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I bought a Google Pixel in an unsupported country; here's what you should know
The Google Pixel 7 series is a notable release in several ways, as it marks the first time since the Pixel 3 series that Pixel flagships are back in India. It also sees Google expanding to a few all-new markets, such as Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands.
Despite this expansion, there are still loads of markets that don’t have access to Google’s phones. Avid users in these regions need to import the devices so I ended up buying a Pixel 7 Pro to use in South Africa — an unsupported country — and here’s what I learned along the way.
Have you ever imported a phone or bought one when overseas?
How to buy a Pixel 7 phone “elsewhere?”
For starters, you can make use of package forwarding services if you can’t send the order to a friend or relative in the supported region. These services provide you with a US shipping address to use when you order anything online, then forward the order to your real address. Some of the more prominent services in this regard include MyUS, Aramex Global Shopper, and FishIsFast.
Another solution is to use a grey import store or website. These websites usually tend to come with a hefty markup, taking customs duties and a healthy profit into account. You’re bound to find a local grey import retailer in your market, but you can also check out more prominent websites such as Amazon and AliExpress.
A grey market retailer and package forwarding service are two prominent ways to buy a Pixel 7 device in an unsupported region.
Either way, you’ll have to deal with customs duties in some capacity (be it as part of the delivery process or as part of the total order cost) when using a forwarding service or grey import retailer.
Another obvious option is to buy the Pixel 7 phone if you’re flying to a supported market. It only really makes financial sense if you were planning to travel there anyway. Nevertheless, this is exactly what I did on a recent work trip to the US. I gave a heads-up to my hotel via email, set my Amazon delivery address to the hotel, and ordered the Pixel 7 Pro the week before I was due to travel.
Finally, you can also arrange for a friend or family member who lives in (or is visiting) the supported market to bring the device back for you. You can set your online order’s delivery address to their address, pay for the order, and then simply wait for them to bring your new phone to you.
What about Pixel repairs in an unsupported country?
This is the biggest reason to avoid importing a tech product to an unsupported country. Simply put, you’re on your own when it comes to after-sales support for your new Pixel 7 device. That means you can’t stroll into a local first-party repair center if the device has any serious defects or accidental damage like a cracked screen.
You might also run into problems mailing your broken Pixel 7 back to the original country of purchase for repairs. So third-party repair centers in your region are your next best bet short of visiting the country of origin and walking into an official repair center. In saying so, some grey import services do offer a warranty of their own.
This lack of official support is particularly important for Google phones given the firm’s reputation for bugs and occasional hardware problems. For what it’s worth, though, the Pixel 7 series seems to be more polished than previous devices so far.
The lack of an official presence in your market also means you’ll want to buy any desired accessories (cases, screen protectors, chargers, etc) alongside the phone. Otherwise, you’ll need to import these extras if you choose to buy them after the fact.
What won’t work in an unsupported market
Right off the bat, there are several Pixel-exclusive features that won’t work in unsupported countries. These missing features are largely centered on calls, such as Call Screen, Direct My Call, Hold For Me, and Wait Times. (But these are mostly US-exclusives and not available in some official markets either.) It’s also worth stressing that the free Google One VPN service for Pixel owners isn’t available outside supported countries either. In fact, a couple of Pixel 7 launch countries don’t have access to this perk either, namely India and Singapore.
The Pixel 7 camera features are all present and accounted for, thankfully. So those wanting to use Photo Unblur, Magic Eraser, Motion Mode, and other camera-related functions can breathe a sigh of relief.
The Pixel line's calling features don't work in unsupported markets, but VoLTE and 5G have issues too.
Unfortunately, numerous reports point to VoLTE functionality being hit-and-miss (mostly miss) in unsupported markets. We’ve also seen several reports that 5G isn’t working in unsupported countries despite the phones having the requisite 5G bands. There are unofficial methods to enable both of these features, but they usually require somewhat extensive tinkering for people who aren’t tech-savvy.
Staying with network-related matters, you should also make sure that the Pixel 7 device is compatible with your network. You can find the Pixel line’s supported network bands in the “network” section of the official tech specs webpage, then either visit your cellular network’s website or use a third-party resource like Frequency Check to find out which bands your desired carrier uses.
So is it worthwhile to import a Pixel 7 phone?
You really need to be at peace with the fact that if something goes wrong with your new Pixel, you’re on your own and will need to rely on third-party services. The missing features are also a major bummer, particularly VoLTE now that we’re transitioning away from 3G.
Despite these risks, the Pixel 7 series is certainly a very decent value for the money, especially compared to other, more expensive flagships. The Pixel UI experience, camera performance, and extra Pixel-only features can also have a big allure for would-be buyers, and there’s no fighting a fan’s urge to get the phone they want, no matter where they live. You just have to weigh the pros and cons and decide for yourself.
Plus, it’s safe to say that the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro seem to deliver a far more polished software and hardware experience than the Pixel 6 series. We haven’t seen major bugs or awful wireless connectivity as with the 2021 handsets. So if you were ever going to buy a Pixel in an unsupported market, now isn’t the worst time.