Xiaomi is one of the top phone manufacturers in the world, but less well known outside India and China. But the company known as China's Apple (and which still has higher market share in China than does Apple) is becoming increasingly popular, and having already launched in France, Spain and other EU countries it now has the UK in its sights.

UK mobile operator 3 confirmed in May via Twitter that it will begin stocking Xiaomi devices 'soon'. That's majorly exciting news for us, because not only will it become so much easier to get hold of Xiaomi's mobile devices but they'll be available on a contract, too.

According to one Tech Advisor reader, he was told instore by 3 sales staff that the brand would be available online and instore by the end of this month. However, when we reached out to 3 it told us: “We have had huge interest Xiaomi since we announced the partnership back in May. We are currently in discussions with them concerning our launch and you can expect the products to be in store towards the end of this year.”

In the meantime, here's how you can buy Xiaomi products in the UK.

How to buy Xiaomi devices in the UK

When you search for a UK Xiaomi store online you get two options: confusingly, mi.com/en/store will ship only to the US, while xiaomi-mi.co.uk redirects you to the NIS Store for purchasing products. This in itself is disconcerting, but we're more pained by the inflated product prices and extortionate delivery costs. Fortunately, there is an easier, cheaper, less scary way to buy Xiaomi devices in the UK.

We've been reviewing Xiaomi devices for some time now, and the vast majority of these are shipped to us by GearBest.com. GearBest is a Chinese online retailer that offers free shipping to the UK and elsewhere. Though it refers to itself as Chinese wholesalers, GearBest and its ilk are perhaps better described as grey-market importers (which isn't as dodgy as it might at first sound).

The grey market is not illegal. It is sometimes referred to as a parallel market, which is in fact a clearer representation of what it is. The grey market is a channel through which goods are imported by distributors not authorised by the manufacturer. It allows UK consumers to purchase products that are not intended to be sold in the UK market, and at the lower prices typically paid overseas.

GearBest is not your only option. We've previously used Geekbuying, Coolicool and TomTop, and there are others including the likes of Alibaba and TinyDeal too. All offer much the same prices and the same policies, though you should note prices can fluctuate daily so it may pay to shop around.

We've covered what to look out for in greater detail in our article on buying grey-market tech, but the key things to note are that you may be asked to pay import duty on products shipped from China, that you may have to wait several weeks for your item to be delivered, and that complaints procedures when something goes wrong aren't necessarily the same as those we enjoy here in the UK. We'd advise always checking to see whether it's in stock at an EU warehouse, even if it means paying a few pounds more.

If you're buying a smartphone, you should also check it is supported by your network. In our experience most Xiaomi phones will not support 800MHz 4G LTE in the UK, which rules out 4G connectivity via O2 and GiffGaff.

Aside from buying from a Chinese wholesaler or grey market importer, in the UK you can often find Xiaomi products available on Amazon or eBay. There's nothing wrong with going down this route, but be sure to check out who and from where you are actually buying the device before handing over your money.

Follow Marie Black on Twitter.