In the Audiophile hobby, you may have bought or trying to buy ludicrous audio gears from foreign online stores as most of them are not available in India. Sometimes the same product available here but the price difference becomes huge due to the high percentage of import duties paid by the importer. As an individual, you may think that buying from foreign stores may cost you less and yes it is true but if you are not careful enough things may go totally opposite and end up with paying higher or losing the item. So here is everything you need to know before buying from foreign online stores.
Please Note – In this article, I am not encouraging anyone to use any immoral ways to avoid import duties.
Yes, patience is the most important thing you need while buying from foreign online stores. Foreign online store promises 10-30 days shipping time but no one can actually specify the exact time. It could be stuck in any place and reach even after 60 days. So if you are a restless person tracking your parcel 10 times a day, buying from local stores is good for you.
All foreign stores offer a refund; if the parcels don’t reach you, still risks are there while buying from foreign online stores. Like you may receive a damaged unit, your shipping partner could empty the packet and deliver you an empty one, etc. As we know ‘no risk no gain’ so without taking any risk you can’t actually buy from any foreign stores.
The reputation of the Store
Buy only from reputed foreign online stores, non-reputed new stores may offer cheaper price but not buying from them is the safest way. Check other buyers ‘feedback, in the case of Alliexpress see the store ratings and buyers comment in the specific product feedback area.
To make an international payment you need a global credit or debit card. Make sure the international transaction function is enabled in your card, if not contact your bank. Use virtual keyboards while providing CVC or OTP and disable international traction function if not in use. PayPal is the safest way of making international payments so if any store accepts PayPal payments, use it. Creating and setting up a Paypal account is very easy.
Before purchasing any foreign item, check which shipping method is best for you. Shipping methods like Singapore post, HongKong post, China post, Vietnam Post, UPS, EMS, etc provide tracking codes and delivers within 10-30 days. Don’t use shipping methods those don’t provide tracking codes.
You can choose premium shipping methods like FedEx, DHL for super-fast reliable delivery but the shipping charges are very high which would be added to the value of the item you buy. So unless your item is very costly, use standard shipping with tracking code.
For standard shipping, the local postman delivers the parcel to your doorstep; like in India, Indian post peon and for premium shipping, their employees.
Customs / Import Duty
There are few misconceptions among new buyers about customs and import duty. First of all buying from foreign online stores without paying duty is not a crime and secondly clearing customs is not a painful job. Customs rules are different in different countries as I am from India I am sharing my experiences and some tips to deal with Indian customs easily.
Do I have to pay customs/Import duty?
Yes if you buy anything from foreign stores you are expected to pay the duty. There are some exceptions like ‘Gift’ or a price limit until you don’t have to pay any duty but to get those facilities, you have to convince the officer that the item is a gift and don’t exceed the price threshold, which is almost impossible.
How much customs/Import duty I have to pay?
According to the rule, a fixed percentage of tax with some additional charges on the mentioned price of the parcel has to be paid. Now, most of the sellers undervalue the parcels to bypass the customs charges. Customs officer knows these things so they evaluate the price on their own and charges some amount.
Usually, small items shipped via standard shipping bypasses customs duty most of the time, and big items shipped via premium shipping always attract import duty every time. Still, the charges depend on how the examining officer treats it.
Why I am paying more than others on the same item?
Other than the price mentioned on the parcel, there are several things is responsible for customs charges. Like your city, nature of examining officer, a specific time in a financial year, packaging type, etc. Keep in mind that the examining officer has all right to pass or hold your parcel and he can charge anything he wants. Now you can reject the parcel and once it returned to the customs house you can go and negotiate the amount but first, you have to prove the exact value and nature of your parcel which is not an easy job.
If customs/Import duty charges added how to pay and where?
For standard shipping, you have to pay the amount to the postman when he comes to deliver the parcel. Premium shipping partners only deliver the parcel when you deposit the amount in their bank account. Now there is no way to know the exact amount to be paid in standard shipping but if it is premium shipping, then the shipping partner notifies you before the parcel reaches you.
My parcel is held by custom, what can I do?
As soon as your parcel reaches to the customs house, it shows as ‘held by customs’ so don’t panic. As there are lots of items coming from foreign every day, the customs office needs time to inspect your parcel before taking any action. The time could be 2 days to 7 days. If still it’s not moving or tracking details not changing you can assume that your parcel has been sent to the border agency to evaluate customs duty.
Sometimes they do it by themselves and send you to parcel with an anonymous amount. Or they send you a memo-letter by speed post, asking invoice, bank transaction details, and your identity proof. Once you receive the letter you have to send the letter signed along with the required documents to the address as soon as possible. Once they receive it they will do the rest work. And the whole process may take around a month.
For premium shipping, things are not so critical. Shipping partner will ask you required documents before the parcel arrives in your county and once you mail them they will produce it before the officer and clears the customs by themselves but keep in mind these premium partners also charges you extra for this clearance by name of ‘handling charges’.
If you really fear to pay customs/Import duty, use standard shipping because from the experience I have paid only once among 100 orders.
Return or Claiming Warranty
Goods purchased from foreign online stores may not meet your expectations or gone bad too. In this case, you could return the item to the seller after discussing the issues with him. Now these thing and the whole issue vary seller to seller. Some sellers offer full/partial refund instead of return, others simply accept the parcel as your request. Most of the time you have to spend your own money to send the item back to the seller so that he can send you a new one against warranty claim.
There is also a misconception among buyers that return shipping charges to the foreign seller is high, which is not correct. If you use standard shipping like Indian Post registered letter, It only costs 100-300 Indian rupees.
There are advantages and disadvantages both while buying from foreign online stores. You can buy an item for a lesser price, you don’t have to wait for the item to be sold by a local seller. Some items may never available in your county too, and in that case, buying from foreign online stores is the only option left. But be careful while buying, use reputed stores, don’t import prohibited items, avoid heavy/large items and don’t try to be over-smart dealing with the customs office.