How to safely buy tech from Amazon in Australia

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, not to mention varied power and plug requirements and import duties.

Thanks to the ‘Australia Tax’ (where we often – and inexplicably – pay more for products than our US or UK counterparts, even after accounting for currency conversions, taxes and shipping costs), buying internationally starts to look fairly appealing, but it’s not always an easy process.

To help make the advantages and disadvantages a little clearer, we’ve put together a guide to buying tech from Amazon when in Australia. The same general advice also applies to other overseas online retailers – and often other categories of products, too.

Of course, it is also 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 of sellers to ‘worldwide’.

Tech choices

Buying the latest gear from Amazon’s US store can potentially be a great way to save some money, but there are some things to watch out for:

  • Smartphones (or any device that connects to a 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, which you can then compare to the overseas handset you’re considering.
  • Audio-visual items such as TVs may use different formats (the television broadcasts vary widely from country-to-country, for example) and DVD and Blu-ray players can be region locked, although region restrictions are less common for the latter. Different power plugs and power requirements can also be an issue – we’ve got a bit more details on that further down the page.
  • In general, the best savings come from items simply not available locally, or for 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 (see our section on import duty below).

Warranties and consumer protections

Big ticket items such as phones and laptops will sometimes be covered by an international warranty, but in cases where they are you don’t get the same purchase protections that buying in Australia provides – we have some of the strongest consumer protections in the world. 

Smaller items are not usually covered by an international warranty, or will need to be returned to Amazon or the manufacturer in the US, 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 – like smartphones, fitness trackers and ebook readers – or for larger items such as laptops, uses a power supply that can automatically run from both 110V and 240V power outlets without any issues.

These ‘universal’ power adapters will work just fine in Australia with just a plug adapter, however, be aware that some US-based items will only run on 110V. These are usually items that draw a lot of power, such as hair dryers.

It’s possible to get a transformer that will convert the voltage, but unless it’s a particularly cheap or rare item, it’s usually not worth the trouble or expense, as these ‘stepdown transformers’ can cost $50 or more.

Items with US (or other) plugs will need an adapter to be able to be plugged into Australian power sockets – these can be bought cheaply at many places both off and online, including Amazon, eBay, electronics shops and at airports. Many electronic items use standard removable power cords, so the best (not to mention safest and cheapest) bet is often to just buy a cord with the correct Australian plug, rather than use an adapter. 

Regardless of the plug you’re using, always double-check the voltage on a device’s power supply and if it specifies ‘110V only’ then it cannot be used in Australia – and plugging it in will burn it out (and potentially fry the rest of the device, too).

For some more problematic items, it may also be 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 stock replacement power supplies and the staff can usually help find a match.

Shipping forwarders

When searching on Amazon, you can choose to limit the results to products that will ship to Australia. You don’t need to be restricted to just those, however – to access a broader range of options, consider using a shipping forwarder.

The company effectively acts as a middleman – the item is sent to their US address, whereupon it’s forwarded on via international post or courier (depending on what the forwarder offers and/or you’re willing to pay for) to Australia.

Many of the companies offer handy services, such as combining multiple packages into one, or storing packages until others arrive and they can be combined. Some of the more premium providers 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.

You may also need to confirm that any items that can be shipped domestically in the US can also be legally be shipped internationally from the US.

While shipping forwarders do 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’ve put together some of the better ones for ordering from Amazon in the US. Shipito has pretty decent prices (plus a shipping calculator), and can store and consolidate your packages. Stackry offers the same features, and is a good choice for first time users, with straightforward pricing and no complex membership options.

Import duty

One advantage to buying internationally from the States is that you don’t need to pay any US sales tax and many prices don’t include it. But keen not to miss out on any of those dollars, the Australian Government may actually slug you for GST on the local-end instead.

Right now, international purchases under $1,000 are GST free, but from 1 July 2017 GST will be applicable on all imports – no matter the price.

Sellers that do more than $75,000 of business in Australia will also be required to collect GST at the time of purchase, or risk being blocked. How that will work with shipping forwarding companies remains to be seen, of course.

For now, on purchases over $1,000, tax calculation is relatively straightforward. This threshold does not include international shipping costs, and is calculated using the exchange rate on the day of export.

If a purchase goes over the threshold, you pay 10% of the value of the goods + 10% of the international (but not domestic) shipping charges. While some items can certainly end up undeclared or have the incorrect values, customs does its best to check shipments and enforce the tax.

Tech you can buy on Amazon (safely)

So what bits and bobs can you buy on Amazon for use in Australia without having to think about it too much? Some popular ‘region friendly’ tech categories include camera accessories (lenses, tripods, filters and so on), wireless Bluetooth speakers, headphones, power banks, SD and microSD cards, portable external hard drives and ebook readers. You can also snatch a great bargain on some gaming gear like controllers. Even fitness trackers are an easy purchase online on Amazon.

Some Amazon bargain examples

  • Seagate Expansion 5TB desktop HDD: Get your storage issues solved with this whopping 5TB desktop external hard drive from Seagate. Retailing for AU$219 in Australia, Amazon can have it delivered to you for way less than that. It’s currently listed at US$119.99 (around AU$159), plus about $17 for shipping, meaning you can back up all your media and files for less than AU$180.
  • Samsung Level U Pro wireless headphones: With prices currently starting at US$34.99 (around AU$47), you’ll save plenty on these wireless Bluetooth in-ear headphones by getting them from Amazon. Samsung promises great sound quality and up 9 hours of battery life from these sweatproof around-the-neck headphones, so they’re a real bargain given their retail price of about AU$190 in Australia.
  • BlueAnt Pump Zone over-ear wireless headphones: Aussie company BlueAnt has been busy making a name for itself in the audio industry and some of its headphones are well worth every penny. The Pump Zone is a set of wireless over-ear headphones that promises to deliver 30 hour battery life and high definition audio with excellent bass. Retailing at AU$189 in Australia, you can save over AU$70 by getting these from Amazon, where they’re currently listed for US$69.99, plus $15.85 for shipping (around AU$114, including delivery).
  • SanDisk Ultra 200GB microSD card: If you need to increase the storage of your microSD slot-sporting Android phone, the 200GB SanDisk Ultra is a steal if purchased on Amazon. It’s available for US$77.73 + US$5.11 shipping – that’s around AU$110 including shipping – while prices start at about $120 in Australia before shipping costs.
  • Samsung Chromebook Plus: The South Korean giant decided to join the bandwagon of low-cost laptops and revealed a duo of Chromebooks at CES earlier this year. They both feature rotating touchscreens and styli, adding a touch of pizzazz to the quintessential design of a traditional Chromebook. And the first of the pair has been launched, but isn’t yet available from Samsung Australia – and it may not officially be launched here, so note that if you have problems that require warranty support, you may need to return it to Amazon. The retail price is set at US$499 (around AU$650), but at the moment, you can find it on Amazon for US$443 (around AU$587).
  • Acer Chromebook 14: There aren’t many big-name Australian retailers who stock this 14-inch Chromebook, so if it tickles your fancy the only other option is to import one. A sleek design is combined with an Intel Celeron quad-core processor, 4GB memory and 32GB storage, and Acer promises up to 12 hours of battery life. It usually retails at around the AU$500 mark in Australia — if it’s stocked at all, but Amazon works out a lot cheaper with prices starting at US$265 (around AU$351) plus shipping.

[Hero image courtesy of Flickr user Mugley]