Shopping internationally? 9 things you should know in 2021

Posted: 16 September 2021 7:54 pm
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Getting your favourite items delivered from overseas is always a treat. But there are some things to take into consideration.

This guide was written in partnership with vPost. Your one stop to all your shopping needs. vPost offers you exclusive deals and promotions that you can enjoy when shipping your Australia purchases home. Learn more.

Online shopping in 2021 isn't quite as straightforward as you might like to believe. Sure, it's easy and convenient (especially when we're in and out of lockdowns). But, hidden shipping and import costs, seemingly good deals that turn out to be extortionate and international stores that don't actually ship to Australia can turn convenience to chaos in an instant.

Luckily, there are a bunch of things you can bear in mind to ensure that you're shopping savvier online. In this article we'll guide you through the dos and don'ts and give you the tools you need to shop internationally anywhere. From international shipping services like the innovative vPost to price comparisons and beyond, we'll outline all the need-to-know info to help you shop smarter online.

1. Compare prices

One of the big perks to shopping internationally is that the RRP is often lower in an item's origin country compared to Australia, but that doesn't mean you should skip the price comparison step.

It's always a good idea to do a quick price check to make sure you're getting the best deal, especially with branded goods. Many retailers stock the same brands and very few offer a best-price guarantee. It's definitely worthwhile to check you're not being ripped off before committing to a purchase.

A quick google shopping search can show you what the same item is retailing for at several different retailers. Compare the cheapest and remember to factor in any shipping fees too for a more accurate price comparison.

2. Choose cost effective shipping methods

Many retailers advertise free delivery when you meet a specified minimum spend, but what they don't say is that often, the free option is not insured and can take a long time. Added to that, many online retailers will make you wait up to 35 working days from dispatch before they'll deem something to be lost in transit and offer a refund or a replacement.

You should also bear in mind that most international retailers restrict their free shipping offers to customers shopping within their specific country of operation too. Expedited delivery, where available, will usually come at a premium too. The smart thing to do is work out whether it's worth paying for and factor these additional fees into your price comparison to shop smarter.

Always look further into a retailer's shipping information before committing to a purchase.

Freight forwarding is another option that you should always consider. There are plenty of international retailers out there that won't ship outside of their countries. The services that are given by a number of freight forwarding providers are becoming a popular way to shop through sites that you wouldn't ordinarily be able to. And, while most of these services don't come cheap, vPost offers an affordable solution.

vPost was formerly owned by Singapore Post, well recognised in the industry for innovation and its strong network relationships with global postals, including Australia Post.

vPost allows Aussie residents to shop unrestricted from the US, the UK, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and China. What's more, you can even insure your shipment when you choose the vCare plan, allowing you to safely import luxury goods and high-cost purchases.

In some cases, you can even get a better deal on tax. For example, if you use a vPost warehouse for US shopping, you could save on taxes since the company's Oregon warehouse is entitled to sales tax free.

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3. Be aware of GST and import duties

International retailers are required to charge GST (Goods and Services Tax) on all sales. Before the legislation that came into effect on 1 July 2018, overseas online retailers weren't required to pay GST on purchases below $1,000. However, this legislation means that international retailers are now required to pay GST even on lower value items. This could see your cart's total rise at the checkout when shopping online through International stores.

To calculate the total cost of a product, you'll first need to convert your purchase into Australian dollars. Next calculate the import duty. This is 5% of the value of your goods once converted to Australian dollars. To work out the GST on international purchases, you need to add the value of the goods in Australian dollars, plus any shipping costs and the import duty. The 10% GST is calculated based on this total.

For example, if you purchase a handbag for AUD$100, you need to add the 5% customs duty ($5) plus the shipping fees (let's say $25). This gives a total of $130. Finally you need to add a 10% GST of $13. This means that the total cost of goods is approximately $143.

If you do end up using a freight-forwarding service such as vPost, be aware that you'll probably have to submit your purchase invoice. This is done to comply with Australian Tax Office requirements and to ensure that the declared value is accurate.

4. Watch out for foreign transaction fees

Another hidden cost that you won't know about until it hits is the currency conversion fee. Credit and debit card issuers are fond of issuing a foreign transaction fees of 3-3.5% of your purchase in order to convert your AUD$ to the retailer's chosen currency. You can avoid this by choosing to only shop with retailers that accept Australian dollars, or alternatively by choosing a card that offers 0% foreign transaction fees.

5. Know what's banned

As with everything, restrictions on what you can and can't import to Australia apply. These include all the usual suspects such as fire arms and hazardous chemicals but also span some unusual prohibited items such as toys and erasers when containing excess amounts of toxic compounds. For access to the full list of prohibited imports in Australia check out the Australian Border Force page.

6. Bundle your shipping

Smart shopping is all about avoiding additional fees wherever possible. So, if you're planning on buying a pair of jeans this week and a new handbag next week and both items are coming from the same store, it's wise to wait and buy both at the same time. This way you'll only incur one shipping charge.

However, if you're not good at saving, there are other solutions. vPost offers some amazing bundling discounts and an innovative and totally free 30 days storage. This service gives you the option to consolidate parcels into one invoice allowing you to enjoy even bigger savings on your shipping fees.

7. Always check for coupons

At Finder, we specialise in helping you find the very best deals. This includes a long list of discount codes and coupons to help you save when shopping online. We publish shopping deals in many other countries too. So, next time you're shopping with an international retailer, it could pay to visit the local Finder site in the country you're shopping in to see if you can get a better price with a coupon. Take a moment to browse our partnering brands before finalising any purchase to see if you can make a good deal even better!

There are also a bunch of insider discounts that you may not know about too. For example, new sign ups at vPost will qualify for a massive 15% off their first shipment. The shipping service also recently launched its vPost Shop feature, which allows users to browse current deals and sales from popular brands from around the world.

8. Make sure you know the returns policy

A fact you need to know before shopping frivolously online is that a massive majority of online retailers won't cover your returns fees on a change-of-mind basis. Plus, when you're shopping with international retailers, you could end up having to fork out a fortune in return shipping costs because most retailers will require that you ship unwanted products back to their country of operation. Check out the returns information page of a retailer before you buy and be aware of where you stand should you need to return an item.

9. Safety matters

Given the global pandemic we're currently facing, the popularity of online shopping has boomed massively. And, don't think that's gone unnoticed by fraudsters. Statistics showed that card fraud increased by 0.6% to $468 million in 2020. These reported fraudulent transactions totalled a massive $468 million. Thus proving it's more important than ever to make sure you're taking all the necessary steps required to stay safe when shopping online. Here's the need-to-know info to keep you safe:

  • Check for the padlock. Secure sites feature a padlock icon on the left-hand side of the URL bar. This indicates that the site is safe and offers secure shopping.
  • Avoid using public WiFi. As a general rule, public WiFi networks are not secure. Always avoid shopping online when using one as doing so can leave you exposed to the risk of identity theft.
  • If a deal seems too good to be true, it usually is. Online marketing campaigns are one of the most popular ways cyber criminals entice their victims. Avoid any suspicious links received via email or text, and ignore any dodgy pop-ups while shopping online.
  • Use common sense. If a retailer seems to be asking too many questions during the checkout process, it's probably an indication that something's not right. If this happens to you, abandon the site and add it to your blacklist.
  • Shop our partnered brands. Finder only works with trustworthy and reputable brands, so if you're looking to branch out from your usual stores, you're sure to find a great alternative in our impressive catalogue of partners.
  • Switch up your password combination. Never choose a password you've already used elsewhere when creating an account for any online store. And, wherever possible choose to use a 2-factor security process, especially when storing your credit card details.
  • Check that the payments correspond. Once you've completed your purchase check your bank account or statement matches the payment amount you're expecting.
  • Do your research on current scams. Be aware of what scams are widespread at the moment so that you know what to watch out for.

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