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.

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

UK TV Channels Abroad

So is it possible? Can you watch UK TV Channels abroad? The good news is yes, all the major UK TV stations broadcast online and can be accessed over the internet from anywhere in the world.

UK TV Channels Abroad

In fact, at this moment literally millions of connections are made to the UK online TV stations.  They’re watching the BBC in Marbella, Channel 4 in Istanbul, expats from anywhere and you can watch ITV player abroad too.

Of course, it’s not quite that straight forward as you may have discovered if you’ve tried to watch British TV online. Let’s firstly list the major online TV stations:

  • BBC iPlayer – the best online TV channels possibly in the world, with about ten online streaming channels live and thousands of hours content archived. For many of us – it’s all we watch!
  • ITV Hub – UK’s premiere commercial TV station. Live streaming from all their channels and huge archive content although all of them have advertisements. New Box set section.
  • All 4 – the innovative UK TV channel. Live streaming and archive section, with some brilliant box sets.
  • My 5 – Channel 5’s online channel with live streaming and box sets from their own content and bought in from other channels. Some great dramas, crime and sci-fi programmes that you won’t find anywhere else.
  • Sky Go – Sky is the biggest satellite broadcaster in the UK and has millions of subscribers. Loads of movies, films, TV series and documentaries. Plus usually has coverage of most major sporting events. You will need a paid subscription to watch Sky Go abroad and access these channels.

There are other stations of course, including the BBC and Virgins commercial channels but these are easily the most popular.  The free options are usually enough for anyone with some of the world’s best English language content (although there’s many foreign language films and documentaries especially on Channel 4 too).

However here’s the catch, every single one of the above sites does a location check when you visit their sit. If you’re connecting from outside the United Kingdom, then you’ll be redirected to an apology and none of the streaming content will work.

How to Watch UK TV Channels Abroad

But please don’t give up, those few channels are worth fighting for with literally thousands of hours of fantastic TV – documentaries, drama, current affairs, comedies and movies just between the free to air channels.

All you need to do is hide your location and make it look like you’re in the UK. There is a simple way to do this by routing your connection through a server based in Britain. There used to be several options for this connection including using something called a proxy server however all these options are now blocked by the websites. The only method that cannot be detected is by using a VPN which is what we can see in the following video:

The video focuses on the ITV hub but in reality the same methods work for all the UK online channels including the BBC.  The only difference is the Sky GO which you will need a valid Sky Subscription to work (or someone in the UK who will let you use their account).

That’s all there is to it, every time you want to watch any of the UK TV channels on your computer or laptop then just connect to one of the UK servers.  Any decent VPN service should allow you to watch UK TV channels abroad.  If you want to watch a TV channel from another country, I’m afraid they all do this country blocking stuff, then choose a server from that country.

If  you want to watch on another device, then you can set up the VPN directly on your phone, tablet or Chromebook – it’s not hard.  Most of the decent providers will send you a guide and it should only take a couple of minutes to set up manually.

There are quite a lot of these VPN services available but only a few that work reliably each time.  The very cheap ones are mostly terrible because they get blocked all the time and overload their servers so that you’ll find the stream buffering all the time.  Although if you can download some of the BBC programmes to watch later if that’s preferable.

Our choice is the wonderfully, fast, reliable and discrete .. They’ve been tweaking their video streaming for over a decade now and you won’t find a faster way to watch the BBC iPlayer anywhere in the world. However much depends on your physical location so it’s probably worth testing the trial account first.

Try it here

British TV for Expats

Of course, people leave their home countries for all sorts of reasons – work, families, quality of life or even just the weather.  However there is always something that the expat will miss about their home country and for the British expat it almost always includes UK Television.  You see we can sit and moan about adverts and repeats but in both cases the television stations in the UK are way better that in most other countries.  Sometimes you have to go without the BBC to appreciate just how incredible it is, both in quality and diversity of content (and of course no advertising whatsoever).

So do people have to just do without, or is there an option to get British TV for Expats so are there ways to watch the UK channels abroad?   Well there are a few options, which we will explain here.

British TV for Expats

These are probably the most popular although there a couple of alternatives which depend on you specific location, generally these are what most people do.

  • Option 1: Using the Internet to view Online via a Proxy or VPN
  • Option 2: Using a hardware device like a Slingbox
  • Option 3: Installing Kodi on a media streamer or computer.

Now not all these options are feasible for everyone. For example the Slingbox is a clever little device which you can buy for about £100 – here’s one on Amazon.

British TV for Expats

However it works by being connected directly to a Sky Satellite box in the UK. So basically it worked well for people who were simply travelling or away from home. The device also needed an internet connection as well to transmit the Sky broadcast across the internet. Don’t get me wrong, if you had a working Sky box to use and a fast internet connection (upload speed) then it works brilliantly and gave you full access to whatever your Sky subscription included. The only other drawback is that it actually controls the physical box therefore you change the channel for anyone watching the same box.

Unfortunately most people don’t have access to this sort of setup especially ex-pats who’ve moved abroad permanently, and even if they did it’s quite an expensive solution.  The truth is that there is no simple expat tv box that you can just stick in your suitcase and use.

Kodi is another option to try an utilize all the free streaming sites and pirate broadcasters across the internet. Again it’s a decent option especially if you install on one of the new generation android media streamers. The drawbacks are that you have to be careful as these streams can be traced back although if you’re abroad you should be pretty safe from legal implications. The second and major one in my eyes is that the streams are often slow and unreliable, they’re guaranteed to be at their worse when you really want to watch something.

The safer way to use Kodi is to try it over a VPN solution which will hide your true location. However if you invest in a decent VPN solution this extra layer is not really necessary for much of the UK television programmes as it’s all available online. Every single UK broadcaster has an online presence which allows access to 95% of their content. Indeed some of the BBC’s programmes are only available online through the BBC iPlayer.  Kodi is useful, but be prepared to spend a lot of your time tweaking, updating and fiddling with various settings to get it to work properly.

Personally, I just want to be able to watch the BBC News every night, catch the latest documentaries, enjoy a thriller or so and of course Match of the Day on a Saturday – without hassle and messing around with technology every evening.

Using a VPN you can either download to watch offline or stream directly from the various websites. The VPN server must be based in the UK for this method to work properly though, just watch this video for a brief introduction:

The video demonstrates using a UK based VPN to watch the ITV hub. By hiding your real IP address you can watch any of the UK based TV stations and use all their features. For many having access to the BBC is more than enough but the all the other channels work too although you will need a subscription to access things like Sky Go and Netflix from abroad.

You may have heard that many of the VPN services and proxies no longer work especially with the BBC.  It is true that the BBC blocked hundreds of these services over the course of 2016 and early 2017.  The main casualties were the services that marketed themselves as tools for expat TV uk watching – the survivors were the genuine security programs which could be used in exactly the same way.

Out of these security programs that still actually work for British TV for Expats, then can we suggest trying out – IDC, it’s been working with the BBC iPlayer for nearly ten years now and still works perfectly well.

 

BBC iPlayer Abroad Blocked

Try Identity Cloaker and enjoy the BBC and ITV from anywhere
Click here and try the 10 day Trial

There seems to be a permanent battle between the big media companies and the many VPN/proxy companies who allow people to bypass the region locking they operate.  For example, although technically you’ll find that the BBC iPlayer abroad is blocked – in reality a huge proportion of their viewers watch from outside the UK.  The BBC has been half heartedly restricting access to their online services for many years.  In fact they estimated themselves that over 60 million people were watching the BBC from outside the UK in 2015.  However there was never any real attempt to reduce the millions of people who had access from across the world.    For instance, the technology has been available to detect and block simple proxies for many years but the BBC has never implemented this on their servers previously.

This changed last year when the BBC upped their game in restricting access to non-UK based individuals.  First went the proxies, instantly the cheapest method of accessing the BBC iPlayer abroad by using a simple proxy server disappeared.  They introduced the technology to detect and block access from proxies automatically, something that the likes of Hulu and Netflix had been doing for several years.    The next stage was tackling the more advanced VPN/SSH services which are much more difficult to detect.   Blocking these is more difficult, usually involving identifying IP address ranges which are supporting multiple connections and then restricting access individually.

The final method was to target the companies directly, so any VPN service which advertised accessing the BBC from abroad would be contacted by the BBC legal department.   Most would close down their services rather than risk legal action, plus many were given notice by the datacenter companies who hosted these servers for similar reasons.   A huge number of the overt VPN companies ended up being blocked by one of these methods – some have estimated that up to 90% of VPN providers no longer have access to the BBC UK servers.  Check out expat forums and you’ll see loads of posts about my BBC iPlayer VPN not working any more.

 

BBC iPlayer abroad

Fortunately there is hope, a large section of the VPN companies were able to avoid these blocks.   Here’s what you need to look out for to identify a VPN service which does work for accessing the BBC iPlayer abroad.

  • Low Key – make sure the service you use doesn’t mention the BBC directly or use any of it’s logos in advertising.
  • VPN/Security Service – all the surviving companies are primarily security services selling their VPN as privacy and security programs.
  • Multiple Countries and Servers – the ability to swap through ranges of IP addresses is crucial, this ensures the BBC cannot blacklist their servers individually.

It’s unclear whether the BBC will continue to escalate these restrictions, certainly it made a huge effort during 2016/2017.   However there are signs that this is not going to be maintained completely.   There’s always rumours of a BBC iPlayer overseas subscription which would be a great alternative yet nothing ever seems to happen. Certainly it looks like the game is up for proxies, the BBC was the last major media company to allow these and that looks unlikely to be rolled back.

However most of the remaining VPN providers have the ability to switch out their IP address ranges very easily so it’s difficult to maintain a complete block on these.  Certainly companies like Hulu have tried for years and failed to restrict them completely.

So How Can I Watch BBC iPlayer Abroad

So here’s my favorite service in operation to watch British TV :

There are other options which the BBC could do to enforce their UK only viewing strategy. For instance, implementing some sort of login system based on purchasing a TV license could be a possibility.    There was also a BBC iPlayer USA subscription at one point which may perhaps be recreated.  Lots of companies in Canada and the US require a cable reference number before you can watch online for example.  This would be a huge undertaking for the BBC however one it was likely to implement before Brexit.  The European Union is trying to establish a single digital market where digital goods can be sold equally across the EU.  This would technically would also incorporate services like watching the BBC online outside the UK.   It’s unclear how the UK’s leaving the European Union will affect this situation though.

So we should be ok with a decent quality VPN for the time being, there are always some reports including recently that Sky Go blocking VPN programs.  However the best quality ones have been working for many years, I’ve been using Identity Cloaker for nearly a decade now to access the BBC iPlayer app from all over the world.   It also works for all the other UK TV stations as well, although I just watch ITV player abroad and the BBC mainly.  I can confirm that I’ve used to watch Sky Go abroad in 2018 too, and it worked fine.

At the time of writing, Identity Cloaker is still working perfectly with the BBC iPlayer abroad and in fact with all the major media sites.

Click here to try the cheap

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