TunnelBear is a popular VPN service based in Toronto, Canada. The company was founded in 2011 and was recently (in 2018) acquired by the US security giant, McAfee.
TunnelBear is a solid option and about as straightforward as they come. Speeds are middle of the road, and the server selection is sparse — that said, it’s a simple and solid choice.
The service features over-the-top bear themed branding, which seems to be kind of polarizing. Some users love the bear-themed humor; others find it annoying and tired after a while. For the record, this reviewer enjoys it. The company, websites, and applications feel cohesive, unified, and deliberate.
TunnelBear features a user-friendly focused interface. There’s not a lot in the way of advanced features that will delight power users, but that’s not always necessarily a bad thing. If you’re looking for a service that allows for light geoshifting, encrypting public wifi, or a general use VPN, it’s not a bad option. That said, if you’re looking for more challenging obstacles, such as unblocking Netflix, BBC iPlayer, or circumventing government surveillance and privacy invasions — you’ll probably want to look elsewhere.
As of 2019, TunnelBear has 22 available country locations that users can connect to. This isn’t a huge amount (some services have many multiples of this), but most frequently used/sought after countries are on the list.
TunnelBear claims that it does not log user activity.
TunnelBear is based in Toronto, Canada and as such, is held to the laws and standards of Canada.
When installing TunnelBear, you have a variety of options.
On the desktop, you can install the app, which encrypts all traffic originating at your computer, or you can opt for a single browser extension, which only encrypts your web browsing data (from that web browser).
Installing on MacOS was as easy as it gets. You download the .dmg image and click install. TunnelBear will prompt you to move itself to the applications folder and open an onboarding sequence. You’ll also need to install a helper, which requires admin credentials to execute.
A tip appears stating that you can choose auto from the country list to get the best possible performance. This is also mentioned in the docs on the website — closer servers will have quicker speeds.
One thing to note here is that email confirmation is required to exit the onboarding sequence and begin using the application on the desktop.
My first stop is always to the preferences or settings panel. In TunnelBear, there are four tabs.
Allows you to configure TunnelBear to launch on startup, show an icon in the dock (macOS), and send notifications about your connection status (connected, disconnected, disrupted). It can also send notifications about unsecured networks.
VigilantBear – The TunnelBear equivalent of a kill-switch. In the event of a connection disruption, enabling this feature will stop all of your internet traffic until TunnelBear can reconnect.
GhostBear – GhostBear is a scrambling service that helps users access TunnelBear on networks that block VPNs. If you can connect to TunnelBear at all, you should not enable this service as it’ll make your connection grind to a halt and doesn’t provide any additional security.
You can select to create a whitelist of trusted networks that TunnelBear won’t encrypt. If you’re mostly using a VPN for browsing on insecure public wifi, this feature will keep TunnelBear from activating on your secure home wifi, for example.
Shows you your current subscription level, the email address associated with your account, and has a link to manage your account.
Taking TunnelBears advice, I flipped the toggle to “on” and connected to the closest location, which ended up being a DigitalOcean server in Los Angeles, California.
Running a test on Fast.com, the download speed was quite good.
Connecting through the Netherlands, my stats were quite a bit different.
Canada (where TunnelBear is located)
I tested each location on ipleak.net — and no DNS or IP leaks were detected at all.
While the connections were stable and secure, TunnelBear left a lot to be desired in terms of throughput speeds.
Testing the iPhone app was a real joy. It’s by far one of the simplest and most straightforward VPN apps I’ve ever used.
Heading into the iOS VPN settings, I can see that TunnelBear was configured to use IKEv2.
You have the full assortment of 22 countries that you get in the desktop. Other than the trusted networks settings, there is very little feature parity with the desktop apps (though that appears to be largely an Apple design issue, as the Android app has a lot more parity).
Again, using ipleak.net – the service was free of DNS and IP leaks.
Connecting to different countries produced similar results in terms of speed and latency, though many locations were closer to the 3-5mb downstream range.
TunnelBear has a free plan that includes up to 500mb of browsing.
There’s also a Twitter promo, accessed through your account or the apps which gives you an additional gigabyte of data. Note that you need to provide TunnelBear with your Twitter username for them to verify that you tweeted, which ties this data to your account.
For unlimited data on five connected devices, TunnelBear has both monthly ($9.99) and yearly ($59.88 or $4.99 per month) payment options.
Payments are processed through credit card (Visa, MasterCard, American Express) or Bitcoin.
As of September 2019 TunnelBear no longer has a 30 day money back guarantee.