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The advantages and disadvantages of gray import in smartphones

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You may have heard of it: gray imports. (Web)shops use it for various reasons, but don’t always tell you that before you buy a smartphone. What exactly is gray import and what are the advantages and disadvantages?

This is what you need to know about gray imports

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Some of the smartphones for sale in the Netherlands are not made specifically for our country, but for another European country. Germany, for example, or Poland. However, the fact that these devices are for sale at Dutch (web) stores is not a fault of the purchaser or the manufacturer.

It has been done consciously for years and is known as gray import. Importing is not bad, but it is useful to know something about it. We put together the most important questions and answers.

Is gray import allowed?

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Yes, gray imports from Europe are allowed, because the European market is one market. It is therefore very easy for buyers to import a smartphone from, for example, Poland, Germany or Spain and sell it in the Netherlands.

In principle, such a device works exactly the same as a model made specifically for the Netherlands. The phone supports the same mobile networks, comes with a European plug and has the same specifications. The only difference you can notice is that there is a manual in a different language in the box.

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If the smartphone deviates from the Dutch model on one or more points, the seller must report this. For example, because the imported device has a different processor or because it cannot handle all Dutch mobile networks. Another plug or other software must also be communicated.

Why does it happen and what are the benefits?

There are several reasons why a number of (web) shops are engaged in gray imports on a smaller scale. The two most important are more choice and a lower purchase price. Manufacturers such as Xiaomi, Samsung and Oppo are constantly releasing smartphones. Not all of these appear in the Netherlands. If a certain model skips over our country but does end up in other European countries, a (web) shop can decide to bring a load into the house via gray import. This happens especially if the seller suspects that enough people want to buy the device. That is also positive for you as a consumer, because you have more choice.

If a manufacturer does officially sell a device in the Netherlands, then (web) shops sometimes switch to gray imports. This mainly happens if the purchase price at the brand or a distributor in another European country is lower than the Dutch purchase price. It is often a few euros per device, sometimes ten euros or more. Because the parties purchase on a larger scale and the purchase prices are in any case considerably lower than the selling price, this strategy is financially interesting.

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The lower purchase price is usually partly or completely passed on in the sales price of the device. Thanks to gray imports, a (web) shop can offer a certain smartphone a few euros (or more) cheaper than the competition that buys in the Netherlands. That lower price is a nice bonus, provided it is the same device as the Dutch model.

Am I always cheaper?

No, not always. A device that is for sale in the Netherlands via gray imports can also be more expensive than you expect. For example, because the European stock is limited, the purchase price is higher for whatever reason or because the (web) shop uses a higher profit margin.

Foreign smartphones that are expected to be in high demand usually come out at a higher price and become cheaper after a few weeks to months. Think, for example, of smartphones from Google. The Pixel devices from that manufacturer are only available here via gray imports and are often sold from the start for a (much) higher price than the foreign suggested retail price. The exception to the rule is the Google Pixel 6a, which was sold for the same amount.

What about warranty?

If you buy a smartphone at a Dutch (web) store and it turns out that it has not been developed specifically for the Netherlands, then you do not have to worry about the warranty. The gray import has no direct consequences for the warranty, because the seller of the device is responsible.

If the phone breaks, doesn’t get updates or shows another problem, you can just knock on the (web) store for support. They must repair the device (or have it repaired) in the event of a defect and take action in the event of a defective update policy.


The seller cannot say that he cannot change the software support, because he sold you an imported device. Chances are, however, that he really can’t change the software, and that’s why you can ask for another device that is specifically designed for the Netherlands.

Will I get updates?

In principle, a smartphone in every European country comes with the same software, for example Android 13 with the shell of the manufacturer. The language can always be set to Dutch or another desired language.

If the manufacturer has an Android update, it will roll out to all European devices. This often happens in phases and one country is the first to act. The phone maker does this to see if the software is all right. If complaints arise, the update is paused and the software is improved. Only then will more countries get the update.

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An imported device will usually receive the update when the update is available in the original country. So if you have a smartphone from Poland and the brand starts rolling out the update in the Netherlands, you have to be patient until the update is also available in Poland. The other way around is also possible: your imported device can be updated earlier than a Dutch model.

Can my device participate in promotions?

Manufacturers regularly give extras or discounts when purchasing a smartphone, for example when you do a so-called pre-order. Here you order the phone before it is actually for sale. When a (more expensive) smartphone is just on sale or has been available for some time, brands sometimes start promotions to stimulate sales. If you buy such a device during the promotional period, you will receive a smartwatch, power bank or wireless earbuds, for example.

If a smartphone brand has a promotion running, the promotion conditions can be read on the website. Read it carefully to avoid nasty surprises later. For example, check which (web) shops are participating in the promotion. If you buy the device from a party that is not listed on the promotion site, there is a good chance that you will not be eligible for that free accessory.

A (web)shop does not want or is not allowed to participate in such a promotion for various reasons. Selling imported devices is one of those reasons. If in doubt, contact the seller and/or the manufacturer and ask for the EAN number of the smartphone model participating in the promotion, for example.

What do manufacturers think of gray imports?

Smartphone brands know about gray imports, but are generally not happy about it. The Dutch department has a sales target per device, and must therefore sell a minimum number of smartphones to (web) stores.

If they – partly – buy abroad, they buy less from the Dutch branch. Moreover, due to gray imports, a manufacturer has less insight into the number of Dutch people who use a certain smartphone, which means that it is less able to perform analyses.

And if I import a smartphone outside of Europe myself?

If you buy a smartphone from a non-Dutch (web) shop, the above information is less applicable. A device made for India or China, for example, may not work well in the Netherlands because it does not support all mobile bands, or because the software is very different. In addition, there is a good chance that you will receive a non-European plug and therefore have to use a world adapter (or other plug).

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If the phone has a defect, you may have to send it to an address outside of Europe for warranty processing. This takes time and you may have to pay the costs yourself.


Importing a device from a non-Dutch party is mainly reserved for people who are aware of the risks. Gray imports have hardly any risks and are therefore popular among consumers and (web) shops. If you want as few risks as possible, it is best to buy a phone that has been developed specifically for the Netherlands. Buy it, for example, via the manufacturer’s (web) shop or a party that does not do gray imports.

You are reading an article that previously appeared on our website. We’ve updated the information and republished the article.

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A full time tech enthusiast with a passion for writing. Religiously follow everything new happening in the tech world and share my two cents with my audience here.

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