Buying a camera abroad

There’s lots of reasons for why you might want to buy a camera on foreign shores – perhaps you forgot to bring your own camera (idiot!), there’s something wrong with the camera you brought (it happens), or you’re taking advantage of the fact that you’re paid in British Pounds, the US dollar has tanked massively recently, so you can get the bargain of a lifetime by buying that sparking SLR you’ve had your eye on for a few month across the pond.

In recent years, if you’re looking to buy one of the high-end or mid-range cameras, it has been cheaper for me (living in London) to fly to New York to buy a camera, than to walk down the street to my local Jessops to do the same – so you can either save a bundle by shopping online, or you can get a ‘free’ trip out of it.

Sounds tempting, right? Of course it does – there are a couple of things you should be aware of, though…  


If you are buying a camera abroad, remember to consider all angles before making your purchase, and remember there will be other expenses beyond the purchase price that will count toward the final cost. Travelling to most foreign countries simply to save a bit on the cost of a camera or other goods can seem ludicrous, but if you are already a frequent traveller or friends with someone who is, you might have an advantage. Travelling to Malaysia or Singapore, for instance, can net you huge bargains on camera equipment. Goodie.

Again, do all of the relevant research beforehand, and know what items will incur a duty (known as ‘import tax’) when you return to your home country.

Dodging the import tax

I would never do such a thing myself, of course, but a close friend of me has regaled heady tales of dodging import taxes in various ways. One way is to buy electronic goods on eBay and having it shipped with less information on the label- for instance saying that the camera inside is a “collectible” with a value of far less than it actually has. As with anything bought on such auctions sites, you must realise that you are at the mercy of the seller- be careful that you do not find yourself in the midst of an Internet scam – and Customs and Excise (or your country’s equivalent) aren’t dumb either, so you’re unlikely to get away with this – and they’ll make you pay duty anyway.

If you are bringing the item with you yourself, it’s a little bit easier: Bring an old camera bag with you from your home country. Buy the new camera, and send the manuals and the receipt to yourself by mail, throw the box away. Put the new camera in the old camera bag, and just carry it across: Customs are unlikely to ask, but if they do, you can always say that you bought the camera back home before you started your journey. Tah-daaah, no tax.

Warranty and other expenses

Will you need to buy power adapters for this item once you get it home? What if it breaks? Will your warranty still be valid once you have returned home or will you be stuck with a broken camera? Some items will come with an international warranty card, but the manufacturer will claim that it was a “grey market” purchase and therefore will not honour the international warranty. More sinisterly, quite a few camera manufacturers (Canon especially) only offers local warranty, so if your camera breaks when you’ve come back home, you’re out of luck. Of course, if you ensure that you buy high quality brands (Canon, Nikon, etc), you’re less likely to need your warranty, but that’s a different point altogether.

Finally, instruction manuals may not come with your out-of-country purchase (or they might be in, say, Malay. Which is great if you speak Malay, and an inconvenience otherwise), but this is less of a problem since most major manufacturers make the camera manuals available on their websites – downloadable as PDFs, for example

Good luck!

In short, before you buy abroad, ,ake sure you consider all possible options and obstructions before making your purchase, know what you are looking for and know what your budget will allow – it’d suck if you get caught out and end up paying a lot more than you were planning for a camera!

Finally, if you’re working professionally, it’s a better idea to purchase your equipment in your home country – writing off items as capital expenses, or re-claiming VAT (or equivalent sales tax) on your items.

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