Chinese phones, with the exception of the OnePlus 7 Pro, aren't having a great time in the US right now. Thanks to the escalating US-China trade war and the current administration's suspicion of espionage, there are countless great smartphones from Chinese manufacturers that haven’t officially made their way to the US. To get your hands on one of these phones and benefit from low prices, you’ll either have to buy a plane ticket or find a trustworthy online retailer to ship it to you. Since the process can be fraught with hassles and bad surprises, here are the things you need to know before buying a smartphone phone from China.
- Pick the right phone
- Check for network compatibility
- Budget for import taxes and shipping costs
- Best sites to buy from
- After you buy
If you’re interested in getting a Chinese phone, you can get ones like the Honor 7X, OnePlus 7 Pro and Honor View 10 right here in the US since they’re officially available. But, if you’re a fan of the innovative Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 or you just can’t wait for the latest flagship from Huawei, the mighty P30 Pro, you’ll have to import. There’s a ton of interesting Chinese brands like Xiaomi, Meizu, Oppo, Huawei and Lenovo, so we recommend you checking out our thorough reviews of each to find the right one for your needs. Once you’ve picked your dream phone, move on to the next steps.
Some of our picks for the top Chinese smartphones right now:
- Xiaomi Mi MIX 3: impossible to forget
- Huawei P30 Pro: much more than just the best camera
- Xiaomi Mi 9: will you be mine?
- OPPO Reno 10x Zoom: worth a closer look
- Black Shark 2: an apex predator for a good price
Before you get your heart set on a new smartphone, be sure it’s compatible with your network, especially for LTE. Carriers like Sprint and Verizon use CDMA technology, and thus aren't usually compatible. AT&T and T-Mobile, on the other hand, use GSM technology. The latter two are more likely to support imported devices.
To be completely comprehensive of all locations, carriers and phone models isn't possible within the scope of this article. You'll need to check the bands of the device you have your eye on and then cross reference it with the LTE band availability of your preferred carrier in your location. Be sure the phone you’re buying is unlocked, and call your carrier to confirm compatibility, in addition to checking the bands yourself.
To check if you can get 4G on your imported device, here are the LTE frequency bands per major US carrier:
- AT&T: 700 MHz (Band 12, 13, 29), 850 MHz (Band 5), 1700/2100 MHz (Band 4), 1900 MHz (Band 2), 2600 MHz (Band 30)
- Sprint: 850 MHz (Band 26), 1900 MHz (Band 25), 2500 MHz (Band 41)
- T-Mobile: 700 MHz (Band 12), 1700/2100 MHz (Band 4), 1900 MHz (Band 2)
- US Cellular: 700 MHz (Band 12), 850 MHz (Band 5)
- Verizon: 700 MHz (Band 13), 1700/2100 MHz (Band 4), 1900 MHz (Band 2)
You might see the low prices of Chinese smartphones and think you’re getting a great deal, but just wait until you see the shipping costs, fees, and taxes you may have to pay for that great new phone. To avoid shock and disappointment, be sure to factor these into your budget. Just because something isn't available in the US, that doesn't mean you have to resort to importing it from China. Often devices will be available in Europe or the UK, and it may be easier, cheaper and faster to import from there.
Shipping costs from China can be high, anywhere from $20 to $60 or more, and it can take weeks for the device to arrive by post from China even if it’s in stock at the time you place the order. If the retailer offers an option to ship via DHL, FedEx or another top courier, that’s a better option than regular mail, because even if it costs a bit more, it’s faster not only in actual shipping time, but also in the amount of time it takes to clear customs in most cases.
In addition to the shipping cost, PayPal or your American credit card company will probably charge you a fee of about 5 percent for currency conversion to Chinese Yuan as well. Using PayPal will give you an extra layer of buyer protection in case you should need a refund, as well. You’ll also want to check with the retailer you buy from to see if you can make any warranty claims in case there’s something wrong with the device when it arrives – in which case, prepare for more shipping costs.
To keep up to date on the rules and regulations for customs, including accurate labeling of your goods, check the information provided by the US Department of Homeland Security for importing online purchases.
Then there’s taxes and fees, which are unpredictable and can be applied once the device goes through customs in the US. You can expect to pay around $20 to $50 or more on your new smartphone. The amount you'll pay depends on how expensive the phone is, how much the package weighs, and how much trouble it takes for it to be processed once arriving in the US. Once you’ve got an informed, reasonable idea of what the true cost of your new smartphone will be, then you should find the right online retailer.
You must keep an eye out for scams and fraudsters, and recognize the risk of a seller not being reliable. There are plenty of horror stories out there of issues with items not being in stock, shipping slowly, arriving damaged, used or fake, not getting refunds, warranties not being honored, customer service being unresponsive, and so on.
We’ve gathered a list of some places you can shop online for Chinese smartphones to import to the US, but you should always check online to make sure a site is trustworthy before you buy. Reading reviews on websites like TrustPilot is a good place to start.
Once you’ve got your new phone, you may need to install the Play Store to enjoy the range of apps and games you’re used to having on an Android device. And, it may take English speakers a few minutes to figure out how to change the language settings on the phone too, but here’s a pro tip: the Google Translate app has a camera function which can read everything you can’t. Once you’ve got it all set up, you’ll have gotten a high-end phone at an unbelievable price.
Don't forget to share your buying experience, and your tips, with us in the comments!