In the liminal period between Animal Crossing: New Horizons offering nothing new to do and Animal Crossing: New Horizons offering arguably too much new stuff to do, Nintendo released a new Switch model complete with a bigger screen and a 0 percent increase to battery life. Perhaps you were lucky enough to snag one. Perhaps you did so without any consideration as to what it means for your ACNH save data.
This article was originally published on October 19, 2021. We’ve re-run it today in light of a surprise early release for ACNH’s 2.0 update.
Next month, in case you haven’t heard, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is getting its biggest update yet. The news alone—about such additions as a shopping plaza, a crop of new décor options, and a much-ballyhooed expansion called Happy Home Paradise—has spurred a reinvigorated interest in Nintendo’s life sim. Droves of players are returning after months away, or at least stating an express interest in doing so.
But those who’ve picked up a new Switch since the last time they’ve played might hit a roadblock. Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ handling of your save data is notoriously restrictive, even among Nintendo’s already notoriously restrictive rules around such things. (See: Pokémon.) Players could only create one island per Switch console. Only one player per console was allowed to be the “island representative,” or the sole character who can push the plot forward and rearrange objects on a whim. At launch, New Horizons didn’t even support backup saves. (That feature was added in a July 2020 update.)
If you’re among those who both snapped up a new Switch and are hungry to return to Animal Crossing’s placid, pastel-colored escapism, you might also find yourself in the position of wondering how to transfer your Animal Crossing save data from one Switch to another.
Officially, there are three ways to transfer your save data from one Switch to another. Unless you’re using the backup method (more on that in a bit), you’ll need access to both consoles. Hope you didn’t trade in your old one! Also, the transfer process is cut-and-paste, not copy-paste; once you complete it, your island will be purged from your original system.
First, you’ll need to make sure that both systems have the latest version of Animal Crossing: New Horizons installed. You’ll also need the Island Transfer Tool—a free application available via the eShop—downloaded on both consoles. And, of course, both systems need to be fully up-to-date with the most recent Switch operating system.
Once that’s squared away, transfer your Switch user data from your original console to your new one. (Here’s a step-by-step walkthrough for those unfamiliar with the process.) If you’re successful, you should see a blank account that simply says “User” on your original console—the one that plays home to your Animal Crossing island.
Next, open up the Island Transfer Tool on both consoles. Here’s where it gets a little complicated. Follow these steps:
- On the original Switch, click “Source,” then click on “Yes” once your island shows up. (Note that the process won’t work if your island’s name isn’t displayed.)
- On the new Switch, select “Target.”
- On the original Switch, click “Continue.”
- On the new Switch, click “Proceed.”
- It might take a second for both consoles to recognize each other, but once that happens, on the original Switch, click “Transfer Data,” then “Proceed.”
- That’s it! You did it.
It’s also possible to transfer sole villagers from one Switch to another, so long as you’re not trying to move the ‘island representative’ character. As with the full island transfer, you’ll need to make sure Animal Crossing: New Horizons is installed and fully updated on both consoles.
On your original Switch, boot up Animal Crossing using the account whose character you’d like to move. Don’t proceed past the title screen. Instead, click the minus button to open the settings, select “Move to a new island,” then click on “Move me off the island,” then click “Yes, I’m ready,” then click “Yes, I’m ready” again.
On your new Switch, in Animal Crossing, select the dialogue option “I’m moving” when talking to the characters Timmy and Tommy. They’ll ask you if you’ve sent through a transfer request, to which you should respond in the affirmative. Select “Start the process.” You should see names for both your island and the resident you want to move. If so, click on “Yes, that is correct.”
Now, back on your original Switch, click on “I want to move.” Yes, that’s right: Nintendo has you affirm your intention to move not one, not two, but five times. The move is irreversible, by the way, so maybe five check-ins is fair.
That’s it! You did it.
Last year, Nintendo released an update for Animal Crossing: New Horizons that introduced a much-requested island backup feature. One caveat: You’ll need to subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online service, which costs $20 a year (or $50 if you want to play nine N64 games). At the title screen for Animal Crossing: New Horizons, click the minus button to open the settings. Then select “Island Backup,” then “Enable Island Backup.”
Restoring the data is a bit more fraught. Nintendo says you can only restore a backed-up island if your Switch was missing or busted. Once you open Animal Crossing: New Horizons again—either on a repaired or new console—you should see a black startup screen. Hold the minus button down. The game will then ask you if you’d like to start the island restoration process. At the next prompt, click “Check.” You should see your island’s name show up. Hit “Restore.”
That’s it! You did it. Now, to hop back into the game that defined 2020, biding your time until you have to repeat the process all over again when Nintendo finally unveils that dang 4K Switch.