Would you trade a gold iPhone 5s for a month of housework? If so, you're not alone...

For as long as Apple has been selling iPhones, people have been scalping them. What makes this particular story interesting is that it's not simply buying in one place and selling higher in another. This is buying and using as pseudo-currency or barter for goods and services. In other words, iPhone-as-money. Vernon Silver, Businessweek:

I've been paying my bills with iPhones. Not with apps or on bank sites—I've been using the Apple (AAPL) hardware as currency.

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?

That an underground economy is forming around iPhones is no surprise. Jeans and Beatles tapes were once hugely popular in the former Soviet Union. The iPhone is modern pop culture and that always has value.

Have you ever — would you ever — use an iPhone as currency?

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Would you trade a gold iPhone 5s for a month of housework? If so, you're not alone...


No, not yet, but I might because thinking of a future trip to Europe to visit a few friends; that way, they could line up some trusted potential customers. However, I wouldn't be looking to make a profit--I'd just sell for the same price I paid for them. Anyone think of a downside to this practice?

Just helping out friends and/or friends of friends. I was just wondering if their were any sort of legal risk or risk to the customer of owning such a phone ( warranty, antenna, etc.)

That's crazy, but formerly owning a business that fixed them, we started getting into selling them and there's a HUGE market for that. There are kids in high school and junior high that make more money than they would getting a job just by selling and re-selling gadgets.

Although I haven't seen an iPhone being used as currency, lot of my friends ask their relatives to bring in an iPhone from US. Since we in India don't have carrier subsidies, an unlocked iPhone 5s sells for ₹52000 (~$866). So these relatives give up their year old iPhones to my friends. And pay the way cheaper carrier break up fees. Unlocking an iPhone takes at most ₹300 ($5)...

I got my gold 5s through a friend from the US who brought it to me for $700. In my country, Bulgaria, it costs like $970. I really like my phone but if I sell it one day I'd do it for a profit for sure.

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In 2010, I learn selling iPhones will gain you serious money. It paid off my trip overseas and plus hotels.

Sounds like there is not a consistent Apple price for the iPhone regardless if where it is bought. (Off contract). So a gold 16 gb is $649 here. $833 in other place, maybe more in still others. Is this all because of VAT and taxes?

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Currency?? I hear there are people in US & Canada who do very very ... very bad things to get their hands on one of these!

To complicated for me. Besides I don't travel that much any longer so outside of the U.S. market for me is almost nonexistent. As for taking advantage of the U.S. market is strictly opportunistic and there is a big risk there.

I do sell my older iPhone when I get a new one and that has been lucrative in the past. But since I am currently on an iPhone 5 and waiting for the iPhone 6 next I won't have a gold iPhone 5s to sell. Besides not sure I would ever buy one to begin with.

What a tale, but it doesn't surprises me. Last year while on US I bought my brother who lives in Argentina a 16GB 5c for $549 because since Argentina's economy is really messed up, there the same phone is around $1400usd, sold online (mercadolibre or such), iPhone is not sold by carriers so the only way to get it is by buying it in other countries or paying the excessive price for it. A lot of people sees a business opportunity there, who wouldn't?

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Either buyers lining on the Fifth Avenue are stupid (or crooks), either Apple is fully conniving (and fines may come...) by selling iPhone 5S different than A1453, A1533 model.

I actually have, but in a different sense. I am in Europe for school, and occasionally receive money from my father, who is Stateside... Recently I have asked him to send my iPads instead of money. There are 3 reasons for this... I usually receive $550 from him to pay some basic necessities. A basic iPad is 530 after taxes (MD), so the fist reason is he saves $20, 2nd I can sell it for minimum $600 here (normally $650) and lastly I don't loose any money during the currency conversion... Cause u kno... Banks don't exchange currencies free of charge... That 550 after the exchange is valued at about 535ish after bank fees.

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