Ease of use:5 stars
Help & Support:3 stars
Value for Money:5 stars
User-friendly and approachable
Extra privacy features
Free without annoyance or unreasonable limitations
Can’t choose which city to connect to
Doesn’t unblock Netflix
Inexpensive and a good fit for most users
Like bears? Like internet privacy? Looking for more security when you connect to a public WiFi network? Well, TunnelBear might be the VPN for you – this is an outstanding VPN service with a great sense of fun across its branding.
Our grizzly friends are everywhere with this one, from the illustrations and animations used throughout the Windows, MacOS and mobile apps to the names of specific features and even what the subscription plans are called. This gives TunnelBear a charm that other VPNs can’t match.
Beneath its furry exterior, though, TunnelBear does the same thing as other VPNs. It creates an encrypted virtual private network connection between your device or computer and a server elsewhere. This both protects your data on its way to and from the Internet and disguises your identity and location. What’s more, to any websites you visit and services you use, it looks like you’re based in the same city or country as the VPN server. This allows you to get past any censorship or content blocks that would normally stop you in your tracks.
Not only is it a very friendly and easy-to-use VPN, but also one of the best free options around. Pay nothing and you can still use TunnelBear’s full features, using up to 500MB of bandwidth per month with an extra 1GB if you’re happy to tweet about the service.
There are no adverts to put up with even on the free service. Plus, TunnelBear keeps ‘nagging to upgrade’ to a minimum, in the belief that if you like the VPN, you’ll be willing to pay for its premium subscription plans to use it more.
Getting Started with TunnelBear
TunnelBear is extremely easy to sign up for, and you can start using it gratis then pay for a subscription if you find you need more than the free plan. You can download apps for Windows and MacOS from the website or get the iOS or Android versions from the appropriate app store.
Once up and running, it’s a very easy app to use. You can pick your VPN server from a map-style interface then click OK to start the VPN. You then get an animation to show the bear tunnelling away to your new location, before a notification lets you know that the link is ready to use. You can also select locations from a list or switch locations without having to shut down the one you’re using first.
TunnelBear’s simple, can-do approach is one of its biggest strengths. This makes it a particularly good choice brand for VPN first-timers.
TunnelBear: The Good
This is a super VPN to choose, and it performs strongly in most key areas.
TunnelBear isn’t a spectacularly speedy VPN, but performance is still good enough for most day-to-day needs. You’re not likely to notice a degree of slowdown that’s frustrating enough to put you off using the service.
It also has some great (bear-themed) features to protect your privacy further, including VigilantBear, which shuts down all connections if the VPN link suddenly fails, and GhostBear, which scrambles the traffic coming in and out of the VPN to make it look more like regular unencrypted traffic – this can help it get past sites and services that detect and block VPNs.
Clear Logging Policies
TunnelBear is based in Canada, which explains the Bear obsession, and while this means its subject to Canadian laws and collaboration with US intelligence services, the company has very clear and understandable policies on what information is logged and what might be shared. In some ways this is better than some sites’ claimed ‘no logging’ policies, where there are some surprises hidden away in the legal jargon.
TunnelBear: The Not-So-Good
A couple of drawbacks prevent TunnelBear from being a perfect VPN.
While you can pick your country you can’t choose which city you connect to, which can mean you connect to a slow server because the VPN has picked one on the West coast when you’re based nearer the East coast. This can be particularly noticeable when you’re connecting to America from Europe or visa versa.
No Netflix Success
While the service will unblock many US or UK video streaming or catch-up TV services, we couldn’t get it to work its magic on Netflix in the US.
If you’re planning to catch up with your favourite Netflix shows while on vacation in Europe or Asia, you might want to pick a different VPN, such as one of our top choice VPNs for Netflix.
TunnelBear Free and TunnelBear Prices
You can have a taster of TunnelBear Free to decide if this is the brand for you, or dive straight into the premium plan.
If you’re only an occasional, light user then you might be able to get away with using TunnelBear for free. The free 500MB monthly bandwidth isn’t hugely generous, but it’s easily topped up by 1GB for tweeting your love for all things TunnelBear. As we mentioned above, there are no annoying adverts, and the company doesn’t harass you to upgrade to premium.
If you need more bandwidth, then you’re still looking at a very reasonable $59.88 a year paid upfront, or $9.99 paid monthly, which isn’t bad by the standards of the major VPNs.
TunnelBear isn’t the fastest or most comprehensive VPN, but it does everything most people need a VPN to do – and does it with a little added fun. It’s a rock-solid and very approachable VPN.
Stuart Andrews has been writing about IT and consumer technology for over twenty years, working across many of the UK's biggest specialist titles. While specializing in PCs and related technology, software and cloud-based services, he also writes about IT in education, video games and internet security