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All You Need to Know About Buying Electronics Overseas

In Gear by Dustin Main18 Comments

There are many reasons you may want (or need) to buy electronics overseas.  Maybe your camera died on an ocean dive, maybe someone ripped off your smartphone, or maybe the baggage clerks crushed your laptop in transit.

Or maybe you just need an excuse to buy something new and awesome.  Here’s the scoop on the pros and cons of buying a new gadget in another country.

Why You Want to Buy Electronics Overseas

Ever catch an ad online about a super cool phone that your mobile phone provider at home doesn’t sell?  If not, do you like paying less money for stuff?  Thought so.

Save Some Money

You can get yourself a triple-whammy of savings buying abroad.

Save on taxes you’d have to pay at home

If your country or state likes to pile on the taxes, buying your gadget overseas may save you some coin.

Save on local taxes you can claim back when you leave the country

In many foreign countries, you can claim the local VAT back when you leave the country at the airport.  Keep in mind, you may have to fill out some forms and jump through some hoops.  Follow the steps carefully to collect your refund as you leave.

Some places just sell stuff for less

It makes sense that stuff just costs more in a place like little New Zealand (far away islands) than the consumer spending superpower of the world (USA).  In some countries, the expected profit margins are less as well, so fat deals can often be had in SE Asian countries such as Malaysia and Singapore.

Now, there is one notable exception to the rule.  Apple.  There is no better place than the USA to buy an Apple product.

Here’s a comparison of buying an iPad 2 16GB on the Apple web store (Feb 29, 2012)

Country USA* Canada* UK Denmark Australia Singapore
Price $499 $555.33 £399 kr 3699 A$579 S$688
Price in USD $499 $562.00 $635.84 $668.91 $627.19 $537.02
Difference $0 +$63.00 +$136.84 +$169.91 +$128.19 +$38.02

(Note: this comparison doesn’t take into account local US state taxes you may need to pay, or provincial/HST you may need to pay in Canada (I included 7% to cover GST in Canada))

Rule of thumb

Electronics are typically cheapest in Singapore, Malaysia, & USA while often most expensive in Australia, UK, Europe.

Read a more recent comparison of buying Apple gear around the world here.

Get Things Before They’re Released at Home

galaxynote Samsung’s smartphone-tablet hybrid “Galaxy Note” has been making headlines in the press and tech world for its recent release in the US.  In the UK and Asia, it’s old news, as the “phablet” has been available for over three months.

One thing is for sure though, Apple always releases to the USA first, then the rest of the world.

Rule of thumb

If you like the bleeding-edge of tech, you might be able to get the coolest new gadget to bring home.

What You Should Consider Before Buying

It’s not all sunshine and lollipops buying new electronics overseas.

Warranty

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While some product lines and manufacturers have embraced international warranties, it’s not all traveler friendly.

Laptops are the best of the bunch, with all of the major manufacturers offering international warranty.  Typically you just need to call their 1-800 number and they will direct you where you need to go.

Cameras are tricky. Companies like Nikon have separate divisions in each country making warranty a tricky issue. A Nikon DSLR lens comes with a 5 year warranty and only a 1 year international warranty. Similarly the body has a two year warranty and one internationally.

Canon makes it murkier, with warranties valid in both the USA & Canada (if purchased there), but not outside.

Mobile phone warranties are horrible for travelers.  To curb people from importing phones from other countries, and to simplify the warranty procedures of the massive number of models out there, phone warranties are typically only valid in the country they were purchased.

Rule of thumb

Check the warranty before you buy.

Customs

Remember all that money you saved from not paying the VAT in the country you bought from?  When you head home, your country may want that money and more.

While it varies from country to country, when you pass through customs at home, you may be importing your new gadget into the country.  Check with your country’s limits (often it’s the total value of what you’re bringing in), as the customs officials may demand to see a receipt, and charge you the tax you would have paid if you bought it at home.

Some products might also be charged an additional duty for importing.  Check out your government’s customs website before you head back to see what is allowed.

Rule of thumb

Do your research.  If you don’t, you may end up paying out more than you saved.

 

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The Little Things

Just like foreign food that looks the same as what you’re used to at home, but tastes a little strange, so too can be your new toy.

Does the power plug of your new gadget match what you use at home?

Does the laptop come with a keyboard layout that you are used to?

Does the GPS come with maps preloaded for your country?

Are you buying a knockoff?  Chances are no.  Keep in mind that the cheap Blueberry smartphone you saw in Laos is not a Blackberry though.

Rule of thumb

Ask to open the box so you know exactly what you’re getting before you whip out your credit card.

Conclusion

If you’re buying electronics overseas, do the math and a little research beforehand and you could find yourself with a new gadget — and a little extra money too.

Image via Peter Zoon

Buying a cool new tablet, camera, or smartphone overseas can save you some cash, but also cause some headaches if you're not careful.
About the Author

Dustin Main

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Dustin just can't get enough travel or technology, but when he's not directly feeding one of those insatiable habits, you can probably find him at some far away ice cream shop taking pictures of empty cups. That, or on top of a mountain somewhere shooting photos and finding adventures to share on his website "A Skinny Escape".

Comments

  1. Author

    One thing I left out, but that a reader mentioned was region coding. If you’re buying a DVD/Blue-ray, or game system, it may be coded for one country or region, and unable to play games/movies from another part of the world.

    This goes for DVD / BR discs you buy abroad as well.

    But who buys physical media anymore (or their players) anyways? 🙂

    1. Your right on the laptops for sure. They do give give you an option to change your “Region Code” 5 times if you travel to another country. Sucky part is once you have changed the region code 5 times, that’s it. Your 5th time you are stuck with the last region code. If you can find a laptop that has somehow been set to ” 0 ” that is universal, works everywhere. You will be lucky or need a hacker. 🙂
      There are a couple of other way’s around the region code, but don’t want to get into that here. Start w/ researching Wikipedia and then hit Google. This is just what I hear, I would never try these things..LOL

  2. Great article, many don’t know that the plug adapter also needs to convert 110-120 to 240v.
    I never even thought about the taxes they load us down with in the States, good tip.
    It’s best to go with a universal adapter & dual voltage connector. they are cheap now at approx. $40.00 but could save you a lot more.
    Magellans http://www.magellans.com/store/Adaptors___Converters?display=view_all has a huge assortment of all adapters and a drop down chart of the type each country uses. i have even gone as far as having a friend in the Philippines take a pic of the outlet on her wall. PH has three diff. types of outlets. Magellans also carries the Airplane Charger, but these still seem rare, except for 1st class.

  3. @Dustin, GPS’s from the States will usually require a map purchase if outside of Canada & U.S. some Central American countries are okay.
    I have a basic GPS that I can Purchase the Malaysian map for at $75.00. For me, it’s cheaper to buy a new GPS preloaded with Malaysia then purchasing the map in the U.S. just a tip. 🙂

    1. Author

      Often you can get yourself a much better selection of unlocked, un-subsidized phones when abroad vs in North America. One thing to be wary of, is all of the different frequencies they use in other parts of the world.

      The higher-end smartphones typically work with all the main frequencies used worldwide (typically called a “world phone”), while some of the cheaper ones may not. If you’re making a big investment, or planning on taking it to another part of the world, it’s something to consider.

  4. You might want to add “Don’t buy incredibly cheap $500 laptops”. I say this because, as someone with some geek skills, I invariably get asked by people “Can you fix my great laptop. It was a great deal last month in HK. Only $499. It stopped working”.

  5. Great post! I found some things to not be much cheaper in Malaysia and Singapore, but then it does really depend on the product. Some places, like amazon in the USA is just cheaper no matter what

  6. Hey Dustin, you took the words out of my mouth. I figured getting a DVD player, even a portable one was going to be a bad deal, due to the region encoding. It looks to me as though even God hated the region coding system, as no sooner had it come out then came along workarounds to the region encoding. So many people have bought DVDs overseas, only to find out the hard way that they wont play in their DVD player at home. This region BS is something that needs to die a quick death.

  7. Not all is lost. Online has a habit of selling region free players. I would not recommend getting a DVD player overseas unless it is region free.

  8. Having recently tried to buy a Samsung Galaxy S3 in China, I think you’re missing the biggest problem when buying a mobile in a different country, namely localisation.

    Samsung provides different firmware for different countries and as I found, this can mean a crippled OS. In my case it meant that I had just bought a phone that couldn’t install English-language apps! Apple does something similar and I’m sure the other mobile-phone manufacturers do too.

  9. Having recently tried to buy a Samsung Galaxy S3 in China, I think you’re missing the biggest problem when buying a mobile in a different country, namely localisation.

    Samsung provides different firmware for different countries and as I found to my cost, this can mean a crippled OS. In my case it meant that I had just bought a phone that couldn’t install English-language apps! Apple does something similar and I’m sure the other mobile-phone manufacturers do too.

  10. So where is that beautiful city picture taken at and when? What a good camera that photographer has!

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