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.
Why are the lines of Chinese buyers are so long in the U.S. and so short in Beijing?
FORTUNE -- Two seemingly contradictory stories made headlines this week.
On Tuesday, a 44-year-old Chinese woman was captured on video being tased and handcuffed in a Nashua, N.H., mall after trying to buy more than her allotted quota of iPhone 5s. According to witnesses she became violently abusive when asked to leave the store, first MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Dec 15, 2012 11:14 AM ET
By the time doors opened at Beijing's flagship store, the queue was 1,000 customers long
Remember all those iPad 2s purchased in the U.S. for re-sale in China's gray market? Their sell-by date arrived early Friday, when Apple authorized sales of the iPad 2 began at the company's four Chinese retail outlets and the China Apple Store online.
As a crowd estimated by a security guard at roughly 1,000 lined up outside MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - May 6, 2011 11:43 AM ET
Heavy rains -- and a lively grey market -- may have dampened the turnout in Beijing
There were plenty of reporters but only about 100 customers queued up outside Apple's (AAPL) Beijing retail outlet at 8 a.m. Friday when sales of the iPad officially began in China.
The first customer, Han Ziwen, wearing a blue "I BUY IPAD NO 1" T-shirt, was mobbed by the press as he emerged with MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Sep 17, 2010 5:56 AM ET
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