Making My Way Through The iTunes Store’s Border Control

Once I left the UK and became a permanent resident of these United States, I needed to change my iTunes account’s country so I could begin making purchases on the US store. Apple’s support article on how to complete this process makes it appear pretty straightforward, yet there are some consequences which are only briefly mentioned:

  • You won’t see the items that you purchased from the previous country’s store in your Purchased section.
  • You won’t see the items from your iCloud Music Library that you matched, uploaded, or added from the previous country’s store.

I’ve been purchasing music, videos and apps from the iTunes and App Stores since the iTunes Store first launched in the UK back in 2004, so these seem to be pretty major consequences. I have a lot of content that could be potentially affected by changing my iTunes Store account’s country, so this support article left me with more questions than answers.

Further (mis)information

I spent some time trying to find any helpful advice from others who have been through the same process but there is, unfortunately, a large amount of conflicting stories and experiences in the Apple Support Communities. Most of the information I found had been from users wanting to circumvent the lack of iTunes Store in their own country or as a way to take advantage of currency exchange rates and pay lower prices by using the US store.

While I did find a few blog posts on the web about how the process works, these were also somewhat vague1 and, more importantly, a few years out of date which meant that newer features like Apple Music, iCloud Music Library, iTunes Match and even iTunes in the Cloud2 weren’t being taken into account.

Expectations

After trawling the web for what seemed like an eternity, I was able to piece together a likely outcome of what would happen once I change my iTunes account’s country:

  • My iTunes Store purchased history would be blank so I won’t be able to re-download any previous purchases that I haven’t already downloaded3. As far as media content goes, I’ll need to have a local copy of everything on my Mac before I make the switch, or else I’ll have to buy it again.
  • All of the music stored in my iCloud Music Library (iTunes Match uploads, content saved from Apple Music) will be removed. Once I switch countries, I’ll be starting with a new iCloud Music Library so I’ll need to re-activate my iTunes Match and Apple Music subscriptions if I want my music to be available across all devices again. Any music I saved to my library from Apple Music will also be removed, so I’d need to add that again, too.
  • All of my purchased media content (music, movies and TV shows) will still be playable, provided I have a local copy. Changing iTunes account country won’t affect anything related to the DRM.
  • All of the apps installed on my Mac and iOS devices will continue to work and update.
  • Unlike media content, I will be able to download apps I’ve previously purchased again, albeit in a somewhat counterintuitive way.
  • Since I can’t use iTunes in the Cloud because I’ll be losing my purchase history, if I want to watch any previously purchased TV shows and movies on a device other than my Mac, I’ll need to sync devices with iTunes4.

Preparation

While I do have a local copy of all my music on my Mac, the same cannot be said for my movie and TV show purchases. I have hundreds of video purchases, totalling just under 1TB, so I would regularly use iTunes in the Cloud to simply stream or download them as and when I need to, on any device I own. Now that I’m changing country, I lose this functionality so I needed to have a local copy of everything on my Mac.

Changing Country, Take 1

After making sure I had a local copy of my music and video purchases, as well as a Time Machine and Backblaze backup5, it was time to make the switch. I decided to perform this process on my iPhone so I followed the steps in the aforementioned Apple support article and attempted to change my account’s country. Unfortunately, I didn’t get far:

iTunes Match and Apple Music errors

  • “You have an active iTunes Match subscription; you must cancel it before you can change stores.”
  • “You have an active Apple Music membership billed through Apple; you must cancel it before you can change stores.”

At first, I didn’t see this as that big a deal. These are two subscriptions that were set up on the UK iTunes Store as part of my iCloud Music Library so it makes sense that I’d need to cancel them first (though it would be helpful if iTunes offered to cancel them during this process).

I decided to refer to the support article If you can’t change your iTunes Store country or region which explains how to cancel these subscriptions and, well, this is where the whole process starts to fall apart and explains why Apple doesn’t provide an option to cancel these memberships:

If you subscribe to iTunes Match or have an Apple Music membership, you need to wait for your iTunes Match subscription or Apple Music membership to expire.

I’m a monthly subscriber to Apple Music, so I could simply disable auto-renew and wait it out for a few weeks. However, iTunes Match only offers an annual subscription and mine had just renewed three weeks prior. More importantly, there is no way to cancel an active iTunes Match or Apple Music membership. You can disable auto-renew, but you cannot cancel. The only option I had was to cancel auto-renew and wait until iTunes Match expires. In my case, I’d have to wait until December 2016 – only then would iTunes Match be cancelled and I’d be able to change my iTunes account’s country.

Unfortunately, this creates a paradoxical situation if I want to purchase content in the future. I now live in the US, so my payment method and billing address would only work with the US store, yet I need to remain as a UK store customer because I cannot cancel iTunes Match, effectively meaning I’ll no longer be able to purchase any iTunes or App Store content until the end of the year since I no longer have a UK billing address and payment method.

Contacting Apple Support

At this point, I decided to contact Apple Support to see if they could either cancel or transfer my iTunes Match at their end. After arranging a call back from someone in the Apple Support team at a specific time and day6, I was able to speak to someone and explain the issue I was having.

Although the person I spoke to sounded somewhat confused at first and had to place me on hold for what felt like an eternity, the support rep came back and told me that they’d cancelled my iTunes Match and Apple Music subscriptions effective immediately.

Changing Country, Take 2

As soon as I had spoken to Apple, I attempted to change my country using the original support article and the whole process was completed without any further issues. As everything is connected by way of my Apple ID, this change was also reflected within iCloud.

Starting from Scratch with Apple Music & iTunes Match

One unavoidable step in the country change is that both iTunes Match and Apple Music subscriptions had to be cancelled. This means any matched or uploaded music, as well as any music I’d saved through Apple Music (such as playlists and albums) was lost. This wasn’t too concerning for me because I still have all of my purchased content in my own iTunes library, so I could just sign up to iTunes Match again, and I didn’t have that many playlists or albums saved from Apple Music that I’d miss.

I re-subscribed to both services and let iTunes upload/match all my music again which pretty much got my music library back to where it was before. If I compared what my music library looked like before and after the country change, all I had missing were a few playlists and albums I’d saved through Apple Music.

However, one casualty of the change was the album artwork for a lot of music I had was overwritten with what I can only assume iTunes Match or Apple Music decided was the matched version of a song. In most cases, the artwork was for a song purchased through the iTunes Store, and certain artwork was just plain wrong. Thankfully, no sounds or albums were lost or mismatched, but I really wish iTunes Match and/or Apple Music hadn’t messed around with the original artwork that was already correct.

Losing iTunes in the Cloud for Previous Purchases

Now that my purchase history starts anew, all the movies and TV shows that I’d purchased can no longer be streamed or downloaded from any of my devices. This particular issue is a major inconvenience for me because I’d often use an Apple TV or iPad to watch content on, rather than my Mac. For any movies or TV shows that I bought on the UK Store, I can no longer directly access them on my iPad and, instead, have to sync it with iTunes.

This only affects the purchases I made in the UK store but it is still a hassle that I have to rely upon iTunes whenever I need to get that content onto another device.

Apps

Unlike media content, Apps aren’t subject to regional restrictions and laws that vary from country to country. At most, developers have the option to not list their apps on specific stores7. Instead, any apps I had purchased can be downloaded again for free, provided they’re available the US store, but it’s not as straightforward or obvious as you may think.

A record of all the apps I’d previously purchased would normally be stored in, you guessed it, my iTunes purchase history. Although this is empty when switching country, the App Store still recognises which apps I’d purchased, so for all of the apps currently installed on my Mac and iOS devices, updates happen uninterrupted and continue to work as expected.

For apps that I don’t have installed but may want to download again, the App Store displays the price instead of the more familiar download button, but “buying” the app results in the App Store displaying a message to say that the app has been previously purchased so it’s free. While this does mean I effectively don’t need to re-purchase any apps, I need to remember which apps I’ve purchased before, or consult my iTunes payment history or email receipts.

Afterlight is an app I purchased previously. It initially shows its price but after "buying" it, I'm notified that the download is actually free

The End… I Think

Despite the ambiguity and lack of comprehensive information available on this process, changing my iTunes Store account’s country wasn’t a complete disaster, but there are a lot of things to watch out for, especially if you’ve been using the ecosystem for a number of years.

While I haven’t lost any content, I have lost a lot of the convenience of the iTunes Store for previous purchases. This may not sound particularly worrying since I have the content on my Mac, but I’m fortunate enough to have a Mac at home that I can keep what is effectively a backup of all my content on. For many iOS-only users out there, going through this process would effectively mean losing a lot of content with the lack of iTunes in the Cloud functionality for purchases on a different store country8.

I’m not sure whether the lack of iTunes purchase history (and, by extension, iTunes in the Cloud) is a technical, legal or contractual restriction, but it doesn’t seem right that movies and TV shows that I purchased through iTunes cannot be made available after changing my country. I’m inclined to think that this is more a restriction by the studios and labels than Apple but, whatever the reason, it’s a huge disappointment for anyone who moves abroad.

Update: My purchase history now appears in the iOS and Mac App Stores. Some of my purchased movies and TV shows are also available in iTunes in the Cloud.

  1. It seems that many of the posts I camd across were just written expectations based upon the support article and not from personal experience, or too out of date to be relevant anymore. 

  2. When the iTunes Store first opened its doors, there wasn’t any way to redownload purchases you’d made if you didn’t have a backup. As a former Genius, I had to refer a lot of customers to iTunes Support who had thought that their iPod was the only place their music needed to be (and subsequently deleted the music from their iTunes library once they’d synced it, in a misguided attempt to save storage space). 

  3. An iTunes Store account’s purchase history appears to be country-specific so purchases can only be re-downloaded if you’re account is set to the country the content was purchased from. The country cannot be changed frequently and requires a valid payment method and billing address to be added. 

  4. Syncing an iOS device with iTunes, like an animal. This especially sucks with an Apple TV in the house but at least I can easily stream this from my Mac. 

  5. The entire process of downloading my iTunes video content and making sure there were adequate backups took just over a week. 

  6. To Apple’s credit, their support process was flawless. I was able to pick a specific day and time to receive a call and the person I spoke to was great and I didn’t need to be transferred to another department. 

  7. One example that springs to mind is the Bank of America app – it’s not available on the UK store. 

  8. To prevent abuse, Apple restricts iTunes account country changes to once every 90 days. 

6 thoughts on “Making My Way Through The iTunes Store’s Border Control”

  1. Thanks for this Jordan. I’m in an eerily similar situation (just moved UK>USA, just signed up for a year of iTunes Match 3 weeks ago!). Good to hear someone at Apple was able to see sense. I’ll try and contact them now. Out of interest (and for visibility for future readers), how did you contact Apple? I guess there’s just a contact form on their website??

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  2. Jordan, thanks for making this incredibly useful and informative post for someone interested in this international issue.

    I’ve been researching this issue for my daughter who is NOT technically oriented (although used Apple devices for years) and she is going from the USA to study in the UK. Your article is great for those who understand some background (since you were a Apple Genius), and I used to work in Retail for Apple and could easily follow what you wrote….. not so for an average user I think. These systems and the distribution/legal issues are just too complex for the average joe/jane.

    I’m tempted to just tell my daughter to stay on the USA store while in the UK, and hope for the best, although I can’t find easy answers to know if this will work well. She may stay for a year or several years, I can’t say now, but she likely will return to the USA at some point and staying with the US store makes sense (I’m not sure if it is legal though to do that, or possible to purchase out of the region you are in — of course with a financial mode of payment that works in the USA — her finances for the forseeable future will be tied to US finances, not British ones.

    To make matters much worse, she is part of our family sharing plan which Apple has said will not work if she leaves the region, and she must have her own individual music plan. The content she has built over the years will stay with her Apple ID if downloaded, but access to it will be lost if she changes away from the family. Geez, this is a mess.

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  3. Thanks so much for this very comprehensive post, Jordan!

    For a slightly different angle I have taken a slightly different approach to the same problem (which could be of particular interest for Tamir, above).

    I am also from the UK and have lived in Germany for nearly seven years but ended up sticking to my UK account with almost no problems for all this time. Fortunately I have the benefit of having retained a UK bank account with a corresponding address. So far there have been no problems with this whatsoever. Purchases are made in sterling and I mainly consume English speaking media anyway.

    Also for most of this time the UK has been part of the EU. I’m not sure if this makes a difference, but the German and UK markets are fairly closely integrated (on other platforms such as ebay and Amazon I can interchange my accounts freely to an extent) and legally some things are easier such as no customs duty on purchases across borders and VAT for consumers making cross-border purchases being payable in the country of the seller at that rate. Although intellectual property laws differ somewhat (as does iTunes store content). Also I’m not sure if I will suddenly face restrictions such as services being geoblocked after Brexit.

    Recently I came across the first major stumbling block when an app I really wanted to use was only available in the German market. It was an app that I needed to receive parcels at packet stations. It was important enough to be very annoying but not enough to go through the process you describe above, especially after everything having been so smooth for the last few years. Therefore as a workaround I created a second apple id, with my German details and temporarily switched stores on my phone to download the app (plus another app I’d missed for a while to access my mobile phone provider). It all worked fine and after logging back in to my UK account, both new German-market apps still worked. I am not sure if there will be an error if an update for either app becomes available, but I guess in the worse case I’ll just need to switch accounts to receive the update.

    Somewhat surprising was that I wasn’t required to provide a German payment option in my second account (it wouldn’t have been a problem since I can easily provide one) only a billing address. Both apps I wanted to download were free so I didn’t need to make an actual it, but I was expecting to be made to provide it in any case.

    I even created a second user account on my Mac with the iCloud logged into my new German account so I had an extra device for 2-factor authentication if I lost this phone.

    The above might not be for everybody and as mentioned, depends on still having a bank account and address in both countries and of course I didn’t test on more diverse markets like the UK and US, but it could be useful for others who are facing a similar problem and want to avoid the pain you experienced. As somebody who also uses iTunes match on a yearly subscription and has a considerable volume of music there, this has been the main motivation for sticking with my UK account so long.

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  4. Great explanation, Jordan. Thanks! I’m going thru the same nightmare. But I can’t say Apple support is flawless. Quite the opposite, really. Really tempted to move to Spotify. This is nuts. How did you save the music from your Apple Music library? They’re telling me that when we opt to download it just serves to listen while offline. It doesn’t actually download the music to our device. Can you please clarify that ?

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    1. Anything you’ve bought from iTunes Store can be downloaded and kept forever. In fact, that’s the recommended approach if you need to change store country because some music, movies, and TV shows aren’t available elsewhere. Ultimately, as long as you download a copy of everything you’ve purchased on a desktop computer and keep it backed up, you’ll always be able to access it—though mostly using the computer. If you have music you’ve saved with Apple Music then it doesn’t matter since you didn’t buy the music but you’ll lose all the music you added and have to add it back. Not great.

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