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.
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blog posts on the web about how the process works, these were also somewhat vague1 and, more importantly, a few years out of date which meant that newer features like Apple Music, iCloud Music Library, iTunes Match and even iTunes in the Cloud2 weren’t being taken into account.
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.
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:
- “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.
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.
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.
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. ↩
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). ↩
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. ↩
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. ↩
The entire process of downloading my iTunes video content and making sure there were adequate backups took just over a week. ↩
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. ↩
One example that springs to mind is the Bank of America app – it’s not available on the UK store. ↩
To prevent abuse, Apple restricts iTunes account country changes to once every 90 days. ↩