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Any seasoned traveller knows that you can't rely on any airline's inflight entertainment system to actually be working on the day you fly, or to be stocked up with things you haven't seen.
And forget about watching hotel TV, at $20 per movie.
A much better option is to bring your own entertainment when travelling -- and that's where Apple's iTunes Store can be very helpful.
iTunes is one of the most convenient ways to get what you're looking for quickly. Frankly, it beats piracy for getting movies and TV shows in a convenient way -- you can buy entire TV series with one click of the mouse button.
However, Apple has crippled the Australian version of the iTunes Store with very high pricing.
For example, at the time of writing, The Girl Who Played With Fire costs $24.99 to buy on the iTunes Australia store (no rental option available), but only US$14.99 to buy, or US$3.99 to rent on the iTunes US store.
With the Australian dollar above parity with the US dollar at the time of writing, it makes the iTunes Store US dramatically cheaper than its Australian equivalent.
Apple blocks the iTunes US store to people who don't have a US credit card, due to licensing restrictions imposed by movie and TV studios (who are keen to control distribution on a region-by-region basis, and charge as much as each country will bear).
However, Apple has left a wide-open backdoor for anyone outside the US who wants to sign up. This article will show you how to do that, step by step.
Note -- signing up for a US iTunes account won't affect your ability to play anything you've bought through the iTunes Australia store.
You can click any of the screenshots below to get an enlarged view. Although we have used the Windows version of iTunes for the tutorial, the instructions are exactly the same for Mac.
Step 1: swap over to the US iTunes store
When you install iTunes on a computer in Australia, it cunningly automatically selects the Australian iTunes Store. It's easy to change to the US Store, though the option is a bit small, and hidden at the bottom of a page.
You need to select the small Australian flag at the bottom of the iTunes to get to the country selection page.
Step 2: get a free iPhone app
Although you need a US credit card to join the iTunes US Store, Apple has left in place a wonderful loophole for people who don't have one -- you just have to "buy" a free iPhone/iPod app. When you do, the signup screen that follows has a "payment: none" option, allowing you to create an account without any payment method.
Step 3: create your iTunes US account
Note: signing up for an iTunes US account with this method does break Apple's terms and conditions, so if you're a stickler for the rules, you need to be aware of this.
You must use a real email address in this step, as Apple will send you a validation link you must click to complete the signup process.
At this point, you'll need to type in an address in the USA. Apple checks the address against a database of known addresses, so you do have to find a genuine address. The Fedex website is handy for this; it's a quick way to find the address of Fedex locations. You can type a Californian postcode (zip code in American parlance) like 95154 into the search box to find some Fedex locations.
Step 4: putting credit into your iTunes account
Because you can't use your Australian credit card with the iTunes Store US, you have to buy prepaid vouchers and load them into your account. You can't use Australian-purchased iTunes cards (like those sold in Coles and Woolworths) -- you have to get them from the US. There are plenty of people selling them on eBay for a small premium. However, you do run the risk of buying a voucher purchased with a stolen credit card.
We recommend a reputable service based in Bendigo, called PriceUSA.com.au. It's run by Australian woman Carolina Tillett, and she uses employees based in the USA to purchase things from the US on Australians' behalf.
You can buy iTunes vouchers through PriceUSA; either using their regular service where the agent actually orders the voucher from Apple, or using their "iTunes Instant" service for a little more, where you get a voucher code emailed to you quickly from cards they've already purchased and hold in stock for customers. You can see the current costs of a $100 iTunes voucher through PriceUSA here (at the time of writing, it was $118.65).
Of course, if you're travelling through the US, you can stop by an Apple Store and buy the vouchers at their original cost.
Once you receive your iTunes US voucher code, you can add it to your account in iTunes by clicking the "redeem" link on the iTunes Store home page.
Step 5: making your own inflight entertainment system!
With your new iTunes US account, you'll be able to access the range of cheap movies, music and TV shows available to Americans any time you want, from anywhere in the world.
It might be stating the obvious, but you can't buy stuff from the iTunes Australia store with this account. So, if you want to log in to the iTunes Store on another computer, you'll have to remember to change over to the US store first using the procedure outlined in step 1.
A word of warning about iTunes rentals: once downloaded, you can keep them on your hard drive for up to 30 days, though you only get 24 hours to watch a rental after you first play it.
If you are planning to rent movies to watch on the plane, you must play a few seconds of them before you get on the plane. This is because when you first play a rental movie, it contacts Apple's iTunes servers to confirm the rental details. If you don't have an internet connection, it won't be able to play the movie.