Importing masks from China

by lsusr1 min read19th Mar 20203 comments



TL;DR: There is a place you can buy masks online without contributing to a local supply shortage.

The majority opinion on Less Wrong appears to be that masks are beneficial for reducing the spread of COVID-19 but that you should not buy them because doing so would contribute to shortages for health care workers and the immunocompromised. If this is true then it may be possible for you to do good for your community by importing masks from somewhere that has a surplus. According to my friends in China, they have the disease under control and there is a surplus of masks there.

You can buy consumer products from China on a website called AliExpress[1]. Don't pay more than 13-16 Yuan ($1.86-$2.28) per mask (not including shipping). If you can't find a price cheaper than that, message me first instead so I can put you in touch with a friend of mine who has N95 masks in stock.

  1. I am not affiliated with AliExpress. ↩︎

3 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 11:58 PM
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A doctor I know ordered masks claiming N95, KN95, or similar certification from 7 different Chinese companies and fit-tested them (a process involving putting the mask on and spraying ~0.3μm particles of a bitter-tasting compound into the air); 6 models failed for all people tested while the last one failed for some people (indicating adequate filtration but poor fit).

By all means use the cheap Chinese crap vendors, but understand the limits of them. The first and largest in this instance is that shipping will be slow. It's nothing to wait 4-6 weeks for your stuff to turn up. Or go missing. Or arrive not being what you ordered. Or broken.

Understand that these are the outward facing English language sites for Chinese business. You pay a Westerner tax, and you are getting Chinese business standards. If you have access to someone that knows the language then you can use taobao instead, it's exactly the same market as aliexpress (and alibaba for that matter. Same ownership), just in Mandarin, and cheaper.

Nothing on these sites is of quality, and fakes are common. If you buy PPE off Chinese vendors then that's a gamble. For plenty of stuff the fact it's fake, a cheap copy, or just crappy in general isn't that much of an issue. If you wouldn't be prepared to buy it from a dollar store then don't buy it off Chinese web vendors. They're exactly the same thing.

I wouldn't buy PPE from aliexpress but I've bought hundreds of other things (sort by number of orders is your best friend on aliexpress. It forces the cheapest and most genuine vendors to the top of the results). As I said, understand where you are shopping and modulate your expectations accordingly.

For plenty of stuff the fact it's fake, a cheap copy, or just crappy in general isn't that much of an issue.

For example, aliexpress is widely used by hobbyists for cheap electronics components like sensors and microcontrollers.