TunnelBear is a large VPN service owned by the US cybersecurity company McAfee. While you often see it recommended on various sites, TunnelBear also has some noteworthy shortcomings that I found in this review.
On a positive note, it is one of the few VPNs that has undergone a third-party security audit. On a negative note, I found it to be slow, the server network is tiny, support is limited, and it simply does not work with many streaming sites, among other issues…
Read on for an honest TunnelBear VPN review…
Pros of TunnelBear
- User-friendly apps and browser extensions
- Secure, passed a third-party audit
- Free plan (500 MB of data)
Cons of TunnelBear
- Slow speeds
- Based in Canada (Five Eyes)
- No cryptocurrency or PayPal payments
- No refunds
- Small server network
- Not a good choice for torrenting or Netflix
- Limited support
Additional research findings:
- Bought out by US cybersecurity company (McAfee)
- Does TunnelBear work in China?
- TunnelBear logging policies
- TunnelBear VPN support
Now let’s dive in to the results.
Here are the pros of TunnelBear VPN:
1. User-friendly apps and browser extensions
For this TunnelBear review I tested out the Windows and Mac OS apps. Both of these VPN clients did well in tests and I did not identify any privacy or security issues. Here’s a screenshot of the Windows client:
TunnelBear VPN offers applications for Windows, Mac OS, iOS and Android. TunnelBear also offers browser extensions, which we will cover in detail further below.
Linux – TunnelBear supports Linux, even though they currently do not have a dedicated Linux app.
Routers – Using a VPN on a router is not possible with TunnelBear VPN at the moment. This is because TunnelBear does not provide OpenVPN configuration files to be used with routers/modems.
Overall TunnelBear is somewhat limited when it comes to supporting a diverse array of operating systems and devices. It also does not support Windows mobile devices, Apple/Android TV, or gaming systems. For a fully-featured VPN with a large lineup of apps, ExpressVPN would be the best option. (See also my comparison between NordVPN and ExpressVPN in terms of apps.)
TunnelBear VPN browser extensions
The TunnelBear browser extension is a lightweight encrypted proxy that you can control from the browser window. TunnelBear offers browser extensions for:
I tested the TunnelBear Chrome extension for this review and found it to work alright. Here is the TunnelBear Chrome extension in action, which you can see in the upper right corner of the browser.
I also tested this out by running one VPN server on the desktop VPN client and using a different server through the Chrome extension. For everything done in the Chrome browser, this essentially creates a double-hop connection with traffic being encrypted across two separate servers. Your IP address and DNS requests would match up with the desktop client for everything outside the Chrome browser.
Here you can see that I’m connected to the Denmark server with the Chrome extension, while at the same time the desktop VPN is also encrypting all traffic through the Norway VPN server.
There are also a few other VPNs that offer browser extensions, including VPN.ac, ExpressVPN, and also NordVPN.
2. Secure, passed third-party audit
TunnelBear offers good data encryption using the 256-bit AES OpenVPN for Windows, Mac OS, and Android. The IKEv2 protocol is used for iOS, and it can also be used through the Windows client.
Both OpenVPN and IKEv2 are secure and reliable VPN protocols. Each has pros and cons.
OpenVPN is open source, but it requires the use of a third-party client and is more CPU-intensive. IKEv2 can be used natively on various devices (no app required) and runs with less CPU, but it is also not open source.
TunnelBear offers a basic leak protection option which is called VigilantBear. This feature acts as a kill switch to block traffic when there is no active VPN connection and can be activated directly within the VPN application.
I ran both the Windows and Mac OS apps through a round of VPN tests to check for leaks and problems. Everything worked well without any leaks to report.
The TunnelBear Mac OS client also did not have any leaks in my tests.
It is important to remember to enable VigilantBear (the leak protection feature) to be protected against data leaks.
TunnelBear security audit
TunnelBear is one of the few VPN providers to undergo a third-party security audit. The audit was performed by Cure53. Here is a brief summary of the findings:
Cure53’s complete report is available on their website. To summarize, they discovered 2 “critical”, 5 “high”, 3 “medium”, 7 “low”, and a few “informational” issues – all of which were promptly fixed. The more serious vulnerabilities would have required an attacker to have direct access to the device, and be logged in as a guest. However, under those circumstances it would have allowed attackers to escalate app permissions to give them root access to a device, modify executables and bypass non-strict host matching.
There have been a few other VPN services that have undergone security audits, including ExpressVPN (with browser extensions).
TunnelBear’s first security audit was completed in 2017, then they followed this up again in October 2018. According to their website, the goal is to do an audit every year.
3. TunnelBear free VPN plan
Another benefit with TunnelBear is the free VPN plan. Unfortunately, you are limited to only 500 MB of data. I used up all the data in about 10 minutes running through a few VPN speed tests.
Within the TunnelBear VPN app, it shows you the data that’s remaining. Here you can see the data when I began testing for this review:
While the 500 MB may help some to get a feel for TunnelBear, it is really inadequate compared to some other free trial VPN services.
If you want more data for the TunnelBear free plan, you can do promotional tweets of TunnelBear for an extra 1 GB.
Again, this is pretty inadequate if you want to test the VPN on all your devices. When you run out of data, you will be alerted in the app and all connections will be blocked.
So now let’s look at the regular prices
In terms of pricing, TunnelBear is in the middle of the road. It is certainly not a cheap VPN, but it’s also not extremely expensive. Here are the current prices of TunnelBear VPN.
The basic price tiers for Tunnelbear are free (500 Mb of data), $9.99 (monthly), and $4.99 (annually). There are certainly cheaper options available, such as NordVPN, and also more expensive VPNs as well.
I’m not aware of any VPN coupons or discounts that TunnelBear is offering.
If you’re looking for ways to save money, you can also pick up an ExpressVPN 49% coupon that includes three months free. Additionally, there is also NordVPN discount for 70% off. These are two popular VPNs that performed well in testing and are based in privacy-friendly jurisdictions.
Cons of TunnelBear
Now let’s take a look at the cons of TunnelBear VPN.
1. Slow speeds
One major drawback with TunnelBear VPN is the slow speeds.
For this updated TunnelBear review, I tested servers throughout Europe, the United States, and Canada. All tests were conducted on a 160 Mbps baseline connection from my physical location in Western Europe. Here are the results.
TunnelBear server in Switzerland: 39 Mbps
Considering that my baseline connection speed is 160 Mbps and Switzerland is very close to my physical location, these speeds are very bad.
Next up was a TunnelBear server in the United Kingdom: 5 Mbps
Unfortunately, all of the TunnelBear servers I tested in the UK and Europe were sub-par, providing only a fraction of my full baseline speed. If you need a VPN for the UK or Europe, I’d consider other options.
Next, I tested servers in the US and Canada.
Here I am testing TunnelBear’s only United States server location: 5 Mbps
It did not matter whether I used the Windows or Mac OS client, the speeds with TunnelBear were consistently slow.
Latency problems – In the image above with the US speed test, you can see my latency is 329 ms. This is quite high, even considering the distance between me and the server location. When running speed tests, I would frequently get a latency connection error. This meant the latency was too high to even run an accurate speed test.
I also ran some tests with the Tunnelbear server in Canada, and the results were slightly better at around 29 Mbps.
Conclusion on speeds – Based on all the tests I ran for this TunnelBear review, I must conclude that TunnelBear is simply not a fast VPN service. This of course is problematic if you need a fast VPN for torrenting, streaming HD videos, downloads, etc.
2. Based in Canada (Five Eyes)
TunnelBear is a VPN based in Canada. As we explained before, Canada is not a good privacy jurisdiction and is a member of the Five Eyes alliance. This means that Canada collects and surveillance data with other countries, such as the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand.
TunnelBear is a global company. Although our physical servers are located in many different countries around the world, TunnelBear does not store Personal Data outside of Canada’s physical borders. By using our services, you authorize TunnelBear to use your information according to Canada’s laws, regardless of which country you are located in.
As a Canada VPN service, TunnelBear abides by all Canadian laws.
3. No cryptocurrency or PayPal payments
When attempting to subscribe to a TunnelBear subscription to run some tests for this review, I noticed a problem. The only supported payment method is with a credit card. On the pricing page, they claim to support Bitcoin with the official Bitcoin logo.
But when you go to actually purchase a subscription, there is no option to pay with Bitcoin. There’s not even an option to pay with PayPal, which is very strange. Nearly every VPN service supports PayPal payments and/or Bitcoin – but not TunnelBear.
This means you are locked in to using a credit card and also providing your real name. This also makes it harder for you to get your money back if there’s a dispute, as PayPal generally favors the buyer.
This leads us to another major drawback with TunnelBear…
4. TunnelBear has no refunds
If you read through the Terms of Service, you see that TunnelBear does not offer any refunds.
While all amounts paid are non-refundable, certain refund requests for subscriptions may be considered by TunnelBear on a case-by-case basis and granted at the sole discretion of TunnelBear.
Not having any refunds is definitely not the norm in the VPN industry, even with free trial VPN services. The average is about 7 days, but there are more and more VPNs offer 30 day money-back refund windows.
Given the extremely short trial period (500 MB of data does not last long) and their stance on refunds, there is definitely more risk with TunnelBear. If you aren’t happy with the VPN after paying for a subscription, there’s not much you can do.
5. Small server network
Another drawback with TunnelBear is that it has a very limited (small) server network. This is especially noticeable in the United States and Canada.
With nearly every VPN I’ve tested, there are numerous server locations in the United States and Canada to choose from. TunnelBear, however, does not give you any choices and you can only connect to “United States” in the VPN client.
Therefore, for the entire North American continent, TunnelBear users have only three server choices:
- United States
Based on my tests, it appears the United States servers is located in California. The Canada server seems to be in Toronto.
6. Not good for Netflix or torrenting
Is TunnelBear a good VPN for Netflix?
Based on my tests, TunnelBear does not work with Netflix, returning the infamous proxy error with the US server.
Fortunately, there are many other Netflix VPN services to consider.
Regarding torrenting and P2P file sharing, TunnelBear is also not a good choice. While I did not see any explicit policies that prohibit torrenting, the speeds are a major issue. With such slow speeds and a limited server selection, torrents will be very slow and time-consuming. Check out these VPNs for torrenting instead.
7. Limited support
Last, but not least, is the issue of support.
With TunnelBear, support is very limited:
- No live chat support at all
- “Help” section takes you to a generic page for FAQs
- No clear ways to email questions or submit help tickets
Previously, TunnelBear offered email support. I would rate it as mediocre.
Today, however, there does not appear to be any obvious option to email support or submit a help ticket – at least for those of us with a free plan. This is a major drawback, especially when you consider it in light of the fact that they don’t offer refunds.
If there is a way to reach TunnelBear VPN support, they have done a great job making it difficult to find. Not looking good!
Additional research findings
Here are some additional findings for this TunnelBear review.
Tunnelbear VPN bought by McAfee
Tunnelbear VPN is a service offered by Tunnelbear Inc. that appears to be based in Toronto, Canada.
This is part of the growing trend we’ve seen of VPNs getting bought up by large companies. CyberGhost VPN was also acquired by a large advertising/tech conglomerate.
Since the purchase, it doesn’t seem like much has changed. I could not find any mention of McAfee on the website. Additionally, the purchase details (price) of the deal were also not disclosed publicly.
Does TunnelBear work in China? (Obfuscation GhostBear feature)
TunnelBear provides an obfuscation (Stealth VPN) feature called GhostBear.
This basically hides (obfuscates) your VPN traffic to protect you against deep packet inspection (DPI) and VPN restrictions. Obfuscation is a must-have feature where VPNs are getting blocked. This is often the case in restrictive countries, such as China and Saudi Arabia, as well as with work or school networks.
The GhostBear obfuscation feature is available on Windows, Mac OS, and Android. You can enable the GhostBear feature under Settings > Security as seen below with the TunnelBear Windows client.
Tunnelbear uses Obfsproxy as its primary obfuscation feature.
Note: I have not heard any reports of TunnelBear working well in China, since the vast majority of VPNs there are getting blocked. See the best VPN for China for more information.
TunnelBear logging policy
Here is how the “no logging” policy is being marketed on the website:
Now we will take a look at the fine print.
- Operating system version
- TunnelBear app version
- Active for the month (1 or 0)
- Monthly bandwidth usage
Is this a big deal?
Probably not, but it all depends on how much privacy and security you are looking for.
There are also a few VPNs with no logs that have been verified.
TunnelBear review conclusion
After thoroughly testing TunnelBear and researching this VPN service, I can’t say I’m a big fan. There are many outstanding issues that need attention.
Sure, TunnelBear has gotten some good press because of its security audits, but this good PR is overshadowed by numerous shortcomings with the VPN itself.
Also, when you consider the price, it’s definitely not what I’d consider to be a “good deal”. At about $5 per month (annual plan), you really aren’t getting much for your money:
- Slow speeds
- No access to Netflix and other streaming sites
- No refunds
- Extremely small server network (only one server in the US!)
- Limited customer support
Final verdict: Not recommended
See some of the other top-rated VPN services, including:
- NordVPN (only $3.49 per month with the three-year plan)
- ExpressVPN (at $6.67 per month with the annual plan + discount)
If you have used TunnelBear VPN, feel free to share your honest review (good or bad) below.