Mar 20

Why you should be buying from international retailers

Reading Time: 6 mins

Does the thought shopping with international retailers fill you with dread?

Have you ever seen something on an international retailers site, like, that was a lot cheaper than on the UK site?

This isn’t uncommon, but many of us are too scared to buy from international retailers because we don’t know all our rights or what charges we may incur.

This is a mistake  – you could be saving up to 40% by buying products from other countries and have a greater choice in what you purchase.

So, here’s everything you need to know about ‘cross border shopping’ so you can start saving money on your purchases.



Why buy from international retailers?

Make big savings

international retailersThe biggest reason to shop globally is of course to make a saving– up to 40% on UK prices.

We’ve already compiled a list of seven things we pay more for in the UK compared with the rest of the world so if you can shop globally and make a saving, then why not?

Even taking in to account shipping, buying from abroad can be cheaper than shopping from a UK site.

However an increasing number of international retailers are also now offering free international delivery – a directory of the key retailers providing free shipping is available at


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Take advantage of the strong £international retailers

Right now, the weakened Euro means that shopping online from European retailers is more attractive than ever for us in the UK.

This is especially true now more retailers are offering free shipping to the UK, with no additional duty and the same returns legislation as we’re used to!


Make the most of the sales

Why limit yourself to just the UK sales?

Different countries have their own national sales periods – some are even designated by law – so it’s worth shopping around when these are live.

For example, the winter sales last longer and are officially designated in some countries.

In Italy their winter sales start, by law, after the first weekend in January and run for 6 weeks, one of only two official sales periods, the other being in Summer.

Winter Sales in Germany are called the Winterschlussverkauf and they officially start on the last Monday in January. It is the biggest sales period of the year.

You’ll also be able to take advantage of any international voucher codes should you come across any.


Have more choice

Buying internationally, as you’d expect, opens you up to a greater degree of choice than just buying in the UK.

Why stick to UK products when there may be much better products out there?

Using a personal example, I’m a big film buff and it’s not uncommon for those who like collecting blu-rays or DVDs to import the American releases instead of the UK one.

For example the home release of Avengers Assemble in the UK came without many of the extras that the US version came with, including a director’s commentary, and even a mistake in the final copy of the film.

Disney themselves, the studio behind the film, even encouraged UK fans to buy the US verion.

And this isn’t particularly uncommon!

Sometimes a country gets shafted by a release and an individual is much better off importing a product.



What and where should I be buying?

international retailersThe most regularly bought items from outside the UK are clothes and shoes, home electronics, computer hardware and health and beauty items.

Obviously check to make sure you can’t get the item for the same price or cheaper in the UK first as cross border shopping is always going to be that bit more hassle.

The US is the place where most cross border shopping takes place, but China, Hong Kong and Germany are also very popular.

There are several advantages to buying from Europe:

  • You can take advantage of the strong pound against the Euro.
  • There is no VAT or import duty due on items bought within the EU.
  • Each member country has the same or similar consumer protection laws as the UK, so buyers have the same protection as with a domestic purchase. All countries offer 14 day cooling off period, and are obliged to give details of cancellation rights, return costs, complaints procedures and redress.



How should I pay?

international retailersWhen buying from international retailers you should pay with a credit card to protect yourself.

Under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, the credit card company is jointly liable for any breach of contract or misrepresentation by the company you buy from.

This means it shares equal responsibility with the retailer or trader for the goods or service supplied, allowing you to also put your claim to the credit card company should anything go wrong. This applies for overseas purchases as well as domestic ones.

The goods must usually have cost more than £100 and not more than £30,000 for a single item. You don’t need to have put the full purchase price on your card.



Important things to be aware of


You might have to pay VAT and import duty when buying from abroad. Those can put a big extra cost on top of the price.  Look at the website Dutycalculator to work out quickly what the extra cost would be.

As mentioned earlier, there is no VAT or import duty due on items bought from within the EU.

Outside of the EU, VAT is levied on the total cost including duties and shipping costs, but this can be minimised by using a shop which is offering free shipping.

Purchases worth less than £135 have no duty and gifts worth between £136-£630 only have duty at 2.5% (some goods have lower rates).

Duty is only payable if the duty due is over £9.

Gifts sent from abroad to the UK are VAT free if valued under £36.

You can find out more about charges on the government website.


Safety regulations

international retailersThe UK has very good safety and quality regulations.

These regulations aren’t always the same once you cross borders and start dealing with interational retailers, so make sure you check that products are approved for use in the UK market – some US children’s car seats, for example, don’t have the seal of approval to be sold in the UK.


Use package forwarders for multiple purchases

When you use a package forwarder you give the retailer you’re buying from the package forwarder’s address instead of your own.

When the forwarder receives the package, they then send the package on to you.

You have to pay all the shipping costs and the forwarders can arrange import duty if applicable too.

Because they do this in bulk, shipping fees are quite low and if the shop will deliver to the forwarder for free (free domestic shipping) you only pay for the overseas forwarding.

Even if a shop will itself ship overseas, a forwarder can be better to use if you are buying lots of things from lots of different retailers.

The forwarder can wait until they have received all the packages and then consolidate them into one package, before sending them to you, so that your total cost of overseas shipping could be reduced.

Consolidation and repackaging can save money overall but also comes with a small fee.  You can find a list of package forwarders here.


Have you ever made a big saving cross border shopping? Maybe you’ve never done it before but are now thinking about giving it a go? Let us know in the comments section below.


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