Black Friday

TunnelBear Review

Our summary

This is a popular VPN that has proven it has high levels of security and privacy

Highlights

  • Lightning fast servers for data-intensive tasks like streaming
  • Easy to use VPN software lets you enjoy your VPN experience every day
  • Servers in 20 countries for all your unblocking needs
  • Fully featured VPN gives you full control over your privacy and security
  • Strong OpenVPN encryption to stop anyone snooping on your web traffic

TunnelBear is a quirky Virtual Private Network (VPN) that keeps only minimal connection logs. It is a secure and private service that has a fantastic sense of humor and is really easy to use. In addition, the VPN has a transparent privacy policy that fills you with confidence. The price is right, and the free starter plan allows you to get a taste of the service without restrictions (other than usage).

The drawback for this VPN is that it is based in Canada. It also provides very average connection speeds, which may leave some people wishing for more.

PROS:
  • Good encryption
  • Minimal connection logs
  • Five simultaneous connections
  • Reasonable speeds
CONS:
  • Email support only

Visit TunnelBear »

Pricing and Plans

In keeping with its image and sense of humor, TunnelBear provides consumers with three different payment plans: Little, Giant, and Grizzly.

The Little plan is free and permits subscribers to make use of 500 MB of free data every month. Free users get access to every server apart from Australia (so 19 locations in total).

Giant is TunnelBear’s monthly plan. It gives subscribers unlimited use of its service for $9.99 per month. For best value for money, the firm has Grizzly – its best-selling plan. It gives users access to all of its services for just $4.99 per month ($59.88 per year).

One thing worth bearing in mind, is that unlike many VPNs, TunnelBear doesn’t offer any refunds. This is fair, because VPN users are able to trial the service on the Little plan. With that in mind, we recommend that people considering TunnelBear test the service for free before jumping in at the deep end.
TunnelBear refund

Payment can be made via credit card or bank card. Sadly PayPal is no longer accepted. The good news, however, is that subscribers can pay by Bitcoin if they wish.

Features

TunnelBear is a Toronto-based VPN that is endorsed by some high profile websites such as LifeHacker. The firm popped up in 2011 when it was founded by Ryan Dochuk and Daniel Kaldor.

Servers

TunnelBear has servers in 20 countries. This means people can pretend to be in any of those places in order to bypass geo-restrictions. Users enjoy access to all of the servers on the paid plans (including places such as the US, UK, Canada, Singapore, Japan, and Brazil). The Australian server is only available to paid users.

You can access TunnelBear’s global network from a desktop PC, laptop, smartphone, tablet, or router. In fact, you could connect via all of those options at the same time, because TunnelBear permits five simultaneous connections.
TunnelBear servers

VigilantBear (Kill Switch)

A kill switch means that no data is leaked outside of the VPN tunnel, should the VPN connection drop out. This stops any unencrypted data from leaking to the Internet Service Provider (ISP) and telling them what you were up to.

Peer-to-peer (P2P)

TunnelBear is based in Canada, so has a strict no P2P policy. For this reason, if you want a VPN for BitTorrenting, this is not the VPN service for you.

GhostBear

GhostBear is TunnelBear’s version of what most VPNs call ‘stealth mode.’ It is a feature that disguises OpenVPN traffic in order to get around firewalls (such as the Great Firewall of China). It does this by implementing obfsproxy as a SOCKS proxy. This makes the encryption less detectable to governments, ISPs, and businesses – by making it appear to be regular traffic  (which avoids it being noticed and blocked).

Leaving GhostBear disabled doesn’t particularly make you any less secure – it is not really a security feature, but a way to bypass firewalls. It is a stealth mode that stops ISPs from detecting the use of a VPN (which can lead to the ISP throttling – cutting the bandwidth – of the connection).

A slight drawback with using GhostBear is that it can slow down your internet traffic (though I didn’t actually find it to do so). Either way, if possible it is better to stick to regular OpenVPN User Datagram Protocol (UDP), without GhostBear on, if you want to get the best speeds.

Visit TunnelBear »

Security and Privacy

TunnelBear keeps some connection logs for a month. This is what TunnelBear says about having to comply with the Canadian authorities:

“In the event TunnelBear is required to comply with law enforcement where subpoenas, warrants or other legal documents have been provided, valid under Canadian jurisdiction, the extent of disclosure is limited to the Personal information you provided upon registration as well as overall number of connections, overall MBs used that month.”

That is a trivial amount of data about users, which is not time-stamped and so cannot be used to mount a time correlation attack (in order to link a user to a particular crime, for example). What it does do, however, is allow TunnelBear to pinpoint users who are likely to be breaking its no P2P clause.

This means that subscribers don’t need to worry about what they use the VPN for, as the authorities can never use the information to reveal what any one individual user does.

Privacy Policy

Because TunnelBear is based in Canada it is subject to some pretty invasive legislation. With this in mind, TunnelBear notes in its privacy policy that, by using its service, subscribers authorize TunnelBear to use their information according to Canadian laws. This is far from ideal because Canada is part of the infamous Five Eyes Treaty.

Canada has been found to be snooping on citizens several times in recent years. However, a zero logs policy means that even if approached by the authorities, TunnelBear will have no usage or connection logs to hand over. As such, the most that the authorities should be able to get from the company is your name, email address, and payment details.

However, it worth bearing in mind that TunnelBear does pretty much wash its hands of any responsibility for providing privacy for its users in this part of its terms of service:

Furthermore, TunnelBear clearly states that users can’t:

As such, this VPN is not recommended for P2P use. It also asks users to always abide by the laws of their own country and of the country that they tunnel into. All points that are definitely worth bearing in mind (especially because it is based in Canada).

TunnelBear encryption

Encryption

When it comes to encryption, TunnelBear provides access to two different VPN protocols on its network. Windows, Android and Mac OS X use OpenVPN. iOS users get the choice of either Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP)/Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) or Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2). As such, anybody wishing to connect via OpenVPN on iOS will need to do so using the third party OpenVPN Connect software (which is free).

Strong 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) encryption with SHA256 authentication is used across the platforms, apart from iOS 8 and earlier (which is encrypted with 128-bit AES encryption and uses SHA-1 for data authentication).

All this information is available on TunnelBear’s blog, which is something of a rarity. We applaud TunnelBear for its transparency. We are also happy to see that TunnelBear is one of those VPNs that has done away with Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) – a pervasive form of VPN encryption that is highly insecure.

OpenVPN Encryption
Cipher
AES-256
Data Auth
SHA256
Handshake
RSA-4096
Forward Secrecy
DHE-4096
Logs & Legal
Connection
None
Traffic
minimal
Country
Canada

In addition, a kill switch cuts the subscriber’s internet connection if the TunnelBear VPN drops out – an excellent security feature.

We really appreciate TunnelBear’s award-winning privacy policy page. It is truly comprehensive and clearly explains what minimal data it keeps. This includes account user data, payment data, and a little additional operational data (when using GhostBear). The firm also explains exactly how it uses that data.

Please remember that TunnelBear clearly states that it does not support P2P on any of its servers, so if torrenting is why you want a VPN, please head over to best VPNs for torrenting.

The Website

TunnelBear review

TunnelBear has a really amusing, well-crafted website that is easy to navigate and is brimming with bear puns. The homepage is filled with images and isn’t overly dense on information, which is both calming and disarming. This is a nice change from many VPNs, which throw everything (and the kitchen sink) at you as soon as you arrive.

From the homepage, it is easy to navigate to other clearly labeled pages in order to find out more about the service. At the bottom of the front page, you will find tabs leading to: Download, Features, Pricing, Help, My Account, and About Us.
TunnelBear website

What’s more, there are dedicated pages for each supported platform and links to TunnelBear’s social media pages. At the bottom of each page, there is an extra navigation menu in small print, so if you want to jump directly to their blog, for instance, you can do so there.

I really liked how easy it was to find TunnelBear’s terms of service and privacy policy. In the VPN industry, transparency is hugely important and easy availability of information like this really helps to build trust. In this regard, TunnelBear is a provider many VPNs could learn from.

The TunnelBear blog in a nice addition. Although not updated terribly frequently, it has the necessary articles and explanations of key aspects of both VPNs in general and the service that TunnelBear provides. As such, this is a valuable resource for customers, which serves more as an educational area (rather than a VPN and digital privacy ‘news resource’).

Support

TunnelBear has a dedicated Help page that consists of articles on Status Updates, Getting Started, Accounts & Payments, Browser Extension Help, Windows App Help, Mac OS X App Help, iOS App Help, and Android App Help. These articles are easy to find thanks to the page’s search button. This saves users from having to read through dozens of articles to find the information they need.
TunnelBear help section
If you can’t find the answer you require on the TunnelBear help page, you can contact the company directly. Unfortunately, the only way to do so is via an online contact form. It would be nice if TunnelBear considers adding live chat in the future.

To test out the TunnelBear customer support, I sent them a question regarding encryption via the online contact form. A message informed me that I would receive a response within 24 hours.
TunnelBear customer support
This turned out to be true – I did receive the response within a day. The reply had all the details I required and was friendly and helpful. Great service all round.

The Process

Signing Up

Signing up to TunnelBear VPN is incredibly straightforward. For the free version, all that is needed is an email address and password, and the site automatically redirects you to its downloads page. Here you can choose from the different platforms and get the VPN software. Obviously, subscribers to paid plans will also need to pay via credit card or bitcoin (PayPal not supported).
create TunnelBear account
Once at the download page, click the download for the platform you require. Downloading the software takes only seconds and a setup wizard walks you through the process. Once it has installed, you will need your email and password to log in.

A nice extra (and welcoming) feature is that, once you have logged in, TunnelBear gives you a quick walkthrough about what a VPN can do. Lastly, it prompts subscribers to check their inbox for an account confirmation email. Having verified the account, users can open TunnelBear and begin using the VPN.

Due to the fact that TunnelBear’s impressive, free ‘Little’ plan does not restrict users in terms of access or connection speeds, I was able to test this VPN without subscribing to a paid plan (a massive rarity).

The TunnelBear Windows VPN Client

Right from the get-go, it is clear that the TunnelBear Windows VPN has been very carefully designed. The client is sleek and oozes fun. It is nice to look at and is incredibly easy to use. It also features plenty of amusing bears! TunnelBear is set to connect to a random server (close to you) by default. If you have a specific location in mind, your first job is to select a server location from the list.
TunnelBear VPN review

In the upper left corner of the software you will find a drop-down menu where you can navigate to Settings. Under General, you can set TunnelBear to start up when you turn on your computer. In addition, you can ask the client to send you notifications.
TunnelBear settings
In the Security tab you will find a feature called VigilantBear (which is the kill switch) and the GhostBear (stealth mode) feature for bypassing firewalls. Using the kill switch is recommended at all times when privacy is essential. GhostBear should only be used when absolutely necessary, as it does slow down speeds (so isn’t ideal for streaming, for example).
TunnelBear security
Under Trusted Networks, you can add known networks and enable TunnelBear to connect to a VPN server every time you connect to an unknown network (perfect for guaranteeing your safety on public WiFi hotspots).
TunnelBear client
Finally, the Account tab can be used to manage your account, request support via the ticket system, or log out of TunnelBear VPN.
TunnelBear account

Performance (Speed, DNS, WebRTC, and IPv6 Tests)

I tested TunnelBear for connection speeds using testmy.net. I tested the UK and Netherlands VPN servers from a UK test server. Then I tested the US server using a NewYork test server. I tested the VPN on a 50 Mbps fiber connection (which as you can see from the base test results wasn’t performing at optimal levels – averaging at about 40 Mbps).

All in all, I found the connection speeds to be much better this year compared to when we tested TunnelBear last time. The VPN definitely provides speeds that are good enough to stream. The US server was the slowest that I tested, but it still couldn’t be considered slow – average, perhaps.

One bit of good news is that there didn’t appear to be any difference in speeds with GhostBear stealth mode enabled. All great news, considering users can enjoy TunnelBear for free.

I didn’t detect any Domain Name System (DNS) leaks whatsoever using TunnelBear, which is great news. In fact, I didn’t detect any Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4), IP leaks, or Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) leaks either – success all round. Those tests were performed using ipleak.net. Remember that it is good practice for VPN users to do these tests themselves once in awhile. Sadly, I was unable to test for IPv6 leaks on my system because my ISP connection is incompatible.

Other Platforms

In addition to the Windows client that I tested, TunnelBear is also available for OS X, Android, and iOS. The client is very similar all the across platforms. In fact, they all look and behave identically (other than iOS not having OpenVPN encryption). All the clients provide ease of use and identical connection speeds.

TunnelBear also has a browser extension that is free to download and can be used with either Chrome or Opera (but not Firefox). The browser extension is just as nicely designed as the standalone clients. In addition, it is multi-platform (works with Linux, Chrome OS, OS X, and Windows). However, unlike the full VPN, it only encrypts data within the browser.

TunnelBear Review: Conclusion

I liked:

  • Five simultaneous connections
  • Great customer support
  • Servers in over 20 countries
  • Strong encryption implementation
  • Transparent privacy policy
  • Zero logs policy
  • Optional GhostBear (stealth) feature
  • Browser extension
  • Easy to use on all platforms
  • Reasonable speeds

I wasn’t so sure about:

  • Based in Canada
  • Limited support options
  • Doesn’t unblock Netflix US

I hated:

  • Nothing

TunnelBear is a nice looking VPN service that is fantastic for beginners. A free service allows people to trial the VPN for free. In addition, it makes it an ideal service for people living in conflict areas, or locations where heavy censorship is in place. TunnelBear has a good privacy policy and the trivial connection logs that the firm keeps are for internal use and cannot be used to interfere with subscribers’ privacy. Overall, it is a solid VPN that provides good speeds.

Visit TunnelBear »

Ray Walsh

I am a freelance journalist and blogger from England. I am highly interested in politics and in particular the subject of IR. I am an advocate for freedom of speech, equality, and personal privacy. On a more personal level I like to stay active, love snowboarding, swimming and cycling, enjoy seafood, and love to listen to trap music.

20 responses to “TunnelBear VPN Review

    • Not Rated

    used it for a couple of years now, very happy with the system. Used to strean video geoblocked from UK using different servers, (US mainly but others used depending on content). Never had a problem. Quick speedtest (ookla) UK connecting to US server-Ghostbear enables 10Mbps, so enough for what I need (including teleconferencing). (cannot test speed to US without TB for obvious reasons)
    Speedtest to UK servers (both with TB on and off showed no appreciable difference (35 and 33 Mbps ).
    Conection sometimes takes a few attempts but usually gets there in end.
    Yep free service is only 500MB but enough to get an idea of how it will work. (if you tweet about it you get another 500 so 1Gb. ) Happy enough with it and passed all DNS leak tests I tried.
    Used it cross platform with little issue (Windows, OS and ANdroid).

  1. Nothing is working out on this VPN called tunnelbear…. It will connect and cut of my network. You guys should do something about this real fast.

  2. Do not use this app!!
    I just tried the free version of this for the first time today and I can not get this to connect on my android device. I tried restarting the tablet and app but nothing works. It at first loads to the map/connection screen and after making a connection it immediately disconnects and gos to the login screen but it will not log you in from there. I have to restart the app to get to the connection screen. And now after only trying and failing to use this service twice it says I have used up my 500mb of data or what ever and wants me pay to upgrade??? Do not use this app!!

  3. I use to love tunnelbear. Lately, it doesn’t connect with Windows systems. Works once then you have to uninstall then reinstall every time. I’ve contacted their customer support multiple times with absolutely no response. So in a nut shell if you have problems, good luck fixing it yourself. You aren’t going to get any reply from them. Will not be renewing my subscription.

    1. I downloaded it and it actually blocked google then turned itself off – uninstalled it straight away. I won’t be using this far too much hassle…..

  4. Very slow, TunnelBear was ok for a couple of weeks then wham, a slowdown to a crawl. Many servers won’t connect, too slow, the ones that do, too slow. I think that their servers are overwhelmed or they are throttling the speed, either way it is unacceptable.

  5. The software does not work on a windows based system. When it switches from one location to another for some reason switches off the WiFi and loses the internet connection. Exiting the program, rebooting and still it will not make a connection. Tried for weeks to get support but none forthcoming except to look at their web-site. Slows everything down. Paid for a year but the service is so bad I will just try another sewrvice. Stay away from this one.

    Not a bad VPN. The bears are really cute, but I’m not sure if “cute” is something I want from a privacy product. Speeds were not that great, and it lacks features like a firewall and multi-hop locations. Customer support is top notch however.

    • Not Rated

    Should not be advertised as “Free”. Mere 500 MB download PER MONTH. You can hardly watch 1 episode of some show. What’s worse, it takes a few attempts to connect, and then it’s trying to disconnect several times during the show.

  6. I’ve used it for a year, but will not renew.
    They’ve changed the UI to a really hungry world map for absolutely no reason which runs sluggishly on both my high-spec PC and reasonably good phone. It has a much bigger footprint than it ought to in general, cannot handle the computer being put to sleep gracefully.
    It’s a minor point, but the emotional blackmail when you go to uninstall was funny the first time, but when you fall out of love with the product it just looks like a cynical hail mary. I loved this service a year ago, but it’s now bearly adequate.

    I have used TunnelBear for about 3 months when this review was made. The first month I was really impressed. It was fast, worked all the time, never had an issue. Today, I cannot even load speedtest.net, my ping times out. I am on the prowl for a new VPN. Seems after the new government choice to sell our browsing data, people bought inexpensive VPNs and TunnelBear cannot keep up.

  7. I tried to upgrade with PayPal and was declined. I checked further and found they were dropped from PayPal due to refund issues. Just found out about the customer service which is a joke. You can only contact them buy email for facebook with no phone or contact methods which i find is the worst thing about the service so far. I am only trying the one month now instead of the one year. I suggest this for others also. I hope the service gets real customer support seems this is the biggest downfall so far. Good Luck!

  8. The application on both mobile phones and PCs is visually pleasing. They offer several locations.
    But
    I contacted the support regarding the speed I was having on the Brazil server because it was bad.
    I got no response within 24 hours.
    Later, I received a response saying that it was normal to lose speed when using a VPN service.
    I am in Europe, and I know that speed would be affected by the connection to another continent. But I’ve had several VPNs from Brazil, and this is sincerely bad.
    Since TunnelBear does not return the money (I’ve applied within the first 24 hours), they can basically do whatever they want.
    Think twice before buying a VPN here.

  9. After using it for a couple of hours, I ran out of data. The only way I could get more was to upgrade to a paid service, which I do not intend to. So, I’ll uninstall it and find another provider, thank you very much.

  10. TunnelBear a total let down.
    Unable to access Netflix America.
    Speed dropped to 0.11 megs download to UK servers!
    And NO it was not a problem at my end.
    I’m on a 10megs Fibre Broadband connection.
    Joined Express and had no trouble connecting to Netflix America and had a download speed of 8.5 megs using the 10meg connection.

  11. Really, really not impressed.
    It slows down all my online activity.
    I turn it off so I can access things quicker.
    I tried to ask them for help and eventually got an email response a few days later that told me to get help elsewhere basically. They blamed my nternet provider.
    No offer of trying to solve the problem.
    They are not as good as the stars make out.
    Very disappointed.
    Think before paying.

    What do you think of TunnelBear? Share your thoughts in the comments box!

    1. Have tried for six days to get help from customer service at Tunnelbear. No response at all, even though the claim is made on their website that they will get contact within 24 hours.
      I am a long time customer and as Tunnelbear contact can only be made via an online request, I find the lack of customer service and no response frustrating.
      When it works it is great…when broken…you are on your own!

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