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FAQs - Shopping abroad


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 27 countries in the EU, but only 17 use the euro: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, 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.

  • Can I return something bought online if I don't like it?

    YES - When you receive a good or service bought online, you have seven days to decide whether or not to keep it. However, you should be aware that distance selling legislation does not apply to online auctions or to financial services, transport, accommodation, catering or leisure-services bookings.

  • I bought a kitchen table from a catalogue but now I've changed my mind. Can I cancel my order?

    YES - You have seven days to change your mind and cancel your purchase. This is true whenever you buy goods outside a shop - for example by phone, fax, mail order or on the internet. The seven-day period starts from the moment you receive the goods.

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.

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