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TunnelBear VPN review: Paid subscriptions tested

Verified by Molly Dyson

TunnelBear was founded in 2011 in Toronto, Canada, and in 2018 it was acquired by cyber security company McAfee. The provider offers 5,000 servers, which is a larger server base than some of the top VPNs on the market. The provider lets itself down when it comes to server locations, with just 47 different countries available, and it no longer has servers in countries with repressive internet policies such as Russia, Ukraine and Hong Kong. However, TunnelBear does offer a good level of security and its privacy policy is transparent. Furthermore, our researchers believe its free VPN service is one of the best out there.

60-second review

Rating: ★★★

TunnelBear offers a great level of security for its paying subscribers, including features such as a kill switch, split tunnelling and an always on option. As well as this, it has a strict no-logs policy that has been independently audited more than once. 

The VPN’s performance was one of its downsides, and the speed tests performed by our researchers were not as good as some of the top providers we’ve reviewed. We also found its desktop app was not user-friendly for beginners.

How we research and rate VPNs

100+
hours performance testing
500+
customer reviews read
100+
hours of research
25
competitors compared
4
VPN experts consulted

Our researchers are dedicated to bringing you the most accurate and up-to-date information so you can make an informed decision when it comes to choosing a free VPN that meets your needs. We will only recommend a provider after hours of testing, head-to-head feature comparisons, and after taking into account verified customer reviews and the opinions of industry experts.

Our TunnelBear review score is based on the paid-for Unlimited subscriptions and is determined by the following categories:

  • Privacy and performance (30 per cent)
  • Features and functionality (30 per cent)
  • Reputation and credibility (25 per cent)
  • Plans and pricing/value (10 per cent)
  • Customer experience (5 per cent)

We researched and tested a total of 25 elements within these categories, including:

  • Number and location of servers
  • Security features such as AES-256
  • Performance (upload and download speeds, latency)
  • Value for money, guarantees and customer service
  • Independent server-site security audits

All of our articles are verified by our in-house team of fact-checkers, so you can be assured that our content is as accurate and up-to-date as possible. To find out more about how we review VPNs, read our methodology.

TunnelBear overview

  • Lowest price: $3.33 (£2.58) per month for a 36-month subscription
  • Free version: Yes
  • Maximum number of connected devices: Unlimited
  • Number of servers: 5,000
  • Encryption: AES-256
  • VPN protocols: OpenVPN, WireGuard, IKEv2
  • No-log policy: Yes
  • Audited: Yes
  • Headquarters: Canada

Pros and cons

Pros Cons
Unlimited number of connected devices Headquartered in Canada
AES-256 encryption Desktop app not easy for beginners
Free version available Slow speed test results
No-logs policy has been audited

How does TunnelBear compare?

TunnelBear has 5,500 VPN servers, all of which are physical servers, which is far more than some of its competitors, such as Surfshark and ExpressVPN. However, these servers are located in 47 different countries worldwide, which is certainly not as good of a selection as the top providers we’ve reviewed. 

The provider offers a good level of privacy, including AES-256 encryption (used by governments and the military to protect classified information) and follows a strict no-logs policy that has been independently audited. As well as this, TunnelBear has a kill switch and split tunnelling, much like most of its competitors. 

The desktop app and internet speed test results are some of the provider’s downsides when compared to other VPNs, which we’ll go into detail about later on.

Product Price Free Version Number of servers Maximum number of devices Netflix BBC iPlayer Disney+ Amazon HBO Max Audit
TunnelBear From $3.33 (£2.58)/m Yes 5,000+ Unlimited Yes
ExpressVPN From £5.25/m No 3,000+ 5 Yes
NordVPN From £2.79/m No 5,500+ 6 Yes
Surfshark From £1.78/m No 3,200+ Unlimited Yes
CyberGhost From £1.92/m No 9,773 7 Yes

Some prices exclusive of VAT or local taxes. Prices correct as of 26/7/2023
Best alternative to
NordVPN is one of the most trusted VPN providers in the world, offering top-notch encryption, incredible speeds, and extra features to make all your online activities more secure.
4.5
Excellent Trustpilot rating
24/7 customer support
AES-256 encryption
VIEW PLANS At NordVPN

How much does TunnelBear cost?

TunnelBear offers two types of subscription plans – Unlimited and Teams. The Unlimited subscription can be paid for monthly, yearly or every three years, with the latter being the most cost-effective option. Most providers offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, but our researchers found this not to be the case with TunnelBear’s Unlimited plan. In the terms of service, the company says all payments are non-refundable, but “TunnelBear may consider in its discretion and on a case-by-case basis certain refund requests for subscriptions”. 

However, a free version of TunnelBear comes with a 2GB data limit – it’s not a lot, but it’s enough for new users to try the service out before purchasing a paid subscription.

Subscription term Price
Monthly $9.99 (£7.75) / month
12 months $4.53 (£3.51) / month ($54.39/£42.18 up front)
36 months $3.33 (£2.58) / month ($120/£93.05 up front)

Payment options

There is just one way to pay for TunnelBear’s VPN subscription – credit or debit card. While this will likely suit most people, most other VPN providers offer multiple payment options, such as through PayPal and Bitcoin.

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TunnelBear features

TunnelBear offers a good level of security and privacy for its customers. It has a larger server base, follows a no-logs policy and offers privacy features such as a kill switch and split tunnelling. 

Always on 

TunnelBear’s always-on feature protects users who may otherwise forget to turn their VPN on. The always-on feature, when enabled, launches the service when your device starts and automatically connects to a server, which means users shouldn’t need to worry about manually connecting to the VPN every time they power up their device. 

GhostBear

TunnelBear’s GhostBear feature is currently available on its VPN for Mac and VPN app for Android. This feature makes your data less detectable to governments, businesses and internet service providers (ISPs). You may wish to use this feature when you find it difficult to connect to the VPN due to your geo-location or find that you can’t maintain a normal connection. Although using GhostBear may slow internet speeds, it will provide a secure and stable connection and bypass difficult geo-location issues.

Server count and countries

TunnelBear has more than 5,000 servers, and is continuously expanding its network – currently its servers are in 47 different countries worldwide. All of its secure servers are physically located in the countries from its available server list. Some providers have virtual servers – hosted on virtual machines, and not located in the country you’ve chosen. Generally speaking, virtual servers only become dangerous when the provider doesn’t also own or rent the physical hardware. 

While we can’t say TunnelBear has a large selection of countries available, its server count is considerably higher than that of ExpressVPN and Surfshark.

No-logs policy and headquarters

TunnelBear is very transparent about what data it does and doesn’t log from its users – and simply put, it appears to store as little information as possible. 

TunnelBear says it  doesn’t collect, store or log:

  • IP addresses
  • DNS queries
  • Web sessions
  • Time stamps 
  • Any information about applications, websites or services used while connected to the VPN

Like most of its competitors, TunnelBear’s no-logs policy has been independently audited. In fact, the provider has completed five annual VPN audits carried out by Cure53, a German cyber security firm – all of which confirmed the company doesn’t store or share user data.  

TunnelBear is headquartered in Toronto, Canada, which is a member of the Five Eyes, an intelligence-sharing alliance, which monitors the electronic communication of citizens and foreign governments and consists of four other countries – the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia. This could alarm some customers and it may shine a spotlight on whether TunnelBear is safe and secure. 

However, as previously mentioned, the no-logs policy has been independently audited on more than one occasion and it has passed every single time, so in theory, even if the company is served with a court order to share user information, it can only pass on what it stores – which is very little. 

Kill switch

A privacy feature included within most VPN providers’ subscription plans is a kill switch, which is designed to keep your IP address and any other sensitive data private in the event that your VPN connection drops.

TunnelBear’s kill switch does exactly that, and the feature is available on MacOS, iOS, Android and Windows devices.

Split tunnelling

There are times when you may choose to connect to a VPN, but you don’t need or want to run all of your applications or internet traffic through the secure and remote server. This is where a split tunnelling feature can allow you to tailor your service to suit your needs at any one given time. 

TunnelBear gives you control over which applications and websites are routed through Tunnel Bear’s VPN. This privacy feature can also enhance the service’s performance by saving on bandwidth. As well as this, there are some apps that require your real IP address, so instead of having to turn your VPN off to use those apps, you can choose to tunnel them outside of the tunnel.

Encryption and privacy

All VPNs encrypt all internet traffic coming from your device and mask your IP address, but there’s only one cipher that’s been proven to be unhackable. Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) with 256 bits, commonly referred to as AES-256, is the highest level of encryption used to secure classified information by governments and the military. 

Like most of its competitors, TunnelBear uses this level of encryption. In addition, it supports three VPN protocols – WireGuard, OpenVPN and IKEv2. When connected, you have the choice to select which protocol you prefer or allow TunnelBear to choose one for you. 

TunnelBear’s performance test results

With any VPN service, privacy and security features are some of the most important, but they can sometimes have a negative impact on internet speeds. 

Although using a VPN can affect your internet speed, you can perform an internet speed test to find out how much it’s impacting your browsing experience. There are three main components to check: download speed, upload speed and latency (ping).

  • Download speed: Refers to the rate at which digital data is transferred from the internet to your device
  • Upload speed: The rate that data is transferred from your device to the internet
  • Latency (ping): The time it takes for a set of data to be transmitted to a server on the internet and back to your device again

Our researchers tested TunnelBear to work out how much our internet speed was affected when connected to several of its servers. To carry out a fair evaluation, we first tested our internet speed when not connected to a VPN to establish a baseline to work out the degradation for both upload and download speeds. To conduct this research, our reviewers used the Ookla Speedtest.

Download speed (Mbps) Upload speed (Mbps) Latency (ping) Percentage of base download speed Percentage of base upload speed
No VPN 72.87 18.77 11ms
UK to UK 67.63 17.63 13ms 92% 94%
UK to US 62.19 10.33 157ms 85% 55%
UK to Aus 58.05 14.57 302ms 78% 78%

TunnelBear’s speed test results were mixed, and when compared to other providers we’ve tested, it wasn’t the best VPN for speed. 

When connected to a UK server, our speed tests were comparable to our non-VPN results. Our download speed was only 8 per cent slower than the non-VPN connection and our upload speed was just 6 per cent slower – both of which would be ideal for streaming and gaming. 

Connecting to a US server proved slower – our internet speed dropped by 15 per cent, and our upload speed was 45 per cent slower than that of our non-VPN connection. Both of these are considerably slower than what is considered to be an average connection speed, and we also noticed that while trying to browse the web and perform tasks that included video and audio, there was a slight lag in playback. 

TunnelBear’s Australian server connection was stable and both our download and upload speeds were 12 per cent slower than our non-VPN connection. Although both of these are slower than the average, we did find that browsing the web and using apps seemed uninterrupted. However, video and audio suffered some playback issues due to high latency.

WebRTC leak test

WebRTC, or Real-Time communication, is an open-source technology that streamlines real-time browser communications and is useful for voice and video communications, as well as file sharing. 

WebRTC is a feature that many internet users benefit from without knowing, but it comes with a major downside; it has the potential to leak your IP address. This most likely concerns anybody who would like to keep their online activities concealed. By using a VPN, you can ensure that WebRTC doesn’t leak your IP address. 

Our researchers performed a leak test when not connected to TunnelBear and found that our real IP address could potentially be leaked to any third party. We then performed the same test when connected to a TunnelBear server, and it showed that our IP address was private and secure.

Breaches and audits

A VPN provider has a certain amount of responsibility to protect its users’ data, which is why it’s reassuring for privacy policies to be independently verified. Most providers have a no-logs policy in place, and some have this policy independently audited to gain customers’ trust. 

TunnelBear’s no-logs policy has been independently audited by security firm Cure53 five times, and each time, the firm has verified that TunnelBear stores no data from its users and essentially verifies it is a trusted provider.

Compatibility and apps

TunnelBear has apps that work on the following computers and devices:

  • Computers: Windows and MacOS 
  • Mobile devices: Android and iOS

Desktop app

TunnelBear’s desktop app is downloadable for Windows and MacOS devices. It’s easy to set up, and if you’re stuck there are various set-up guides available on the provider’s website. 

The app follows a bear theme, with the icon being a bear and the interface showing your server location on a map as a bear icon too. The app is non-intrusive and opens up into a small window that can appear in front of your web browser, which our researchers liked. Changing server location is very simple, and with a few clicks, you’re taken to the full list of available servers. 

The sticking point with the desktop app that our researcher considers to be a downside is access to its privacy features. Most VPN apps we’ve reviewed will list all of the service’s security features in the app. With TunnelBear, to access these features you need to go into your device’s settings. This can be somewhat confusing for customers who are VPN beginners. Even though it was relatively easy to change protocols and turn on privacy features such as the kill switch in our device’s settings, the fact these are not located within the app itself can be confusing.  

Mobile app 

TunnelBear’s mobile VPN app is aesthetically similar to the desktop app, following the same bear theme. 

However, that’s where the similarities stop, which we found to be a good thing. Unlike the desktop app, the mobile app has everything users need in one place, much like other VPN providers. There is a settings button that allows you to customise TunnelBear’s privacy features. 

On the mobile app, you can customise the split tunnelling feature, as well as choose your preferred VPN protocol – all of which are easy to do and even beginners should find these user-friendly. 

Also within the settings, you can choose whether you’d like to receive notifications from the TunnelBear app, change the design of the app icon and turn on or off the VigilantBear feature. 

Overall, our researchers much preferred the mobile app, simply because all of the features were located in one place.

Router compatibility

VPNs can be installed onto most devices, including TVs and game consoles – with TunnelBear, there are currently only options to install on your computer and mobile devices. As well as the above, a VPN can usually be installed directly onto your router. Doing so eliminates the need to reconnect your device to the service each time you connect to wifi. 

Unfortunately, TunnelBear’s VPN is not currently compatible with router configuration. There has also been no indication from the provider that it will support routers in the future. This means the service cannot be used as a VPN for Firestick or on any other devices that don’t support native VPN apps, such as gaming consoles.

Customer support

There aren’t many ways to contact TunnelBear should you require customer support. The only way to communicate with the company is via email, although the provider also has set-up guides for its apps on its website.  

The company says one of its customer service personnel will aim to get back to all requests within 48 hours. Through this support form, customers can detail their issue by selecting the appropriate answer from the drop-down menu. There is also an option to add further details, select your device and type of wifi and submit a screenshot of the issue. 

For non-urgent issues, TunnelBear has various set-up guides and installation guides on its website. These guides give detailed instructions for both the desktop and mobile apps, as well as how to set up the VPN on all compatible devices.

What do customers say?

TunnelBear receives 3.4 out of five stars on Trustpilot, 4.4 stars on the Apple App Store and 4.4 stars on the Google Play Store

Customer reviews often complain about connectivity issues and slow connection speeds. 

  • Trustpilot: 3.4 out of five stars (75 reviews)
  • Apple App Store: 4.4 out of five stars (16,600 reviews) 
  • Google Play Store: 4.4 out of five stars (304,000 reviews)

“Sadly, I have had to turn this VPN off. It regularly disconnects (randomly), does not enable the simplest of websites to be accessed (regularly), and regularly requires resetting as it prevents normal internet usage (on an almost hourly basis I need to disconnect and reconnect the VPN manually). Such a pain and a faff. A total and utter waste of money. Please buy another VPN. Not worth the money or the endless hassle.”

“I’ve been using TunnelBear for over two years, and it’s the best VPN available to date, with excellent customer service support. Many friends of mine in the IT sector utilise TunnelBear as their brand, and their reputation has always had the highest standards. Anyone reading negative remarks about TunnelBear should really check them out on Google, as they’re really the best.”

“I [have] downloaded so many apps on the AppStore and none of them ever worked. They claim to be VPNs but don’t do a thing! TunnelBear, however, is very different! I’ve tried it out and so far it’s been very user-friendly and easy to use. Lots of different locations to connect to without any problems. You don’t have to pay for any subscription service, as it is free unless you want more data. However, some issues I have is it does slow down my internet speed a bit, and some third-party connections can still sense I’m using a VPN.”

“I contacted the support team and they responded very quickly. I was having an issue with my app automatically opening itself and connecting to a VPN server without me tapping on it. I was asked for more information on my issue and given a list of possible solutions. After running through a few possible solutions, I believe my problem has been solved. After enabling GhostBear, the app no longer opens itself. I assumed this wouldn’t have been the solution, since I am on my home wifi [network], but it was.”

Independent Advisor’s verdict

TunnelBear has a lot to offer its customers in terms of privacy features. The provider has a kill switch, split tunnelling and always on feature which aims to protect users at all times. 

Although we consider TunnelBear’s features to be comparable to its competitors, its performance is not. Our researchers’ speed tests were below average, and connecting to an Australian server affected our internet speed a considerable amount. 

As well as this, TunnelBear’s desktop app was not the easiest to use, especially for beginners. With that being said, while this provider offers a good level of privacy, it’s not the best for those who are new to the world of VPNs. 

Overall score: ★★★

Score breakdown

Reputation ★½
Privacy ★★★★
Performance and features ★★★½
Plans and pricing value ★★
Customer experience ★½
Round up of today’s best VPN deals
NordVPN 2 year £2.49 /Month
£2.49 /Month
Surfshark 24 month £1.79 /Month
£1.79 /Month
ExpressVPN 12 month £6.77 /Month
£6.77 /Month
CyberGhost 2 year £1.78 /Month
£1.78 /Month
Proton 2 year £4.27 /Month
£4.27 /Month
PIA 2 year £1.57 /Month
£1.57 /Month
Atlas 2 year £1.34 /Month
£1.34 /Month
PrivadoVPN 2 year £1.99 /Month
£1.99 /Month
Windscribe 12 month £4.53 /Month
£4.53 /Month
IPVanish 2 year £3.58 /Month
£3.58 /Month

The data in this review is reported from a neutral stance and should be used for informational purposes only. We review VPN services from the perspective of:

  • The quality of the product based on the security it affords the user
  • User experience of the application(s)
  • Level and quality of customer service

Independent Advisor does not endorse the streaming of content from regions other than where the subscription is held, nor does it endorse the downloading or consumption of illegally pirated content.

rachel

Rachel Sadler

Home Tech Writer

Rachel is a seasoned writer who has been producing online and print content for seven years. 

As a home tech expert for Independent Advisor, Rachel researches and writes buying guides and reviews, helping consumers navigate the realms of broadband and home security gadgets. She also covers home tech for The Federation of Master Builders, where she reviews and tests home security devices. 

She started as a news and lifestyle journalist in Hong Kong reporting on island-wide news stories, food and drink and the city’s events. She’s written for editorial platforms Sassy Hong Kong, Localiiz and Bay Media. While in Hong Kong she attended PR events, interviewed local talent and project-managed photoshoots. 

Rachel holds a BA in English Language and Creative Writing and is committed to simplifying tech jargon and producing unbiased reviews.

Molly Dyson

Editor

After growing up with a passion for writing, Molly studied journalism and creative writing at university in her home country of the United States.

She has written for a variety of print and online publications, from small town newspapers to international magazines. Most of her 10-year career since relocating to the UK has been spent in business journalism, writing and editing for admin professionals at PA Life magazine and business travel managers at Business Travel News Europe and representing those titles at conferences around the world.

Now an Editor at the Independent Advisor, Molly is an expert in a broad range of consumer topics, that include solar panels and renewables, home improvements and home insurance, and consumer technology such as home security and VPNs.

In her free time, Molly can usually be found exploring the outdoors with her husband and their young son or gardening.