One of the main reasons people subscribe to VPN services isn’t for privacy: it’s to unblock video streaming services including BBC iPlayer.
The broadcaster doesn’t restrict content for the sake of it: it’s all down to licensing, and it’s the same with all streaming services – including Netflix and other local TV channels such as ITV. They’re only available in certain regions. Or, in the case of Netflix, only certain content is available in each region.
If you’re not in the UK, then you’ll be faced with an error message when you try to watch a show on iPlayer.
But launch your VPN app and connect to a server in the UK, and any website you visit or any app you use will think you’re located in the UK because the connection appears to originate from that server, which has a UK IP address.
So, you could be in Spain and – as long as the VPN connection is live – iPlayer will behave exactly as if you were in London, and you won’t see that annoying “This content doesn’t seem to be working” screen.
However, don’t make the mistake of thinking this applies to every VPN. Not all manage to successfully unblock iPlayer but those listed here do: we checked. But, do note that the BBC is hot on detecting and blocking VPNs, so you might be able to watch one day and not the next.
If that happens, just jump on a live chat session (all bar Hidden 24 offer this, typically on their website rather than in the VPN app itself) and the team will help you get it working.
We should point out that watching BBC iPlayer outside of the UK is technically breaking the Ts & Cs, but if you are a resident of the UK and pay your TV Licence (you do need a TV Licence to watch iPlayer), you are at least morally in the right.
But when it comes down to it, it’s still not technically how you’re meant to be using the service.
We’ve got a separate step-by-step guide which shows you exactly how to watch BBC iPlayer abroad, but here we’ll summarise why the six following VPN services are great choices for doing so.
VPN services that work with BBC iPlayer in 2021
Lots of VPN services will allow you to watch iPlayer, but NordVPN is one of the best overall choices. That’s thanks to a speedy, reliable service, apps for the devices people usually watch iPlayer on and a sensible monthly price (when you get the two-year deal, that is).
NordVPN has plenty of servers – with several in the UK, which is most relevant here – and we regularly test that the service unblocks iPlayer.
You might not think you’d use a VPN for anything else, but NordVPN offers a good selection of other features which will keep your web browsing private. It also includes CyberSec, an ad-blocker which also includes protection from dangerous websites.
NordVPN’s best-value offer is its two-year deal.
Find out more more in our NordVPN review.
Surfshark is very competitively priced, which is one reason – but not the only reason – we like it so much.
The service has improved and expanded (with more features and servers) over the past couple of years which makes it great value. Crucially, it will let you watch iPlayer when you choose one of its UK servers. It also unblocks Netflix and other streaming services, of course.
One of the other features is Multi-Hop which routes your connection via two different countries and sometimes this helps to get around particularly difficult blocks.
Plus, Surfshark – unlike most rivals – lets you use an unlimited number of devices at the same time.
Go for the two-year subscription and it’s even cheaper than NordVPN.
Read our Surfshark review for more details.
ExpressVPN is one of the best VPN services, and its higher monthly cost is easier to justify thanks to its prowess when it comes to unblocking streaming services. The company say it keeps tabs on over 200 of them and ensures they’re always working.
Plus, there’s a backup option – MediaStreamer – for when the VPN is having issues and you can’t watch iPlayer by connecting to one of ExpressVPN’s UK servers.
This has only happened a couple of times in the past few years thankfully, but unlike rival services which don’t have this Plan B, you’re virtually guaranteed that you can watch what you want when you want with ExpressVPN.
You don’t have to pay full price thanks to a deal that offers 15 months for the price of 12 and there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee available so you can try it and get a refund if you’re not happy.
Read more in our ExpressVPN review.
Private Internet Access, often shortened to PIA, is a well-established VPN service based in the US.
It unblocked iPlayer in our most recent tests, something it couldn’t do in previous years.
Recently, the service hugely expanded its server network and now has more than any other VPN service we know of.
Better still, its current deals make it very temping indeed at very affordable prices if you opt for the two-year plan.
Hidden24 isn’t like other VPNs here because it doesn’t have an app. Instead you configure the VPN connection yourself and turn it on and off using your device’s settings. That’s not as convenient, especially if your device doesn’t support VPN connections in this way.
However, the reason we’ve included it here is that it’s not as well known as the big names, so it flies under the BBC’s radar and – in our experience – reliably unblocks it.
The lack of an app means there’s no kill switch (unless it’s provided by your device’s operating system), but don’t let the manual configuration put you off: but there are step-by-step instructions on Hidden24’s website which make it easy.
We’ve arranged a special discount with Hidden24 for a two-year subscription that works out at £3.29 per month (around $3.70), which makes it as affordable as NordVPN once you’ve factored in VAT in the UK.
There’s also a three-month plan for a total of £9.99 (about $14) if you’d rather not commit for two years.
You can read more in our Hidden24 review.
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