A modchip has nothing to do with imports. It only allows you to play CDRs or 'back ups' of games from the same region as the Saturn. You could always rip, convert and use the swap trick or a modboard.
I don't think that ARs are that unreliable. I've got two of them and both of them have worked fine for some time now. It is quite possible to get a dud one as I don't think the quality control on them is particularly great, but if you buy it locally (like NCSX or Gamegizmo in the US) you'd be able to easily exchange a dead one.