Jun 30, 2011
You’d think that moving an iTunes account from one country to another, as I’ve had to do three times, would be straightforward. But unlike international travel in much of Europe, it’s not.
Due largely to media companies’ archaic licensing regimes, Apple is forced to maintain a separate store for each country in which it operates, and restrict shoppers to the country of their credit card’s billing address. So of you physically move country, that means scrolling to the bottom of the store window in iTunes to make the corresponding virtual relocation.
The first potential problem is financial. Any credit you might have in iTunes doesn’t carry over, so make sure you use up any iTunes vouchers before you switch stores. And your “foreign” credit card may not be accepted so purchases may be voucher-only until you can obtain a local card.
Cash isn’t the only credit you’ll lose. Existing Complete My Album and iTunes Plus options will disappear. Upgrade before you up sticks. (Though happily, when I returned to Belgium after two years in Switzerland, while I lost the Swiss Complete My Album I regained my Belgian choices.)
Prices in your new home may come as a bit of shock. Switzerland, as you might expect, comes with a gold-plated iTunes store. Take the latest New Order/Joy Division cash-in, Total: a single track costs 99p in the UK; in Belgium it’s cheaper at 99c (89p), despite the higher rate of sales tax, but higher in Switzerland at ChF1.60 (£1.19), despite the much lower tax¹.
You’ll also lose some music and some apps. Not those that you’ve already bought and/or downloaded, but content that’s only available in specific regions. While I don’t have hard data, my impression is that apps and albums in the local language(s) are most likely to disappear. The missing music is easily explained — that’s how the record label licensed it — but the absence of apps does seem strange. Apple appears to apply not restrictions — Swiss railways’ essential timetable and tickets app, SBB is available internationally, for example — so the decision comes down to the developer. At least you might get a response if you email them.
The tying of iTunes accounts to a host country also means that it will no longer possible to update iOS apps in iTunes, though you can still update them on iOS devices. This appears to be a bug rather than a “feature” and may well be fixed at some stage, I say may….
Finally, don’t plan on buying a lot of movies. Either there won’t be any — movie studios would clearly prefer you to hit BitTorrent than buy legitimate content from Apple² — or what there is will be limited and only available in the local languages. Clearly supporting international languages is too much, though strangely subtitle files are available on BitTorrent.
Of course, you could always maintain separate iTunes accounts for each country, but rather you than me.
¹And that’s cheap, pricesgo up to an eye-popping ChF2.20 (£1.60).
²I know they would prefer you to buy DVD or Blu-ray, but this is the second decade of the 21st century.