TunnelBear Review

The internet has become an increasingly hostile place, where it seems like every website is trying to get its paws on your browsing habits. We live in a world where services are segmented by regions, governments routinely censor content, and private browsing is a thing of the past. So if you want safer internet access, employ the services of a furry guardian. 

Before delving into our TunnelBear review, a short history lesson is in order. TunnelBear came out of hibernation in 2011 in Toronto. Today, it’s one of the best-known free VPN services in the world and a favorite among gamers and P2P users. The software is owned by McAfee and offers VPN servers in more than 20 countries for both personal and business use.

Key features:

  • Servers in 23 countries
  • Close to 2,000 serviers
  • A 500 MB data cap for free version
  • Email and live chat support round the clock
  • Up to 5 users
  • Does not unblock streaming sevices

Things we liked / disliked:

  • Incredibly easy to use
  • 256-bit encryption
  • Free plan
  • Works on desktop and mobile
  • Browser extension
  • Affordable
  • Fast and stable connections
  • Doesn’t work with streaming platforms
  • Few server locations

Pricing

There are two options when you download TunnelBear. You can either choose the free version or sign up for a monthly or annual subscription. There are no variations of the app that could confuse users and no hidden costs that suddenly appear after you’ve signed up. The free plan is the default option for this personal VPN, with no time limits or restrictions on how you can use it. All you have to do is click the download button and create a free account.

TunnelBear Free

The free version of the software isn’t restricted by time, so you can use your bear VPN on a regular basis without spending a cent. Unlike other services that have a free trial option, TunnelBear doesn’t ask for any payment information upfront. The one major difference between the paid Unlimited version and the TunnelBear free version is the data cap.

Bandwidth is a prized commodity for every VPN provider. Therefore, their free trial versions either expire after a certain period of time or place a limit on the amount of data you can use. In TunnelBear’s case, it’s the latter. You’ll only get 500 MB of free data per month, which is renewed  monthly. This is not an ideal solution for anyone who uses the internet even a moderate amount. But if you mention TunnelBear on Twitter in a special post, you’ll get an additional 1 GB of free data every month.

Through this clever marketing strategy, users end up promoting TunnelBear via social media and get rewarded for it. Of course, if you don’t like using Twitter and you just need a VPN for occasional browsing and shopping, half a gig of free data should be sufficient.

TunnelBear Unlimited

The paid version of TunnelBear comes with unlimited data. Up to five devices can be connected to the same account simultaneously, and premium users get priority customer service. There are three ways you can pay for this VPN: monthly, annually, or with a one-time payment for a three-year license. TunnelBear prices vary depending on the subscription you choose.

The monthly plan costs $9.99. This is a good option if you need the VPN software from time to time, and the free plan just doesn’t cut it. The annual plan is $59.88, which is equivalent to $4.99 per month. Finally, the most expensive plan costs $120 per year and includes a premium license for RememBear, a password manager tool with cloud sync and automated backups. Considering that this app alone costs $60 for two years, this bundle is as sweet as honey.

Corporate accounts

TunnelBear isn’t just a personal VPN. There is also a corporate version called Teams that tailors to businesses of all sizes. As is the case with other packages offered by TunnelBear, pricing with this version is pretty straightforward.

TunnelBear Teams

Tunnelbears chilling

The Teams plan costs $5.75/month for each individual user and requires you to buy at least two licenses. Each user can use their license on five devices and, of course, with unlimited bandwidth. So far, it looks exactly like the personal plan. But this package has several unique features.

First of all, there is the control panel where the team leader can hand out licenses and manage users. The accompanying web panel is handy if you need to automate the handing out of licenses for TunnelBear, review payment information, or manage permissions.

One of the great things about this plan is its flexibility with respect to payments. Since it charges your company annually, you can remove users any time you want and use the same licenses to get other colleagues protected by a bear. You’ll only pay the difference instead of being charged for a new license. It’s a great way to save some money and avoid the hassle of multiple purchases.

Payment options

The initial TunnelBear download is free, and you can use this version of the software as long as you like. If the 500 MB of free data isn’t sufficient for your needs, you can upgrade to one of the paid plans. There are three ways to make payments:

  • Credit or debit card
  • Bitcoin
  • Jars of honey (seriously, you can pay in honey)

We were very glad to see the cryptocurrency option because it ensures your anonymity. But there’s an even more exciting option that actually allows you to pay for your VPN with jars of honey. Just hop on the live chat with customer support and get all the details about this sweet promotion.

Installation process and user interface

During our TunnelBear VPN review, we realized that the website was designed with the user in mind. The installation process is quick, and after the setup is complete, you can log into your account and get started.

For most users the default settings will be perfect. There aren’t that many options to tinker with, keeping the app nice and tidy.

TunnelBear for Mac and Windows can be adjusted to open with the computer, and you can decide whether you want notifications turned on. The interface is incredibly clean with all versions of the app. It has a simple on and off switch, and the server network is presented as a cartoonish map of the world. You simply choose a country and watch the little bear dig a tunnel to your chosen location.

Desktop and mobile apps

Widely regarded as the best free VPN on the market, the software can keep things simple and cuddly on both Windows and Mac. The bear also recently befriended penguins, which means the software now offers limited Linux support. There’s a quick on and off switch for reconnecting to your last VPN location, you can set it to connect to the fastest/closest server, or you can manually pick where you want the grizzly to dig.

Tunnelbear dig

For users who prefer to quickly hop to a specific server, the drop down list in the top bar is the way to go. The bear digs to the location of your choice and pops out of the pipe before releasing a mighty roar. Be sure to enable notifications if you want to see the bear wearing local outfits in the different countries where you are connecting from. In France he wears a beret, in Mexico a sombrero, and in Australia he gets a koala friend. During our TunnelBear VPN review, we kept location hopping just to see all the hilarious combinations.

The app is very easy to use on both desktop and mobile and supports Android and iOS. This certainly explains the many five star TunnelBear reviews. If you’re on the free plan, the remaining bandwidth is displayed at the bottom of the screen, while the settings menu shows all of the available options with both the free and premium versions. All of the buttons are clearly labeled and include descriptions about what each one does.

Browser extension

Tunnelbear dashboard

In case you prefer your VPN as a browser extension, TunnelBear is available on Chrome, Opera, and Firefox. It’s also free and even more lightweight than the desktop and mobile versions. The TunnelBear extension can be used alongside any other add-ons you might be running, and there’s also a dedicated ad blocker for Chrome for when you’re tired of those pesky ads on YouTube and Facebook. And all of this works on Linux, too.

The one downside to TunnelBear is that you can’t install this VPN on a router. This means that your game consoles and connected devices can’t benefit from it.

Features

Server network

We’ve talked about the software’s many positive aspects throughout our review of TunnelBear, including the user experience and its affordability. The one area where this VPN falls short is coverage. At the time of writing, TunnelBear had servers in just 23 countries. Most were in Europe and North America, while a few can be found in a handful of Asian countries. Of course, that’s not exactly a dealbreaker for many VPN users because the company covers the countries where data tunneling takes place most frequently.

Connection speed

One of the more commonly asked questions about VPNs is whether they limit your speed. We decided to find this out for ourselves. For the TunnelBear speed test, we chose five locations: the US, the UK, Norway, Japan, and Australia. We were connecting from a location in Europe using a 250/25 Mbit cable connection.

PingDownload (Mbps)Decrease %Upload (Mbps)Decrease %
No VPN11 ms249.69/24.34/
US157 ms58.7276%22.986%
Norway58 ms168.0133%22.896%
UK46 ms88.5765%21.5112%
Japan296 ms62.4675%9.6260%
Australia313 ms11.6995%0.8297%

The results show what we expected: the more distant the connection, the bigger the impact on speed. Overall, though, this is still a good gaming VPN. There seems to be a bit of speed throttling in some countries like the UK.

VigilantBear

VigilantBear

Nearly all of the best VPNs have one feature in common: the kill switch. This is an automated traffic blocker in case the VPN loses connection. TunnelBear’s kill switch is available with both the app and the VPN extension.

GhostBear

The local censorship in certain countries can be quite a drag. These restrictions can extend to YouTube and Wikipedia, forcing many to turn to a VPN. When you turn on this feature, your TunnelBear enters stealth mode. It bypasses the ISPs that block your traffic and provides unrestricted access to all of the blocked sites. Bear in mind that this option should only be enabled if you can’t connect in the first place. Otherwise, it may result in connectivity issues.

Streaming services compatibility

This is another area where the bear falls short. The company is located in Canada, which is a member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance. That means TunnelBear is bound by local copyright and content distribution laws. In layman’s terms, TunnelBear and Netflix aren’t a great match. The app isn’t compatible with video streaming platforms, so you can’t access geo-restricted content on Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, or other services. The good news is that streaming quality and speed aren’t affected.

Security

Wild bears might only protect their honey, but this little furball protects your privacy. While working on our TunnelBear review, we learned that the company adheres to a strict no-logs policy. That means no data collection whatsoever, including incoming IPs, browsing history, or DNS leaks. All of the information that passes through the servers is protected by 256-bit data encryption.

Every year, a third-party audit is conducted to confirm that TunnelBear is following all the security protocols it claims to. In fact, it’s one of the rare VPN services that is independently audited and passes all of the tests every year.

Conclusion

Both the TunnelBear free trial and the software’s premium version guarantee solid VPN protection against all forms of online tracking. It’s the most user-friendly VPN we’ve ever had the pleasure of installing on our computers.

It might not be the perfect option if you’re getting a VPN to stream Netflix. But the software is used by millions and is widely regarded as a top free VPN with a sweet deal if you get the annual subscription.

Things we liked / disliked:

  • Incredibly easy to use
  • 256-bit encryption
  • Free plan
  • Works on desktop and mobile
  • Browser extension
  • Affordable
  • Fast and stable connections
  • Doesn’t work with streaming platforms
  • Few server locations

FAQ

Is TunnelBear safe?

Yes, TunnelBear doesn’t store or leak any information. It’s based on OpenVPN, one of the strongest protocols around. It also uses 256-bit encryption and is annually audited by an independent third party. 

Is TunnelBear any good?

Like many VPNs, it provides rock solid protection and stable speed. At tunnelbear.com, there is a long list of safety protocols the VPN follows as well as the features that the bear VPN employs. Many use it regularly due to its affordability and the light footprint it leaves on your computer or smartphone. 

Is TunnelBear really free?

Yes, you can use this VPN completely free of charge for as long as you want. The only caveat is that the free version is limited to 500 MB of data per month, which can be increased to 1.5 GB through a Twitter promo.

Should I pay for VPN?

If you want the best VPN service, you’ll have to spend some money. Paying for a monthly or an annual subscription allows you to surf the net with the VPN without any limits on data, and in the case of TunnelBear, you can even score an additional premium app through its three-year plan.

Who owns TunnelBear?

TunnelBear Inc started the project, but McAfee bought it in 2018 and currently owns the software. Thankfully the change in ownership hasn’t had an impact on the performance of the service. As our TunnelBear review points out, this is a great option for anyone who needs a lightweight, easy-to-use VPN.

TunnelBear Review
Price $3.33/mo
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