We might live in an international world, but what happens when laws and policies can’t keep up with our jet-setting ways? Well if you’ve ever tried to switch from one App Store to another, you’ll have a pretty good idea.
If you need to change from one country’s iTunes media or App Store to another, there are a few very important things you need to know about your existing purchases, apps and media.
You can only purchase items from a certain country’s iTunes store if you have a valid form of payment for that particular country. That means if you’ve moved to another country and have set up a new bank account so you can get paid or transfer money locally, you’ll have to switch to your local store in order to use your new card — you can’t use an Australian credit card in the UK App Store, for example.
A few years ago I moved from the UK to Australia and encountered this issue. At the time, I decided to leave things the way they were, and continued to use the UK store and top up money into a spare account as I needed it. This gets old very fast, particularly when you’re thousands of miles away from your bricks-and-mortar bank and something goes wrong (like your card expires or your bank suspends your card because it’s being used across the globe).
So why not just switch to an international store and use your new bank account to purchase apps, books, films and music? Well, the answer is simple — because your purchases are only valid in the country you bought them.
In other words, you can only re-download past purchases by visiting the store they were purchased in. The company has no requirement to make your purchases globally available in every store. This can be infuriating if you’ve sunk hundreds or thousands of dollars into software and media over the years.
Note: It’s important to make the distinction between simply changing the region associated with your Apple ID, and creating an entirely new one with which to access apps from other stores.
Once you’ve switched stores, your list of purchases in iTunes and on your iPhone or iPad will be empty, but the apps you already have on your device will continue to update without a hitch. In this sense, your app purchases are tied to your Apple ID and will continue to update until you delete them.
How Do I Switch Stores?
To switch stores on an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch:
- Head to Settings > iTunes & App Store, tap on your Apple ID, choose View Apple ID and input your password.
- Tap Payment Information and update your credentials with payment details for a card registered in the same country as the store you’d like to switch to (e.g. US credit card for the US App Store).
- Hit Done and head back to the App Store. You will be notified your credentials are only valid for an international store, and you will be transferred to that store (sometimes this happens later when you try to download an app).
You can also do this on a Mac by opening iTunes, clicking your name and editing your payment method under Account Info. Be aware that you’ll need to cancel your Apple Music membership (if you have one) in order to change stores.
Note: As your payment info is the same regardless of the device you use, you only need to change it on one device.
How Do I Access My Past Purchases?
So what if you downloaded an expensive app which you’ve since deleted and you’d like to get it back without having to pay for it twice. In this case, you’d need to switch back to the store you originally purchased the app in the manner indicated above. In order to access your old past purchases, you’re always going to need a valid form of payment for the App Store country in which you made them.
This might be easy, if you’ve got a business account or family still residing in that country — or it could be a nightmare if you haven’t, as you’ll need a valid billing address too. It doesn’t appear to be possible to use a gift card as the sole method of payment at this stage.
Why does this happen? Each one of Apple’s digital storefronts is a separate trading entity, operating in accordance with local laws and taxes. This isn’t exactly new, it’s been this way since Apple first started selling via the iTunes platform. Similarly, not every App Store or iTunes inventory is the same, further fragmenting what many consider to be the least fragmented ecosystem.
Quite simply, Apple doesn’t need to give you access to your international purchases so they don’t. It’s not a policy that’s likely to change any time soon, and instead of getting angry about it you should just…
Backup & Breathe
Fortunately, it’s not all as bad as it seems. As previously mentioned, for as long as your apps were purchased with your Apple ID (regardless of store) they will continue to update. You won’t get the dreaded Apple ID password prompt that you get if you download something using someone else’s account.
So by this logic, if you make a local backup of your apps within iTunes, you’ll never need to worry about not having to access them again. The same is true for other media you’ve downloaded, particularly music which is DRM-free. iTunes gives you the option to transfer both purchases and backup apps when you connect your device and on the Summary tab choose the Backup option.
Once complete, you can find a full backup of your apps within your iTunes folder (
/Users/Username/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media/Mobile Applications) as .IPA files. You’ll be able to freely transfer your apps using iTunes, and these apps will even be copied back across when you restore a backup even though they were purchased in another store. Media will be stored in your iTunes library (
/Users/Username/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media), as it always is.
Remember that your apps may take up considerably more space than your other content, so you may want to consider storing them elsewhere (on an external drive perhaps) if you’re tight for space. It’s worth backing up often, particularly if you have a lot of app data (artwork, music files, saved games) that you’d loathe to lose in case of device failure.
Off You Go
Once you’ve got a copy of your favorite apps and other media locally, and you intend on using the same Apple ID in your new country of residence (with a different form of payment) you shouldn’t have any problems. Apps will update, music will play and your new purchases will be made in your new country of residence.
Remember that if you ever need to change store again (perhaps back to your original country) you will have the same problem when it comes to accessing purchases made in your new place of residence. Something to think about if you know where you’re going to be in five or ten years.
Have you done the international iTunes store dance? How did it go?