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Buying abroad can save you money, but be careful of taxes and warranties


Britons regularly paying some of the highest prices for new gadgets in the world, but globalisation means there are ways to bring some of those prices down for those willing to take some risks.

There was an uproar about “rip-off Britain” when Apple announced its latest iPhone X. The Californian company priced the “best iPhone ever” at $999 in the US and £999 in the UK, despite an exchange rate that should have made the pricetag in London closer to £750.

In a statement, Apple claimed the pricing differences was a result of adding UK VAT at 20% and additional logistical expenses, but it does not cost an extra 8-10% per device to ship it across the pond. As one tech journalist pointed out, it would be cheaper for Brits to fly to New York for a couple of nights and buy an iPhone there than order one from a UK Apple Store.

Whilst flying to the US just to pick up a new smartphone is a pretty ridiculous suggestion, it is easier than ever to purchase goods directly from US (or Chinese) retailers and get them shipped directly to your door.

Many retailers, from US behemoth Amazon.com to Chinese gadget exporters Gearbest will ship tech across the world for very reasonable prices, and as long as you get a decent exchange rate, you could end up saving 20% or more on your purchases. If you’re buying in bulk, then its probably worth spending the time learning some Forex tips, but for most consumers firms like Transferwise or even just PayPal offer a reasonable balance of fees and ease of use, and likely much better rates than your bank.

Buying something and shipping it halfway across the globe is just about as easy as buying it from a UK retailer, but consumers must be careful about VAT and import duty, which can add 20% or more to the cost of buying form abroad. To make foreign purchases good value, the price most be more than 25% cheaper than you could buy it at home.

And then there’s the issues of warranties. Part of the reason UK goods are more expensive than those in the US, is the UK’s relatively tough consumer protection laws, that give you the right to return goods you don’t, do not work correctly out of the box. Most EU countries have somewhat similar laws consumer protection laws, but the protections offered in the US and China are not so great. Moreover, if you need to send something back, remember that you might have to ship it all the way back to its original country – something that can be annoyingly expensive.

You can save a fair whack by buying goods abroad, but just remember to be careful – buyer beware.

Photograph by Olaf Pictures

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