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Buying phones from China part 2: tips and tricks

Buying 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. Here is a set of tips and tricks that can reduce the chances of disappointment and frustration.

Published onApril 16, 2013

Buying 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.


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