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access us only websitesIf you’re living outside of the United States, here’s a familiar scenario for you. You’re reading your favorite tech blog, and suddenly see a post about the latest and greatest in web services. Maybe it’s a new way to stream music or watch TV, maybe it’s an awesome new bookstore. Excited, you click through to try it out – only to find out that it’s limited to US customers only, and that the original post didn’t even bother mentioning this, because the writer simply assumed everybody lives in the US.

TunnelBear is a slick VPN (Virtual Private Network) service that can help solve a part of that problem, by making it seem like you’re surfing from within the US. It’s not a new idea, and there are other free services that do this (most famously, Hotspot Shield). But TunnelBear is slick and simple to use. Maybe it’s what you’ve been looking for all along.

What You’ll Be Getting

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Before I even get into TunnelBear itself, I wanted to show you what you’ll be getting. TunnelBear is not perfect. Not all websites play nice with it, and I think you should know a bit about the end result before reading about how to install it. The screenshot above comes from Hulu, and I took it while I was connected to TunnelBear. Other services (Pandora, for example) had no problem working with TunnelBear – but Hulu just flat-out refused to work, insisting that I’m still outside the US.

Another thing you should know right off the bat. The free version of TunnelBear supports up to 500MB of data per month, and you can get an extra 1GB for free if you tweet about them. To get unlimited data, you need to pay $5/month – not an expensive subscription compared to most VPN providers, and the TunnelBear client is far slicker than most VPN clients I’ve seen. 500MB is enough for a few hours of music, or lots and lots of books.

Next there’s the matter of speed:

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This is the result of a SpeedTest test I ran while connected to TunnelBear. The downstream was 1.25Mbps. This may seem slow by broadband standards, but it is actually more than adequate for streaming high-quality music without stuttering or long silent periods of buffering:

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Pandora 5 Cool Things You Can Do With Pandora Music Radio 5 Cool Things You Can Do With Pandora Music Radio Read More worked very well for me, and so did Rdio Rdio Now Offers Free (Limited) Streaming Music [News] Rdio Now Offers Free (Limited) Streaming Music [News] Feeling some heat? That might be coming from the battle of the streaming music providers, which currently includes a number of competent competitors, each trying to find some edge against the others. Now Rdio has... Read More . Even Google Books worked well, until I tried buying a book:

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TunnelBear can fake your location, but can’t set you up with an American credit card and billing address.

So, to sum up what you’ll be getting – 500MB for free (up to 1.5GB if you tweet), most music services work very well, Hulu doesn’t work, and Google Books works fine until you try buying something. If you’re mainly after music, that’s a pretty good deal.

Setting Up TunnelBear, Step By Step

TunnelBear setup is actually very easy. First, you need to go to the TunnelBear homepage and click the huge Download TunnelBear button. Next, install it and start the wizard, where you will be asked to log in or open an account:

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You need to provide the basic account information like everywhere else, not too invasive (and no credit card needed):

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Provide your Twitter ID if you want to tweet about TunnelBear and get that extra 1 gig for free. They even say you can get more than 1GB for free if you get extra-creative with your tweet.

Next is a little screen showing the plans:

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We’ll be going with Little TunnelBear for now. When you click Next, TunnelBear will send you a confirmation email containing a link you must click. Once that’s done, TunnelBear will install an OpenVPN driver on your computer:

TunnelBear6

….and that’s about it, you’re ready to roll! This is what the TunnelBear client looks like when you’re not connected:

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Pretty elegant. Wood is a bit of a cliché but I think it works here. You can clearly see how much data you still have on your free plan; you can flick the right-hand switch to choose if you want to connect via the US or the UK, and then click the left button to flip it on and connect:

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This is what TunnelBear looks like when it’s connected. You can see the speed meter, as well as the spikes caused whenever Pandora switches to a new song (the song buffers, and then the line is quiet).

Using this simple next-next-next procedure you can find yourself with a fully functional VPN connection in a matter of minutes. If you’re living outside the US, give it a shot and tell me what you think!

  1. Ryan
    February 14, 2016 at 11:50 pm

    HOTSPOT SHIELD has no data limit and more than one location in its free version, so why not add it on here, you're MUO u must know about it?!

  2. cormier john h.
    August 22, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    been a paid up member of "tunnelbear" for months....today...cannot "sighn-up" TODAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Marylu
    August 14, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Okay. I am so NEW, green.
    I have done all of this. NOW what do I do? I am staring at a little virtual wooden box with spikes. I'm not seeing any BBC tv. How do I do that with Tunnel Bear? What am I supposed to click, touch, punch or key in and where?

    • Erez Zukerman
      August 16, 2012 at 12:33 am

      Once you activate TunnelBear, open up a browser (Chrome, Firefox) and access whatever site was previously blocked. Magic. :)

  4. changiz
    July 23, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    I have tried it with hulu right away and it works wonderfulllll. I recomend it to everybody who wants to use it as a tunnel.

  5. kr
    June 8, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    I know this article is a couple of months old, but I just used TunnelBear to watch The Daily Show on Hulu, from Canada, and had no issues. Maybe they've fixed whatever the problem was.

    • Erez Zukerman
      June 10, 2012 at 6:59 am

      Thanks for the update, Kr! Glad to know it's working.

  6. Android VPN
    May 19, 2012 at 8:55 am

    Been using this on my PC and it works very well. The only problem is the speed sometimes becomes so horribly slow. But for checking emails and visiting facebook it works very well.

    • Erez Zukerman
      May 20, 2012 at 5:21 pm

      Just out of curiosity (if you don't mind me asking), where are you in the world that you need TunnelBear to access Facebook?

  7. David Payne
    March 1, 2012 at 11:21 am

    Have used this in the past when there was something I wanted to see in a hurry.  It works well would recommend it to all :)

    • Erez Zukerman
      March 7, 2012 at 5:21 pm

      Thanks David!

  8. Mark O'Neill
    February 29, 2012 at 9:55 am

    I upgraded to the paid plan because.....it works with the BBC iPlayer if you are outside the UK!!! 

    Upgrading is pretty much necessary because stuff like iPlayer completely chews up the free bandwidth cap in no time at all.

    • Erez Zukerman
      March 7, 2012 at 5:20 pm

      That's awesome! Did you know the app before the post? Or did I actually help you find a way to listen to the iPlayer? :)

    • JoeShmoe
      July 11, 2012 at 5:01 am

      firefox addon anoymox would have substituted nicely

  9. Bye9514
    February 29, 2012 at 9:00 am

    Does it work for Netflix?

    • Erez Zukerman
      March 7, 2012 at 5:20 pm

       Good question -- you need a Netflix account to test that, which I don't have. Do let me know if you find out!

  10. Chris Hoffman
    February 29, 2012 at 7:46 am

    Lack of a US billing address will definitely be a problem if you want to use paid services. Looks nice for free services, though -- although you'll quickly run out of the free data if you're streaming video.

  11. Martin
    February 29, 2012 at 5:23 am

    Haven't tried this one yet, but in the past I was able to watch Hulu by changing time zone and/or local settings in Windows.

  12. guest
    February 29, 2012 at 2:52 am

    What ya got for HULU?

  13. Jj72
    February 29, 2012 at 1:26 am

    Installed this software and tried to play videos on both ABC and NBC networks. Although the software got past the restriction notice none of the videos would buffer at higher enough speed to make them playable viable. A great idea but simple to slow for a VPN.

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