How far would you travel for your Christmas shopping? Most of us feel like we've worked hard enough when we've battled the crowds to schlep from one end of the high street to the other in search of a bargain. However, we might be missing a trick, because if we were to go the extra mile - or indeed the extra thousand - then we could save some serious money by doing our Christmas shopping overseas.
The UK compares poorly to other international destinations on price, because of a combination of expensive sales and import taxes, the high price of doing business in a relatively tax-heavy country, and the sheer fact that manufacturers and retailers can get away with charging us more here.
A recent study revealed that New York was the cheapest place for Brits wanting to buy a basket of Christmas gifts for less. The researchers looked at a range of items from designer jeans to skincare, dream toys and gadgets, and calculated how much they would cost around the world.
Savings in the US included: Hollister men's jeans for £16 in New York, compared to £59 in London - a saving of 62%; Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream at a 51% discount; the Frozen Snow Glow Elsa for 30% less; and the Apple iPad Air 2 18GB at 13% less - a saving of more than £50. Overall the items were 25% cheaper in New York.
Of course, you still need to factor duty into your calculations. Outside the EU you can bring back £390 worth of goods before you are liable for duty. After that (and up to £630) you'll be charged duty at 2.5%, and after that the amount you pay depends on what you have bought, so you'll need to keep the receipts and let them do the calculations at the airport.
Another piece of research in the summer found that electronic and digital goods offered particularly good value in the US - including TVs, laptops and software. However, it identified perfume as one Christmas present that was more expensive in the States.
A separate piece of research at the beginning of this year looked at the price of a basket of luxury goods and gadgets, and identified the cheapest places on the planet in which to buy them. If you have the ability to travel far and wide, they say the best deals are available in Thailand, South Korea, Argentina, Japan and Taiwan.
If you were planning a holiday to any of these destinations, and you have luxury designer items on your list, clearly it pays to do your research and see if you can return home with any bargains. However, given the huge distances involved, a cut price shopping trip is less practical. To get to Taiwan, for example, is likely to set you back the best part of £1,000, and you'd need the most enormous shopping list to justify that kind of travel expense.
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This is one of the reasons why for many people shopping in these far-flung destinations tends to be done online. It's now easier than ever to buy far cheaper goods from China and the Far East, and some of the savings are impressive. A huge number of items are available for a fifth of the price or less in China, so that even with shipping charges you stand to save a fortune. There are, however, downsides to consider carefully before you take this approach.
There may well be charges for bringing the item into the UK. If the item costs less than £15 then you won't have to pay VAT or customs charges (£36 if it's a gift). After that you may have to pay import VAT which is typically 20%, and a handling fee from the postal operator which is usually around £8. In addition, if the item is worth more than £135 you'll need to pay customs duty. The rate depends on what you are buying and how much it costs, but is typically levied at 9%.
There's also more risk involved when you buy from overseas. You won't have the same consumer protection as you do in the UK, so you won't have the same recourse if the item doesn't show up, or if it is faulty in some way. Even if you have the right to return it for a refund, this may be harder and more costly, and in some case be more expensive than the value of the item in the first place. You may also face unreliable delivery times, which has thwarted people even when they buy from reputable sellers and platforms.
There is also the fact that you will have little or no comeback if the seller turns out to be a crook (unless you buy through a reputable platform that offers its own protections). There's a risk that the bargains you have purchased are fakes or copies, and in many cases these aren't just disappointing in terms of quality: they could pose a number of health risks too.
That's not to say that buying from overseas online isn't worth these risks, it's just that before you pin your hopes of the perfect Christmas gift on something from the other side of the world, you need to fully understand the risks that you are facing.
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