Hanno Labuschagne/My Broadband

While there is a wide range of smartphones to buy from mobile operators and other retailers in South Africa, several popular models available in other regions are not officially sold in the country.

These include various models from companies like Google, HTC, Motorola, Blackberry, Sony, and Oppo.

Additionally, many of the specifications on smartphones sold in South Africa differ from their counterparts in other countries.

For example, many phones which are available in dual-SIM configuration abroad are only offered in single SIM locally.

Connected Devices is a South African online retailer which specialises in importing smartphone models and configurations that are not commonly available in the country.

MyBroadband spoke to the company’s founder, Blake Levitan, about what you should consider before importing a smartphone into South Africa.

He said that some of their most popular imported smartphones include models from Xiaomi, Google, OnePlus, and CAT.

Firmware and price differences

Levitan explained that imported devices are, for the most part, identical to those sourced from official local channels.

“They are all assembled in the same factory and the differences are mostly on the firmware (or bloatware) requested by the operators and/or manufacturers dependent on the region of placement,” Levitan said.

Buyers, however, must take note that devices from other retailers may come with firmware which locks them to a mobile network that is not available in South Africa.

For example, many of the smartphones available on Amazon are locked to US networks like Verizon or AT&T.

When making a purchase from overseas, buyers should look at fully unlocked smartphones.

Another major benefit is the pricing, which Levitan said would in most cases be cheaper than locally sold smartphones, granted that the South African rand is stable.

“The main reason is that prices locally remain fixed for a longer period and are for the most part stipulated by a sole or a few appointed distributors,” Levitan explained.

The device life cycles are generally also shorter than in the South African market, which means pricing decreases quicker than it does locally.

“We find that as the pricing of these products in the retail or mobile operator environment is often fixed for a number of months at a time, we are considerably less expensive on most occasions.”

Import costs

Although certain exceptions may be made for particular cellphones, SARS regards smartphones as luxury items.

As such, importing them from another country will incur certain import taxes.

There are three fees a buyer should add to the listed price of a smartphone when purchasing it from an international source.

These are as follows:

  • Ad valorem/luxury tax of 15% on the listed price.
  • Duty tax of 7% on top of the list price with added luxury tax.
  • 15% VAT on the total amount after both luxury and duty tax.

“For a round figure, a device costing R10,000 (excl. shipping), would arrive at a cost of approximately R12,750 (excl. shipping) but including VAT,” Levitan said.

Warranties

While the lower price makes for an attractive proposition, consumers should note that there are big differences in the types of warranties they get with a locally-supported smartphone as opposed to an imported model.

Many manufacturers which officially sell their phones in South Africa offer a one- or two-year warranty for device issues which are not the fault of the user.

Levitan said that imported smartphones will generally always have a warranty, however, this will typically only be valid in the country of origin.

This means that should the owner of an imported smartphone experience issues with the device, it has to be sent back to be repaired in that country.

This presents an enormous reverse logistics challenge, not only because the costs of shipping the smartphone will have to be carried by the owner, but the import/export procedures in both countries make it difficult to avoid paying duties or VAT again.

To account for this, Levitan said Connected Devices offers a minimum 12-month fetch-repair-return warranty on its imported devices.

“We work with manufacturer-approved service partners, where possible, for the brands we import and also offer loan devices to our customers to ensure minimal disruption,” Levitan explained.

Comparing Connected Devices with self-imports

Levitan advised those looking to import a smartphone themselves to not only consider the price, but to be mindful of the possible challenges awaiting in the event that the device arrives faulty or develops a fault over time.

We’ve compiled two comparisons of several popular smartphones to see how much it would cost to import them yourself or purchase from Connected Devices.

The first table below compares the prices of smartphones which are not officially available in South Africa. Prices from Amazon include VAT and import duty estimates.

Smartphone Connected Devices Price Amazon Price
CAT S61 64GB R17,699 $866.60 (R14,700)
Google Pixel 4 64GB R14,799 $731.43 (R12,407)
Moto G8 Power 64GB R5,199 $257.79 (R4,360)
OnePlus 8 5G 128GB R17,999 $900.48 (R15,274)
Xiaomi Mi Note 10 128GB R10,799 $578.14 (R9,807)

While this shows that it would generally be cheaper to buy from Amazon yourself, it should be noted that a warranty claim could be expensive and complicated if anything went wrong with the smartphone.

As Connected Devices has noted, it offers a minimum 12-month warranty for which it offers support from local service partners.

The table below shows a comparison of smartphones which are officially available locally.

Smartphone Retail price Connected Devices Price Amazon Price
Huawei P30 Lite 128GB R5,499 R5,499 $350.39 (R5,931)
Huawei P40 Pro 256GB R20,699 R15,999 $1,059.98 (R17,941)
Nokia 6.2 64GB R5,499 R4,999 $343.02 (R5,805)
Samsung Galaxy A51 128GB Dual-SIM R7,999 R6,999 $394.63 (R6,680)
Samsung Galaxy S20 5G 128GB R18,999 R17,399 $1,101.30 (R18,636)

 

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