The New Gold Standard In Currency? iPhones!

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Everyone knows that there’s a lucrative black market in iPhones, particularly in Asia, but did you know that iPhones are increasingly being used as currency? That’s the case in Rome, at least, where at least one journalist is using iPhones as a way to pay his bills.

Over at Businessweek, Vernon Silver talks about how he has increasingly started using iPhones as a way to pay people to do things like clean his apartment.

It started by accident in December, during a business trip to New York. I live in Rome, where domestic work comes cheap and technology is expensive. An unlocked, gold, 32-gigabyte iPhone 5s that costs about $815 with tax in the U.S. goes for €839 (about $1,130) in Italy, roughly a month’s wages for workers who do laundry, pick up kids from school, or provide care for the elderly. When one worker heard I was visiting the States, she asked me to pick her up an iPhone in lieu of the equivalent cash for work she’d done. Lining up inside the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue, I was surrounded by shoppers speaking languages from around the world. The salesman looked stunned when I said I wanted an unlocked iPhone. Just one?

Silver’s not the only one. Kyle Wiens of iFixIt also has made deals in exchange for iPhones:

Kyle Wiens, chief executive officer of the iPhone spare-parts distributor IFixit, was scuba diving during a break from a November conference in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, when the dive leader offered free boat trips if Wiens ever returned to Mexico with iPhones to sell at the U.S. price. (The phone costs about 16 percent more in Mexico than in the U.S.) Wiens says he’s seeing more and more widespread iPhone arbitrage. When he goes to China to meet suppliers, he brings a couple iPhones and iPads to sell at cost, as a gesture of goodwill.

Given the popularity of the iPhone and the markup it sees in other countries, it’s not surprising that more and more people are exchanging iPhones for goods and services. In fact, it used to be the same for Macs, iPods and other Apple products: I can remember bringing back Apple products to friends in Europe when I used to live abroad. The iPhone is just continuing a grand tradition of iProducts as arbitrage.

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  • HerbalEd

    I remember doing this thirty years ago with cheap hand calculators in Mexico. I actually traded a $5.00 cheapo calculator I picked up on sale in Oregon for a week-long hotel room overlooking the ocean.

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his girlfriend and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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