Buying phones from China part 2: tips and tricks

by: Gary SimsApril 16, 2013
75 35 78

buying phones from ChinaBuying Android smartphones from China can be advantageous in terms of pricing, however the whole process is not as simple as just walking into your local cellphone shop and buying a new device. Potentially you are buying a phone from half way across the world, from an unknown company, based on a few specifications and a couple of photos! For the uninitiated this can be quite daunting!

Without a doubt there is an element of risk, but I am sure someone’s grandmother said somewhere that there is an element of risk in everything we do. The question is how to reduce that risk. Here is a set of tips and tricks that can reduce the chances of disappointment and frustration.

Always buy from a well known vendor. This is of course true of any purchase or service you use either online or locally. Finding a good online Chinese wholesaler can be difficult and a future post will look at this subject more comprehensively. But for now (and just in passing) I would suggest you look into,, and

Research and read about the device you want to buy. If you think Samsung’s range of phones is large and unwieldy then you ain’t seen nothing yet! The number, type and varieties of Chinese made Android smartphones is bewildering. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that there are lots of Chinese companies making Android phones, many just for the Chinese market itself (remember it is a big country with lots of potential consumers). Secondly these companies tend to do small production runs, that is small compared to Samsung and Apple. This means they update and re-fresh their product lines frequently. It isn’t unusual for a device to be available for just a few months when it will  be surpassed by another model. Because of this doing some research into a phone or tablet before you buy is essential. Read reviews from people who have actually bought the products. Look at YouTube videos to get a sense of the look and feel of the device. A good place to find real reviews of Chinese tablets is

Always pay by PayPal. The primary method of payment for most Chinese wholesalers is PayPal and for some it is the only option available.  Avoid other alternatives like bank transfers etc. If possible use an actual PayPal account rather than just using the credit/debit card processing side of PayPal. The reason for this is that if everything turns sour and you aren’t getting any satisfaction from the wholesaler, you can always try and get your money back from PayPal. Since these wholesalers rely on PayPal for their payment processing they are quite responsive to questions and disputes that come from PayPal itself.

Use the best shipping method you can afford. Once you have made your purchase, the phone or tablet has potentially a long journey ahead of it. For those buying from the US or Europe the package needs to travel half way around the world and the truth is that neither you or the seller have much control over how that package is handled along the way. Whenever possible use a service like DHL or UPS. Most wholesalers will ship by courier but the postage price will be anywhere from $30 upwards, depending on your location. There are other advantages to using a courier including speed (you normally get the package within a few days rather than the 20 to 30 days using normal postage) and it is normally the courier who processes any sales tax, which can be advantageous (see below). If you do opt for normal postage then always get a tracking number from the wholesaler and don’t be surprised if the package takes several weeks to reach you. My personal worse case experience was when I bought something just before Chinese New Year! It ended up taking seven weeks to get to me!

Don’t forget the sales tax in your country. Many countries around the world have a sales tax which is levied on goods which are bought. This tax equally applies to items bought outside the country. When your new phone or tablet arrives from China your local customs office will likely want you to pay this sales tax. There are a few things you need to know to make this as painless as possible. First, when calculating your budget you need to plan for this tax. The total cost of your new device will be price + postage + sales tax. In many countries the cost of the postage is also subject to sales tax. Unfortunately most Chinese wholesalers don’t put the correct value of the device on the shipping information.  A figure of $50 or $100 is often stated when the device cost maybe double that. The problem is that the custom agents know this and often won’t trust the value on the shipping information. Without a true number some custom agents will use a reference value based on the price of popular tablets from brands like Samsung. This means you could be asked to pay an unrealistic sales tax. The best solution is to have a print out of the order information showing the correct values. As mentioned above, if the custom duties are handled by the courier this process can be easier.

3G isn’t the same everywhere in the world. When buying a Chinese smartphone with 3G connectivity it is important to check which 3G frequencies the phone supports. A truly international phone like the Nexus 4 supports 3G on 850, 900, 1700, 1900 and 2100 MHz. The last number is the “official” 3G frequency, but for full compatibility across the world several different frequency ranges are needed. A large portion of Chinese phones only support 850 and 2100 MHz. This means that it will work in your area if there is a “standard” 2100 MHz 3G network but if your carrier uses additional frequencies like 900 MHz to extend coverage and boost speed then not all Chinese phones can take advantage of the additional frequencies. In Asia the most popular secondary frequency is 850 MHz, which is why it is built-in to these Asian manufactured phones. Having said that, Chinese brands like Lenovo, ZTE, Huawei and Meizu (to name a few) do offer phones with large frequency ranges.

If you keep these points in mind, buying from China should be a simple process and you can save lots of money in the process.


  • True_Neutral

    Is this the last of the series? Because you haven’t talked about some of the
    idiosyncrasies common to China phones. For example, the vast majority of China phones uses chipsets from Mediatek. The two most common are the MTK6577, a dual core Cortex-A9 part. This is an older part that is relegated to lower-end China phones now. The newer MTK6589 is a quad-core Cortex A7 with a PowerVR SGX544, fabbed at 28nm. I really like this chip and I think it has a lot of potential. The downside of Mediatek is that they are notorious for not providing source code. As such, if you are a power user and like running custom ROMs like Cyanogenmod or AOKP, Mediatek based phones won’t be your cup of tea.

    • No, this isn’t the last in the series, there will be a few more.

      • George

        Hi there and thanks for the post.

        Since I am in the process of
        getting some Chinese MTK6589 quad-core phones your input is invaluable
        to me. I have postponed it until I have read all the series of this
        article. My Question is this. How long will it take for the rest of the
        articles to be posted? Can you speed it up a bit if possible? TY

      • Delonte Harden

        Can you please tell me which site you use to buy these phones? After a lil time researching online, I keep seeing bad reviews about these sites, like Aliexpress and so forth, which makes me kinda hesitant…

      • Delonte Harden

        Can you please tell me which site you use to buy these phones? After a lil time researching online, I keep seeing bad reviews about these sites, like Aliexpress and so forth, which makes me kinda hesitant…

        • Please read the paragraph that starts “Always buy from a well known vendor” there is some information there.

          Thanks, Gary

          • Ivan

            how about sir?

    • crickcrick

      True, if you want to run custom ROM’s chinese phones are not the way to go but the upside is they almost all the time with vanilla android so people to custom ROM’s just to get away from the heavily skinned UI you are taken care of, also all of these phones are root friendly.

      • True_Neutral

        The thing is that custom ROMs aren’t just a way of getting away from skins and bloatware. They are also a solution to manufacturers not providing timely upgrades. And Chinese manufacturers aren’t really known for that.

        • In the case of core updates like GB to ICS you are correct. However in a lot of cases root can get you a heavily tuned hybrid “ROM”. The only things you would not get would be kernel, recovery (maybe) and base code changes. Examples of this already exist.

  • Mathieu

    hi, i wanted to know if it is possible to unlock my HTC one (m7) from telus to use it with videotron ? and can i unlock a s4 from videotron to use it with telus ??

  • Darkstar have ceased trading so hope you haven’t ordered from them!! On the site it states ‘

    Dear Customers,

    is with great regret that has closed as of April
    29th. This is due to the fact that our Chinese counter-part has become
    unreliable and untrustworthy.

  • Darkstar have ceased trading so hope you haven’t ordered from them!! On the site it states ‘

    Dear Customers,

    is with great regret that has closed as of April
    29th. This is due to the fact that our Chinese counter-part has become
    unreliable and untrustworthy.

  • flamencoguy

    I have bought 5 phones (some for presents) from China. I had no issues.
    I have also bought cables and other accessories. No problems.
    You should Google “the company name and scams” to see if there are any issues. Also check out when they started business. The older the more established.
    I am planning to buy the Oppo Find 5 next. It has a Snapdragon 4 core CPU.
    This is one of the top 5 Android phones on the market today. Check it out. Also available on
    check out to see range of products available. Not the latest phones on this site tho.

  • doodle

    so what’s happened to part 3?…

  • dreamerman

    Did a fair bit of research on Chinese androids and where to buy them. Key is to buy a well known brand like Star/Ulephone, THL, Zoppo etc. These brands have been reviewed to death on youtube and both foreign/English forums (thanks to Google translate). Once you know which phone you desire next is who to buy from. Personally I avoid aliexpress/dhgate/alibaba or other off-shoot sites. Vendors selling on these sites could be genuine but their payment platform really suck. These sites moved away from paypal some time ago. They make life really hard if you want to pay by credit card. These sites will allow you to checkout and pay by credit card (after entering all credit card info including CVV) and all seems dandy but 10mins later you will receive an email saying your payment is awaiting authorisation. To authorise, you will need to provide your credit card statement, proof of identity etc etc which is a load of crap. By now, they would have your credit card info plus CVV!! Prices on these sites are very competitive and allow a measure of negotiation. I managed to negotiate for a Star N9589 1GB/8GB MTK6589 Quad Core 5.8″ 1280*720 plus a Kingston 32GB micro-sd card for US$225 including China Post shipping. Both vendor and I are frustrated the deal cannot be completed but such if life. I finally bought and received the same phone minus micro-sd card for US$230 including shipping on ebay. This phone is GREAT!

    • lynx4400

      As dreamerman says always pay through ebay and paypal – if things go wrong open a case and ebay will force a refund – ebay are really protecting buyers using paypal nowadays

  • Jet

    Am I just unlucky – Bought a mobile from China (Huawei G520 on Jelly bean) and it wont let me download/login to Google Play (for aps), wont download any “Google” apps (blocked)

    So its basically a brick

    Any ideas?

    • debs

      google pulled all their business out of china in 2010. anything that says it has google playstore is a fake or a copy of an original phone (chinese or otherwise) !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Laurence02

        Nope. My chinese had real Google Play pre installed. And the rom to flash had it too.

  • Mani


    Has anyone used this company before to buy a smart phone.

    Just checking to see if it is a genuine company you can trust.

  • Ben

    Would I be able to get full functionality with one of these phones after having it “flashed” to Cricket (My cell phone carrier)?

  • johnsmithes

    i buy from, i think if you want to buy something from china,you want to buy from the china famous site.

    • Igoreto

      I usually use the website kimovil to find and compare all chinese mobiles, there you can find some of this famous web sites where you can buy a nive phone…

      The best is that in this site it maintains a punctuation of all mobiles in the market.

  • desi

    hi guys , just to add a comment , tried buying from a site called , please avoid , their adds are everywhere , very bad service , thank god for paypal

  • Aileen

    You do have to find a trustworthy vendor and it’s strongly recommended to pay your payment through PayPal. Also, you can email the seller asking for the detail information of the phone. You know that sometimes, the description is not as accurate as you thought. You can take a shot at

  • jose pious

    i bought a huawei G520 of china mobile from china to india the problem is i cant sync contacts with gmail,can i get an advice

  • Tim

    Hi,we can supply the Chinese Brands High Cost Performance Cell Phones on

  • nikola

    Here is my guide for buying a smartphone from China. The link is:

  • Bo Jouste

    I also did a lot of research and have purchased many Android phones from China. Today’s android phones are much better than they were just 1-2 years ago, the quality of them are equivalent to Samsung. I also found a great site that offered free shipping from Hong Kong. Here is their link:

  • tetriminos

    if you live in a modern capital city, probably you don’t need to worry about 900 mhz

  • I found out then when buying china phones its best to look in forums and ask which one is good an which ones to awoid for example gives good infos about china phones and also hat a list of scam shops!

    If I also had my phone in a bootloop they helpt me flashing it with a new rom

  • KKR

    I have a wierd Problem, I bought Elephone G7 from Aliexpress after reading lot of reviews about the phone and the seller. Now, the phone has arrived. When I put the SIM in, it does recognize my network. But, my service provider is not registering the phone into the network. All attempts to fix APN, select manually etc. failed. Wondering if anyone else faced the same issue and fixed it.

  • Charlie White

    China phone are easy to break and lame quality.

  • Imran Nanji

    I thought that I would share my
    experience, so others don’t get stung like I did.

    On 11th
    November I purchased a phone, case and screen protector from Century Tech

    I purchased
    from Century Tech as they had the shortest delivery time, (15-30 days. With a
    delivery guarantee within 35 days) As It was my birthday at the beginning of December,
    I added to the order comments that I would be very happy if this would be
    shipped for then (just under the 30 days).

    After 4 days
    of no reply, I messaged the seller, explaining i was very excited to receive
    the phone and asked when it will be shipped, I received a reply saying it will
    be shipped in 7 working days.

    another couple of days I received another email, saying that they had ‘built a
    shipping list’ and stated ‘Usually we will write 25$/pcs as mp4 player in the package try to
    avoid the custom tax’ and asked if this was OK. I agreed and received another
    message to say my order will be shipped asap.

    By this point I was very excited, it had been 10 days since I had
    placed my order, so was expecting it soon. I noticed that the order had been
    updated with a tracking number, I checked and checked to no avail. Nowhere had
    a clue about this tracking number. Added to this, google informed me that the tracking
    number was for a Netherlands destination, being in the UK i found this strange.
    So again I contacted the seller, and this is the reply I got…

    ‘dear friend,actually we haven’t sent your parcel yet.but pls
    don’t the delivery time is almost over,we had to fill the tracking
    number first.or the order will be closed by the system.then we will send the
    phone to you soon and give you the right tracking number.thanks for regards.’

    I received
    no more communication from the seller over the next few days, even though I
    messaged on several occasions to enquire if the order had been shipped.

    At this
    point I was quite concerned about my order (and my money), so I contacted the
    online chat, and I was told that I could open a dispute but this Is common
    practice for sellers, and not to contact the seller any more?!?

    Over a month
    after paying for this order the seller has just sent me a message saying there
    is a problem with the manufacturer, and there will be a wait for my order!

    So, now I
    have no phone, I have missed out on some great sales, and I’m out of pocket.

    The seller
    is still selling on AliExpress, still a gold supplier, and is still conning