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TunnelBear and ExpressVPN have established themselves as some of the most well-known brands in the VPN industry. This is in part due to their frequent sponsorship of various YouTube channels. Now they have to contend with enormous user bases and their unrelenting expectations.
ExpressVPN has improved quite a bit over the years. It has well over 3000 servers in 94+ countries and has integrated RAM-only technology into its server infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Canada-based TunnelBear is 1800+ servers strong in 34+ countries and still maintains its love of bear puns. ExpressVPN is using its proprietary Lightway tunneling protocol, while TunnelBear is using OpenVPN as the default.
This is just a small taste of what I’ll be comparing between these two VPNs. So let’s not hibernate any longer and see which VPN will bear the victory banner in this competition.
|“Best for” nominee||Best Free VPN for Firefox, Best Free VPN for Chrome||Best overall, Fastest VPN, Best for UK|
|Price starts from||$3.33/month||$8.32/month|
|Review||TunnelBear review||ExpressVPN review|
To start off, let’s have a look at a basic speed comparison. Usually, I’d let our VPN speed test do all the work, but TunnelBear is not yet on it. So instead, I’ll use the Ookla speed test while connected to these VPNs in various countries. My baseline download speed is 294 Mbps, while my upload speed is 308 Mbps.
|Download||268 Mbps||248 Mbps|
|Upload||22 Mbps||277 Mbps|
|Download||262 Mbps||243 Mbps|
|Download||184 Mbps||163 Mbps|
|Upload||6 Mbps||152 Mbps|
|Download||288 Mbps||207 Mbps|
|Upload||66 Mbps||61 Mbps|
In an unexpected twist, TunnelBear got better download speeds across the board. However, upload speeds are quite abysmal. One cannot ignore such a discrepancy.
A good VPN connection ideally should be balanced in both upload and download speeds. In any case, such a speed test is hardly a perfect solution and should be taken with a grain of salt. But for its balanced upload and download speed, the win goes to ExpressVPN.
|All physical servers||No||No|
|Owns all servers||No||No|
When it comes to servers, ExpressVPN is the absolute winner of this round since it has over 3000 speed-optimized servers in 94+ countries. TunnelBear is not too far behind with 1800+ servers in 34 or so countries.
However, ExpressVPN gains the ultimate edge by having TrusterServer technology. Its VPN servers run on RAM-only technology, guaranteeing privacy by not storing any information on hard drives. On the other hand, TunnelBear doesn’t support P2P traffic and still runs on hard drives.
|Free trial||Yes (for Teams)||No|
|Money-back guarantee||No||30 days|
|Payment options||Credit Card, American Express, Bitcoin||Credit card, PayPal, Bitcoin, Paymentwall|
One nitpick about ExpressVPN is how unbearably expensive it is compared to its competition. It’s arguable that the quality of its service demands such a high price. But ExpressVPN won’t be winning any points in pricing comparisons any time soon. This time, TunnelBear catches a victory point.
ExpressVPN does not come with a free version or even a free trial. Instead, you get a 30-day money-back guarantee. If you decide to bite the bullet and get ExpressVPN, here are your subscription options:
- $12.95/month for a monthly subscription
- $9.99/month for 6 months
- $8.32/month for 1 year
If these do not suit you, there are various ExpressVPN deals online. Furthermore, you can pay for this extravagant purchase in a variety of ways, including credit card, PayPal, Bitcoin, Paymentwall, and more.
TunnelBear, on the other hand, has a free version, although it’s not very generous. You get a monthly data cap of 500 MB. Once you realize that’s not enough, the paid plans come in three forms:
- $9.99/month for a monthly subscription
- $4.99/month for 1 year
- $3.33/month for 3 years
There’s also the Teams plan, which is aimed at securing large organizations at once. It has a trial period of 7 days. After that, it costs around $5.75/user per month, depending on your team’s size.
Payment options include credit cards, PayPal, American Express, and Bitcoin. The latter means you can purchase the service anonymously.
|Protocols||OpenVPN, IKEv2||Lightway, OpenVPN, IKEv2, L2TP/IPsec|
|Kill switch||Yes||Yes (except iOS)|
|DNS and IP leaks||No leaks||No leaks|
|Security features||GhostBear, TunnelBear Blocker, SplitBear||TrustedServer, Stealth servers, zero-knowledge DNS, split tunneling, port forwarding|
Before dissecting each VPN individually, let’s have a look at some common security features. Unsurprisingly, both VPNs are using military-grade AES-256 encryption. OpenVPN and IKEv2 tunneling protocols and kill switches are available, and neither leaked DNS or IP addresses when testing.
These features are fairly standard, so it’s not surprising that both VPNs have them. However, once we look at the bigger picture, we can see which VPN is more substantial.
ExpressVPN security features
ExpressVPN is carving its way by creating some impressive in-house technology. First off, it has the proprietary Lightway protocol. It uses the WolfSSL cryptographic library and is built with security and performance in mind.
The next great feature is TrustedServer. ExpressVPN is using RAM-only servers, ensuring peak privacy by not storing any data on hard drives. Additionally, the VPN uses encrypted DNS on every server, improving privacy and performance even further.
Stealth servers are less advertised, but they still work wonders when browsing in censorship-heavy countries. This feature starts automatically when it detects network monitoring. Finally, split tunneling and port forwarding are also available to ExpressVPN users.
TunnelBear security features
TunnelBear is not well-known for its abundance of security features. In fact, the desktop version of the app doesn’t allow you to choose which tunneling protocol you’d like to use. You can only enable TCP override, which could potentially improve stability on less reliable networks.
The kill switch feature is named VigilantBear, and it blocks all internet traffic while TunnelBear reconnects. The next noteworthy feature is GhostBear. It’s meant to make your VPN traffic appear as regular traffic and avoid blocking. SplitBear, as the name suggests, is split tunneling. For now, it’s only available for Android users.
Surprisingly, there’s also a feature without the word bear in it. One of them is Blocker – a separate Chrome extension for blocking online trackers. It’s meant to be used in conjunction with other TunnelBear software.
|Jurisdiction||Canada||British Virgin Islands|
|Logging||No-logs policy||Independently-audited no-logs policy|
As for privacy, I have to say that ExpressVPN is one of the better-equipped VPN services on the market. First of all, it’s based in the British Virgin Islands, which means it has a true no-logs policy that’s also independently audited. This VPN has already proven its worth when they couldn’t share any useful user data in connection with a Turkish criminal investigation.
On the other hand, TunnelBear is based in Canada, a founding country of the Five Eyes alliance. In other words, it’s not the most ideal place for a VPN provider to have its base. Since McAffee acquired TunnelBear in 2018, it’s also possible that it will soon fall under US jurisdiction. This could be worrisome for someone looking for the best possible anonymity on the internet.
|Major dedicated apps||Windows, Mac, iOS, Android||Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android|
|Other dedicated apps||N/A||Fire TV & Fire Stick, Android TV, Chromebook, Routers, Kindle Fire|
|Browser extensions||Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Opera||Chrome, Firefox, Edge|
|Manual setup||N/A||Chromecast, Nvidia Shield, Nook HD|
TunnelBear severely lacks in the compatibility department. It only has dedicated apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. Additionally, browser extensions are available for Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Opera. Lastly, a single subscription allows the connection of 5 simultaneous devices.
Meanwhile, ExpressVPN supports an insane amount of devices. In addition to the mainstream platforms, it has dedicated apps for:
- Kindle Fire
- Android TV
- Amazon Fire TV & Fire Stick
You can install browser extensions on Chrome, Firefox, and Edge. Without dedicated apps, many devices can be configured manually or with the help of MediaStreamer. The latter works with Chromecast, gaming consoles, Roku, smart TVs, and more.
|Other Netflix libraries||No||Yes|
|Smart DNS||No||Yes, MediaStreamer|
TunnelBear does not advertise itself as the solution to your geo-restricted streaming content problems. However, it did work in some instances with Netflix US and YouTube. Sadly, it did not perform that well in other countries or with other platforms. Furthermore, Tunnelbear can be configured to work with either Kodi or Amazon Fire Stick.
On the other hand, ExpressVPN is one of the better VPNs for streaming, with great geo-unblocking capabilities. It can unlock many libraries on Netflix and other platforms are also easy pickins. Plus, exceptional connection speeds ensure that you can stream in high definition without any buffering issues.
Torrenting and P2P
|Allowed on||All servers||All servers|
|Free SOCKS5 proxy||No||No|
|Split tunneling||Yes (Android only)||Yes|
This will be a very short and simple round. TunnelBear does not support P2P file-sharing; therefore, you cannot use it for torrenting. You can try TunnelBear for torrenting, of course, and you might even get a few megabits of download speed. But for a good torrenting experience, you should choose the best VPN for torrenting.
ExpressVPN does not have such roadblocks, making it a great choice for P2P. Fast download speeds and an abundance of security features will guarantee a safe torrenting experience.
|Works in China||No||Yes|
|Stealth VPN||Yes (GhostBear)||Yes (Stealth servers)|
|Tor over VPN||No||No|
When faced with the Great Firewall of China, these two VPN providers did not back down. Both have dedicated features for dealing with it. And yet, the results are mixed since no solution is ever 100% effective.
TunnelBear has the GhostBear feature, which masks your VPN traffic and makes it appear as a regular HTTPS connection. In theory, this should prevent you from getting blocked. Alas, user reviews for TunnelBear are not very positive in this regard.
Once again, ExpressVPN is not in such hot waters as its opponent. With the help of Stealth servers, it easily gets around Chinese censorship and unblocks western services. However, it is still not as reliable as the best VPNs in China.
Oftentimes, a VPN is like a multi-tool that you can use in a myriad of ways. Naturally, this leaves plenty of room for problems to arise. That’s why helpful and accessible customer support is paramount.
TunnelBear is ill-equipped to support many customers. It does not have 24/7 live chat, leaving its users to fend for themselves in the knowledge base. Of course, email communication is an option, but that’s hardly a solution when you need a quick fix.
As usual, ExpressVPN is miles ahead already. It has 24/7 live chat, extensive troubleshooting guides, and communications via email. The customer support agents are resourceful, polite, and able to solve most problems right away.
Best VPN by category
|Speed and servers||Loses❌||Wins✔️|
|Total wins||1 out of 9||8 out of 9|
TunnelBear vs ExpressVPN – which is better?
It should come as no surprise that ExpressVPN has emerged victorious. The only advantage that TunnelBear has over ExpressVPN is the price. And in this situation – you get what you pay for.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that TunnelBear is a bad choice. But it still has a long way to go before it can be one of the best VPN services.
On the other side of the fence, ExpressVPN is one of the most expensive VPNs on the market. Some might say it’s too costly. But that depends on your needs and how much you are willing to pay for them.
And why do you need a VPN? Let me know by leaving a comment below!
Is TunnelBear safe?
TunnelBear is not 100% safe. It’s a free VPN without an independently-audited no-logs policy and a jurisdiction in Canada so it’s uncertain what it is doing with your data.
Is TunnelBear VPN free?
Yes, TunnelBear VPN is free. However, it does have paid plans as well.
Is ExpressVPN a good VPN?
ExpressVPN is quite good. It has the Lightway tunneling protocol, Stealth servers, RAM-only servers, MediaStreamer, and other great features. It works well at unblocking Netflix and other streaming services. However, it is more expensive than other VPNs on the market.
Can I watch Netflix with ExpressVPN?
Yes, you can watch Netflix with ExpressVPN. It unblocks a wide variety of libraries, including US, UK, Japan, and more.
What is the best VPN in 2021?
According to our research, the best VPN for 2021 is NordVPN. It has a ton of great privacy and security features. Plus, it’s affordable and has a verified no-logs policy.
Disclaimer: Affiliate links help us produce good content. Learn more.
Ethan is a security researcher and digital privacy advocate. He spends his time unraveling various anonymity and security tools, plus contributing to open-source projects. Otherwise, he keeps a low profile by hiking or cycling around the countryside.