The iPad was launched only in the U.S. this past weekend, but enthusiastic early adopters from outside the country have rushed to get their hands on units, too. Many Canadians from Southern Ontario took short two-hour road trips down to Buffalo, New York’s Apple Store at the Walden Galleria Mall, where reports suggested that Canadians outnumbered Americans by a fairly wide margin.
As it was Easter weekend, I skipped the launch day crowds and picked up my unit Monday evening; the Apple Store still had plenty of stock available. But the trip back across the border turned out to be a surprisingly challenging one, as Canadian Customs was on full “iPad watch.” I was upfront in declaring and paying the necessary import taxes on my iPad and related accessories—a bill that came to around $100 CDN—but was told by Customs officers that many others hadn’t been so forthcoming, leading the officers to seize iPads that hadn’t been declared. Seized iPads could be re-obtained by the unlucky people who forfeited them, but only after a hefty penalty: up to 80% of the actual purchase price of the item. I personally know a couple of people who had iPads seized and ended up paying $600 per unit to get them back.
Duties and taxes aside, there are a few key things to keep in mind if you’re planning on importing an iPad to use in another country. First, some good news: despite the requirement of iTunes Store activation, the iPad doesn’t seem to care which iTunes Store account you’re activating against, so you won’t need a U.S. iTunes Store account to actually activate your iPad—just plug it into iTunes and you should be good to go. Apple Store employees were glad to activate iPads at the counter before customers left, if they wanted to start using the devices right away.
Of course, the U.S. iPad comes with a North American power adapter, so if you’re planning to order a U.S. iPad and you live outside of North America, you’ll want to keep this in mind. The wall blades work in Canada, Japan, and other countries, but not in the United Kingdom and numerous other places, so you’ll need to swap the removable blades with ones included in Apple’s World Travel Adapter Kit, a separate expense, or a you can use a number of other cables with this handy trick. Alternately, the iPad can charge over USB if your USB ports can provide at least 1A of power—most recent Macs do—but the 2A power adapter that comes with it provides two or four times the recharging speed, depending on the computer and other considerations.
One big problem with using the iPad outside of the U.S. right now is the availability of applications, including app purchasing options. The first and most obvious issue is that many of the iPad apps are currently available only in the U.S.; this includes Apple’s own iWork suite of Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Presumably these will be available to a wider audience when the iPad actually launches internationally, but if you want to use them in the meantime, you’ll need to purchase them from the U.S. iTunes Store, which means setting up a U.S. iTunes Store account. Picking up a couple of iTunes Store Gift Cards along with your iPad may be the simplest way to deal with this, however I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the iTunes Store Terms of Service clearly indicate that the U.S. Store is for use by U.S. residents only, so take that for whatever it’s worth.
Some of these U.S. apps, particularly the content-based ones, will work in the U.S. only. The ABC Player and Pandora Radio are both obvious examples due to content distribution restrictions. This isn’t really anything new—the iPhone versions of apps like Pandora have suffered from the same limitations for the past two years. It’s also worth keeping in mind also that the iPad App Store itself has not yet been set up outside of the U.S., so if you’re using a non-U.S. iTunes Store account you’ll find the App Store on the iPad itself to be somewhat less than useful. The iTunes Store, on the other hand, seems to work just fine.
Despite these caveats, most third-party iPad applications are available internationally, since developers set the availability for their own applications and it would appear that Apple has not felt it necessary to restrict them from doing so. If you’re using a non-U.S. iTunes Store account, you’ll simply need to purchase your iPad applications using your computer’s iTunes software, and load them onto your iPad from there. Once installed, the applications should run without any problems unless they attempt to access U.S. only content, or require in-app purchases.
The In-App Purchasing system on the iPad currently presents a problem for non-U.S. iTunes Store accounts. It would seem that since the iPad App Store itself is not available, neither is the in-app purchasing system. Unfortunately, the iPad doesn’t seem to actually tell you this—you’ll simply be presented with a confusing in-app purchase button that shows some type of loading status rather than a purchasing option. Tapping on this button does nothing, and the user is left to figure out for themselves what the problem is.
If you happen to also have a U.S. iTunes Store account, you can sign into that on the iPad under the Store menu in the iPad’s Settings app and then the in-app purchase options will suddenly become available. Unfortunately, if you’ve purchased your app from a non-U.S. App Store, the in-app purchasing system will still not work, as there will be no record of you having purchased the original app.
The end result is that if you want to do an in-app purchase right now, you actually have to delete and redownload the app in question using a U.S. iTunes Store account and then be logged into that account on your iPad to actually make the purchase. Since many of the iPad applications that support in-app purchasing are currently free, this isn’t necessarily a problem, but it’s something to consider if you’re looking at buying a paid app and then adding upgrades via in-app purchase. You might well be better off waiting on such downloads until the app’s available in your country. Further, any in-app purchases you make remain tied to your U.S. iTunes Store account, which can make things complicated for some of the news and comic apps where you may be purchasing new content on an ongoing basis—you’ll end up tied to using your U.S. iTunes Store account or switching over to your local account and losing all of the content that you’ve already purchased.
The bottom line is that if you’re a non-U.S. early adopter, you’re going to have to suffer through a few additional growing pains with the iPad before everything is fully online. With the worldwide iPad release expected later this month, it’s reasonable to assume that the iPad App Store will be open to a wider audience within a few weeks, but until then some patience is going to be required.