TunnelBear is an easy-to-use VPN that keeps it simple with basic, but solid features. It offers reliable security, but struggles with speed and unblocking issues. VPN novices might find its simplicity endearing, but advanced users will feel short-changed.
TunnelBear is a popular VPN service owned by McAfee security company and based in Toronto, Canada. It’s been around for a while now and has always stood out due to its unique and kitschy bear-themed interface.
The service has tried hard in recent years to add more features such as unlimited device connections in order to remain relevant in an increasingly competitive VPN market.
Certainly, there are ursine puns aplenty to be enjoyed here, but is the VPN service just right for you? I took it for a walk in the woods to find out.
TunnelBear in brief
P2P allowed: Yes
Unlimited device connections: Yes
Business location: Canada
Number of servers: 5000+
Number of country locations: 47+
Free plan: Yes
Unlimited plan: $9.99 per month with 1- and 3-year options
Features & Services?
When you first open TunnelBear you can’t help but notice how much work the designers have put in to it. The main interface is a world map geographically dotted with the available servers. As you scroll across the map, even the trees change based on the continent or region you’re viewing (palm trees in the Middle East, Umbrella Thorns in Africa). Your actual location is signified on the map with a sheep, but once you connect to the VPN it turns into a bear.
Each server location has an empty tunnel icon on it. To connect, just select the server icon you want. In addition to selecting the server from a map, there is also a drop-down list at the top with all of the servers as well. Somehow in the TunnelBear universe sheeps turning into bears and bears digging through tunnels makes sense, but the logic is lost on us. Still, it’s a fun and unique design element.
On the whole, TunnelBear is a simple service without a lot of frills, but it does provide some interesting key features worth checking out. Under Settings > Security, TunnelBear has its own version of a kill switch feature called “VigilantBear.” It works a little differently than a normal kill switch in that instead of disconnecting your internet in the event of a VPN disconnection, it just blocks all incoming and outgoing traffic until the connection is re-established.
Additionally, TunnelBear offers a feature called “GhostBear” that makes your encrypted data less detectable. It does this by masking your VPN traffic and disguising it as HTTPS traffic, which is generally less likely to be blocked by censors. This can work well if you find that your connection is being blocked by streaming services such as Netflix. By turning on the GhostBear feature, there is a higher likelihood that your connection will be able to access these restrictive sites. Be warned, though, turning on GhostBear will likely slow down your connection even further.
Another feature to note is “SplitBear” or TunnelBear’s version of split-tunneling, which allows you to control which apps or websites will have access to the VPN connection. Unfortunately, TunnelBear lacks many advanced features that competitors offer such as multi-hop and dedicated servers specific to certain activities—streaming, torrenting, etc. In fact, in the past, TunnelBear blocked access to P2P downloads but has since begun allowing them. Still, it is not something that it openly encourages with its service and for that reason other VPN providers such as ProtonVPN and Mullvad VPN are better suited for torrenting.
TunnelBear offers desktop programs and mobile apps for a number of systems such as Mac, Windows, Android, and iOS, among others. There are also proxy browser extensions for Chrome and Opera. And just recently TunnelBear has switched to allow for unlimited simultaneous device connections with its premium plans.
TunnelBear does offer a free service that comes with the full desktop app but a 500MB-per-month data limit. It’s a great way to test out the service to see if you like it, but the low data limit isn’t likely to be enough to use it regularly—you won’t even be able to stream an HD (1080p) video for more than 10 or so minutes.
During my testing I rated speeds across TunnelBear’s servers in five different countries all around the world and then compared them to our baseline internet speed. TunnelBear server speeds, honestly, weren’t great. Across all locations tested, the speeds averaged a mere 33 percent of the base download speed and a rather poor 20 percent of the base upload speed. Not only do these numbers not impress, but it fell way short of the services in our top five fastest VPNs.
Still, online speeds can vary wildly in pure Mbps tests from day to day and even hour to hour. It’s best to take any and all speed tests with a grain of salt. Your experience with TunnelBear may differ from those in the tests for this review.
In regards to streaming, I did notice that TunnelBear wasn’t able to consistently unblock sites such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. It was successful most of the time but the odd server seemed to have trouble or was actively being blocked.
When I turned on the GhostBear feature it seemed to solve most of these unblocking issues. Unfortunately, with GhostBear turned on, I noticed that my connection speeds plummeted and I wasn’t able to stream HQ video because it was too slow. So GhostBear seems to work, but it wasn’t really a viable solution.
Therefore, I personally wouldn’t recommend TunnelBear as a reliable VPN for streaming. That doesn’t mean it can’t be used to stream, but I believe there are better options available such as NordVPN, which works flawlessly with Netflix, or CyberGhost VPN, which has a ton of locations to choose from and optimized servers for streaming.
Security & Privacy
TunnelBear comes with your industry-standard AES-256 encryption, which is the strongest currently available and it means you can rest assured your connection will be secure. The Windows app also supports WireGuard, IKEv2, and OpenVPN protocols. I prefer OpenVPN whenever possible as it’s one of the most secure and flexible protocols available due to its open-source nature. But, if you’re unsure, you can just select the Auto option in TunnelBear’s settings and the app will choose what it believes is the best protocol for your connection.
Also, in order to confirm that my actual IP address is obfuscated correctly, I used a DNS leak test. It confirmed that there were no issues with accidental leaks of my IP address when connected to TunnelBear’s servers.
Additionally, upon sign-up, TunnelBear requires users to enter in their email address and payment information. Payment options include credit cards, PayPal, and Bitcoin.
TunnelBear itself is located in Toronto, Canada, which means that all personal information is handled according to Canadian law. Canada does not currently have any mandatory data retention laws either.
Pricing & Plans
Many people will know of TunnelBear because of its free offering. Few VPN services have a truly free plan, but here as you’ll find elsewhere, you don’t get very much without paying for the service.
The main limitation is data: you can only use 2GB of data per month on a free account. That may be fine if you’re only intending to use a VPN on open public Wi-Fi networks, but it isn’t enough for everyday browsing and certainly not for streaming video.
For unlimited data, the monthly plan is $9.99 and the yearly plan works out at $4.99 per month (billed as a single $59.88 payment). There’s also a three-year plan at $3.33 per month (billed in a single $120 payment). That’s middle-of-the-pack territory: not the most expensive, but not the cheapest either.
Should I buy TunnelBear VPN?
TunnelBear is a VPN that sticks to the basics. It’s an enjoyable service chock-full of bear puns that are fun and lighthearted. It’s also extremely easy to use—it doesn’t overwhelm with too many features or country options. And while this might be ideal for the average user, power users who like to tweak and optimize their VPN connections will feel that the service doesn’t offer enough.
The speeds are passable, but not great—you might say they lumber a bit. Also, I did encounter some unfortunate issues with servers being unable to unblock streaming platforms—particularly Netflix. Overall, this approachable and cheerful service is a good option for users who are just getting started with VPNs or might not be the most tech-savvy. Otherwise, there are other services such as those in our best VPNs that might be better for more advanced users.