Apple's phones aren't cheap in the UK. Of the three new iPhones announced at the September 2018 event the cheapest still costs from £749, and the most expensive from £1099. Today's most expensive iPhone is £1,449. That's a lot of money, so it's only natural you'll be wanting to find the best deal.
But maybe the best deal isn't in the UK at all. Maybe the best deal is found across the pond, in America. US prices appear to be significantly lower than UK prices when you consider the conversion rate, so what have you got to lose?
In this article we explore if it's really cheaper to buy iPhones in the US and import them back into the UK.
Are US prices cheaper?
Only very, very slightly. Here are comparisons of the three starting models in the US and UK. Currency comparisons are correct at time of writing and sourced from Google.
(We've focused on SIM-only prices, because buying the iPhone abroad is enough of a headache without also having to unlock it from a US network.)
|Price||iPhone XS 64GB||iPhone XS Max 64GB||iPhone XR 64GB|
|US price in £||£762||£839||£572|
The differences listed above sound impressive, but US pricing does not take into account local taxes, which vary between states. In New York sales tax is 8.875 percent, for example.
On top of that, when the phone arrives in the UK you should also pay 20 percent VAT.
These two factors make it only a fraction cheaper than the same phone when purchased in the UK. And by the time you've added delivery or transport costs, you're not saving any money at all.
For other models, or when buying from other parts of the US, you may find that there is a saving, but it won't be as much as you expect.
How to buy a US iPhone and import it to the UK
If you've worked out the taxes and currency conversions and decided the saving is worth the effort, your next question will be how you can import a US iPhone into the UK.
The best option is to combine your purchase of the iPhone with a pre-planned visit to the US, and if you haven't got a holiday in the US coming up then to find a friend who has. Assuming you do things above board and pay your taxes, you could make a small saving.
Another option is to use a shopping concierge website that specialises in buying products in the US where they are cheaper and shipping them to the UK. One such site is Big Apple Buddy.
But while it is useful for sourcing products you cannot buy in the UK, knowing that you'll have to pay a little extra for the privilege, by the time you've paid the site's service charge and delivery fees you won't save any money on the iPhone.
Is it cheaper to fly out to the US to buy an iPhone?
We think by now you probably already know the answer to this question: you will not get a return flight to the US and be able to buy the iPhone out there for a combined total of less than what it costs in the UK.
This tweet from Skyscanner caught our eye last autumn:
iPhone X in UK: £1,149— Skyscanner (@Skyscanner) September 13, 2017
iPhone X in US: $1,149
Flights UK to US: £213 https://t.co/ntC1O3FUqV
See you there ??
It's worth pointing out that this tweet does not take into account either sales tax or VAT, and we'd like to know where they found that return flight so cheap. Although you might not get caught if you don't pay the taxes, we are not about to advise anyone to break the law.
We did our own search using the Skyscanner's flight engine, looking for a return flight on 21 September 2018 from anywhere in the UK to anywhere in the US, and at any time.
The cheapest deal we could find at the time of writing flies from Gatwick to JFK at 6am (UK time), leaving the US at 11.20am (US time) - a 17-hour round trip that costs £534.
Even ignoring the taxes, paying £534 for flights and £762 for the iPhone XS (Google conversion at the time of writing) results in a combined total of £1296.
So, significantly more than £999. But you do get to go to the US. Briefly. (There's just two hours in between those flights, all of which would be spent at the airport.)
Will a US iPhone work in the UK?
By now we're assuming you've got this crazy idea out of your head, and that you will buy your iPhone in the UK as Apple intended. But if you are going to be in the US anyway, it is still possible you could save a little money. So, next question: will it work?
Something most people will overlook is the frequencies used by cellular networks. In the UK, for example, mobile operators use a combination of bands 3, 7 and 20 for LTE. We also use a combination of GSM/EDGE and UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA bands for calls and texts.
Apple lists various iPhone XS models, all of which will work in both the UK and the US.
So yes, a US-bought iPhone will work in the UK - provided it isn't locked to a US network. Be sure to buy a SIM-free version if you do buy abroad.
You should also take into account warranty considerations, however, and should anything go wrong it will cost you a lot more to send it back to the US for repair. Is losing your warranty really worth a saving of a few quid?