Why Does BBC iPlayer Not Work Abroad

If you’re a UK resident then it’s likely that you have to pay for a TV licence.  Now although technically it’s an avoidable cost, if you watch, stream or download pretty much anything from any UK TV stations then you really do need a license.  There are plenty of people who don’t even own a television set who have to pay for a license too.  So if you think that because you only watch Match of the Day on the quiet on your computer and don’t possess a TV set  that you’re exempt then unfortunately it’s not true.

Why Does BBC iPlayer Not Work Abroad

In fact because the vast majority of people do need a TV license there’s a presumption that everyone needs one.  If you don’t use/own or watch any British TV channel live or recorded on any sort of device, or access BBC iPlayer in any way then you can apply for exemption.  It’s worth doing this as there’s a possibility you will be pursued for one by default if you don’t – here’s the link

It’s probably why many people get very grumpy about the TV license, a default tax which pays for the BBC whether you actually watch it or not.  I have several friends who watch nothing but YouTube and Big Brother who get very cross about paying for the TV license.

Personally I think it’s well worth it, and I suspect if you’ve lived anyway where there’s no decent public broadcast TV stations then you’ll agree.  The joy of watching a film or two hour drama without endless commercial breaks is something to cherish whatever the cost.  Plus it’s not actually that expensive if you watch any amount of TV, £150 a year seems a fairly reasonable cost to me and if you’re over 75 you can get it free (well at the moment!).

Plus you get full access to the wonderful and extensive BBC iPlayer which has 12 live channels broadcasting plus an archive with thousands of hours of wonderful television of all different types.  It’s certainly on a par with many cable channels and subscriptions across the world most of which are much more expensive than that.

Yet there is a problem that affects anyone who travels, expats who’ve retired abroad or simply spends a lot of time outside the UK.  The issue is that the BBC iPlayer and all access is blocked the minute you step outside the United Kingdom.  It doesn’t actually matter if you’ve paid for a TV license or not!

Why Does BBC iPlayer Not Work Abroad ?

There are two sub questions here – why legally/politically or commercially doesn’t BBC iPlayer work abroad and the technical question of why it doesn’t work.  We’re going to answer the second question, what is technically stopping us watching the BBC abroad (and how we may bypass this).

There’s one reason and one reason alone that you can’t watch the BBC online from anywhere outside the UK. It’s simply your IP address that is stopping this working.  Every time you connect to the internet, be it from a home connection, hotel Wifi or anywhere else then you are assigned an IP address.  This happens irrespective of how or what you’re connecting with, without an IP address the internet is simply inaccessible.

This IP address is effectively your identity when you’re online, and what’s more each one has a unique nationality.  If you’re in the UK then you’re IP address is British, if you’re in Paris then it’s French and so on.  Which is exactly what the BBC iPlayer does, in some sort of bizarre racial check it looks up the nationality of your IP address when you connect.  So anything that is registered from outside the UK simply won’t work.

That’s all there is.  A simple check on where your IP address is registered to and access is denied to all non-UK connections.  What’s more there’s no check whatsoever on the account and whether you have a TV license or not.

So Are There any BBC iPlayer Sign On Workarounds ?

Oh yes there certainly are, indeed over the years that the BBC iPlayer has been in existence there have been many solutions to this issue.   In fact as we speak millions of people from all over the world are watching the BBC and BBC iPlayer archive online irrespective of their actual location.

There is one solution which has stood the test of time and has worked consistently for over a decade or so and that’s using a VPN.  It sounds technical but it’s really not if you use the custom software that people use to control the connection.  It stands for virtual private network and basically allows you to connect to another server before you visit the BBC.  This VPN server acts as a gateway both encrypting your internet connection (for security) and hiding your physical location completely.

Here’s a video of one in action being used to access the BBC from abroad –

As you can see it’s not technical, it’s not difficult and you really don’t need to understand anything about the VPN and how it works to use it. Effectively you just click on the country you need to appear from and that’s about it. So if you’re in somewhere like France or Spain and crave the BBC just click the UK flag and your internet connection will be routed through a UK server.

It also works for other UK based channels too, like ITV, Channels 4 and 5 all of whom broadcast the majority of their programmes online as well. So you can watch them from anywhere providing you click on a UK server first. It also gives you access to other countries channels too. SO for example you can watch US only channels like Hulu, NBC and HBO from Europe by choosing a US server instead of a UK one.

It’s a way of both protecting your privacy and bypassing all these numerous blocks and filters employed by websites across the world. It’s not just media sites that this affects as other sites restrict access based on location too – mostly you won’t realise until they suddenly don’t work anymore.

The program we demonstrated is called Identity Cloaker and you can test it here. We suggest you try the short ten day trial first to ensure it all works properly and you can watch the programmes you need to.

It’s easy to use, has lots of very fast servers which means that you can stream TV and videos across them easily. Beware of the super cheap VPNs as they charge low prices by overloading their servers which means that your programmes will stutter and buffer all the time which is not a pleasant experience.  They are also easily detected and  blocked by the BBC, so you’ll find them not working more often than not – read this article. Mostly all these people who are finding that BBC iPlayer not working through VPN is simply because they’re using a super, cheap overloaded service where the owners simply want your money.

What’s on BBC iPlayer Now?

Of course, this article will be out of date shortly but not quite as quickly as you’d imagine.  When the BBC iPlayer first launched the majority of programmes where only available for thirty days and indeed many for much less than that.  Today t he standard length for a programme is three months, so that’s over 90 days to watch from the day it was broadcast.

Although there are some exceptions, for example Match of the Day on BBC iPlayer is available for much less time, due to licensing restrictions with the Premier League.   The vast majority is available for three months and some even longer.   Indeed at the end of 2017 the BBC launched a new section called From the Archive  featuring shows from the BBC vast archive from 1946!   It’s truly a treasure trove of TV programmes, and I guarantee you’ll find some nostalgic gold if you browse through some of the programmes available there.

What's on BBC iPlayer

There’s some incredible shows from history there all available completely free of charge.  In fact at any one time there will be 450 titles from the archive regularly rotated.  Many of the shows are award wining, such as Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekend series, some great episodes of Storyville, old Dr Who episodes – pick your favorite Doctor and many others.

BBC documentaries are particularly well featured and include programmes from Horizon and broadcasting legends like David Frost, David Attenborough and Michael Parkinson.  There are historical and sporting documentaries from the past decades of BBC television.

What’s on BBC iPlayer Now? 

It’s difficult to classify the entire range of TV shows which are available on the BBC iPlayer archive at any time. Remember firstly you can watch any show without restrictions when it’s on live, obviously if you’re using a VPN to watch BBC abroad  then you need to remember any time differences.  I’ve often logged in to watch News at Ten or Newsnight on BBC 2 to discover it’s already gone.  This is unfortunate as the news is one programme which isn’t archived for months (perhaps with good reasons).

Currently streaming in the Entertainment section are The Apprentice, the famous reality show, Strictly Come Dancing, Michael McIntyre and the very popular Mrs Brown’s Boys.   My personal favorite is the Political Quiz ‘Have I Got News for You’ which is well worth watching if you like your comedy tinged with a little politics.

There are always loads of different documentaries on the various BBC channels but some of the best at the moment include one about Tina Turner, a great one called School which follows a real comprehensive school through the eyes of teachers, pupils and parents.  There’s the new Theroux series called Altered States which covers some unusual situations, I’d recommend the one called Choosing Death which meets people preparing to end their own lives – it’s sad but important TV.  If you’re interested in the UK in any way then I can also recommend a Box set called Inside the Foreign Office which is just as the title implies a visit to the people who run Britain’s Foreign Offices across the world.

Another interesting documentary is from Storyville entitled the Hurt Locker Hero about a bomb disposal expert called Fakhir Berwari who disarmed thousands of landmines in Iraq usually only using a pocket knife and a pair of wire clippers – it’s got 28 days left on the BBC iPlayer and is well worth catching up with.

Obviously all our TV watching habits and preferences will vary but speaking for myself I generally watch the News live twice a day and also Newsnight on weekdays.  I am normally in another country using a VPN but have got used to remembering to include the time difference.  I also watch a couple of documentaries a week – there are literally hundreds on there at any time and of course all up to the BBC’s world leading standard.

I’ll usually pick a random one from the lists but do tend to follow a few box sets including those by Simon Reeve, you can still currently access his shows on Russia, the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean.  One of the other must sees is the huge collection of David Attenborough Box sets.   If you’re outside the UK and trying to justify the small expense of a VPN then here’s one justification – at the moment you can watch a whole host of the best of these sets which would literally cost you hundreds if  you bought all the DVDs.   The list will change whenever you read this, but here’s a selection which are currently on the BBC iPlayer –

Planet Earth  – documentary series celebrates the planet’s natural glory and how the suns seasonal journey affects the lives of all living creatures.

Blue Planet I and II – possibly the greatest wildlife documentary to cover the planet’s oceans, took years to produce and has won countless awards,

Africa – documentary series covering the wildlife of the world’s most exciting continent.

Planet Earth II – David Attenborough visiting some of the world’s most remote islands to see some of the planet’s rarest creatures.

To complete some of my viewing options I enjoy Dr Who, you can watch the latest series but also catch up with many of the earlier programmes on the archive.  I also enjoy Match of the Day and the occasional comedy show and even a few soaps when I’m in the mood.

There is so much it’s impossible to detail it all here but I would urge anyone to check out the new BBC iPlayer archive. It’s huge and what’s more isn’t packed full of ‘filler programmes’ like the vast majority of Cable and Satellite packages.  In my opinion it’s far superior to the full Sky package which costs around £70 a month to enjoy last time I checked.

The only limitations are perhaps blockbuster movies and some top level of sporting events which the BBC has failed to obtain licenses for.  However these are all easily sourced from other places, so it’s no real hardship.

Wherever you are in the world, it’s worth checking out the BBC’s vast archive, especially if you’re somewhere where the standard of broadcasting is not as great as the United kingdom.  If you’re outside the UK then you will need some method to hide your IP address like a VPN however it’s not difficult and it only costs a few Euros/dollars for a fast service which can gain you instant access.

BBC Recognizes VPN Services. Oh No it Doesn’t!

You tend to see these sort of comments all over the internet now. Someone will find that their crappy VPN service which costs them $2 every year has suddenly started to be blocked by the BBC – ergo the BBC has developed deep packet inspection systems which can sniff out all virtual private network connections and block them automatically.    The reality is somewhat different and can be easily verified by using a decent, secure VPN which works perfectly well with BBC and all the other UK stations.

Detecting VPN traffic is not easy, the Chinese government have systems which can – already implemented as part of the Great Firewall of China.  Yet even these are not perfect and many people and visitors use VPNs in China all the time to access blocked and filtered sites which are normally inaccessible.   It’s been some years since the Chinese implemented their active probing system which  can detect and block Tor nodes and connections. Their technology has almost certainly developed since then to pick up lots more circumvention systems, but this comes at a huge cost both monetary and resources.  Indeed the battle develops on both sides and there are now many defenses against Chinese active probing too.

BBC Recognizes VPN

Despite what many think of them the BBC are not an authoritarian state seeking to control billions of people’s actions.   Indeed until a few years ago the BBC were very relaxed about the whole geo-restricting situation.  Sure they’ve always made the BBC iPlayer inaccessible from outside the UK, but only a few years ago you could use any sort of free proxy based in the UK to bypass these blocks.  They made virtually no attempt to block or filter any of these connections despite quite obviously having millions of active inbound connections watching from all over the world.  People were watching from all over from France, across the border in Ireland, thousands in Spain and from as far away as Australia.   There was little evidence that the BBC actually were that concerned about these foreign visitors at all.

Can the BBC Recognize VPN Services?

A  few years ago thought this changed, for whatever reason the BBC started to take measures to enforce their UK only restrictions.  First the proxies were finally blocked, the BBC followed the example of most online media sites which were able to detect and block incoming proxy connections automatically.  This was not difficult as a standard proxy connection is not encrypted and easy to detect so it had little administrative cost too.  There were some issues with legitimate UK users having some problems,  as they were using proxy servers in educational and corporate networks within the UK but these issues have mostly been eradicated now.

However by this time, VPNs have become increasingly common and mainstream.  Many of use routinely use VPNs when we travel because of the security aspects, but also to connect to the myriad of domestic websites which we lose access to when travelling.  It’s perfectly common now for people to have little VPN apps on their tablets, phones and laptops which can be activated with a click. For anyone who travels or lives abroad, using VPNs is perfectly common whereas previously it was only the real technical geeks who had an interest in these sorts of systems.

Perhaps it was this increasing prevalence or the fact that the BBC was facing huge pressures on it’s budgets but about two years ago they started on the VPNs too.  With little warning, suddenly thousands of people found their access to the BBC restricted even when using a UK based VPN service.  Suddenly people had real difficulties in watching the BBC News or enjoying Eastenders while sunning themselves on the Cost Del Sol.   Many very popular VPN services used primarily to access UK television where suddenly blocked and became useless.

Now despite the hysterics that you could see online, the BBC have not developed some super advanced deep packet inspection systems that block all the VPNs.  There is no way they have the resources or expertise to implement such a system.   So which method did BBC iPlayer detecting VPN services use?  There are actually some very simple and practical alternatives which can be used to detect and block VPNs almost as effectively.

  1. Many VPN services make themselves very easy to detect by offering ‘TV watching Services’, lots even used the copyright protected BBC logos on their sales pages!  These are extremely easy to deal with through normal legal channels.  The most reliable method is to threaten legal action to the hosting providers, who would almost always simply cut off their connections rather than risk a legal battle.  Remember these servers have to be based in the UK in order to defeat the country IP detection.   Many VPN services were ‘taken out’ using this method and you’ll notice that most survivors make no direct mention of the BBC or UK TV watching on their sites.
  2. Concurrent connections – it doesn’t take any advanced detection systems to notice when there are ten thousand users all watching from the same IP address.  Many VPN services to cut down costs and lower their prices have overloaded servers and IP addresses with users.  Not only does this make using such a VPN very slow it also makes it very simple to detect.  A quick update to the Beeb’s firewall will block all those connections instantly.
  3. A very effective and simple method to block these companies is to simply buy an account and make a note of all their IP addresses.  Anyone can subscribe and copy down all the service’s UK IP addresses and hand them over to the BBC’s internet security section who could block them in minutes.  These IP addresses can be changed of course, but don’t underestimate the costs and effort needed to constantly swap out IP address ranges.

Now none of these methods are perfect and all have some drawbacks, blocking loads of UK IP address ranges can only really be done in the sort term.  Yet they are very easy to implement and require little investment and effort in order to block loads of spoofed connections.    It’s certainly nowhere near the effort it would require to instigate any sort of automatic VPN detection system to deny access to the BBC iplayer app.

It was actually a combination of these methods which ended up blocking many of the BBC iPlayer VPN workaround methods.  These are what the BBC did and although they took out thousands of VPN services, the clever and discrete ones were actually barely impacted at all.  For example none of the genuine long term security VPN services were really affected at all – i.e.  those who didn’t advertise BBC circumvention techniques for instance.  Indeed it’s a useful tip to check that there’s no obvious TV watching advertising on a VPN site before you subscribe.

It’s also become more and more evident that a lot of this ‘crackdown’ effort was actually short lived. Although the BBC did take action and closed lots of VPN services, they don’t seem to have maintained this aggressive stance.  Just type in ‘ watch BBC iPlayer abroad’ or something similar into Google and you’ll now see lots of companies starting to place advertisements again.   A year or so ago there were no adverts of this type as the advertisers would have made themselves instant targets.  I’d still steer well clear of companies who do this though as it’s so easy to block access to their VPN services.  I even noticed Nord VPN advertising on the other TV channels a couple of weeks ago, not a smart tactic!

Basically if you pick a sensible company who keeps a relatively low profile there’s no reason why you still can access watch BBC iplayer abroad free from restrictions anywhere in the world using a VPN or Smart DNS system.  If you thought these services were dead, don’t worry there’s still loads that work.  It does take some investment to stay hidden so you’ll  not find a free vpn for BBC iplayer anymore.  However be assured that there are still millions of people watching the BBC online from all over the world today.

Below we have a couple of our favorites which we can recommend, either of which will work perfectly with BBC iPlayer from anywhere.

Try these Out, one’s a DNS based system the other a BBC iplayer VPN – but  both work perfectly for accessing all major UK TV Channels from abroad in 2018.

Identity Cloaker
Smart DNS Proxy

BBC Ryder Cup Coverage from Abroad

Unfortunately, the BBC no longer has the live broadcast rights to the Ryder Cup.  They lost them in 2013 when the costs simply became unjustifiable for a public broadcaster. From this point the UK rights were bought out Sky who have invested heavily in most major sports events.   The Ryder cup is held once every two years, alternating between Europe and the USA, Sky created specific TV channels for the event in 2014 onwards.

The BBC do still pay for a highlights package and for the non-golf fanatic then it’s a great option usually broadcast the evening of each day.  However for many it’s simply not enough, fortunately you should be able to find coverage in most European countries and across North America pretty easily.  For the full live coverage, NBC have the current US rights in 2018 and have had for over twenty years.

However if you’re in a country where you can’t watch the Ryder Cup then you can get access using a VPN or Smart DNS system.  Using these you can effectively bypass any country restriction – so you can watch NBC from outside the US or enjoy the BBC highlights by using a UK server.

Accessing BBC Ryder Cup Coverage from Abroad

These services allow you to switch your location at will, both the VPN and Smart DNS should allow you to watch all UK television.  They can certainly give you access to the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 without any restrictions.  You can also access services like Sky as well although you will need a subscription in addition to a service to hide your location.  Sky can be quite expensive and you normally have to subscribe for a year to get the best deals.  Although it’s worth checking out NOW TV which offers the facility to get Sky Sports for a shorter period like a single month.

Remember you will need a UK VPN or a DNS service to subscribe to the subscription services too. A rather ridiculous state of affairs considering you’re paying for a product that disappears when you cross a national boundary.  However if you’re just on holiday for a short while then you can try out this free trial of a BBC VPN, it will last for 14 days so perfect if you’re travelling for a short time like a holiday.

All that happens is that your connection is routed through the country selected. SO if you want any of the UK TV channels like the BBC then you’d select a UK server, if you want a US channel you’d pick a server based in the US and so on. There’s no real complication and you’re certainly not doing anything even vaguely illegal, merely using a security service to encrypt and maintain your privacy.

The advantage of the Smart DNS system for the BBC is that it doesn’t slow your connection down. Instead of routing everything through a single connection it merely does enough to hide your location and streams the rest directly. IT means there’s no impact on your network speed, whereas the VPN will slow your connection down quite considerably in some situations.
At the worst you can use this as a free trial of BBC iPlayer plus it also gives you a decent chance to use it before you make up your mind.

Click here to try – Totally Free trial

Accessing BBC iPlayer with DNS

Now on this site, we talk a lot about using VPNs, proxies to hide your IP address in order to access the BBC from outside the United Kingdom. The concept is simple, the BBC checks your IP address when you logon and if it sees a non-UK registered address you get redirected to the rather dull International version of the BBC. It’s actually not a bad site but unfortunately it lacks all the best stuff like live TV and the wonderful BBC iPlayer archive. To access the full site you need to hide your true location and pretend to be in the UK to access any British TV sites.

Proxies no longer work and indeed many VPNs have been blocked too but many still work and as long as the server you connect to has a UK IP address, then everything should be fine. However for a variety of reasons, perhaps you can’t use a VPN to access the BBC, perhaps it’s an old computer, a media device or perhaps a games console which won’t support a VPN connection. Also on very slow connections VPNs can slow down your internet speed significantly making it difficult to stream video successfully.

BBC iPlayer with DNS

So what can you do? Are there any other options for people who can’t use a VPN for whatever reason?   The basic solution is after all the same, hide your real IP address and make it look like you’re in the UK.

Using BBC iPlayer with DNS

However, there is a another method if you want to use a Smart TV, games console or are just stuck with a super slow internet connection which grinds to a halt when you attempt video over a VPN!   It’s called Smart DNS and you’ve probably seen it mentioned in expat forums or the many sites which help you access the BBC from anywhere.

The basic premise is exactly  the same, hide your IP address from the BBC web servers and pretend to be in the UK.  However there are two fundamental differences between a VPN and Smart DNS which make it a viable option for many.  Firstly to set it up you need no client software or operating system support for native VPN functionality.  Basically you need just one thing, the ability to change the DNS servers specified on the device you need.

Secondly, unlike a VPN your whole connection doesn’t need to be routed through the third server.  When you try and access a geo-restricted site like the BBC, only part of the connection is routed through a UK server – basically enough to fool the web site that you’re in the UK.   It also doesn’t encrypt the connection which can also impact the speed, although obviously if you’re concerned about privacy this may not be a good thing.

Here’s how it works –

In the example above it’s running on a computer but the beauty of Smart DNS is that you can set it up on most devices that are internet enabled. If you can get access to the network connections and manually update the DNS server addresses on a device there’s a good chance that it will work. There is one major caveat though, some devices use something called ‘transparent DNS proxy‘ which force them to use specific DNS servers. There aren’t loads of devices which use this, but the Roku and Xbox One console are two high profile examples.

You can still get Smart DNS to work on these devices but it’s much more difficult. Basically you have to map static routes on your internet router to force the devices to use the Smart DNS servers instead of the set ones (usually Google DNS servers). However it can be quite tricky and not all routers will support this functionality.

Not Recommended for Smart DNS

If you haven’t got your hardware yet, it’s worth checking you can change the DNS settings if you want to use BBC iPlayer with DNS on it. There aren’t many devices which enforce their DNS settings, but the number seems to be increasing presumably due to pressure from these media companies.

Obviously you haven’t much choice if you want to enable something like a Smart TV directly, as a VPN will be impossible to enable directly. Again though it’s worth checking the manufacturer as it could save you some anguish.  Generally if you can get access to the DNS server configuration under some network settings area then you should be ok. On the Roku for example there’s actually no proper network configuration settings accessible.   Although on these devices you may be able to assign the DNS servers using DHCP from your wireless/cable or ADSL router.

Normally though it’s pretty straight forward and most devices you can enable BBC iPlayer DNS settings very quickly in a matter of minutes.   Here’s the steps you would take on most devices –

  • Sign up for a Smart DNS Service – (free trial )
  • Check IP addresses of Smart DNS servers
  • Change Devices DNS server to the Smart DNS ones
  • Enable IP Address on Smart DNS Service

All of the steps can be completed very easily and after that Smart DNS should be enabled on that device and you should be able to access a myriad of previously blocked sites including of course BBC media iplayer and it’s associated sites. Many of the best Smart DNS app services will even allow you to configure your device to use different versions of sites – such as specifying US Netflix. This is also easier than using a VPN which will lock you into a specific country whilst it’s enabled – e.g if you use a US server you’ll be locked out of UK sites like the BBC.

This sounds trivial but it’s actually a huge time saver meaning you can set up a single device to watch US Television and UK Televisions stations without changing anything.  Before you even need to access the BBC iPlayer sign in screen – the DNS server directs you to the appropriate proxy server whenever you try and access the site, so a BBC iPlayer proxy would be in the UK and for Hulu, HBO etc you’d be redirected via a US one and so on.

After you set up your Smart DNS account it petty much all goes on in the background.  However if you change your main IP address then you’ll have to re-enable it in your account.  This can be a bit inconvenient if your address changes often and makes Smart DNS not really ideal for mobile devices if you move around a lot.   For home connections though it’s certainly the easiest BBC iPlayer proxy option that works anywhere in the world.

So if you want to learn how to watch BBC iPlayer in Canada, the USA or anywhere in the world then try it out.

Here’s the Smart DNS Free Trial Below. 

Smart DNS