Since completing university, Paul has worked as a librarian, teacher, and freelance writer. Born in the UK, he currently lives in Florida.
It's now nearly ten years since this article was originally written. Over that time, much has changed with the internet and streaming services. I've edited this article regularly over the years in order to try and give an accurate and up-to-date picture of the situation with regard to accessing the BBC and other UK channels. However, new services can appear overnight, and others can equally well disappear, so please bear that in mind when you read this article.
The Legalities of Watching the BBC Abroad
The BBC is generally funded by the British public buying a TV license. If you don't have a license, then you are not supposed to watch it, unless you pay for a subscription service, or access through another legit way. The BBC produces quality drama, news, comedies, and documentaries, much of which is available either streamed live over the internet or by watching BBC iPlayer, which allows you to watch BBC TV programs that were broadcast recently.
The problem is that if you travel outside of the country and try to access their online services, the BBC will not allow you to watch BBC iPlayer overseas. This is because it picks up your location and blocks you. Even the other UK TV channels, which are funded by advertising aimed at British viewers (rather than a license fee), will usually block you.
Why and How Do the BBC and Other UK Channels Block Viewers From Overseas?
The answer to "why" essentially comes down to money and earnings. Generally speaking, you are blocked because because they want you to access their services through paid subscriptions, or via services that incorporate targeted advertising.
The channels use technical methods to work out where you are in the world (basically, each computer has its own ID called an IP address, and there are means to detect where your IP is situated). In order to access them therefore, you usually need to either use a method that the UK Channels allow, or trick them into thinking that you are accessing the services from somewhere inside the UK.
Subscription Based Services
The biggest subscription-based service for drama, comedy, mystery, and documentaries is BritBox. It was created by the BBC and ITV and has an excellent range of British TV shows. It costs $6.99/month at the time of writing. You can get it via a streaming app on your TV, or via your streaming media box or stick. If you can't get the app, you can subscribe to it through the Amazon Prime Video or Apple TV apps. You are not required to have a British TV license to watch the BBC via BritBox.
There are also some alternatives to BritBox, such as Acorn TV, which have quite a few British shows.
Watching British News From The USA
The two main sources of live 24 hour news that I've used are the BBC World News and Sky News. The BBC World is commonly available via cable TV packages, it focuses as the name suggests on world events with no particular focus on the US or UK. Sky News live is available via an app and via YouTube. Sky News is focused mainly on what's happening in the UK with some world news too, and is free to watch on an app or YouTube at the time of writing.
In recent times, many British news companies have reports on YouTube. It's not live, but they are generally posted within a few hours of being broadcast. I've watched reports by ITN news, Channel 4, BBC Newsnight, and Sky on YouTube. Some British newspapers, such as The Guardian and The Sun also post news videos on YouTube. YouTube has increased access to British News considerably since my trips and time in the US began ten years ago.
Watching British Sport From the US
It's difficult to give specific guidance on this, as individual sports are franchised out to broadcasters and this often varies from year to year. The English Premiership has become increasingly popular in the US and easy to access provided you are willing to pay a subscription. Cricket and rugby are also easy to access nowadays.
Some years back, there were free services where you could access one off events such as a football match. These were legally dubious, poor quality and bombarded you with ads, but they were free. These no longer exist in my experience.
Using a Proxy Server to Access Services
Basically, your computer has an ID called an IP address, and the BBC (or other UK channels) can detect where your IP is situated. If you are in the USA or overseas, they will automatically block you, regardless of whether you have a valid British television license.
The only way that you can watch British live as people in Britain see it, or the various iplayers that the channels have nowadays is to trick the BBC or other channels into thinking that your IP address is situated somewhere within the UK. To do this, you normally have to use a computer situated in the UK as an intermediary between your computer and the BBC. This is known as a "proxy server" or sometimes just called a "proxy". I should point out that using a proxy server to access the BBC from the US could be considered morally questionable if you don't have a British TV license, as you are denying the BBC funding.
There are lots of companies that offer proxy services, usually on a paid subscription basis. As well, being used to accessed controlled websites, they are also used for personal security reasons, as they make it harder for others to discover info about the computer and user, effectively making them anonymous. The proxy servers that offer a "free service" are unreliable in my experience. Many years ago, before services like BritBox and greater availability to things like news reports on YouTube, I experimented with a free proxy called Expat Shield, which started out free and worked well for a time, but later became a subscription service and I stopped using it. I no longer use a proxy server, but you will find plenty of them if you search online.
Free Web-Based Access to Live British TV
Some years back, there were websites like www.myiplayer.com and www.filmon.com which streamed channels from a variety of countries around the world. The quality was poor and they bombarded you with adverts, but they did usually work. I don't know of anything like that nowadays. There was also Justin.tv which had people streaming individual events, such as sports matches. Justin.tv was taken offline.
I don't know of any web-based services that work at the time of writing.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: Why does BBC not allow non-Brits outside the UK to subscribe?
Answer: I don't understand why the BBC channels aren't available on subscription either, you would think it would make sense in terms of income generation? There is now Britbox, however, which enables access to a wealth of BBC and ITV shows, which is maybe worth trying.
Question: What is Britbox?
Answer: It's a subscription video on-demand service run by the BBC and ITV. It's currently available in the USA and Canada. They have lots of British TV series that you can watch, both current and older.
© 2011 Paul Goodman
MaryAnn Pickering on August 09, 2020:
I have Brit Box but there is so much that they don't offer. It is very limited. Would it not make sense for BBC to offer a service you pay for? I would be willing to pay for BBC iplayer if there were such an option. I really enjoy British shows and miss them.
Paul Goodman (author) from Florida USA on March 06, 2020:
I've not tried that one. Let me know how it works out?
Thom on March 06, 2020:
I am planning on going to Turkey for a family vacation and was looking for the best VPN to use while there. I stumbled upon AtlasVPN, it looks very trust-worthy and lucky for me it's free, but I couldn't find any info if it works in Turkey. Do you know if it will work?
Joode Weinhold on March 04, 2019:
Thanks for this advice. We visit the US about twice a year for a couple of months each time and I just saw that a new series of Line of Duty was going to be on iPlayer!!! We have a TV licence so will download Expat Shield. Absolutely thrilled about this!!
David Jones on August 08, 2018:
Is Penguin Proxy reliable enough or should i say, does it get the kob done?
john on July 27, 2018:
I just use Penguin Proxy
Lani on September 25, 2017:
Thank you for looking into this. I wold love to watch iplayer in the US, but for now it looks like I need to find a proxy. I miss my BBC :(
wodgums on November 13, 2016:
I'm using VPN one click on Linux along with Firefox: super!
Maxine on October 02, 2016:
I've been trying for approx 8 years. I keep being given some site or another and nothing ever works on any device!
harry krishna on September 20, 2016:
not working on ubuntu linux with chromium browser.
JiminAZ on September 06, 2016:
Expat Shield is a VPN that no longer works as BBC is actively blocking VPNs. MyiPlayer is loaded with Trojans. My Virus Scan went off every time i clicked on something. Bad bad mojo.
Manfred on August 03, 2014:
I don't know what iplayer is but I normally can't access bbc.com at all. I use a proxy website that works great. Just enter bbc.com into the address bar and you can surf the whole site. The proxy site is:
I have been using it for years with no problems. There might be ads but I don't know as I use adblock so I don't see them.
Maria loves you and thanks you on November 23, 2013:
OMG THANK YOU
You and myiplayer.com saved my life. I didn't have where to watch the 50th anniversary (DW) and now I can watch it! =D
ITS TODAY. TODAY. TODAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY
And thanks a lot!!
Mark Ackley on October 31, 2012:
I am using Hotspot Shield Free VPN to Access all blocked websites. Its Free. Hotspot Shield VPN conceals your IP address and protects your personal data from hackers, including credit card information, online shopping data, passwords, downloads and instant messages from hackers.
Check it out here: http://www.hotspotshield.com
Mauricio on October 23, 2012:
Thank you so much! It worked so well !
Paul Goodman (author) from Florida USA on August 27, 2012:
I don't know. Check the BBC website for schedules.
Rob on August 27, 2012:
Does the BBC televise all of the F1 and MotoGP races? Or just the ones at Silverstone?
Paul Goodman (author) from Florida USA on August 05, 2012:
Yes, you can disconnect and exit Expat Shield easily. I stop it from starting by default in the settings, as I only use it occasionally. Then if I want to switch it on or off I do it manually. (You can disconnect/exit/alter settings by right-clicking on the expat shield in the bottom right of tray near clock).
Alex on August 05, 2012:
Can you easily turn off Expat Shield? For instance when I want to watch netflix or the only way to do this is to uninstall expat shield.
Jim on July 20, 2012:
I`m using http://www.sunvpn.com to watch some BBC shows from the US. The UK server is the fastest I tried, streaming video on BBC iPlayer works great with it.
Paul Goodman (author) from Florida USA on July 07, 2012:
I did experiment with free proxy sites but struggled to find a reliable one. Expat Shield is just connecting you to free proxy site too. So either works at the end of the day.
Moe on July 07, 2012:
I just change my proxy to a British one from any number of free proxy sites, then stream it from the iplayer. Easy Peasy. No need for expat shield.
Yeon Jun on March 19, 2012:
It just works. I'm really grateful to you.
Thank You Paul!!!
colin green on January 31, 2012:
When I was living in New York I used www.anglovpn.com to watch the BBC, ITV etc, got abit sick of stateside telly lol. Lots of them around, few quid a month etc.
Paul Goodman (author) from Florida USA on December 11, 2011:
@Manny - As far as I know, it only works with Windows XP/Vista/7.
You can use a free website like myiplayer.com instead?
Manny on December 11, 2011:
Is it possible to use this expatshield on safari, ie apple?
Paul Goodman (author) from Florida USA on November 06, 2011:
@peter c brooks - Could that be an issue with a slow internet connection? All that the Expat Shield does is give your computer a British IP address?
peter c brooks on November 06, 2011:
Program continually kept starting and stopping
Paul Goodman (author) from Florida USA on October 16, 2011:
No idea what the problem is Bobbie. "Never worked" doesn't tell me much.
You could try www.myiplayer.com instead, if you don't mind the time difference, as it doesn't let you use the bbc iplayer like expat shield does.
Bobbie on October 16, 2011:
Never worked. Desperate to get hold of any British drama.
Paul Goodman (author) from Florida USA on October 05, 2011:
@expat - I tried myiplayer.com, and yes, you are right that you can watch live tv with it easily - but having access to bbc iplayer is useful because of the time difference and being able to see shows that you missed, in my experience.
expat on October 05, 2011:
So why not just try www.myiplayer.com or www.filmon.com ? Simple.
dhoni on September 30, 2011:
Victor Mavedzenge from Oakland, California on September 13, 2011:
Pretty solid.Will come in handy when I move to the US end of this month.Thanks Paul
Paul Goodman (author) from Florida USA on September 12, 2011:
I just used it now as a try out, but it worked fine. Neville, the thing to look for is the green shield in the bottom right near the clock. If the green shield is showing, you can search for whatever you like with google and whatever website you go to will assume that you are viewing from the UK. It doesn't really matter what website is showing at the start or what links are showing, by default it always launches the Expat Shield website in my experience after you've set it going.
nevillesinger on September 12, 2011:
it doesn't always work. sometimes it takes you to a page of technical news and there is no link to the Iplayer or just to a search page.
Paul Goodman (author) from Florida USA on September 10, 2011:
@Ex pat Sid - Oh? I haven't used it recently. I have known it to play up at times, though, so hopefully it will work again for you and the problem is just temporary. Generally I have found it reliable and the ad banner is of minimal annoyance. I will try getting the BBC again using Expat Shield when I have a bit more time to spare.
Ex pat Sid on September 10, 2011:
Its stopped working on BBc 1 for me from today.....get a non config message PITB
Hina on September 01, 2011:
Thanks for this!! Invaluable stuff!!
Judi Brown from UK on August 30, 2011:
Very handy - my Dad lives abroad but wants to watch BBC so I shall pass your Hub on to him. Thanks very much!