TunnelBear offers its users both free and paid VPN service. However, the free version is only limited to 500MB/month bandwidth.
On a good note, their VPN software uses the industry standard (strong) OpenVPN protocol, as well as 256-bit AES encryption.
Unfortunately, their VPN connection speed is a little slow compared to other VPNs like ExpressVPN or NordVPN.
Is it still a good choice when compared to the other VPNs out there?
Let’s find out in this TunnelBear review.
General Information on TunnelBear
TunnelBear is a provider of both free and paid VPNs.
It’s been around since 2011 when it was founded by Ryan Dochuk (Corporate Bear) and Daniel Kaldor (Quantum Bear).
Between the two of them, they have experience working at Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, RIM, and a mobile security startup. So they’ve certainly done their time in the tech world.
The company is based in Toronto, though their 350+ VPN servers spread throughout 22 other countries around the world, including servers in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.
1. No Logging
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
Image from: https://www.tunnelbear.com/privacy-policy
That’s great news for privacy-conscious users. It means that they aren’t selling any of your data and that when law enforcement comes knocking, they don’t have anything interesting to give them.
They will hand over the personal information they’ve collected, as is required by Canadian law (like WindScribe). (Canada is not a good jurisdiction for a VPN provider.)
They don’t store your full credit card number, though they can access it through their PCI-compliant payment partners.
2. No Leaks Detected
A user-friendly interface and rock-solid encryption make this leak-free VPN a solid choice.
TunnelBear uses OpenVPN by default, paired with the most advanced, uncrackable encryption standard on the market in AES-256.
Tunnelbear repeatedly states that your browsing activity is “protected by a bear,” using a whimsical-looking cartoon bear to illustrate that point over and over again.
Fortunately, TunnelBear held its ground throughout our testing process.
Check it out for yourself:
Its installation software also persevered, delivering squeaky-clean results.
3. Free Plan & Works on Multiple Devices
It’s capped at 500mb (only), though.
Even though TunnelBear’s free plan is very small, it lets you check out the app and do a few speed tests on your own.
They provide streamlined apps for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. There’s also a browser extension for both Chrome and Opera, and a tracker-blocking extension that compliments all of their services (or can be used on its own).
4. Extremely Safe and Secure
Of course, no matter how cheap the VPN, you need to know that it’s safe.
Tunnelbear uses industry-standard OpenVPN protocol on Windows, Mac, and Android devices.
OpenVPN is a recommended option by default.
Recent iOS versions get IPSec/IKEv2, and older versions get IPSec (not recommended).
All in all, it’s the encryption you’d expect.
OpenVPN and IPSec/IKEv2 provide 256-bit AES protection, while the IPSec protocol offers still-respectable 128-bit AES encryption. The US government uses 256-bit AES encryption for data protection, so you can trust that this is a solid protocol.
The service also provides strong data authentication and secure Diffie-Hellman key exchange to ensure that you’re connecting to a TunnelBear server and not a nefarious man-in-the-middle miscreant.
One of the cool services that TunnelBear provides is called VigilantBear—this feature protects you while you’re connecting and disconnecting. If your WiFi drops or you move between access points, there’s the possibility that some of your data will go out over an unsecured connection. VigilantBear prevents that from happening (acting as a kill-switch).
In January 2017, Hackernoon took a deep dive into the TunnelBear code to see what they could find. You can read the entire breakdown if you like, but it gets quite technical. In short, they didn’t find any notable vulnerabilities or surprises. They were even impressed that TunnelBear includes functionality to detect both DNS and IPv6 leaks, which is great for protecting your privacy.
TunnelBear hasn’t had any big leaks or evidence of their encryption being cracked. All signs point to the fact that TunnelBear is extremely safe to use.
One thing to note is that the Diffie-Hellman key exchange method may have some flaws. While the desktop, Android, and iOS 9+ VPNs use 2,048-bit DH groups, which are considered safe, older versions of iOS use a 1,024-bit DH group. And it’s possible that some powerful nation-level attackers could be able to compromise that key exchange.
5. Nice Features
TunnelBear comes together with some great features, such as:
- Anonymous IP
- Kill-Switch (VigilantBear)
- 5 Simultaneous Connections
Some websites are blocking traffic that appears to be coming from a VPN. It’s annoying, and a constant battle between VPN providers and those websites to gain the advantage.
For example, I found out that TunnelBear’s GhostBear feature does its best to hide the fact that you’re using a VPN. This will fool some businesses and governments, but not all.
Before you use GhostBear, it’s a good idea to see if you can connect to the site you want via the standard TunnelBear connection. If you can’t, it’s worth trying GhostBear. Hiding the fact that you’re using a VPN will slow down your connection a bit, so I don’t recommend leaving it on all the time.
6. Easy to Use
TunnelBear’s mission is to make VPN usage easy for everyone.
And in my opinion, they’ve certainly done that. The app is extremely simple and easy to use. It may not provide all the advanced settings you want from a high-end VPN, but if you’re just getting started with encrypted browsing, it makes the process much easier.
By default, it only shows you what you need to see: where you are, the tunnel you’re using, and where you appear to be browsing from.
There are additional settings you can find, but if you don’t want to dig into them, you can just enjoy the simple, clean interface.
The browser extensions are the same; just turn them on and leave them alone. It doesn’t get much easier than this.
7. Independently Audited for Security
There’s been a lot of bad press for some VPNs over the past few years.
Bandwidth selling, logging data, overstated security… it all erodes confidence in VPNs. That’s why TunnelBear has an independent organization audit their VPN for security.
This is a rather rare thing in the industry, and it takes a lot of humility for TunnelBear to give it a shot. They published the results of the audit, and you can read them online.
TunnelBear claims that it is the first and only VPN service in the world to offer this, and it’s definitely the only one I’ve ever come across. It should be noted, however, that the last audit period was in July of 2017, and the company has yet to update it again.
8. Allows Torrenting and TOR
TunnelBear used to be a service that did not allow torrenting. That all seems to have changed recently.
While there’s not much information about torrenting services on their official website, I got the low-down from a TunnelBear representative through their customer service department.
They confirmed that their service does allow both torrenting and the use of the TOR network. This is a huge change from when we first reviewed TunnelBear. Back then, their stance on the P2P file sharing was a hard no. We’re glad to see them joining us in the present and embracing one of the key services that people want to use a VPN for.
TOR stands for The Onion Router, and it is a private and encrypted web browser. A lot of users like to use a VPN in conjunction with TOR to maximize their anonymity. Some VPNs don’t allow the service to be used at all. Tunnelbear lets you use TOR but the representative I spoke with warned me that I could see severely decreased speeds while using it.
9. Responsive and Thorough Customer Support
Another service we did not love the first time around was TunnelBear’s ticketed-based customer support system.
Unfortunately, TunnelBear still doesn’t offer any live chat. So here’s how we typically assess ticket systems:
- How much time will they take to get back to me?
- Will they answer my question in a thorough and complete manner?
I was very impressed with both of those factors. TunnelBear’s new commitment to customer support ranks as one of my favorite out of all the ticketed support systems we’ve tested.
First off look at that adorable cartoon bear with the little headset on! I’ll “paws” to let you appreciate it.
Enjoy that pun? Well, buckle up, because their customer service department is full of them.
I asked about torrenting and file sharing, as well as TOR and Netflix.
Before I dive into the actual response (and all of the delicious puns inside), I want to talk about the time it took to get it.
They give you a generic timeframe of 48 hours. I sighed and prepared to hate on this department. I got a response within two hours.
That’s lightning fast for tickets!
Now, for the response itself.
It’s complete, it has personality, and it has links to help me along. I couldn’t ask for anything more from a customer service department… (besides live chat).
But baby-bear steps…
You can’t be told to have a pawsome day and not smile.
1. Speed Problems (Slow)
Everything was going so well with TunnelBear until it was time to test their server speeds.
Some users have reported good download speeds. But in our test, my 100 Mbps connection dropped down to 52.26 Mbps when I was using the EU servers.
That’s a huge drop.
Here are some of the results that I achieved with a 100mb connection:
US Server (New York)
- Ping: 120ms
- Download: 33.38 Mbps
- Upload: 15.04 Mbps
EU Server (Amsterdam)
- Ping: 39ms
- Download: 52.26 Mbps
- Upload: 27.20 Mbps
Asia Server (Hong Kong)
- Ping: 345ms
- Download: 7.54 Mbps
- Upload: 2.63 Mbps
UK Server (London)
- Ping: 44ms
- Download: 50.10 Mbps
- Upload: 48.36 Mbps
You should always expect to lose some speed. However, this is a significant drop that will affect your browsing experience.
They’re not the worst we’ve seen. But overall, they’re bad when you put them up against more reliable VPNs we’ve reviewed, like NordVPN and ExpressVPN.
2. No Netflix
Unfortunately, Netflix is getting better all the time at blocking VPNs.
They’ve successfully blocked many larger VPN providers (including PIA) with more servers in more places around the world.
TunnelBear support did tell me that many users have had success in unblocking Netflix.
But unfortunately, none of the servers we tested worked properly.
If you need a VPN for unblocking Netflix geo-restrictions, here’s a list of top 100% working VPNs for Netflix.
3. No Router Installation
TunnelBear doesn’t support installing its VPN software directly on your router. If you weren’t planning on doing this anyway, it’s no big deal. But if you’re considering using a VPN this way for the increased protection and ease of use, you’ll need to find another provider.
TunnelBear Pricing, Plans, & Facts
Tunnelbear’s pricing and plans are as simple as their app:
It’s always good to see a free option, as you can use that to test out the app and the service. The bandwidth you can use is only 500 MB per month, though.
The first paid plan, Giant, will run you $9.99 per month for unlimited data.
The biggest plan, Grizzly, is an annual plan. So you’ll pay $59.99 upfront for 12 months of unlimited VPN service.
On each plan you buy, you can use up to five devices protected. So if you’re looking for a VPN that will cover your whole family, TunnelBear is a good bet.
Overall, this one is pretty cheap. However, a few, like the deal we have from NordVPN, has been able to surpass it.
Incredibly, TunnelBear does NOT offer any refunds, either. So no money-back guarantees here. Instead, they let you use their free version. You better be sure before you upgrade.
- No logging: Yes.
- Ease of the VPN software: Their app is quite simple and straight-forward.
- Hidden fees & clauses: No refunds.
- Upsells: No upsells.
- Instant access after payment: Yes.
- DNS leaks: None.
- Jurisdiction: Canada
- Tunneling Protocols: OpenVPN, IPSec, and IKEv2
- Kill-switch: Yes.
As for payment options, TunnelBear allows you to pay via major credit cards like Visa, Mastercard, and American Express. They also accept PayPal & Bitcoin, a digital form of cryptocurrency which is 100% untraceable.
They also claim to accept jars of honey…but we’re pretty sure that’s a joke. I think…
Do We Recommend TunnelBear VPN?
So is TunnelBear worth using?
It depends on what you need a VPN for.
If you just want something to protect your privacy while you browse without getting in your way with complicated options and interfaces, it’s a great choice.
You might suffer a bit on the speed side, but there’s no disputing that it’s very easy to use and does offer solid security.
But if you need more than that, you’ll probably want to choose another VPN.
I was impressed with their improved customer service and the new ability to torrent. They took many of our major complaints and corrected them.
But their lackluster speed means I can’t recommend this as a go-to for everyone.
So, if you’re looking for more, go ahead and buy NordVPN ($3.49/mo) instead.
Check out one of the other top VPNs here.