How to watch UK TV abroad: Sky Go And iPlayer For Free
In the UK, we’re spoilt for great TV. Between the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Freeview and Sky, there are literally hundreds of hours of content to keep you entertained. Thanks to web-based catch-up TV services like iPlayer there’s no reason to miss out on your favourite shows if you aren’t able to watch them live. It’s not quite so simple if you find yourself out of the country, however; almost every service blocks access to foreigners based on their IP address.
Thankfully, there are plenty of quick, easy, and most importantly free ways to make sure you don’t miss that crucial episode when you’re away on business or out on holiday. We’ve listed a few of the best below. Or if you’re happy just to listen then check out our How to listen to BBC Radio abroad.
To watch live UK TV from anywhere in the world using your web browser, without any need to install software or browser plugins, you can head to FilmOn TV; it will let you watch 26 different free-to-air channels, including BBC One, BBC Two, BBC News and CBBC, ITV1, Channel 4, E4, Channel 5 and a few other Freeview channels for free. It works using flash video embedding but also has a mobile site for tuning in on a tablet or smartphone. Unfortunately broadcasts are only available for free in standard definition, and the legality of paying to watch in HD is shady at best. Picture and sound quality isn’t fantastic either, but it certainly beats missing an important football match or news bulletin.
It’s a shame that FilmOn TV only has a limited selection of channels, as it means you’ll have to look elsewhere for TV broadcasts, but if you’re able to install a plugin or two there’s nothing stopping you from using familiar websites like iPlayer, 4OD and iTV player.
Alternatively, WatchBritishTV includes live streams of the main channels, including Film4 and Dave, which FilmOnTV lacks. If also has on-demand streams of recent shows around six hours after broadcast. While these definitely fall into dubious territory on the copyright front and aren’t properly categorised by channel or genre, they’re easy to search for by name. This provides a somewhat effective alternative for 4OD, which has recently been particularly good at detecting overseas connection attempts, even from behind VPNs.
You’ll need to subscribe to use WatchBritishTV’s service, but its basic subscription service is free. We were particularly please to find that, although it shows its own logo on its streams, it doesn’t superimpose advert banners.
The BBC only makes iPlayer available to UK-based license fee payers, meaning if you’re out of the country you’re out of luck. The same applies to the Sky Go service, which is a serious problem if you’re missing out on the football while on holiday. If you’re prepared, you can download BBC iPlayer shows before you go and you can do the same for Sky if you’ve got a Sky Go Extra account (find out everything you need to know about Sky Go Extra on Know Your Mobile account). If you’re not that prepared, you can get around the issue with a VPN, although, for Sky Go you need a registered device with you.
Use a VPN
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) tunnels your network traffic, so that it appears to be coming from a different country. If you wanted to watch US Netflix in the UK, for example, you would use a VPN to tunnel your traffic to the US. The same kind of technique works in reverse, too, letting you tunnel back into the UK when you’re abroad and access any other local services. A VPN also protects your data, encrypting it, so you can browse with safety when you’re away. Buffered is a good choice of VPN, supporting PC, Mac, iOS and Android, and it works with all UK streaming services. There’s a free 30-day trial, so you can cancel your account if the service doesn’t live up to your expectations without having to pay a penny.
Use Buffered with MacOS (OS X) or Windows
Once you’ve registered an account you should download hte client and install it on your computer. With both Windows and macOS (OS X), you’ll also be prompted to install a driver, which you should do to get the service working. Once installed, log in with your account details and then choose the country that you want to connect to (the UK) and then your computer will connect through the tunnel into the UK. If you now open up iPlayer or another UK-based streaming service, you’ll be able to access all of the content unrestricted.
Use Buffered with iOS or Android
For iOS or Android, you need to install a separate VPN app: OpenVPN Connect in the Apple App Store for iPhones and iPads, and OpenVPN in the Google Play Store. You then need to follow the instructions in the Buffered tutorials to download the UK configuration profile and install it on your device. Once you’ve done this, you can connect and you’ll be able to access all of your UK services with ease.
Use the free CyberGhost VPN (less reliable)
You can use a free VPN service to try and watch UK TV when you’re abroad, but these services can be a little slow and don’t always work, with the BBC, in particular, blocking access to VPNs. Still, if you don’t want to pay for a premium service, then trying the free option is a good starting point.
Mac and PC VPN
If you’ve got a Mac or a PC, you can use the free CyberGhost VPN software, which makes it appear as though your computer is located in the UK when it’s really abroad. This will work for Sky Go, although the BBC has a regular crackdown on VPN software, so iPlayer may not work.
The downside is that the free version of the software isn’t as fast as the paid-for premium version, and it can take a while to connect. For that reason, paying to upgrade your account might be worth it if you watch a lot of TV. Still, if you only want to watch the occasional programme, CyberGhost is a good choice.
To get it working, just download and install CyberGhost and then run the software. When it runs you’ll get a pop-up ad asking if you want to upgrade, but you can just close this down and ignore it. Once the software has started, just click the big yellow button to get Cyberghost to automatically connect to the VPN. It can take a while to connect and you may get a message telling you that there aren’t enough free slots (Cyberghost reserves bandwidth for paying customers). However, I’ve never found Cyberghost to take more than a couple of minutes to connect.
Once Cyberghost has connected, it will automatically place your computer in a country. To change this and select America, click the menu underneath Simulated Country. Select the UK from the list and click OK, then click Reconnect on the next screen. Again, you’ll have to wait for Cyberghost to find a free slot before it connects. Once it does, you’ll see the map view update and your computer will be ‘moved’ to the UK.
Unfortunately, streaming TV providers are actively trying to spot the IP addresses used as endpoints by VPN services. This affects both paid-for and free VPNs and can make using them extremely unpredictable, as it’s impossible to tell when they’ll be detected. Many VPN providers, particularly those which run paid-for services such as NordVPN, Private Internet Access, Hide My Ass!, and CyberGhost’s paid-for service, regularly change their endpoint IP addresses in an attempt to keep ahead of detection attempts from online broadcasters, but aren’t always successfully.
Tablets and smartphones VPN
If you like to travel light and don’t plan on bringing a laptop with you when going abroad, there are still ways to tune in using a smartphone or tablet. VPN clients such as CyberGhost are available for Android and iOS, which can trick your mobile into thinking it’s in another country. The Android version is currently free to use, but the iOS version requires a £25 annual subscription – if you’re able to use less than 500MB of data per month the equally useful Tunnelbear is a free alternative for iPhone and iPad owners. Both run in the background on your device, letting you access websites and apps usually blocked based on your location.
With Android, you simply have to install the app and press start to spoof your IP address, but for iOS things are a little more complicated. Once your VPN app is installed, you have to head into Settings, tap VPN, then select the relevant name from the list displayed. With Tunnelbear, you should see a choice of “Tunnelbear UK”, “Tunnelbear US” and any other servers you’ve selected through the app. Tap on the country you wish to spoof your IP address to and switch VPN to ON to start surfing or streaming.
We have a full guide on tweaking your DNS settings in order to change your location. However, as our follow-up piece on the potential dangers of using third-party DNS servers explains, there are some dangers to doing so. For example, your browsing habits can be monitored, and you could be fooled into visiting a fake version of the site you thought you were looking at. Be careful out there.
While the methods we’ve outlined above are all compromises and might not always provide satisfactory results, the future for watching digital catchup services in far-flung lands (or at least in the EU) is looking reasonably bright. Earlier in May, the EU stated that they want to see content providers, such as Sky and the BBC, allow consumers to be able to continue watching no matter what country they’re in. This would be made possible by an expansion of the EU’s consumer-focussed “digital single market” plans that have so far drastically cut roaming costs for mobile subscribers across the EU.
Since then, the BBC has since stated that it will “begin work to look at the technical and legislative implications”. A bit wishy-washy, if you ask us, but the very fact that this is being discussed means that hopefully, eventually, you’ll be able to catch up on your favourite shows from your hotel balcony. Of course, the ongoing development and implementation of such plans will be highly dependent on how the UK’s exit from the union is negotiated.