How to Watch British TV in the US

BBC iPlayer
BBC iPlayer

One of the many things that I like about living in England is the television. The BBC produces great dramas, comedies and news shows. Every household pays a TV license  (£145.50 per year) which pays for the BBC, so you have public ownership of the part of the media.There are four BBC channels, creatively named One, Two, Three and Four. People tell me that each has a different “flavor” of show, but I have not figured it out yet.

There are other channels that are not part of the BBC – ITV, Channel Four, Channel 5 (not to be confused with BBC Four and BBC Five).

Most of the British TV channels have websites where you can watch the shows if you missed them when they were broadcast. But, you can’t watch them online if you don’t live in the United Kingdom. Unless you use a VPN.

Use a VPN to Watch British TV in the US

The British TV websites check your location by your IP address and block their online programs if you are coming onto the internet from a location outside of the United Kingdom. The same happens if you are in the UK and want to watch US programs online. A message pops up telling you that programs are not available in your area.

There is a simple solution – run a VPN (Virtual Private Network) on your computer. This lets you go onto the Internet through one of their gateways, giving you a IP address from the location you choose and “fooling” the TV websites. This works for any websites that check your location before delivering content.

I use WiTopia Personal VPN Basic for $49.99/year. The software is easy to install. When you want to be online with a different IP location, you start their software and choose the city to login from. I login to Los Angeles to watch the Daily Show online. When in the US I login to London to watch the BBC iPlayer. There are other VPNs available, and some are free, but I have been happy with WiTopia.

The VPN does not affect how your computer works. You go online through your Internet provider and then login to your VPN to change your IP address. Watch the shows on your computer or connect your computer to your TV set with an HDMI cable.

Websites for British TV

  • BBC iPlayer – Watch shows online (streaming) or download iPlayer software which lets you download shows to your computer and keep them for a limited time (so you can watch offline).
  • Channel 4 OD (On Demand) – They show a lot of US series on this channel but they also produce British series. The real estate show Location, Location, Location is on Channel Four.
  • ITV Player – You can watch some of the really crappy not as good as BBC British TV on ITV, but they also produced the very popular (and somewhat crappy soap-opera-ish but still very watchable) Downton Abbey.
  • Channel 5 Demand5 – More crappy not as good as BBC British TV.

Great Shows to Watch

Most shows are available online for a week or two after they are broadcast in the UK.

  • BBC One is currently showing Birdsong, a two part drama based on the book by Sebastian Faulks.
  • On BBC Four we are nearing the end of Borgen, a Danish drama (English subtitles) by the people who brought The Killing. You can still watch this online. It is a great political drama. Click the Episode Guide to see the shows available online.
  • Channel 4 OD is showing The Fabulous Baker Brothers, an excellent cooking show featuring the owner of our local Hobbs Bakery!

Join us on the Slow Europe Travel Forums – I post when good shows are broadcast.

This Is Not How It Should Be

Eventually media companies will stop blocking online visitors from other countries. It is kind of crazy that we have to do this to get access.

How We Watch TV in The UK

Cable TV is not as available here as it is in the US. Some larger cities have it but most of us use Freeview or subscribe to SKY TV.

  • Freeview comes either through your antenna or a satellite and, as the name implies, is free. No monthy fee. You receive all the BBC channels, ITV, Channel 4,Channel 5 and more.
  • Sky TV is owned by Rupert Murdoch. If you subscribe to SKY, they put a satellite on your roof and give you an SKY box with a digital recorder (similar to Comcast in the US but not as good as TIVO). Their SKY Atlantic channel gets all the US HBO and Showtime series – but we see them with commercials! The shows arrive here six months to a year after they broadcast in the US.

Just Days After the States

I have seen this in advertisements for US TV shows. For example “Watch House just days after the States”. Most good US TV shows get here eventually but some of the really popular ones arrive almost immediately. In March we will be watching the new season of Mad Men “just days after the states”.

Published by

Pauline Kenny

Pauline Kenny and Steve Cohen are US expats living in Dorset. We moved to the UK in 2010. Read about our move. If you would like to talk about travel, please join us on the Slow Europe Travel Forums.

16 thoughts on “How to Watch British TV in the US”

  1. What is the difference between a “proxy,” using a site that changes your IP address (Hide your IP address), and the equipment you can purchase? I have a proxy at the moment, but the streamming is not very good, and it has slowed my computer down. Thanks for any info you have on the topic.

    1. A proxy is something you access via a website usually. Normally it will be free. One of those sites where you put the URL into a form. You will be directed to a version of the destination site you want that is proxied with the IP of the proxy website server. This will give you UK content for example.

      Like the good lady author says, you can also use a VPN. A VPN was invented to give companies a private secure internet for staff to communicate via an intranet. People started using it to create a private tunnel via another country to get access to the countries geoblocked restricted content, legally.

      A VPN is usually faster, more secure, and gives your whole PC a new IP. Although they usually come at a premium price. It works via desktop app. This is great for British TV but also go-restricted Youtube videos, Torrents and general privacy as everything you do on your PC would essentially be through the new IP address and it would be encrypted.

      The new thing is SMART DNS. It’s the same as a VPN basically but simpler to use and will automatically give you a USA/UK address depending on what site you want. It will even turn off the VPN automatically if you want to visit a site you dont need a VPN for. Hence its better.

      Luckily most VPN providers will offer a SMART DNS free with if you pay for their VPN services.

      Lastly there are streaming website such as FILMOn where they re-stream catch-up and live TV so you dont need a VPN or proxy.

  2. I am not sure of the difference. There may be a difference in speed with different VPNs. I use Witopia which you have to pay for. I have done some streaming and it seems fine – but I have not streamed a movie (just Daily Show video and YouTube).

  3. Thank you for your clear explanation! Much appreciated!

    Although I must say that if you find Downton Abbey to be crappy…and ITV’s Doc Martin to be not worth mentioning (both shows that I love), now I’m really curious about Channel5, since you called it crappy, too! I look forward to checking it out. 😉

    1. That was 1 1/2 years ago and since then there have been some very good things on ITV, my favorite being Broadchurch ( I take back “crappy” (and replace with “not as good as BBC”). And with all the funding cuts, the BBC is not as good as it was.

      I had not heard of Doc Martin (I thought it was a brand of shoes!) until recently when an American friend said they loved it.

  4. I live in California and am exploring options like a VPN to view UK TV which I miss terribly.

    I was told by BBC that one of them main reasons they block non-UK IP addresses is due to the band-width issue and that the distance would cause degredation if thousands of people were doing this. Have you heard of this theory?

    Question: What internet download speed would be sufficient to use a VPN for viewing UK TV here in California? We are currently with Astound with a 15MB speed. This is sufficient for current internet TV streaming, but occasionally our Roku box bogs down.

    Thanks so much for the information — I love your site!!

  5. I had to use the more expensive plan ($69 I think) to get the VPN to work in Canada. VPN works great 95% of the time, and the issues could be our WiFi. I think that 15 Mbps would be okay. Witopia has a 30-day return policy, which I actually used to upgrade from the $49 plan to the $69 plan, so you could get a refund if it didn’t work out.

  6. From California and looking in to getting a VPN to watch season 3 of Wentworth next year. It is on channel 5 will that work or is channel 5 a pay service? any help would be appreciated!

  7. “Currently at this point of time you can watch Hulu,TruTV,youtube,netflix and other restricted contents from any part of the world by using a DNS service rather than a VPN. It is much faster than any vpn service. Currently I am using Smart DNS Proxy and the url is
    They are providing 14 days free trial for checking.
    VPN reduces bandwidth speed by 40-50% whereas DNS service loses around 10-15% bandwidth speed.

    I also found out a new dns service which seems is fully free but personally have not checked its service and the url of the service is

  8. It states that I need a TV license to watch programs from the UK. I live in the US. Is there any way around this? Any websites where I can watch UK programs live? I would like to watch Downton Abbey this fall. Thanks.

    1. I don’t think they enforce the need for a TV license on the UK online TV channels. They have talked about doing this, but have not done it yet. With a VPN set to a UK IP address you should be able to access online TV. Downton Abbey usually broadcasts in the US very soon after showing in the UK. Some UK shows are available on Amazon streaming and Netflix.

  9. Would having a Slingbox help to watch tv programs on BBC, ITV, and Channel 5 here in the USA (I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota).
    They are cheaper now than they used to be. I use SecurityKiss and TunnelBear vpn’s to watch stuff online, but I would really like to be able to watch shows from these channels on my televison set. Any ideas?

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