TunnelBear has been around since 2011, so it makes sense most VPN comparison sites are in two decisively made-up minds about the VPN.
It all starts with bears.
The provider loves making bear puns, to the point where its founders (Ryan Dochuk and Daniel Kaldor) are known as the Corporate Bear and Quantum Bear respectively.
The rest of the team also use bear-y punny monikers.
But is TunnelBear’s popularity all thanks to its admittedly cute gimmicks, or is it a VPN worth using?
Moreover, when it comes to the mixed reviews online, which are more true? The ones saying TunnelBear is great for beginners, or the ones saying it’s not really worth the effort?
This is what we set out to discover.
And unlike other VPN review sites, we’re not going to let the promise of “honey” (affiliate fees) sway our opinion.
Let’s get started!
- Extra security features
- Cute & easy-to-use app
- Military-grade encryption
- Based in US/Canada
- 12 month plan - £4.99 per month (£59.88 total cost)
- 1 month plan - £9.99 per month (£9.99 total cost)
Take a look at How We Rate VPN Providers!
How Goose VPN Compares to the Competition
Not Great Locations (But the Bear Makes Sense…)
If you know anything about Canada, or bears, or Canadian bears, then the name “TunnelBear” makes absolute sense for a Toronto-based VPN.
That said, TunnelBear was acquired by McAfee, a US company, in early 2018.
Canada and the US are two of the worst countries for a VPN to be located in, as both are 5 Eyes Alliance jurisdictions – AKA: countries who got together after World War II to share surveillance intelligence with each other.
Minimal Logs Policy
We always take privacy policies seriously.
Even before we started reviewing VPN providers, we’d pore through the fine print – which works in your favor, as we know most of you don’t do this (even though you really should).
TunnelBear offers a minimal logs policy instead of the strict no-logs policy most (worthy) VPNs offer.
Still, the minimal data they do collect is stock-standard (for the most part).
Information related to diagnostics and account maintenance, for example, are par for the course with most VPN privacy policies.
However, the fact they record your Operating System (OS) is… odd.
They say it’s for “user support, troubleshooting and product planning,” but we don’t see why it’s necessary for TunnelBear to record it by default.
On the plus side, there haven’t been any data breaches of any kind.
TunnelBear was independently audited in 2017 and again in 2018. We’re still waiting on a 2019 audit, but so far, so good.
Military-Grade Encryption and the Best VPN Protocols
We’re more or less satisfied TunnelBear isn’t a threat to user privacy, but that’s barely (bear-ly?) half the picture.
To make our rule of exception, the provider also needs to safeguard users against external threats.
Thankfully, TunnelBear doesn’t disappoint when it comes to their encryption and protocol standards. In fact, they recently launched encryption upgrades.
We won’t bore you with all the encryption terminology or over-explain VPN protocols.
Instead, let’s take a quick look at what you’ll get with TunnelBear, based on the OS you’re using:
OpenVPN, with the option to switch to IKEv2
iOS 9 and Later
You get military-grade encryption and only the best VPN protocols!
(Goldilocks and the) 3 Bears of Connection Security
TunnelBear further protects your internet connection with 3 security features.
(We kind of wish they referred to it as the GoldiLocks Suite.)
First up is VigilantBear, the kill switch feature.
VigilantBear ensures your original IP address isn’t leaked if your connection with the TunnelBear server drops. It does this by disconnecting you from the internet.
It’s also one of those incredibly important features every VPN should have.
A kill switch is different to DNS leak protection (which TunnelBear also offers), but there is some cross-over.
Second is SplitBear, a relatively new TunnelBear feature.
As the name suggests, it’s a split tunneling protocol that lets you choose what apps and websites to run through TunnelBear versus your normal connection.
It’s not a must-have, and we recommend you read up on split tunneling before you try it. Unfortunately, it’s only available for Android at the moment.
Last, but not least, is GhostBear: a great security feature helping hide the fact you’re using a VPN from your ISP.
Usually, a VPN simply stops your ISP from seeing what you’re doing online (which is a good thing, unless you want your browsing history sold to the highest bidder).
However, with a feature like GhostBear enabled, your ISP won’t even know you’re using a VPN in the first place.
Similar to SplitBear, we don’t recommend using GhostBear at all times, as it slows down your connection speed.
iOS users won’t have this feature at all, but you can thank Apple for that.
There’s nothing on TunnelBear’s website to suggest the VPN is compatible with The Onion Router (TOR), a proxy browser that obfuscates user location by re-routing your connection via 3 servers.
TOR over VPN isn’t necessary unless you prefer something similar to a Double VPN/Multi-Hop feature and the provider doesn’t offer one.
A Double VPN works similarly to TOR by tunneling your connection via 2 VPN servers – a feature TunnelBear doesn’t offer.
We had to rely on our own tests to figure out if TunnelBear allows TOR over VPN, as the Support Bears weren’t online until much later.
If you prefer to boost your online security by using TOR over VPN, then you’ll be glad to know it does work with TunnelBear – just make sure you connect to a VPN server first.
Your connection speed will drop, but this isn’t unique to the provider.
How Many Servers are There?
TunnelBear is rather hush-hush about how many servers they have, as well as their exact locations.
If you take a look at their Help Center article on “Where can I tunnel to and from?” (last updated 2 months ago), they only mention having “20+ server locations.”
There are some rumors of 350+ servers spread out over the 22 countries that make up the TunnelBear network, but that hasn’t been officially confirmed.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t find much more than that, even during our own tests.
Either way, that’s not a lot of servers – especially for a VPN provider who’s been around since 2011.
And that makes us nervous about the type of speed TunnelBear can deliver.
Before we get into the results from our testing, we need to give the usual caveat: testing VPN server speeds is an inexact science.
There are so many variables that can (and do) affect results that someone sitting right next to us could have a vastly different experience.
As always, we try to minimize the fluctuation caused by potential network overload by testing a few times, a couple hours apart.
We also use the same devices, internet connection, and server locations. This helps better compare different VPNs by creating standardized speed testing conditions.
Here are our results:
As you can see, we were pleasantly surprised – TunnelBear gave us some of the best speeds we’ve seen.
Device Compatibility and Connections
The bad news is, TunnelBear falls far behind our top picks for the Best Overall VPNs when it comes to device compatibility:
- Chrome (browser extension)
- Firefox (browser extension)
- Opera (browser extension)
You could manually configure TunnelBear to work on Linux, but you’re only going to get extremely limited support on the operating system.
To be blunt, TunnelBear says their “bears have finally been trained to think of penguins as friends instead of breakfast” (a play on the Linux penguin icon), but that was back in 2014.
The only thing changed since then is the manual configuration instructions being updated in 2017. So if you’re a penguin fan, you’ll need to steer clear of the bears.
Other devices conspicuous by their absence include Kindle, Windows smartphones, smart TVs, gaming consoles, and routers.
On the bright side, with both of the paid TunnelBear subscriptions, you get up to 5 simultaneous connections.
Subscription Plans and Pricing
TunnelBear offers 3 subscription plans at present:
Additionally, TunnelBear offers special packages for teams, which comes with a 7-day free trial.
Other options include credit card (MasterCard, Visa, and American Express) and Bitcoin.
Unfortunately, there isn’t any money-back guarantee.
That said, refunds are sometimes given, but all requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
Streaming is a No Go
Streaming online content that’s unavailable in your own area is one of the most common uses for a VPN.
However, if you’re hoping to access Netflix, BBC iPlayer, or just about any other online streaming platform with TunnelBear… forget it.
The VPN provider doesn’t seem too bothered with combating any of the proxy detection services streaming platforms use to prevent VPN use (and no, GhostBear won’t work here).
There’s no official reason given for this, but it’s likely due to TunnelBear wanting to respect copyright law.
So if you want to stream, take a look at these guides for better options:
Torrenting Sort of Okay
Although never stated explicitly (or even implied) on their website, TunnelBear no longer actively prevents you from using BitTorrent to download files on the Peer-to-Peer (P2P) network.
But there’s still a big caveat here.
Torrenting copyright material, like movies and series, is still illegal, which means it’s still against TunnelBear’s Terms of Service.
However, torrenting does have some legal applications (it’s complicated – we suggest you read our article answering Is Torrenting Illegal?) and it’s increasingly popular.
So TunnelBear unofficially, and probably a little reluctantly, started easing up on torrentors.
Still, you might want to take a look at our guide on the Best Torrenting VPNs.
Just to be clear, we don’t endorse illegal activity like using torrents to break copyright law. However, seeing as there are legal applications, we’d rather you torrent safely.
Usability and Support
When it comes to installation and use, TunnelBear is as deceptively charming as their bear mascot.
A common issue with easy-to-use VPN apps is they leave out a lot of features. But – other than the lack of dedicated streaming and/or P2P servers and a Double VPN – that isn’t the case here.
You could fiddle around with the settings if you really wanted to, but for the most part, everything you need is right there.
TunnelBear will even help you connect to the best available server using Auto Tunnel.
Support is a different story, though.
If you really need help, you’ll have to hope one of the Support Bears are at work – which is only 40 hours a week.
There’s no live chat support either, so you’ll need to open a ticket and wait for them to respond via email.
This could take 24 hours, sometimes a little longer (we had to wait just under 48 hours).
But the response you get will be more helpful than the website (though no less peppered with bear puns).
How to Cancel TunnelBear and Get Your Money Back
We recommend TunnelBear for basic VPN users who just want to protect their online privacy.
However, if you find the provider is a little too basic for you, here’s how to cancel your subscription:
- Log into your TunnelBear account
- Click “Overview”
- Click “Cancel” and run through the on-screen prompts
To cancel a recurring PayPal payment, see here.
How much does TunnelBear cost?
TunnelBear’s monthly subscription costs $9.99.
Does TunnelBear work for Netflix?
No – you’ll need to use one of the Best Netflix VPNs instead.
Can I trust TunnelBear?
Yes – TunnelBear underwent two voluntary independent audits (2017 and 2018 respectively). There haven’t been any known data breaches to date.
Is TunnelBear a good VPN?
Yes, but only for basic VPN users who are just looking to protect their online privacy. For a more advanced option, see the best VPN services.
Does TunnelBear hide your IP address?
Yes, TunnelBear will reliably hide your original IP address and protect against leaks.
Does TunnelBear charge monthly?
Yes. Alternatively, you can pay yearly for a 50% discount.
Is TunnelBear a zero-logs VPN?
Not exactly – there are some logs kept, but these are purely for diagnostics, anti-fraud, etc. No user activity logs are kept.
Can you cancel TunnelBear anytime?
Yes, but refunds are never guaranteed and requests are handled on a case-by-case basis.
Is TunnelBear safe in China?
No. TunnelBear can be used in China, but not reliably (and not at all with iOS devices).