser Extension Review

There's also a browser extension you can use to get the VPN's benefits (it's just an encrypted proxy) without installing the full program. It's remarkably simple, so it's easy to use but also lacks lots of options. Then again, many browser-based VPNs aren't as feature-filled as their desktop and mobile counterparts.

TunnelBear Chrome extension map and list of servers
Chrome extension from a free account

You can enable or disable the VPN and switch to a different country to get a new IP address, but that's it. The kill switch available in their other apps isn't an option in the browser version, and you also don't get the ad-blocking, malicious link scanner, URL filtering, or WebRTC blocking features found in some other browser VPNs.

That said, you do have access to all the servers TunnelBear has available, which is more than most free VPN extensions allow. Our only complaint is that the U.S. server didn't work some of the time; no pages would load when we tried in Chrome and Edge.

There's a separate Chrome extension from the same company, called TunnelBear Blocker, that blocks trackers and ads if you're interested in that.

TunnelBear Support Options

Short Answer: There isn't a live chat option but you can email them and find answers for commonly asked questions.

TunnelBear's website has a help page with answers about billing and payments, making an account, and troubleshooting. There's also a contact form if you need to email them.

TunnelBear's contact a support bear web page
Contact form

We tried the email option and were told that it could take up to 72 hours to get a response. They replied in about three hours, which is nothing to complain about. During one exchange, they even updated us after two days of no responses to let us know that they were overwhelmed with requests from other users but that they hadn't forgotten about us.

Something we'd like to see is a live chat option that lets you communicate with a real person in real time. Other VPNs offer it and it's been extremely helpful, for both urgent requests and minor ones. There is a help button at the bottom of TunnelBear's website that looks like a chat function but it's really just a search tool to find answers that are already on their site.

Should You Get TunnelBear?

TunnelBear can be summarized as a VPN service that's a perfect fit for someone who's new to VPNs. If you just need to change your IP address to access some blocked content or encrypt your data on unsecure networks, you'll be pleased with it. Little thought needs to be put into how you use it because it basically works as-is with little engagement.

However, all VPNs are different. Maybe you'd prefer Surfshark for its GPS spoofing abilities, Atlas VPN if you want another free option, NordVPN for ultra-fast speeds, Private Internet Access for more settings to customize, ExpressVPN for global-level servers, VyprVPN for a useful anti-censorship VPN protocol, or Mullvad for its exceptional privacy practices.