Ukrainians unable to register Apple developer account for months. The problem has lasted for nearly a year

Igor Kalinin, a developer from Kramatorsk, was unable to work with iOS for almost five months. First, he was struggling for two months with paying for the registration in the Apple Developer Program and then, for another three months, with publishing his applications in the App Store. All the while, he was holding correspondence with Apple’s support service, gradually losing hope for a solution.

Such cases are numerous. This has resulted in the emergence of a new kind of business: Apple developer account that cost $99 can be purchased for $400 on Telegram. Sure enough, there appeared scammers “selling” registrations for $75.

AIN.UA’s editor talked to developers and intermediaries to get the gist of the problem and look at possible solutions.

What happened

To publish your application on the App Store, you must subscribe to the Apple Developer Program. The subscription costs $99 per year and allows developers to place and monetize their iOS applications, paying Apple 30% of their income.

But, since about November last year, developers from Ukraine have been facing difficulties with the subscription payment – the money just would not be debited from their accounts. As a result, they were unable to register a new account or extend an existing one.

“This is a serious problem: if an account has not been extended for a long time, Apple can remove all the developer’s applications from its App Store. These are the company’s rules,” Habr writes.

The issue is not limited to Ukraine only but extends to the whole CIS and even the EU countries. It does not affect developers from the US, UK, and Canada, though.

Eventually, with patience and perseverance, accounts get registered at last after several months. But this is only half the battle. Afterward, many developers find out that they still cannot use their accounts, even though the money has been debited. The reasons may vary.

The case of Wild Web Art studio: transliteration discrepancy

Wild Web Art outsourcing company helps entrepreneurs from different countries create their applications and IT products. In May, a Ukrainian client asked the company to create a developer’s account for him. The company acceded to the request.

They registered a new Apple ID and tried to buy a subscription to the Apple Developer Program with it. Immediately, they encountered a problem.

“We received a notification that a subscription order was placed, but the money was not charged. There were even no transaction requests to the bank. We tried paying with cards of different banks – PrivatBank and monobank – but to no avail,” Serhiy Lavrinchuk, founder and CEO of Wild Web Art, told AIN.UA’s editor.

For some period of time, Lavrinchuk held correspondence with Apple’s support service, but this would not produce any results. “At first, we received some trivial advice, sort of like please check your Internet limit or your card balance. We were getting the impression that they were simply unaware of the problem. And then they just stopped answering.”

Calls to Apple’s international support service were fruitless as well; it turned out that the Apple Developer Program is a separate entity with its own support. But it is impossible to get them on the phone: the number that Serhiy got from Apple’s support is not in service any longer, and the telephone support option has been removed from the official website altogether.

The Wild Web Art team began to investigate the problem. They discovered that it had existed since long ago; there were multiple dedicated threads on web forums and in Telegram chats involving thousands of users. In one of these channels, Lavrinchuk came across instructions from a developer who managed to solve the problem and pay for the account. One of the key points there was to pay with a card that had been previously used to make purchases from the App Store, as well as to bring a senior support manager into the process.

“We made our way through to a Senior Advisor, and she understood the core of the problem at once. After a few days, everything was resolved: the payment went through, the money was debited, and an Apple Developer account was available to us,” Serhiy says.

“But it was too early to celebrate: the account was registered but we couldn’t publish applications under it. The required interface just wouldn’t open.”

As the same manager explained, the problem might have arisen due to the discrepancy in the user’s name transliteration: the Apple ID had the surname spelled differently than that on the bank card to which the payment was charged. She requested some additional information and promised to address the issue.

A month has passed since then. “We communicate with the support, they say they work to solve the problem, without specifying the time period,” Serhiy says.

Screenshot: Serhiy Lavrinchuk

This account is still not activated; in fact, we simply lost those $100. An unpleasant experience with Apple – this is something we didn’t expect.”

The case of Igor Kalinin: the address in Donetsk Oblast

The developer Igor Kalinin was trying to register an account since May 8.

Screenshot: Igor Kalinin

After two months of communication with the support and several dozen failed attempts to pay for the account, the money was finally debited. To make this happen, Igor sent a photo of his travel passport and his residence address to the Apple support agent.

“But when I used my login to sign in to Apple’s website, I found that the account was still not activated. To know the reason I had to spend another two months communicating with the support. It turned out, Apple was disturbed by the fact that I live in Donetsk Oblast,” Igor recounts.

Screenshot: Igor Kalinin

Notably, Kramatorsk is a Ukrainian city away from the military action zone, which has been serving as the region’s capital for 6 years already. Previously, Igor had not experienced problems because of his residence registration. “I have a developer’s account on Google Play and freely receive payments from Google Adsense and Admob. I buy applications from Apple Store without any issues. Neither myself nor the people I know have ever encountered such restrictions.”

The persistent attempts to make it clear to Apple that Kramatorsk is not subject to the US government sanctions were unsuccessful.

Screenshot: Igor Kalinin

“The situation seemed hopeless. I didn’t know what to do. Should I open a new account? Move to another city or region? Use VPN to open an account? I couldn’t have imagined that the most innovative company in the world can create such problems for developers and leave them unresolved for half a year,” the developer says.

Owning a flat in Kyiv helped Igor out. He informed the support about it, and on September 24, Apple offered him the two alternative solutions:

  1. either to provide proofs of possessing residential property in Kyiv – for example, to send through his household bills;
  2. or to move to another region and re-register the account.

Igor chose the first option: he sent his utility bills and payment receipts. Following that, his account was activated.

Screenshot: Igor Kalinin

“I still can’t believe that it all worked out. But the fact remains that, apparently, you cannot activate an Apple developer’s account from Donetsk Oblast. It is possible that the situation is the same with Ukrainian towns and cities in Luhansk Oblast,” Igor contemplates.

Accounts for sale

Eventually, Serhiy Lavrinchuk solved the problem with the account too. In order not to fail the client even more, with all deadlines already expired as they were, he bought him an account from one of the Telegram channels that register them via their foreign intermediaries for subsequent sale. He paid $400, but for that money, he received a ready-made work account in two weeks.

AIN.UA’s editor contacted the owner of the channel @Dev_iOS_Accaunts. His name is Oleksiy, and he is a developer from Kharkiv. Oleksiy resells accounts registered by his intermediaries from the UK, with a small premium. He makes about $30–40 off an account, devoting several hours a day to it. Dozens of people contact him every day, but there are not as many purchases, so it is rather a hobby than a business.

“It all started when I faced the account registration problem myself in November 2019. It turned out it had existed not only here, but in the whole CIS, as well as France, Poland, and other countries. I found a solution for myself, then helped several people I knew, and over time this grew into a Telegram channel. We learned how to create accounts precisely for a specific person’s name and surname,” Oleksiy told AIN.UA’s editor.

Clients mostly come from Ukraine and Russia; there were also two clients from Cyprus and one from Belarus. Usually, registration takes less than a week; in some cases, it could be a couple of weeks. Oleksiy does not disclose the mechanism. He charges his fees after creating an account under the client’s name, surname (as they appear on the travel passport), and date of birth. After activating the account, he passes the access keys over to the client, who changes them afterward.

“It is not as if account registration in the UK is smooth sailing – there are problems there too, but they are easier to resolve than when you register from Ukraine,” Oleksiy stresses.

“And it’s not that Ukrainians cannot possibly register an account. Ukrainian accounts can be created, but it is difficult.”

Beware of scammers!

Oleksiy and his colleagues can change their price tags – this depends on various factors, mainly on the number of intermediaries that they have to involve. Understandably, a developer’s account cannot cost less than what Apple charges for it, i. e. $99. Nevertheless, developers’ chats are frequented by people who “sell” such accounts for $70–75.

Screenshot: Serhiy Lavrinchuk

“They introduce themselves as intermediaries from the US or France, writing in terrible English, and you immediately know it’s a scam. However, I think, we need to warn people that they shouldn’t go for such things,” Serhiy Lavrinchuk points out.

What next?

Apple still fails to fix the payment issue with the Apple Developer Program, although it started almost a year ago.

“We can only guess why the problem arises. I have repeatedly asked Apple about this, but they refer to such things that are clearly irrelevant, like problems on the side of the bank,” says Oleksiy from @Dev_iOS_Accaunts.

Serhiy Lavrinchuk noticed that there is no field for entering the CVV on the order – just the card number, the name of the owner, and the card expiration date. He assumes that this is where the problem lies.

“Maybe, there is a way to automatically process payments without a CVV code in the US and Canada, but in Ukraine and the CIS countries, it is not possible. So, Apple has to process such payments manually,” he says.

PrivatBank and monobank have not even heard about the issue, and there has been no complaints from clients.

“Of course, this is to my advantage, one can say. But still, there is some uncomfortable feeling. Apple’s attitude is like you are not even a third-world, but a fourth-world country,” Oleksiy concludes.

There has been no official comments from Apple. AIN.UA’s editor tried to contact the global press center of the company, but received no answer.

Speaking with affected developers, Apple’s employees say that the company is aware of the problem and working on the solution, but do not give any specific timeline.