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

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.

Setting up an e-commerce business in Spain
Photo: Free stock photos from www.rupixen.com / Pixabay

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. 

Flights

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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For members

LIVING IN FRANCE

MAP: The 20 cheapest French towns and cities to live in

The cost of living is a hot topic in France and across Europe right now - so where are the cheapest places to live?

MAP: The 20 cheapest French towns and cities to live in

At a time when purchasing power has never been so central to French people’s concerns, French daily Le Parisien has compiled a list of towns and cities where your money will go the furthest.

In order to produce this ranking, Le Parisien compiled the average salary in each location and then looked at the price of the average supermarket shop, the cost of transport (fuel as well as public transport), property prices (to buy or rent), property tax rates and the cost of a cinema ticket. 

READ ALSO Food, fuel and transport: Which prices will rise in France in 2023?

And it turns out smaller is better.

Of the 96 towns and cities tested, Niort, in the département of Deux-Sèvres in south west France (population around 60,000) came top,

Laval, in Mayenne (population around 50,000) was third; Saint-Brieuc, in the Brittany département of Côtes-d’Armor (population around 45,000), was 8th, and Rodez, down in the southern département of Aveyron (pop: c 25,000) was 10th.

The 20 most wallet-friendly towns in France are:

  1. Niort
  2. Châteauroux
  3. Laval
  4. Nevers
  5. Belfort
  6. Chaumont
  7. Épinal
  8. Saint-Brieuc
  9. Saint-Étienne
  10. Rodez
  11. Châlons-en-Champagne
  12. Quimper
  13. Arras
  14. Foix
  15. Poitiers
  16. Le Mans
  17. Colmar
  18. Montauban
  19. Bourg-en-Bresse
  20. Nantes

READ ALSO The 20 small towns most popular with house-hunters in France

Niort gains, the study found, in part because it has offered free local public transport since 2017 - a policy that other towns that rank well also implement, including second-placed Châteauroux (Indre), Bourg-en-Bresse (Ain, 24th) and Gap (Hautes-Alpes, 63rd).

For various reasons, including infrastructure, offering free public transport that meets higher levels of demand in larger cities is unviable, the report said. 

In fact, France’s larger cities are noticeably low in Le Parisien’s rankings. Lyon stumbled on to the list in 58th, Paris in 77th, Marseille 84th, and Montpellier 90th. Nantes, coming in 20th, is the only ‘large city’ representative in the top 20.

READ ALSO Wild boar, fast internet and kindly neighbours – why small-town France has the best of all worlds

The report stated that, despite salaries being little higher than average in larger conurbations, people also pay more for shopping, public transport, movie tickets, and housing.

The survey found that, on the whole, your euro goes further in the west of the country - where supermarkets are cheaper, and towns aren’t too congested, while the cost of a tank of fuel is lower, as are - researchers discovered - the more abstract costs, such as insurance, for the same level of service as elsewhere.

READ ALSO OPINION: An inflation ‘tsunami’ is about to hit France

Eastern France, the study found, benefited from relatively cheap property prices - offering more bang for a house-buying buck than the expensive ‘coastal bounce’-affected south or the Ile-de-France region, which orbits the cost-of-living singularity that is Paris.

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