Animal Crossing: New Horizons Digital eShop Download Unlock / Release Time

3 weeks ago 27 Comments

We’ve reached single digits of days remaining until Animal Crossing: New Horizons is released to the world on March 20th! The digital download version will be the fastest way to get started, but exactly when can you begin playing?

The answer to that will depend on where you live, or rather which Nintendo eShop you purchase your copy from, as Nintendo does not release games simultaneously worldwide. And yes, that means you could play Animal Crossing: New Horizons a number of hours earlier depending on the eShop region!

Generally speaking, you can start playing your Animal Crossing: New Horizons digital copy from the Nintendo eShop unlocked at 12:00AM on March 20th, 2020 in your country. However, there is a major exception to this rule for North America in particular.

Note that unlocking the pre-load requires an internet connection to download a very small update enabling the game to be encrypted and playable.

North America (United States / Canada / Mexico)

In North America, Animal Crossing: New Horizons will launch for you at a different time depending on where you are located! Here’s a quick cheat sheet below…

  • Atlantic Time: 1:00AM ADT (March 20th)
  • Eastern Time: 12:00AM EDT (March 20th)
  • Central Time: 11:00PM CDT (March 19th)
  • Mountain Time: 10:00PM CDT (March 19th)
  • Pacific Time: 9:00PM PDT (March 19th)
  • Hawaii Time: 6:00PM HST (March 19th)

This is the standard pre-order unlock procedure for major first-party games by Nintendo of America and can be expected to continue for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The following statement from the NoA website confirms this:

When you pre-purchase a game, a non-playable version of the game will be pre-loaded to your system at the time of your order. You’ll be able to start playing it after downloading a small update, beginning at 12:00 AM ET on the game’s release date.

Europe (United Kingdom & More)

In Europe, Animal Crossing: New Horizons should launch in each country’s individual local time at 12:00 AM / Midnight as far as we know. So this means you could get it a few hours earlier depending on exactly which country you live in.

We verified this from the wording currently available on Nintendo UK, Nintendo France, Nintendo Italy, and other European Nintendo outlets’ official websites for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. For example, the United Kingdom site here states the following:

If you pre-order, you can preload ahead of release and the game’s data will be downloaded to your Nintendo Switch automatically. Then, at midnight on March 20th 2020, the game will unlock so you can jump in without delay!

Even if you only purchase Animal Crossing: New Horizons from the UK eShop, you can expect to play about five hours earlier than the North America eShop release.

Japan / Australia

The other main regions that remain are the Japanese and Australia Nintendo eShops. We expect the game to release at midnight in Japan, but Australia is a little more confusing due to have a multitude of different time zones similar to the United States and Canada.

According to the Nintendo Australia official website for Animal Crossing: New Horizons though, the game will be available at midnight, with the same wording as the Nintendo Europe websites:

If you pre-order, you can preload ahead of release and the game’s data will be downloaded to your Nintendo Switch automatically. Then, at midnight on 20th March 2020, the game will unlock so you can jump in without delay!

A specific timezone isn’t stated though, so we’re left to guess. Assuming that Australia’s most eastern time zone is used similarly to the United States though, then the game should be available starting at 12:00AM / Midnight AEDT.

When is the earliest you can play Animal Crossing: New Horizons?

Based on the analysis of release times we’ve gathered above and accounting for time zones, we estimate that the earliest you could play Animal Crossing: New Horizons is by purchasing a copy from the Australia Nintendo eShop and hoping for the release to arrive at Midnight AEDT AKA 6AM PDT on March 19th. Weirdly, this would be two hours earlier than the Japanese release, which is kind of strange.

So we’re not 100% confident in the Australian time, but we can say for sure that the Japanese release will occur at Midnight JST AKA 8AM PDT on March 19th. This would allow you to play Animal Crossing: New Horizons approximately 13 hours earlier than the North America release time.

It’s worth noting that the Japanese Nintendo eShop says an English language option is supported for Animal Crossing: New Horizons, so you could do this to play the game about half a day early if you are so inclined. However, there may be other limitations to the Japanese copy that we are not aware of.

A potentially safer option that still allows you to play earlier would be a copy from the United Kingdom eShop, where the game should be available at Midnight GMT AKA 5PM PDT, or about 4 hours ahead of the North American release. Whether it’s worth that effort simply to play a few hours in advance is a different question though — probably not!

That’s just about everything! I hope this article gave you a little more insight into how the digital Nintendo eShop release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons will work and when you can finally begin your deserted island adventure.

If you spot any obvious errors, please let us know as all of the times can get quite confusing. We’re pretty confident in everything here though except for the Australian wildcard. If you live there and are very familiar with the usual procedures, please don’t hesitate to get in touch and help clarify the situation for us!

Animal Crossing: New Horizons launches worldwide on March 20th! Pre-order the game herethe official guide here, and check our release date countdown here. Stay tuned to Animal Crossing World for more news as we approach the release!

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I read that European games release at 00:00 CET, regardless of exact country? Which would be 23:00 GMT for UK players.

Joshua Killisn

I accidentally originally preordered/loaded New Horizons when my Switch was set to the Japanese region, but I’ve switched it back since then to North America. When will it release for my Switch?


Your location (region) is actually linked to your nintendo account when purchasing, not your switch region. So it should be in north america. If your nintendo account was set to japanese region though, you would get it early.

Joshua Killisn

Awesome, Thanks. I asked Nintendo Support but they told me the opposite of what is true…


Ok so, I was thinking. I purchased my ACNH copy from Australian Eshop. In theory, March 19th I’ll be able to play it, here in Brazil, but, will my game be ahead one day?


Depends if your switch clock is ahead yes if not then no.


I am in the same situation as you, dunno what time here in Brazil I will get to play, I hope to be on march 19th too


EB Games Australia are having a late night launch on the 19th of March where you can collect your pre-ordered physical copy at 10pm Australian Eastern Daylight Time.
I’m guessing it will be immediately playable?
Although these events will probably be cancelled along with the statewide COVID-19 shutdowns.


So if I change my switch region to Japan, I’ll get the game early?


If you have purchased the game already in the US & decide to purchase it again in the JP region, will you have to download it again or will that one pre-loaded game just unlock while selecting the JP account used to purchase it? As for the US version purchased, you would just have two games purchased for no reason, correct? Since we can only have one island per console, wouldn’t booting up the game on the US version still be attached to the JP account as well? I’m trying to talk my friend out of doing this at it… Read more »


Or you could of ordered it from gamestop and pick it up a whole day early like im doing. They are giving their copies out on the 19th.


be sure to call your store & check! from what i understand, gamestop cancelled their night release of this game planned to be on the 19th, so i suspect you can’t pick it up until the AM of the 20th… reason i went digital!


Hey all! I’m currently living in Japan, but I bought the game from the US eShop without thinking. Does that mean my game won’t unlock until March 20,12 AM EST– even though it will be March 20, 1 PM JST here in Japan?
If this is the case, is there any possible way for me to fix this problem? Such as re-downloading from the Japanese eShop? Thanks!


From my experience with the eShop, that is indeed the case. Redownloading won’t help as the time is tied to where you originally purchased the game. I’ve tried doing that before — no luck 🙁


Daaaaaang welp, I guess those 13 hours of anticipation will make booting up the game all the sweeter… at least that’s what I’ll tell myself 🙁
Thanks so much for your answer!


I’m wondering the same thing. Since it requires internet confirmation to start, won’t it know what region and time zone you are in automatically? That would be nice…


NZ eshop says its playable from 2am 20th march onwards. New Zealand is 2 hours ahead of Australia (AEDT) so I would assume Australia has a midnight release. That’s 6am PST 19th March FYI


I am from the UK, studying abroad in South Korea currently but my nintendo Eshop is set to UK. I downloaded acnh already but i was wondering if the game will unlock according to my eshop region or the time my switch uses? Its a 9 hour difference between the UK and korea I don’t wanna start playing so late:(

Pls reply:( thanks


If your eshop region is set yo UK then it will unlock at 12AM UK time not South Korea time.

Jerome Doyle

you guys forgot Newfoundland time. 🙁
Newfoundland Time: 1:30AM (March 20th)


I live in Sweden, will it still be at 12 AM?


I live in Japan, and if people are itchy enough to start, I can say that the e-shop is very accurate about language options. If it says English is available, which it definitely does for ACNH (downloading now), it will have English. I cannot attest if there will be any other differences in the Japanese version, but it would be a first for me.

John A Warren

I am in the central time zone and cannot play yet so…




I already got the bonus from Pocket camp.