TunnelBear is famous for it’s ‘free’ VPN service. Even though this free service is highly restricted, it’s what most users will know and love about TunnelBear – but in this review, I’m going to cover both the free and paid versions.
Thankfully, there’s lots to cover here with TunnelBear, including a rather interesting history. I’m going to look at the download/upload speeds, privacy aspects and more. There’s a lot more to this humble VPN than meets the eye – it isn’t all just cute bear graphics.
And, while you probably can trust TunnelBear to keep your data safe, it does have some significant issues: for example, trouble unblocking Netflix; the company’s attitude to torrenting is unclear; and the mediocre-to-slow download speeds might leave you wishing for more.
|🔒 Strong security features||📉 Unreliable connections|
|🐻 Free plan (limited)||💬 No live chat support|
|🚀 Simple and easy to use||🐢 No torrenting|
|🌎 3000+ servers in 48 countries||🎥 Average at unblocking streaming sites|
|🔒 No-Logs policy||💳 No crypto or cash payments|
The famous free TunnelBear plan is certainly a big plus, but it’s ultimately not much more than a demo, because it doesn’t provide you with enough data to last more than a day or two.
If you’re a super-light VPN user then that may just be okay, but for those looking for a decent, permanent VPN service to use longer-term, there are better solutions than TunnelBear that cost either the same or less.
If you’re price conscious and don’t want to pay a lot of money, then read our guide to the cheapest VPNs.
- Easy to set up
- Decent security features
- Plain-English Terms of Service
- Offers a free plan
- Lots of servers (paid)
- Unstable connections
- Can be slow
- Torrenting poor/non-existant
- Average at unblocking streaming sites
- No live chat support
TunnelBear’s pros include robust security options, newbie-friendly design and straightforward terms of service, but the VPN’s downsides are also worth considering: shaky connections, restricted streaming options, and no live chat support, are just a few of them.
With a free, albeit restricted, version and competitively-priced premium subscriptions, TunnelBear is a VPN solution suited to those on a tight budget.
If you want access to all of the features, you’ll need to upgrade from the free plan, which of course comes with few features.
A longer commitment is rewarded with a cheaper price, as is the case with most VPN companies now. Or to put it another way, the longer you buy, the less you pay. With a 3-year plan, you may connect up to 5 devices at once for as little as $3.33 per month. The annual plan costs $4.99/month, while the two-year plan works out at $4.17/month average.
It’s important to keep in mind that TunnelBear does not provide a formal refund policy. It’s within the discretion of the customer service representative handling your request as to whether or not a refund will be issued.
Additionally, credit/debit card via PayPal or Stripe are the only payment methods TunnelBear offers, so you can’t pay anonymously. No cash or Bitcoin here sadly – TunnelBear lacks this feature despite it being offered by many other VPN companies now. Some such as Mullvad even allow you to mail cash to their HQ.
TunnelBear certainly is cheap, but there are other things to consider here, not just the price. In the table below you can see that NordVPN, for example, has a load more features and is actually cheaper for 2+ year plans overall:
|Free Plan (restricted)||$0.00||❌|
Is there a Kill Switch?
Yes, curiously TunnelBear call it ‘VigilantBear’.
The VigilantBear kill switch was actually found quite impressive. For those that don’t know, a kill switch feature ensures your data remains private – even if the connection between your device and the VPN server drops. If that happens, a kill switch will prevent your regular ISP connection from taking over.
Lots of VPNs have kill switches now – for example NordVPN – but the unique feature of VigilantBear is that it suspends your internet connection until it hears back from their VPN server – rather than from your ISP. When it does, data transfers again, letting you keep using the internet without exposing your IP address or location.
Unfortunately, VigilantBear is only compatible with Windows, macOS, and Android at the moment; whether or not it will be made accessible for iOS devices is unknown. When troubleshooting network issues, it may be helpful to know that notifications for disconnection and disruption are disabled by default.
In general though, despite the lack of iOS support, VigilantBear is a great addition to the security options offered by TunnelBear and certainly one of their better features.
TunnelBear No Logs policy
TunnelBear has a fairly strong commitment to privacy, and again this is another strong point.
As regular VPN Hound readers will know, one of the most important considerations for any discerning VPN customer is the provider’s logging policy.
The strong no-logging policy that TunnelBear VPN advertises is great news for those who value their anonymity online. Why? Because your internet activity will not be tracked or monitored in any way while using TunnelBear. For those who like to maintain their anonymity while doing things online, this level of security is essential.
However, it’s worth noting that TunnelBear still DOES collect some personal data via their website and also some anonymized data via their app. For instance, they may record your name, address, phone number, email address, operating system, the amount of data you’ve used this month, and/or the name and address of the cardholder (more on payment methods later).
Though its no-logging policy is commendable, TunnelBear isn’t the most privacy-friendly VPN available. It’s concerning that TunnelBear is headquartered in a 5 Eyes alliance country and doesn’t offer crypto currency payments either.
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Does TunnelBear do audits?
Yes, TunnelBear does submit its VPN systems to independent audits.
In fact, their commitment to annually submitting their internal system to third-party security reviews is another really strong point (I’m full of TunnelBear praise so far!). They tend to hire Cure53, a reputable German security firm that also audits other VPNs, to scan their code, servers, and client apps for vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit.
Plus, as we’ve seen from past VPN audits, TunnelBear takes security concerns seriously and implements most fixes quickly, often within a few hours. They take care to fix any vulnerabilities they find, giving customers peace of mind.
Streaming on TunnelBear: Reviewed
I’ve tried out TunnelBear and its capacity to access restricted websites for watching videos, and my testing has taken place using multiple servers & devices over many weeks.
The good news is that Netflix, BBC iPlayer, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, and YouTube TV can all be unblocked, although the video quality and connectivity are highly inconsistent. The server location you select may unexpectedly stop working at times as it did for me.
Keep in mind that while TunnelBear does work with select Netflix libraries, it is not the greatest VPN for Netflix as a whole. Again to reiterate I have had no issues getting into HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube TV, ITV or BBC iPlayer. But it’s worth pointing out that bypassing both Hulu and Disney+’s geoblocks proved more difficult, even impossible.
Regrettably, neither Amazon Firestick nor Android TV apps are available, and even worse there is no Smart DNS tool, so you can’t watch any online content on your “Smart TV” via TunnelBear without going through a load of rigmarole.
This is a shame; for a VPN that prides itself on its ease-of-use and newbie friendly attitude, I expected more. I really hope that TunnelBear add Smart DNS support at some point in future.
Does it work with Netflix?
Next, as part of this TunnelBear review, I tested how easy it was to access Netflix libraries around the world. Sadly, TunnelBear performed poorly here.
Firstly, it took quite a bit of trial and error to figure out how to best access US libraries with this VPN, and I never quite figured it out despite trying for hours.
Then, for the next test, it took even more time, but I eventually found a server that allowed me to connect to the UK – but Netflix failed to load here at all. It’s possible that your experiences may be different, but mine were poor.
Attempts to watch Netflix in New Zealand, Brazil, Singapore, and Canada were also unsuccessful. So Netflix in the United States was the only successful region, and this was only for the libraries (which are famously easier to watch with a VPN anyway, versus other content).
Therefore in general, I do not advise using TunnelBear as your primary VPN service for watching Netflix. Considering the frequent disconnections from Netflix and the less-than-stellar performance on other streaming sites, I really do recommend trying a different VPN company for this.
What about other streaming services?
It could connect to BBC iPlayer, but the quality wasn’t great, and the stream wasn’t always stable. Both HBO Max and Amazon Prime Video were pleasantly surprising. The video quality wasn’t fantastic though, and there was noticeable lag. YouTube TV was available, and unblocking the site’s international content is simpler using a VPN. If TunnelBear wants to get more users, it should focus on making it easier to bypass streaming filters.
But ultimately this VPN probably isn’t really aiming for that kind of user. After all, streaming uses up a lot of VPN bandwidth.
If you want to try a better streaming-friendly VPN then consider ExpressVPN or NordVPN.
What about Torrenting?
The risks associated with torrenting include the potential for data leaks and the possibility of VPNs restricting or outright prohibiting P2P file sharing altogether if things get too hairy.
Thankfully, VPN tunnels offer a solution in part: You can connect to a Torrent client in the same way you connect to your bank’s website via a VPN tunnel (for example) and not get flagged or locked out. I’ll cover this later.
Anyway, as a general rule, torrenting is not supported by TunnelBear. I have attempted multiple server connections at different times & days without success and eventually gave up. I reached out to their customer service and they confirmed it’s not something they’re focussed on.
Itt wasn’t until I severed ties with the VPN connection (and disabled the kill switch) that the torrent downloads finally got underway.
Check out the VPN Hound guide to the top VPNs for torrenting if you’re seeking a dependable and secure VPN service for this purpose. Providers like NordVPN, which I’ve tested repeatedly and found to be reliable and safe for torrenting, can be found there.
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TunnelBear Free: What’s so bad about it?
A lot of you will be using TunnelBear right now via their ‘free’ version and considering upgrading to the Premium version. You’re perhaps unsure if it’s worth it.
If that’s you, then I just want to point out that the free version has a lot of restrictions. Sure, you can access any of their servers in 48 different countries, but you can only use 500 MB of data each month. That’s not a typo, not each day – each month.
Frankly, this probably not going to cut it even for casual internet users. In fact, after only an hour of testing, I had already used up all of the allotted data. The free version of TunnelBear serves primarily as a demo for the paid premium plans. The free edition is a great opportunity to try out the service before committing to an upgrade, so in many ways this is the best ‘free trial’ available.
Some users will be using the free version as an occasional VPN where they just need it for research, and that’s absolutely fine. If that’s you, but you’ve run out of data and now want another option, I’d suggest Windscribe VPN, or Private Internet Access. They’re both good choices for those who just want a cheap, easy-to-use VPN without all the bells and whistles.
If you’re on a budget, then TunnelBear is okay, but there are better VPN providers out there for less money.
- Surfshark – with prices starting at $2.49/month for a 2-year plan, Surfshark is one of the best budget VPN options out there.
- Private Internet Access – with prices starting at $2.08/month for a 2-year plan, Private Internet Access is another budget-friendly option.
- CyberGhost – with prices starting at $2.25/month for a 3-year plan, CyberGhost offers a good balance of affordability and features.
- Windscribe – with a free plan that includes 10GB of data per month and prices starting at $4.08/month for a 1-year plan, Windscribe is a solid choice for those on a budget.
- ProtonVPN – with a free plan that includes unlimited data but limited server locations, and prices starting at $4/month for a 2-year plan, ProtonVPN offers good value for money.
Best alternatives to TunnelBear
Number of Servers
Let me add my usual proviso or disclaimer here: Higher number of servers isn’t always the best barometer of how good a VPN is.
But now that that’s out of the way, here are the facts:
|VPN Provider||Number of Servers||Number of Locations|