TunnelBear Review

Last updated: August 23 2019 By Dean Chester

TunnelBear review

TunnelBear is a popular ‘’freemium’’ VPN provider. It offers a fully functioning free plan as well as modern options for countries with strict censorship.

The word freemium means Free+Premium, i.e., the clients are drawn to the Premium plan through the free one because there are restrictions on free use.

TunnelBear Inc. was founded in 2011 and is based in Toronto, Canada. As of this day, it belongs to McAfee LLC (which in turn belongs to Intel) which is widely known for its antivirus software development.

TunnelBear VPN provides servers in 22 countries. While it is not very impressive next to, say, NordVPN  (60 countries) or CyberGhost (60 countries). However, you can use the VPN for free and for an unlimited period. There is another serious restriction, though.

Free VPN service is the reason many people search for TunnelBear  I’m going to tell you more about this and give reasons as to why it is unlikely to suit you.

In addition, it’s worth noting that there is the function of traffic obfuscation which allows bypassing blocks in China, Iran and other countries (supported by all platforms but iOS) as well as nicely animated apps for all platforms.

Let us start from the beginning.


Full Version

What are the pros and cons of the full paid version? It’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to pay for it. I will simply tell you about TunnelBear’s peculiarities and describe the main and additional features.

Almost everything said here is also true for the free version, so you may want not to skip this one.


Pros

Security and reliability

In terms of security, TunnelBear is amazing:

  • unbreakable AES-256 encryption. It is confirmed to be reliable enough for transmitting the US government’s secret messages;
  • lack of any IP address leaks (including WebRTC leaks that browsers are susceptible to, DNS leaks through your website domain requests, IPv6 leaks which may happen if your ISP supports the IPv6 address sphere and your VPN is connected at the standard IPv4 sphere);
  • public Wi-Fi and other unreliable networks (such as cafes, restaurants, airports and public access hotspots in general) protection;
  • independent audit and quick problem fixes. The research took place in 2017 and showed no serious security weaknesses. The minor problems that were found were patched at once by the developers.

Besides all that, unlike many other free VPNs many other free VPNs, (в новом окне) TunnelBear’s reputation is good. It has never been exposed as a malware or adware distributor, and neither has it sold the users’ private data to third parties.

The tests we have conducted on all supported platforms show no signs of IP leaks, which speaks volumes about the TunnelBear developers’ professionalism.

TunnelBear IP leaks test

No IP leaks

We have checked the installer files for malware, and no viruses were found. But this goes without question if you consider that the parent company is McAffee, the world’s fifth-largest antivirus soft provider.

The TunnelBear Inc. official site does collect some information about the visitors, as does any other VPN website. That info does not relate to one’s activity in the VPN proper but is used to count the number of the visitors and analyze their activity on the official website’s pages.


No Log policy

TunnelBear claims about its firm No Logging policy:

TunnelBear keeps no logs

This means that no data which may give away your name or real location is collected and kept when you use the VPN.

The only data that is kept is that you give when buying the subscription. That is your credit card data. In case you want to be absolutely anonymous, TunnelBear allows you to pay via Bitcoin:

Bitcoin for anonymous usage of TunnelBear

Therefore, according to their Privacy Policy, the provider is not giving away the users’ activity.

At the same time, though, Canadian jurisdiction implies a possibility of cooperation with the FVEY countries’ special services. It doesn’t mean that TunnelBear is dishonest, though. It simply tells that in certain cases the government is capable of legally interfering into the provider’s work.


Interface

The interface of TunnelBear is user-friendly, colorful and animated. You can choose a country with a drop-down menu or on a map that has an interesting visualization of the making of a VPN tunnel.

At the start, your avatar is a sheep which symbolizes an unprotected VPN connection:

TunnelBear sheep

When you turn your VPN on, the animation will play showing the VPN tunnel and your new virtual location. A good old bear will show up to dig the tunnel for you from your real location to the virtual one you’ve chosen. Then it is going to stick its head out of the exit and will remain there while your connection is active.

Graphical representation of the tunnel in TunnelBear

Should you delete the app, this nice bear will show up again, but this time crying. J

Besides its visual attractiveness, I’d like to point out that the app’s work is really stable on all platforms. For the duration of a long test run, there were no disconnections or other technical problems.

Beyond any doubt, it is a plus.

The menu of the app is simple and is divided into sections, each complete with a graphical clue:

The Convenient Menu of TunnelBear

Functions do differ from platform to platform a bit. More on that in the “Differences between platforms” chapter. All in all, there aren’t as many settings as an advanced user may desire. Taking the number of virtual locations, visual attractiveness and the lack of settings into consideration, it seems likely that this product is made for inexperienced users only.


Extra functions

Additional features are a big plus of TunnelBear. Depending on the platform you’re on, you have access to the following features:

  • GhostBear. Traffic obfuscation. It is a very useful function which I’ll tell more about in the “Traffic Obfuscation” chapter. Available on all platforms but iOS.
  • SplitBear. An Android-only feature that allows you to choose apps that you don’t want to use with VPN. It may come handy if a local site doesn’t permit changing your IP to a foreign one or if an app doesn’t work with a VPN. All you need to do is choose the right apps from a pop-up menu list, and they will bypass the VPN tunnel. But if you do so, you have to keep in mind that it makes your apps unprotected, and neither their IPs nor their traffic nor the resources you access via those apps will be hidden.
  • VigilantBear (Kill Switch). This one blocks all the traffic if the connection with the VPN server is lost. It is used to prevent your real IP address leaking. This feature is available on all platforms.

The GhostBear feature is a huge advantage, especially since the traffic obfuscation function is quite uncommon among various VPN providers. Moreover, I wasn’t able to find a single freemium VPN offering such a function. The only downside to it is that it is only available to some platforms. If you require it for iOS, I recommend that you use  NordVPN.


Prices and payment methods

TunnelBear offers the following prices:

$4.99/month with the yearly plan ($59.88/year) or

$9.99/month if you buy the subscription for a lesser duration.

TunnelBear tariff plans

TunnelBear plans

You can use your credit card or Bitcoin or honey as a method of payment:

TunnelBear payment methods

The prices are average for the market but there are no refunds once you start using TunnelBear. My guess is that it’s because you can check the functionality while using the free fully functioning plan.

If you are interested in VPN providers that allow you to get a refund with no questions asked for up to 45 days, check our best VPNs list VPNs list. The cheapest plans in it cost only $1.99.

To my mind, prices aren’t the most curious thing about TunnelBear. Its free plan is, and we’ll talk more about it in the next chapter.


Cons

The selection of countries

22, really? TunnelBear’s competitors offer 60 and more for lower prices. Now, perhaps you don’t need most of those states, but there’s no reason not to opt into a VPN with the access to more countries if all the technical details and security are the same.

What is more, when the network is overloaded by a lot of users, the speed cuts drastically. But if you have more locations to choose from, a less strained server can be found more easily.

To add insult to injury, you can’t choose which exact server you want to connect to inside a certain country, as the system does it for you. While it may be great for undemanding customers, for the more advanced ones it is anything but.

Speed

Speed isn’t TunnelBear’s strong suit either.  It can be explained by the limited number of servers. Despite the developers’ claims about having created the infrastructure for maximizing speed, their bear is far from the fastest. Here are some results of speed testing:

Sure, any VPN affects your Internet speed negatively, but I assure you, there are providers offering far greater speeds than this. NordVPN and IPVanish are such providers to name a few.

Speed is of the most importance for watching video content, online gaming and torrenting.

If you need top speeds when running your VPN, check out our best VPNs list VPNs list.

The number of simultaneous connections

TunnelBear offers fewer simultaneous connections than its competitors: five against Surfshark’s or CyberGhost’s seven. Simultaneous connections are very convenient if you need to use a VPN on several devices at once.

No apps and settings for routers and for Linux

If you need a VPN for a router or for Linux, TunnelBear is not for you. It just doesn’t have such settings and applications. So, to use the VPN on a router, you need to find a provider who does offer such functionality.


Free Version

If you haven’t read the “Full Version” section, I recommend you do, because the technical possibilities are the same for the free and paid versions.

There aren’t many trustworthy VPN providers still on the market that offer free limited plans. But TunnelBear is one of those that do.

Strictly speaking, what I mean is an honest free VPN version. Perhaps you have noticed that most of the so-called “free VPNs” actually offer a proxy in their browser instead of a Virtual Private Network, or package a free trial (with a time limit) as a free VPN tariff.

TunnelBear, on the other hand, actually offers a plan with no time limits. It does, however, restrict the traffic quite a bit.

What does TunnelBear offer for free?

  • 500 to 1,000 Mb of traffic per month
  • no credit card required
  • full functionality
  • access to every location.

At the start, you have just 500 Mb at your disposal. But there is an opportunity to upgrade it to 1,000 Mb. To do that, you have to tweet about TunnelBear:

Free tariff upgrade

Unfortunately, even that is too little, especially if you want to use the VPN for video streaming (you may be able to watch one or two movies a month, and even those in low quality) or for torrenting.

The free plan is best suited for completing one-time tasks that don’t require sending or receiving large volumes of data. But in the modern everyday life it is a rare occurrence.

You can, however, take some small consolation in the fact that you still have access to all the extra features and countries that are not available on other free plan VPNs.

No ads. Unlike its many competitors in the freemium group, TunnelBear doesn’t make some extra cash on its users for placing ads on a free tariff. This is, obviously, a big plus of this provider.

So, what can we say about the free version? It works great until you run out of traffic, which eventually, of course, you will.


Differences between platforms

The functionality of TunnelBear differs slightly from system to system. While it is maximal for Android, it’s barebones for iOS:

  • Windows, macOS: no SplitBear function (which allows you to choose apps to use without the VPN);
  • Android: the most functional version;
  • iOS: no SplitBear and GhostBear (traffic obfuscation).

The rest of the features are the same on all platforms.

There are also Chrome, Firefox and Opera extensions. But be warned! These extensions cannot protect you as well as the main apps for Windows or MacOS because they are, in reality, only proxies and not truly VPNs:

Tunnelbear for Chrome

I recommend installing the fully functioning VPN app and not the browser plugins.

There is no app for Linux.

You can download TunnelBear for Windows and Mac from its official website, while the Android app is available at Google Play Market, and the iOS app at Apple App Store.


TunnelBear for streaming

TunnelBear for Netflix

While Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other streaming services are not hard to unlock with TunnelBear, the success is not guaranteed, as there are no dedicated servers for this task. You can find VPNs specialized for Netflix in our article ‘’Free and Best VPNs for Netflix: how to find them and where to download?’’

Nevertheless, I have tested TunnelBear and successfully unblocked Netflix for the US and UK regions using a free version as well as the full one.

I’ve read in some Internet reviews that the Bear can’t handle Netflix. It’s possible that such a thing can happen from time to time, but for me, it worked well.


Torrenting

You can use P2P/torrents with TunnelBear. It is a good and recent change before which TunnelBear did not allow you to access torrents. But under the ever-growing pressure of the competitors, the developers had to allow torrenting. It is not advertised, though, but neither is it forbidden.

But you have to be careful while using this feature because the Canadian jurisdiction of the service does raise some questions. Canada is definitely not a state too kind to torrenting.

Since there are no dedicated servers for it, you might be better off checking our ‘’Best free VPN for torrenting: Can I use it in 2019? ‘’ article if you’re looking for a VPN to use securely with torrents.

I should add that TunnelBear also supports The Onion Router, or TOR. It is good news to those of our readers who use TOR and would like to improve its security and anonymity by using it together with a VPN.


Traffic Obfuscation

I’d like to tell you more about the GhostBear function. It allows for your VPN connection to be concealed in the cases where somebody, whether it is your ISP or your firm’s tech department or some other “mediators” track the flowing traffic and identify or block the VPN connection with the help of technology.

GhostBear changes some “tracks” of the VPN protocol and makes it invisible to the scanners. This is what is called traffic obfuscation.

Thanks to this feature, you can use a VPN in the countries where it is banned, such as China, Iran, UAE, etc. It doesn’t restrict any other possibilities provided by the VPN. Isn’t that convenient?

As far as China is concerned, I have to warn you that the provider’s IP servers may be blocked, in which case obfuscation won’t help to bypass censorship.

You may want to read our article ‘’Free and Best VPNs for China’’ to choose the best solution for that country.

This function is provided for all platforms save for iPhone and iPad. I really hope it will be added to those soon.

You can turn GhostBear on in the app settings:

Turning GhostBear on

You should not, however, turn it on without need, because additional encryption drops the connection speed (which isn’t the greatest if you’re using TunnelBear to begin with) down. It’s best to see if the site you need is accessible without this setting on, and only turn GhostBear on if it is not.


About TunnelBear Inc.

As I mentioned before, the company was founded in 2011 by Daniel Kador and Ryan Dochuk. Since March 2018 it has belonged to McAffee.

The company address:

141 Bathurst Street

Suite 101

Toronto, ON M5V 2R2

Canada

Website  www.tunnelbear.com

Facebook  View on Facebook

LinkedIn  View on LinkedIn

Twitter  View on Twitter


Conclusion

So should you choose TunnelBear as your VPN service?

If you like high-quality and pretty interface, simplicity or need traffic obfuscation for Windows, Mac or Android while the large list of countries is not a priority, then this service is good for you, but only its paid version.

But if you are looking for a free VPN, then contemplate whether or not 500 to 1,000 Mb monthly would suffice for your needs. I’m quite certain that it is too little in most cases. Depending on your task, you can find better suited free services on our website.

Considering its less-than-optimal speed and severely limited choice of locations, I do not find TunnelBear to be a good and universal everyday tool.

Dean Chester

VPN with a Good Free
Plan

$ $ $
Sam Chester
If 1Gb per month is enough for you, TunnelBear will be the best choice among free VPNs. I liked their apps, choice of locations and functionality.

Dean Chester
Shall you use their paid version? Both yes and no. On the one hand, TunnelBear has additional useful functions. But on the other hand, there are servers only in 22 countries and it’s more expensive than its competitors.
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Animated apps
Full-fledged free version
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Few countries in a paid version
The price is higher than competitors’
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  • Surfshark - Best ‘’Cheap’’ VPN
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