Nintendo Switch Online: The ultimate guide

Nintendo Switch Online Family Group button
Nintendo Switch Online Family Group button (Image credit: iMore/ Rene Ritchie)

Nintendo has an online service called Nintendo Switch Online that Switch owners can subscribe to for a small fee. If you plan on playing online with friends and being competitive, then you'll have to look into a subscription. A Nintendo Switch Online subscription gives you access to game-specific content within the Nintendo Switch Online app, access to play classic NES and SNES game titles, and special discounts in the eShop. Here's everything you need to know about Nintendo's online subscription service.

By the way, there's also the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack, which is the base subscription along with emulators for select N64 and Sega Genesis games, if you'd rather look into that.

What does a subscription get me?

With a subscription to Nintendo Online, you'll get five major exclusive features:

  • Online gameplay - You'll have to pay to play with others online in most games. For example, if you're a high-ranking racer in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, you're going to want to protect your rank, and the only way to do that is to pay for online play. This includes co-operative and competitive games.
  • Access to the Nintendo Switch Online app - Nintendo has a special app that is exclusive to Switch and offers special content for specific games. It includes voice chat, leaderboards, a special gear shop, game invites for friends, and more. Without a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, you won't be able to get any of this exclusive content.
  • Game save data backups - With a subscription, you can back up your game save data to the cloud, so it is significantly less likely that you'll lose those hours and hours of gameplay if something should happen to your Switch. Unfortunately, some games won't support cloud saves, such as Pokémon Sword and Shield and Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
  • Classic NES and SNES game selection - Nintendo has included a library of classic NES and SNES games you can play alone or with friends on your Switch — games like Super Mario Bros. 3, Balloon Fight, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Star Fox, and more. We don't have to pay anything extra for these games, but if you cancel your Nintendo Switch Online subscription, you'll lose access to them. Here's a full list of the NES and SNES games you can play.
  • Discounts on eShop games - In addition to dropping some classic titles in our laps at no additional charge, Nintendo gives us deals on eShop purchases that non-subscribers don't get.
  • Exclusive games In addition to the NES and SNES games, you'll also get access to Super Mario Bros. 35 and Tetris 99, two very unique battle royale games exclusive to the service.

How much does it cost?

You can subscribe to an individual Nintendo Switch Online membership for one month, three months, or one year for $3.99, $7.99, or $19.99, respectively. A family membership allows a total of eight people to share one subscription, but it is only available in annual increments and costs $34.99.

Can't I just use my Wii U or 3DS account?

Nope. Sorry. This subscription is exclusive to Nintendo Switch. No sharesies.

Which countries are supported?

Right now, Nintendo Switch Online is only available in the following countries:

  • U.S.
  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • Argentina
  • Brazil
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Peru

How do I subscribe?

You'll need a Nintendo Account to subscribe. Chances are, you've already got one, but just in case you don't, here's how to sign up for a Nintendo Account.

Once you sign up for a Nintendo Account and login, just mosey on over to the Nintendo eShop, go to the Nintendo Switch Online section, choose your membership option, and start your 7-day trial or just sign up fully for the service. We can show you how to sign up for Nintendo Switch Online if you'd like assistance.

If you'd rather not put your credit card information on the Nintendo Switch for whatever reason, there is a work around. Here's how to get Nintendo Switch Online without a credit card.

What can I access without having a Nintendo Switch Online subscription?

Just in case you're faced with the decision to pay for Nintendo Switch Online or go without, here's what you still get to do on your Switch, even without the subscription:

  • Access to the Nintendo Switch eShop - You know, so you can buy all of the best Nintendo Switch games.
  • Register and manage friends - You don't get to talk to them or anything, but you'll know when they're on and what they're playing (if they've got that info turned on).
  • Share screenshots to social media - No one gets left out of their social media feeds.
  • Access to Nintendo Switch Parental Controls app - Because Nintendo would be stupid to restrict this behind a paywall.
  • The ability to take screenshots - It doesn't matter if you're online or not; you can still take screenshots to show your friends.
  • You're still able to access YouTube - Despite YouTube being an online app, you don't need Switch Online to use it.
  • You can still connect your Nintendo Switch account to a friend's Switch - It doesn't matter whether you've got online or not; you can still change your primary account on the Nintendo eShop.
  • You can still play free-to-play games - Games like Fortnite, Arena of Valor, Warframe, and Paladins can still be played without an online subscription.

Play online Switch games

With this subscription, you'll be able to play with people around the world whenever you want to. There are so many games that support online play and this will open those doors for you.

Lory Gil

Lory is a renaissance woman, writing news, reviews, and how-to guides for iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books.  If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).