This article has been updated as of April 2010 to include information on the Zune HD.
The world is a big place, full of people who love gadgets. When a company decides to release a piece of technology in a single country rather than a world-wide release, it never stops determined people from getting the technology. Like a modern-day Robin Hood, eBay is the primary conduit for re-distributing technology marvels from the "haves" to the "have-nots" (profit for the eBay seller is the motive, however). The Zune HD is one such product, released only in the US of A so far. I happen to live in Canada, and can't buy the Zune in my country, or use much of the online functionality - not without a little creativity that is. Welcome to the International Zune User's Guide: everything you need to know about being one of those clandestine folks acquiring and using a Zune HD in a country where Microsoft doesn't officially support you. Everything in this article is from the perspective of someone who lives in Canada, so there may be slight variations depending on where you are in the world.
Purchasing the Product
So you want to buy that shiny new Zune HD, only no retailer or online store in your country carries it. This is probably one of the easier problems to solve: find someone that will ship it to your country. The #1 place to look is eBay, because private sellers are often willing to ship elsewhere in the world in return for a healthy profit. This means you should expect to pay more than retail once all of the final shipping charges are calculated. If you live in Canada like I do, you're in luck: many US-based sellers will ship to Canada. Be wary of inflated shipping charges, though that's likely going to be the price you'll pay for getting it to you. Unfortunately I've seen many Zune HD ads where the seller will not ship outside North America: you'll have to search for sellers that are willing to ship to Canada/Europe/Asia/etc.
Figure 1: Mmm...the tasty Zune HD that Microsoft doesn't want you to buy.
Also be prepared to pay some sort of duty/import tax depending on where you live. If you happen to know someone who lives in the USA, this is the far better route: get them to buy if for you at retail, and ship it to you. You'll get the cheapest possible price overall, and your friend can mark the package with a lower-than-retail price. In Canada, if a product comes in via courier (UPS, FedEx, etc.) and the value is less than $20 CND, there's no brokerage fee. If the value is equal to $20 CND, the brokerage fees start at around $25 and go up from there. Have your friend mark the product as a "not for resale product sample", put a value of $10 on it, and you should be able to receive it without paying anything extra. If the product comes into Canada via the USPS (United States Postal Service), there are no brokerage fees regardless of the price listed: you'll just be paying GST and likely a $5 processing fee.
OK, so you've got the hardware: now what? The Zune HD works great with all the music and content you have on your hard drive, but one of the strengths of the Zune HD(and the iPod for that matter) is that you can access huge online catalogs of music. The problem is, you can't buy those tracks if you live outside the USA. You can't even see the Marketplace tab in the software if your location is set to anything other than USA! It took me a lot of trial and error to figure this out, but I've figured it all out so you don't have to. If you have a Microsoft Passport account (Windows Live ID) associated with an Xbox Live account, it will have your credit card billing profile. You won't be able to use this account with the Zune Marketplace because the Zune Marketplace blocks purchases from credit cards that have non-US billing addresses. Every time I've tried I get an error stating that "Your credit card information is not valid. Please verify and try again." No amount if re-trying will get it accepted in my experience.
Figure 2: The Zune Marketplace that Microsoft doesn't want you to see or use.
The points you might have in your Xbox Live account won't be accessible to you in the Zune Marketplace - in fact, with the new Zune software when I tried to sign in with my "real" Passport account (the one associated with my Xbox Live account) it wouldn't even allow me to sign in, claiming that the "Zune Marketplace was unavailable". As you can tell, the Zune team has done almost everything in their power to block non-US based Zune owners from accessing Zune marketplace content. But where there's a will, there's a way. Follow these steps to get to near-Zune Marketplace bliss:
- Go to Passport.com and register a new Windows Live ID. Use any email address you want. When you're creating your profile, select your home country as the United States of America. Use any US address you want: if you have a sense of irony, use 1 Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA, 98052.
- You now have a "clean" Windows Live ID without associated credit card information that can be used in the Zune Marketplace - but you need points to do that. And, not surprisingly, you can't purchase points with a non-US credit card. What you need are Xbox Live Points Cards that are sold in the US. Point cards purchased in other countries are geographically linked to that country and are not compatible with the Zune Marketplace. You have two choices at this point: head over to eBay and purchase point cards from a US-based seller (you may want to confirm there are US-based points). The nice thing here is that many sellers will just email you the point codes, meaning they don't care if you're in Poland or the UK. Or, use that friend in the USA again to buy you a points card.
- Once you have the point card codes, open the Zune desktop software and log in with your new Windows Live ID. The software may complain about your location setting for your Windows Live ID not matching the location setting on your computer (see below). You'll need to exit the Zune software, go to your Control Panel > Region and Language > Location, and change the location to United States. Open the Zune desktop software and log back in.
- Go into Settings > Account > Redeem Code.
- Enter in the Xbox Live Points code(s) you have. Those points will be added to your account.
- Now giggle like a school-girl as you witness your account fill with points ready for spending. You can use these points to purchase music or music videos from the Zune marketplace, and they'll download and play back on your Zune without any problem.
- When you need more points, just repeat steps #2 through #5 again. If you're planning on buying a lot of music, you should probably purchase a few blocks of 4000 points (which cost around $60 USD at retail).
Figure 3: The error screen you'll see if your computer location doesn't match the Live ID location.
No Zune Pass For You! Unless...
There's a bit of bad news, however: the Zune Pass is linked to a credit card for repeat billings, and, you guessed it, they block all non-US credit credit billing addresses. So unless you have a great friend who's willing to have the Zune Pass billed to his credit card, and have you pay him back, you won't be getting a Zune Pass that way. However, there is a way: you need to purchase the Zune Pass 1 Month pre-paid cards (see below).
Figure 4: This bright pink and orange card is your ticket to a Zune Pass.
These cards sell for $14.99 each, and are available in the US only at Best Buy, Target, and a few other retail stores. Exactly like the Xbox Points cards, the Zune Pass cards have a code on the back, and when you enter the code, you'll have a Zune Pass for one month. This means the 10 song credits, access to all the music you want, and streaming music from any Web browser. These Zune Pass cards can be purchased in one month or three month variations, and if you don't have a friend in the US to buy them for you, you can find sellers on eBay with them.
Applications, Software Updates, Etc.
Given the lengths that Microsoft has gone to in order to make life difficult for international Zune users, you'd think they'd do something equally harsh with applications and software updates. Thankfully, they don't - which tells me that maybe some of the stuff they do with music and videos isn't done by choice; it might be licensing lawyers pressuring them to stop people outside the USA from doing something as simple as browsing the Marketplace. Regardless, here's the good news: no matter where you are in the world, your Zune will get firmware updates. Once get the Marketplace to appear, you can also download applications of the Zune HD. There are no geographic filters places on application downloads or firmware downloads.
Videos: This is Ugly
Despite my success in being able to get Zune Marketplace music, and a Zune Pass, I've never been able to purchase video content other than music videos. Music videos can be purchased the same way music can be purchased, but when it comes to TV shows and movies, there's an extra layer geographical-sniffing that I presume is IP-based.
Figure 5: Sadly, no videos unless you live in the USA.
So even if you have your USA Live ID and your USA Xbox points, when you try to download even a free video (as shown above), you'll get an error saying that the "Zune Marketplace isn't available in your location." I haven't found a way around this problem - short of getting really geeky with VPNs and proxies to try and fool the IP protection layer, you're not going to be buying or downloading free video content from the Zune Marketplace. Then won't even let you watch the movie trailers!
Getting Zune Tech Support
You've got your Zune, filled to the brim with Zune Marketplace music, and all is right with the world. The something goes wrong: your Zune breaks. What do you do? You call Zune tech support at 1-877-GET-ZUNE (438-9863). I'm able to call that number from Canada, but I'm not sure about reaching that number from other countries (let me know in the comments section). I'm not aware of a long-distance version of that number. In my dealing with Zune tech support, they were willing to assist me even though I told them I was in Canada.
If your Zune can't be fixed via phone tech support, and you have to send it in, this is where things get complicated. The Zune tech support people normally send out a box for your Zune, you drop your Zune in the box, and the box is couriered back to Zune tech support at no cost to you. The catch here is that they only provide that service in the USA, and will not accept packages sent to them any other way from any other country. So if you want to get our Zune repaired, you're going to need to find a friend or relative who lives in the USA and is willing to facilitate the process for you. When my black Zune 30 wasn't booting up properly, here's what I had to do to get it fixed (this was before the Zune had its brief release in Canada):
- Over the phone, I had to register the Zune in the name of my friend who lived in New York.
- Zune tech support sent the courier box to my friend in NYC.
- I shipped the Zune 30 to my friend in NYC.
- My friend put the Zune in the courier box, sent it to Zune tech support, they replaced the Zune, and sent it back to my friend in NYC.
- My friend in NYC then mailed me back my Zune.
Kind of painful, and long (the whole process took about a month from start to finish), but it worked out ok for me in that I have a properly functioning Zune 30 now. If you don't know anyone in the US, or can't reach the Zune tech support line you're in for some trouble getting your Zune repaired.
Wrapping it Up
And there you have it: my guide to working around the roadblocks that the Zune team has placed in the way of international users. To be fair, those roadblocks are something they probably didn't want to do, but were required to do for music licensing reasons. Our world is ruled (sadly) by lawyers, and those lawyers make sure that licensing music for international markets is as complicated and lengthy a process as possible so they can make as much money as possible. The Xbox Live system is active in many countries around the world, so the technology is certain in place to light up the Zune Marketplace in all those same markets (and they've done just that with Zune Video on the Xbox) - except for that licensing issue. Licensing laws are different in every country around the world, and before the Zune Marketplace can start selling music in a country, the licensing has to be set up. Slowly, so incredibly slowly, we should see the Zune roll out to other countries around the world - but until then, I hope this guide proves to be helpful to all of you international Zune users. If I've missed anything in my breakdown of how things work, of if you've found a clever workaround I haven't mentioned, please let me know in the comments section.
Jason Dunn owns and operates Thoughts Media Inc., a company dedicated to creating the best in online communities. He enjoys mobile devices, digital media content creation/editing, and pretty much all technology. He lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with his lovely wife, his wonderful son Logan, and his sometimes obedient dog. He wishes the world wasn't ruled by lawyers.
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