Articles on this site contain affiliate links, meaning we may be compensated if you purchase a product or service after clicking them. Read our full disclosure policy here.
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)
|Price in USD||$499||$562.00||$635.84||$668.91||$627.19||$537.02|
(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
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.
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.
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.
Get Us in Your Inbox
Get our regular email updates with the latest travel tech news, tips, and articles. We'll also send over a free 5000-word guide to get you started!
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.
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