/ 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?


I have a proxy server at home on my gigabit internet connection. I can access it from anywhere in the world and cause the BBC, Netflix, National Lottery and anyone else to see that I’m accessing their web site or service from the UK via my UK IP address. It works perfectly and costs me nothing. I’m strongly against geo-blocking, particularly within the EU. But I do believe that BBC iPlayer should be restricted to those who pay for it, either through a UK television licence or via other means.

Have used a VPN (and can cheaply access i-Player etc providing there is sufficient bandwidth) but the advice from the operator was NOT to use it to buy lottery tickets whilst outside UK as, in the unlikely event you win, they appear to check how the ticket was bought. This may well be an Urban Myth but do you want to take the risk, however unlikely?

I aim to buy lottery tickets when I’m physically in the UK, often 8 weeks in advance. But if they checked “how the ticket was bought”, they would always see that I was at home in the UK, using the same IP address as usual, even if I happened to buy the ticket outside the UK.

I used private tunnel (app from the Mac app store) when I was away on business for a month. Meant I could connect to a UK server address which allowed me to use iPlayer

Presumably John Whittingdale will provide funding not just “advice”

i could access BBC i- player radio In Italy this summer though my iPhone. Listened to the Today programme in Liguria and Tuscany with no bother

I never go out of the UK, or if i do it’s just over to France with work and back within the day, so this does not effect me.

But truth be told i think this is bit of a silly blog by Which?, of course the BBC IPlayer should be locked to the UK, as it’s people in the UK who pay the TV Licence Fee? And if you go on holiday why are you sat in front of a screen trying to watch the IPlayer and not enjoying your holiday?

***Disclaimer: I do not pay the TV Licence Fee as i do not watch “live” TV, i only watch my TV via BBC/ITVPlayer. So yes, I’m a total hypocrite here***

Soon it will be password protected so that only license-fee payers can use iPlayer.

When they do change the law so you need a TV license to watch BBC IPlayer that’s cool, I will get a special BBC IPLayer license they are talking about.

But if that dosn’t happen and they want me to to pay the full price, then I’ll just stop watching BBC IPlayer tbh, I only watch Doctors (the soap), and it’s not worth £145 per year to me.

‘BBC Click
@😠 😠 😠 😠 @BBCiPlayer Unfortunately due to rights restrictions etc you can only view the iPlayer from within the UK. Sorry about that.’
*Still awaiting the explanation of “rights restrictions etc”.
**Fortunately an inexpensive Raspi VPN gives me access whilst I am abroad that I have paid for at home.


All anyone abroad would need to be is go via a VPN, to watch it. It’s not rocket science. They need a new licence model, something like pay for what you watch rather than the current archaic everyone in the UK pays ( with some exceptions) whether you use the cooking , antique biased programming or not.

The BBC licence fee in real terms is 9% less than it was in 1968 – despite a growth in channels and “platforms”. Where could you get such breadth of informative and entertaining programmes designed to suit all tastes for less than 40p a day?
There is plenty wrong with the BBC, but I doubt those wrongs are in principle any different in other broadcasters. We should work on getting those defects put right, but give them the ability through the licence fee to have a predictable income with which to produce radio and tv programmes without the scourge of adverts.
All who view their output, whether “live” or recorded, should contribute to the cost whether at home or abroad.

I am delighted to see action on this . I think most people who live large chunks of their lives abroad would welcome legal access to the vastly better UK content even if they have to pay for it.
I’m sure however this will ultimately have something to do with international rights – have we got the rights to show this internationally? and will throw up a slew of issues for all streaming sites, Netflix etc. not forgetting the power of Murdoch and Sky.
But in a global world, and in a world where copyrights are being challenged (see recent ruling on the use of Happy Birthday lyrics) someone needs to challenge this. I can’t think of anyone better than the BBC.
And while we’re about it, what about the other UK players, C4, ITV etc? Just tell us what we have to pay (though in my case I already pay the UK license fee), what kit we need (if anything other than good wifi), and we’ll do it.
I do already buy quite a lot of UK TV via iTunes- great if you miss episodes and want to see the rest (best to use Apple TV for this). You Tube also has some older BBC documentaries, presumably those it’s felt can’t be monetised. These are some workaround. I’ve also used proxy servers but haven’t found any very stable or successful. Another possible workaround is film on – get this on your computer or iPad and plug into your tv or stream via Apple TV. It’s free, works fine if your wifi signal is good.
But let’s make all this simple and legal and easily available!

jim Hassett says:
25 September 2015

Should be free to everyone who pays for a T.V. licence! simple.

I use Tunnel Bear Application on my iPad or Macbook and can watch BBC iPlayer everywhere.

I use an IOS app called ArkVPN. You download the app from the App Store, then when you are abroad, you connect to wifi, then open the app, and ask the app to connect as well. Then the BBC thinks you are in UK,

Presumably anyone in the world can do this, so they all get BBC iplayer free.

The BBC iplayer app is very good, so I would have though it wouldn’t be too much work to ask you for your TV licence number in apps or online to get access. Then they could allow viewing from anywhere, by people who have a licence.

Dear Oh Dear!

Can you really not manage to go away on holiday without needing to watch television. If so, why go on holiday?

The iPlayer is available in the UK because UK taxpayers pay for it. It sounds like a typical youthful whinge — “I want what I want and I want it whenever I want it”. Please get over it and just enjoy the mind-broadening effects of overseas travel and live for a short while without the mind-numbing effects of television. You will ultimately be much better for it.

Yours, Mr Exasperated.

prmbayar says:
26 September 2015

It appears that you have not really read the correspondence above…
A lot of us pay for our TV license in the UK but, for vatious reasons, and not just being “on holiday” – spend time abroad. We would like the same access to our paid-for BBC programmes then as we have in the UK.

Thank you for your reply. It’s precisely as a result of reading the article _and_ the correspondence above that I made my comment. For many years, I too travelled around the world (almost certainly a lot more than you) and found that I could manage without television since there was so much else to see and experience. That little television I did watch, if available, was local, usually poor to mediocre quality – even in the US – and very limited. Schedules were often short and almost amateurish, filled out with American series or local imitations. But just occasionally, it was possible to learn something about the country I was in.

If I really needed to see a particular programme on UK television, it was no inconvenience to record it for consumption on return. Surely that’s not too much of a sacrifice?

Wow MDW, pompous much? I have surely travelled FAR more than you have…just wow!! You make assumptions without any evidence to attack the valid opinions of another subscriber and then you have the audacity to be condescending with it.

Obviously you have no interest in UK sport as this is generally only available on subscription in foreign countries but to a person like you, the only activity that should be undertaken is a mental one; I expect (without evidence) that you still read most content in printed form. What people want to do with their free time when travelling abroad is their own choice and if they wish to view a UK TV service that should now be available to them, what on earth has it to do with you?

In future you should check yourself before making disparaging and insulting remarks and for your information the iPlayer is not available in the UK because UK taxpayers pay for it, it’s UK licence fee payers. Hope you enjoyed the irony of my condescension!

Errrr, it’s worth remembering that not everyone watching abroad is a holidaymaker… some are away on business and expats often like to keep up with shows from back home….

C Swan says:
13 October 2015

Dear Mr Exasperated,
Have you really never been on your 10th day abroad or had an unexpected rainy day and got tired of nothing but BBC World repeating the same programming every hour, 2 French channels and about 6 German ones plus RAI (Italian)?
Also, not everyone abroad is on holiday. My flatmate works abroad extensively and has already visited every museum of note on the continent of Europe at least twice! He’d really like to be able to watch i-Player, 4OD etc.

I spend half my time in the UK and the other half in mainland Europe (not ‘on holiday’). I use a very cheap VPN for non-UK access to iPlayer and other catch-ups. Netflix works fine on my non-UK as well as UK TVs but unfortunately has different programme availability in different countries, and subtitle languages are erratic. This is only to be expected and I’m not complaining. However as I pay for a UK licence I would expect its TV access privileges to travel with me. Surely this is not beyond the wit of global technology? And what a pleasure it is to be able to listen to BBC radio anywhere.

The modern TV models need to be brought into the 21st century. You can get what you pay for wherever you are but at the moment you have to circumvent the systems in place. Just make the systems work world wide and have the security to know that those paying for it are the ones that can get it. While I like the UK licence fee system because it is cheap, it is out of date and keeps the BBC tied to the whims of government. I think that the BBC would get more income and a more stable model if they went with a subscription model. Distributors like Sky and Virgin could still bundle them and pay a bulk rate fee as they do with other providers.
As far as rights to show internationally the BBC could pay for those just as others pay them for such rights.

I can understand why the BBC wants to restrict useage to the license holders who pay for the programmes. Giving them away for nothing would end overseas sales of programmes and reduce the BBC income.
It would be reasonable to pay a supplementary fee for international use and access could easily be linked to your license fee number as a password.

There are potentially two reasons for this problem, both of them due to changes in technology and the way people live having outstripped conventional ways of thinking. First, in theory, the European Single Act means that all goods and services are supposed to be freely available throughout the EU. However, at the time that it came into operation in the 1980s (i.e. pre-Internet), a number of countries were allowed restrictions on how much foreign entertainment would be available in their countries. This was to prevent local culture (for example the film industry) from being swamped by outside influences. The second concerns performing rights. In the past, entertainment providers’ contracts with artists (actors, musicians, etc.) gave them the right to distribute content in the UK only. If, for example, a TV series was then sold abroad the production company would have to re-negotiate the contract so that the performers received some benefit from their work being made available to a wider audience. For a long time, this second issue prevented UK TV being made available on Belgian cable television. As you will realise, the legal mindset around both of these issues was formed before the arrival of high speed technology and a much more mobile population. There is a similar problem with satellite TV where the spread of UK TV channels has recently been much reduced which means that they are no longer receivable in (say) the south of Spain. As a number of people have pointed out, there are technical ways around the problem. As I live in a remote area of France, my Internet connection is via satellite. Having changed from a French to a UK provider I can now use iPlayer as I have a UK-based IP address. The present legal framework is in bad need of a revamp to take account of present day realities. I’ve probably not explained this very well but the general line is correct

Michael Freedman says:
26 September 2015

I agree with Ken
It would be simple in programming terms for the BBC to allow those of us that pay for a TV licence to access I- player abroad using the licence number as the password
On the same subject why has I player dropped the subtitling that was formerly available ?

If I’m an actor or or other artist and get royalties based on my work being watchable in the UK, I would not want it to be seen worldwide without getting a considerably larger fee. Of course, there’s the alternative view that the Internet is all about being free, including being free to abuse whoever I wish under a cloak of anonymity.

I am a Licence TV payer and I don’t understand why when abroad I can leasing internet radio live broadcasting of football matches via radio 5 but I can via talk talk radio, May be some body has the answer.

yes,love my weeks in the sun,but I am old,travel alone and don,t go out at nights .so love to see how the Eastenders are getting on!!watch the News and anything else the BBC presents but we can,t watch .
Just think ,what a reason to to rush home for ,
For me.what a nice reason !