How to watch TV abroad
Ah, watching TV. It might not be what you imagined when you decided to pack up your troubles and move to another country, but at some point, most of us find ourselves sat on the couch after work, knackered, watching TV.
Your lifestyle abroad isn’t always totally different to your life at home. You wake up, hit snooze on your alarm and roll over for another ten minutes, get up, s***, s***** and s****, grab breakfast and go to work. When you come home, tired, you eat dinner and flop in front of the TV.
Ok, it’s not all the same.
It’s massively exciting to live in a foreign country. Everything is new. Your life is different. Different place to live, different way of travelling to work, new job, new friends, new food.
And the language. You’ve got to try to do all this in a new language, which you may or may not have started learning. When you’re at home, sometimes you just want something in your own language. And sometimes you want it to be something from home too.
If you live in a country with its fair share of foreigners or where they like to improve their English, you might get cable TV English. Or in your own first language, whatever it may be. We had Chinese cable in Haiphong for a while. Didn’t understand it, but MTV was intriguing.
In Ho Chi Minh city, cable TV is pretty cheap. You can get a selection of channels including BBC World, National Geographic, Star World, AXN and CNN for a few pounds a month.
In Thailand, it’s much more expensive. The basic package comes with our internet from True at 799 baht a month, but it’s channels are mainly in Thai. You get Fox, so if you’re into back to back NCIC you’ll be happy, but really, there are only so many investigations into the death of sailors you can be interested in. To get more English channels you need pay for a better package, and it’s quite a lot more for a decent one.
In Ukraine and China there is one English Channel, and both are largely news and documentaries about the country.
So how can you get your TV fix if there isn’t quality cable TV in your language?
Just like at home, most of us living abroad are using the Internet to watch TV. You might not have a smart TV provided in your apartment, but you can buy an android box quite cheaply. We got ours from Lazada (an Asian online marketplace website) for about 2,500 baht and it was delivered to our apartment in a couple of days. This makes our TV ‘smart’ meaning that we can access the internet through it, a bit like a big android tablet. They usually come with a lot of apps downloaded, and you can access Google Play to download others you might like.
The mighty online TV provider Netflix is now available almost everywhere worldwide (except Syria, North Korea and Crimea, where you are unlikely to be living, and mainland China, which is a bit of a shame – but come on, there’s no Facebook or Twitter either). If you already have an account, you can log on and access it wherever you are. You will get the local library, so if even if you have a UK or US Netflix account, in Thailand you will get Thai Netflix. In Mexico you will get Mexican Netflix. In Tanzania…..you get the idea.
For a while, you could easily get around this with a VPN – a programme that changes your IP address to make it look like you are in another country. We used this for a long time, so in Ukraine, we could choose to watch UK Netflix or US Netflix or whatever, depending on what we wanted to watch. When the new series of Fargo came out, it was on Netherlands Netflix before the US or UK. Netflix has recently started cracking down on this, giving the message “it looks like you are using a VPN” when we try to watch, so we stopped. It got annoying to try and find an IP address that wasn’t blocked.
However, Thai Netflix, while it doesn’t have the catalogue of UK or US Netflix yet, is getting better. It’s got all the things people have been watching back home lately, like Stranger Things and Making a Murderer.
Malaysian company iFlix provides a similar service to Netflix. Available in Malaysia, The Philippines, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Brunei, it has a wide catalogue including many that are not on Netflix, like i Robot and The Muppets. You can also download programs to watch offline, which is good when you are travelling. It’s also generally a bit cheaper than Netflix. Like Netflix, iFlix comes with a 30-day free trial, so you can check out what it has.
Live TV providers
If you Google ‘expat TV’ or ‘watch UK (or your own country) TV abroad’ you will find a long list of companies offering to provide access to a range of UK (or whatever) channels. The U.K. channels usually include BBC 1,2 and 4, ITV 1-4 and all the Channel 4 and 5s. Basically everything you get on Freeview. Sometimes it also adds on cable channels like Sky, HBO and a range of movie and sports channels. Some offer this for free, others you have to pay for. It seems that the speed of the streaming is faster if it is a paid service, but we might be wrong.
How legal this is is a bit of a grey area. It might depend on what country you are in, and whether streaming is illegal or just downloading or uploading. Access to the BBC, including iPlayer now, is reliant on you having a TV license. It would be good if those of us living abroad could just buy a TV license, but apparently, there are legal reasons why that’s not possible yet. Apparently, access to UK Freeview channels depends on them giving permission to the service. Whether or not they do is a bit vague. But it’s an option I guess.
Speaking of legal issues, people also watch TV from pirated DVDs, which are widespread in many parts of the world, by downloading from torrent sites, or by streaming from the plethora of ‘watch TV free’ website that is out there. Here we are tottering on the legality fence: is downloading illegal where you are or is it just uploading and seeding? Is streaming illegal where you are? This isn’t the place to get into this or the morality of pirating. It’s a way people do it.
How do you watch TV abroad? Is there a cheaper Netflix-like company where you live? Or an expat TV service? Leave us a comment to share it with others.
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