Friday, April 23, 2010

Buying electronics in Peru

Don’t do it.

I’m tempted to end this post with the above sentence fragment but I suppose it needs a bit more explanation than that.

We’ll be going to the States shortly and on our shopping list is a computer, camera and voice recorder (the later to help me with the book I’m not writing). There are two reasons why we won’t buy those items in Peru. The first is cost. For an example, the Canon camera we’re interested in has a price of $220 at Saga Falabella in Chiclayo. In the States many sources are selling the same model for $150. Incidentally this is one of the rare cases where we’ve been able to compare model-for-model. We’ll get into that a bit later.

Comparable feature computers have an average cost of 20% more in Peru. An added problem in buying a computer is that unless you buy it at one of the big chain stores (in Chiclayo that means Tottus, Ripley or Plaza Vea), all of the software including the operating system will be pirate. The first time you attempt to download from Microsoft, or when Microsoft decides to automatically upload updates to your computer, all hell breaks loose, and the person who sold you the machine may as well take up permanent residence in your house to fix the issues as they crop up. Plus you receive all the viruses that were in that pirate software at no additional cost.

When it happened to us I stormed into the shop that sold/built the machine and confronted the owner with the ‘pirate messages’ we had received from Microsoft. After unsuccessfully trying to talk his way out of it he admitted the software was pirate, but defended himself by saying – “You won’t find an original copy of Windows anywhere in Peru.” To my knowledge he’s correct – at least in Chiclayo. The computers sold by the big chain stores do have original software, but you have to read very closely and then ask the sales person about the software. Only then will they tell you that all of the ‘bundled’ software (Office, Adobe, Norton, etc) is the 30-day trial version. When I told the saleswoman that that was a deal breaker for me she called over the ‘tecnico’ (technician) who told me he had the code to make the trial software permanent and would do it if I bought the machine. Now don’t go getting all morally or ethically indignant. That’s the way it is in Peru. Accept it or not…it’s your choice.

Okay, so cost is the first reason. The second is quality. I mentioned that it’s rare to be able to compare same-model electronics being sold in Peru and the States. It is my personal belief the reason for that is because the models sold in Peru are of lesser quality – that Peru is a dumping ground for low-end products. Even a t-shirt bearing the ‘made in China’ label in Peru is not the item being sold in the States. The material is courser, thinner and the sewing is skimpy. The same holds true for bedding. It costs less but is worth less. Every night I would complain about sleeping on sandpaper until we bought two complete sets our first visit to the States. It was like heaven that first night back. In electronics the oven, refrigerator and TV we bought may be of good quality; they’re holding up well so far, but we paid a lot more for the TV than we would have for an equal model in the States. But you have no choice on a physically large item like a TV. Shipping costs and customs taxes would more than wipe out any savings.

Let me end this on a high note. There are items you can buy in Peru that are tremendous values. One of them is jewelry. In the near-by town of Monsefû there are a number of incredibly talented silversmiths who will hand-make jewelry to your specifications of the most intricate design out of 0.95 silver. The necklace and earrings of Peruvian design Maribel had made for my reunion in the States drew comments all evening. I firmly believe in the States this set would sell for over $150. We paid $60. We have talked about having jewelry made and taking it with us to the States to sell. Based on the comments at my reunion I believe there would be a market for genuine hand made Peruvian jewelry of Incan design at a reasonable price. Probably some enterprising expatriate and /or Peruvian already has a thriving jewelry export business.



  1. Hello Tom :)

    I couldn't agree with you more .. gadgets are extreemely expensive here. When my first camera died I had to ask my uncle to bring me one from the USA because it was much cheaper there! I haven't been to Chiclayo but sounds like a nice place.. :) I believe it's hotter there, right? Because I'm in Lima :)

  2. Hi Dandelion and welcome!

    Chiclayo is a nice city. It’s not as ‘civilized’ as Lima and is certainly hotter and dustier but I like it. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Hi Sir/Madam
    I really appreciate you for all the valuable information that you are providing us through your blog.

  4. Thanks for the advice. My computer is increasingly showing it's age and I worry it will quit for good soon. My boyfriend keeps telling me I should buy a computer here because it will be much cheaper (though your post warns me otherwise - I'll have to pay closer attention), but I just don't believe I'll be getting the same quality. Unfortunately, my external hard drive is giving out and I don't have a choice in that respect right now - that, or lose 100GBs of pictures, including the majority from my time in Peru. At this rate, I'll hand over any amount to save them but I'm trying to do some research first at least, which is how I came across your blog. Thanks again!

  5. The comment by Matt seems to be an advertisement. Shipping electronics into Peru from any country is expensive (because of taxes). In Lima, better prices can be found in the computer markets (downtown, around Avenida Tacna) but you have to know what you're looking for and what it's worth, as they'll bargain. In my experience, the pirate software wasn't an issue. You just don't get the automatic updates and that kind of thing. Again, make sure you go to a good seller.

    The trouble is, Microsoft/Adobe/etc. have the same prices in Peru for their software as in America. This makes it extremely hard for someone with a Peruvian salary to afford it.

    Anyway, that being said, it's still a lot cheaper to buy electronics in the US and bring them over.