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How safe is my purchase? What foreigners in France need to know about buying from non-French websites

The Local France
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How safe is my purchase? What foreigners in France need to know about buying from non-French websites
Photo: Free stock photos from / Pixabay

Anyone ordering goods online from non-EU countries, such as the US or post-Brexit UK, will be aware they are likely to be subject to customs and VAT charges before they can take delivery of that product - but they could also miss out on EU consumer protections.


Whether it's buying books, ordering furniture or booking flights, it's not uncommon for foreigners in France to order things online from other countries - but the level of consumer protection for non-EU websites may be lower than you expected.

And for online orders it's where the company is based that counts.

EU laws provide consumers with the following key rights on purchases, including those made online anywhere within the EU:

  • The right to truthful advertising;
  • The right to have faulty goods repaired or replaced;
  • The right to contracts without unfair clauses;
  • The right to return most goods purchased online within 14 days;
  • The right to goods and services on the same terms as local customers;
  • The right to free assistance from European Consumer Centres for problems with a trader based within the EU/EEA;
  • The right to extensive information in advance of purchase;
  • The right to a 14-day cooling-off period. This applies to online purchases but not for personalised items, hotel accommodation or car rental;
  • The right to a refund within 14 days of cancellation;
  • The right to have products delivered within 30 days (unless another timeframe is agreed);
  • The right to your express opt-in consent (for example, by ticking a box) before a trader can apply extra costs;
  • The right to the same price no matter the payment type used, for example credit cards.

But, if you’re ordering goods online from businesses based in countries outside the EU zone, these laws don't apply.

Instead, your consumer rights will be set down in the law of the country in which the business is based, such as - for example - the UK. While consumer protection laws are often similar, it's not impossible that you could come up against crucial differences.


You should therefore check what rights you have. These are often found in the terms and conditions sections that few people actually read but could make all the difference between getting a refund or not.

Customs charges and taxes

If you're having items shipped into France from outside the EU, bear in mind that there will probably be customs charges to pay. You may also need to pay extra taxes before claiming your package, although some retailers add these on to the purchase price. 

Check where the business is based

If the business is based outside the EU, you may want to find an EU-based alternative, to ensure you have stronger legal rights should an issue arise. You also avoid any additional customs charges;

Buy from reputable retailers

When shopping online, it’s important to do some quick research, check reviews and social media pages. It doesn't guarantee perfect service - all businesses make mistakes, but it is more likely you'll be well treated by an after-sales professional;

Check the cancellation & returns policy

When buying goods online from non-EU based businesses, read the T&Cs on their website and check if you can return or cancel your order, if you change your mind;

Check for additional taxes or charges

If you are buying from a business outside of the EU, read the T&Cs on their website for details of any import taxes or additional charges that you may have to pay - for example, VAT or customs charges - on delivery;

Pay by card

When shopping online, pay by card so that if you do run into problems you may have the option of a chargeback from your credit or debit card provider;

Check that the website is secure

Before you put in your card details look out for an ‘s’ after ‘http’ at the beginning of the url and a padlock symbol in your browser’s toolbar, which show the website is secure. 



If you're booking flights, it's also important to check where the airline is based as this could be the difference between compensation or no compensation if your flight is cancelled or delayed.

The EU has strict rules in place stating when airlines must compensate passengers for delays or cancellations. These apply to all flights taking off from an EU country, such as France.

But flights into France from a non-EU country are only covered by these rules if the airline is based in the EU. So for example if you're flying from the UK to France with the (Ireland-based) Ryanair you are covered by EU compensation rules. But if you take the same journey with the (UK-based Easyjet) then you are not. 

READ ALSO Your rights if your flight is cancelled or delayed




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