Using Kindle 2 Internationally

(NOTE: I believe most if not all of this applies to Kindle 1 as well but my experience is with Kindle 2. Whenever I use ‘Kindle’ below I am describing my experience with the Kindle 2.)

The biggest question I had to answer when deciding to buy a Kindle 2 was whether I could use it in Taiwan, and if so how and what limitations would I face? The information I found via Amazon and other sites was a bit muddled. Yes, I could use it outside the US, but the details weren’t quite clear.

First the basic requirements:

  • You have to ship the Kindle to a US address and have it reshipped to you
  • You have to use a US issued credit card with a US billing address to purchase content
  • You have to download content on the “Manage My Kindle” page and copy it to the Kindle via USB

You will have to meet ALL these requirements to be able to use Kindle outside the US. If you meet those requirements and aren’t interested in the details, you can stop reading here. Otherwise, read on…

Let’s take these one at a time:

Amazon currently only ships the Kindle 2 to US addresses, so you cannot have it sent directly to your international address. Here are some alternatives: Send the Kindle to a friend or relative and have them reship it to you or carry it with them next time they visit. Send the Kindle to a forwarding company and have them reship it to you (I use US Global Mail). Send it to your hotel or residence next time you are in the US.

To buy and download content you will need to have a credit card issued by a US bank with a US billing address. There are reports that you can get around this by using gift cards or gift certificates but I haven’t verified it. If you are an American moving overseas you can keep your credit accounts active by changing the billing address to a friend or relative’s address or use a forwarding company as mentioned above. If you also keep an open bank account you can pay the credit card bills easily over the Internet.

The wireless service for Kindle is currently only available in the US, so you won’t be able to take advantage of buying books on your Kindle and start reading right away. Instead, you will have to log on to Amazon’s web site and buy books from the Kindle Store. The purchasing process will automatically send the purchase wirelessly but we can just ignore than and proceed to the “Manage Your Kindle” page. Down at the bottom your purchases will be shown. In the last column there is a pull down menu. Just select “Computer” and the file will download and you can copy it to the Kindle over USB. It’s not quite as convenient but not a big hassle either.

Now for more details:

No special download program, sync program, document management program or driver is needed to get books from Amazon onto your Kindle. You don’t need to use a proxy to make it look like you are in the US. The files download as regular files in your web browser. When connected to a computer, the Kindle appears as a generic USB storage device, which should automatically work with any modern OS: Windows, MacOS, Linux, etc. Just find the “documents” folder on the Kindle and copy the files you downloaded there and the book will be ready to read as soon as your disconnect from the computer.

Downloaded books are tied to the serial number of your Kindle. If you get a new Kindle for any reason you will have to download new copies of all your books for the new Kindle. You can also have up to 6 Kindles registered at a time to a single account and share books between them, but you will have to download separate copies of books for each Kindle you want to use them on. Amazon keeps copies of all your books for you to download again indefinitely.

For newspapers and magazines the situation is a bit different. This content can only be downloaded to a single Kindle at a time. Amazon only keeps online for re-download the most recent 7 issues of any periodical. The Kindle also automatically deletes issues older than the most recent 7 unless you flag an issue to keep. You will have to do that for each individual issue. If you get a new Kindle for whatever reason you can change your subscriptions over to the new one but you will only be able to download the latest 7 issues. This is probably not a big deal for newspapers, but I was considering subscribing to the Kindle versions of the sci-fi magazines “Analog” and “Asimov’s” if not for this restriction, as it is sometimes nice to be able to go back and re-read these stories. I hope that the publishers will revisit this restriction. (UPDATE: You can get a more flexible subscription for these two magazines through Fictionwise. Cheaper too!)

One thing I was worried about was if there would be any problems with the copy protection scheme if I didn’t register the Kindle over wireless. It turns out not to be a problem. Normally if you buy a Kindle it will be registered to your account and the first time it connects to the wireless system it will automatically become registered. So there are two pieces here: 1) Your Amazon account has a registered Kindle and 2) Your Kindle is configured to use your Amazon account. It turns out that if you never use the wireless service, the second part doesn’t matter.

Once your Amazon account knows about your Kindle, downloads are tied to the Kindle’s serial number and will work even if the Kindle has not registered itself to your account. Your Kindle will show as not being registered and will not show your name in the upper left corner, and you won’t be able to use any wireless services (duh!), but everything else mentioned here will work fine. If your Kindle was purchased by someone else you can register it on Amazon by entering the serial number on the “Manage Your Kindle” page. (The purchaser will need to de-register it first on their “Manage Your Kindle” page unless it was purchased as a gift.)

Alternatively if you have a friend or relative in the US receive it they can turn it on to get it registered wirelessly before reshipping it to you, but the only practical result of this is you’ll have your name in the upper left corner.

Now it may be obvious to state, but none of the wireless services will work outside of the US. Because it won’t work, the first thing you should do is TURN OFF THE WIRELESS as soon as you get your Kindle. Press “Menu” then use the “5-way” joystick thingy to select the option to turn off wireless, then press in the “5-way” button. You should then see the word “OFF” next to the battery indicator in the upper right corner instead of the signal strength bars. If you don’t turn it off you cut your battery life by more than half for no reason.

You will also need to do things differently if you use the document conversion system. The normal way of doing things is you would mail a document to your Kindle address (it will be listed on the “Manage Your Kindle” page) and the document would be wirelessly delivered to the Kindle and 10 cents charged. You will need to instead use the free conversion service. If your Kindle address is john.smith@kindle.com, instead mail your documents to john.smith@free.kindle.com. Amazon will mail the converted documents to the email address you use as your Amazon login. You then download the file in your mail program and copy it to the Kindle via USB.

There is one thing for which there appears to be no workaround currently, and that is the ability to update your firmware. Currently that appears to only be possible wirelessly. UPDATE: At this writing Amazon does not publicize the download location and manual upgrade directions for Kindle 2 like they do for Kindle 1. Fortunately my old buddy Bruce has posted the details here.

If you have your Kindle reshipped, it can get expensive. Just as an example of the “full cost” I paid:

Kindle $359.00
UPS US 2-Day $11.98
Fedex Intl Priority $55.94
Insurance $3.00
Customs Duty $18.43 (TW$645)
Total $448.35

The cost could have been reduced if I had chosen free shipping for the US leg and slower international shipping. You can avoid the international shipping and customs fees if you pick it up during a US trip or ask a friend to carry it for you when they come to visit. The shipping and duties will vary by country, but this should give you an idea what you may have to pay to have it shipped to your international address.

UPDATE: I left out an important factor for many international users which is power compatibility. Taiwan and US both use the same voltage and outlets (though grounded outlets are rare in Taiwan), so I didn’t really think about this issue. The good news is that the Kindle power adapter supports 100-240 volts, so you just need a cheap and common plug converter and not a transformer. Even more conveniently is that the power cable is also a standard USB cable so you could recharge via any standard computer USB port, or you could buy a standard AC-to-USB adapter using the local plug type. It is nice to see so many devices move to USB charging as it sure simplifies these matters. Now if they could all decide on one connector type on the device side… Kindle 2 has Micro-USB, but my HTC Touch Pro uses Mini-USB, and iPod Nano uses the Dock connector. I’m down to only needing one power adapter now but still need 3 different cables! (UPDATE: Make that two power adaptors. My Nano won’t work with my Kindle charger and my Kindle won’t work with my Nano charger. Standards!)

36 thoughts on “Using Kindle 2 Internationally”

  1. Hi, I just ordered mine from ebay to mainland China. I should receive it pretty soon, and I ended up paying about USD430 (USPS 3-business day shipment). I can’t wait !

  2. One important feature missing when using it overseas —

    Set the time & date on the device, which will be useful when you add comments & bookmarks to stuff you read.

    Any idea how to get around this?

    I called Amazon customer service in vain. Am still scratching my head on this — please email me if you happen to find an work around, many thanks!

    (I’ll come back & post if I find one first).

  3. That’s a good point. I had noticed that my mbp files (where bookmarks and notes are stored) had bogus timestamps. The only thing I can think offhand is to use the telnetd & usbnet hacks to login and set it in the linux shell, but that’s pretty complicated.

  4. James: thanks for taking the time to spell out your view on international usage. …esp as it pertains to firmware update. Amazon could do a better job of explaining international work-arounds without calling them “work-arounds” i’m living in Qatar and my wife is itching for a Kindle. Amazon should give you a commission

  5. Thanks for all that wonderful information. I am in Australia and received my Kindle 2 as a gift. I have been struggling for the last few days to get it up and running bu to no avail. Like a previous blogger I have not heard back from Amazon with an answer to my query.
    I do not have a US credit card nor a US address so I have not been able to buy an ebook from Amazon but downloaded one from feebooks which duely turned up on the Documents/Kindle page on my computer. How do I upoad this file – nothing happens even though the USB cable is connected.
    I was hoping to take ithe the Kindle with me tomorrow when I fly out of the country for 2 weeks holdiday. Guess I will have to take a pile of books instead of my slender little Kindle 2. Any suggestion anyone?.

  6. If you are on a PC then open up “My Computer”, turn on your Kindle, then plug the Kindle into your computer’s USB port and a new drive should show up on the “My Computer” window. Open that drive, go to the “documents” folder on that drive and then copy your eBooks to that folder. If no drive shows up, try a different USB port and see if that helps. If nothing still happens, try your Kindle on a friend’s computer to see whether the Kindle or your computer has a problem.

  7. Help. I live in Taiwan and just order a book via amazon kindle ebook section but I am unable to find it on the manage my kindle webpage. I receive a email stating that my order was confirm but I just do not see it on my manage my kindle page? Am I doing something wrong?

  8. It should show up on your “manage my kindle” page immediately after you buy it. Make sure you log in with the same account information you used to purchase the book. If you still have trouble click the support link on the “manage my kindle” page.

  9. Thanks for the feedback. I finally called Amazon hotline as I just can not figure it out. Fortunately and also unfortunately, I learned that Amazon system is down so I can not get the file….Oh, of course! Well, At lease I have the answer now. Thanks for your blog and feedback, it is really useful.

    John

  10. If the “Kindle Address” on your “Manage My Kindle” page is johnchen1@kindle.com then just send a document as an attachment to johnchen1@free.kindle.com. It will convert the document and email it back to the email address you use to log in to amazon.com. In my experience HTML and DOC converts fairly well, but PDF often comes out a bit weird. It usually takes about 5 minutes but occasionally I’ve had to wait a few hours for the converted document to come back.

  11. At which stage does the custom duty have to be paid?

    I am based at Hong Kong, and actually plan to order one to be gifted to someone at India. Based on your experience, how do you think I should go about it?

    Thanks very much for this post. It’s indeed very useful.

    ~Cheers.

  12. Customs duty is usually paid during importation. So for example if you shipped it from US to Hong Kong and then reshipped it to India, you might need to pay customs tax on it in both Hong Kong and India.

  13. W,

    I just started a trial newspaper subscription to the San Jose Mercury News this Monday. Newspapers can be used internationally via the download option on the Manage Your Kindle Page. (I’m actually in the US for a couple of weeks so I’m getting it wirelessly, but I did confirm it is also downloadable.)

    At least for the Mercury, the Kindle version does not include pictures, comics or other syndicated features, though it does have Dear Abby. I understand that other newspapers have pictures but not sure about the other things. The Mercury does have some formatting issues with words spit in half, some accented characters missing, and some articles seemingly cut off in mid-sentence. No advertisements though!

    I started my trial with the Mercury as I will be in San Jose next week. If the formatting problems are consistent, I will probably cancel it and try the LA Times instead. The good thing is you can trial each newspaper for up to two weeks for free; just remember to cancel before the two weeks is up if you aren’t happy with it. If you already have a Kindle, it is risk-free to try.

    Overall, if not for the several formatting problems I would be pretty happy with it. If one of the others is better organized, I might keep the subscription going once I’m back in Taiwan. However it will not be as convenient to get without wireless service.

    Also keep in mind that US papers are delivered in the morning US time, which will be evening Taiwan time. The Mercury seems to be delivered around 6:30 am Pacific, 9:30 pm in Taiwan; not sure about others. Since NY Times is East Coast US, it will probably come out 3 hours or more earlier.

  14. I have a Kindle 2.

    An update after several days of the San Jose Mercury News:

    The first day had the worst formatting with the cut off sentences. The following days have had scattered problems like words split in two and punctuation marks screwed up, but this is less major.

    My understanding from other discussions is that the NY Times and Washington Post are the only Kindle Newspapers currently containing pictures, but still do not contain all pictures and still omit tables and charts.

  15. Hi James,

    I am located overseas with a kindle 2

    If i am using gift voucher value to buy kindle books but i cant buy newspapers subscriptions or magazines subscriptions.

    How do u buy the newspapers and magazines subscriptions?

  16. when i google i see many types of hacks for kindle 2….do u use any of those hacks…and some websites stated that kindle 2 can become bricked.

    But i under a bricked kindle can always go to recovery mode and we can load back the old firm ware?

    Or am i wrong?

  17. I have a US credit card with US billing address, so I don’t have any issues buying things. I guess they don’t use gift certificates for subscriptions. As for modifications to the Kindle, I have not used any of them as yet. As you mention, you do need to be careful in what you do.

  18. Hi…i have just started using my kindle in Delhi, India. Downloading books – not such a problem…Reading a ‘Team of Rivals’ on my Kindle dx and i absolutely love it…Yesterday i subscribed to the Financial Times and Newsweek magazine – but having difficulty…in manageyourkindle – the subscriptions are showing as ‘pending’ and under the download section it just has the kindle as an option unlike for the books it has ‘computer’ as an option to download…trying to figure it out today..

  19. This is really useful and to the point.
    I think I will ask my friend to buy it for me by next week, once I am sure that they have solved the geographical area restriction glitch!

  20. After using it for a few weeks, I feel the kindle has some flaws. 1. no native pdf; conversion is hit-or-miss, and even if you succeed the kindle2 screen is too small 2. no wifi 3. hard to navigate through list of books, and to turn to a page in a given book. I think some of this was deliberate. Anyway it’ll get me by until better eBook readers materialize over the next year. A deeper problem is that epaper doesn’t do video (too slow and no color on the horizon); a tablet that handled both video and books would be ideal. Another deep problem is the various document formats are a real tower of Babel. I tried using Calibre but it crashes constantly.

  21. Thank you so much for this super detailed review! I am an American living in China, and after reading this, I am more convinced than ever to get a Kindle.

  22. Thank you for the lenghty tutorial. I live in the Philippines and I received my kindle 2 (US wireless) as gift and was not able to register the unit to my amazon account since the person who gave it to me registered the unit to his acount and has not deregistertered the unit yet. I have registered my PC to my amazon acount, if I buy books would it be possible to transfer the file to my kindle from my pc, even if the kindle is not registered to my account? thanks

  23. Unfortunately the books are usually locked to a particular device per download. A few books are not encrypted but they are the minority. However, you should be able to contact Amazon’s customer service to manually register the Kindle for you.

  24. Thanks very much for very detailed explanation. Will you be charged a fee of $1.99 for internation download if you buy the Kindle in USA as a gift for friend outside USA.

  25. The pricing structure for international wireless usage will depend on where the account is registered (i.e. where the billing address / credit card is). If it is a U.S. account then there will be extra charges per download outside the U.S. For non-U.S. accounts, there is an extra charge added to each purchase, but nothing extra per download.

    The cheapest option is a U.S. account where you turn off wireless when outside the U.S. and instead sync over USB. However you do give up some convenience to use it this way.

  26. For those of you wondering.

    I live in Israel and have just bought a new Kindle DX from ebay (the american seller).

    I had no issues what so ever to register it on Amazon with my international account.

    The wispernet works just fine.

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