Migration Assistant Not Working From Time Machine Title Image

You’ve opened up the box. Excited because you’ve just got your shiny new Mac computer.

You’re eagerly setting up your new Mac using Setup Assistant to set it all up.

But Migration Assistant isn’t working with your time machine backup. And it’s a real pain.

This article takes you through some solutions to this problem. So you can start using that beautiful piece of kit you’ve spent your hard earned cash on.

Migration Assistant Not Working From Time Machine Backup – Do This

Use Setup Assistant to set up your new Mac. Run though the questions and answer them to set your system preference on your new Mac.

But, when you get to the ‘Transfer Information’ part of Setup Assistant.

You can at that stage pick to migrate. And you’ll go straight into Migration Assistant from there.

But when you’re having trouble with the Mac Migration Assistant. And your Time Machine backup. It’s best to skip that step.

Pick ‘Don’t Transfer Any Information Now.’ And do your migration outside of Setup Assistant.

The Apple MacBook Pro manual page even suggests this. You can check it here.

It says and I quote. – If you’re setting up a new computer and you haven’t previously set up a Mac, click “Don’t transfer any information now.”

Complete your set up. And then when your new Mac has booted up.

You log in and just check there isn’t a newer version of the operating system waiting there for you to install.

You’ll find it’ll save you potential issues down the road. Move up to the very latest version of Mac OS x. Do that before transferring with Migration Assistant.

Got the latest release of Mac OS x on your new Mac?

Do you have a fresh backup of your old Mac on your external backup drive?

If you’re not sure how to get that done check out this Mac Backup article here.


Now log into your new machine.

Solutions When Apple Migration Assistant Isn’t Working From Time Machine

You can rest assured that migrating from your old computer. Whether it’s an iMac, MacBook Pro or MacBook Air. To an Intel Mac or M1 Mac.

That when you use Migration Assistant to transfer from a Mac Time Machine backup. It’s one of the most reliable ways of going about it.

You can migrate from a Time Machine backup from a USB 2.0 external hard drive if that’s all you have.  I know because I’ve done it to a 2020 MacBook Pro. So, having a slow drive doesn’t matter.

Of course, migrating your data from an SSD (solid state drive) with your backup on is much faster.

When you’re frustrated because you can’t get your Mac migration to work. And you’re sure your new Mac is bang up to date with the newest version of MacOS.

Here’s some solutions.

1. Check Your USB Cables And Power Is Working.

Bear with me. Ok, so this might see obvious but. Sometimes the most obvious thing trips you up.

Are you sure the USB cable to your external drive works?

Double check.

Are you using an adaptor for the USB C for your new Mac. Or the USB port of your backup drive if you need it. Are you sure your USB adaptor is working?

Does your backup drive need external power? Is the external drive light on?

Are you using an external USB hub? It’s best not to. Direct connect your Time Machine drive backup to your Mac.

And provide external power to your new Mac if it’s not fully charged.

2. Does Your External Drive Show Up On Your New Mac’s Desktop?

Ok, so something else that might seem obvious. But, I know this trips a lot of people up.

Because the other ways of migrating with Migration Assistant App. You can use your old Mac as part of the migration. As the source Mac over WIFI. Or using an Ethernet or USB cable with your old Mac in target disk mode.

But when you’re migrating from a Time Machine backup drive. You take your backup. Or use the latest one you have to hand. And you put that external drive onto your new Mac computer.

After you’ve taken your backup your old Mac is no longer involved in the migration.

You plug your external drive into your new Mac.

Check does your drive come up on your new Mac’s desktop?

Seagate Backup Plus Drive Icon

It’ll look something like this.  If it doesn’t show up then …

Go into your Finder window Settings (from Mac OS Ventura). In earlier Mac operating system releases you’ll find it’s called Preferences.

Finder Settings

Then click to show external disk. And your external drive will come up on your new Mac’s desktop.

Finder Settings Show External Disks

When you can see your Mac Time Machine Backup disk on your new computer’s desktop. Then you know for sure that your new Mac can see and access your disk.

3. Then Start Up Migration Assistant.

Go to your Application folder. Click on the Utilities folder inside that. Then click to open Migration Assistant.

Put your administration user account password into the Migration Assistant App. And pick ‘From a Mac, Time Machine Backup or Startup disk’, after that click Continue.

Migration Assistant 2nd Screen

4. Your Time Machine Backup Drive Is On The Screen But Mac is Looking For Other Sources.

This is normal.

As long as your Time Machine Backup drive is on the Transfer Information To This Mac screen.

Migration Assistant 3rd Screen

Then simply click on the picture of it. Then click Continue.  Don’t wait for the looking for other sources to stop spinning.  It won’t.

Click your external drive and then click Continue.

5. Migration Assistant Fails To Read Your Time Machine Backup Drive.

In the unlikely event that Migration Assistant can’t read your external drive. Here’s what to do.

You could have an issue with bad data sectors on your Time Machine drive. Quit the Migration Assistant App.

Start up Disk Utility.

Go to the Application folder, then Utilities folder. Then start Disk Utility.

Disk Utility In Utilities Folder

Double check Disk Utility is set to Show All Devices.

Disk Utility Show All Devices

Click on your external drive at the top level.

Then run First Aid.

Disk Utility Pick First Aid

First Aid will check your external drive for errors and repair the ones it finds.  Then try your migration again.

It’s possible that your drive has too many errors. And the Disk Utility repair affected your backup. And you may need to run another full backup of your old Mac.

6. Double Check Your Time Machine Drive Format

It’s possible because of a change that Apple has made to the accepted formats for a Time Machine backup disk. That you could run into this error.

Traditionally. You could only make Time Machine backups to drives formatted as MacOS Extended (Journaled) file system.  But as of Big Sur you can take a Time Machine backup to APFS (Apple File System) formatted drives.

But this means that a Mac running an earlier MacOS release cannot read an APFS Time Machine backup disk drive.

So, if you’re running Migration Assistant and bringing in your Mac user data from a APFS drive. Onto a Mac that is not running Big Sur. Your Mac can’t read the drive.

For that situation. You’ll need your backup taken to a disk drive formatted as MacOS Extended (Journaled).

And while we’re on the question of disk drive formats. Time Machine won’t backup to a drive formatted for Windows. Or to an iPhone or iPad.

In Closing

When you’re migrating from a Time Machine backup drive from your older Mac.

And it’s not working. You’ve found here some solutions so you can get on and use your shiny new mac.

All of your data should now be transferred and your issues solved.

Don’t forget to take a look at other transfer related articles on our site while you’re here.

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