What's the best way to watch iPlayer from outside the UK?

Update 1 September 2016: You now need a TV licence to watch on-demand content on the iPlayer in the UK. Previously, you only needed a licence to watch TV being broadcast live, but now the rule change means all iPlayer content requires you to pay up. 

Our sister title PC Advisor explains here: Do I need a TV licence?

BBC iPlayer is UK's premier streaming service, offering a range of high-quality television and radio shows, plus movies, direct from the BBC, entirely free from advertising. The shame is that BBC iPlayer is limited to UK viewers, and - in principle - you can only watch it from inside the UK. Funded by a licence fee, UK television-set owners pay for the BBC; so it makes sense to limit BBC iPlayer to UK viewers. But what about holidaymakers and those with homes in two countries? If you've paid for it, then you should clearly be able to watch BBC iPlayer when overseas.

That's what this feature is about: discovering how to access BBC iPlayer from overseas. This tip is ideal for when you're on holiday and want to catch up with the latest shows, or those living abroad. Read on to find out how to access, stream and watch iPlayer TV and film content when you're abroad, on your iPhone, iPad and Mac.

See also:

How to use iPlayer abroad: How does the BBC know where I am?

Just as Netflix dominates US traffic, BBC iPlayer dominates in the UK, with up to 6 per cent of all our internet traffic going the BBC. So you lot apparently love it. But you can't watch the BBC while you're overseas.

When you open the BBC iPlayer app on your iOS device or log on to BBC iPlayer on your Mac or PC, it checks your public IP (Internet Protocol) address. This address is a four-digit number, such as 91.108.140.168 (a quick way to find yours is by typing "IP Address" into Google).

This figure relates to your ISP (Internet Service Provider) or cellular connection, linked to the server that is sending you data. Enter the digits into IP Location and you'll find where the server is located as well as the host.

If this location isn't in the UK, then BBC iPlayer will refuse to show you content.

How to use iPlayer abroad: How to use BBC iPlayer when abroad

Watch BBC iPlayer abroad

To use BBC iPlayer abroad, you need to convince the BBC that you're using an IP address based in the UK. Don't worry - this is a lot easier than you think, thanks to VPNs (or virtual private networks). Instead of connecting directly to the BBC, you log into the VPN, and that connects to the BBC and sends you the video.

Sounds dodgy, but it isn't. You can set up a VPN directly from your home computer if you want, but it's quite complicated; most people just use one of the many VPN services around.

Here are the two best VPN services, in our experience:

Nord VPN. This service is top of the pile; it offers a complete VPN service with the best security and privacy settings we have seen. Your data is encrypted so you can surf worry-free wherever. Not only can you access iPlayer abroad with it, but you can also benefit from services such as secure online banking when on public Wi-Fi hotspots. It costs from as little as $5.75 per month. Sign up here

TunnelBear. This is the service we've used the most on both Mac and iOS. TunnelBear is super-simple to set up, and is available from the iOS App Store; alternatively click here to download it for Mac or PC. It walks you through the process on both devices. You get 500MB of data for free each month, and can get more by tweeting about it (or buy unlimited data for a month for £2.99). It's a real holiday investment.

If all you want is to watch BBC iPlayer when you're on holiday, then TunnelBear is the one to buy. It's reasonably cheap and available on the App Store, and you can watch a fair amount for free. (A £2.99 in-app purchase lasts a month.)

Set up TunnelBear on iOS device

How to use iPlayer abroad: Listening to BBC Radio abroad

If you want to listen to BBC Radio, rather than watch television, then don't worry about VPNs. While you can't access BBC Radio from the apps on your mobile phone, you can access shows directly on the BBC radio website.