/ Technology, Travel & Leisure

Why can’t I watch BBC iPlayer abroad?

TV beach

Whether it’s catching up on programmes I’ve missed, or discovering content I’d never have spotted live, I’m an avid BBC iPlayer user. But when I go on holiday, why can’t I take the service with me?

As a member of the Tech team, I’ve been contacted on many occasions by people asking for ways to watch BBC programmes abroad.

Currently, all iPlayer TV programmes are only available to stream in the UK. You can download already broadcast iPlayer content to certain devices to watch while you’re away, but you’ll need enough space for all those EastEnders episodes you want.

There are a few workarounds available, but they’re either pricey (the Slingbox 350 media streamer costs £130) or a bit of hassle (IP masks).

Should licence fee payers be allowed holiday access through some kind of login system?

The digital wind of change

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale thinks so. He’s called on the BBC to make iPlayer available outside of the UK:

‘It is only right that for someone who has paid access to a subscription service – or even just a licence fee – to be able to access that content on holiday overseas.

‘That’s why I urge the broadcaster to make their content available, and to come forward with proposals for portability and how this can be made to work for the industry.’

The BBC’s currently looking more closely at how iPlayer is operating as a platform in a world where viewers are increasingly enjoying their TV wherever and whenever they want.

There are some nice developments on the table, such as the ability to do Netflix-style ‘binge’ watching of BBC dramas. But wouldn’t it be nice to be able to stream that content while on holiday?

However, this surely extends beyond the BBC to streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon.  For example, you’ll be locked out of your UK Netflix subscription if you’re in another country – is that right? If we pay a subscription to use these services, why should we always have to be ‘at home’ to enjoy them?


It shouldn’t be beyond the technical ability of the BBC to devise a method whereby license payers can watch IPlayer when abroad, certainly in Europe.
The bigger issue though is why can’t we watch everything that we subscribe to including Sky, etc., throughout Europe.
I object to paying for something I can’t receive just as I objected to the change of satellite which was effected a couple of years ago.
A simple password / ID would restrict use to those who have paid.

Forget what you should and should not do abroad. This is surely about choice and delivery of a service you have paid for (one I’m happy to pay for without the ‘scourge of adverts’). Why should only the tech savvies be able to access iPlayer via a ‘proxy server’, ‘private tunnel’, ‘tunnel bear’,”ArkVPN’ etc. ? Do we not all pay the same licence fee? If these workarounds are available then they should be made available by the BBC to all who pay a licence fee.

But what actually hacks me off more is that I cannot even access programmes I have downloaded. I understood the limitations of this BBC service and my technical ability and did download. I watched some programmes on holiday but since 23rd cannot access BBC iPlayer because, it would appear to me at least, there was an update to the iPlayer which, it seems, I cannot action because I’m abroad. Really I’m not that hacked off because it means I can drink more wine for longer. But it does grind with me that large organisations can take actions that affect ordinary oiks like me without blinking an eye. Let me finish this glass and then imagine kicking their corporate backside.

If you know how I can update BBC iPlayer and access my downloads then please educate me. If not, send a bottle of red wine to the Panorama Apartments, Alghero, Sardinia. Buona notte

“delivery of a service you have paid for” : I suspect that if you check the small print, viewing BBC i-player abroad is not a service you have paid for. In fact there is no charge for viewing it in the UK. The TV licence might fund the BBC but the service you have paid for in buying a licence is to watch any channel being broadcast on a television in the UK. There is no need to have a TV licence if you only watch catch-up TV but for royalties and commercial reasons that have been outlined in this Conversation the BBC will not make it available overseas. As you said, suitable apparatus is available that will enable i-player to be captured abroad but that is really a dodge. The situation is a mess and out of step with the way technology and lifestyles have evolved so it needs to be resolved quickly.

I am happily using Samsung Smart TV. It has BBC iPlayer UK catchup TV app and can run in NZ or anywhere. You need a VPN like https://www.fastestvpns.com/ though.

I am just about to go and work for the MOD in Gibraltar and would like to know what I can get other than the forces BBC. Also how to get it ? Thanks.

Adrian Sharp says:
27 September 2015

Alan, would recommend you look at Tunnelbear.com . It is a VPN back to a number of different countries, that works on majority of platforms. We are currently on holiday and “the other half” is happy she can keep up to date with her TV. I think to stream video you need to consider the “paid for” version, either monthly or annually. Good tech support too.

I think you will find that i Player ‘ Global’ was withdrawn by the BBC a few months ago.

Eloise says:
27 September 2015

Interesting how many people link their ‘right’ to use the BBC iplayer to the fact that they are paying a TV licence fee. Legal experts will no doubt correct me if I am wrong but I believe this only applies if you’re watching *live* content. Watching on-demand content on the iPlayer after it is broadcast is free and there is no need to pay a TV licence fee to do this. I think this is a missed opportunity for the BBC. I am a frequent traveler and only watch on-demand content after it is broadcast. I agree that the current funding model is not fit-for-purpose. I also find geoblocking hugely frustrating. I think this could be easily fixed; I for one would happily pay for a yearly BBC iplayer subscription fee (in lieu of a TV licence fee) if it did enable me to watch TV content anywhere in the world on any device, as and when I chose to do so, whether it is live or on-demand. This would (a) circumvent all the geoblocking nonsense arising from an outdated legal framework – which by the way TV broadcasters are very keen to protect – and (b) provide a new funding stream for the BBC with hundreds of thousands – millions? – of people (not just expats) signing up to watch BBC content.

I can see the problems of giving a few billion people free access to iplayer, not least in terms of scale and cost (unless Mr Whittingdale is going to stump up the money). If there was a more sophisticated licence fee system perhaps it would be possible. Perhaps BBC could even be an exporter of channels, to earn money and upset Murdoch and his associates!

I’m an expat in France and pay my French TV licence, but tend to watch it only for news and current affairs.

I would very much like the possibility of paying a licence fee or subscription to the BBC in order to keep up with programmes our relatives are watching in the UK.

In the meantime, like others, I use “dodges” to get round the systems being used by UK broadcasters. They know that viewers abroad are doing this in huge numbers, and it is time that all pretence was dropped and a proper, above-board subscription system introduced.

However, I fear that the giant American programme-makers will object too strongly.

JJ Best says:
24 October 2015

I thought that the EU was a single market and so this restriction should surely not apply within its boundaries.
Why do companies get the benefits of deciding where in the EU to base their HQs and to pay their taxes but consumers not get the benefits of looking at TV from anywhere in the EU they want. I can’t get access either to French/German Arte which has a good line up of quality programs.

I was pleased to find this thread, particularly because I have found very little online content from UK TV licence holders who wish to watch UK TV while living in mainland Europe. It seems that finally the BBC plans to provide access to live and on demand iPlayer, based on the TV licence, so that we will no longer have to rely on the dubious technology needed to avoid geo-blocking.

I found this link useful.


So far I have not seen any clear indication that the ITV intends their programming to be similarly available.

Ann Sonya says:
2 May 2016

Not only ‘holidays’. Many UK natives/citizens/licence payers go abroad for more than a holiday fortnight. I need to spend time in Greece twice or three times a year. Right now I am there and have been unable to watch Live Snooker World Championship from Sheffield, Crucible Theatre.
I am feeling very strongly that the licence will not be paid – this is the 4th year I have been in such a depressed state due to this absolute unfairness, illogicality and let’s be fair, hair-brained dinosauric behaviour of the BBC re its licence and ‘who can watch where’.

Right now I’m watching the “Live Snooker World Championship from Sheffield, Crucible Theatre” on Eurosport, i find it much better than the BBC.


Look – I pay my licence fee. I’d like, no I want, to watch BBC programmes wherever I am.
It is simply unacceptable not to allow licence payers to watch BBC abroad.

If I pay for a service, and technically I can receive it, then I should receive it. BBC knows when I am not in the UK and prevents me. Surely it also knows (or can know) that I have paid my TV Licence fee, and so can remove the bar?

Come on BBC – give us what we pay for and stop making pathetic excuses.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Dean pearce says:
17 February 2018

I’m currently in Poland for a week, I pay my tv licence, I have i player, the licence isn’t cheap, I should be able to access it wherever I can, as I do Netflix.My licence can be checked so what’s the problem?
BBC please keep up with the times and sort it.

Michael D C DYNE says:
8 January 2021

The debate about geo-blocking goes on, but action there is nought. It is clear that the UK terrestrial channels have lost out to the likes of CNN, Netflix and Prime. Unless they reform, BBC will disappear and ITV will be taken over by an American streamer, if only for its archive. The moneymen will asset strip anything from which they can profit. We are over-regulated Britain.

I was also facing the BBC iPlayer issue when I was trying to access it outside the UK, luckily I found a useful guide https://www.bestvpnsguide.com/watch-bbc-iplayer-in-new-zealand/ which helped me to watch BBC iPlayer abroad. May be it can help others are well.