At the moment, if you buy any products online from another EU country and want to return them, you’ll broadly benefit from the same consumer protection as if you were purchasing it in the UK.
But when you buy goods from outside of the EU, your rights and your ability to enforce them gets more complicated.
Will Brexit change my rights when I shop from outside the EU?
Any company operating in the EU or marketing to EU consumers currently has to abide by the consumer law of the EU.
But after Brexit those same companies will have to abide by the consumer law of the UK when marketing to UK consumers.
Looking for more information on shopping rights when buying goods from the EU after Brexit? Read our guide for more information on how Brexit could impact shopping rights and returns from the EU.
Is the company set up to sell in the UK?
At present, if a company from outside of the EU is marketing to the UK, in theory it has to abide by EU and any relevant UK laws that offer any additional protections.
This includes ensuring products meet product safety standards, are fit for purpose and that they arrive safely and as described.
If this doesn’t happen, you should be able to freely exercise your consumer rights as you would with a company operating within the EU.
Unfortunately, in practice, retailers from across the world don’t always abide by our laws. We regard this as a big problem.
How can I tell if a company is marketing to the UK?
Companies that are set up to market to the UK might do the following:
- Ask you which country you’re browsing from, or have already pre-selected the UK when you visit its .com site
- Redirect you to the .co.uk version of its site, if it has one
- Display prices in pounds sterling
- Show that it is knowledgeable about UK/EU law in its terms and conditions and indicate that these rights apply when you shop
It isn't always easy to spot a retailer based outside the EU when you're shopping online, especially if it uses Google or social media to target its adverts at UK-based shoppers.
Be careful if you see lots of targeted advertising and make sure you check the website before you buy - the retailer might be marketing to the UK, but it won’t necessarily abide by the law when things go wrong.
What to do if a retailer is flouting the rules
If you are having problems with a purchase made from a company who is clearly marketing to the UK, but isn’t following the law, you can try the following:
- try to communicate with the retailer and get the issue resolved amicably. Contact its customer services and ask if it has a formal complaints procedure if you're not getting anywhere
- report the problem to Trading Standards, especially if the retailer is targeting UK shoppers. For example, you’ve seen it promoting adverts on social media or search engines such as Google
- try to claim your money back using chargeback for debit card purchases under £100 or Section 75 for credit card purchases more than £100
Buying from worldwide online marketplaces
If you’re buying from an online marketplace site such as Amazon Marketplace or Ebay, be aware that your contract of sale is usually with the seller, not with the marketplace website itself.
They’re not obligated to, but some marketplace websites such as Amazon Marketplace and Ebay offer additional protections when things go wrong though – check what these are before you buy.
Read our dedicated guide on your online marketplace shopping rights for more information.
What are the risks buying outside of the EU?
When you make a purchase from a retailer that’s not actively marketing to the UK/EU, your rights will usually be different.
In most cases, it will be the rules of the country you purchase from that will apply to the sale, but do check the small print and the site’s terms and conditions.
For example, if you purchased a lamp from a retailer in California which does not market to the UK, and it arrives broken, you will typically have to consult the consumer law of California when exercising your rights.
So, if you purchase from a retailer not marketing to the UK your rights in the following areas could be different:
You could also be charged for importing goods and in some cases you might have to pay customs and excise duty for anything you order. This depends on the product, the value of it and where you bought it from.
You could also face long shipping delays.
If you change your mind about a product and wish to return it, it will be up to you to pay the return shipping export costs.
If you are sold a damaged or faulty product, you’ll have to find out the law of the country you purchased it from.
Top tips for buying outside of the EU
Ask the retailer which law the sale will fall under, so you can look up how much consumer protection you would have if something goes wrong.
This is especially important to do if the item you’re purchasing is expensive or large, as this will impact shipping costs.
If they’re not sure, ask them for confirmation on what would happen in the following scenarios:
- your purchase is late
- the wrong item arrives
- you change your mind about the purchase
- it arrives damaged
- it develops a fault soon after (provide a timeline)
Use a credit card if you’re buying an expensive or large product, so you can make a claim using Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act if something goes wrong.
Worldwide companies marketing to the UK
As UK law will most likely be the same as EU law at least initially after Brexit, you won’t experience much change when shopping in the short term.
But if and when the UK decides to change its laws around online shopping and product safety, any companies marketing to UK consumers – including those in the EU – will have to abide by UK law.
EU companies operating outside of Europe
Any EU company also has to abide by EU consumer protection law when it sells worldwide.
So, at the moment someone in Australia or the US buying from Italy or Germany would benefit from EU consumer protection around product safety, online cancellations and returns.
After Brexit, this situation will likely be the same for UK shoppers.
Online dispute resolution
At the moment, EU law means that you can lodge a complaint in the small claims court where you live, regardless of which EU country you bought a product from.
The European Commission provides an internet platform for online settlement of disputes.
The OS platform is to serve as a point of contact for out-of-court settlement of disputes regarding contractual obligations that arise from online purchase agreements.
But, after Brexit, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to do this. You’ll probably also have to go to the country you purchased the product from and use their dispute resolution or court claims process.