Importing from overseas: tips, info and caveats

Buying from Overseas

Keywords for easy searching: import; importing ; parallel ; shipping ; GST ; authorised dealer ; agent ;

Firstly, the pro of a local dealer:
- service
- warranty
- technical expertise
- product less likely to run the risk of being damaged, and if it is DOA, an exchange is easily sorted out

The cons:
- the local dealer may charge a much higher price
- service may be only half decent

The pros of doing it yourself, or via a professional shipper:

- price = the difference in price can be quite significant (will list some examples later and others can chip in)
- better features
- not available locally

- the risk of damage
- voltage issues (more on this later)
- claiming warranty or this may be non-exisitent
- the product may not work locally (tuner channels, NTSC TV sets only)
- complicated shipping
- non-existent shipping
- high tax / cost of shipping
- lousy shipping (more on the choices of shipping)

I think we all know the main reason is COST, and the key is how much we can save, and is it worthwhile?

Shipping choices:

In all cases, caveat emptor, and buy insurance if the item is very expensive.

Direct shipping:

For Discs, and books, this method is simple and Amazon offers an excellent track record. I highly recommend them. But they do not ship many electronics and other items.

Barnes and Noble have recently dropped the ball, so be careful. Deep Discount takes a long time and so does Amazon Canada.


Some companies in USA offer such services, as they have experience in shipping overseas. Others do not, and only ship to local addresses. This also applies to UK and many other nations, so check first.

This offers shipping to Singapore from US, UK, Japan and continental Europe

For simple items, single items, it is decent. But if you have many items and they can't arrive at the same time, the costs mount and Vpost does not have a very good track record on this with quite a few complaints.


Good for Citibank users.


Many items from USA and other places come only in 110V.
Others use a universal voltage system, so check with the vendor. Some come switched to 110V so check before you plug in!!

Places like Japan have models for export which are 220-240v, but cost more.

Get it in writing that it will work with our 230-240v system. Some tube amps are even more fussy, and owners want it set correctly.


As for step down transformers:

You should get one which handles more power than you need. If the peak consumption of the device is 1000w, don't get one that only handles the RMS wattage.

Places like Home-fix, Sim Lim Tower / Square will sell you one.

The first item:

Televisions, TVs:

USA offers one of the cheapest TVs in the world, and they can be almost half our cost.
You can try Australia, but there are very few shipping options, unless you have friends.

Some have new features and better remotes.

Most TVs from USA are not universal voltage and run only on 110v. That goes for Japan and other sources.
You can check but get it in writing since it is hard to return or repair if the TV fries
Most are NTSC
The cost of shipping is prohibitive, unless you know a cheap source
TV panels can be very fragile.

Amplifiers and other hi fi electronics :

Again check for voltage and warranty issues. For amplifiers and Cd players, there is also the issue of hum and the use of the transformer. The weight of the amp may also incur a high shipping cost.


Now this is when it gets exciting.
No voltage issues except for subwoofers.

If you don't mind warranty risks, you can carry back, ship speakers and many other places offer significant discounts.

Places to shop:

USA offers many alternatives to buy, and many products are cheaper, or not available here.

You just need to go through the checklist highlighted in the first few posts and assess the risk for yourself.

Hong Kong is another haven, for speakers, HT gear.

China is the factory of the world and when you look for alternatives, there are plenty.

Be careful of knock offs, fakes etc. Many big name items are not cheaper there, especially if you take the shipping into account.

But for cables, tube amps that originate from China, it's a shopper's paradise.

Do note some of them only deal locally, and payment is not easy.

Taiwan offers speakers and other items, but do note the voltage issues.

Australia and UK offer the advantage of having no voltage issues, but the shipping choices are more limited.

But for UK, if you buy off Amazon UK, you get VAT back which is an important savings.

Tax and GST

Buyers should know anything above $400 is taxable. There are also laws on what can be brought in. Do read the relevant websites.

Goods that are imported into Singapore by parcel post through ordinary mail or speedpost (e.g. for goods that are purchased online) are subject to GST. It applies to all new articles, personal articles, souvenirs, gifts, food preparations and dutiable products. 
The amount of GST payable is computed based on the CIF value  (cost, insurance and freight) of the goods plus all duties payable. The postage charge paid for the goods can be taken as freight and insurance charges.
However, GST need not be paid for the goods (except for dutiable products) if the CIF value is not more than S$400. When the CIF value is more than S$400, the entire sum would be subject to GST.

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