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Getting a Refund on Items Bought Abroad

By: Lorna Elliott LLB (hons), Barrister - Updated: 12 May 2015 |
 
Refund Purchase Abroad Overseas Money

With the rise of the Internet and auction websites such as Ebay it is now easier than ever to buy goods from abroad. Once you’ve made a purchase, though, it can be very difficult to secure a refund. Even if you do manage to negotiate with the seller and send your purchase back to their country, the cost of this exercise is likely to be great. Postal and courier costs to overseas destinations can be very expensive, particularly if you want to insure the item you are returning.

Secondly, if you bought the item outside the European Union you will in most circumstances have to pay customs charges when the item enters the UK. These may be customs duty, VAT as well as excise duty. This adds between 5 and 15% onto the cost of the goods. If the goods cost over £18 (excluding p & p), you will pay 17.5% VAT. These charges are non-refundable and are often payable to the company delivering your product to you, whether you use Royal Mail or another courier.

If you are buying from a private seller on an auction site, be very wary of requests for payment through money transfer companies like Western Union or Moneygram. It is easy for unscrupulous sellers to collect the money and then disappear, leaving you without either the product you paid for or any recourse with the seller.

Issues To Consider

It is often tempting to buy goods abroad, especially on holiday, because the same products are available more cheaply than in the UK. However, an obvious disadvantage is whether or not you’ll be able to get a refund if anything goes wrong. Before you part with your cash there are a number of things worth considering:

  • Electrical goods from overseas may not be compatible in the UK; they simply won’t work
  • Software may be incompatible with UK computers
  • DVDs can be regional and only work in DVD players intended for certain countries
  • Manufacturers may not accept repairs, replacement or refund requests from abroad
  • Guarantees may be invalid once the product is taken to a different country
  • Currency fluctuations
  • Local sales taxes (which you can claim back)

How To Protect Yourself

Make sure you get the contact details of the seller so that you can inform them if anything goes wrong with your purchase. However, if you use your credit card there are other ways to protect yourself. If something goes wrong with the transaction, you can use section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 to get a refund. Each purchase must be between £100 and £30,000 to be eligible for this protection.

For more information on how to do this see the section on this site called ‘Refunds When You Pay By Credit Card’. This remedy won’t apply if you paid via Paypal, Worldpay or Google checkout, though.

If you have paid an overseas seller using an online processor you should approach them directly. They have their own policies and procedures to deal with problems with purchase.

If you have to resort to litigation the cost of conducting this overseas, especially if documents need to be translated, may prove to be prohibitive. While an offer may seem good when you are relaxed on holiday, the amount may be somewhat sobering when printed in sterling on your bank statement. When you are shopping with overseas sellers, the best advice is to make sure you consider the pros and cons rather than basing the decision solely on the advertised price.

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@Karen - fluctuations between the pound and the dollar have been up and down because of the election. However, UK-consumer laws wouldn't apply in the UK. So, I'm afraid there is little you can do here and you might have to put it down to experience.
WheresMyRefund - 14-May-15 @ 11:21 AM
I ordered a pair of trainers from an american company i paid £55.86 when i was told the trainers were no longer in stock they agreed to give me a refund but only 48.26 appeared in my bank account they now say this is due to the exchange rate is this correct?
Karen - 12-May-15 @ 11:19 AM
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