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Tunnelbear Review 2022 — It’s Free, but Is It Good (and Safe)?

Author Image Andreea Juganaru
Andreea Juganaru | Cybersecurity Researcher
Updated on 18th January 2022

TunnelBear’s team does an excellent job in branding the VPN but is that all it takes to create a great service? With over 300 VPNs out there, the competition is fierce so I had to take it for a test and see if there’s more to it.

I looked into its privacy policy and security features to see if it’s really safe. I ran many tests on its servers, checked the speeds, how many platforms it can access, and the mandatory IP and DNS leak tests to see if my data was truly secure.

TunnelBear is good enough to hide your regular traffic, but not if you want to access international movies and shows. It’s incredibly easy to use. Its clients are carefully branded, and it can be a good choice if you’re looking for a free, lightweight VPN.

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Short on Time? Here are My Key Findings

Try TunnelBear VPN Today!

TunnelBear VPN Features — Updated in January 2022

9.0
💸 Price 9.99USD/month
📝 Does VPN keep logs? No
🖥 Number of servers 2600
💻 Number of devices per license 5
🛡 Kill switch Yes
🗺 Based in country Canada
🛠 Support Via Email

Speeds – Good Speeds, but Only on Local Servers

TunnelBear has great speeds on local servers, but it’s almost impossible to work with the international ones. I performed several speed tests on its network to see if distance makes a difference. I used Ookla’s speed test tool and measured my:

  • Ping/latency – measures how fast you get a response from the website or app you’re connecting to. This metric is very important – a high ping means lag.
  • Download speed – this measures the time you need to download files and information from the internet.
  • Upload speed – measures the time needed to send files from your device – from messages to images and data files.

Local Speeds

TunnelBear’s local speeds are fast and consistent. What surprised me was that the free and paid versions had similar speeds (although you only get 500MB of data per month with the free version). I started with a 29.73 Mbps download speed, 28.81 Mbps upload, and a ping of 4 ms. Then, I used TunnelBear’s Fastest Tunnel feature to connect to the best server for my location – this provides me with the fastest connection.

My ping increased to 8 ms, which is very good –, the download speed went down 7%, and the upload decreased by 9%. It’s normal to see a decrease of up to 20% when you connect to a VPN because your data needs to go through TunnelBear’s servers first. These results are amazing and I didn’t notice any difference compared to my initial speed – I could get on with all my usual online activities on any website within seconds.

Download speed Upload speed Ping
Speeds without a VPN (Bucharest, Romania) 29.73 Mbps 28.82 Mbps 4 ms
Speeds connected to TunnelBear’s fastest server 27.67 Mbps(7% decrease) 26.17 Mbps (9% decrease) 8 ms

It’s not unusual for your speed to drop when using a VPN – your connection is being routed through the servers and encrypted. However, a 7% decrease is almost unnoticeable, so TunnelBear did a good job. I could continue all my regular activities while also staying anonymous.

Long-Distance Speeds

TunnelBear’s long-distance speeds are very slow, making it almost impossible to get shows or movies without buffering and lag. The first test I ran was on a US server. My ping increased to 112 ms, while the download speed decreased to 4.44 Mbps – which is 96% slower than my original speed. The upload was 19.02 Mbps, which was a 44% decrease.

Download speed Upload speed Ping
Speeds without a VPN (Bucharest, Romania) 29.73 Mbps 28.82 Mbps 4 ms
Speeds connected to TunnelBear’s US server 4.44 Mbps (96% decrease) 19.02 Mbps (44% decrease) 112 ms

This situation is not what I was hoping for – the drop in speed was incredible, and distance really made a difference. 4.44 Mbps is not enough to get uninterrupted access to shows.

I also tested TunnelBear’s TCP Override feature. This mode forces the VPN to only use a TCP protocol instead of UDP – TCP is slower, but it checks the files’ integrity, while UDP is faster, but the transmitted data packets may not be complete.

According to TunnelBear’s website, TCP Override is supposed to improve the connection – and it does, but not how you’d imagine. The protocol doesn’t make your connection faster; it makes your connection more reliable so that the information reaches your computer correctly. On the other hand, UDP gives you a faster connection, but you may not receive all the data.
With TCP Override, the download speed dropped to under 0.91 Mbps, which is way too slow to even load a complex website – accessing movies was completely out of the question.

The second TunnelBear server I tested was in the UK, and it’s closer to my location. The ping was 50 ms, download speed around 9.67 Mbps, and upload was 13.06 Mbps. Even though these speeds were slow too, I could still access movies.

Download speed Upload speed Ping
Speeds without a VPN (Bucharest, Romania) 29.73 Mbps 28.82 Mbps 4 ms
Speeds connected to TunnelBear’s UK server 9.67 Mbps (68% decrease) 13.06 Mbps (55% decrease) 50 ms

TunnelBear’s local servers are fast and consistent, but the international ones don’t provide good enough speeds for even regular web browsing. Any drop in speed bigger than 30% is a red flag, so if you’re looking for a fast overall VPN, TunnelBear is not it. However, it’s worth mentioning that things like the time of day, your ISP, and your distance from the server can have different effects on speed, so your results could differ from my results.

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Server Network — Small but Secure and Well Distributed

TunnelBear has over 2,600 servers in 25 countries, which includes servers in the US, UK, Western Europe, and Asia. It doesn’t have dedicated servers for specific activities though. While the server network is small, it’s very secure and has more physical servers than virtual. The entire server infrastructure is owned by TunnelBear, too.

The company has committed to run an audit every year since 2017, and it keeps that promise. This is good to know because this means any security breaches are found and solved before much damage can be done.

Closest Tunnel

The Closest Tunnel feature finds you the fastest server — which is usually the closest to your location. When you open TunnelBear’s server list, it pops up at the beginning. All you need to do is select it and connect. Make sure you keep the VPN open until you see the “Connection Secured” prompt. Sometimes the connection fails, leaving you exposed.

This feature goes hand-in-hand with TunnelBear’s Trusted Networks. As long as you only want to have a fast and secure connection, it’s ideal.

TunnelBear’s Servers Are Secure

TunnelBear is a secure VPN and independently audited by Cure57 every year since 2017. The audit team analyzes TunnelBear’s codebase, websites, apps, and infrastructure, looking for security flaws and data breaches. This makes it easy to find and solve potential problems, thus keeping the VPN secure. However, TunnelBear has been caught leaking WebRTC information in the past, which is a bit suspicious.

All the data is public, meaning that TunnelBear is transparent about it. The audits are posted on its website – all the problems and fixes are highlighted. This is a level of transparency not many VPNs have. It’s also worth mentioning that every TunnelBear server is protected by malware scans, full disk encryption, and intrusion protection software.

Security – Strong Security Features, and Perfectly Safe to Use

TunnelBear comes packed with some great security features that guarantee your online security. I tested its IP and DNS protection, analyzed its encryption and authentication protocols, and tried its kill switch and stealth mode.

Even though it doesn’t have as many security features as other VPNs I tested, TunnelBear is safe and easy to use, making it perfect for a first-time VPN user or a business person looking for a secure connection during travels.

VigilantBear

TunnelBear’s kill switch is called VigilantBear. It’s available on Windows, macOS, and Android, but not iOS. You can activate it from the Preferences menu, and it will stop your connection in case the server’s connection fails. This feature is very useful when you’re connected to public networks – in case of a connection problem, your information will be protected.

Even the best VPNs can fail, and without a kill switch, you’d be exposing your data to whoever else is connected on that network — we can talk about hackers or certain types of malware. As long as VigilantBear is active, you’ll be protected even on public and unmonitored networks.

Encryption and Protocols

TunnelBear uses military-grade AES-256 encryption along with SHA-256 for authentication. This encryption level is used on both its free and paid versions. It uses DH key exchange to send cryptographic keys over public networks. It’s the same technology the governments use to encrypt their files, making the VPN very secure.

This technology was created to safely transfer files and information between two parties – either networks or devices. Each party has a code, and it can be public or private. In order for two parties to meet securely, they perform a key exchange. This can be translated in your computer’s connection to the VPN. The VPN has a key, your computer has a different key. When these two meet, a new key is generated, and the newly established connection is secured.

In addition, TunnelBear supports perfect forward secrecy, which changes keys frequently to ensure greater protection from hackers.
In terms of protocols, TunnelBear implemented:

  • OpenVPN – this is the industry-standard, open-source VPN protocol. It’s continuously improved by developers and assures the safest online browsing. Compared to other protocols, OpenVPN is almost impossible to detect because it hides in plain sight. Hackers and government agencies have a hard time identifying it, and with TunnelBear’s obfuscation, it gets through almost any firewall.
  • IKEv2 – when you need to switch between mobile data and WiFi, this protocol is ideal. It was built to continuously reconnect you to the VPN in case of network failures. This protocol is only available for Windows and iOS users.

The popular WireGuard protocol isn’t supported by TunnelBear, which I found disappointing. When you connect to a server, TunnelBear chooses the protocol automatically – there’s no way to switch between them manually. However, on Android and macOS, only OpenVPN is available.

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TCP Override

The TCP Override mode is useful if your connection is unstable after connecting the VPN. The feature is only available for Windows and macOS, and it works by forcing TunnelBear to use the TCP protocol instead of UDP. The TCP protocol is a little slower but more reliable – it checks every piece of data for consistency before passing it through. The UDP protocol is faster, but it doesn’t perform these checks.

It’s important to remember that TCP Override won’t make your connection faster – it will make it more reliable. When I activated it, my speed was actually slower, but the overall connection was stable.

This feature is useful if your connection is slow and unreliable – for example when you try to load a webpage but you receive a connection error. TCP Override will assure that the data reaches your computer, even if it’s a little slower.

GhostBear

GhostBear is TunnelBear’s stealth mode, which conceals OpenVPN traffic and makes it easy to get by VPN firewalls. When I turned GhostBear on, my whole connection slowed down but this is perfectly normal. Obfuscation needs to hide the fact that you’re using a VPN, and this process takes time and resources.

This feature is available on Windows, macOS, and Android apps, and you can turn it on under TunnelBear’s security settings. IOS users can only use the IKEv2 protocol, so GhostBear is not supported.

You can use GhostBear to get through network restrictions. If certain websites are stopped on your school or work network, or you travel in a country with high censorship, it’s ideal. You’ll browse the internet freely, and the VPN won’t be recognized.

SplitBear

SplitBear is TunnelBear’s tunneling feature, and it’s only available on Android devices. Split tunneling is a very important feature for a VPN, as it gives you more control over your traffic. However, it’s only available for Android devices. Because of that, on Windows, macOS, and iOS all your apps and websites will be routed through its servers. But, I discovered a trick if you only want to tunnel your browser. TunnelBear has browser extensions, and they will only affect your browser traffic.

I activated it from the “options” menu on my phone and selected the apps I wanted to be routed through the VPN. Unless you turn it on, all your apps are automatically tunneled through TunnelBear’s servers.

IP and DNS Leak Tests

TunnelBear offers IP and DNS leak protection in its apps and browser extensions. In general, DNS requests and IPv6 traffic can expose your IP address and activity. TunnelBear has its own DNS servers and stops IPv6 traffic, thus keeping you anonymous. These options are switched on by default, so your identity will be protected at all times.

I tested TunnelBear’s Netherlands, US, UK, Denmark, Germany, and Spain servers for IP and DNS leaks using IPLeak.net. I didn’t encounter any errors at all, and my connection was fully encrypted.

If the VPN you use doesn’t have DNS and IP leak protection, your IP, location, and network may be visible to your ISP and authorities. Since this is exactly what you want to avoid, the VPN you choose needs to be completely secure from this perspective.

Trusted Networks

With TunnelBear’s Trusted Networks feature, you can instruct the VPN to automatically connect while using certain networks. If you whitelist your home network when this feature is on, TunnelBear will automatically connect on any unknown networks – like coffee shops and libraries. No network is 100% secure — not even your home network. Your ISP can see your internet history, and if your password is not strong enough, there’s no guarantee that no one else is connected to it.

To test this feature, I simply activated it from the settings and then set up a couple of hotspots from my phone and tablet. Whenever I connected to a different WiFi, TunnelBear started up and connected me to the fastest server.

This feature is incredibly useful if you want to make sure that your connection is safe anywhere you go. TunnelBear will encrypt your traffic on every unknown network you connect to, thus keeping all your data secure.

TunnelBear’s Optional Extras — Password Manager to Keep Your Logins Secure

TunnelBear has a carefully branded password manager called RememBear. Just like the VPN, it has a free plan usable on 1 device only. However, you can upgrade to the Premium plan for $6 USD per month.

The problem is that I couldn’t download the desktop app – the download links for macOS and Windows are broken. The Android and iOS apps worked just fine, though. I managed to save my passwords, as well as credit cards.

RememBear also has a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari, but since you also need the app – which couldn’t be downloaded, I couldn’t test it.

This is a feature you can definitely go without. It’s not mandatory, but can be useful at times.

Try TunnelBear VPN Today!

Privacy — Enough Features to Keep Your Traffic Private

Tunnelbear’s no-logs policy and security features will keep you safe. It doesn’t store your IP address when you connect to its servers, and the Always-On feature is very effective. After looking at its privacy policy, I’m confident that TunnelBear doesn’t store sensitive information about you or the websites you access.

Location

TunnelBear’s headquarters are located in Canada, which is part of the Five Eyes Alliance. This is not good because the government may require the company to keep some data about its users. On top of that, McAfee bought it in 2018, so the VPN is also under US jurisdiction. If the US or Canadian government demands data from TunnelBear, it will be required to send it.

The good side of all this is that it only keeps basic info about its customers, so there’s not much TunnelBear could share with the authorities. Even if it sends your email address to the government, they won’t be able to see what you did online.

TunnelBear Doesn’t Keep Unnecessary Logs

TunnelBear keeps some information about its users, but nothing unusual. I analyzed its privacy policy to see what kind of data it keeps and what it does with it. TunnelBear stores:

  • Account user data – it stores your email address, which is used for the account confirmation, sending promotional materials, news, product receipts. It also keeps paid user status and date in order to provide you with unlimited traffic until your subscription ends. It’s perfectly normal to keep this data and most VPNs do it.
  • Operational data – this data is only saved while you’re connected to TunnelBear’s network. It consists of your OS version, client version, total data used, and your activity status – but not your IP. This information is used to improve its customer support and products and to determine the network demand. It also keeps data about operational events (such as referrals, account creations, and payments) to identify any problems with the system and to track sales. This kind of information is pretty standard for VPNs, so it’s nothing to worry about.
  • Payment data – all of TunnelBear’s transactions go through Stripe and PayPal, and it only keeps the name on your card, the date it was used, and the last 4 digits of the credit card. This data is used to prevent fraud and, again, is not unusual to keep.

There’s nothing wrong with TunnelBear keeping this data, and it’s standard practice for VPNs. Besides, it has a strong non-disclosure policy — TunnelBear won’t disclose any personal data to third parties but will send it to its service providers to improve its email support, hosting, payment processing, and analytics. This means that TunnelBear’s hosting platforms and email providers will get to see which pages of the website you visited and how they can send you tailored ads.

Something essential is that TunnelBear doesn’t store your IP address when you connect to its servers, so there’s no way of knowing who did what. But keep in mind that TunnelBear will hand over user data to authorities if they are presented with a warrant.

Always On

The Always On feature allows you to set TunnelBear to launch and connect when you turn your device on. I simply activated it from the general settings and every time I restarted my computer I was connected to the VPN. This feature is very useful if you’re constantly browsing from public networks or have many files you need to download – the VPN will connect automatically, making file transfers safer.

Even though this feature is mostly reliable, I recommend checking the connection – if it fails, you’ll be exposed.

A problem I noticed with this feature is that TunnelBear sometimes fails to establish a connection. If you don’t check it, you have no guarantee that your data is encrypted.

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Simultaneous Connections — Connect up to 5 Devices to TunnelBear’s Servers

TunnelBear allows you to connect 5 devices under one subscription. I downloaded the VPN on my MacBook, iPad, and Android phone to give it a test. My connection was good on all my devices, and I didn’t experience any problems at all.

If you need more subscriptions, you can take a look at TunnelBear for Teams. The plans start at $5.75 USD per month, you get a dedicated account manager, and every account can connect up to 5 devices.

Pro Tip: For unlimited simultaneous connections, install TunnelBear on your router. Your router is considered a single connection, so all of the other WiFi-connected devices in your household can stay protected at once.

Device Compatibility — Limited Device Compatibility

TunnelBear has apps and clients for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS, and browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera, but not for Safari or Internet Explorer. You can manually configure TunnelBear on Linux if you use Ubuntu, but there’s no native app for it. Unfortunately, Chromium, eReaders, and Windows phone users won’t be able to use it, and since it doesn’t support routers, you can’t connect TVs or other devices.

Desktop Apps

TunnelBear’s desktop apps are very easy to use, and packed with a lot of useful features, such as GhostBear, VigilantBear, Closest Tunnel, Always-On, TCP Override, and Trusted Networks. The only feature that’s missing is SplitBear – which is the split tunneling and only available on Android. Because the desktop app doesn’t have SplitBear, once you turn the VPN on it will route all your apps and browser traffic through it.

In order to connect to a server, you need to open the VPN and click on a server. It’s incredibly easy, but you need to wait until it connects – sometimes the connection fails, and the VPN remains disconnected.

You can open TunnelBear’s settings and access all the features by clicking on the tiny gear in the top right corner.

There is a small difference between the macOS and Windows clients. The macOS version only works with the OpenVPN protocol, while the Windows one has IKEv2 too. However, the protocol is chosen automatically, and you have no control over it.

iOS and Android Apps

The mobile apps are just as easy to use and as aesthetically pleasing as the desktop ones. All you need to do is click on a jar of honey on the map, and you’ll be connected in a matter of seconds. You can access its features by clicking on the options button.

I ran a couple of DNS and IP leak tests after I connected to TunnelBear’s Norway, Sweden, and Italy servers and my connection was secure every time. As a small bonus, the mobile apps have bear sounds for notifications.

Browser Extensions

TunnelBear’s browser extensions make the VPN available on any computer with Chrome, Opera, or Firefox. It’s a very simple app, and it only protects your browser traffic. All you need to do is open the extension and select a server to connect to.

I downloaded its Chrome and Firefox extensions and connected to servers in the US, UK, and Sweden to give it a try. After running the DNS and IP leak test, I realized that even the browser extensions are incredibly safe.

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Ease of Use

8.4

TunnelBear has a great interface, and it’s incredibly easy to use by anyone. It has a small number of options and features, and I could establish a connection in under 5 seconds.

Finding the fastest server is straightforward, and it shows up right on top of the server list as “fastest.” You just need to click on it and TunnelBear’s Fastest Tunnel will come in. All the options are divided into its 4 settings tabs, and each of them is explained, so you only activate the ones you really need.

The only problem I encountered with TunnelBear is that sometimes, the connection can’t be established. You need to keep the client open until it shows that it’s connected. Otherwise, you risk browsing the internet without the VPN on.

Setup & Installation — Install, Set Up, and Go

TunnelBear’s setup and installation is really easy. It took me less than 3 minutes to download, install, and connect to a server.

How to Install TunnelBear in 3 Easy Steps

  1. Access TunnelBear and create an account. You won’t be able to download the desktop app without an account.
  2. Download and install the client. The process is incredibly easy – just like any other software.
  3. Connect to a server! All you need to do is open the VPN and find a server!

You can click any jar of honey on the map or select the country you need from the list. You’ll be connected in about 5 seconds, and then you’re ready to go.

Get Started With TunnelBear Now!

Compare TunnelBear VPN With The Top Alternative VPNs

9.9
9.5
9.3
9.3

Pricing

7.5
1 Month
$9.99 /month
2-Year
$4.17 /month
1-Year
$4.99 /month

TunnelBear accepts payments through credit cards, Bitcoin, and jars of honey — of course, the latter is all about branding. It has a total of 3 plans – the free plan, with 500MB of monthly traffic, the Premium plan with unlimited traffic, and TunnelBear for teams.

TunnelBear allows anonymous payments through Bitcoin, but in reality, they’re not 100% anonymous. Since your login name is the same as your email address, TunnelBear will save that. The only way to stay completely anonymous is to use another email address. Before paying for the subscription, I tested the free plan. Even though it only has 500MB of monthly traffic, it was enough for me to access the websites I needed. However, it’s not enough for more intensive online activities. I eventually upgraded to the Premium plan.

I paid for my subscription using a credit card, and the entire process took less than 5 minutes. After that, I could freely use the VPN.

I was disappointed that it doesn’t offer a money-back guarantee, which is very common among top VPNs. It’s stated pretty clearly in its terms of service that “all amounts paid are non-refundable.” All refund requests are looked at on a case-by-case basis. Even though it’s great that there’s a free version to test it out, 500MB of traffic per month doesn’t allow you to test its abilities for high bandwidth activities. So, I had to pay for a premium plan knowing that if TunnelBear didn’t perform well, I wouldn’t be guaranteed a refund.

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Reliability & Support

9.0

TunnelBear doesn’t have 24/7 live chat support, which was a bit of a let down for me. Instead, you get to chat with a help bot, and depending on your question, you’ll get an article from TunnelBear’s knowledge base. The knowledge base is very extensive and answers a lot of common questions. I tested the bot, but wasn’t very impressed – it couldn’t recommend articles based on my question.

However, TunnelBear’s email support was great. The form is nicely structured, so your question reaches the correct department and you can also add a screenshot of your issue. When I reached out to the support bears, I received an answer within 24 hours and they were very polite and helpful.

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The Bottom Line

Final Verdict: User-Friendly VPN With Many Useful Features

TunnelBear is a good and user-friendly VPN, suitable for beginner users who just want to conceal their traffic and browse undetected.

It has solid security and privacy features, and its speeds on local servers are great.

However, it doesn’t compare with the top VPNs. It has a small server network, its long-distance speeds are slow, and it can’t access all the major movie platforms.

  • Military-grade encryption and an automatic kill switch to keep you safe
  • A decent network with 2,600 servers in 40 countries
  • Good speeds on local servers and can unblock Netflix US
  • Offers a free plan with 500MB of monthly data
  • Easy-to-use apps great for VPN beginners
  • Get started with TunnelBear VPN now

Money Back Guarantee (Days) : 0
Number of devices per license : 5
VPN Plans: www.tunnelbear.com

Watch the short video review and tutorial below of TunnelBear VPN

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