I am a die-hard Apple fan.

I adore Apple products.

The various Macbook Pros I’ve owned over the years have helped make my life so much easier, so much so that I couldn’t imagine ever owning a Windows laptop again.

Given my propensity to destroy technology, the Windows laptops I was having to replace every six months turned into Apple laptops that were lasting three years. I was actually saving money by using Apple products. They were Lauren-proof!



I say all this to make it clear that I’m not an Apple-bashing Windows user. I love Apple so hard. Yet, this month, I was so close to deciding to never use an Apple product ever again.

Apple now holds the accolade for giving me the worst customer service experience of my entire life. 

Lauren and Macbook Pro

The way things used to be…

First, some background.

I’m a travel writer and work solely online. I don’t have a fixed base or home address. I’m from the UK but currently living in a tiny town in Mexico. A couple of weeks ago my Macbook Pro broke. Given my line of work, this was a disaster. However, given my track record with technology, this was also not a surprise.

Side note: I backed up my laptop the day before it broke for the first time in almost a year. I was lucky. Back your shit up, yo!

There obviously isn’t an Apple Store in this little town but there is an online Apple Store in Mexico. Even luckier, Apple announced a brand new range of Retina Macbook Pros a couple of days after my laptop broke. It was a sign!

Except… I checked the price and they cost $600 more than they would in the US.

Yes, it would be cheaper for me to fly to the US, pick up a Macbook and fly back.

I was in a bit of a predicament.

Fortunately, all it took was a ranting Facebook status for me to find out my friend Matt, who is currently living in the same town as me, had his father flying down to visit within the next week. If I could get the Macbook delivered to his dad in time he’d be able to bring it down to Mexico with him.

Problem solved.

I jumped online, ordered the laptop and, erm, couldn’t use my UK credit card to pay for it.

I hopped onto Apple’s live chat who, as you are about to learn, are a bunch of incompetent buffoons, and was told there was no possible way I could order a laptop from the US Apple Store with a UK credit card.

Their suggestion was to find a friend in the US, ask them to purchase the laptop for me and then Paypal them the money. I’ve since found out this isn’t true and I should have been able to order with my card over the phone.

And so, I asked around and my friend Steph was happy to let me order it with her card. I paid $30 for guaranteed delivery by Monday. Matt’s dad was leaving the US on Tuesday. I transferred her the money, cringed at the $100+ Paypal fees, and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

I then received a notification letting me know that the laptop had been shipped and it was going to arrive on Tuesday — even though I had paid for it to be delivered on Monday.

Great.

Lauren wondering why Apple is so ridiculous

Not impressed, Apple

I phoned Apple support (who were just as incompetent and buffoon-like as their live chat counterparts) and was told that there was no possible way I could have it delivered any sooner — there was a 0% chance of it arriving on Monday — but they could cancel the order for me if I wanted.

At some point, that call broke up so I called them back to have the order cancelled. I was then told that it wasn’t possible to cancel an order once it had been shipped and they didn’t know why the previous person I’d spoken to had told me it was.

I was then told to call FedEx, because they would definitely be able to move my delivery date to Monday. I called FedEx and they told me they weren’t authorized to do this and I would have to do it through Apple.

It was at this point that I gave up. I’d have the laptop delivered to Matt’s dad, get him to return it to Apple once it had been delivered, and then receive a refund. To Steph’s card. It was getting stupidly complicated.

However, it was about to get even worse.

It was at this point that Matt kindly offered to order a Macbook from a physical Apple Store in San Francisco and get his dad to pick up and bring it with him. I wasn’t looking forward to spending yet another $2500+ on a second laptop within a few days, but at this point I just wanted the bloody thing.

I then had the joy of phoning Apple Support once more to find out whether I’d need to purchase Applecare for the new laptop. I was told I wouldn’t need to, that I could just transfer it over to the second laptop.

I phoned a second time to double-check and was told it couldn’t be transferred and would be refunded with the first laptop. By this point, I wasn’t even surprised at being told different things.

I was horrified but, again, not surprised when I discovered that Matt ended up on the phone to Apple for four hours trying to order a laptop for me.





Matt was told that he could order a Macbook Pro to be collected in a US store over the phone using his Canadian credit card, but when he called up he was told that this was not possible and he’d have to do it through Canadian Apple Support. He called Canadian Apple Support and then was told it wasn’t possible to order a laptop in the US through them. And so on and so on…

Four hours later, he gave up. I gave up. By this point, everybody hated Apple.

Lauren jumping on her Macbook Pro

Livid.

Fortunately, somehow (and no thanks to Apple) it all worked out in the end. The laptop was delivered on Monday (so much for a 0% chance of it arriving then…) — thankfully, before Matt’s dad went to a physical Apple store and attempted to buy me one there (which was Plan… H?).

So, I understand that this is a very specific use case, and that not many people have the type of lifestyle that I do. I realise that simple things like ordering laptops or having them repaired is always going to be tougher, especially when I spend most of my time in developing countries.

The problem I had was that not a single support staff member (whether live chat or phone support) seemed to have any idea what they were doing. I was told something different each and every time I spoke to anyone at Apple, and most of the time it was completely wrong.

Although I have ended up with a laptop, this is a process that I genuinely hope nobody else has to repeat. I am more than familiar with the process of ordering electronic equipment around the world and I’ve never had an experience as poor as this.

After having a similarly frustrating experience with Apple when my iPhone broke in New Zealand earlier this year, I just don’t know how I can recommend Apple products to anyone who travels long-term.

Trying to get anything fixed or replaced in a city that doesn’t have a physical Apple Store, while not having a fixed base, is just, quite frankly, a gigantic pain in the ass.

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19 Responses

  1. Greg

    Sounds like a nightmare but also totally not surprising having dealt with Apple’s bizarre sales policies and contradictory support staff on many occasions. If you go to a store they’re great, anything else is a pain.

    Also not sure if you knew but you can avoid Paypal fees when sending money to friends by sending as a ‘gift’

    Reply
    • Lauren Juliff

      Agreed. I’ve always had great customer service when I’ve gone into a store. The live chat/phone support guys just seemed to have no idea what they were doing. Every phone call was “oh! Erm… I don’t know why somebody told you that! That isn’t true!”. It was ridiculous

      Unfortunately, when there’s a currency conversion in Paypal (my account is in GBP) there’s always a fee, no matter how you send it.

      Reply
  2. Aaron @ Aaron's Worldwide Adventures

    What a nightmare! I love my Apple products too, but I cringe at the notion of replacing them outside the U.S.

    Also, it’s not unusual for any tech products to be more expensive abroad than they are in the U.S. Makes no sense, I know, but I’m always shocked to find that the same stuff we get here is considerably more expensive in Asia, despite the fact that it’s all made there!

    Reply
  3. Lina

    I love the photos!!! HAHA! I feel your pain and your experience in the reality of being a travel blogger! My husband and I go rounds about what products to carry with us because of this very reason… although I don’t know if any other companies are any better!

    Reply
  4. PigSnowball

    Agreed.

    There are a lot of reasons why Apple stuff is awesome. But for a traveller, a key priority is the ability to get something replaced and move on.

    If you are a long way from an Apple store, it’s a tough place to be if anything goes wrong.

    Reply
  5. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)

    I am also a diehad Apple user (I’ve had an Apple computer for almost my ENTIRE life and have never had any other kind of computer… ever!) and have to agree that they are, unfortunately, probably not the best choice for digital nomads. Our MacBook Air began to be fussy a few months in to our trip, refusing to charge (though looking like it was) unless the cord was twisted into increasingly complex positions. Thankfully we still had the laptop covered under AppleCare and we knew that we needed to get it fixed before that ran out. Of course, as you know, getting your laptop fixed in countries without official Apple Stores is a hellacious nightmare and we only wound up being able to get this done in Cambodia of all places after months of searching! Though no official Apple stores are present, Phnom Penh has several authorized dealers and they were able to do the fix for us under warranty. Of course, because it turned out to be our logic board that was messed up, we had to wait 2.5 weeks for the computer to be fixed as they ordered parts from Singapore! That’s a long time to be without a laptop.

    I think the only customer service that might possibly worse than Apple is Olympus cameras. We needed to get our camera fixed 1 month into our trip and it was also protected under warranty. Except we had to have our original warranty card with us; not a photocopy/scan, not a fax, the original. Which obviously we had not packed. Thank god we had a friend in Hong Kong we could get our parents to Fed Ex the original card to, but I was seriously unimpressed that Olympus was unwilling to budge on this (as if they couldn’t check serial numbers and see the camera was the one on the card!).

    Reply
    • Maddy

      Hi Steph,

      Found this post investigating possible fixes to getting my own Macbook screen fixed in Phnom penh – any chance you remember where you went for this repair? I realize this is a couple years ago at this point (who knows if you’ll even see this!) but just wanted to ask in case you did. Will be in PP and desperately looking for a reputable place to inquire about the screen.

      Thanks so much!
      Maddy

      Reply
  6. Anne from Viajar y Amar

    oooooooh nelly. i’ve been there. in mexico. with a dead macbook. apple “geniuses” are totally overrated. and the phone customer service is crappier than crap. considering that we’re paying a >3x more for these products than for a PC, i expect a little more (if not >3x more) AWESOME customer service. i am so sorry you went through that too. :/

    Reply
  7. Ryan Ver Berkmoes

    Sorry to read of your woes but in balance I have to say I’ve had great luck as a digital nomad with my Apple products. I spilled champagne into my new MacBook Air (!) killing it instantly. They figured out not only how to get me a new one but decided I was a good customer and replaced it for free. I’ve had various hardware issues—more related to tough, constant travel than fizzy beverages—and found local repair shops in places that include Sri Lanka and Indonesia which got me sorted out quickly and cheaply.

    Reply
  8. T.H.

    Hi Lauren,

    Maybe a late comment, but WOW, that sounds like a crazy ride you had to go through to get the laptop. While the photos were very entertaining, its a bummer to see someone that enjoys the product have a terrible experience because of misinformation. Moot point now, but I wonder if it might have been easier to go to the US online apple store and purchase the computer with the appropriate specs and order it as an in store pick-up. The models shown on the website, without tweaking them, are all stocked at each store and would have been available to be picked up later that day. Wouldn’t have to worry about the untrustworthy delivery times especially when the time gap was so narrow to begin with and the store takes most known credit cards. Also, I know it might be a splurge, but I highly suggest the Applecare…super worth it on the retina given how hard it is to replace any of those parts.

    Reply
    • Lauren

      Yeah, that’s the problem, though — you can’t order from the US Apple Store without a US credit card. We tried when as a last resort and spent four hours on the phone trying to do it and they refused. I didn’t want to order it as a pick-up, anyway, because then my friend’s dad would have had to go out of his way to go pick up a laptop for somebody he didn’t know!

      Reply
  9. Thomas

    Now just try getting it serviced in Mexico! Apple support just referred me to a shade tree mechanic in Culiacan to fix a factory defected screen. What a joke, there is no office Apple repair centers in Mexico.

    Reply
  10. John Wilson

    Actually, as you can tell, you’re not alone when it comes to a nomadic life, and having to deal with Apple.
    My story of a battery, needed in Nicaragua, was similar to your.
    Apple in the U.S. had no idea what they were talking about, but after hours on the phone, I just talked to a supervisor, got it straight how it was supposed to be done, and got a battery and installed at an “authorized” store.
    Not more than 24 hours later, computer died. Mother board was shot.
    Complained, like I usually do, but got a free motherboard out of it. To my surprise, and to the surprise of the owner of the store – he’d never seen a “free” anything from Apple.
    Alas, that computer is on it’s last legs, and the decision has to be made to stay with Apple, or go with Windows.
    Getting psyched to deal with Apple once again.

    Reply
  11. Anthony Maw

    There are many Apple product resellers you don’t need to deal with an Apple Store in the USA or anywhere else on the planet. But to publish a blog you can always head to the local Internet shop – every town in every country on the planet i’ve ever visited even some small rural villages in Africa has one these days – and just pay by the hour to use one of their PC’s – good luck – thanks for the interesting article!

    Reply
    • Lauren Juliff

      Did you read the post? It cost $600 more to buy a Macbook Pro in Mexico than it did in the U.S., which was why I bought one from the latter.

      Additionally, trying to run a business in Internet cafes would be ridiculous, frustrating, and dangerous. There is no way I’d be logging in to my site on one of those computers unless I wanted to be hacked and lose my source of income. Which — granted — does sound more enjoyable than dealing with Apple support again.

      Reply
  12. devo

    I had a similar problem with service with a MacBook Air. My computer died while vacationing in Mexico. I had it for just under 2 years. Upon return to Atlanta for an extended stop-over ( I live in Canada) I went to an Apple store to find out what was wrong. They did a quick look and a simple unsuccessful repair, but couldn’t find the problem unless I left it with them for about 5 days. I was going to be there for only 3, so instead I waited until I got back home and took it to a local Apple Store where they diagnosed a dead motherboard and gave me a quote of $600 repair. I was furious. A 2 year old computer with a dead motherboard??? I have been supporting Apple since 1990 and every other computer I had lasted 6+ years before replacement due to outdated software.

    I left the store having to think about my plan of action. Since I hadn’t purchased Apple Care they couldn’t help me unless I paid for the repair.

    I returned to the store a few days later, asked for a manager, and offered to buy a new one right then and there, if they threw the Apple Care in. I offered that because the Apple Care cost them nothing unless I use it. I let them know about my loyalty to Apple and that they would lose it to PC if they wouldn’t accept my offer. No deal. Arghh. Now onto Plan C.

    After a several days of thinking and shopping around for other products that would cost around $600, I couldn’t find anything that interested me, so I went back to the Apple Store feeling defeated. I told myself if I was going to spend $600 I should just get the computer repaired. After all, I really loved my computer. So this time, when I told my story to a service person, she asked “Did you buy this with a credit card?” I said yes. She then suggested that I call my credit card company to see if they give an extended product warranty. I thanked her and went home and immediately called the credit card company and learned that they double any warranty up to a year (1 year warranty becomes 2) and because I went into an Apple Store in Atlanta on my way home, I had 5 more days of the warranty from that visit!!

    Hallelujah!! If I hadn’t randomly been assigned that service person I would have paid $600 for the repair. Instead (after chasing the paperwork, which I was prepared to do) my CC company paid for it. Apple was helpful in retrieving the original documented visit from the Atlanta Apple Store.

    My biggest beef is that no other staff suggested I do this. Instead I had only one option – to pay for the repair. This really bugged me and when I went back to drop off the computer I told that one woman who suggested calling the CC company that she needs to share that info with her colleagues. Whether she did or not, I will never know. But I’ve become significantly less enchanted with Apple.

    Reply
  13. Chico

    I swore off any Apple product many years ago as I went through the same crap with an Iphone while living overseas. Greedy bastards.

    Reply

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