Buenos Aires is loaded with stores bragging Apple symbols and Steve Jobs images. Stop in any of these unaffiliated stores and the white walls are coated with iPhone gadgets — and iPhones. But the telephones are buried behind the counter and to buy one, discretion in asking is required.
Since 2009 when former-President Cristina Kirchner declared a law supporting local production, Apple’s smartphones are unlawful and prohibited in the country. The government compelled electronic companies to build in Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego or be forbidden access to the country’s market.
Samsung and LG cooperated. Apple left.
Kirchner’s administration restrained currency conversion and slapped a 50-percent import tax n electronics and other American goods. The law was primarily designed to prevent iPhones from coming into Argentina.
The current president lifted the exchange restrictions — but the import tax lives. A 64GB iPhone 6S Plus running for $950 in America will see a 50-percent import tax attached and around $100 shipping charges. Total expense for an iPhone in Argentina? About $1500.
Travel from Argentina to Miami to purchase an iPhone is less expensive than to obtain an iPhone in Buenos Aires — or anywhere else in Argentina.
Argentines don’t stand around waiting for policy changes. Most discovered their own route to purchase iPhones. Many Argentines holiday in America where they perform their purchases.
For people who can’t travel, there is a good stock of iPhones already smuggled into the nation. Around 12 million smartphones were purchased in Argentina in 2015. Over 1.8 million of those were bought by way of the black market according to the National Agency of Communications.
Argentine iPhone sellers either know agents in the customs house or pay somebody to run them across the border from Chile or Colombia where iPhones go for about the equivalent price as in America.
The smuggling movement even employs aviators and flight attendants to transport in as many iPhones as they can get in their suitcases and other bags. When in Argentina, unlocked phones are marketed to resellers who put their store’s price tag.
Shop owners purchase from the resellers. IPhones can be obtained on Mercado Libre — South America’s eBay. On Mercado Libre they sell for several hundred dollars higher than the American price, but they’re still lower than market value.
Customs officers try to control and enforce what’s carried into the nation, but when the telephones are in, it’s unlikely the “policia” will chase down unauthorized sellers. Some agents are on the payroll of the iPhone smugglers.
While it can be challenging to size the black market, at least 50 shops selling, iPhones opened since September 2014.
People lacking contacts must resort to being more creative in bringing the contraband iPhones.
Juan D., an unofficial iPhone seller, dons a hand-tailored garment stitched with over twenty-pockets to carry the phones and enters Argentina unspotted. While the iPhones are paid for in full, he hides the iPhones to bypass the import tax which would be over $10,000.
“You must wear layers and then a coat. We can only work in the winter — or we look questionable,” said Juan. “I’ll bring in a brand-new laptop as a diversion and pay the $200 tax which is nothing compared to the taxes on all the iPhones.”
Apple participated in meetings with government agents to try to bring back iPhones, but with the import tax not likely to go away, nor will the black market.