iPhone 5 focusing issue

When Apple’s “Global” Warranty Sucks for Travellers

By Lauren Juliff Opinion, Phones5 Comments

Last December, I decided to treat myself and bought an iPhone. 

I bought the phone in Sydney and, with only a couple of weeks left in Australia, didn’t have much reason to use it. It was only when I landed in New Zealand and started taking photos with it that I realised there was something seriously strange going on with its camera.

No matter what I did (tapping the screen to focus on the right-hand side, hard resets, shaking my phone…), in every single photo the right-hand side was incredibly blurry and out of focus.

All of my photos were looking like this…

iPhone 5 focusing issue

And this:

iPhone 5 focusing issue

And this:

iPhone 5 focusing issue

I was annoyed but not too worried.

I’d owned iPhones in the past and knew that Apple’s warranty was amazing. Anytime I’d ever had anything wrong with an iPhone I’d taken it into an Apple store and left with a brand new phone in my hands minutes later.

I knew that with this phone it would be no different. After all, the phone had been purchased with a semi-broken camera…

I began my search for Apple stores in Auckland, only to quickly realise that, well, there weren’t actually any at all.

In fact, New Zealand doesn’t have a single Apple store.

I was surprised. I’d come to expect a lack of Apple stores in Southeast Asia but I’d never had a problem finding one in a first world country.

I tried contacting authorised repair centres in New Zealand and was told that in order to have my phone replaced, I’d need to take it into the store I originally purchased it from. They couldn’t replace my phone in-store — they’d have to send it off to be repaired.

And therein lies the problem.

iPhone 5 focusing issue

With a two-month road trip ahead of me, I wasn’t going to be anywhere for more than three days. I couldn’t send off my phone for repair when I didn’t have an address to have it returned to.

In fact, when I looked ahead at my plans (from New Zealand I’d be heading back to Southeast Asia to spend 3 months travelling in the region), I realised that in order to get my phone replaced or repaired I’d have to wait until I reached the United States and that wasn’t until July!

I paid $900 for a phone with a broken camera that I couldn’t get replaced for seven months.

(It also didn’t help that I managed to break the lens of my Canon 550D in New Zealand and so had to rely on my iPhone as my only camera for most of my time in the country…)

That was when I realised the flaw in Apple’s global warranty, at least for travellers.

Fortunately, everything fell together in the end. I managed to find a flight to Asia, with a three-day layover in Melbourne for no extra cost. Of course, my phone was replaced within five minutes.

This isn’t the first time it’s happened either.

When travelling in the Philippines, the charger for my Macbook Pro happened to blow a fuse and stop working. I was on an island with no Apple Store, no authorised sellers, no unauthorised sellers.

As I work online, I can’t really be without a laptop for more than a few days. I had to change my plans and buy a flight to a nearby city just so I could get a new charger.

Not the end of the world, sure, but a nuisance nonetheless.

Apple’s warranty can be great. If you’re travelling slowly through an area without Apple stores and can afford to stop moving while you have it sent off to be repaired, then it won’t be an issue. There are authorised repair centres in over 120 countries around the world. The same goes for if you’re travelling in a country with an Apple store.

If, however, you’re travelling reasonably quickly through a country without an Apple store (I was surprised to learn that Apple only has stores in just 14 countries!) and have fixed plans that you can’t afford to change, then, well, Apple’s wonderful warranty is kind of useless.

About the Author
Lauren Juliff

Lauren Juliff

Facebook Twitter

Lauren is a physicist turned digital nomad who's travelling and working her way around the world on a permanent basis. She's the clumsy member of the team -- if there's a camera to be dropped, a Kindle to be stood on or a laptop to pour a drink over, she'll be the one to do it. You can read more about her travel misadventures over at Never Ending Footsteps.


  1. Avatar

    Like many, we also work online. Our computers (and internet access) are critical. There is also one other factor to consider here: Apple’s flat-fee repair service is only available in the U.S.

    When traveling through Mexico last year the wife’s MacBook Air developed an issue which rendered it unusable. The diagnosis from a repair center was that the logic board had failed. Estimate: $800 US. We decided to wait until we returned to the States. In the meantime, we purchased an iPad to see if it was a viable replacement (it was not).

    When we returned to the States we took it to a Genius bar and they sent it off for repair. Our maximum cost was to be $300 (including tax) no matter the part replaced. In the end, it turned out to be a sensor. Also, because of a repair snafu/delay it ended up costing us exactly ZERO dollars.

    But this has made us see a major flaw in our plans to travel with expensive laptops covered by a warranty. Sure, they generally just work with minimal issues, but here are the scenarios we face:

    – warranty-covered repair needs will automatically involve possibly three-week round-trip shipping delays, during which we will be computerless.
    – non-warranty malfunctions caused by water, dust or just dropping the laptop will involve ordering a new laptop and waiting for it so ship to where-ever we live, or buying one from a local store (with markup)
    – this repurchase scenario also applies to issues of theft

    From this perspective the warranty and reliability of Apple products are greatly reduced in value. What if we are in the middle of a two-month exploration of the Patagonia region? Problems could seriously endanger our livelihoods. All of this has us testing out Chromebooks as MacBook Air replacements. Repairs OR replacements would never exceed $200-250.

  2. Avatar

    Agreed! When I was working on a contract remotely with a tight deadline in Koh Lanta, Thailand, I started considering what resilience I needed writh regards to my hardware (primarily my macbook and iphone).

    Then I saw that there wasn’t an Apple Store in the country nor any other store that sold anything Apple that would take less than a day and a half journey there and back, a situation that couldn’t be afforded.

    At that point I realised that having Apple hardware was a very real liability. It’s why I still recommend PCs. They are dime a dozen and easy to replace (just go ahead and buy ANYTHING or borrow ANYTHING when something goes wrong) when in a bind.

    1. Avatar

      Great advice.
      I recently spent 3 years living in Thailand and my laptop was my lifeblood which is why I chose a Dell.
      Luckily it never skipped a beat in those three years, but had things gone wrong there was a Dell store I could get to in minutes!
      A fantastic peace of mind.

  3. Avatar

    Useful tips for a fellow Apple carrying blogger. Thanks.

  4. Avatar

    As a New Zealander, this has been one of my main reasons for not buying a mac. I just made the switch to a mac air though, partly because I’m planning on spending the next 6 months in the US and I wanted to try it to see if the fuss is worth it. Bought it at the Apple Store when I got to the US. It’s great you’ve raised these issues in this post. Now I just need to figure out some affordable way to insure it against accidents since my home contents insurance won’t cover international travel and my travel insurance excludes pricey electronics.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.