Buying a computer in the U.S.
February 5, 2014 12:23 AM   Subscribe

I live in an EU country and will be visiting the States soon. I also need a new laptop (I'm a Mac user). Given the favorable exchange rate, does it make sense to buy it while I'm there? What kind of hardware or other issues will I face (charger, keyboard, etc.), and is it worth the hassle?
posted by Paris Elk to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I live in the EU and have bought several computers in the US (although never a Mac) because of the price difference. The only issues I've had are the ones you mentioned: the type of plug on the charger cable and the keyboard.

For the charger, you can just pick up a new cable once you're back in the EU. (I actually scored a free US cable at a US Apple Store when I took my old EU Macbook there. I was probably just lucky, but it never hurts to ask!)

Personally, I don't mind having a US keyboard layout on one computer and other layouts on my other computers, but it's really a personal preference thing. If you have found that different keyboard layouts mess with your typing, you might consider it too much of a hassle.
posted by neushoorn at 12:56 AM on February 5, 2014

Yes, it very much is worth doing. You can confirm this with a visit to the US Apple store and the UK Apple Store.

For example, the Air starts at $999 in the US and £849 in the UK. That's:

US: $999
UK: 849 * 1.6 = $1358

I usually buy my Macs on US visits. My wife just got an Air 2 months ago on a trip to San Francisco. As it happens I have a UK mac and don't notice much differences. The keyboard isn't very different and easily customised further via Software preferences. Here's a layout of all the Mac keyboards.

The charger is really the only issue. You'll have to use a cheap travel adapter or buy a new charger. Doing the latter is still a significant price savings.
posted by vacapinta at 12:59 AM on February 5, 2014

I bought my current laptop on a trip to the US. I use a travel adapter for the plug, which works fine. The only issues I ever face are when I want to type a pound or euro sign, and the occasional touch-typing screwup with @, ", and a few other miscellaneous symbols - I use the US layout at home and the UK layout at work. You can always change the keyboard layout to one that's better suited to you.
posted by Gordafarin at 1:05 AM on February 5, 2014

"When returning to France from a country outside the EU you are allowed to bring in goods to the value of €430 without having to fill out a customs declaration. For items costing over €430, you must complete a customs declaration and pay the appropriate duty and tax on the item. Customs officers may ask you for evidence that tax and duties have been paid on certain items (jewellery, cameras, camcorders, laptops, mobiles, etc). Always have your invoices/customs receipts on you!"


So it might not be quite so cost-effective when you take this into account. You could always smuggle it, but if you get caught then you'll be fined and may lose the laptop.
posted by essexjan at 1:23 AM on February 5, 2014

I usually buy electronics when I am over in the US. I recently got a 2013 nexus 7 on black friday deal from amazon and had it shipped to my folks house to pick up when I went back for xmas. I also ordered a laptop some years before that. My answer to the laptop charging was to head to maplin and just buy the cable that goes from the wall socket into the transformer that makes the DC voltages that the laptop requires. I think the cord cost something like £15 and I also got the extra long one because there was definitely a cheaper option to be had. With the nexus I have a multitude of random microusb chargers laying around and also some travel adaptors as well to use the charger that came with the nexus.

It would surprise me if you couldn't buy a cheapish piece that would slot into the apple charger to make it into an EU or UK one.
posted by koolkat at 1:30 AM on February 5, 2014

Best answer: What kind of hardware or other issues will I face (charger, keyboard, etc.)

The chargers are full range, which is to say universal voltage. You'll only need a new duckhead or apple extension cable when you get back to the EU. And as was mentioned above, apple is nice about giving these out... and even if they wont, they sell the box of worldwide cables(+ an ipad charger, and a USB cable for an ipod/iphone) for $39. Since they don't sell individual cables though, i bet you'd be able to finagle and adapter out of them pretty easily. They've given me entire $79 power bricks+the cable for free twice now...

As for the customs thing, what's to stop you from unboxing it and just putting it in a laptop sleeve in your carry on? How are they supposed to know you didn't already have it in the first place? Buying stuff on trips like this to avoid the crappy prices is something i've heard of people doing a lot, and that seems to be the preferred method.

Their warranty is also international, barring china and a few other places, but i believe you won't get the extended EU protection on goods that generally allows people to get free repairs for 3-5 years unless you damaged it yourself. Still, they'll honor the 1 year warranty.
posted by emptythought at 2:25 AM on February 5, 2014

Definitely research carefully the question of warranty.
posted by Dansaman at 2:52 AM on February 5, 2014

I always buy apple hardware in the US. It is significantly cheaper. The warranty on portable devices is worldwide.
posted by wingless_angel at 4:09 AM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Legally, you should pay import tax when you bring the Mac back into the EU. But - and THIS IS ILLEGAL SO PROBABLY DON'T DO IT - if you buy a Mac in the US and then remove all signs that it's brand new (throw away the box, packaging, etc, use the thing a bit to set up a user account and some browser bookmarks or whatever, take off any labels on the case), customs will have no reason at all to suspect that it was brought overseas. You will be no different to all the other people travelling with a laptop they already owned when they left their home country.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:49 AM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

as you mention the keyboard could be an issue. It is a definite issue for me using the danish layout as there are letters missing from the US layout (æ ø å).
posted by alchemist at 5:37 AM on February 5, 2014

The chargers are full range, which is to say universal voltage. You'll only need a new duckhead or apple extension cable when you get back to the EU.

Not the most aesthestically pleasing, but you should be able to use any old plug adapter.

A bunch of the European keyboard layouts have a key next to the left-shift that US keyboard doesn't have--it's above return instead. This is most likely some key you never use, except if you use LaTeX--\ on a UK keyboard is next to the left shift, which takes some getting used to if you're used to having it above return. If you can touch type AZERTY, you probably don't care what the keyboard says and can manage; going the other direction, where you know the US layout and are trying to learn AZERTY without the keys labeled is a nightmare.
posted by hoyland at 5:41 AM on February 5, 2014

It is a definite issue for me using the danish layout as there are letters missing from the US layout (æ ø å).

You can switch the keyboard layout in the OS. å, ø and æ end up where they do on an actual Danish keyboard, I believe. (I could pick up the German and Danish layouts quite quickly without having the keys labeled.)
posted by hoyland at 5:44 AM on February 5, 2014

Response by poster: Fabulous, thanks folks! All the answers were helpful.
posted by Paris Elk at 6:41 AM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I may or may not know of people who bought Macs in the US, ditched the box and had them set up and running by the time they returned to Europe, and who also got local power cords from the Apple Store by asking nicely.

If you are travelling to different states, then you'll want to work out which one has the lowest sales tax rate, which can sometimes be difficult because you have to factor in any county/city rate on top of the state rate. For instance, if you're in NYC, then you'd save a little bit by going over to New Jersey, but perhaps not enough to justify the cost of a trip there; if your itinerary takes you to Seattle and Portland, then it's a no-brainer to buy your gizmos in Oregon.

Unlike VAT, you can't reclaim it (unless you're in Louisiana, I think) but you wouldn't want to anyway, as that would make it obvious that you bought it in the US.
posted by holgate at 6:55 AM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: To expand on Holgate's tip a little, here is a listing of sales tax rates in major US cities that you might be visiting. You can see Seattle is very high relatively speaking--9.5%, but Portland, Oregon--0%.

(There's no sales tax in Oregon or Montana, New Hampshire, Delaware, Alaska.)
posted by sevenless at 7:51 AM on February 5, 2014

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