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FAQs - Shopping


These questions were put to and answered by a European consumer advice service. Do you have questions of your own? Contact your local European Consumer Centre.

Currency and VAT

  • Do I need to pay VAT on products I buy in another EU country?           

    YES - Duty-free shopping, for example in airports, is only for non EU residents whose destination is outside the EU. EU residents must pay VAT, even when they are shopping in another EU country.

    You may sometimes be exempted from paying VAT when you buy a car in another EU country.

  • Do all European countries accept the euro?

    NO - There are currently 28 countries in the EU, but only 18 use the euro: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.

    Others are set to join.

Cancelling a purchase

  • After receiving a letter of invitation from a furniture store, I went there and signed a purchase contract. Now I've changed my mind. Can I cancel my order?

    Only if the seller agrees. Although you were initially solicited by post, you signed the contract in the shop and it is therefore definitive. Read the small print of the contract to see under what conditions - if any - you may cancel your order.

Repairs, replacements, refunds

  • A few months after purchase, my new leather sofa is starting to fade. The seller claims this is due to my perspiration, which seems absurd. What can I do?

    EU law provides for a two-year guarantee for any new goods bought from a professional seller based in the EU. During this two-year period, the seller is responsible for any fault in the product - you must be able to use your sofa normally without any faults appearing.

    However, leather is a delicate material which is easily damaged by sweat or by cleaning it with the wrong products. In cases like these, the seller must inform you when you buy the goods whether they need to be treated in a particular way.

  • Goods that I bought online weren't delivered/arrived damaged. What can I do?

    When you shop online, you have the same rights as when you buy in a shop:           

    • if you buy goods that are of unsatisfactory quality, you may be entitled to have them repaired, replaced, refunded or reduced in price - depending on the circumstances.
    • any information about goods or services should be accurate and not misleading. If you have been given false or misleading information, you may be entitled to a refund.

    Check the terms and conditions and the returns policy of the seller's website. Contact them to explain the problem and ask for a solution. If you don't get a satisfactory response and the seller is based in the EU, you can contact the European consumer centre in your home country.

  • I bought a kitchen from a trader who visited my home. Only part of it has been delivered. What should I do?

    There are specific EU rules covering goods bought from a trader during a visit to your home or workplace or at an event outside the trader's usual business premises.

    Check the terms and conditions of delivery in the contract you signed. If the delivery period in the contract has elapsed, you should complain to the trader in writing. If the trader is in another EU country, contact your local European Consumer Centre.

  • I bought a phone a little over a year ago, and it has stopped working. The seller refuses to fix it for free. Don't I have a two-year legal guarantee?

    The legal guarantee is valid for a period of two years throughout the EU. But there are certain conditions.

    The legal guarantee covers any defects presumed to have existed at the time of delivery and which become apparent within a period of two years. However, the crucial time period here is the six months following purchase:

    • Any fault that appears within six months will be presumed to have existed at the time of delivery. The seller must then repair or replace your phone free of charge (or reimburse you if repairs or replacement are impossible).
    • After six months, you can still hold the seller responsible for any defects during the full two-year guarantee period. However, if the seller contests this, you must be able to prove that the defect existed at the time of delivery. This is often difficult, and you will probably have to involve a technical expert.
  • I bought a wardrobe and one of its doors won't shut properly. It was very expensive, and I would like the seller to replace it. However, the seller refuses and is offering instead to fix the faulty hinge. Isn't it my choice whether to opt for repairs or replacement?

    YES - It is your choice to choose whether to have a defective product repaired or replaced, unless your choice turns out to be impossible or disproportionately expensive for the seller. However, if the product's fault is minor - as in this case - opting for repair might well be the quickest solution.

  • I live in the UK and bought a camera in Spain. It doesn't work. What should I do?

    Under EU rules, the goods must be as described by the seller, fit for usual purpose, and of satisfactory quality and performance.

    Hopefully you still have the receipt with the seller's details. You should first contact him or her to explain your problem and ask to have the camera repaired or replaced. If this cannot be done, you should seek a refund.

    If you do not get a satisfactory response from the seller, you can contact your local European Consumer Centre, or the one in the country where you made the purchase.

  • My new phone doesn't work. Who do I contact, the seller or the manufacturer?

    That depends on which of the two types of product guarantee you want to invoke: the legal guarantee or the commercial guarantee.

    The legal guarantee is binding on the seller. It is valid for two years and covers products bought in the EU.

    The seller or manufacturer may also provide you with a commercial guarantee, whose terms and conditions are explained in your contract; the terms of the manufacturer's commercial guarantee could present more advantages for you than the legal guarantee. The commercial guarantee does not replace the two-year legal guarantee. If you are given a one-year commercial guarantee when you buy a product, you can still use the two-year legal guarantee to claim redress from the seller after more than one year, but still within two years of purchase, on the basis of your legal guarantee.

  • My television won't switch on, even though I only bought it three months ago. I don't trust the shop that sold it to me anymore - can I ask to be refunded?

    NO, NOT RIGHT AWAY - Under EU law, the seller must give you the choice between having your faulty television set repaired or replaced. If both solutions turn out to be impossible (for example, it would take an unreasonably long time or be too costly for the seller), you can demand a refund.

  • The seller in Spain is ready to repair my faulty camera, but who has to pay for shipping back and forth?

    Under EU law, within the legal guarantee period of two years, defective products must be repaired or replaced without any cost to the consumer. This includes shipping costs. So, in principle, the seller should cover all shipping costs (your sending the faulty camera to the seller; the seller's returning the repaired camera to you).

    However, the seller may wish to examine the camera to check whether it was defective when you bought it. In this case, you may have to pay to return the camera and ask to be refunded the shipping costs if the seller agrees that it was defective.

Guarantees

  • My computer, bought just over a year ago, won't boot up any more. The seller agrees that it is defective, but won't repair it for free, because the manufacturer's guarantee is only valid for one year. What can I do?

    The guarantee your seller is referring to is the manufacturer's commercial guarantee for your computer. This has nothing to do with your legal guarantee, which is binding on the seller and lasts for two years.

    If the seller agrees that your computer is faulty, they must repair or replace it free of charge. It is up to them to settle the matter with the manufacturer.

  • When does the two-year legal guarantee start?

    The two-year period starts from the day you took possession of the product. If you walked into a shop and walked out with the product, the guarantee period starts on that date. If you paid for the product but it was delivered at a later date, the two-year period starts from the date of delivery.

    You should therefore always keep your sales receipts and any delivery statements.

Buying services

  • I want to buy a washing machine from a German website. I can't find the seller’s contact details anywhere on the site. Is this normal?

    NO - By law the seller must give basic information on their website so that you can contact them in case of problems. This includes the name of the company, its registration number, physical location (not simply a P.O. box), email address and phone number.

Returns and cancellations

  • Five weeks ago I ordered an out-of-print book online. It was bought for my husband's birthday, which has passed without my receiving the order. What can I do?

    If a product you order is not delivered within 30 days, you can cancel the order. If you have already paid, the seller must give you a refund within 30 days.

  • I ordered a CD that I never received. I contacted the seller, who says it is the postal service that is responsible, not him. Is he right?  

    NO - The seller is responsible for the delivery of your purchase. It is the seller who must contact the delivery service and prove that the product was delivered. If the seller cannot prove this, they must send you the product again or give you a refund.

Repairs, replacements, refunds

  • Goods that I bought online weren't delivered/arrived damaged, what can I do?

    When you shop online, you have the same rights as when you buy in a shop:

    • if you buy goods that are of unsatisfactory quality, you may be entitled to have them repaired, replaced, refunded or reduced in price - depending on the circumstances.
    • any information about goods or services should be accurate and not misleading. If you have been given false or misleading information, you may be entitled to a refund.

    Check the terms and conditions and the returns policy of the seller's website. Contact them to explain the problem and ask for a solution. If you don't get a satisfactory response and the seller is based in the EU, you can contact the European consumer centre in your home country.

  • I bought a guitar from an online shop, but it arrived broken. The seller doesn't want to send me a new guitar or give me a refund, since he says the damage is not his fault but the shipping company's. Is he right?

    NO - The seller is responsible for the shipping of your purchase. The seller must repair or replace your guitar or give you a refund.

    When you have goods delivered, it is always a good idea to check the condition of your purchases in the presence of the delivery person, so that it cannot be claimed that the damage was done after the article was in your possession.

  • I ordered a CD that I never received. I contacted the seller, who says it's the postal service that's responsible, not him. Is he right?  

    NO - The seller is responsible for the delivery of your purchase. It is the seller who must contact the delivery service and prove that the product was delivered. If the seller cannot prove this, they must send you the product again or give you a refund.

  • The printer I bought four weeks ago on a website has just broken down. What can I do?

    You have the same consumer rights as you would had you bought it in a shop, i.e. a two-year guarantee for new goods.

    If your printer broke down within six months of delivery, contact the seller. He must repair or replace your printer or give you a refund if repairs or replacement are impossible. After six months, you must prove that you did not cause the machine to break down, which can be difficult.

Auction sites

  • I bought a coffee-maker on an online auction but it doesn't work. What can I do?

    When you buy from a private individual, you have neither the right to cancel your purchase after delivery nor the legal guarantees you have when buying from a professional seller.

    In this case, all you can rely on is the information you had at the time of purchase. If the product you bought is not as described, you can send it back and ask for a refund.

    Don't hesitate to ask private sellers detailed questions in order to avoid unpleasant surprises!

  • What are my rights when I buy goods from an online auction site?

    Auction sites differ from online stores in a number of key ways:

    When you buy something at an internet auction, you are not necessarily protected by distance selling legislation. Auctions are specifically excluded from these EU laws, although some countries have extended the distance selling legislation to include internet auctions.

    If you are purchasing goods from a private individual rather than a company, as is often the case for online auctions, the transaction is not covered by consumer legislation. A 'consumer' transaction involves a private individual buying goods or services from a seller acting in the course of his business, trade or profession, as opposed to two individuals acting in a private capacity.

    However, all reputable online auction sites offer buyers some degree of protection, plus plenty of advice about safe shopping on their site.

Safety

  • An online seller is asking me for a lot of personal details. Should I be concerned?  

    In order to buy things online, you must give the seller certain personal details (usually your name, address and bank details). However, the website must state to what degree your private data will be protected.

    The website must give you the option to refuse data collection and say that you do not want your contact details used for any other purpose than the transaction in question. In practice, this is usually done by ticking a box on the order form.

  • I want to buy a washing machine from a German website. I can't find the seller’s contact details anywhere on the site. Is this normal?

    NO - By law the seller must give basic information on their website so that you can contact them in case of problems. This includes the name of the company, its registration number, physical location (not simply a P.O. box), email address and phone number.

Opening a bank account

  • While surfing on the web, I found an offer for current accounts with a bank in France. What are the advantages of opening a current account in another EU country? What are the risks?

    As an EU resident, you can buy products and services from anywhere in the EU. However, banks are free to decide if they will give you a bank account.

    You should pay close attention to what having a bank account abroad will mean for you in practice. For example, some employers may insist that you have a local bank account into which they can pay your salary. Or the French bank you are interested in may insist that you have a local address.

    You may need to come to the bank in person to open a bank account, in order to prove your identity. Some common bank transactions may take longer if your account is based abroad, and it may be more difficult for you to file a complaint.

Day-to-day banking

  • How much will I be charged if I transfer money from my account to an account in another EU country?

    You cannot be charged more for transferring money to an account in another EU country than you would be for a transfer between two accounts in your own country.

    Charges for different payments do vary between institutions. The only legal requirement is that the charge for a transfer to another EU country must not be more than the domestic charge for the same type of transfer (provided the amount transferred is less than 50 000 euros).

  • I live in Belgium and want to buy a washing machine from a German seller. Will I have to pay bank charges if I pay by bank transfer?

    For an amount less than 50 000 euros, an international bank transfer in euros within the EU will not cost you more than a transfer between two bank accounts in the same country.

    Your bank transfer to the German seller will therefore not cost you any more than if you were making the payment to a bank account in Belgium. Make sure you give your bank the BIC and IBAN codes for the seller's bank account. You might have to pay extra charges if you do not.

  • I withdrew 100 pounds from an ATM in the United Kingdom while on holiday there. My latest bank statement shows that I was charged for that withdrawal. Is that legal?

    YES - If you withdraw a currency other than euros, the banks involved in the transaction may charge you.

    When you withdraw euros in another EU country, the bank cannot charge more than it would if you were making these transactions in your own country.

  • My company's private pension scheme is operated by a pension fund in another EU country. Will my retirement benefits be protected?

    YES - Companies can use the advantages of the EU single market to set up pension funds in another EU country. This could lead to cost savings for your company and potentially higher retirement benefits for you.

    Pension funds, whether located in your country or in another EU country, have to follow strict prudential rules to ensure a high degree of security. EU investment rules, for example, require pension funds to invest your money in your best interest.

  • What charges will I pay when I use an ATM abroad?

    If you have a bank account denominated in euros and use an ATM to take out euros in another EU country, you will not pay any more than you would to take out money in your home country.

    If you take out non-euro currency (Danish kroner, British pounds, etc.) from an ATM, you will have to pay extra charges.

Credits, loans and mortgages

  • My wife and I want to buy a house in Belgium, where her work is based.  However, her bank won't consider my salary in assessing our mortgage application (my job is based in France).  Isn't that a case of illegal discrimination?

    Banks in the EU will make a commercial decision on whether or not to accept your mortgage application, on the basis of the risk profile of the proposed loan.

    Banks may not discriminate against any EU citizens on grounds of nationality.  However, your country of residence, source or income or the location of the property to be mortgaged can often make it difficult to obtain a mortgage if they are not all in the same country.

Insurance

  • I bought title insurance when I bought a house abroad. In my home country, title insurance covers legal costs in the event of problems with recognition of ownership. The insurance contract of my new house does not contain any specific terms on legal expenses – are they included?

    NOT NECESSARILY - In many EU countries, title insurance and legal-expenses insurance are considered separate. You may need to take out separate insurance to cover legal expenses.

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