Every phone is made in China

Cell phones from China: this must be taken into account when buying

China cell phones are all the rage. They promise good features at an unbeatable price. Over time, manufacturers such as Xiaomi have already made a name for themselves, which has led to the fact that smartphones are also officially available in this country. But not every manufacturer has made it as far as Xiaomi or OnePlus. In addition, there are other manufacturers such as Elephone, Nubia, Oukitel and Umidigi, which are mentioned more and more frequently in connection with the term "China cell phones" and are no less interesting.

For other brands, buyers will find what they are looking for on websites that are now well-known in Germany, such as AliExpress, Gearbest or Banggood.

On these pages, buyers can order from a Chinese dealer. The smartphones then either come directly from China or are already in a European interim warehouse and are shipped from there. In the guide we look at the question of what buyers have to look out for when they order a smartphone from China, how shipping works, what it costs and what costs may be incurred in the form of customs. Last but not least, the questions about guarantee and complaints are also interesting.

Note: All information on the subject of customs relates exclusively to the import of goods by post for private customers.

Technology of China cell phones

Importing Chinese cell phones costs 19 percent import sales tax
Photos: Xiaomi / Schlierner-fotolia.com, assembly: teltarif.de Unbeatable low price and technical equipment that is otherwise only found in much more expensive devices may not quite go together. There may also be something to it. However, manufacturers such as Xiaomi have shown with models such as the Redmi Note 8T that solid smartphone equipment with good performance does not necessarily have to cost well over 1000 euros or more.

What at first glance looks like upper-class features in many other models turns out to be mid-range on closer inspection. But that is not tragic and does not mean that it is a bad smartphone. Compromises often have to be made with the display, because the resolution is often low and does not come close to that of upper-class models such as those from Samsung and Huawei. Buyers should also take a closer look at the connectivity features. It may be that the faster WLAN-ac is not supported, the NFC module for contactless payments is missing or an old microUSB connection is installed instead of a modern USB-C connector.

Absolute must: LTE Band 20

Given the low price, the average user will usually be able to live well with a few drawbacks. An absolute must that a smartphone should have for use in this country is sufficient support for the LTE frequency. The Chinese mobile phone should always support LTE band 20 (type: FDD) with a frequency of 800 MHz. You can find out whether this is the case by looking at the data sheet of the smartphone.

Before buying, it doesn't hurt if interested parties look at test reports and videos on the device of their choice. Often a mere Google search provides information.

Seriousness of the dealers

First of all: Buyers in China shops cannot hope for a full legal notice, as is usually the case with us. It just works differently there. If you visit one of the online shops mentioned, you can have Chinese or English displayed using Google Translate. Although this is not always optimal, it is sufficient for receiving information and ordering. In the meantime, however, a lot has happened because retailers are also targeting European customers. For example, Gearbest shows the correct language according to the IP address when you visit the site and AliExpress also offers pages in German.

There is no seal of approval for a trustworthy shop, for example the TrustedShops seal. The evaluation organization for safe online shopping also gives some information on shopping in China on its website. Customers should watch out for fake reviews. Caution is advised, among other things, if retailers have no or consistently 5-star ratings. Also of interest are the experience reports listed by TrustedShops from customers who have made purchases in Chinese online shops. The tenor: positive and negative - there are black sheep everywhere. Customers should also be prudent when the smartphone costs twice as much at other retailers. The cheaper device can quickly become a plagiarism.

Chinahandys.net has rated well-known Chinese online shops and described information on the respective platforms such as advantages and disadvantages, shipping options and service options.

When it comes to seriousness, buyers should be careful with many positive reviews that were made in a short period of time or only apply to cheap products from the seller, as these could be fake reviews. When buying a smartphone, buyers should look for a specialist electronics retailer rather than sellers who have a very wide range of product categories.

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Order, plagiarism and customs

Anyone who surfs on retailer sites such as Gearbest stumbles over and over again on smartphone descriptions with "international version" and "global version" in the title. There is also a Chinese version. However, many important Google applications are blocked because they are not permitted in the People's Republic. Then users will not find popular Google applications such as the Play Store and Maps on the device. German buyers should refrain from China versions.

In order for a smartphone to be approved in Germany or the EU, it must have a CE mark. An instruction manual, a declaration of contents, an invoice and a declaration of conformity must be enclosed. In addition, the device must be approved for the German market by the responsible Federal Network Agency. The simple online shopper of a smartphone cannot initially check whether everything complies with the regulations during the purchase process, but has to rely on the seller delivering the goods in accordance with the regulations.

The Federal Network Agency advises that consumers should ensure that the products have operating instructions in German and that they have a CE mark. If neither is available, users should not turn on the device in the first place. Reason: Excessive transmission power or impermissible frequency usage can result in interference in reception.


One problem that can certainly arise is plagiarism. Here, too, buyers are not initially involved. In any case, you shouldn't buy an alleged iPhone 12 Pro Max in the highest memory version or a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra for little money. It can be assumed that it is a copy. Shops that offer this are not considered reputable anyway.

We asked the main customs office in Berlin how they deal with plagiarism and received the following answer: "If customs have reasonable suspicion when handling non-commercial mail from non-EU countries that the goods are counterfeit brands, they will The rights holder is informed and checks whether it is a matter of plagiarism. If it is a trademark forgery, the rights holder decides what to do with the goods. In most cases, they are destroyed. Another measure of the Rights holder can be that he demands the submission of a (chargeable) cease and desist declaration from the buyer. "

Payment options

The import of smartphones from China is duty-free
Image: Image licensed by Ingram Image Buyers can usually always pay with credit cards. However, this should be avoided because there is usually the option to pay via PayPal. Buyers should also adhere to this because they have the opportunity to make use of buyer protection if the goods have not arrived within 180 days. Buyers can then contact the payment service and have them checked whether a buyer protection application can be made for the case.

Customs and import sales tax

It is often said that no customs duties are charged for importing smartphones from China. On the website of the German customs there is some information for shipments from a non-EU country. A "duty-free" shipment does not mean free of additional costs, because an import sales tax (EUSt) is levied on the package.

According to the definition of the German customs, "The import sales tax [...] largely corresponds to the sales tax (also known as value added tax), which is incurred when consuming or selling goods and providing services in Germany or deliveries within the European Union." When we asked the main customs office in Berlin, the press spokesman confirmed this: Importing smartphones from China is duty-free, but import sales tax of 19 percent is always charged. In a customs brochure on Internet shipments from third countries, it says: If the value of the shipment exceeds 150 euros, customs duties are due in addition to import sales tax and consumption tax (only applies to goods such as alcohol, tobacco products and coffee). That sounds a bit confusing at first. One could quickly assume that customs duties would also apply to smartphones from China. The value of goods of 150 euros is quickly exceeded even with cheap devices from the People's Republic, but no customs are levied for smartphones.

Sample calculation: A smartphone costs 200 euros. The import sales tax (the calculation is based on 19 percent) is 38 euros. That makes a total price of 238 euros for the smartphone (excluding possible shipping costs).

New regulation from July 1, 2021

From a goods value of 22 euros a consignment from non-EU countries is therefore subject to import sales tax. As of July 1, 2021, there will be a change at this point, as announced by Deutsche Post.

Then it is so that there is no longer an exemption limit, but due to legal regulations from the first cent of import sales tax is levied. So for "every consignment imported into the EU a customs declaration with tax collection must be carried out".

Shipping and complaints

The online portal Chinahandys.net also provides information on the subject of shipping. If you look around on the websites of the dealers, "free shipping" is often offered for products. How long it takes for the package to arrive varies. With luck, the package will be there in a week, but it can take four weeks. According to Chinahandys.net, the average time is 10 to 15 days.

Duty-free shipping methods are recommended for products such as smartphones. The online shop takes over the shipment to the EU and pays the import costs. The consignment is then sent on from an EU department store. The buyer does not incur any additional costs. At Gearbest, for example, the duty-free shipping methods have names such as "EU Priority Line" and "Germany Express".

It is also possible to ship goods from China with DHL Express. If things go well, shipping takes three to four working days. The customs clearance is done by DHL. In this way, the buyer saves himself the trip to the customs office, which may be necessary. The costs incurred for importing the shipment must be paid in cash at the front door. It is advisable to have the appropriate amount ready.

Guarantee and return shipping

The complaint at a China shop can be lengthy under certain circumstances
Image: Image licensed by Ingram Image Serious sellers in reputable shops also give a guarantee. In China, however, this is only valid for a maximum of one year. Gearbest describes the process for claiming the guarantee in its support area as follows: First, the customer should contact the support service and, among other things, describe the problem and, at best, take a photo or video of the defects. If the smartphone is to be returned, support must also be contacted first. Refunds to PayPal can take up to 48 hours. It can be assumed that the specified duration for the respective case is measured after receipt of the consignment.

Don't forget the dangerous goods sticker

In forums it is not uncommon for people to say that the package sent (with a smartphone) has returned to the sender (the German complainant). The dangerous goods sticker that indicates a lithium-ion battery was missing. In the best case, for example, Gearbest Support will provide a form for this when they have approved the return. Basically, customers cannot avoid contact with the support team. Every return must first be officially confirmed.

The costs for shipping are borne by the customer according to the information on the website. Shipping parcels up to two kilograms to China with DHL costs 16 euros. Two copies of the CN23 customs declaration must be enclosed with the package. This can be downloaded as a PDF directly from DHL.

First of all, buyers have to pay for the return themselves. If the Chinese mobile phone is damaged and / or defective, this should be indicated to the support department, as this increases the chances of getting the return costs back.

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