TunnelBear VPN Review: is it really that good?
We like TunnelBear’s interface and range of compatibility with various apps. However, it’s not perfect for all the most popular uses for VPNs. Some users will want more flexibility, better streaming service unlocking, and a more robust customer service offering. But see what you think below.
Check out our “What is a VPN?” page to learn about how VPNs work and why so many internet users flock to them.
A VPN is a network of servers spread across various locations around the world. Through the use of a VPN, online users can hide browsing history, internet activity, IP addresses, and personal data. That extra level of security is important to many users. Additionally, VPNs are often used for streaming and torrenting (also known as peer-to-peer or P2P, this basically means sharing files between groups of users). The main goal of a VPN is to increase a user’s privacy and anonymity so that internet users can rely on security.
TunnelBear is a much smaller VPN than usual, with locations in only 26 countries. That’s not very impressive, considering some VPNs have services in nearly ten times as many countries. Still, its interface is user-friendly and its yearly security and privacy audits make it worth trusting. We expect it to gain more traction (and hopefully add more features) as it grows.
Pros & Cons
It’s important to weigh the positives and negatives of any VPN before deciding which one to choose. We’ve collected our thoughts on TunnelBear for quick reference.
- At the forefront of transparency with yearly audits of its security and privacy policies
- Easy to use, low on jargon and technical information
- Well-thought-out online support resources
- Good speeds
- High-level encryption and safety protocols
- Verified no-logs policy
- Good mobile apps
- Works with:
- Limited on features
- No configurability between OpenVPN and IKEv2 protocols
- No live chat for support
- Not effective at unblocking many popular streaming sites
- Very small server network
The pricing is on the lower end of the spectrum of VPNs, costing at most $9.99 for individual monthly subscriptions. That drops down to $3.33 per month if you commit to a three-year subscription (billed once as $120). There are also plans that can be used by businesses as well, which is a helpful touch to keep all billing going through a single source.
Contrast this with the industry average, which is typically between $10-$13 per month, and you’ll see that these plans are pretty cheap.
3 Years$333Per Month
$120 billed onceSave 66%
That’s great, but it also should be noted that there are fewer features here than in other VPNs, and the server network is pretty small.
When you use the internet, you don’t want to be bogged down by slow speeds. Unfortunately, VPN networks can often have spotty speeds or rates that are difficult to predict, since the speed may depend on the location you connect to.
TunnelBear’s speeds aren’t the fastest in the industry, but they’re also not terrible. In both UK and US testing, the VPN is on the faster side of the market with speeds at a minimum of 140 Mbps. Pretty impressive. However, it took a slightly long 4-6 seconds to connect to the server in some cases.
TunnelBear has a relatively small selection of servers in its 26 locations. For reference, other VPNs can push to nearly 200 locations around the globe. Bigger server networks are often better at masking your true IP address and provide a nice range of options if you’re trying to connect manually for specific reasons, such as torrenting.
|Decent connection limits||connect up to 5 devices simultaneously|
|Simple installation||streamlined interface and website for beginners|
|No logs||TunnelBear is audited yearly by external agencies to back up its no-logs policy|
|Apps||iOS, Android, Windows, MacOS, and several browser extensions|
|Security measures||uses 256-bit encryption, SHA256 for data authentication, and handshakes with up to 4096-bit DH processes|
|Subscription packages||plans for individual and company accounts|
|Free version||up to 500 MB data usage for testing out features|
|24/7 site support||online resource knowledgebase and email options|
We would like to see TunnelBear increase its size in the future. It just added a location in Argentina, but it stayed at the same net size after dropping its Hong Kong location due to changes in China’s privacy and internet policies.
TunnelBear provides an easy to use client for desktop and laptop, compatible with MacOS and Windows. You can also reportedly configure the VPN for Linux, but that’s it. The user interface does not allow a lot of configurability or options. In fact, the client itself decides whether to use IKEv2 or OpenVPN protocols with no input or changeability for the user. Though there aren’t many features, it does have some cool concepts like GhostBear, which masks your use of a VPN (helpful if you live in a country like China that blocks VPNs). Another cool feature is its use of Trusted Networks, in which you can tell the client to automatically connect through the VPN if you aren’t on your specifically designated networks (such as your home network).
However, the VPN does have a decided lack of features and options to choose from. It also uses an unwieldy and information-low map interface for selecting and listing its available servers. For example, there’s no way to tell at a glance what a server’s speed or ping rate is.
TunnelBear provides decent mobile functionality, even allowing for split tunneling on the Android version. However, its iOS version is quite lacking, without advanced features like the aforementioned GhostBear or split tunneling options. Again, these apps use a somewhat unhelpful (though pleasant to look at) map for server selection, which doesn’t really give you the information you’d want when making a decision to connect to a specific server.
Overall, for both desktop/laptop and mobile versions of TunnelBear, this is a VPN that should be used by beginners and for simpler tasks. For example, it’s great for just wanting to hide your online activity and provide better security measures than your ISP. But if you’re trying to do much else, you’ll want more features.
- English (US)
- English (UK)
- English (AU)
TunnelBear has a no-logs policy that is substantial. In fact, it might be the best on the market. It has committed to a yearly external audit from security firm Cure53, and any issues are rapidly dealt with. The company adamantly declines to log any specific location information, IP addresses, download amounts, or other data from users, though it does collect a bare minimum of operational data for billing purposes.
We cannot state enough how amazing this is. Few VPNs have even undergone an audit on these policies, so the fact that TunnelBear is super transparent and undergoes one every year is very special.
Split tunneling is a feature many VPNs offer that allows you to hand-select which apps or websites will go through the VPN’s services and which will use your usual ISP. Often, many veteran VPN users like this feature as it provides a measure of control over data and speeds.
TunnelBear provides split tunneling only on its Android version.
TunnelBear uses military-grade AES 256-bit encryption. For reference, that is the same level of security that many modern militaries and financial institutions use, and it would take even the world’s fastest supercomputer literally millions of years to stumble upon the key by brute force alone. Other security measures here include IP and DNS leak protections, protocols like OpenVPN and IKEv2 (though not WireGuard, unfortunately), up to 4096-bit digital handshakes, and more. Security and encryption is one of the company’s top priorities, and it truly shines in this regard.
The Chrome, Opera, and Firefox browser extensions have the same encryption, IP hiding features, and security protocols as the native client. However, you can only use split tunneling on Android, so once you’ve connected through the VPN, all your traffic goes through the VPN until you disconnect.
A kill switch cuts you off from the internet if you lose connection to a VPN server. It’s a standard feature among most VPNs, as it prevents your computer from reconnecting to the internet via your ISP when you think you’re still protected by the VPN’s server’s security measures. Thus, it keeps you from being exposed to outside threats without being aware.
TunnelBear has an effective kill switch when operating under the OpenVPN protocol. It calls this service VigilantBear. However, its IKEv2 counterpart reportedly has some issues, failing to disconnect the user from the internet when the VPN server is disconnected. While it still tends to reconnect in seconds, and while it sends a message to alert the user, it doesn’t actually cut you off from the internet every time. That, coupled with the problem that you have no control over which protocol is used, means you never truly know when you’re vulnerable. We hope that’s fixed soon.
Some VPNs have upgraded their servers to RAM-only disk drivers. This means that any data stored about user information or activity is stored as Random Access Memory, which is automatically erased whenever the server is booted or taken offline. In theory, this should prevent any collection of logs whatsoever.
While TunnelBear has not upgraded to RAM-only, it is one of the few VPNs whose privacy protocols and no-logs policies have actually been verified. In fact, its policies are verified through a thorough independent audit every year. Still, having RAM-only servers would only help to increase its trustworthiness, especially since it is headquartered in one of the Five Eyes countries.
TunnelBear is based in Canada, which is a Five Eyes nation and not super conducive to user’s online privacy. We’d much prefer the company to be headquartered in a country where it won’t be subject to subpoena for user personal data. However, TunnelBear has annual audits to verify that it doesn’t keep user data logs, so it shouldn’t have anything to turn over besides perhaps the fact that you use a VPN at all.
As we’ve stated above, the firmware you use for your router needs to be able to support OpenVPN and IKEv2 protocols. Typically, you’ll need a DD-WRT router. Other than that, you’ll need to contact the TunnelBear support team, as its website doesn’t have clearly labeled clients for routers.
TunnelBear has been audited yearly by Cure53 to ensure that it abides by its security policy and no-logs promises. While the review rarely results in full marks, the issues and vulnerabilities found by the auditors are always swiftly dealt with by the TunnelBear team. This is quite substantial and places TunnelBear at the absolute forefront of the game as far as VPN verification goes.
In short, TunnelBear’s unique yearly commitment to external audit is highly laudable and is something we wish all VPNs would go ahead and commit to.
ExpressVPN is a competitor of TunnelBear that has developed a new protocol called Lightwave. It is reportedly more secure than OpenVPN or WireGuard, but some users have suggested that it tends to be slower on average than VPNs that use the older protocol. Regardless, only ExpressVPN is using Lightway at this time.
Streaming and Torrenting
Streaming is one of the major reasons users are flocking to VPNs. Services like Hulu, Netflix, Disney+, and others block specific shows and features depending on where you live, and that can be annoying and unfair. By using a VPN, you can trick these services into thinking you’re in a different location and effectively unblock those features.
TunnelBear is not good at all for this purpose. In tests, it routinely fails to unblock major outlets like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Its only real success in this regard was US-based YouTube channels and Disney+. Not exactly a robust showing.
Torrenting is another popular reason for purchasing subscriptions to VPNs. It’s a way of sharing files and downloads between users anonymously and safely. TunnelBear’s servers are torrent-friendly, and the company undergoes annual security audits from independent agency Cure53 in order to assuage fears of any logging. Though it doesn’t really advertise its torrent capability, it is in fact quite good for this purpose.
Gaming and Consoles
TunnelBear has few features, and one area it misses the mark completely is in the console gaming arena. It lacks any dedicated clients for Playstation or Xbox consoles and isn’t really known as a gaming VPN. However, it does provide pretty good speeds compared to other VPNs, and its security and privacy policies are very strong. If you’re using it on your computer for gaming purposes, you can trust that precious information like your IP address and true geographical location are safe.
Desktop and Laptops
The desktop and laptop versions of TunnelBear can be used with operating systems MacOS and Windows, and it can be manually configured for Linux. It’s also very simple to use, though its map of servers doesn’t tell us everything we’d like to know when selecting a server to connect to. Mostly, we like the interface for beginners who aren’t really interested in switching protocols or configuring a host of features. It’s useful for those who just want some added security and privacy when connecting to the internet.
TunnelBear offers browser extensions for Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera. That’s relatively standard among VPNs, though the inclusion of Opera is not always a given. Browser extensions are useful for quick connections and if you’re a computer user who doesn’t want to be bogged down with opening a ton of apps.
Mobile and Tablets
Not much functionality is lost on mobile apps versus the desktop or laptop versions. The interface is simple to use, has the same map-based server selection issues, and uses military-grade encryption. The Android version also retains the desktop’s GhostBear VPN masking feature and adds the SplitBear split tunneling feature, which allows you to select which apps and sites go through the VPN and which go through your usual server.
iOS really suffers here, though. There’s not much there as far as features go. It lacks the SplitBear and GhostBear features and automatically decides whether to use IKEv2 or the better OpenVPN protocol. There’s a decided lack of choice here, but that can actually be a good thing to new VPN users.
TunnelBear allows up to five simultaneous connections via the same subscription, and some users will be tempted to connect through a router for this purpose. That might be a good option, but there is no dedicated download or resource on the VPN’s website regarding what kind of firmware or brand to use. Presumably, it must be compatible with OpenVPN and IKEv2 protocols, such as a DD-WRT router, but we’re just guessing here.
How to install
TunnelBear is easy to install and has a one-click, one-step procedure. Download the version you need, click install, and then it should open right up in the client interface to show you a map of available server locations. However, remember: there is little in the way of configurability here, and you can’t even select whether to use our preferred OpenVPN or the less robust IKEv2 protocols. The client decides that for you.
That can be good for beginners, but will likely cause veterans and more tech-savvy users to pull out their own hair in frustration.
Customer support is available around the clock by phone or email, and TunnelBear also provides users with online guides and FAQs for troubleshooting problems.
However, one downside is that it doesn’t offer an on-site live chat option, which means you’re left sending an email or phone call that could take hours or even days to garner a response.
TunnelBear does a lot of things well. It is probably the most audited VPN out there, with yearly external audits performed by Cure53. We like its dedication to transparency, its lack of any usage logs, and its high level of encryption protocols. However, it doesn’t use the WireGuard protocol currently favored by most VPNs, and it isn’t set up to be friendly to any kind of in-depth configuration or customization.
Also, a huge mark against TunnelBear is its inability to unblock Netflix. That is one of the main streaming sites that causes people to seek out a VPN in the first place, so this is problematic. What it lacks in streaming, though, it makes up for in its torrent-friendliness despite its location in a Five Eyes country.
Overall, we recommend TunnelBear only for beginning VPN users and those who have very specific features they’re after that are performed well by this VPN. It’s not one you’ll want to have for a great selection of features.
Does TunnelBear help unblock Netflix?
Unfortunately, no. It can unblock some streaming sites, such as YouTube geo-restricted videos and Disney+, but it is ineffective at unblocking Netflix and other of the most popular streaming services.
Is TunnelBear free?
TunnelBear has a free version that can be used as long as you use a maximum of 500 MB. That’s better than VPNs that don’t offer free trials, but the super-low restriction means you can really only use this free version to see how the interface works and test out a few features before you’ve reached the limit.
Is TunnelBear good for torrenting?
TunnelBear’s servers are torrent-friendly. Plus, the company has been audited by external agency Cure53 yearly to ensure that it abides by its strict no-logs policy. We’d like to see it move to a RAM-only storage policy, though, as that would add even more torrent-friendliness to the mix. In short, yes, this is a good VPN for torrenting.
Is TunnelBear legal?
VPN services like TunnelBear operate legally and are legal services. However, some countries restrict or ban the use of VPNs, so its legality for you is largely based on where you live. You’ll need to check your local laws regarding the use of VPNs and internet privacy to be sure, but TunnelBear as a company is doing nothing illegal.