TunnelBear is based in Canada and it’s owned by McAfee, a well-known name in the cybersecurity field. Sometimes the best VPNs might seem complicated, especially to newcomers, but TunnelBear is quite the opposite. The company explains the fundamentals in a clear and simple manner.
While in no way insufficient, the service doesn’t have that big of a network, with 49 countries and around 1000 servers, so it doesn’t offer that much coverage compared to the competition. TunnelBear’s streaming and unblocking capabilities aren’t that great either, but there’s a free VPN version that allows you to try out the service, even if it only allows a measly 500MB of bandwidth a month.
That said, being owned by McAfee means TunnelBear gets a security audit annually, which is great news for any privacy-conscious user. Apart from that, the service is secure with good performance, and it’s affordable too. While it might not be the best choice for more advanced users or experts, all things combined TunnelBear is a good pick for delving down into the VPN world for the first time.
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Some new servers and locations have been added since our last review. TunnelBear now has servers in Peru, South Korea, Cyprus, Portugal, Chile, and Colombia. P2P is supported in all of those locations.
Streaming unblocking has been a big gripe in this round of testing, with almost everything unavailable to watch.
TunnelBear on paper
Supported platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux (limited)
Supported protocols: OpenVPN, IKEv2 (not user selectable)
No. of servers: 1,000+
No. of countries: 49
Country of registration: Canada
Payment options: Credit card, PayPal, Bitcoin
Real name necessary? No
Encryption protocol: AES-256
Data usage: Unlimited
Bandwidth usage: Unlimited
Max. no. of simultaneously connected devices: Five
Customer support: Email
Plans and pricing
Pricing is straightforward with three options: Free, Unlimited, and Teams. Unlimited pricing starts from $3.33 per month, while Teams subscription is priced at $5.75 per user per month.
As mentioned, TunnelBear has a free tier but it only offers a measly 500MB of traffic a month, which won’t last you for long, and is really only for getting a feel for the software before you upgrade. At best, you could browse for around 6 hours, or if you decide to stream it won’t last more than half an hour.
For unlimited data and priority support, there’s the Unlimited option. The monthly plan is priced at a somewhat standard $9.99 a month. The price drops if you choose the annual plan at $4.99 a month, and it drops even more to an affordable and competitive price of $3.33 a month if you pick the three-year option.
Those signing up to the three-year plan used to get the RememBear password manager thrown in for free, but sadly that promo is no more. You’ll have to shell out another $2.50 a month to use it.
If you’re looking for a VPN for your small business, the Teams plan costs $5.57 per user, per month (with a minimum of two users). It comes with a range of VPN management tools, including an integrated management dashboard and centralized billing.
It’s worth noting that there’s no money-back guarantee, so we’d recommend trialling TunnelBear’s free plan before committing to a paid plan. However, TunnelBear’s FAQ has a note on refunds, saying they may be offered on a case-by-case basis. We reckon that if you asked very nicely, did it sooner rather than later and had a good reason, the ‘friendly support bears’ might take pity and offer you a refund – but neither we nor TunnelBear make any promises.
Finally, for those that want to pay anonymously, Bitcoin payments are available with annual subscriptions.
- More: Save your money with the best cheap VPN
How private is TunnelBear?
TunnelBear does not collect the IP addresses of users visiting the site, any DNS data while users are connected, or any other identifying info. It does collect ‘operational data’, but there’s nothing here that could identify any user.
What’s more, TunnelBear has independent experts Cure53 undertake an annual audit of many of its systems. We really appreciate these audits as they put companies under immense scrutiny, and aren’t afraid of flagging up issues if any arise.
Overall, this is excellent, and while minor issues have been flagged every time, that means everyone at TunnelBear now knows of any vulnerabilities, and there’s scope for fixing them. Also, multiple audits are great to see, and means we don’t have to take any claims made on good faith.
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How fast is TunnelBear?
We tested TunnelBear’s speeds on a 1Gbps lines in the UK and US, using a number of speed testing tools including SpeedTest’s site and command line app, and nPerf.
For the UK, the download speeds went up to 310Mbps, averaging between 290-310, while for the US, the performance was a little better, with speeds going up to 380Mbps, averaging between 310-380Mbps. That’s more than most other providers when it comes to OpenVPN connections.
While those are good results, the issue with TunnelBear is that it doesn’t support WireGuard, only OpenVPN. Most providers nowadays support WireGuard or some of their own custom systems, and these almost always outstrip OpenVPN. For example, CyberGhost, Hide.me, TorGuard, and a few others all delivered 850Mbps or more.
It’s worth noting, though, that this all depends on the base speed of your connection. If you’ve only got 75Mbps to play with, you won’t be able to get more than that, no matter which VPN you use.
How good is TunnelBear for streaming and torrenting
Beyond staying private and secure online, one a VPN’s biggest selling points is the ability to unblock geo-restricted streaming services like Netflix and BBC iPlayer.
TunnelBear’s streaming VPN performance this time round was a step back from our last round of testing, which is a shame as that had been a step up from the test preceding that. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that these tests can change quite quickly.
Let’s start with the bad news first. First we tried to access BBC iPlayer and the service failed to do so, and we used three different UK locations.
Amazon Prime Video followed, and the result was the same with us unable to get access to it. Unfortunately, we couldn’t access Disney+ either, and we tried plenty of locations with no success.
The good news is that the service managed to unblock US Netflix, which is the only saving grace when it comes to TunnelBear’s unblocking capabilities.
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How good are the TunnelBear apps?
As mentioned TunnelBear is best for less-experienced users and newbies, and its apps reflect this. The interface is simple and right to the point in all the available apps – which are Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. There are also browser extensions available for Firefox, Chrome and Opera, plus you can find guides on how to get TunnelBear running on Linux devices.
However, TunnelBear only offers ‘limited support’ for Linux, and does not support Kindle/eReaders, Windows mobile devices, Apple/Android TV, gaming systems, or routers and modems. While the majority of people won’t be using a VPN with their Xbox, it’s a little disappointing to see this lack of support for niche systems – especially when many other VPNs can be used to protect pretty much every device you own.
The desktop interface shows a world map highlighting the available VPN servers – but you can also view these as a list, which for usability is probably a better bet. To connect, simply select the location you want to use and click the On button. The Android and iOS interfaces are very similar to the desktop app, so once you’ve got used to one, you’ll be able to get going on all of them.
TunnelBear supports OpenVPN and IKEv2 – but you won’t get to choose which. The app does this for you, and if, for instance, you had told it to use UDP rather than TCP OpenVPN connections, when it connects using IKEv2 your settings will mean nothing.
GhostBear is a neat tool that can make your traffic look less VPN-like, which will be useful in areas like China which attempt to detect and block VPN usage entirely.
Now we come to the kill switch – called VigilantBear. Should your connection ever fail, a kill switch is designed to stop any and all traffic from leaving your computer until your secure connection is restored.
In our testing with OpenVPN, we force-closed the connections and VigilantBear cut our traffic immediately – no leaks of our true IP. However, when the client was using an IKEv2 connection (again, there’s no way to select this yourself), when we closed the connection traffic continued to flow freely. The VPN was restored in a matter of seconds, but no matter how short the leak was, the kill switch did fail to protect us.
Finally, the three browser extensions offer a fast, simple way to protect your data and internet browsing activity. However, these are limited, and basically only include a list of locations and an on/off switch. Note, also, that they only protect browser traffic, unlike the desktop and mobile apps.
Overall, TunnelBear is very easy to use, and the lack of options does make it incredibly plug-and-play. However, there’s plenty to be improved upon – especially the kill switch – and for anyone beyond an absolute beginner, the lack of features could prove restrictive.
How good is TunnelBear’s support?
TunnelBear users have access to email support and a beginner-oriented self-help knowledge base. For starters, you can reach out to the support team via the Contact page on the provider website. In general, the team replies within hours and provides simple, accurate responses, but we’d really like to see live chat – almost all the top providers offer excellent 24/7 support, and we’d love to see TunnelBear follow suit.
In case you have any issues or if you’re not sure how to set up your account, you can check the knowledge base which you can find on the company’s website. This section is shown in a simple and intuitive manner just like the app’s interface, with large icons pointing you to different parts of support.
You’ll find “troubleshooting”, “getting started”, “contact us”, and a few others. Scroll a down and you’ll find basic articles with common questions like “Why should I trust TunnelBear?” or “Does TunnelBear keep logs?”, as well as links to TunnelBear’s social media accounts.
TunnelBear’s major selling points are the simplicity of use, strong privacy, and the fact that the company is openly presenting itself to detailed security audits for all to see. It’s also fairly cheap, and is a decent service for those looking for online privacy (opens in new tab).
It’s not without its faults, especially for more advanced and demanding users, as it doesn’t have that many features and its unblocking abilities aren’t that great. However, if you don’t care much about all that and just want a beginner-friendly VPN, TunnelBear could be a great choice.