Can I buy an US iPhone in the US is a question we are often asked. Indeed, following the launch of the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus the idea that it is cheaper to fly to the US and buy an iPhone there has been circulating on Facebook. It's simply not true.

Is it cheaper to buy an iPhone in the US?

The story we saw circulating on Facebook claimed that Apple sells the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus for $199 or $299 respectively. For a start that premise is incorrect. Those prices are on a two year contract, so we are talking £122 or £183 - and don't forget those prices are exclusing VAT, so it's closer to £146 or £219.

So, for example, you could purchase the iPhone 6 on Verizon for £199.99 and then pay $32.49 a month for 20 months, for a full retail value of $649.99. or the Plus for $299.99 and $37.49 a month for 20 months for a full retail value of $749.99. As we said above, those prices are ex VAT.

The iPhone 6 Plus will be available in the UK for a suggested retail price of £619 for the 16GB model, £699 for the 64GB model and £789 for the new 128GB model.

In the US Apple is offering an off-contract iPhone 6 Plus for $749 (with T-Mobile) - which equates to a pre-VAT price of £459, or £550 total. Which isn't all that far from the £619 starting price in the UK.

You can read more about the price of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus here: iPhone 6 Plus availability and UK pricing and iPhone 6 availability and UK pricing

Having established the fact that the phone doesn't really cost just $199 in the US, if you are there is it worth buying the unlocked model for $749? Despite being branded as T-Mobile phones these are actually unlocked SIM-free models. So you can place any SIM card you want in them. We assume Apple has a deal with T-Mobile in the US for it to be the official carrier on the unlocked phone.

Note, as we said above, that the price listed in the US isn’t the actual one you’ll end up paying. You need to add VAT (or Sales Tax as it’s known in the US) on top of that price. At 7% in New York, for example. it brings the price of an iPhone 6 Plus to $801 (£491). Still cheaper than the price you’d pay in the UK.

However, you are also liable for 20% VAT and import tax when you try to bring it through UK customs. Although with so many phones going in and out of the country your chances of being caught if you decide to just slip it through are fairly minimal. Practically this could bring the price of your iPhone 6 Plus to £589 (a grand saving of £29.8).

So why shouldn’t I buy an iPhone 6 from the US? The bands

The iPhone 6 being sold unlocked in the US is a slightly different model and the iPhone 6 in the UK and the iPhone 6 Plus being sold unlocked in the US and the iPhone 6 in the UK are also slightly different. What’s the difference? It’s all to do with the networks, different models of iPhone support different bands.

Luckily the situation is a little better now than it has been in the past because the new iPhones feature VoLTE (Voice over LTE) technology and the GSM version can use a full range of services on CDMA networks. However, currently none of the UK networks support VoLTE. Vodafone UK made their first VoLTE test call in August 2014.

Apple’s iPhone 6 (Models A1549 and A1586) and iPhone 6 Plus (Models A1522 and A1524) both support four-band GSM, five-band CDMA2000, five-band UMTS (with HSPA+42 support), and sixteen LTE FDD bands.

To see how much of a mine field it can be though, see this Apple page showing the different LTE equipped iPhones it sells in different countries.

Here in the UK Apple sells the A1586 iPhone 6 and the A1524 iPhone 6 Plus. Those same models are sold in the US for use with C Spire, Sprint and US Cellular.

In the US Apple also sells the A1549 (GSM) and A1549 (CDMA) iPhone 6 and the A1522 (GSM) and A1522 (CDMA) iPhone 6 Plus - those models work with Aio, AT&T, Cricket, T-Mobile and Verizon.

As you can see, the iPhones don't all work with the same mobile networks. So be absolutely sure that the network you will be using does use the LTE 4G band that is mentioned in the table.

There are three LTE bands being used in the UK and it would appear that all of them are listed for both phones. 

  • The 2.6GHz band (auctioned off by Ofcom, best data capacity, not good over long distances) [7]
  • The 800MHz band (also auctioned by Ofcom, good over long distances - perfect for rural areas) [18 & 19]
  • The 1800MHz band (used by EE and Three) [3]

However, it may not be the case that your network is actually supported, as is noted on an Apple forum regarding the matter:

"It appears in this particular case the A1549 (GSM) supports 800MHz - LTE band 18 or 19 which is one of the frequencies used by Vodafone UK and also supports 2.6GHz LTE band 7 which is the other frequency used by Vodafone UK. This implies it might be suitable to use with Vodafone UK on 4G. However while the networks and the above Apple table merely list the frequency as 800MHz or 2.6GHz in actuality the frequencies are not simple or exactly 800MHz and 2.6GHz."

You also need to consider that UK 4G coverage isn't great yet, in many areas you will have to use 3G (and maybe just 2G, or Edge) and that US model may not support 3G coverage. Remember that the data in the table above only relates to 4G data, voice calls still use 3G.

When it comes to 3G coverage the bands supported by the iPhones are even more nightmareish than the picture painted by the LTE support. So let's not even go there...

Can I buy a SIM card abroad to use with an iPhone bought in the US, UK, or anywhere else?

You may be wondering whether given the above, your iPhone will works when you are abroad if you put a local SIM in it.

Apple says on its US website “When you travel internationally, you can use a nano-SIM card from a local GSM carrier.” So if you buy an iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 5s or iPhone 5c in the US and place a UK SIM card in it - or vice versa - the phone should work.

We’re all for snapping up Apple products at a good price here at Macworld, but its it’s probably for the best not to pick up a US iPhone and bring it back to the UK.