Microsoft Office Activation FAQs

Microsoft introduced Activation with Office 2011. Since Office 2011 was first released, Office365 subscription service was added. The retail copy of Office for Mac and the Office365 Subscription service use different activation processes. The number of installs also differs. The retail version will depend on what version you purchased (one or two computer install, or family pack that installs on 3 computers). more info. The Office365 Subscription service will install on 5 computers more info.

What is Activation?

Activation is a new feature in Office Mac 2011. After you activate the software product, a specific product key is assigned to the computer hardware on which you installed the product. If you get a new drive or a new computer, you will need to activate again. If you use Migration or Time Machine to move your data to a new drive you will still need to activate Office.

Product Activation is required to use the product. If you choose to click on the Activate Later button, the product will run for a limited time. When launching an application it will remind you to activate. If you choose to not to Activate, the product will not launch and the following message will be displayed “You must activate your copy of Office for Mac before you can use it.”

How many times can I activate the product?

There is no limit to the number of times that you can activate the software product on the same computer. You may reassign the license to a different device any number of times, but not more than one time every 90 days. If you reassign, that other device becomes the “licensed device.” If you retire the licensed device due to hardware failure, you may reassign the license sooner.

Note: Office Mac Academic can be installed only once. Even if you purchased a new computer or replaced your drive you could not install and use your key to activate. The Academic version is not the same as Home & Student that does allow for multiple installs or Office 365 University. Check with your school to see what type of installer you have and if you can use the key again if needed.

  • Activation on one computer is tied to the computer where Office was installed. You can make a backup on an external drive but that drive is associated with that computer. You cannot backup to an external then attach that drive to another computer.
  • You cannot de-activate to switch computers so you don’t have to purchase an extra key.
  • If your drive dies or you get a new computer, you can activate on the new computer. If you do this too often you’ll have to call Microsoft and explain why this is necessary in order to activate.
  • If you share your CD Key and they activate, it will de-activate your copy.

Activate Microsoft Office for Mac Retail Version

You will need your product key to activate the retail version.

There is some confusion over the Product Key, CD Key and Product ID.

The Product Key also called CD Key is on a yellow or bright orange sticker on the CD package. Do not lose the product key. Keep the packaging, or note the number. Keep the number information in a safe location. Your product key is a unique sequence of 25 letters and numbers divided into groups of 5.

It will look like this: ABC4Z-Y9ABC-Y6MNO-K2ZZZ-P23EF

The Product ID is given during the Setup Assistant process. The Product ID will look like this: 11111-130-0001111-12345). It is used to register not activate. Registration is not required.


If for any reason the Activation fails, click Activate by phone.

Select your location and then dial the phone number on the screen. For example, for United States: 1-866-825-4797 or United Kingdom: (44)-(203)-147-4930. You should be at the computer when you call. Additionally, you should have your software product key. When you select this option, the Activation Wizard generates an Installation ID. You must have this Installation ID to activate the product by telephone.


If you have trouble with this number see if one of these works. There have been issues with phone support.

Office Installation and Activation Support
(800) 936-5700
Office activation (U.S. only): (888) 652-2342

If you are an International customer, visit the following Microsoft Web site: Worldwide Telephone numbers

If all else fails….

Re-run the activation wizard and choose the option for Telephone activation just as you have done and call the displayed phone number.  But, this time, when the automated system answers, do not enter or say anything into the system.  This is supposed to transfer you to a live activation representative.
If you call during normal business hours for your country or region, you have the best chance of speaking with a call center whose employees speak your language natively.

Activate Office365 Subscription

Activation of Office365 Subscription is done online in your browser. 

Office 365 Subscription doesn’t use a product key. Sign in using your Microsoft account. Enter the email address that you used to purchase the subscription. Follow the activation wizard.

Office 365 uses web calls to authenticate the first time. If you have Mac Parental Controls enabled, disable temporarily. (You may have to enter your Parental Control password a few times to clear the blocked app errors.)

Office 365 University

Contact Support at

FAQs for Office 365 University

I receive error message saying that my ID doesn’t look like a valid ID.

The user ID is the email address you used while purchasing office 365 online.

Office 365 subscription can’t be recognized.

Did you enable 2-step verification? You need to create an app password or disable 2-step verification temporarily.

How do I activate One Note, Access & Publisher on my Mac?

Not all applications are available for the Mac. One Note, Access & Publishers do not have a Mac version. [OneNote now available for Mac]

At the Sign in to activate Office for Mac I get the message:  Sorry, there was a problem while trying to connect to your account. (Error code: 0x80000008)

This error is associated with the Region settings in System Preferences. Region and Language must match the language for the installer.

System Preferences > Language & Text > Region (tab)


Reset Region

Activate Office for Mac 2011 with your Microsoft Account.

You can revert location after activation.

Repeated prompts to activate

This problem occurs because the Office for Mac 2011 licensing file is missing or because the Installation ID for the license does not match the installation ID of the computer on which Office for Mac 2011 is installed. These are example scenarios when this may occur:

  • You have connected the external 4 drive unit in a RAID 5 configuration on eSATA. This is an unsupported configuration by Office for Mac. The workaround is to use Firewire 800 instead of eSATA.
  • You copy all Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 folders and files, including the licensing file, to a second computer, and then you try to start an Office application on the second computer. In this case, you are prompted for license information because the information for the program and for the second computer does not match.
  • You copy all Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 folders and files except the licensing file to a second computer, and you try to start an Office application on the second computer. In this case, you are prompted for license information because the information for the program is missing.
  • Your licensing files are corrupted.
  • Your Office for Mac installation is corrupted.
  • The name of your computer’s hard disk drive contains special characters. For example, the name contains slashes.
  • Your user profile is not working correctly.
  • Fusion drive (see below)

See this Microsoft KB for help solving these causes:

You are repeatedly prompted to enter your product key when you try to start any Office for Mac 2011 application

Related articles
•   “The product key is not valid” error activating Outlook for Mac or How to Upgrade Office for Mac
•   Invalid product key errors in Office for Mac 2011
•   Repeated prompt “Your copy of Office for Mac is now activated” when launching any Office for Mac

Activate to add Outlook to Home & Student version

The H&S version of Office 2011 does not include Outlook. You must pay to activate Outlook or use another email client like Entourage or Apple Mail. It’s $99.99.

Activation on Fusion drive

Activation is tied to the drive. According to Microsoft the solid state part of the Fusion Drive generates a new disk id every time the Mac is started. So Mac Office thinks it a new system at each startup and will require activation. A fix is in the works.

Activation on Thunderbolt or eSATA drive

Activation on Thunderbolt or eSATA drives is fixed in 14.2.0 SP2. If you need to reinstall Office and have one of the original installers, you can download a digital copy (v14.2.0. You will need your 25-character product key to complete the download. This link will download 14.2.0. UPDATE IMMEDIATELY before using to 14.3.9 or newer. The Microsoft AutoUpdater (v2.3.6) and the Microsoft Error Reporting (2.2.9) tool also need to be updated. It should auto update but I’ve seen it miss these. You can download directly. Look for updaters in Additional Tools.

Use original CD:

–Install 14.0.0 on machine without a Thunderbolt drive attached, and then upgrade to 14.2. Connect a Thunderbolt drive and launch Office. Shouldn’t be prompted for re-activation. Remove drive-should not cause re-activation

–Install 14.0.0 on machine with a Thunderbolt drive attached, and then upgrade to 14.2. Remove Thunderbolt drive and launch Office. This will force another reactivation, but this is expected. Subsequent changes to Thunderbolt drive should not force re-activation

Once SP2 is installed, it may require one last activation. However, any future changes to the Thunderbolt drive afterwards won’t affect Office.


There is no de-activation process for the retail version. Some companies such as Adobe require users to “transfer” activation when moving a product from one computer to another, when replacing hardware in an existing computer, or when reformatting a system hard drive, but Microsoft does not require de-activation. You can use the steps here to Reset CD Key to remove your licensing info.

Office365 subscription allows for up to 5 installs. If you run out of installs you can deactivate in order to use on another device. When you deactivate an install, Office will run in read-only mode on that computer. That means you’ll be able to view and print documents but you won’t be able to edit them or create new ones. Deactivate an Office 365 Home Premium install

What if my drive dies and I can’t de-activate? Can I re-use my key?

De-Activation is not required. Simply enter your CD Key to activate after installing Office on your new drive. You might need to use phone activation to complete the process. The exception is the Academic version cannot be activated a second time.

What if I sell my computer? Do I need to de-activate?

If you sell your computer with Microsoft Office installed, you need to completely remove Office or remove all files associated with activation if you plan to continue using your CD Key. If someone else is using your activation key, you will no longer be able to use it on your new computer.

What if someone steals my computer? Can I use my key to activate on my new computer?

Call and explain what happened and support can activate on your new computer. This de-activates the stolen laptop’s copy.

Office Installation and Activation Support
(800) 936-5700

Office activation (U.S. only): (888) 652-2342

If you are an International customer, visit the following Microsoft Web site: Worldwide Telephone Numbers

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3 comments to Microsoft Office Activation FAQs

  • Biff

    “Activation is a new feature in Office Mac 2011.”

    Activation might be a lot of things, but “feature” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.

    Aside from that quibble, thanks for an informative post.

  • null

    Activation is a royal pain. I deploy a LOT of workstations as a tech (not my favorite, I much rather do tier 3 server work), but this costs my clients a lot of my time which means thier money. I nearly cried when a free clinic that provides healthcare to the less fortunante was able to afford 8 MS licenses from Tech Soup and the install (The install is fast, virtual mount, click a few times, move onto the next RDP window)… when EACH AND EVERY SINGLE ONE required phone activation! That’s 10-15 minutes per license so several hours of billable time they can’t afford. Now thier NAS which houses all there data that has 1 failed drive and one failing drive is unlikely to get fixed so it will probably fail before replacement.