Being able to blast through Doctor Who, Poldark, Killing Eve, and Top Gear whenever you want is great – but, if you’re heading off on holiday, you might not be able to binge the latest episodes of your favourite shows quite as easily as you would back home.
While you can circumvent geolocked content fences quite easily with a VPN, we should point out that you’d be breaking the terms of service you agree to by using that service.
We’ll cover this in detail, as well as how BBC iPlayer content can be accessed from abroad, the terms and conditions of the service, and where you stand and what your options are.
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How to access BBC iPlayer abroad
The short (and easy) answer is: you’ll need to sign up for a VPN, a Virtual Private Network.
VPNs can be used for many things – they encrypt your traffic, so that it’s virtually impossible for your browsing history to be monitored at home, on a public Wi-Fi network, or anywhere you’re connected to the Internet.
As well helping to keep your devices secure by establishing an encrypted tunnel to any one of a virtual network provider’s remote servers – which are typically located throughout multiple countries throughout the world – doing so has an interesting side-effect, as it makes it look as though you’re browsing the web from another country.
This makes side-stepping the geolocked fences of a streaming platform’s content libraries very easy. In most cases, a VPN portal will give you an easy-to-use graphical interface with country flags to click on to select the nearest available endpoint in a specific nation or region.
In most cases, BBC iPlayer will be accessible, although be warned, the BBC – not to mention Netflix and Channel 4 – are wise to the fact that people are using VPNs to watch their services from abroad. This is contrary to their terms and conditions, and as such, many streaming services and have started proactively blocking any users it suspects of trying to access their streams via an encrypted tunnel.
So, when buying a VPN, there’s no rock solid guarantee that you’ll be able to use it to watch UK services from outside the UK – making it important to make good use of any free trials or try-before-you-buy type offers.
Related: Best Free VPN
What are the best VPNs for streaming?
The best VPNs for streaming, according to our most recent round of testing, are NordVPN, which was able to give us access to BBC iPlayer, and HideMyAss! (HMA), which currently gets our recommendation for best VPN for international coverage thanks to its huge number of servers and endpoints.
Kaspersky Secure Connection, proved to be the best VPN overall for speeds – the more bandwidth the better if you’re trying to load video streams – but, in our last VPN group test, we were unable to access BBC iPlayer from UK endpoints.
Windscribe is another good option in terms of speed, and, in our last tests we were able to successfully access BBC iPlayer.
Our best overall VPN recommendation went to Private Internet Access (PIA), thanks to the large number of servers available and fast speeds – but in our last test, BBC iPlayer detected that we were using a VPN.
Can I legally watch BBC iPlayer abroad with a VPN?
Officially, no, you cannot. The terms for using BBC iPlayer explicitly state that trying to access BBC iPlayer from another country via a VPN is not allowed:
There is an argument that, as a TV licence payer, you should be able to access content you’ve contributed towards the creation and distribution of.
And it seems that the BBC agrees, and is even keen on relaxing this particular rule as well – its iPlayer FAQ page currently states:
“While we are interested in being able to allow UK licence fee payers to access BBC iPlayer when they are abroad, there are complex technical issues to resolve which we are investigating and it will be dependent on what legislation is in effect in the UK in the future.”
While the European Commission’s digital single market proposal may have allowed UK citizens roaming the EU easy iPlayer access, the future of the UK’s relationship with the single market, digital or otherwise, is uncertain. Leaving the EU with no deal would certainly remove digital single market access, but whether a similar deal could be negotiated in the future is impossible to say.
From a practical standpoint, there’s little to stop you from attempting to access BBC iPlayer from abroad with a VPN.
In theory, if the BBC was able to match your login credentials with encrypted traffic, realise that you’re streaming content at an odd time – you decided to, at say 3:00AM GMT, watch all four seasons of Inside No. 9 – it could infer that you’re using a VPN to access its content from outside the UK, and in theory, suspend your account.
How else can I watch BBC iPlayer or BBC content abroad?
You can download and store BBC iPlayer content to your Windows and Mac laptops, as well as iOS and Android phones and tablets for up to 30 days.
Aside from that, the BBC News, BBC Sport and BBC Sounds apps can all be accessed anywhere in the world, as can the BBC Three YouTube channel, without you needing to use a VPN.