If there’s one thing to hate about the internet, its geo-blocking — this insidious practice of big-name multinational brands charging consumers in one country higher prices for the same goods and services than those in another. But what makes it all the more inexcusable is attaching it to downloaded content like software and music, content that’s not sent to you physically but down the intertubes to your computer, tablet or phone. Clearly, the courier charges for those pesky little electrons must be enormous!
Apple isn’t the only offender, but it does offer a compelling example. You probably already know that song prices on the Australian iTunes store start at $1.19 and top off at $2.19. However in the US, they range from US69c to US$1.29. That translates to roughly 75c to $1.40 based on the exchange rate at time of writing.
Save a bucketload
One way to save money is to purchase discounted iTunes gift cards. You don’t have to look hard to find them, with local retailers like Dick Smith often discounting higher-value cards by up to 25%.
The problem is, because these are Australian iTunes cards, you still pay Australian iTunes store prices. But if you’re ready to indulge in a little online subterfuge, you can jump on the US iTunes bandwagon and save a small fortune.
Part 1: Buy the US iTunes gift card
First step, you need to buy yourself a US iTunes gift card. Now you don’t need the actual card itself — just the redeeming code number. A few online sellers specialise in this, so instead of waiting weeks for a card bought on eBay, you can get the card number almost immediately. Two that we’ve heard good reports about are Buyfrompowerseller and Offgamers. Both allow you to purchase via your standard Australian PayPal account, but you’ll have to go through a verification test with Offgamers.
All up, gift card prices from these two typically work out to be more in Australian dollars than the card’s dollar face value (including PayPal/credit card surcharges), but look for specials and you can do much better.
We used offgamers.com with no trouble. You sign up for a free account, look for ‘iTunes cards’, choose your gift card by dollar amount, pay for it either directly with credit card or via PayPal and grab the card redeem code from your account.
The only hurdle you have to jump through the first time is an SMS verification process to make sure you’re not dodgy, so you need to select your ISD country code (Australia +61) and provide your mobile phone number in your account profile before you purchase.
When you enter your mobile number, don’t include the leading ‘0’ — for example, ‘0499123456’ becomes ‘499123456’. Now when you make that first purchase, you’ll be sent an SMS with a verification code. Grab the code, type it into the web page text box at the appropriate point and you’ll progress to your chosen payment method.
We paid with a standard Australian PayPal account (credit card details kept nice and safe) and really, it’s almost like buying from eBay. In the end, the whole process should take no more than 10 minutes.
Part 2: Sign up to the US iTunes store
If you already have a local Australian iTunes account, the first thing to do is to sign out of it. You can do this by left-clicking on your ID button and choosing ‘sign out’ from the mini menu.
Like most content sites however, iTunes uses your computer’s IP (internet protocol) address to identify your country of origin and automatically funnel you into the local store. But if you scroll right down to the bottom of the app window, you’ll see the little Aussie flag icon. Click on it and change the iTunes store country location to ‘United States’.
Now before you can sign up to the US iTunes store, you’re supposed to have a US credit card. But Apple has kindly left the back door open, giving us another way in. Go to the iTunes store and from the top menu, select ‘App Store’ and choose a free app. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have an iPhone or iPad, just choose a free app. (It needs to be an app, rather than a song, otherwise the process won’t work.)
When you click on the app’s ‘Free’ button, iTunes will ask you to load in your Apple ID and password. But instead, click on the ‘Create Apple ID’ button. Next, click the ‘Continue’ button when you see the ‘Welcome to the iTunes store’ screen, then tick the checkbox that says you’ve read the terms and conditions and click ‘Agree’. (We’re probably breaking these terms and conditions but hey, if Apple was serious, they wouldn’t leave this door wide open.)
Start your US iTunes account by ‘buying’ a free app — even if you don’t have an iPhone.
Next, create your Apple ID with a valid email address (Gmail is fine) and your password must include capital letters and numbers. When you’re done, click ‘Continue’.
After that, you’ll get to the ‘Provide a Payment Method’ screen. Here, make sure the ‘None’ button is selected — this is the back door into iTunes. By ‘buying’ a free app, Apple allows you to create the US iTunes account without needing a US credit card.
Next, type in the Gift Card code you received from Part 1. It’ll be a long alphanumeric code so check it before you continue. You won’t spend any of your funds yet — it’s just convenient to load the number now.
After that, you create a valid US address. There’s one thing to watch out for here — some US states now require iTunes to charge sales tax for digital downloads so stick with an address in Delaware (state abbreviation ‘DE’) or another state where there’s no sales tax and you won’t pay extra.
Looking for an address? Try the United States Postal Service web site (usps.com). Click the ‘Find Locations’ button on the left-side menu, type in your chosen US zipcode (postcode) and grab an address. Don’t worry about the phone number — ‘000 0000000’ works nicely. When you’re done, click the ‘Create Apple ID’ button.
You’ll need a US address — try hotels or the US Postal Service.
Within in a few seconds, iTunes will come back and let you know if all’s well. If it is, you’ll have the gift card value added to your new iTunes account and you’re ready to buy your new music at much lower US prices.