Doesn’t it feel like you’re being scammed? You’re shopping around for new kit, but the UK prices are often a hefty percentage higher than they are in America. How can this be when what you want is frequently made in China or Taiwan anyway, so incurs the same shipping costs wherever it’s finally sold?
You may be thinking the simple solution is to buy overseas and have your purchase shipped to your door… but sometimes it isn’t that simple.
Cost of Apple products in the US vs UK: Tax
The first thing to understand is that it isn’t always cheaper to buy from the US, which means you need to shop smarter. The prices on most American ads and websites exclude tax, the rate of which can vary from state to state.
So, when you see Apple advertising the 21.5in 4K iMac for $1,499 (£1,036.36) in the US and £1,199 in the UK, the £163 difference isn’t a true reflection of the saving you can make by shipping one over (or buying one when you are on holiday). Customers in Chicago would want to add an extra $93.69 in sales and state tax, bumping up the price to $1,592.69 (£1,101.14), while Beverley Hills shoppers are looking at a tax bill of $134.91 for a total price of $1,637.91 (£1,132.38), which is almost as much as the UK figure.
The US price may look cheaper once you’ve done the conversion, but don’t forget it excludes taxes.
Cost of Apple products in the US vs UK: Import Duty
If you are planning a holiday to the US, or perhaps heading out there on business, you may be thinking that you could pick up a new laptop or iPhone while you are there.
There are a few things to note, first as we mention above, you will have to pay sales tax for the state in which you are buying the Apple product, which may already drive the price up significantly. The other consideration is import duty for which you will be liable at customs. Now you could take your new laptop out of its box, leave the box behind, and carry it through in a laptop bag, but do note there are giveaways that you have bought in the US - not least the positiining of some keys on the keyboard, and the fact that the plug will be two pronged.
So if you did it all above board, you would be looking at paying sales tax in the state you bought it in, and also paying Import Duty as you pass through customs. We looked at shipping and mailing products provider Pitney Bowes duty calculator tool to calculating this - there is more information in the next section - and you could end up paying more for your Apple product than you would have if you'd bought it in the UK.
Cost of Apple products in the US vs UK: Delivery fees
You don't have to be heading to America to get a Apple product from that continant. You could find a company that will let you buy from them directly.
But, should you decide to buy from a company that will manage the delivery to you in the UK you will still have delivery fees and import duties to consider, as well as the fact that some retailers won’t ship outside of the US.
Fortunately, there are companies that will handle each of these on your behalf. It all sounds a bit dodgy though...
MyUS will notify you of broken or prohibited items to save you having to deal with returns.
BundleBox, MyUS and Borderlinx will each provide you with US address to which you can have your products delivered so the retailer won’t know where they’ll ultimately be forwarded on to. Your chosen address provider will then dispatch your purchases to the UK using a regular carrier service (DHL in the case of Borderlinx, Fedex with BundleBox, and DHL, Fedex or UPS with MyUS).
The services vary slightly, depending on who you choose to use. BundleBox, for example, lets you pre-pay any import duties that may apply (you pay them, and they pass it on) so you shouldn’t receive a call to the post office to settle the balance before the parcel is released. MyUS will notify you of broken or prohibited merchandise once it arrives at its depot, so you don’t incur costs on products that need returning. MyUS even has a personal shopper service where it will buy a product on your behalf if the outlet you’re using won’t accept your preferred payment method (some stores won’t accept a foreign payment card, for example).
BundleBox is one of several services that will provide you with a US address and ship your purchases to the UK.
Be aware, though, that some retailers are getting wise to this ruse. When demand for the first iPad massively outstripped supply on its US launch, Apple pushed back shipping dates here in the UK. We advised using BundleBox then, too, until Apple cancelled all orders placed through BundleBox’s BuyForMe service.
Read more: How to import an iPad from the USA to the UK
Even if someone else is importing the product for you, Import Duty will still figure. Working out the total cost of your import isn’t as simple as adding on a flat 20% to account for the VAT that will be due when it passes through British customs. Shipping and mailing products provider Pitney Bowes maintains a handy import duty calculator where you can specify what you’re importing and what it costs from the retailer. We used the $1499 price of the 4K iMac as a test case, which MyUS could ship to ‘Basic’ members in one to four business days via DHL for $157.18. However, Pitney Bowes calculated the overall ‘landed’ cost including duty and taxes to be £1395.87 (£232.64 of which would be paid to Customs), which is almost £200 more expensive than the regular UK price.
Pitney Bowes’ duty calculator works out how much you can expect to end up paying when your purchase passes through customs.
Why you shouldn't buy iPhones from USA
There are some products you shouldn’t buy and get shipped over – or at least be very careful when doing so – and iPhones come close to the top of that list. There are two reasons for this. First, to get the best deals in the US you’ll need to sign up to a two-year contract with an American cell network, which will only work as an expensive roaming connection in the UK, potentially wiping out any savings you might make on the hardware. Second, Apple actually sells slightly different iPhones in different countries to cater for geographically-differentiated network technology.
In total it sells four different 6s and four 6s Plus iPhones catering for, respectively, the US, China (two models) and the rest of the world. One 6s and one 6s Plus sold in the US is the same as the ‘rest of the world’ edition, but you’ll need to make sure you’re buying the correct build of each (specifically, for the 6s, it’s model A1688 (GSM), while for the 6s Plus it’s the A1687 (GSM)).
If you are buying one with a network lock-in, or a second-hand phone that has since been unlocked (which rather defeats the object or buying overseas), you’re looking for the models that were designed for use on Boost, Credo, iWireless, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon. See this page for further information.
Apple produces different iPhones for different markets, which is why it’s often smarter to buy it locally.]
We have a detailed examination of why it isn't wise to buy an iPhone from the US here: Why you shouldn’t buy a US iPhone to use in the UK
What you shouldn't buy Apple App Store apps and Software Subscriptions from the USA
It used to be relatively easy to buy boxed software overseas and ship it home. However, with the move away from physical products to downloads (and in many cases to subscriptions) things have got a bit more complicated – particularly as it’s now easier for developers to ensure you’re complying with licenses and only using their products in authorised territories.
In the case of downloads, your hardware is often tied to a specific store, such as the iTunes Store or Mac App Store, and although it is possible to open a US iTunes account and top it up using gift cards (so you don’t need to add an American credit or debit card) you risk having your account terminated, your purchases revoked and action taken against you. Apple’s terms and conditions for the US store state from the outset that, ’[t]he iTunes Service is available to you only in the United States, its territories, and possessions. You agree not to use or attempt to use the iTunes Service from outside these locations. Apple may use technologies to verify your compliance.’
The same goes for subscription software. An Office 365 personal subscription in the US costs $69.99 a year (£48.53), but £59.99 a year over here, making the UK around 23% more expensive. So, why not sign up through Microsoft’s US pages, rather than the UK site? Once again the answer is down to eligibility: by purchasing your subscription through the US you’d be contravening the End User License Agreement (see here), which could leave you liable to prosecution.
Specifically, Microsoft states, ‘You may activate the service/software only in the region in which it was acquired. Microsoft’s software and services are subject to U.S. and other jurisdictions’ export and technology laws and you agree to comply with all such applicable laws and regulations that apply to the software and/or services.’
Other issues with buying Apple products from the USA
You may be concerned that your Apple warranty won't hold up if you bought the product abroad. Luckily Apple's warranties are valid internationally in any country that has an Apple Authorised Service Provider. We recommend buying Apple Care though, but from the UK, or you may end up in a sticky situation later on.
Another thing to be prepared for if you are buying any product with a keyboard, is that the keyboard layout will be different. This is more of an issue if you buy a laptop because its easy enought to get a new keyboard for a desktop. The key difference will be the # key instead of a £ symbol on the 3 key, it is also unlikely to have a € symbol. You can change these in settings, but they won't be marked on the keyboard, which could prove annoying.
Finally there is the fact that the plug will be different - although there shouldn't be a problem with the voltage (we recommend you check though).
None of these things may worry you, but they are all a bit of a giveaway as to where you bought the Mac...
So should you ever buy Apple products from the US?
Answering this question used to be a no-brainer, but it’s no longer so clear cut. Buying overseas – so long as you’re careful to comply with any applicable licenses – will often let you get new products earlier; particularly as Apple has a tendency to address its home market first, and roll out to the rest of the world in stages later on.
However, the mechanics of making foreign purchases mean it’s now easier than ever for retailers (and e-tailers) to restrict a product’s use to specific geographical areas, and the savings aren’t as great as they once were.
It’s perhaps the clearest case yet of caveat emptor: buyer beware.