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Beat the system - save money

We're all too aware that things cost more in the UK than overseas. But have you ever wondered whether there's anything you can do about it?

This article appears in the May 07 issue of PC Advisor, available now in all good newsagents.

One of the best ways of gauging the public mood is by checking out popular online forums. PC Advisor's is a case in point. The steady stream of threads each day allows you to air your views and, increasingly, vent your frustrations. Lately, one topic in particular has been raising your ire.

Forum members are incensed by the price premium for Windows Vista and Microsoft Office in the UK compared to the US. And they haven't been content to sit and stew. Over the past two months some have resolved to find a way to fight back against this perceived injustice.

However, Windows and Office are far from the only products that cost much more here than they do across the Atlantic. It's a problem inherent to rip-off Britain, with suppliers citing the high cost of labour and higher taxes among many other reasons why we should pay more than our American cousins. Everything from laptops and PCs to digital cameras and iPods are more expensive here than they are elsewhere.

A number of PC Advisor readers suspect foul play, with some suggesting that the government might be at the root of the problem. Others were encouraged to write to the chief executives of the world's biggest computer suppliers as a last resort.

Of course, you're unlikely to get much air time with Steve Jobs or Steve Ballmer, no matter how many times you write to them. So should you resign yourself to the like-it-or-lump-it attitude of many consumers in rip-off Britain and simply pay the exorbitant prices for the best products? Or is there a way to beat the system?

These are the questions we tackle in the May 07 issue, particularly our Save money cover feature. After picking up on forum members' concerns, we took it upon ourselves to find out whether you could sidestep UK prices and stop paying over the odds for computer goods. We wanted to know whether you could legally buy your most-wanted products from the US, and then import them into the UK while still saving a fortune.

Access all areas

One of the reasons we're all aware of the price discrepancies between the UK and the US is that they're in such public view. Ubiquitous internet access means anyone can find out how the other half lives simply by typing the name of a product into a US-specific search engine. So how about turning that to your advantage by bypassing your 'local' online retailer, and placing an order with its US-based sibling? It all sounds so simple. Visit Amazon's US website, place your order, and then wait by the front door for your shiny, cut-price digital camera to arrive.

In reality, the process isn't quite as straightforward as that. In fact, some forum members have tried and found it can be more trouble than it's worth. While Windows Vista Home Premium is around £80 cheaper on Amazon.com than it is on Amazon.co.uk, a number of hidden costs must be factored into the equation. As well as the cost of shipping, you need to think about US sales tax, import tax and customs duty. Nonetheless, even taking these charges into account, you can save yourself a significant amount of money on various consumer goods, in addition to the ones we cover in our feature, provided you follow our advice. So, if you fancy picking up a bargain, pick up a mag and find out how to do it.

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