YOUR ULTIMATE GUIDE TO BUYING OVERSEAS TECH GOODIES AND USING THEM DOWN UNDER.
AS THE LARGEST online retailer in the world, Amazon has an incredibly diverse range of tech for sale. However, shopping there from Australia can be a frustrating experience, with only a limited range actually shipping down under, and other issues such as differing product specs, warranty problems, varied power and plug requirements and import duties. Thanks to the ‘Australian Tax’ (where we pay more, even after accounting for currency conversions, taxes and shipping costs), buying internationally starts to look fairly appealing, but is not an easy process.
To help make the advantages and disadvantages a little clearer, we’ve put together a guide to buying from Amazon when in Australia. The same general advice also applies to other overseas online retailers.
Of course, it is also often worth double-checking if your item of choice is available from marketplaces such as eBay.com.au — just make sure you set the preferred location to worldwide.
Buying the latest gear from Amazon in the USA can be a great way to save money, but there are some things to watch out for.
Smartphones (or any device that connects to the mobile network) may operate on different frequencies, and not work correctly in Australia. Whirlpool has an excellent resource for checking what bands are used by different providers in Australia (whirlpool.net.au/wiki/mobile_phone_frequencies). Audio Visual items such as TVs may use different formats (but generally support all) and DVD players can be region locked. Different power plugs and requirements can also be an issue, but more on that later. In general, the best savings come from items simply not available locally, or more expensive items where the Australia Tax is particularly severe. Tech such as laptops are a good choice, but don’t forget to account for GST.
WARRANTY AND CONSUMER PROTECTIONS
Big ticket items such as phones and laptops will often be covered by an international warranty, but you don’t get the same purchase protections that buying in Australia provides.
Smaller items are not usually covered by warranty, or will need to be returned to Amazon or the manufacturer in the USA, which is cost prohibitive. Warranty varies a lot between items and manufacturers, so make sure to double-check before purchasing.
POWER AND PLUGS
The good news is that most tech these days either charges from USB, or for larger items such as laptops, uses a power supply that can automatically run from 110 or 240V without any issues. Such devices will work just fine in Australia, but more rarely, USA-based items will only run on 110V. These are usually items such as hair driers. It’s possible to get a transformer that will convert the voltage, but unless it’s a particularly cheap or rare item, it’s not worth the trouble or expense.
For now, on purchases over $1,000, tax calculation is relatively straightforward. This threshold does not include international shipping, based on the exchange rate on the day of export. If over the threshold, you pay 10% of the value + 10% of the international (but not domestic) shipping charges. While some items end up undeclared or have incorrect values, customs does check shipments and enforce the tax.
Items with USA plugs will need an adapter to plug into local sockets, which can be bought cheaply online, including Amazon or eBay.
Always double-check the voltage on the power supply. Many electronic items use standard removable power cords, so the best bet is to buy a cord with the correct Australian plug, rather than use an adapter.
For some problematic items, it is also possible to replace the entire power supply with a third-party option. First check what voltage and amperage it needs — such as DC 12V, 1A, as well as the DC plug type.
It’s important to match the voltage, but it’s perfectly fine to match or exceed the amperage rating — such as 12V, 2A. Companies such as Jaycar Electronics (www.jaycar.com.au) stock replacement power supplies, and the staff can help find a match.
When searching on Amazon, you can limit the results to products that will ship to Australia.
But to access a broader range of options, consider using a shipping forwarder. The company acts as a middleman — the item is sent to their address, whereupon it’s forwarded on internationally to Australia. Many of the companies offer handy services, such as combining many packages into one, or storing packages until others arrive and they can be combined. The better companies even have a concierge service that will buy the items for you — at an added cost, of course.
It’s worth noting that any insurance and tracking from Amazon will only be valid until it reaches the forwarding company, and returns can be problematic. Also check that any items that can be shipped domestically in the USA are also suitable to be shipped internationally. While shipping forwarders add to the cost and complexity of buying overseas, the overall savings can be well worth it.
Shipping forwarders exist all around the world, but we have put together some of the better ones for ordering from Amazon in the USA. Shipito (shipito.com)has pretty decent prices (plus a shipping calculator), and can store and consolidate your packages. Stackry (stackry.com)offers the same features, and is a good choice for first time users, with straightforward pricing and no complex membership options.