So, you want to import a device from China? I don't blame you, I've done it a fair few times myself and got some cracking deals on some great devices. There are pitfalls however and there are things you can do to smooth the whole process. Let us help you get started!
Let's talk first about the things you need to bear in mind before you order your device. When you know these, then you can decide whether importing a device is right for you.
If you buy from a seller that is shipping from outside the EU, there is a good chance that you will pay additional charges. You can use a site such as DutyCalculator to help you work out exactly how much it's likely to cost you, but just be sure to factor this in when you're working out the price. There are (legal!) ways around these charges - many sellers now ship via or from an EU warehouse, meaning you won't be liable for these fees. This is likely your preferred option. Remember that as well as the VAT on an import, you will likely be charged administrative fees by the shipment provider too.
When you order from China, there's a good chance the sale will be made in US dollars. If you are paying with a UK card, make sure you know up front what you'll pay in fees.
Will I get my stuff?
There are a huge number of websites now shipping products from China and the majority of them are reputable. It's always a good idea though to do a bit of research - Google for general feedback, ask your peers... or just go for the big names. AliExpress is a very popular aggregator to use, they hold your payment in escrow until the item is received satisfactorily - a good solution.
Unless you use an express courier such as DHL, shipments from China can take an age to deliver. Sellers often offer 'free delivery', which can take as long as 30 days, sometimes even more! But hey, it's free... just bear it in mind if you are in a rush!
Warranty / returns
One of the biggest problems with ordering from China is with warranty / returns. On a cheap item like a phone case, it's not so much of an issue.. but if you're buying an actual PHONE, when it turns up and something doesn't work (I recently had a Mi 4i with a faulty speaker), you're going to want some recourse. With dead / faulty on arrival items are likely to have a positive outcome to seeking a solution, but even then, you will typically have to return the device to China (at your own cost), wait for them to evaluate the unit and send a replacement. This can take a long time.
Where to buy
We already mentioned AliExpress as a place to buy from, you should note the feedback of companies you are using to ensure they are reputable. As your money is held in escrow, the sheller has to ship and provide tracking details within a specified time and you have to confirm delivery within a specified time. Two of our favourite sellers on AliExpress for phones are Chigon and Top One (actually part of the same company). We've ordered from them multiple times and never had any problems.
You should also check out some of the big-name independent sellers, many of who are now starting to add UK / European warehouses, again to assure customers they won't end up footing additional costs on the shipment. They include...
...and there are many others out there too!
Band support, device ROMs and specifications in general
If you are picking up a phone, make sure that it supports the bands you need for your carrier (especially the LTE bands). Check which ROM your seller is installing - it is common practice to open boxes and flash a custom ROM with English before shipment. If you would rather do this yourself (like me!), you can ask for the boxes to remain sealed or the devices to remain unflashed.
One warning on device specifications - descriptions are often somewhat, erm, 'liberal' with the truth specs wise, particularly if you are buying a device from a company you've never heard of... so make sure you check things out fully before you buy!
I know all of the above sounds daunting, but the most important thing with important devices is that you go into the transaction knowing all the facts. Prepare yourself for the worst eventualities - having a device arrive and having to go through the pain of returning it perhaps... and then if everything does go smoothly, you will be pleasantly surprised.
Maybe start of with some low cost AliExpress purchases to get the hang of things and go from there.
Let us know what you buy!
Edited by PaulOBrien