With more streaming services popping up than we can feasibly subscribe to, the BBC's on-demand platform, BBC iPlayer, is a bit of an anomaly, offering thousands of TV shows and films to stream 100% for free. However, if you find yourself outside of the UK for whatever reason, you're going to need a VPN to bypass the geo-restrictions implemented across the platform's library of content.
Hosting incredible British television like Line of Duty and Doctor Who, BBC iPlayer is also the place to watch Killing Eve and US imports like the new 2021 reboot of Gossip Girl. You'll also want an iPlayer VPN to watch The Great British Bake Off, as well as Strictly Come Dancing.
But how does it work? Well, with a VPN able to alter your IP address when connecting to a server based elsewhere, a working iPlayer VPN can make it so you appear as if you're in the UK even when you're abroad. Of course, you'll also benefit from a number of other benefits of a VPN, including better online security and unblocking other streaming services like Netflix.
A tough nut to crack, we've tried and tested the best iPlayer VPN so you don't have to, with a selection of the top five below.
The best BBC iPlayer VPN in 2021:
ExpressVPN is our #1 VPN overall because it does everything a VPN needs to – and does it extremely well.
There’s a vast selection of servers - including several options in the UK - and finding a perfect connection isn’t a hassle. However, if something’s not working properly, we’ve found the live-chat support to be quick and helpful (and available 24/7), and they should be able to get you accessing iPlayer in no time - even if the Smart Location server choice doesn't let you get it working at first.
ExpressVPN’s split tunnelling also allows you to choose which of your connections route through the VPN. This is perfect if you’re running apps that are significantly affected by VPN use but still want to use BBC iPlayer abroad.
Back end of 2020 we experienced the odd issue unblocking iPlayer on any platform outside the service's MediaStreamer tool. But it's back working reliably again now so it returns to the top of our list.
While a little more expensive than some competitors, ExpressVPN combines great iPlayer access with a full suite of features. And if you’re not happy, there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee.
NordVPN has long been a great option for watching iPlayer abroad, with swift connection speeds, plenty of servers and great security. NordVPN is also optimized for P2P, so if you’re a keen torrenter it’s a great torrenting VPN, too.
With an effective kill switch, DNS leak protection and 2048-bit encryption, the security conscious will feel safe while streaming from BBC iPlayer with NordVPN.
If problems arise, the live-chat support will get you streaming in no time and, although some billing plans are a little pricey, NordVPN definitely earns its place on our top BBC iPlayer VPN list.
Don’t be fooled by the bargain-basement price – Surfshark is a top-notch VPN that offers just as much as many of its pricier rivals. Offering decent speeds which will be perfect for streaming as well as unlimited simultaneous connections, Surfshark is a wallet-friendly way to access BBC iPlayer.
Far from being a basic VPN, Surfshark offers great security with its private DNS on each server, and a double-hop ability to further obfuscate your location to ensure ultimate privacy. Add to this P2P support, split tunnelling and more, and you’ve got a premium package.
The easy set-up, unlimited simultaneous connections and quick live-chat support make Surfshark the cheapest way to stream BBC iPlayer abroad with a VPN.
After a feature-packed iPlayer VPN with a large server network? Private Internet Access more than does the job, boasting an almost unfathomable 35,000 servers across 78 countries.
While to watch BBC iPlayer all you'll need is a few situated in the UK, it's good news if you want to go one step further and unblock the likes of Netflix, Prime Video, and Disney Plus, too. Private Internet Access is able to slip between the gaps of any geo-restrictions and offer all the results of a streaming VPN, allowing you to watch all the most popular streaming platforms.
What's more, of our four iPlayer tests, performance was excellent for three out of four, with our third attempt still gaining us access, but running on the slower side of average. Considering it certainly isn't the fastest in terms of speeds, we weren't surprised and were still able to unblock iPlayer and watch BBC's plethora of on-demand content.
Admittedly Private Internet Access doesn't have clients for many streaming devices. That said, what it lacks in devices, it makes up not only in the up to 10 simultaneous connections, but also its feature-packed clients, especially its mobile apps, which we are big fans of.
A clean interface across the board, a swipe up reveals a number of settings and features to toggle on/off and customize to better cater to your experience and what you want from your VPN.
Editor's note: In our latest round of BBC iPlayer VPN testing, we found that Hotspot Shield was not functioning correctly. We have left it in this guide for the time being, as Hotspot has previously been an effective option. If the issues persist, we will bring in a replacement provider.
If you're a little worried that connecting your VPN and iPlayer at the same time might lead to *shudder* buffering, then it may just be worth going for Hotspot Shield. It tops the lot when it comes to our fastest VPN list, largely thanks to its awesome proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol.
But speed isn't everything - it also has some serious website and service unblocking chops. In addition to - of course - BBC iPlayer, we also got it working admirably with Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube and Disney Plus. So if you're a big streamer, then Hotspot is a fine fit.
It's really easy to use, too, especially on PCs and Macs. From download to actually streaming iPlayer shows, this VPN makes things really easy.
Our main quibble with Hotspot Shield is actually a direct result of that Catapult Hydra protocol we gushed about above. It works in such a fashion that you can only use Hotspot Shield via its official apps - so no router or DNS-based workarounds like you can get with the likes of ExpressVPN or Nord. If you were intending to stream BBC iPlayer shows on your games console, Kindle tablet, Kodi or non-Android Smart TV, then you can pretty much forget it with this VPN.
BBC iPlayer VPN FAQ
How do I unblock BBC iPlayer with a VPN?
For those who haven’t used a VPN before, the process of rerouting your IP can sound like a difficult task – after all, you're just just trying to watch some TV! Don’t be put off, though, as all of our picks above all feature in our overall best VPN guide and all have user-friendly interfaces that will allow anyone to access iPlayer.
Although your chosen VPN might have advice for accessing certain content, here’s our very straightforward four-step guide for unblocking iPlayer by using a VPN:
1. Sign up for and install your chosen VPN
2. Pick the fastest available server in the UK and connect to it
3. Visit the iPlayer website – you’ll need to make an account if you haven’t got one already
4. Pick a show to watch and relax!
What is the best working BBC iPlayer VPN?
Right now, ExpressVPN tops our list of the best BBC iPlayer VPNs. It hasn't always been, but right now it's a really robust, reliable service that also boasts excellent speeds and a brilliantly easy-to-use interface on desktop, mobile, streaming devices, Smart TVs and more. It's great for unblocking Netflix and Amazon Prime Video blocking, too.
What else can a VPN do?
As we say, VPNs have become the way to watch your favourite shows when abroad and open up a whole world of new shows and films to watch on BBC iPlayer and beyond - the amount of people using a VPN for Netflix is enormous. And the same goes for Hulu, Amazon Prime Video and regular domestic stations, too.
The geo-spoofing nature of virtual private networks that make them so useful for streaming, also provides the perfect tool for unblocking restricted websites and sidestepping country-wide internet restriction, which is why VPNs for use in China are so popular.
And their encrypted tunnels also make VPNs a kind of de facto antivirus companion (or replacement). Using an unrelated IP address effectively makes you anonymous as you use the internet, and your data is shielded from prying eyes and cyber crooks.