This post is about changing your store region in Steam. In my case, I switched from United States to China, so this is relevant for expats living in China with Steam accounts that were most likely registered overseas.

About Countries in Steam

Steam logoValve manages a number of different regional storefronts, offering a few dozen different currencies for customers around the world. However, unlike something like Apple’s App Store, the prices are not automatically adjusted between regions to be roughly equivalent: in some cases, they are vastly different. This is especially the case in India, China and Russia where games are routinely available for 50% of what they cost in the United States.

The reasons for this are numerous:

  1. Piracy is commonplace in these countries, so Steam is competing with free. In order to compete with free, you need to have both a good service and a very low price. This localized pricing effort is the latter.
  2. Steam is largely an outsider to the Chinese market: it has neither widespread popularity or even acknowledgement here. If you go inside the places where most gamers congregate in China (internet bars), you probably won’t find anyone who even know what Steam is.

Restrictions on Gifts

Starting about a year ago, Steam begun region locking gifts on their platform. This closed a loophole which enabled customers of developed economies like the U.S. from receiving cheap gifts from accounts in Russia or China that could then re-sell games as gifts, essentially creating an unlicensed black market for Steam games, in the form of cross-regional gifts.

Here are the important points:

  • You can receive gifts from everyone
  • If you receive gifts from users in China, the game will likely be restricted to China. What this means is that the game can be accepted and will be added to your account if you are in China, with a caveat: its use will be restricted to that country.
  • An red icon will appear in your Steam library over games which are restricted in this way. Those particular titles will not work outside of China
  • When you gift or receive a game that’s region restricted, a dialog box will inform you of the restriction
  • These restrictions are on gifts, and not on purchases that you make yourself

Why to Change Your Steam Country

This part is simple: the games are much cheaper. Some examples:

  • Just Cause 3: $60 USD in America, 160 RMB in China (about $25)
  • 80 Days: $10 USD in America, 36 RMB in China (about $5.50)
  • Cities: Skyline: $30 USD in America, 88 RMB in China (about $13.75)

Some games cost the same amount in both regions, like the pre-order for Street Fighter V (which is $60 USD in America and the same amount, 381 RMB, in China). But most games in China are cheaper.

How to Change Your Steam Country

When logged into your Steam account, to go Account Details and you can change your country there. In order to complete the change you will need to confirm that you reside in the country you are switching to, and use a payment method native to the country.

In my case, this is how it went:

  1. Change my store region in Steam
  2. Add something to my cart
  3. Complete the purchase with a new payment method native to China (UnionPay)

If you live in China and haven’t used UnionPay on Steam before, it’s simple if you have a Chinese bank card which has online payments enabled.

In order to change Steam store region to another country, Steam requires that you move back before doing that, so only do this if you are actually a long-term resident of the country that you are switching to. Another thing to note is that not all games are available in all regions: an example is Civilization V which is not available in China.

When I made my first Steam payment with UnionPay and my Chinese bank, the first purchase was pending and then was cancelled – something went wrong. This payment method seems to be more problematic than using a credit card because it relies on a third-party bank’s website, so I tried making another payment directly to my wallet for a larger amount, and that worked. Making one purchase to fund your wallet is a lot simpler than individual purchases for games, so I recommend taking that route if you can.

Reference: Steam Store Country support documentation