Most of us can admit to heading abroad on our travels and deciding we’d like to watch a bit of homegrown quality TV! But how can you keep up with your favorite drama while traveling to the US on business, or keep the kids quiet with some decent cartoons when you’re on holiday on the Med? Our guide will tell you how to watch BBC channels overseas with ease.

About the BBC

The BBC, or the British Broadcasting Corporation, is Britain’s public service broadcaster and a huge global brand with audiences across the world. Broadcasting House HQ is located in London, with another large campus at Salford Media City. The company has the distinction of being the world’s first national broadcaster, as well as the biggest in the world by workforce; employing nearly 36,000 employees in total.

As a national and public channel, its programming is funded by the annual TV license which is payable by all homes, businesses and organizations watching or recording BBC content in the UK, either live or via iPlayer. The fee also funds the BBC World Service, which was originally set up as the BBC Empire Service in 1932.

Its channels include:

  • BBC 1 to 4, CBBC
  • Cbeebies
  • BBC News
  • BBC Parliament

There is even a Gaelic language channel; BBC Alba, and BBC Red Button for interactive digital content. For those of us old enough to remember, BBC Red Button is the successor to Ceefax!

The BBC’s global influence

The BBC’s cultural, entertainment and educational influence is vast, and its programmes are exported all across the world. The most popular include:

  • Doctor Who
  • Tomorrow’s World
  • Strictly Come Dancing
  • Top Gear
  • Eastenders
  • The Apprentice

So if you need your fix whilst overseas, here’s how to watch BBC channels abroad!

The issue of geoblocking

Geoblocking is a technology used to restrict user access according to geography. So, in this context, the BBC clamps down on individuals attempting to watch its channels or iPlayer abroad via VPN usage or other services. iPlayer is a huge global success, but only accidentally as it was created for the UK residents who actually pay for it!

Of course, plenty of expats and Beeb fans across the world regularly try to access their favorite BBC shows, with some figures suggesting up to 60 million people are regularly having a go via VPN networks or geo-block bypass tools.

Whatever the BBC may think about this – and they certainly have to work hard to fund and maintain their digital infrastructure – there are ways to watch BBC channels from outside of the UK. (And do bear in mind that there is an ethical issue here – although if you are normally a UK resident and, more importantly, a BBC TV license payer, you’ll probably rest easy!) You may want to know how to watch BBC channels abroad now though, as the EC has confirmed that it will no longer be officially possible to view BBC content in the European Union after Brexit…

So what does happen when you try to watch BBC abroad?

Remember, unlike a commercial digital channel, you can’t simply buy a BBC viewing package online from abroad. BBC iPlayer is designed to check your Internet Protocol (IP) address to work out your geographical location. If it sees from your IP address that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or cell connection isn’t based in the UK, it will block you from viewing the content.

How to watch BBC channels abroad – with a workaround

There are several different ways to watch BBC iPlayer abroad, but the most secure and popular is to use a VPN. Virtual Private Networks are used in a variety of ways. For example, businesses use them to keep company data safe and secure, and individuals use them to protect their privacy and anonymity when surfing online.

Why is VPN a good solution?

The VPN essentially provides a secure ‘tunnel’ between the user and the server, using encryption to keep data safe from malicious attacks and hiding the identity of the user as an extra safety layer. What should interest you here, however, is that VPNs can also be used to ‘virtually’ change the location of your mobile or laptop when you’re abroad, by providing an alternative IP address which looks as though it is in the UK.

There are different VPN providers to choose from here, and some that we recommend include the following:

  1. NordVPN – this is our favorite option as it is easy to use, represents great value for money and offers excellent security. It also has no less than 30 servers in the UK and is extremely fast.
  2. ExpressVPN – this is very fast, offers excellent customer service via a LiveChat facility and has six servers located across the UK.
  3. CyberGhost – this VPN service is the easiest of all to use, as it offers an app that lets you choose your server according to the content you want to watch – including iPlayer. It also as very fast speeds.

How do you set up your VPN service?

Choose your service and subscribe to it, and then adjust your settings so that your digital device is shown as being connected to a UK server. Once it is, you can simply go to BBC iPlayer to watch your favorite show. If you want to watch it via an Xbox or PlayStation, you need to manually adjust your DNS settings in your network settings. To do this, add your primary DNS and secondary DNS numbers.

If your VPN provider – such as NordVPN – offers an app, then download it onto your phone, and you’ll see the channels available for each UK-based server. You can then automatically connect to the necessary server in just a few clicks.

Troubleshooting

You may encounter some issues, so these steps should help to fix them:

Choice of VPN provider

BBC iPlayer is already cracking down on the use of VPN circumvention software – copying the lead of Netflix who already put a stop to VPN users accessing content from overseas. So do your research carefully when you do look at a VPN provider to bypass the iPlayer firewall because a number of them cannot do it. If you’re unsure, just ask the customer services team.

Device connections

If you use a VPN provider that says it will allow you to watch BBC iPlayer content overseas, then try disconnecting from the server and try a different one on offer from your provider. If you are still having problems, you may need to install your VPN onto a virtual router instead of choosing the app (some devices don’t allow you to override the ISP servers of your device’s provider.)

Another problem can occur if BBC iPlayer stores a cookie on your device which is still active and which shows you are overseas. If this happens, clear your cookies in your browser settings, or use a tool such as EditThisCookie.

Error pages

You may also get an error page, which could suggest that you need to empty the DNS cache. Type ‘cmd’ into the search bar of Windows to open Command Prompt, and then hit enter after typing: ipconfig /flushdns. Get rid of cached data by pressing CTRL and F5 at the same time to do a ‘hard’ refresh and a total browser cache clearout.

Notifications

When you get onto BBC iPlayer, you might see a notification that says you need a UK TV license before you watch anything. Sometimes you can just tick to confirm that you do have one, as no proof is required. However, increasingly you will need to set up a BBC account and provide a valid UK postcode. However, the BBC doesn’t seem to validate this, so just make sure your UK IP address is set up and add the necessary postcode.

Follow these tips, and you should be able to catch up with your favorite music show, sports game or soap opera when you’re abroad. Just remember to do the right thing and pay for your TV license when you’re at home in the UK!