BBC iPlayer Only Works in the UK – How You Can Watch UK TV Abroad in 2024 using a VPN

Last Updated on January 29, 2024

Found that BBC iPlayer Only Works in UK ? – How to Watch Abroad

Many years ago, in the days before the internet took over our lives – a VPN was not a term that you’d generally hear spoken outside colleges or IT departments. Yet now walk into any expat bar in Spain, Greece or the US and you’ll likely find many people will have heard the term and likely quite a few who use them every day. This increasingly ubiquitous acronym stands for Virtual private network and in technology terms it’s a represents one of the most important tools for privacy and functionality in the context of the internet.

The role of a VPN has actually evolved over the last couple of decades from its origins which were simply a private network for voice or data mainly used to access corporate networks. However nowadays it’s a term that generally refers to private, encrypted tunnel through the internet. So how come Joe Parker, a 67-year-old ex-painter and decorator who has retired to the Costa Del Sol has any interest or indeed need for one of these ‘private networks’?

Expat TV Problem – Geo-Blocking Overseas


Well, there’s a couple of reasons, and the main one concerns television, and among British expats it’s of course UK TV. You see, although most British people spend a lot of their time moaning about the BBC and the adverts on ITV and Channel 4 (me included!). As soon as they move somewhere else that they begin to appreciate how lucky they were. British Television and especially the BBC has few equals in the world media, if you only speak English that throne is pretty much guaranteed. So, although many people retire abroad and enjoy better standards of living, more sun and a relaxed way of life – they almost always miss the UK television channels they used to take for granted.

All the main UK TV channels including BBC iPlayer have incredible online sites which stream all their channels live plus make the majority of shows available on demand. Unfortunately, these are not actually available the moment you step outside the geographic borders of the United Kingdom. It actually matters, where you access the internet from which is quite a strange concept !

This message is typical of what will happen if you try and watch any of the British TV channels online when you’re not in the UK. Sorry, blocked, inaccessible due to copyright restrictions – blah, blah, blah. Imagine sitting down by the pool, in your Spanish holiday villa ready to enjoy Match of the Day with a cold beer. It happened to me and I can still remember the feeling of utter disappointment!

But the BBC iPlayer only Works in the United Kingdom!

In an interconnected world, it shouldn’t really be a problem. However, although every British broadcaster of any size publishes the majority of its schedule online, if you’re located outside the UK you won’t be able to see it. The reasons are varied to do with licensing agreements and profits, but the method of blocking is fairly standard. UK TV sites like the BBC iPlayer look up your location when you connect, they take a note of your IP address and then determine your location from that.

So, if you’re in Spain you’ll have a Spanish IP address, in Germany you’ll have a German address and so on. It happens everywhere, usually the media sites restrict access to their domestic markets. This is the message received when trying to watch Hulu from over the border in Canada – you’d get the same message anywhere outside the USA.

Watch UK TV Abroad - Same for US

It’s mainly due to copyright restrictions, most of the media companies will own the broadcasting rights to stream to their own country. To stream to other countries usually requires additional rights (and of course money) so most don’t bother. It’s a strange model for a global medium like the internet and requires establishing artificial digital barriers online. The only companies who are less affected are those who own or produce their own content like Netflix who own global copyrights. Yet even these companies will rarely own everything in their catalogues.

Simple Fixes – Bypass the Server Checks

All these blocks are instigated by a simple check on your IP address. When you connect to BBC iPlayer, it will record your IP address and look it up to see which country it’s registered to. If the IP address is registered in the UK then everything works and if it’s registered anywhere else then you can’t stream anything.

message - watching BBC abroad

You don’t really have much control over your IP address. It’s assigned directly by the company allowing you internet access i.e. usually a Internet Service Provider (ISP), who will assign the address directly. They won’t let you have an address registered in another country either!

Hide Your IP Address

So if you can’t change your IP address, then how do millions of people bypass these blocks? The secret is to ‘hide your address’ not change it. You can do this by using a sort of digital alias, basically an intermediate server which sits between you and all the websites you visit. The original method of doing this would be top use something called a proxy server where all online requests would be forwarded through. They act a bit like a Post office box that people use to receive mail without revealing their real address.

The high security version of a proxy is called a Virtual Private Network (VPN) – which also encrypts all the data you transmit too. However it’s for hiding your OP address which is where a VPN is most useful in this situation. This encrypted tunnel is created between two points, your computer (or tablet, iPad, phone) and a VPN server. This server then relays your request to the web site and then sends it back to you. The clever bit is that the web site never actually sees your true location, it only registers the location of the VPN server. So, if the server is based in the UK, you’ll be considered a UK resident and can watch BBC iPlayer abroad or wherever you happen to be. It’s also useful for accessing other sites like home banking which often restrict international access for security reasons.

Using a VPN to Watch the BBC

Here’s how it works – this video demonstrates from France but it’s exactly the same anywhere outside the UK.

NordVPN Discount Page

The better VPN solutions like NordVPN – have now developed into extensive services allowing access to VPN servers all across the world. So, you can switch to a Canadian VPN to watch the History channel on CTV in Canada, then quickly enable a US VPN to access your premium account on Hulu. With servers in over 60 countries, you should be able to bypass pretty much any block on any site whenever you like.

The more the sites block, filter and restrict access to their best pages, the more useful a VPN becomes. So, if you ever been blocked from watching anything online, such as any US media channel, YouTube videos or indeed tried to watch BBC iPlayer abroad then I urge you to test out NordVPN and see if how well it works. There’s a 30 day money back guarantee which is honored and allows you to check it works properly for you. You can also use the same account on your tablet, smart phone or iPad by setting the VPN manually.

FAQ – Questions on VPN Subscription, Programmes etc.

Here are a few questions we’ve received on the site by message and email. Hopefully they will help people who still have questions about watching things like BBC iPlayer outside the UK.

BBC iPlayer VPN Problems – Do they Still Work?

Yes they certainly do! Although it’s true that the BBC has blocked a lot of low quality and free VPNs from working with iPlayer. However there’s plenty that still work fine with BBC iPlayer.

The concept still works and there are still many VPN services like NordVPN which perfectly with the BBC (see further details below).

Why is My VPN Not Working with BBC iPlayer?

The most likely reason is that the IP address of the VPN server has been identified as a proxy/vpn and been blocked. Unfortunately this is quite a common occurrence and you have two basic options – reconnect using a different UK IP address if your VPN service has lots or switch to another VPN service. Remember it’s normally the IP address that is blocked not the actual VPN itself.

Do I need a UK TV License to watch the BBC Abroad?

You can’t actually buy a UK TV license if you live outside the UK. You will be asked when accessing the site if you have a TV license – you need to answer YES for it to work. There’s no check other than this question though so if you answer affirmatively you’ll be fine.

Do I have to Register to Watch the BBC iPlayer?

Yes, you need a BBC account – but don’t worry it’s completely free and anyone can create one. Just make sure you have an active UK VPN connection before you start, You will be asked for an email address,date of birth and a postcode, plus whether you have a TV license. Here’s what you need to know –

  1. Email address – any valid email will do, they don’t check any location from this currently but any generic account will do.
  2. Date of Birth – basically to ensure you watch age appropriate stuff, so don’t lie and make yourself too young !
  3. Postcode – like a US ZIP code, just use any valid UK postcode – there’s no checks – pick anything online from a business, hotel,airport etc,
  4. UK TV License – if you live outside the UK then you can’t buy one, but you must answer YES to the question.

Is Using a VPN to Watch the BBC illegal?

VPNs are legal in 99% of developed countries apart from a few like China, Russia etc. If you suspect they might not be legal where you reside then you should double check. Most of the Western world they are absolutely fine though. As far as using one to watch the BBC it’s certainly not illegal but you are technically breaking the terms and services of the BBC iPlayer app/website so you could be kicked off. The only criminal offence is if you’re physically watching from within the UK without a TV license.

Do Lots of People use a VPN to Watch British TV?

There’s no way to know an exact number of people using an expat VPN to watch British TV. However, it is a common practice for people outside the UK to use VPNs to access British TV shows and channels that are not available in their countries. The BBC themselves estimate that several million people regularly connect from outside the UK.  VPNs allow users to bypass geo-restrictions and access content from another location by changing their IP address. This is particularly popular among expats, travelers, and fans of British TV shows.

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