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I saved $2,500 by buying 2 items abroad. Is that un-American?

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My post on why we’re all hypocrites about our weddings was one of my most popular.

So since one of my friends just got engaged, I thought you’d find this interesting. When I had dinner with him last night, I asked him how the wedding planning was going. He told me that to save money, he’s flying in a wedding photographer from the Philippines. Even with the flight and accommodations, he’ll save $4,000.

This mirrors my own experiences:

  • In New Delhi, I had a custom suit made for $200. Money saved: About $2,000
  • In Mumbai a few months ago, I bought lenses/frames for $45. Amount saved: $500
  • A friend had crowns and other dental work done in India for $400. Amount saved: About $3,500. (More about medical tourism.)

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Photo by DavidDennis

And that’s just India. There’s Vietnam, China, countries in Africa, and many other countries where I’ve heard friends get amazing prices. It’s getting to the point where, if you want anything expensive, it can be cheaper to fly to another country and buy it there.

This is particularly true for health care. There are serious questions about risk and liability, but the difference in price is impossible to ignore. From this Washington Post article:

…heart bypass in the United States costs $130,000, but just $10,000 in India and $11,000 in Thailand. A hip replacement in the United States would cost $43,000 but just $12,000 in Thailand or Singapore. Hysterectomy costs are about $20,000 here but $3,000 in India.

For less-risky items, like buying a custom suit, rugs, or pieces of furniture, the savings can be significant enough to make the trip without worrying about quality. After all, if it breaks, just get it repaired — or, a la Wal Mart, it may be so cheap that it’s simply disposable.

This is a political firestorm. What about labor practices and environmental impact? In fact, in last week’s Friday Entrepreneur post about Shannon from Payloadz, there’s a raging discussion in a post last week about using offshore workers: One commenter accuses others of using “CFL (Cheap Foreign Labor),” and others jump on him for ignoring globalization.

What do you think? Have you traveled abroad specifically to buy something cheaper? Have you ever had surgery abroad? Is that un-American?

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89 Comments

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  1. For me, this entire argument comes down to supply/demand. If you don’t like how much something costs, don’t buy it. The reason all of this crap is so expensive in America is that American’s haven’t learned the word “No”. If America, as a culture, would quit buying junk they can’t afford then prices would go down.

    Now, I will say this doesn’t really apply to healthcare. Healthcare here is just simply a ripoff. Obviously if you need heart surgery you can’t just say “No thanks”…don’t hear me saying that. I think healthcare is a completely different beast to argue about that doesn’t really fall under the supply/demand argument.

  2. I’ve bought multiple items abroad and saved tens of thousands! Back in 2000 when the US dollar was flying high, I was a recent grad buying a new home and needed furniture. However, I was discouraged at the low quality goods I could buy at the neighborhood furniture stores.

    After making friends with a salesman at one particular store, he suggested I buy abroad. I purchased 2 leather sofas, 3 tables, and 2 bedroom sets from an Italian company for what one average American made bedroom and living room set would have cost. Granted, I had to wait 4 months for them to be manufactured and arrive by shipping container, but planning ahead saved me thousands.

    A word to the wise – pay attention to those foreign currency markets, be patient w/ your purchases, and always plan ahead!

  3. US is heaven for branded clothes/items, laptops, cars…..do people get angry when foreigners flock here to buy those goods?
    The borders of our countries cease to exist anymore. They are only there to keep terrorists and illegal immigrants out.

    FYI: Levi’s 501’s still cost around US$100 overseas.

  4. If “American” companies are free to go overseas to have products made because it is cheaper there and to even register as foreign companies to save on taxes, why should there be a backlash against “free” American citizens buying goods and services overseas. Like Levi Strauss said when they pulled jobs out of the US and headed to Mexico, it just makes sense to maximize return.

  5. I’m swedish and I recently visited the US and saved more than the ticket price when buying quality clothes, camera stuff and musical instruments. It was not the main purpose of the trip, but I could not ignore the price difference.

    Is that hm… un-european of me? :)

  6. Ramit, Don’t worry about offending people. I live in a city (Adana, Turkey) where “cheap foreign labor” provides great jobs for a lot of people. There are huge textile factories in town that produce goods for the likes of GAP/Banana Republic/etc. Believe me, it is considered a privilege for many people to work in a company like that.

    Because of their size, these companies are regulated more closely by the government and in turn provide more sane working conditions, stable salaries and social security/medical coverage.

    Sometimes when “overseas labor is cheap” it means thousands of decent jobs for people who would otherwise be jobless.

  7. I spent all of 2006 in Qatar in the Middle East. I was shocked to see that my birth control pill was only $8 USD for a 1 month supply and was over the counter. Even with insurance it would cost me almost $35 USD to buy it in the States. I did a side by side comparison and found the pills to be identical. The only difference was that the Qatari ones didn’t have any “Reminder” pills…the ones that you take during your period but don’t have any hormones to keep you in the daily habit. I purchased almost 2 1/2 years worth—up to the expiration date!

  8. If the US is a capitalist country, and buying at the lowest rate is a capitalist act, then one cannot call buying abroad un-American.

  9. I second C Smith’s statement.

    The US was founded on capitalism and it has only been in the past few decades that we’ve decided as a group to stop working hard and to start relying on the government to support us and make all of our decisions. And I don’t even know at what point “the customer is always right” philosophy was dropped from American business practices.

    I applaud any people that have the drive to work hard, provide quality customer service, and produce high quality workmanship at a competitive price.

    Side note: I’ve lived in Japan the past three years and although prices are steep here, the businesses here still provide quality workmanship and excellent customer service.

  10. anotherguy and bjorn are right, there are plenty of Europeans (including some of my family members at home in Ireland) travelling to the States very regularly to save money on items such as clothes, electronics, etc. And Icelandic people travel to Ireland to do the same. We’re all citizens of the world now, I mistrust anyone who says otherwise.

    As for me, I live in Canada and save money all the time by getting items such as bed linens, towels, crockery, and so forth in my husband’s native country of Bangladesh. I’d be daft not to. Your wedding photographer is a really interesting and creative example though.

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