How to buy a smartphone from China

The US-China trade war and a long list of other complex problems are making it very difficult for Chinese smartphones to reach the US, with the exception of OnePlus. However, there are numerous smartphones from Chinese manufacturers that are definitely worthy of attention and while getting one can be tricky, it’s not impossible.

How to buy a smartphone from China

If you’re interested in learning how to buy a smartphone from China keep reading. We’ll discuss the best phones you can pick, as well as any possible inconveniences you might come across.

Choosing the right smartphone

Before anything else, keep in mind you can already find some excellent Chinese smartphones in the US, such as the Honor View 10, Honor 7x, and the OnePlus 7 Pro. Nevertheless, there are other amazing Chinese smartphones not available in the US, in which case we recommend you thoroughly read the reviews for all the candidates.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are some of the best Chinese smartphones available right now:

how to buy a smartphone from China

Xiaomi Mi 9 – This moderately priced handset comes with up to 12 GB of RAM, a notched 6.4-inch OLED display, a triple-camera system with three focal lengths, an in-screen fingerprint scanner, and a Snapdragon 855 processor.

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Xiaomi Mix 3 – The Mi Mix is a higher-end series from Xiaomi focused on a bezel-free design. The Mi Mix 3 relies on a magnetic slider mechanism to raise the selfie camera from behind the uninterrupted screen. The price for this is a thicker handset even though the battery is only 3,200 mAh. You’ll also get a Snapdragon 845 processor, 6 GB of RAM, and 128 GB storage.

how to buy a smartphone from China

Vivo V15 Pro – Here’s another flagship that brings some older but high-end features at a budget-friendly price. You’ll get a 32 MP pop-up selfie camera, a 48 MP main camera, Snapdragon 675 processor, an in-display fingerprint sensor, and an almost bezel-free OLED screen.

Vivo NEX – This handset has a less noticeable pop-up selfie camera, as well as a Snapdragon 845, a 6.6-inch screen, 4,000 mAh battery, and both headphone and USB-C jacks. Depending on your budget, you might also want to check the Nex Dual Display Edition. This one lacks a selfie camera but only for accommodating the bezel-less design. Instead, you’ll find another screen on the back which can be used as a viewfinder when taking selfies with the main camera.

OPPO Find X – A gorgeous smartphone with a curved notchless screen and an interesting sliding design. You can access the 3D face scanner and selfie camera by sliding up the entire top panel. This one features the Snapdragon 845 and a 3,400 mAh battery that can take a full charge in only 35 minutes thanks to a special custom dual-cell design.

OPPO Reno 10x Zoom – This handset might be somewhat easier to get by starting next month when it will arrive in Europe at the suggested price of 800 euros. The selfie camera is also hidden under the front notchless screen but this time it uses a new shark fin slider system and it’s called the Pivot Rising Camera. Furthermore, you’ll get a highly efficient optical fingerprint sensor, a Snapdragon 855 processor, 6 or 8 GB of RAM, and 128 or 256 GB of internal storage, and a fast charging 4065 mAh battery (even faster than the Find X).

If the picks above are not to your liking here are some other Chinese phones worth checking out: Black Shark 2, OPPO F11 Pro, Honor View 20, and Huawei Mate 20 Pro.

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Keep in mind that as time goes by, some of these devices already are or might become available in the US, Europe or other places except China from where purchasing might be significantly easier and less risky.

Verify Network Compatibility

Network compatibility issues can be easily avoided if you’re proactive. Before purchasing a new smartphone from China make sure it is compatible with your network. Pay special attention to LTE as carriers such as Sprint and Verizon rely on CDMA technology so for the most part they are not compatible. Nevertheless, T-Mobile and AT&T are using GSM technology so they have greater chances of supporting foreign devices.

It would be impossible to provide the network details for all locations, carriers, and device models so you’ll need to do some research yourself. Make sure you check the bands of the device you’re thinking about purchasing and compare that info with the LTE band availability for the carrier and location of your choice.

Also, the handset you’re buying is unlocked and it’s also a good idea to verify its compatibility with your carrier. With that said, here are the LTE frequency bands for all major US carriers.

  • 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)

Include import fees and shipping costs in your budget

It’s true that Chinese smartphones have great prices but you also need to consider the shipping costs, fees, and taxes you might need to pay as well.

We recommend you always make sure the device you want to purchase is not available in Europe or the UK because in that case, these options are usually cheaper and faster to import from.

Shipping costs from China vary a lot and the budget-friendlier options mean you’ll probably need to wait for weeks until the device arrives by post assuming it was already in stock when you placed the order.

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DHL, FedEx or any other major courier is a better option than regular mail despite the higher costs as it will guarantee a much faster delivery.

Regarding fees, the story’s not over yet. You’ll also need to factor in the possibility of PayPal or your American credit card company charging you a fee of about 5% for currency conversion. It’s also worth mentioning that PayPal offers increased buyer protection which might come in handy if you ever need a refund. Speaking of, you should also check the if the retailer you plan on purchasing from would allow you to make any warranty claims should you experience any problems with the device. In that case, also expect additional shipping costs.

Staying up to date on customs rules and regulations is a good idea as well. If you’re interested in learning more, check the information for importing online purchases provided by the US Department of Homeland Security.

Customs taxes and fees are variable and if such is the case, they are applied when the device goes through customs. Shipping fees also vary from one merchant to another but there are other factors as well, such as the package weight, and the smartphone’s price. It goes without saying, that it would be ideal to know all this information before the purchase.

Best websites for importing a Chinese smartphone to the US

Once you decide on the smartphone of your dreams comes the tricky part. There are numerous scammy or fraudulent websites you need to watch out for. Even so, there are some trustworthy sites that ship to the US and we’ll list them below:

There might be other good websites you could purchase from but whichever you choose it’s a good idea to make sure the site is trustworthy first. There are websites such as TrustPilot where you can read reviews on them and decide if their services are worth using.

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After purchase

The main issue you could have is changing the language to English. Navigating menus in Chinese can be a challenge but you can be clever and use the Google Translate app’s camera function to read and translate the text you don’t understand. You’ll also want to install the Play Store assuming you want access to the same range of apps and games like on any other Android device. If you have any tips on how to buy a smartphone from China with minimal risks please share them in the comments section!