Why don't mobile phones have an international warranty?

You can't get an international warranty for your mobile phone.

Think about that for a minute. The electronic gadget that you are certain to take with you when you go abroad doesn't have a worldwide guarantee. And that cool new cellphone you buy when you're on vacation won't be covered if it breaks as soon as you get home. That's the situation in much of the world for phones from Nokia, Motorola, Sony-Ericsson, and other vendors.

Your cellphone might be the single tool you rely on most when you're traveling. Wouldn't it be great to have a chance of getting it fixed under guarantee in a foreign country? But you probably can't.*

Isn't this just normal business policy? No, it isn't. Look at laptop PCs, for example, which are often sold with an international warranty. If not, the manufacturer will sell you one – that's not an option with mobile phones. Samsung, which sells both, includes an international warranty with its notebook PCs, but not with its mobile phones.

One Australian man who picked up a Motorola phone on vacation couldn't get it repaired at home until Motorola was embarrassed by a story in a national newspaper.

Maybe you could pay for a repair in an emergency then? Yeah, maybe. To take one example, customers complain that Nokia US actually refuses to service Nokia phone models that aren't sold in the US, no matter how much money they wave at them.

Why won't the mobile phone vendor give you an international guarantee?

Motorola doesn't want you to buy that phone

By limiting the guarantee to a country or region, phone makers achieve two things. Firstly, of course, they avoid support costs for models that aren't sold in a particular country.

More important, they discourage gray market imports. These are phones legitimately bought in one country and then sent to another country – usually somewhere were they are not yet on sale.

Grey market phones are common on eBay, and at some of the more dubious stores. But if you bring a cool new phone home from your trip to Hong Kong, then you too have joined the shadowy ranks of the gray market importers.

The internet has made it difficult for manufacturers to segregate markets as they did in the dark unwired, pre-WTO days. Many of the amazing phones that Nokia markets around the world are not officially available in the US. That doesn't stop US mobile phone buyers from wanting them, of course. It probably makes us want them more, in fact. Marketing hype doesn't respect geographical boundaries.

There's a wrong-headed notion that customers who buy gray market tech products are just bargain-hunters, digging for the lowest price. In fact, a study by the industry-sponsored Alliance for Gray Market and Counterfeit Abatement found that a majority of buyers actually paid at least the same for gray market products as they did for legitimate imports. Today's gray market buyers are looking for features, not low prices.

So sometimes, mobile makers don't want you to buy their most exciting products. How can we explain this strange behavior? It's all about control. (And you're the one being controlled, in case you hadn't guessed).

Carriers control the marketplace

There are many reasons why mobile phone makers like to discourage gray market phones and create artificial barriers between regional markets, but the true villains in this tale are big mobile carriers.

Companies like Cingular, Sprint and T-Mobile obviously prefer that you buy your phone from them, with a nice long contract. They don't like you buying your phone somewhere else and coming shopping for the best contract deal you can find.

In backward markets like the US, where big mobile carriers have a lot of clout, phone makers are pressured into adjusting their product range to suit the carriers' interests. If not, they could get shut out of the market – 60 per cent of US cellphone sales are through the carriers' direct channels, according to researchers at In-Stat, and most of the independent sellers earn their profits from carriers' activation commissions, not from the phones themselves.

Here's just one example of the power US carriers have: Wonder why Wi-fi equipped phones aren't selling so well in the US? Wireless LAN on phones is something that makes the old network operators really scared, because it earns them no money. Nokia even removed Wi-fi from its cool E61 business phone when it made a 'lite' version for the US, the E62 (some folks describe it as the 'crippled' version).

If you're in the US and you want an E61 (or many other fine phones sold in other countries), you have to buy a gray market import, and you know what that means? No Warranty.

How to understand your mobile warranty

If you look at a typical product guarantee agreement, it may appear that you can get warranty service anywhere in the world. There's a hidden catch with many warranties. Your agreement is with a local subsidiary of a multi-national company. So you must return the product to that local subsidiary's service centers. Of course, that local subsidiary doesn't have service centers in other countries. In other words, Nokia USA is not the same company as Nokia Finland, and your agreement with one is not an agreement with the other.

don't try sending your phone for warranty serviceBut wait! Have you spotted the obvious loophole here? International mail. Couldn't you just mail your phone to a service center in the country where it was purchased.

Well, sorry, mobile phone makers have though of that. You can't mail the phone to a service center. You, the original purchaser, must carry it in personally. (Actually, another person might be allowed to take the phone in for you; service staff will usually turn a blind eye to this – just don't try mailing it, you'll probably never see your phone again). You should be aware also that Motorola service centers are particularly strict about wanting to see documentation like a warranty card or purchase receipt.

*Europe is more consumer-friendly

Nokia and Sony Ericsson phones do have a kind of limited international warranty in Europe. If you purchased your phone in Europe you can get your phone serviced under warranty in any European country where the same model is sold by its maker. To be more precise, 'Europe' here means the European Economic Area (EEA), plus Switzerland and Turkey. Motorola phones don't seem to have this special European warranty protection, unfortunately.


Smaller markets make higher cell phone prices

The cell makers have another reason to chop the world into many small markets. Economics 101 says that any barrier to sale tends to increase the prices per unit. The local distys love it when they can slowly eke out the supply of a hot new phone, because they can name their price for the early adopters. Scarcity creates hype and high prices

If US consumers would get

If US consumers would get their heads out of their a$$es for a moment and try to understand that

CARRIER does not equal PHONE

the world would be a much better place. Stupid Sheeple let the carriers own them.

Does Samsung?

Do Samsung's phones have an international warranty yet? If they want to beat Motorola, perhaps that's how they can

An interesting question

No, it looks like Samsung doesn't offer international warranty on phones, although they do for some other products. We'll update the article to add that.

Thanks for the question

Sony sucks they will not fix

Sony sucks they will not fix the NEW boxed phone I got on ebay. It has all the dox and they say 'it's not available in the US, so we wont support it!

Sony doesn't make phones

Sony doesn't make phones anymore, unless its 5-7 years old... Maybe you mean SonyEricsson?

sony and international warranties

I agree, Sony suck.... in general

look at cameras... they almost never have an international guarantee. This is something that has only happened since digital !

consumer protection

Like so many issues, the problem of inadequate mobile phone warranties is a function of politics. Increasingly since 1981 [with the partial exception of the Clinton years], the enforcement of laws prohibiting anti-competive behavior and requiring consumer protection has been lax. One may hope [?] that with the recent change in control of the Congress we will see more meaningful, consumer-friendly legislation and action. This does, however, require that consumer voters wake up and exert influence on those who have been leading them like sheep. If you don't like the current situation, write your elected officials and explain why.

You can kind of get a warranty

If you've got good homeowner's or renter's insurance, or specific "gadget" insurance, that will cover it.

Overall, I think (hope) most people buying a foreign cell phone know what they're getting into. I've done it, and didn't expect warranty service of any kind if it died. Hell, after years of fighting with various companies I don't even expect the warranty to be honored on products I buy in the US.

Even reasonable phones are unavailable

I wanted the Nokia 5140 phone, because it's durable. The only ruggedized phones offered by carriers in this
beknighted country are the useless iDen phones. The 5140 is ruggedized, waterproof, has cool (but more or
less useless) gadgets like thermometer, compass, and a flashlight. I finally ordered it direct from Nokia, and
had to pay full price. Works like a charm. You'd think a carrier would offer a dandy phone like this, so they
could get those contracts they like so much, but nope. They make me buy the phone outright, and lose the
advantage of roping me into a contract. Their own tactics thwart them.

The ruggedized phone sounds cool

Carriers here sometimes act like doing new business is just a bit too much hassle when they're already making so much profit from the old business

Well first of all, i think

Well first of all, i think nobody thought seriously about that. Yet phone brands are very careful whit the consumer's needs. Secondly, it is a matter of logistics, to guarantee the phone at an international level, can become a complicated matter. Maybe too complicated.

Club Nokia

I dont know how its in the US but over here in the EU if you register your phone with club Nokia it will have a worldwide warranty. If it breaks while abroad all you need todo is drop by the nearest Nokia Center and they will repair/replace your device.

No,no,no this is wrong. Club

No,no,no this is wrong. Club Nokia don't do anything more than the normal Euro area coverage garantee.

Cell Phones

We need to get Congress to forcefully separate the device from the service; then more models and better prices will belong to the US user.

Do you think we would be able to record TV or watcha video without ads if the TV networks supplied the equipment?

Perhaps satellite phones will someday be more available and eliminate the high cost and poor coverage afforded by cell sites. Wishful thinking??


DVDs are locked like that

My kids, 8 and 6, wanted to know why they couldn't skip through the trailers on the DVD they were watching... "But Daddy, we don't want to watch all those lame trailers! Why does it say 'not authorized' when we press the 'skip forward' button?"

Warranty Fiasco

Sorry but there is no reason for the cell phone industry don´t give international warranty. At least the "European system" (under warranty in any country where the same model is sold by its maker)should be used - there would be no "logistic problem" in this case. I like HP products and Toshiba´s ones (laptops, by the way..). I relly on them as they give global warranty for their products, and although I had NEVER used abroad, I feel confident in having it, and keep buying from them !!!!!!!!!! For the cell phones ? No, I have my old one that works well and don´t intend to have bad surprises while abroad - so I relly on VoIP from my laptop. I really would buy more (that is to say, change for newer models) if I could feel that companies are "confident" on their models, so as to offer repair ANY where in the world!! Wait and see...


After working at an executive level for many years with US and European carriers I can state quite clearly that your piece on warranties is incorrect. I have been importing large numbers of different handsets from all over the globe, and my company offers a full 6 month warranty, irrespective of geographic residence.

All our consumer(s) has to do is pay for the return shipping cost and we take care of the rest. Your mobile handset investment is secure, all you need to do is be diligent on where you buy from, and ask the questions you would ask when you are eyeball to eyeball. Simple as that.


I was sold a Nokia N95 at Phones4U in Birmingham, then found out 7 months later that it is a U.S phone! So i can not get it fixed at any Nokia repair centre as my warrenty doesn't cover the U.K
Can anyone tell me if it is illegal to sell me a phone without a warrenty??

UK law and warranties

In your case, yes it _is_ illegal. This is because of the ins and outs of UK law and consumer protection laws.

Your first stop is the local CAB and trading standards office (try consumerdirect.gov.uk)

Havig said that: It's unlikely that you will get satisfaction. UK consumer protection laws seems to exist primarily in name only and it is difficult to get enforcement action underway for all but the most egrerious cases.


Thats bad luck,

Limited Global Warrenty?

I am not sure if I was special or not, I had a sony ericsson that is international, the US version has a different firmware not to mention it was a carrier specific model. And when it broke they actually could not fix it and sent me a new one.... Not sure about the forms and stuff though, the phone store took care of it.

I am not sure if I was

I am not sure if I was special or not, I had a sony ericsson that is international, the US version has a different firmware not to mention it was a carrier specific model. And when it broke they actually could not fix it and sent me a new one

I think the problem are the

I think the problem are the different carriers and the different radiofrequecies and not the manufaturer.

Buying a business mobile overseas

What an interesting article to read.

It appears the mobile phone makers have thought of everything! You'd think they'd want to increase sales on business mobile phones - no matter which country they're sold in/bought from.

It seems they're just trying to eke out as much money as possible, at the expense of alienating potential customers.

I am not sure if I was

I am not sure if I was special or not, I had a sony ericsson that is international, the US version has a different firmware not to mention it was a carrier specific model. And when it broke they actually could not fix it and sent me a new one online tv

NO choice!

It seems from my present experience that people in Africa have no choice other than buying gray market products.
I bought a Samsung phone in a shop here in Africa where I work and found out now that there is no way to get it repaired because Samsung does not have a presence in this country, and Samsung in any other country refuses to repair it. The same is probably true for the Canon printer that obviously came from Singapore. But even Canon Singapore refuses to provide any service unless you have an address in Singapore, even though I paid four times the amount it costs in Singapore and three times the amount it would have cost in France. You might ask why I bought it - it was the only Canon printer available. Grey market in Africa is not cheaper but often the only choice. The only alternative is buying cheap Chinese products that you don't mind throwing away if they don't work. :-(

Looks like Motorola have

Looks like Motorola have international warranty now - link