BBC iPlayer started blocking VPNs in late 2017. Until then, anyone could use pretty much any VPN with a UK server and watch iPlayer for free. The problem is that this blanket ban on VPNs has also stopped legitimate Licence-Fee paying users from watching iPlayer while overseas too. Here we show you which VPNs still work with BBC iPlayer.
Why does the BBC block VPNs?
BBC iPlayer is free for anyone – from a licence-paying UK household – to use. To access the service, all you need is a UK internet connection and a valid UK postcode. The ease of use is great for UK residents, but the lax system leaves iPlayer open to abuse.
And people did abuse it. Internet users from anywhere in the world could watch BBC iPlayer by using a VPN to spoof their location. The caused two problems for the BBC. It was unfair asking UK residents to pay for a service that was essentially then opened for the world to use for free. The more serious problem, from a legal point of view, was that it created licensing problems.
For example, when a Hollywood film is broadcasted on BBC One, it becomes available for users to watch for up to 30-days on BBC iPlayer afterwards. Which, as we explain above, technically meant that it became free for the entire world to stream using a VPN.
The BBC had two choices. It could implement stricter checks on who was accessing iPlayer. Or it could clamp down on the use of VPNs. It chose the latter.
How does BBC iPlayer detect VPNs?
To understand how iPlayer blocks VPNs, you need to know a little bit about how VPN works.
The best VPN providers have multiple – often hundreds – of servers in popular countries. By channelling their customer’s encrypted data through these servers, the VPNs allow users to location spoof. Essentially, a VPN’s servers act as an encrypted tunnel to any country’s internet.
The problem with this model is that it’s uneven. There are far more customers than there are servers. And each server only has a single IP address. This makes it easy for iPlayer to detect and block a VPNs Server/IP, as it will be the source of hundreds and thousands of simultaneous connections to BBC iPlayer.
Which VPNs still work with BBC iPlayer?
We recommend using one of the three VPN providers below for consistent access to BBC iPlayer. Other VPNs my work periodically, but the three featured below have all been tested and verified. They also provide excellent support.
The BEST VPN of 2020!
Number of servers: 3,000+ | Speed: >80% | Bandwidth: Unlimited | IP locations: 160 in 94 countries | Devices supported: 5 | Live chat: Yes | 30-day money-back guarantee: Yes
ExpressVPN is the best VPN you can buy. If you can afford the extra few pounds/dollars a month, you won’t regret it.
The first thing you need to know about this VPN is that it’s fast. Really fast! It consistently tops our independent VPN speed tests, with blazingly fast download/upload speeds.
And importantly, it ALWAYS has servers that are open with major streaming sites such as Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, BBC iPlayer, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video etc.
ExpressVPN is the best VPN on the market at playing Cat and Mouse with online streaming sites. Meaning, whenever one of its servers is blacklisted it creates a new one – giving its users a constant stream of servers that aren’t blocked. Needless to say, this is a valuable attribute if you’re looking for a VPN to unblock streaming sites.
Its app is easy-to-use and free to download on pretty much any device you can think of. Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, FireStick, Android TV, Roku, PS4, Xbox, Linux, even Apple TV (with a workaround). It’s got it all covered.
The app is another main reason this VPN is so good at unblocking TV streaming sites (that claim they block VPNs) is that its software takes a pragmatic approach to user management. While other VPNs tempt customers by promising them access to hundreds/thousands of servers in multiple countries, ExpressVPN does things differently.
With ExpressVPN you only have a handful of server locations to choose from. Once you select your location the app takes care of the rest. Assigning you to the fastest available server that’s not oversubscribed. This simple technique is so important, as it keeps ExpressVPN’s servers operating at lightning-fast speeds and prevent its IPs from getting blacklisted for “abnormal” usage in the first place.
ExpressVPN is a little more expensive than the other VPNs. But if you want the most reliable VPN on the market, there’s only one choice. ExpressVPN is the best.
The BEST low-cost VPN
Number of servers: 1,000+ | Speed: >65% | Bandwidth: Unlimited | IP locations: 275 in 100 countries | Devices supported: 5 | Live chat: Yes | 30-day money-back guarantee: Yes
If you’re looking for an excellent VPN, with an even better price tag, Ivacy ($1.16/month) is a great option.
This VPN has all the features you need to stream BBC iPlayer, in HD, from any country in the world. I’ve been testing the app recently on Mac, PC, Android, iOS and FireStick and the results have been impressive – unlocking BBC iPlayer, US Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, etc. with ease.
The Ivacy app is a little different in regards to its UX (user experience). Instead of just selecting a UK server, you need to select the specific BBC iPlayer server. Don’t worry, this isn’t a bad thing – by connecting to a dedicated BBC iPlayer server, it simply means that you’re connecting to an IP address that Ivacy knows works with BBC iPlayer.
For an extra $1.99/month (£1.74) you can add-on a dedicated IP. This will buy you sole access to an IP address in a country of your choice, meaning you won’t have to share your IP (and speeds) with any other use. I don’t recommend this though, using the regular Ivacy servers is enough 95 per cent of the time.
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A solid all-round VPN option!
Number of servers: 5,000+ | Speeds: >80% | Bandwidth: Unlimited | IP locations: 62 countries | Devices supported: 6 | Live chat: Yes | 30-day money-back guarantee: Yes
NordVPN is the most widely-used VPN in the world. And its easy to see why. It’s a polished app that delivers fast connections (more on this later) to a massive network of VPN servers.
It’s pretty reliable at unblocking popular streaming services too – US Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, BBC iPlayer, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, etc. – but its record isn’t perfect. NordVPN claims that’s all changed now as a result of hiring full-time technical team (that’s responsible for monitoring its servers connections with popular TV streaming services) and aggressive investment in its network of IP addresses in key locations.
Another interesting thing to note is that NordVPN is an industry leader in its development of Nordlynx technology. Nordlynx is built using the WireGuard, a new VPN tunnelling protocol designed to outperform current standards (OpenVPN and IPSec). The benefits, according to NordVPN, are dramatically faster transfer speeds while connected to a VPN. My tests – New Zealand to London – confirm that Nordlynx is currently the fastest VPN on the market. However, the difference isn’t dramatic, a few Mbps is all.
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The BEST mid-range VPN for streaming!
Number of servers: 3,000+ | Speeds: >75% | Bandwidth: Unlimited | IP locations: 70 in 48 countries | Devices supported: 5 | Live chat: Yes | 30-day money-back guarantee: Yes
Private Internet Access is one of the leading no-log VPN services with over 1 million paying customers.
This VPN is one of the best in the industry at beating streaming sites’ VPN bans. It provides reliable connections with US Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, HBO Max, Disney+ Amazon Prime Video, etc. It also allows 10 simultaneous devices to be connected to its servers at the same time, so you can share the account with your close friends.
If, for whatever reason, you’re not happy with Private Internet Access, there’s a 24/7 live chat support available to assist you with your problem. PIA also offers the industry-standard 30-days money-back guarantee.
From my tests (from New Zealand) I was able to get download speeds of 70 Mbps while connected to a UK server using the Private Internet Access VPN (my non-VPN speed is 100 Mbps).
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Number of servers: 6,000+ | Speeds: >65% | Bandwidth: Unlimited | IP locations: 200 in 90 countries | Devices supported: 7 | Live chat: Yes | 30-day money-back guarantee: Yes
CyberGhost is one of the more established VPNs on the market. It has a well-established, and well-tested global network of servers that perform well.
From my tests over the past several months, CyberGhost has no trouble at unblocking major streaming services – US Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max etc. This VPN performed well at maintaining download speeds, well above 65 per cent of my regular (non VPN) ISP speed.
That said, there’s nothing really unique about the service. Which forces you to look at its price-point. And there’s nothing special here. Its short-term $12.99/month price tag puts is well above the industry average of $10.10/month. Similarly, its long-term $2.75/month for 3 years deal isn’t much of a “deal” either.
Oddly, CyberGhost’s most unique feature is its a 1-day, no obligations, free trial. This is an appealing offer to customers who are new to VPNs. However, it’s important to remember that most reputable VPNs will offer customers a 30-day money-back guarantee, so try not to be too seduced by the offer.
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Read next: How to watch BBC iPlayer abroad.