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Can I shop eBay from my home country?

Everything you need to know about shopping on eBay from wherever you are

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Can I shop eBay from my home country?

You can shop eBay from just about anywhere on earth, often with less trouble than you imagine—but your expectations need to be realistic.

Photo: Indianeye / Dreamstime

eBay is one of the world's most diverse marketplaces, but of course it's headquartered in the U.S., its major website is in English, and it is obviously U.S. oriented in many ways.

This can create a host of questions for buyers that don't reside in the U.S. Is buying on eBay from non-U.S. countries allowed? How is payment handled? How fast will delivery be? Who pays for shipping and customs fees? What about returns and exchanges?

These are great questions and deserve nuanced answers.

Can I buy?

Yes.

The answer to first and most obvious question of whether non-U.S. shoppers can use eBay at all is a resounding "absolutely."

Most importantly, eBay also operates a number of marketplaces in other nations, languages, or currencies. If you're already served by one of these marketplaces, using eBay is as simple as visiting the eBay site that is local to you—you'll automatically see all of the items available to you, listed in your own currency.

eBay's list of international eBay sites provides links to all of the major international eBay marketplaces.

Even if you're not served by one of these marketplaces, you can still log into the main eBay site and shop, provided:

  • You bid only on items that are listed as available for shipment to the country you're in—check the shipping details for each item listing to find out.

  • You understand that the price is the same for everyone, a PayPal account is generally required, and you'll be expected to allow PayPal to automatically do currency conversion for you and charge a small fee in the process.

What if an item isn't listed for international shipment?

Ask the seller. If that doesn't work, move on.

Sellers are not expected or obligated to ship to you if their listing doesn't allow for buyers from your area of the world.

If, after checking a listing's shipping details, you find that an item you'd like to buy isn't available to you, ask the seller whether or not they'd be willing to add your country to their listing, along with whatever shipping fees are required.

Many sellers are willing to do this when contacted by an interested party, though you'll often find that the international shipping prices are higher (sometimes considerably) than the domestic shipping prices with which the item was originally listed.

If a seller doesn't agree or doesn't respond, move on—very few sellers are willing to ship internationally without having agreed to do so first.

How do I pay for my purchase?

Use PayPal.

If you're in a country served by PayPal, simply create a PayPal accound and pay using PayPal, just as anyone else would. PayPal will automatically handle currency conversion for you, with a small additional surcharge.

If you're not in a country served by PayPal, your best bet is to get a family member or friend that is in a country served by PayPal to buy the item on your behalf, accept its delivery from the seller, then forward the item on to you.

How much is shipping and how fast will delivery be?

Depends on the seller and the listing.

In general, you can look at the item listing to determine how much you'll pay for shipping. If the item listing doesn't make this clear, query the seller. Don't be surprised if shipping costs are high; this is par for the course in many cases, particularly for bulky items.

Delivery times are similarly spelled out in item listings or can be supplied by sellers. Generally speaking, they'll be slow—on the order of one to several weeks, at least.

More expensive priority or express-style shipping methods can often get goods to you more quickly, but are also much, much more expensive. If in doubt or if you need an item quickly, a conversation with the seller can help you to determine the best shipping service for your purchase.

Who pays customs fees?

Generally you.

Very few sellers are interested in paying any customs fees that you incur as a result of your purchase.

Be wary of sellers that offer to mark an item as a "gift" for you in order to avoid such fees. First of all, local customs offices are increasingly notorious for doubting "gift" items and such markings may case your package to be opened en route—or worse.

More to the point, do you really want to deal with a seller that offers to break the law in order to earn a profit? If you're tempted, ask yourself what else they're willing to do for profit—possibly at your expense.

What about returns and exchanges?

Depends on the seller and the listing.

Here, too, the policy will depend on the seller.

In general, you can expect to have to pay any return shipping costs yourself, and sellers may be hesitant to deal in international returns or exchanges happily, given the shipping times and customs complications that may be involved.

If not spelled out in the item listing and the item is of significant value, clarify the returns and exchanges opinions of the seller in question. Don't just rely on eBay's own returns and exchanges policies; in practice, it is sellers that have to carry them out. Better to simply avoid sellers that don't want to see international returns than to end up caught in an unpleasant situation and filing disputes because of an intransigent seller.

If you're using an intermediary to have the item finally delivered to you, keep in mind that the item will have to go through the same two-step journey on the return trip, and make decisions about your purchase accordingly.

Is it really a good idea? Do people really do it?

Yes. All the time.

As someone that both buys and sells on an international basis on eBay regularly, I can attest to eBay's usefulness across national borders and wide oceans.

So long as your expectations rest on common-sense and the information above, and you're willing to accept the minor inconveniences and extra fees that can be involved, international shopping on eBay is often a win-win scenario.

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