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.
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’.
- Sizeable server network in 56 countries
- Fast connections and IKEv2 protection
- Supports Netflix, Bittorrent and Tor
- Free 3-day trial
- Some servers are unstable
- App could have been more elaborate
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.
- Large server fleet and available countries
- Good apps for different operating systems
- Good speeds
- Relatively expensive
- No free trial
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.
- Wide range of speedy servers
- Very clear and easy to use application
- Reliably evade geoblocking
- Does keep (limited) data
- No P2P on mobile apps
- Current owner may be unreliable
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?
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 to look into, 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.
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.
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.
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 real:
- 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.