How To Buy US-Only Gadgets From the UK

By Chris Mills on at

Although we all love our little island rock, electronics companies aren't quite so benevolent. A whole rash of new products -- Moto X, Google Chromecast and the fantastic Razer Blade laptop -- are only available for sale in the US, well and truly shafting us poor Brits. But, for a small fee, there's a way 'round the sticky problem.


Reshipping Services

The key to getting stuff out of the States is a reshipping service. This is a company that, for a fee, will give you a US postal address to use, receive your precious package, and then ship it on to your real, UK address.

There are a bunch of half-decent ones worth looking at -- ReShip, Shipito and AmForward are some of the best. The fees they charge vary a little, but are normally somewhere around $5 per package, or some kind of monthly fee for unlimited packages.

Then, on top, there's shipping. Depending on the size, weight and value of what you're trying to get your hands on, this can vary between really-quite-cheap and it'd-better-be-delivered-by-the-Holy-Angels prices. As a ballpark, getting a laptop shipped to the UK will cost around $70 USD (about £50 in real money).


Extra Services

Most of the reshipping services also offer extra services (though, of course, for some extra dough). Package consolidation will save you a bunch on shipping, consolidating five goodies into one package to be sent to the UK.

More usefully, all the services named above offer assisted purchasing -- essentially, some online retailers won't accept a UK credit card, so the reshipper will buy the stuff for you.


What About The Tax?

Once you've paid the reshipper's fee and postage costs, there's still one more organisation that wants a share of the pie: Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs. There are two fees you might be liable to pay: import duty, and VAT.

Depending on the value of what you're importing, and depending on what exactly it is, the amount you'll pay in duty varies, but it's a safe bet that you'll have to pay 20 per cent VAT on it, either way. Generally speaking, this'll work out at around £100-£150 for a smartphone, and a fair whack more for a super-expensive laptop. The only exception is goods under £36, which are exempt. Whoop de doo.

To get more case-specific details, the Duty Calculator website is an invaluable tool, or you can try and wade through the seven tonnes of small print on the HMRC website


Will My New Gizmo Actually Work?

There's another thing to bear in mind if you're buying a gadget, especially a smartphone from the US: it might just plain not work in the UK.  The reason why manufacturers normally make a US-specific and international version of the same phone is that the cellular frequencies are different around the world. Before buying a phone, make sure it supports GSM and not just CDMA, and check the specific wireless frequencies as well, to make sure it'll play nice with the UK.

You've also got the problem of unlocking. If you buy a phone straight from a network, or second-hand from the US, there's a good chance it'll be carrier-locked, just like some phones are in the UK. Those won't work on UK networks either.



One final headache to think about is the warranty. Whether or not the warranty will work in the UK for a product bought in the US depends on the manufacturer. Some warranties, like Apple's, will contain a line like this:

Apple may restrict warranty service for iPhone and iPad to the country where Apple or its Authorized Distributors originally sold the device.

...whereas others may offer a full international warranty. The full terms of the warranty will be published online somewhere, so make sure to take a look before buying.

Despite all the potential hang-ups, it's not quite as hard as it seems to buy a product from the US. Sure, it might take a little longer than you're used to in the era of 1-click checkout, but that's hardly the end of the world, and who knows, given how relatively cheap electronics are in the US, it's often cheaper to buy something from the US and import it, than wait for the manufacturers to float it over the pond and change the dollar sign to a pound.

Image credit: US Flag from Shutterstock