BBC iPlayer has evolved into one of the best streaming services in the UK — free to use, with high-definition streaming and download support across multiple platforms. But if you're travelling outside the UK, you'll likely run into problems accessing iPlayer. That's because, being a UK-only service, access is blocked from outside the country.
Fortunately there are a few workarounds, all of which are relatively simple.
First, the legal stuff
To legally watch BBC iPlayer, you need to be a UK resident with a valid TV license. With that out of the way...
1. Download before you travel
If you don't want to mess around with roaming or VPNs, you can always download the shows you want before you travel. You can do this through the BBC iPlayer Android app, or on your Windows or Mac computer with the iPlayer downloads app.
Downloads will be available for up 30 days after they're broadcast on TV, depending on the show. Also note that not all types of content can be downloaded — for example, live sport is often excluded from iPlayer downloads.
2. Use a VPN
This is probably the most reliable way to use iPlayer from outside the UK. A VPN (virtual private network) can mask your actual IP address (and thus your location) by routing traffic to a server in another country of your choice. If it's a UK-based VPN server, bingo, iPlayer will work.
Our VPN service of choice is TunnelBear, which is extremely simple to use. A basic free account gets you 500MB per month, or you can pay $6.99 per month for unlimited data. Pay yearly and it's the equivalent of $4.16 per month. (Naturally, if you're streaming more than one show a month from iPlayer, you're going to have to pay.)
TunnelBear has apps for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, and there are also Chrome and Opera browser plugin if you don't want to route all your network traffic through the VPN. (Ideal if you're just accessing streaming services like iPlayer.)
To get started, install the app on your platform of choice and set the country switch to "UK," then simply browse to iPlayer on the web or through the mobile app.
3. Use roaming data
This isn't an ideal solution, as data roaming can be extremely expensive. But if you've got a large roaming data allowance — for example, through Vodafone's Data Traveller program — you'll be able to download or stream iPlayer content over a cellular connection. This is because international roaming works like a VPN, routing your traffic back to your UK-based provider, so it looks like you're still at home.
As always, tread with care when using data-intensive apps over a roaming connection, and double-check prices before you do anything.
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Alex was with Android Central for over a decade, producing written and video content for the site, and served as global Executive Editor from 2016 to 2022.