Importers vs importing: one man’s quest for a Nexus 5 in South Africa

While Google’s latest Android smartphone, the Nexus 5, may not be officially available in South Africa, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get your hands on one.

Google officially unveiled the Nexus 5 on 31 October 2013, launching the device in 10 countries.

The device could be bought either from network operators that decided to carry the device, or directly from the Google Play store.

Unfortunately the Nexus devices are not available through Google Play from South Africa. The relevant section of the store is not even visible if you connect to it from South Africa.

This need not deter you.

Orange imports the 16GB model of the Nexus 5 and at the time of writing was selling the black units for R5,555 and white units for R5,255. The prices for the Nexus 5 at Orange appear to have steadily come down in the past few months, as the 16GB device cost over R6,200 in January.

If you want to get the 32GB Nexus 5, an official Nexus 5 case from Google, the Nexus wireless charger, and/or save a few rands, then your cheapest bet is still (exchange rate willing) to import the devices and accessories yourself.

I have imported two batches of Nexus devices from Google – four Nexus 4 smartphones in 2013, and four Nexus 5 smartphones in 2014 for myself, friends, and family.

When importing smartphones, there are a few things you need to know to ensure you stay on the right side of the law and get your items in good time.

Google LG Nexus 5
Google Nexus 5 (made by LG)

Buy online like an American

Firstly, you will need a virtual private network (VPN) or similar service that makes it look to Google as though you are from the US.

You will also probably need a fresh Google account that doesn’t contain any information in their various profiles that suggests you’re from outside the US.

Then you will need a virtual credit card and US mail forwarding service. For these I used Entropay and NYBox, respectively.

You can also try NYBox’s “Buy for me” service if you don’t want to set up a VPN, secondary Google account, and virtual credit card. It costs quite a bit more, but avoids much of the admin.

A new feature from NYBox that was handy this time round was the availability of a Delaware address in addition to its standard New York address. This option is available to only those outside the US and means you can ship your items via a state that does not charge sales tax.

Once you have all the necessary accounts, you can sign into your new Google account via the VPN and start placing your order; however, before finalising the payment, you will have to transfer the required funds to the Entropay card.

Entropay lets you enter the US Dollar amount you want loaded on the card, to which it adds its fee (4.95% if you use a credit card) before charging you.

This means that you can simply enter your order total into the Entropay transfer form and it will make sure that amount is reflected on the card by charging you 4.95% more for the recharge. You don’t have to perform any difficult calculations or conversions to ensure you have the right amount on the card.

Nexus 5 Google Play store - leaked product listing
Nexus 5 listed on Google Play

Couriers, customs, and Google, oh my!

Entropay doesn’t provide a US billing address for its virtual card, so I used my NYBox address.

Google seems to flag this, but its main concern seems to be people trying to circumvent its limit of 4 devices per customer.

Once they have reviewed your explanation that you are not trying to bypass the limit, your Google Wallet will be released and your order processed.

NYBox will send you a notification once it has received the package. You must then instruct them on where to forward the package and which courier to use.

I’ve used DHL for both my shipments, but FedEx is listed as an option too, if you’d prefer to use them.

You may also wish to ask NYBox (just in case they were planning on doing it as in my experience) not to repack your order into dodgy-looking boxes.

SA customs detained my Nexus 5 shipment as “possibly counterfeit” and when the order finally arrived in a shoebox it was understandable why they might be suspicious.

Before your courier of choice clears your order through customs, you will first have to pay duties and value added tax (VAT) on the items, as well as a disbursement fee.

Mercifully, this is all handled by the courier.

The final costs of my Nexus 5 order from earlier in the year, when the exchange rate was still around R10.50 per Dollar, is summarised in the table below. If you don’t order heavy accessories such as the wireless chargers, it is possible that the total shipping cost from NYBox could decrease to $78 on DHL, $90 on FedEx, or $60 on UPS.

Item 16GB Nexus 5 + accessories 16GB Nexus 5 32GB Nexus 5 + accessories 32GB Nexus 5 Invoice Totals (where relevant)
Device $349.00 $349.00 $399.00 $399.00
Accessories $84.98 $0.00 $84.98 $0.00
Shipping $4.50 $4.50 $4.50 $4.50 $17.99
Sales Tax (0%, Delaware) $0.00 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
Entropay (4.95%) $21.70 $17.50 $24.18 $19.97
Sub-total: order (US) $460.18 $371.00 $512.66 $423.47
Sub-total: order (ZAR) R4,838.90 R3,901.09 R5,390.69 R4,452.87
Weight responsibility (lbs) 1.85 1.10 1.85 1.10 5.90
Shipping (NYBox,) $40.45 $24.05 $40.45 $24.05 $129.00 (DHL)
Sub-total: shipping (US) $40.45 $24.05 $40.45 $24.05
Sub-total: shipping (ZAR) R426.11 R253.36 R426.11 R253.36
Ad Valorem R383.26 R308.98 R426.96 R352.69 R1,471.89
VAT R786.82 R634.33 R876.55 R724.06 R3,021.76
Disbursement R37.50 R37.50 R37.50 R37.50 R150
GRAND TOTAL R6,472.59 R5,135.26 R7,157.80 R5,820.47


To ensure that you stay within the bounds of the law when importing goods such as smartphones, DHL, FedEx, and customs officials have offered the following advice:

  • If you bring in more than 5 devices, you will need permission from the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa).
  • You are limited to 3 imports per calendar year unless you register for an importers code. You need to provide an ID or passport number if you are not a registered importer.
  • When you bring in multiple devices like this, customs regards any claim that it is a personal import with suspicion. Registering for an importers code should help avoid that.

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Importers vs importing: one man’s quest for a Nexus 5 in South Africa