Want to import phones from US, UK, Germany… to India?
Here’s everything you need to know deciding to import a mobile phone from one country to another. Say that you went to Amazon US store right now and you found a shiny new Apple iPhone 5 for only $199.
You say to yourself, “hey, that’s a superb price for an iPhone 5. In India it costs about Rs. 45000 and in the US we can get it for less than $199.”
You are right about that.
In the US, smartphones are generally cheap. Actually, when phones are imported in bulk from US to India, tax and custom charges are added… this is why the cost of the mobile phone increases when they are sold in the retail stores.
But that doesn’t mean you can buy any phone from US (UK or any other country) and bring it back to India. You know what will happen when you do that?
The phone will NEVER work.
What you just did is purchased a “brick” for $199. Your new USA iPhone cannot make calls, send texts, or do anything really. It is a dead investment!
So before you import a mobile phone, it is very important for you to understand about the mobile network and its restriction.
Importing Phones To India: The Basics
A carrier network provides “signal” for your phone. In India we have Airtel, Vodafone, Tata Docomo, BSNL and so on as carrier networks.
In the US we have Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint and so on as carrier networks. UK we have Vodafone, O2, Three, T-Mobile, etc.
These carrier networks are the reason our phone works. Without them we would not be able to connect with other cell phones. So remember we can make calls only when our network has a good strength or signal.
Let’s wrap this section now…
US and UK has different mobile networks. And India has different mobile networks.
Now, when you buy a phone in the US. You can use it only in the US. Why?
Because the networks in the US are not in India. We don’t have T-Mobile in India, for example.
Similarly, when you buy a phone in India, it will not work in the US. We don’t have Airtel in the US, for example.
Importing Phones to India: Locked & Unlocked Versions
What I just described to you was that if you have a phone “locked” down to a carrier network, it will work only in that specific country.
Say you are in the US, and now you are visiting Walmart store. Pick an iPhone for $199 but notice the outside of the box. You will see the genuine IMEI number, pricing details, specification and also you will notice the phone is “locked.” In other words, the phone is under contract.
When you buy a phone under contract you are promising the network carrier to pay a monthly fee. In other words, you are now a loyal customer of their company.
So every month you will pay xx amount of money for one to two years.
Think about it. When you buy a phone in the US that costs $199, you are also agreeing to pay $20 every month for two years. If you fail to pay, the network carrier will disable the device and you can no longer dial or receive phone calls.
Let’s do the numbers: $199 starting fee. Then $20 every month for two years.
So you are paying $199 + $440 = $639 for one phone in the US.
Note that you cannot bring this phone to India. If you do, it will stop working. The IMEI code doesn’t match with existing mobile networks in India.
Now let’s talk about unlocked phones.
These are phones that are not locked to any carrier. Meaning you can simply walk into any store, pay a premium and get the phone. No monthly billing. No carrier logo on the phone. And no disconnection problems.
In short, no mess.
So why don’t we always buy an unlocked phone? Actually, if you frequently travel (from US to India or anywhere) the only solution is to buy unlocked phone.
You can use it anywhere. No carrier restriction. And you can also bring it back to India and use it using your local SIM card.
But what is stopping us from buying unlocked phones?
The answer is simple. It’s the lack of knowledge. You see, many people in India buy a phone from the US… as it is very cheap. But they don’t realise the phone is locked or under contract, until they use it.
There is one more reason for this.
Unlocked phones are expensive. Take iPhone as an example. The unlocked iPhone 5 version retails at $699… that’s almost triple the amount compared to the initial price of the locked iPhone!
Some have even expressed problems with unlocked phones. For example, someone recently asked us why the international unlocked iPhone wasn’t working anymore?
The Perfect Solution
So here are a couple of solutions for you:
Import Unlocked Phone To India
If you really want to import phone from US or UK to India, then you can go with the unlocked version of the phone. This gives you the freedom to do whatever you want to do with the device. However, be aware of two important thing: one is to make sure the phone will work in India (ask the sellers) and the other is to be prepared for the customs or import duty.
As you are going to import a gadget to India, paying custom is compulsory. Depending on your city and the price of the mobile phone, these custom charges are calculated. They are usually high.. be it any city like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore.
Through a US eBay seller, my friend imported an iPhone 4S. Back then it was selling like hot cakes and he bought the unlocked version for $499, which was around Rs. 25000 at that time. However, shipping and custom charges costed him an additional Rs. 7000 rupees.
Now, here’s the most important part.
If you are already in the US, you can carry one personal phone and one laptop free from tax and import duty, as long as the cost of the gadgets is less than one lakh rupees.
But if you are not in the US, and you are ordering from India through online shopping site, then be prepared to pay more.
Import Locked Phone To India
To be able to import a phone, you have to first decide whether you want a GSM or CDMA network. Next you have to always go with unlocked version, right?
There are many services that unlocks a locked phone. They are expensive, but if you have already bought a locked device then it is better to get it unlocked from any local dealer.
But let me tell you this can be risky too. You see, to unlock a locked phone requires the right set of tools and softwares. You have to make sure that the person is absolutely able to deliver what you want.
There are many folks that claim to unlock phone, but in reality they will sell a fake IMEI tracking software.
So invest time in researching, get to know the seller better. And only when you are 100% sure they can unlock, get the phone imported to India.