TunnelBear is a famous VPN service launched back in 2011 in Toronto, Canada and featured in numerous major publications like Lifehacker, Huffington Post, VentureBeat, TechCrunch, PC World, and many others.
The main idea behind the company is allowing everybody to browse the same Internet without any fear of hack attacks, government interference, and other potential dangers that can put your sensitive data into the wrong hands. If this idea resonates with you, keep reading our honest TunnelBear review to learn all about its main features, performance levels, security measures, streaming & torrenting policies, and available pricing plans.
Speed & Performance
Our team located in Belgrade, Serbia (Europe) conducted a series of tests over a period of one week to determine the impact of TunnelBear VPN on the original connection speed and check the overall performance of its servers. We tested 13 different locations to better gauge its effectiveness in various corners of the world.
TunnelBear was one of the rare VPN services that actually enhanced our connection speed in the US rather than lowering it. On the server in Wichita, we recorded 109.97% of our starting speed, which is beyond impressive. Encryption definitely does not tend to make things go faster, but TunnelBear managed to pull it off somehow. Apart from Wichita, we also had good results in London and Amsterdam.
Servers in Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Toronto, and Frankfurt also performed pretty well while Paris, Brisbane, and Tokyo were not all that spectacular. The server in Auckland provided us with pretty subpar results, managing to retain only 24.05% of our benchmark speed.
The client connects to any server instantly, no matter the distance, and TunnelBear provides its users with unlimited speed, server switching, and bandwidth (premium users only). What is also important to mention is that we did not experience any sudden disconnects or lags of any kind while testing the VPN for our TunnelBear review.
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TunnelBear features native apps for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. It also comes with browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. There is a comprehensive setup manual for Linux on the official website, but the company provides limited support for this platform. On macOS, TunnelBear recommends that you install a helper tool that helps the VPN establish a stable connection with one of its servers.
The browser extensions are considered to be lightweight protection options since they only encrypt your traffic within the specific browser and NOT everything you do on your computer.
TunnelBear currently operates 20+ server locations, ranging from the US and the UK to Hong Kong, India, and Brazil. Even though this is far from an imposing network, the strategic placement of the individual servers allows you to use TunnelBear pretty much anywhere in the world. The AutoTunnel feature determines the optimal server based on your location, so if you are not sure about the best options for you, the software will pick one automatically.
The company is constantly adding new servers, so we hope its network reaches the size sported by some of the most popular VPN services in the near future.
TunnelBear allows up to 5 simultaneous connections with one account. However, if you plan to use it on a corporate level and need more than this, the company features a version designed for teams that allows you to manage your team more easily, simplify team expenses, and reduce costs using credits.
Safety & Security
When it comes to connection protocols, TunnelBear uses OpenVPN for Android and macOS, IKEv2/IPsec for iOS, and OpenVPN/IKEv2 for Windows. Traffic is encrypted with AES-256-CBC on Windows and Android and with AES-256-GCM on macOS and iOS. SHA-256 is used for authentication across all platforms. Finally, the DH groups go 2048-bit for Windows, 4096-bit for Android, and 3072-bit for macOS and iOS.
Apart from this, TunnelBear also has its own stealth protocol called GhostBear that enables you to bypass censorship on restrictive networks and makes your encrypted online traffic less detectable by ISPs, governments, and businesses. This option is ideal if you are planning a visit to China or some other country with high levels of Internet censorship.
The feature called VigilantBear is essentially a killswitch that keeps your data and location private while your VPN is disconnected and/or trying to reconnect. In other words, if your software becomes compromised and drops the connection for whatever reason, VigilantBear will kill your session in order to prevent your sensitive data from leaking out.
Windows and macOS clients also come with the TCP Override feature that should improve the stability of your connection in case you are experiencing any problems. If your sessions become overly choppy after a while, your ISP might be blocking or throttling UDP traffic and the override will definitely help with that.
All DNS requests are handled directly by TunnelBear servers without any other entities in the middle. Your traffic is immediately routed through a safe VPN tunnel, so nobody will be able to interfere with your connection or gain access to your real data.
TunnelBear lets you create a list of trusted networks and the moment you disconnect from one of them, your client will automatically connect you to your optimal server to prevent any unwanted exposure. Naturally, this feature is only available on Wi-Fi networks.
Lastly, the company has also implemented split tunneling in the form of a feature called SplitBear. This option allows you to route some of your traffic through your VPN while keeping the rest of it unprotected and unencumbered with encryption.
Logging & Privacy
TunnelBear features one of the most comprehensive privacy policies we have ever seen paired with regular audits performed by independent online security companies. TunnelBear collects the following information:
- Account user data – Email address, Twitter ID (optional), and whether you are a paid user
- Operational data – OS version, TunnelBear app version, total data used per month, operational events, and whether you have been active this month
- Financial data – Information exchanged with the payment processor once you make a purchase. You can avoid this data collection by opting for Bitcoin payments. If you choose to use your credit card, however, TunnelBear will record your last name, the last 4 digits of your credit card number, the date of card use, the card billing address, and the expiry date. In order to prevent credit card fraud, the company will also collect your session information (OS, device type, and your IP address at the time of payment)
- Cookies – TunnelBear uses different sets of cookies for its “regular” and team versions and you can find a complete list on the official website
TunnelBear will NEVER collect your IP address (except during payments), DNS queries, and any other information regarding services, websites, and applications you use while connected to TunnelBear.
TunnelBear will never sell or lease your information to any third party. Your data may be shared with its partners and authorities in case of a legal subpoena. On top of this, the company will never use your data without explicit consent.
During our testing circuit, we also checked whether TunnelBear VPN can unlock different regional versions of Netflix from our location in Europe. Unfortunately, if geo-spoofing popular streaming services is your main goal, TunnelBear is not your VPN.
We tried to stream Netflix US, UK, Germany, Japan, Italy, and Canada and every single version managed to detect our VPN traffic, which resulted in the dreaded proxy error. We did not have any luck with platforms like Hulu or Crunchyroll either.
TunnelBear changed its policy regarding P2P and torrenting from a hard no to a reluctant yes. The official website does not give us much information about torrenting, so we had to rely on our own tests and customer support. The good news is that TunnelBear DOES allow torrenting now, which is a major upgrade to its service.
Plans & Pricing
TunnelBear is one of the rare VPN services that offer a completely free version of the software. However, as a free user, your traffic is limited to 500MB per month. Free users were not able to connect to servers in Australia in the past, but our tests showed that this is no longer the case.
Apart from its free version, TunnelBear features two paid subscription options – 1 year for $4.99 per month ($59.88 per year) and 2 year for $4.17 per month ($99.99 billed every year). There is no general money-back guarantee and all refunds are considered on a case-by-case basis.
TunnelBear for teams comes with a free 7-day trial and its price depends on the number of people in your team – from $207 for 3 members to $13,731 for 199 members. If you need more than 200 connections, you can contact the company to work out a special deal for your company.
The accepted payment methods include credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, and American Express) and Bitcoin. Even though the official website might claim otherwise, you still cannot use jars of honey to pay for your subscription.
The official website features a comprehensive FAQ section paired with a rich blog that covers everything you might be wondering about TunnelBear. If you still have additional questions, you can always contact the customer support staff using the ticket system implemented on the site.
TunnelBear’s support team is pretty knowledgeable and extremely professional. It took them a while to answer some of the more technical questions we had, but we got our answers eventually.
TunnelBear Pros & Cons
As we wrap up this TunnelBear review, here’s a quick overview of the features that wowed us and the aspects of the service that could use some improvement.
- Excellent security package
- Proprietary stealth protocol
- Stable connection
- Quick server response
- Up to 5 simultaneous connections
- Split tunneling
- Automatic killswitch
- Torrenting is allowed
- Free limited version
- No activity logs
- Independent security audits
- Professional and knowledgeable customer support
- Located in Canada
- Limited server network
- No live chat