iPhones won’t retain third-party app store access if they leave the EU — what you need to know

All iPhone 15 models shown together.
(Image credit: Future)

The launch of iOS 17.4 means that iPhone users in the EU now have the ability to use third party app stores, in place of the official Apple App Store. There are plenty of caveats associated with this change, including the fact that it’s only available if you live in the EU — and don’t leave for too long

According to Apple’s support page about third-party app stores, your eligibility is “determined by using on-device processing.” Users will be able to continue using third-party app stores if they leave the EU, but there is a grace period. We don’t have official confirmation on how long this grace period is, however. 

So if you’re out of the EU for over 30 days, Apple will cut your access to third-party stores. The apps you downloaded will still work, but you won’t be able to update them via a third party. Which means you’ll be stuck with having to use the Apple App Store.

It’s unclear what happens when you return to the EU. However 9to5Mac previously reported on ways Apple will check your devices for sideloading eligibility, which includes checking what country you’re physically located in, what address is registered to your Apple ID, and the region setting in your iPhone or iPad’s settings. 

That means returning home should see Apple restore all your third-party app store privileges right away. But we’ll have to wait and see how this system actually works in practice, and whether there are any early bugs that prevent EU travelers from regaining access to non-Apple-sourced software.

So this isn’t like you can go to the EU to buy a third party-capable phone and then bring it back to a different region, like the US or UK. You would lose access to third-party app stores, assuming your Apple account was deemed eligible to access them in the first place. It also means you probably won’t be able to go to the EU and download third-party software on your existing iPhone.

There are no third-party stores right now anyway

Right now the whole point is moot, because there aren’t any third-party app stores available on iOS. We have to give developers time to actually build them, and jump through Apple’s hoops to release them. So far, the only company confirmed to be building a third party app store is Epic Games, via Epic Sweden which has since had its iOS developer account deleted.

Epic alleges this is retaliation for its willingness to trash Apple’s DMA compliance plan in public. Meanwhile, Apple’s Phil Schiller told Epic in an email that this was a proactive measure due to Epic’s history of breaking agreements with Apple — meaning Apple doesn’t believe Epic will be playing by the rules this time. 

So in short, it’s going to be a while before the first third-party iOS app stores actually appear. And, even then, it feels like their continued existence will hinge on maintaining a good relationship with Apple — which is already doing everything it can to maintain control over third-party installations.

Plus, you know, if you live anywhere other than the 27 countries that make up the EU, then it doesn’t matter what is or isn’t available. Unless your government follows the EU’s example, and forces Apple to open up iOS in your region, absolutely nothing is going to change.

If third-party apps are something you desperately need right now, without all the restrictions, you can always pick up one of the best Android phones. They've been offering that functionality since day one.

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Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.