Using a VPN to Watch TV Abroad
There is some confusion about how you can watch BBC TV abroad, so in this article we’ll attempt to summarise the current situation.
First of all, it is possible in 2022 to be able to watch both the BBC iPlayer and the live stream of BBC programmes online. For the last few years, the BBC has restricted access to all people who try and access their programmes online from outside the United Kingdom.
Trying to Access BBC iPlayer Live Stream
If you try and visit www.bbc.co.uk whilst outside the UK, you’ll actually get redirected to a different site. This is the international version which you can see here –
It’s primarily a news site and if you look at the top menu bar, you’ll see it’s missing the two key links to enable BBC TV abroad – ‘TV’ and the ‘BBC iPlayer’ one, both these features are not accessible from this international version of the BBC.
If you try and bypass the international site and try and go to the BBC iPlayer or TV link directly then you can actually visit it. However as soon as you try and watch anything from the menu, whether it’s an archived programme from the iPlayer site or live TV then you’ll get something like this message. The same will happen if you try and watch any British TV online from outside the UK, for example ITV, Channel 4 and 5 all block access too.
It’s all linked to your IP address, if it originates in the UK everything works ok, otherwise you’ll get blocked at every turn. Now originally it was fairly straight-forward to bypass these blocks by hiding your real IP address and routing your connection through a UK based server called a proxy. These were available online for free (and still are) and could be used to hide your location, although they were rather risky to use. ￼
Unfortunately, in 2017, all that changed, the BBC joined most media companies in blocking access to anyone using through simple proxy servers. Now if you use one of these proxies, it will make no difference you won’t be able to access any of the media functions on the BBC site.
So How Can I Watch BBC TV Abroad?
If we remove proxies from the equation there is now only one viable alternative to provide a secure connection which will allow you access to all the BBC TV features plus any other UK channel. You have to use a VPN server instead of a proxy as these are not detectable by the BBC servers.
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and they consist of encrypted tunnels between your computer and a specially configured VPN server. When you make the initial connection, all traffic is routed through the VPN and thus the only identifiable IP address is that of the server. It’s similar to the way the proxies used to work but with the advantage that neither your computer or the VPN can be detected. Watch the video for a demonstration –
Unfortunately, these servers cost a lot of money to run and support so you won’t find any free VPN services around. There are a couple of companies who appear to offer this, but beware they finance in other ways including ‘renting’ out your bandwidth while you are using it. Whilst you are connected to the ‘free service’ your computer is acting as a VPN to the company’s premium subscribers who are effectively surfing the web anonymously through your computer! There is no way to safely watch UK TV abroad free, you either pay a small amount for a secure VPN or let other people use your bandwidth instead.
The final complication is that this year the BBC have also started blocking lots of these VPN services too. Searching through the expat’s forums, you’ll see many posts about a BBC iPlayer VPN not working. It is true, many of the services ceased to work in a mini purge during 2017 by the BBC. Although they are not able to detect the VPN directly, they try and block in other ways. Firstly, they look for large amounts of concurrent connections through the same IP address ranges and block them manually. The second method is to search online for companies who operate ‘TV watching VPNs’ after identifying they either block or send out legal threats to the companies. These methods have blocked out a large proportion of the VPN services too.
It’s sounds complicated but the reality is that the method is still valid, however you have to select a genuine secure VPN. It should be one run by a company who operate it as a secure service not a cheap TV watching site. There are still a few that work perfectly and it’s how to watch BBC iPlayer in Spain plus all the other UK channels like ITV Hub and haven’t been affected at all.
Remember the BBC is now encouraging everyone to sign up for an account, but you shouldn’t worry about this as it’s more for tracking preferences and customizing your profile. Just ensure that you enter a valid UK postcode when prompted. Some of the other UK TV sites are starting to do the same but if you have a UK VPN connected when registering and watching it won’t be an issue.
Don’t just limit yourself to the BBC though, a UK VPN will allow you to watch UK TV abroad free online from wherever you are. All the major UK channels will be accessible including ITV, Channel 4 and 5 too. If you have UK subscriptions to channels like Sky and BT, then they will work too when the UK VPN is connected.
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