When you make a purchase from a company based overseas, you need to keep in mind that it is not governed by U.S. consumer protection laws. Many foreign-based companies are legitimate and want to reach the U.S. market, so they will provide a high level of customer service and voluntarily abide by U.S. rules. But there are always those operators that will provide substandard products and services because they know they can get away with it and they’re not interested in long-term customers who provide repeat business.
Before buying from an overseas company, know who you are dealing with. Identify the company’s name, its physical address, a telephone number, and an e-mail address. Check to see if the company is affiliated with industry groups, trust and safety programs, or other self-regulatory programs you are familiar with. Next, be sure about what you’re buying. Look for accurate, clear, and easily accessible information about the goods or services being offered. If you have questions, contact the company for clarification before you make a purchase. Think about this: if you can’t understand the answers you get, it might be a good idea to buy elsewhere. It is a lot harder to get a refund from an overseas seller than a U.S.-based one, so do your best in advance to eliminate the need for a possible refund.
The seller should clearly designate the currency involved so you’ll know whether your need to pay in U.S. dollars or another currency. If it’s a foreign currency, be sure to figure out the exchange rate before you buy so you know how much you’re really paying. All major credit cards can process payments to foreign countries, or you can make the payment through your bank, but you will probably be charged for the service. Again, do your homework to find out ahead of time what fees and other issues are involved.
Be sure you know how the seller is going to ship and when you can expect delivery. Many of the major U.S. carriers–DHL, FedEx, UPS, etc.–operate internationally. The seller may also use the local postal system in the country of origin that will then connect with the U.S. Postal Service. Find out about insurance and what will happen if the package is lost or damaged. Depending on what you buy and its value, you may have to pay duty (or tax) to the U.S. government when you import it. A legitimate seller will tell you what to expect. If you’re not sure, contact the U.S. Customs office for more information. You may also need import licenses or other permits to bring the merchandise into the United States. Again, the U.S. Customs office or a customs broker can help you.