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Buying overseas goods

Going abroad to shop, buying stuff via foreign websites and mail order companies? Here's how to shop sensibly outside the UK.

Before you buy

Get a contact: If something goes wrong later, you'll need to get in touch with the seller, so get an email, address or telephone number before handing your money over.

Know what you are buying:†Ask any questions about how the product works now and make sure you have read (and kept) a copy of the terms and conditions.

Using your credit card:†If you use your credit card to buy something over £100, the company that provided the credit is likely to be equally liable for any breach of contract. This means that if the goods are faulty, you may be able to claim your money back from the credit card company.

Beware of hidden costs:†These often mount up through sneaky currency conversion charges, taxes and insurance. Be particularly cautious of delivery fees, packaging and posting if your goods are being posted on to you there may be charges at the post office when you collect them, and you could also be liable for postage charges if the items are returned.

Check delivery dates: Just because you want your new CDs to arrive for your party on Friday, it doesn't mean they'll actually turn up. When you do get them you have the right under EU law to change your mind up to seven days after delivery if they were purchased online, over the phone or by mail order.

Is it guaranteed? Check that your goods have warranties or guarantees, what they cover and how long they last. Under EU law you have at least two years to point out faults that were there when you bought a product. Whether the guarantee is enforceable depends on the law of the country where you bought the product.

What does the law say?

The good news is that, in addition to your UK statutory rights you are also covered under the rights of the country where the seller is based if:

  • The product or service was advertised in the UK and you signed a contract here. So it's perfectly safe to buy clothes from an Italian mail order company if you saw - and responded - to their advert in the UK
  • The seller received your order while they were in the UK
  • You bought goods during an excursion arranged by the seller. Going on a wine-tasting trip organised by the wine seller? Buy as much cheap French wine as you like!

If you have a query about goods bought in another European country, contact†the ECC†or your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

Buying from an overseas website

Buying from an overseas website will not necessarily mean that you are covered by UK law as this has not been tested in the courts to date. However, if, for example, a German website offers English translation and shows the price in sterling and euros, you should be ok because it is obviously aiming at a UK market.

Solving your problem

If that sleek new German stereo suddenly starts coughing and spluttering, take the following steps straight away:

  • Stop using it.
  • Dig out your documents - a credit card statement, till receipt or order confirmation are all fine.
  • Contact the seller or credit card company (if applicable) by letter or email, explaining the problem and whether you expect a refund, replacement, repair or compensation. Enclose copies of your proof of purchase or service agreement.
  • If you are not happy with the response, write again repeating your complaint and giving them 21 days to resolve the problem, after which you will be seeking legal action. Send all correspondence by recorded delivery and keep copies for future reference.
  • Dangerous goods should be reported to your local Trading Standards Department.
  • If the seller or credit card company refuses to help or makes an offer you aren't happy with, your only choice is to go to court, but this should be your last resort. If you decide on this option, make sure you have gathered enough evidence and that the seller is solvent; after all there isn't any point suing someone with no money.

Updated: 09/01/2013


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