This is a simple guide to explain some of the costs and processes involved in importing goods from US American and other sellers (listing worldwide on ebay.co.uk or on ebay.com, ebay.ca, ebay.com.au etc etc etc). I wrote this guide as I needed this information when I started buying goods from abroad and there was no relevant guide available, nor was this information freely available to British buyers :( There is still no other guide properly covering this on eBay so I made this one to help you !
In a nutshell, its often cheaper and easier to import an item from abroad than it is to wait and purchase it on ebay.co.uk from a British seller. Although our British sellers have most items on offer, there are certain things that cost silly amounts to buy here and you can save lots of time and money by just importing them if you know how. This guide will also show you how to explain international shipping to American etc sellers who arent sure about shipping to you. Its very easy when you / they know how :)
Many international sellers will have their international postage ("shipping") costs listed in the auctions but many dont, simply putting "worldwide" shipping with no costs shown. This is not a problem and should not dissuade you from winning their items if they are ok to ship here, then go for it !
If the seller doesnt have "shipping to worldwide / europe / UK" etc specified in the listing, or it wont allow you to bid, then you need to ask them either to add that shipping option to the listing, to exempt you from bidder restrictions, or to remove their general bidder restriction stopping people "from countries I dont ship to". Once you can explain to them how to allow you to bid, then you are off and away !
I will begin by explaining US postage prices and names and will go on to expand this guide later to cover other countries in more detail as well. The US postal service is setup very similarly to our own and the breakdown of costs is similar also.
- The most expensive option is Global Express Guaranteed mail, which takes only 1-3 days to get to you and is fully tracked with delivery confirmation but costs a fortune. Only really a viable option for very expensive <=$2,499 items.
- The second most expensive option is Express Mail which has less insurance ($100 insurance cover is included free as standard) cover than Global Express Guaranteed but still substantially more than Priority. This method takes 5 days to arrive and is fully tracked with delivery confirmation. The Royal Mail equivalent of this is Special Delivery / International Airsure.
- The third and most standard / normally chosen option is Priority Mail which has adequate insurance cover if you pay extra for it (and includes $65 insurance cover as standard anyway !) and takes 6-10 days to arrive. It will always come with Parcel Force delivery people in the UK. This is fully tracked with delivery confirmation also. Priority Mail flat rate boxes have a weight limit of 20 pounds 0 ounces, so if its above this you have no option but to use a larger non flat rate Priority box or pay for Express Mail. The Royal Mail equivalent of this is 1st Class Recorded / International Signed-For.
- There are subsets of Priority Mail, such as (large / regular / small) flat-rate boxes and flat-rate envelopes etc. Apart from the smallest ones, they all have the same features as standard Priority, whereas the envelopes and small flat-rate boxes miss out on the full tracking, but have all the other features and freebies still.
- Then finally, there is First Class Mail. This is by far the cheapest method, but usually takes about 8-14 days to arrive and offers no tracking or delivery confirmation, but sellers can still get proof of postage for free "certificate of mailing" or if they pay a small fee to register the package ($1.20 i believe). Also, by providing the customs form number, you can still "track" the package upto the time it arrives in the UK... First Class mail has a weight limit of 4 pounds 0 ounces, so if your package exceeds this you must resort to Priority Mail... The Royal Mail equivalent of this is Second Class Standard / International AirMail.
You / the seller can price up all of these shipping options on usps.com, just as they would for a US-domestic shipped item, but changing the destination country to the UK.
There are size restrictions for all the different mail types, but they all work out to be very similar to the British Royal Mail size restrictions really. The more expensive the shipping method, the larger and heavier packages can be sent basically. If your items can fit into a flat-rate envelope or box for example, you will save a lot over the standard price for that shipping method (much like our Standard Airmail vs Airmail Small Packets...). Priority mail has a maximum size of 108" for example, which is length + width...
The one other key difference between these shipping methods is how they are processed and used. First Class requires the seller to physically deliver the item to their local post sorting office. If they want proof of postage they must queue up, so many US sellers dont like this method for this simple reason of the extra time & effort taken. When they go to the post office, the seller will be given a customs form / label to fill out to declare the total value of goods etc.
All the other US shipping methods, from Priority and up in terms of cost, all offer free online postage label printing, free online customs form / label printing (filled in for them), free packing materials (if flat rate boxes), free packing (flat rate) boxes / envelopes etc and free home pickup of the item. This last fact of free home pickup is very important as many US sellers will only ship if they dont need to leave the house as they dont usually have to with domestic shipping ! Also remember how big America is, there are many locations with no local post office for over 15 miles around the seller's location etc so petrol becomes a Handling cost factor... The seller will need to make sure they are using a PC that can install updates to Java if need be for the label printing (ie: not work PC ?) as to print the labels online they'll need the latest version of Java...
Its also worth bearing all these freebies in mind when looking at how fairly you get charged for P&P, as if the seller gets a free box, free bubble wrap etc packing materials, free printouts of shipping and customs labels and a free pickup from their house, how much "Packing" / "Handling" is it really fair to charge ? On the same point, realise that for them to ship First Class must include a journey and time to visit their local post office to physically hand in the package, get it priced up and (in some cases) get registered tracking & proof of postage.
Finally, in terms of pricing it all up, once you / the seller have the package weight (and dimensions if possible, but not essential), you can go onto usps.com and find out the exact price there, for ALL these shipping methods, not just the trackable ones. However, its not possible to print out First Class shipping labels online, so to get that done the seller must physically visit the post office as described above...
If your US seller isnt sure how to ship to you or which method to use, send them to usps.com to get the correct prices, or ask them for the weight and do it yourself, its very simple, just click on Mailing & Services - Price Comparisons on the right hand side of the main page, then change destination country to UK and you're there, done ! Many US sellers want to only ship using Express Mail, but if you explain how much more expensive it is than Priority and how with Priority they get all the same benefits and freebies, and that the only difference is 1-3 extra days to arrive, usually they will be happy to ship to you using Priority Mail instead. Also remind the US sellers how its cheaper for them to buy postage online from the usps.com website (than physically taking the package to the Post Office) and how this saving could be somewhat passed on to you... :)
I have imported from so many sellers that say in their auctions that they only ship to their own country. Often this is simply down to not knowing how to ship to us here, but if you walk them through it and highlight the ease of pricing on usps.com and how its nearly identical for them as shipping domestically etc they will usually be delighted to ship to their UK buying public :)
In terms of shipping / postage costs from other countries, I will write a more detailed section on that here asap, but for a condensed overview now, the countries could be broken down (as reported by many buyers) thus :-
Canada - ground / surface mail is VERY cheap and reliable but takes a LONG time to arrive, roughly 4-8 weeks ! Occasionally this may mean items not arriving with you before the 60 day eBay deadline expires, but in my experience they always show up eventually. Canadian Airmail and Express Post are much more expensive, almost prohibitively so for high weight items, but do arrive very quickly, between 6-12 days usually.
Australia / Oceania - ground / surface mail is ridiculously cheap and doesnt take too long to arrive either, about 2-5 weeks usually. The trackable Airmail options cost more but still much less than for North American countries. Australia is one of the cheapest places to import from really.
Far East - although some buyers report problems with lost items, I have never experienced such issues and the mail costs are again much lower than from North America.
South America - VERY slow surface mail but the trackable options are fast and still very cheap.
Europe - rapid and efficient postal services from all countries except Italy bizarrely, who seem to have many issues with their post :( (!) Not too expensive as a general rule but will be if you go for super rapid delivery with full trackable options. Also remember that Customs charges dont apply to goods imported from the EU so it can work out cheaper for importing expensive items :)
Russia / Ukraine etc - slow but cheap mail services, will arrive eventually but you didnt pay much so dont complain if you have to wait awhile !
Africa - many people complain of scams and problems importing from Africa but if you stick to trackable options only you should be ok and they dont cost much at all.
Dont forget that upon import to the UK your package is subject to British Customs taxes also. If it is declared on the customs form / label as being over certain values (£36 for "gifts" and £15 for all other categories) you will have to pay 20% Value Added Tax (VAT) on your items before they will be released for delivery to you. Also, if your package goes over the £15 / £36 values for the goods, then Customs will also tax you on what you spent on shipping / postage costs ! These customs charges, (and the associated rip-off £8-12 that Royal Mail / Parcel Force will charge you (for the "admin" of sending a 1 page letter to you saying "we have your parcel") additional to the customs charge), are your responsibility in general and not all sellers will pay them for you. They do not constitute part of the P&P costs from eBay and are out of the seller's control, beyond what value they mark the customs form with... These Customs charges only apply to goods imported from outside the EU (as within the EU is always free). Also, even if your package doesnt go over the £36 max value but is marked as a gift (and is Priority, not Express mail), Customs will also charge you tax on the shipping / postage costs :( Additionally, if your package is marked over £135 total value (or a "gift" over £630) then you will also have to pay Customs Duty on top of the tax. This is usually calculated at a flat rate of 2.5% and they will not charge you if the total duty comes to under £9. You can see a list of UK commodity codes on the gov.uk website, by searching for "Trade Tariff", which show you what rate of duty your items will be charged at...
There is also a "Duty Calculator" website where you can check total import duty and taxes for most countries and most types of items being sent. You can use it free quite a few times before you need to register.
At the end of the day, if the postal method has tracking and / or delivery confirmation, you can basically trust it to get here asap. This will also give you a proper recourse & comeback should something happen and the item get lost in the post or turn up damaged etc. As a rule of thumb, the more postage actually costs and the more features it has available, the higher the maximum insurance payout, so bear this in mind if importing expensive goods...
Trust our foreign counterpart sellers and tuck into their often cheaper and more readily available goods ! Set your searches to "worldwide" and reap the rewards without fear !
I hope you found this guide helpful ! I wish someone had written it before I had to discover all this myself during my import purchases :(
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Thanks so much :)
[There is a version of this guide tailored for US (and other countries) export sellers here, that you can ask your sellers to read so they understand how all this works - http://reviews.ebay.com/Shipping-Internationally-to-the-UK-etc-from-America?ugid=10000000011655738]
p.s. - I'm writing a guide on Exporting from the UK (to the US etc) but there is so much information to gather and explain, its taking me ages sorry ! Just so you know, you can use Parcelforce, FedEx, UPS, MyHermes, Yodel and ParcelMonkey to export to most countries and some of them offer a further service to package and pickup your items etc (for a cost of course !). Most other countries don't have as strict Customs as us, so its quite easy to Export from the UK...