TunnelBear is a user-friendly VPN service. This service was based in Canada until 2018, when it was acquired by US security company McAfee. In this review, we look at the technical capabilities of the TunnelBear VPN as well as other factors that could influence your decision on whether this is the VPN service for you.
The review is divided into the following sections:
- Device Support
- Security and Privacy
- Legal Jurisdiction
- Global Coverage and Other Considerations
- Streaming and Torrenting
- Customer Support
Be aware that we concentrate on the paid TunnelBear service in this review. While the free service has access to almost the entire VPN network, it has a limit of only 500MB of data per month. It is great for testing the service before purchasing a paid subscription. Given the company’s refund policy, you will definitely want to do this.
Finding a VPN that supports the devices you use is of course critical. Some VPNs are limited to supporting one single device or operating system, usually Microsoft Windows. Some services support multiple devices, but you can only use a single type of device with each license.
For example, you would need to buy one license for your Windows devices, another for your Android devices, and so on. Like the best VPN services, TunnelBear supports multiple device types, and you can mix and match as you wish within a single license. The device types (operating systems, really) it supports are shown below.
The Browser support takes the form of plugins for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. Only browser content is protected with anything outside the browser left unprotected. It also provides limited support for devices that run the Linux operating system, but the instructions apparently haven’t been updated since 2014.
If you are interested in using TunnelBear with Linux be sure to test the connection using the free version before investing your money! All in all, TunnelBear provides support for the types of devices a typical user is likely to want to protect.
If you need more exotic support, such as installing your VPN on a router or using it as a VPN for gaming consoles, you’ll want to look at a service like NordVPN which supports far more types of devices. You can read our in-depth NordVPN Review to get a full list of its features and possibilities.
VPN speed test results are often highly variable. The location of the person doing the testing, the time of day, the servers they are testing on, and more factors come into play, making it very hard to compare the speed test results of one VPN against another.
Fortunately, we have access to a comprehensive VPN test that compared 12 popular VPN services (including TunnelBear) head to head. This report, generated from data gathered by AV-TEST GmbH in April 2018 contains results for a range of tests, including speed (upload, download, latency, streaming, and torrenting). Let’s see how TunnelBear fared in these speed tests.
|Test||Rank (lower is better)|
|Latency||7th out of 12 tested|
|Download||12th out of 12 tested|
|Upload||11th out of 12 tested|
|Streaming||9th out of 12 tested|
|Torrenting||6th out of 10 tested|
While raw speed is only one aspect of what makes a great VPN service, it was disappointing to see TunnelBear turning in such weak results in this comprehensive testing.
Security and Privacy
TunnelBear has hired a firm called Cure53 to do annual security audits of its service. The 2017 and 2018 summaries of those audits are available online (here and here) and show a company that is actively working to improve its security.
As the 2018 report puts it, “An optimistic verdict should be that the TunnelBear is quite secure.” And “All these indicators make it apparent that the TunnelBear team wishes to make sure that their customers can take advantage of an actually secure VPN solution.”
As noted above, the most recent Cure53 security audit for TunnelBear reported major progress addressing security problems and only minor issues. The service uses AES-256 encryption and OpenVPN to ensure that messages passing between your computer and the VPN cannot be read by outsiders.
In some situations, ensuring that outsiders can’t read the messages flowing between your device and the VPN isn’t enough. You need to hide the fact that you are even using a VPN. In those circumstances, you want what is known as data obfuscation.
TunnelBear offers its own such solution, called GhostBear. GhostBear isn’t enabled by default, but you can easily activate it if necessary. If this sounds like something you might need, you should visit this GhostBear page.
But TunnelBear also needs to protect your IP Address when the VPN is disconnected, for example, while switching between networks or when the VPN connection goes down for some reason. TunnelBear can protect you in these cases, but not automatically and not with all versions of its software. Let me explain.
TunnelBear has a feature called VigilantBear, which is designed to protect you during situations like those above. However, VigilantBear is not activated by default. You will want to activate it if protecting your online privacy is a priority.
Note that VigilantBear isn’t included in every version of TunnelBear, and won’t work at all with certain configurations of your operating system. As of the last report, VigilantBear was available for Windows, macOS, and Android, and not available for iOS. Certain proxy settings can prevent VigilantBear from functioning even on operating systems where it is supported.
To get more details on VigilantBear, click here.
While we often don’t think about it, the real-world location of a VPN service is very important. That’s because the laws that apply to the service are based on where the service is located. A service located in the UK is bound by UK laws and so on. This is where things get confusing when evaluating TunnelBear.
Until last year, this was a Canadian company operating out of Toronto. Then it was acquired by McAfee, a US company. However, TunnelBear continues to operate out of Canada under its own name. So it isn’t clear to us whose laws apply when it comes to things like government access to customer data.
Canada and the United States both have laws that allow the government to force VPN services to turn over their logs. Reportedly, the United States can force VPN services to secretly log additional data for the government in violation of their own privacy policies. And Canada has its own set of laws that can override a company’s published policies too.
Add to this the fact that Canada and the United States are founding members of the Five Eyes Intelligence organization.
Five Eyes operatives have been known to gather intelligence about each other’s citizens and share it among themselves, in effect getting around the national laws limiting spying on their own populace. In 2014, Edward Snowden described Five Eyes as a sort of supranational intelligence organization that doesn’t answer to the laws of its member countries.
This is a long-winded way of saying that neither the United State or Canada is a very good location for a VPN service. Anyone who values their online privacy would be well advised to consider a VPN based in a more privacy-friendly country. For example, ExpressVPN, possibly the best VPN in the world, is based in the British Virgin Islands, a jurisdiction that is considered to be very privacy friendly. If you want to learn more about the service than just its location you can read our full ExpressVPN Review.
Global Coverage and Other Considerations
We like VPN services with large, globally-distributed networks of servers. There are several reasons for this, including:
- More chances to reach content restricted to certain locations. When it comes to streaming media, the best content is often locked away, only accessible to people in specific areas of the world. One example is the BBC iPlayer. This service is designed to be viewed by people in the United Kingdom, but not elsewhere. But if your VPN service has a server in the UK, you can probably view iPlayer content regardless of where you are actually located.
- The ability to get around local censorship. Many countries try to keep out content that the government doesn’t like. But connecting to such content using a VPN server located in another country can often get you around this kind of censorship.
- Limiting the slowdowns caused by a VPN. VPNs almost always slow down your connection. One reason for this is that connecting to a VPN server adds to the physical distance messages must travel to pass between your computer and the website you want to use. More VPN servers located in more countries give more chances to find a nearby VPN server and minimize the slowdown.
- Redundancy in case a server doesn’t work. Sometimes VPN servers are down for maintenance. And sometimes the website you want to connect to will block a VPN server. The greater the number of servers in the network, the greater the chance that you can find one that will work for you when you need it to.
How Many Servers and Where Are They?
TunnelBear doesn’t publish the total number of servers it has in its network. It does, however, state that it has servers in 22 countries and that it is expanding its network.
We aren’t that happy with this information. 22 countries is a rather small network. Top VPN services have servers in 60 or more countries. ExpressVPN has servers in 94 countries.
While TunnelBear’s coverage is adequate for people in North America and Europe, the rest of the world doesn’t get much love. One location in South America, none in Africa or Central America, and 3 in Asia leave people in those regions without much reason to consider TunnelBear.
And the fact that TunnelBear doesn’t say anything about the number of actual servers it has makes us nervous. Many of the top VPN services have thousands of servers, while all we can tell from TunnelBear’s information is that it has at least 22 servers. Even a statement that says something like, “We have over X servers located in 22 countries around the world.” would make us feel better about what we were getting from a subscription to the service.
Streaming and Torrenting
With viewing multimedia content one of the main uses of VPN services, you are probably curious where TunnelBear stands on streaming and torrenting. The following sections will tell the tale.
TunnelBear has long supported the viewing of streaming content. But if streaming is one of your main priorities, you should probably consider a different VPN service. Why?
As we saw earlier, when tested against a dozen other VPN services by AV-TEST GmbH, TunnelBear turned in one of the slower results (9th out of 12 tested). Finding out if the service is fast enough for your use with your ISP and location would be one great use for the free version of TunnelBear.
In addition to the speed issue, many users and reviewers have found that TunnelBear is not very good at connecting to Netflix. While the Netflix vs VPNs battle is never-ending, other services such as ExpressVPN have better reputations for successfully connecting to Netflix.
Speaking of connections, we should point out that TunnelBear supports 5 simultaneous connections of any type of supported device, in any combination you need.
This is a good quantity of mixed simultaneous connections and puts TunnelBear ahead of many services in this area.
As of May 18, 2019 this is what the pricing looked like for TunnelBear:
|Length of Plan||Price||Total Price Billed Up Front|
|Free (500MB per month)||$0.00||$0.00|
|1-month||$9.99 per month||$9.99 per month|
|1-year||$4.99 per month||$59.88 per year|
In our review of TunnelBear’s fellow Canadian VPN service Windscribe, we noted its very limited refund policy. Basically 3 days, assuming you haven’t used too much data during that time. Unfortunately, TunnelBear has Windscribe beat, and not in a good way. Here is the TunnelBear Cancellation & Refund Policy, as it appeared in its Terms of Service on May 17, 2019.
In other words, no refunds unless we feel like giving you one for some reason. With a policy like this one, doing some serious testing with the free version of TunnelBear is imperative.
We recommend you download the free version of TunnelBear and use it for a few days to see if it serves your needs before purchasing a one-month or one-year subscription to the service. The 500 MB/month data limit on the free plan might limit your testing, but you should be able to get a feel for whether TunnelBear meets your needs before you use your monthly allotment.
TunnelBear has a basic Help Center with a number of information sections and featured articles. If you need to talk to a human being, the company gives only an email option and has no live chat support.
You need to be an existing user to get access to the support email service, but customers report fast turn-around on replies, usually within two hours or so.
TunnelBear provides a good VPN service that protects your online privacy and provides good security against snoops. The service is well-designed for beginners and people who just want to be protected without having to worry about a lot of technical gibberish.
But when you consider its location within two of the Five Eyes countries (Canada and the United States), along with its relatively small and slow network, we think most people would be better served by choosing a service like NordVPN.