Electronics – are they really cheaper in Asia? Yes…to a point. Hong Kong is undoubtedly the cheapest place to snag a bargain – just look at prices on eBay and note where the products are shipping from. Yep, Hong Kong.
If you want to save some money, you’ll need to arm yourself with some basic knowledge before you go. I can't stress that enough. And the first thing you'll need know is how much things cost. Anecdotally, prices in Hong Kong are 10-15% cheaper than back in the US (this excludes local sales tax in the US, so if you factor that in, you're saving even more). Make a shopping list of all the items you want with a corresponding list of prices from back home.
It's important to note that there's NO sales tax in Hong Kong. So stores with signs saying 'tax free' are false advertising. Bargain hard and don’t get suckered into buying 'extras' for your devices. You may be getting that Digital SLR cheap but you may be paying high mark-ups for the memory card and a camera case for example.
If you do want the peripherals, make sure you know what the asking prices are back home. Also note that quality varies on these items. Some memory cards, for example, are better specced than others.
Apart from cameras and computers, stuff that can be cheaper in Hong Kong includes little peripherals for your computers and laptops (accessory cables, laptop cases, keyboards, RAM etc). Aftermarket brands for Apple such as Moshi are often much cheaper in Hong Kong than they are in the US.
Here are some other things to keep in mind:
Does it convert? When buying electronics, make sure that it works on 110V for back home if you’re in the US or Japan. You might also need to get a converter plug in order for it to work on your wall socket back home. Converter plugs can be found cheaply across Asia - $US2-3 is on average.
Check warranties. Note that cheap electronics mean that you might not get international warranty support back home. However, I've never had a camera break on me within warranty period, so it's your call.
Check that the product works at home. Yes, that iPhone 4 may be cheap in Hong Kong, but make sure it’s not locked to any network so you can still use your SIM card back home. Also, turn it on at the store to make sure the language is set to English (some phones sold in Hong Kong default to Chinese language). Also note that if you're on a CDMA network back home, that iPhone 4 sold in Hong Kong won't work. CDMA networks don't use the same SIM-card system as regular GSM networks.
Where to go? Mong Kok District in Kowloon and Stanley Street are both good areas to look for bargains. Apliu St has computer parts and peripherals for low prices. For cameras, try Echo Photo & Audio. Also try Tin Cheung Camera - they have three locations listed on their website. If you're loathe to shop at small spots, try Broadway. It's a large electronics chain dotted all across Hong Kong. You have only very little room for bargaining, but you trade higher prices for peace of mind.
Have a heart. Bargain but spare a thought too. Sometimes we get too swept up in getting the best deals. But really, what’s 50 cents off an item that’s being sold for $1? It’s not much to you but may mean a lot for the locals.
Shawn Low (@shawnlow) is Lonely Planet's Asia-Pacific Travel Editor