Gray market

Apple iPhone arbitrage

September 17, 2013: 12:49 PM ET

The price differential between the U.S. and China opens the door to a lively grey market.

RMB 4,488 = $731 U.S.

RMB 4,488 = $731 U.S.

FORTUNE -- Four days after Apple (AAPL) began taking pre-orders for the new iPhone 5C, the device is available in all colors and configurations except for the most expensive: the T-Mobile and SIM-free models that start at $549.

Why would that be?

It's simple, really. A lot of those unlocked phones are headed for overseas grey markets.

And the biggest grey market of all is China.

Thanks to various taxes and import fees, the unlocked iPhone 5C that Apple sells for $549 in New York sells for 4,488 yuan or $731 in Beijing. That $181 (33%) price differential creates a market opportunity for anyone who can find a low-cost way around those taxes and import fees.

And you can bet that somebody already has.

See, for example, the New York Times' report on the Chinatown connection.

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