BBC iPlayer is the BBC’s on-demand service which you can use to catch up on live TV and watch shows that are exclusive to the platform. Whilst it doesn’t require a subscription like Netflix does, viewers have to pay a licence fee. However, you can still create an account without needing to prove you’ve paid – you just need a UK address.
For paid-up viewers, watching within the UK’s shores is no issue, and they can download shows to watch offline anywhere in the world. But if you’re abroad and want to watch Doctor Who, Line of Duty or Vigil, then you’ll find yourself faced with a message saying that you can’t.
The Beeb says the correct way to watch iPlayer content abroad is to “download a programme on BBC iPlayer when you’re in the UK, you can watch it anywhere in the world.”
That’s all fine and good, but what if you’re abroad before the next episode of your favourite show is aired? You can’t download it, so you’ll have to wait until you return home.
Except, of course, you can watch it: you just need to route your internet connection through a UK server so your real location is hidden from iPlayer and it thinks it’s serving up Eat Well For Less or EastEnders to a viewer in the UK.
A VPN is the tool that will do this job for you. There were other options in the past, such as proxy servers, but the BBC has clamped down and will simply block any attempts to use one.
It works hard to block VPNs too, which is why the Beeb and VPN services play a cat-and-mouse game of blocking and evading being blocked. The bottom line is that you just need to install a VPN on your device, connect to a UK server and, as we say in the UK, Bob’s your uncle. Now you can watch whatever you like, wherever you are.
You can also read up on the return of the BBC Three channel.
Use a VPN to watch iPlayer
VPNs may be complicated, but as far as you’re concerned, it’s as easy as downloading the app on your phone, tablet or laptop and tapping in your login details.
Getting those details means a simple sign-up process. Unfortunately, there are very few (by which we mean we can count them on the fingers of one hand) free VPN services that will let you watch iPlayer. You can find out why in our roundup of the best free VPNs.
This means watching iPlayer abroad isn’t going to be free, but for a couple of Pounds, Dollars, Euros or whichever currency you use, you can watch as much as you like each month. And you can use your VPN service for a lot besides just iPlayer.
As mentioned, whether or not a VPN service unblocks iPlayer depends upon whether its UK servers have been detected by the broadcaster. If you have problems, get in touch with the VPN’s customer service and they’ll typically tell you of a different server you can use, or another solution.
At the time of writing, the following services successfully allowed us to watch, but do bear in mind that it’s not a guarantee it will work for you on a particular day.
- NordVPN, (which also tops our overall best VPN round-up)
- Private Internet Access
That’s not an exhaustive list: lots of others will also unblock iPlayer.
If you’re watching iPlayer via a smart TV or streaming device (such as an Amazon Fire TV), it’s worth choosing a service that offers a VPN app you can install on your TV. or device as otherwise you’re limited to watching on your phone, laptop, PC or another device for which there’s an app.
Once you’ve got your chosen VPN service up and running, you’ll need to choose the UK as the country (or server) and tap the Connect button. Then you can switch to the iPlayer app or the iPlayer webpage to start watching.
Here are more recommendations for VPN providers with UK servers.
Change DNS settings to watch on Xbox or PS4
If you want to watch iPlayer outside the UK on an Xbox or PlayStation then you might be able to change your console’s DNS settings to some which will unblock the service.
If you head to the network settings and manually enter the DNS addresses you might then find iPlayer will play videos for you. We’re not going to recommend any here, but you can search online for these (they change fairly regularly).
They can be free but are typically overloaded and therefore slow. If you really can’t watch on another device, your best option is to configure VPN settings on your router, which will let you connect your console through the VPN’s UK server. But this method has plenty of other drawbacks, so you have been warned.
BBC iPlayer accounts and the UK TV Licence
The BBC requires that anyone using iPlayer is a UK TV Licence holder. We have a separate guide to who needs a TV Licence.
You also need a BBC account, which requires a UK postcode (and you need to be over 13 years old).
When you register for a BBC account (which is free) you’ll need to give your date of birth, gender, and email address, along with a valid UK postcode.
The BBC says that the aim of the account isn’t to pursue iPlayer users who haven’t paid for a TV Licence, but admitted that it will cross-reference the email addresses with people who’ve previously claimed not to need a licence.
If you’re a British resident with a paid-up licence fee, simply sign in to your BBC account and use a VPN service as described above. You’re still breaking the Ts and Cs by watching via a VPN, just like anyone abroad who signs up with a fake UK address.
Related articles for further reading
- Start a group watching session using BBC Together
- Best VPN services
- What is a proxy server?
- What is a VPN?