If you love British television and wish to nibble on some of the movies or quality TV series that are produced and streamed in the UK, you might want to look into the BBC iPlayer. Unluckily, the BBC goes out of its way to block any viewer from outside the UK. But, with the right VPN, you will be able to access one of the most popular (and free!) streaming services from wherever in the world.
What is BBC iPlayer?
The BBC iPlayer is a free streaming service made in the UK. Not only that: it’s ad-free! But how can this be?
You see, every UK citizen is required to pay a TV license fee. With that money, the BBC funds its national TV as well as all the streaming services that it provides through iPlayer. At the time of writing, this fee is around £ 150,00 per year and is mandatory even if a citizen in the UK never watches TV or uses any of the BBC’s streaming services.
In spite of that, the behavior of the BBC to the people of the Great Britain and Northern Ireland is quite fair: its website hides all the advertisement for anybody who is in the UK, and shows it only to foreigners to help them pay and fund their international services such as BBC News, BBC Sounds, BBC Podcasts and more. But, since only UK citizens pay for the content that the BBC decides to acquire the license for, the BBC outright blocks all the incoming traffic from outside UK territory. And it does so zealously.
In an effort to better compete with Netflix, BBC is gradually extending the online availability of shows and programs to up to one year.
Thanks to the BBC iPlayer, UK citizens can watch a TV show after it airs (known as “catch up tv”). This is true also for reruns and new episodes of TV series and shows, which they can usually broadcast for up to 30 days after airing. However, in an effort to better compete with Netflix, BBC is gradually extending the availability of shows and programs to up to one year. Children’s programs will even remain on iPlayer for up to five years. In addition, Brits can watch all of their favorite TV channels online, access exclusive online content and download all of their programming. By extension, anybody who watches the BBC iPlayer using a VPN has the same functionality as a UK citizen – without paying.
Best VPNs for the job
So, here we are touching the core of the solution: which VPN to use? It’s imperative that the VPN has apps for a variety of operating systems. This is because the BBC iPlayer is available basically on any platform, and choosing a VPN just to discover that you can watch the BBC iPlayer on your PC but not on your smartphone would be pretty bad. Also, it’s crucial to use a VPN that is actually made to circumvent geoblocking. Since the main goal of a VPN is to offer privacy and anonymity online, many VPNs do not specifically support or advertise their geoblock circumvention. So here’s our list of the three best VPN services on the market for the BBC iPlayer.
Top 3 VPN Services for BBC iPlayer
NordVPN is one of our top contenders. This is the choice for people on the lookout for a reliable and affordable VPN service. It has all of the apps you need to use the BBC iPlayer on basically any device! Nord boasts a whopping 645 servers in the UK – needed to watch BBC as a ‘local’.
Just as NordVPN, this is one of our top choices. It has an amazing fleet of worldwide servers, of which a solid 7 in the UK. ExpressVPN is also a good choice for anybody who, other than using the iPlayer, needs a fast connection from a variety of locations.
We rated CyberGhost fairly poorly on our overall list of the best VPNs on the market. So you might be asking why it’s now third best for BBC iPlayer. Simply put, it’s one of the best VPN’s for streaming: fast, reliable and easy to use.
CyberGhost has a staggering 665 servers in the UK. Our overall low score comes from CyberGhost’s practices, which put privacy at the bottom. But if you need a VPN just to stream TV shows and movies, and online privacy is less of a concern for you, this is an excellent and fast choice.
BBC Sounds, formerly BBC iPlayer Radio
What was once called iPlayer Radio has been recently renovated into what is now known as iPlayer Sounds. The iPlayer Radio was the place for podcasts, music, sports commentaries and news. But it was very much a passive experience, since there was no personalization whatsoever. You could choose your favorite podcasts and programs to listen to, but that was about it. According to BBC, “In 2018, the BBC announced that it will be replacing BBC iPlayer Radio with a new audio product called BBC Sounds to introduce a more personalized listening experience. Combining radio, podcasts and music, BBC Sounds brings together all of the 80,000 hours of audio content we have available across the BBC to people who might be less familiar with it”.
A BBC spokesperson said: “We’re changing the way we can all consume radio – with a new audio service BBC Sounds to replace iPlayer Radio – to give you easier access to the great British content we make”. A part from upgrading the look and functionality of the site and the apps, many more features were added on the BBC Sounds. For example, with the new app you have a personalized area for saved and subscribed programs called “My Sounds”. Also, playback of live and on-demand audio is much easier to find.
Unfortunately you cannot stream every piece of content of BBC Sounds from anywhere in the world. Because of those pesky licensing issues, of course! According to the BBC, “for rights reasons we may not be able to broadcast certain sports coverage outside of the UK. Music content may also be restricted to within the UK for rights reasons”. So, if you wish to listen to the BBC Sounds without any restrictions, a VPN can easily solve your problem!
BBC iPlayer app
The BBC iPlayer is available for basically every platform imaginable. Whether you run on Android, iOS (iPhone and iPad), MacOS or Windows, the selection seems endless. It’s also available for basically any smart TV, along with any smart-enabling device. All of the apps are reliable, easy to use and understand. Basically every show can be downloaded so that it can be consumed offline. Each app is updated frequently, and both the reviews on the App Store and the Play Store reflect the BBC’s good service.
Having a multitude of apps to choose from has also disadvantages. For non-UK citizens this means finding a VPN that works on a variety of operating systems. Some VPNs don’t support Android, iOS, MacOS or Windows. It’s crucial that the VPN of your choice is compatible with the OS you decide to use. That’s why it’s important to make an informed decision about which VPN to use. Next, let’s have a look at the reasons behind geoblocking.
The practice of geoblocking
The practice of geoblocking based on the geographical position is very common. Netflix, Hulu, the BBC iPlayer and many more international and local streaming services want people to access their country’s content only from…well, their country. This creates a huge discrepancy in the content available in each nation. For example, in many countries where Netflix is available, some of their originals are not available. This happens because Netflix previously gave all the rights to a local streaming service. This means that many users around the world can’t watch House of Cards or Orange is the New Black. Weird, right?
BBC iPlayer blocks all the traffic that comes from outside its UK home base.
The BBC iPlayer, just like many of its competitors, blocks all the traffic that comes from outside its home base. The British broadcaster does this for a number of reasons. The main one is that the BBC doesn’t want to show its content – for which good money was paid – to anybody who didn’t participate in the cost. But how can it know whether you visit from outside or inside the UK? You see, every router has a unique IP address. When asking a website to display a page, your IP address gets sent to the website’s server. Along with all information regarding your locality. This way, they will always know with 100% certainty which country you are visiting from.
Using a VPN is the most secure way to mask our IP address. What happens is very simple: each time you ask for a website page, the request goes through the VPN server first. When it does, the server swaps your IP address with its IP address. This way, if the VPN server is located in, say, Germany, your request will look like it came from Germany. Unfortunately, having multiple servers around world is expensive. Even though there are plenty of free VPNs, we discourage their use.
Using a free VPN for BBC iPlayer
While a free VPN might seem a bargain, we know full well it isn’t. As mentioned earlier, setting up an extensive park of consistent servers is a very expensive endeavor. This means that every VPN service has to find a way to make money, even the free ones. For the latter, one of the main source of income comes from actually selling your data to third parties. This completely defeats the purpose of using a VPN, since they are a tool to protect one’s online privacy, not to exploit it.
If you’re not at all concerned with your privacy, and just wish to watch BBC iPlayer regardless of what the free VPN does with your data, we still have sad news for you. Most, if not all, free VPNs don’t create new IP addresses fast enough to replace the ones that were blocked. And the BBC is continuously on the hunt for IP addresses associated with VPNs. In fact, any subscription-based VPN (even the big boys) that promises to circumvent geoblocking has to fight hard to do so.
But how exactly does that work? Each time a streaming service, be it iPlayer or Netflix, detects a multitude of connections from the same IP address, it automatically flags it as a VPN after a while. This is because an IP address associated to an actual home router couldn’t possibly have thousands of devices connected. So every VPN that wants to keep working with streaming services, has to quickly create new IP addresses. That’s why using a free VPN just doesn’t work when it comes to circumventing geoblocks.
VPNs that don’t work with BBC iPlayer
Really, we value your time and money. So we feel it’s crucial to also point out all the VPNs that will not work with BBC iPlayer. As we explained, you might want to buy a VPN subscription for a number of reasons. Those VPNs that might be ideal for privacy & security might not be the right fit for circumventing geoblocking. Unfortunately, some paid VPNs don’t advertise the circumvention of geo-blocking. Others do, but don’t really work (well) with the BBC iPlayer.
These VPNs don’t work with iPlayer:
- IPVanish: IPVanish is a good choice if you are somewhat familiar with the more technical side of VPNs. While the apps are more complicated compared to other services, it offers advanced functionalities that will make a lot of geeks very happy. The cost is also a bit higher than that of the competition. Even though this VPN might be an excellent choice for privacy and security, it does not circumvent any geoblocking related to streaming services, not even for Netflix.
- Private Internet Access (PIA): during our testing of PIA, we found that while it didn’t specifically advertise the circumvention of geoblocking, many servers actually worked to unblock the American Netflix. Unfortunately, we cannot say the same for BBC iPlayer. This is really a bummer, since Private Internet Access is overall a reliable VPN with stable servers and a fairly low price point.
- HideMyAss: HideMyAss has always been one of the most popular VPNs around. Maybe it’s the catchy name, or maybe it’s its user friendliness paired with a wide range of servers and locations available. Unfortunately, the catchy name is not enough for us to recommend it if you’re looking to circumvent the BBC iPlayer geoblocking. Weird, since they do a very good job at connecting to various Netflix catalogs!
- PureVPN: PureVPN is really hit-and-miss. We really like that you can buy extra features on top of the standard subscription. It allows you to personalize the VPN in a way that makes PureVPN stand out from the competition. Sadly, their troubles with DNS leaks and keeping score of the session logs made it hard to recommend. Plus, it doesn’t work for the BBC iPlayer, so you may want to look elsewhere.
Bear in mind that there are other paid VPNs that might not work with the BBC iPlayer.
It goes without saying that, when it comes to free VPNs, virtually all of them don’t work at all. If you want to know why we encourage you to read our related article about free VPNs.
Why is my VPN not working with BBC iPlayer?
If you have downloaded a VPN and you still can’t connect to the BBC iPlayer, here are some steps to follow to make sure you have everything up and running.
- Check your internet connection: this might seem trivial, but it’s a good idea to open a new page or tab of your browser to make sure that you’re connected to the Internet. Type google.com and search for something. If the results appear just fine, then proceed to the next step. If not, you might want to restart your router, restart your PC or device and check again. If the problem persists, we suggest calling your ISP.
- Clear your browser cache: depending on your browser, you might need to clear the cache. If you don’t know how to do this, an easier and faster way is to open an incognito mode window of your browser, which has cache disabled by default.
- Check the VPN connection: is your VPN actually on? Depending on your operating system (OS), this can be done in a number of ways. For Android, you should see a key icon in the notification bar. For iOS, the badge “VPN” should appear in the top right corner. For MacOS and Windows, you need to check the VPN app to see if it’s actually connected. Usually you can find a virtual pushed button or a green switch. To make sure the VPN is working, turn it off, go to https://www.dnsleaktest.com/ and take note of the number. (Learn more about DNS leaks here.) Then, turn it back on and refresh the page that tells you the IP address. If the number changes, your VPN should be actually connected.
- Check the server you chose: in order for a VPN to unlock the BBC iPlayer, you must be connected to a server in the UK. Most VPNs allow you to choose a server based on their location. If your VPN does not allow you to do so, you might need to look for other providers.
- Check if you’re using the right VPN: if the VPN of your choice is a free one, there is really nothing more you can do. As we explained, free VPNs do not have the capability to circumvent geoblocking. Conversely, if you’re paying for a subscription, have a look in the VPN’s website FAQ. Most FAQs state the VPN’s policy regarding the circumvention of geoblocking. If a provider doesn’t mention its ability to circumvent geoblocking, it may mean that it doesn’t provide the service. If it does advertise it, we strongly recommend contacting the VPN helpdesk. In most cases they will be able to help you right away!
How to access the BBC iPlayer with a dedicated IP
Using a dedicated IP, albeit a more expensive option, gives you the guarantee that your IP address won’t likely ever be blacklisted. “You seem to be using an unblocker or proxy. Please turn off any of these services and try again”. If you’ve ever read these words while using a VPN, then you’ve tried to connect to a streaming service with a blacklisted IP address.
A streaming service provider can easily tell if you’re using a VPN. If they detect hundreds or thousands of devices connected from the same IP address, they blacklist it immediately. Having your own IP address ensures that nobody else on the planet will be using it. This way, no streaming service can detect that you’re connected to a VPN server. Unfortunately, if you want to unlock various catalogs across different countries, you will have to buy a single IP address for each country.
Among the VPNs that we’ve tested, both NordVPN and PureVPN offer a dedicated IP address in the UK. Keep in mind that a dedicated IP address, other than being more expensive, is also easier to trace. So, if you want a high level of privacy and protection, we recommend using a shared IP address. There are many VPNs that circumvent geoblocking without the need of using a dedicated IP.
How to watch BBC iPlayer in the USA and Canada (North-America)?
The USA is the home of Netflix. The popular streaming service is one of the main reasons why VPNs are used around the world: everybody is envious of the amount of movies and shows on the American Netflix. But the Brits are stepping up their game, and many amazing movies and high quality TV shows are produced in the Albionic lands. The BBC tried to introduce a paid version of the iPlayer in several countries outside the UK (in Western-Europe and overseas in Canada and Australia), but without including the US. Why? Because American pay-TV operators had threatened to drop the BBC America channel if the iPlayer app had launched locally in the US. They believed it would cost them viewers.
The BBC tried to introduce a paid version of the iPlayer in several countries outside the UK.
Anyway, the “global” version of the BBC iPlayer was scrapped in June 2015. So many people in the USA are still looking for a way to watch the BBC iPlayer which, if we didn’t already mention, would be completely free!
If you wish to expand on your local Canadian streaming service catalog of movies and TV shows, the BBC iPlayer could be an amazing idea. Unfortunately, the BBC iPlayer is not available in Canada. That’s why it’s a very good idea to invest in a VPN. This way you’ll be able to circumvent geoblocking and access the amazing collection of movies and TV shows of the iPlayer.
Accessing the BBC iPlayer in Australia
According to an article from Quora, “more British citizens live in Australia than in the rest of the EU”. The problem of living abroad is that, if you’re a British expat, you might be required to pay the TV tax, yet be completely blocked from being able to watch British television due to geoblocking restrictions. This is why, if you’re homesick and long for an episode of EastEnders, it would be a great idea to turn to a VPN for help. Thanks to a server located in the UK you’ll be able to access the iPlayer and claim and enjoy what’s yours!
How to watch BBC iPlayer in Spain, Germany and other EU countries
Every winter, many Brits flock to the south of Spain to escape the cold, rainy winter months in the United Kingdom. But what is one to do if you want to watch British TV outside the UK? The BBC will block your favorite series and catch up tv when accessed from abroad. Similarly to what happens when you live abroad, while travelling it’s very hard to access local streaming services. So if you find yourself wanting to see Top Gear or Doctor Who while in Madrid, you will be blocked even though you have paid the TV fee that the UK imposes. Don’t despair! A good VPN connection will help you circumvent the geoblocking in no time.
What TV shows to watch on the BBC iPlayer?
Some might wonder: why go through all this trouble trying to unlock the BBC iPlayer…? As mentioned before, the BBC iPlayer is now far more than a simple catch-up service. It is a full-blown streaming service, home to a number of quality (and exclusive) TV shows and movies that give the bigger names in the streaming industry a run for their money. Here are some of our favorites:
- Luther: Luther is a thrilling crime drama produced by BBC Drama Productions that follows the life of John Luther, played by Idries Elba, a Detective Chief Inspector working for the “Serious and Serial” Crime Unit. With his dedication to the job and a strong temper, he solves every crime with passion and relentlessness. (trailer: https://youtu.be/zltvWcctE6g)
- This Country: This Country is a hilarious mockumentary sitcom. The show centers on the theme of social awkwardness, following the lives of Kerry and Lee Mucklowe in rural Britain. (trailer: https://youtu.be/uPSUas961PU)
- The Left Behind: The Left Behind is a docudrama focused on the rise of far-right movements in the UK. The makers of the show illustrate that this sentiment is driven by a growing sense of hopelessness, which they captured in this breath-taking series about a Welsh man who commits an Islamophobic hate crime. (trailer: https://youtu.be/dTdozsNmwHQ)
- Doctor Who: Does this really need an introduction? The iconic TV series is now at its eleventh season, counting 26 more in the classic version from 1963. All the 11 new seasons are available on the BBC iPlayer for you to binge watch. Follow the adventures of The Doctor, a Time Lord (and Lady!) that travels through space and time with the T.A.R.D.I.S. (trailer: https://youtu.be/XCt6f1Ttmy4)
- Outnumbered: This can be easily described as the British version of Modern Family. It follows the everyday life of a father and a mother outnumbered by their three unruly children. (trailer: https://youtu.be/eYaG851TpXM)
How to watch BBC iPlayer with a VPN? (quick guide)
To access, stream and watch the BBC iPlayer outside the UK, we have compiled a list of quick steps that work for most VPNs:
- Choose a VPN that has servers in Great Britain or Northern Ireland. As we mentioned, our top choice is NordVPN.
- Download the app on the device of your choosing and install it.
- Select one of the UK servers available from the VPN’s fleet of servers.
- Go to the BBC iPlayer website or app and choose something to watch.
If you’ve never created an account for BBC iPlayer, you will need to do so. Worry not, it’s very easy: BBC only asks for your email, date of birth, UK postcode and gender. And none of the info has to be legitimate:
- With the VPN connection active, head over to the BBC website following this link.
- Select “I am over 13” and insert a date of birth of your choice.
- Insert an e-mail address and password. You can generate a temporary email address using Temp-Mail.
- In the country field, choose United Kingdom. Use the UK postcode generator to create a valid postcode and fill the relative field on the form
- Choose a gender.
- After email verification, you are ready to start binging on some British television. Don’t forget to take a break every now and then!
The BBC iPlayer offer is very tempting. Lots of quality content for free, without interruptions and without ads. The only problem is that, of course, BBC geoblocks anybody who connects from outside the UK. Luckily, there are several VPNs that can help you with unlocking all of the BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds (previously BBC iPlayer Radio) content. Our favorites are NordVPN, ExpressVPN and CyberGhost. Since the iPlayer service is free (when not a British citizen), we really suggest looking into paying a small fee for a VPN to access the BBC catalog.