5 Tips And Tricks When Online Shopping Overseas

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Ordering online shouldn’t be such a pain in the butt

Ever since the Bureau of Customs increased the minimum value of a package that could be taxed (dubbed De minimis) to 10K last year, I’ve been shopping online like crazy. It’s funny then when you realized that there’s always been this psychological barrier that prevents most Filipinos from ordering stuff online. It’s understandable really – there’s plenty of anecdotes about corrupt customs officials online and in Facebook, and for that very reason many Filipinos are scared of ordering stuff online from foreign shops. Which is a pity – there’s a lot of great (and affordable) stuff to be had from shops like Aliexpress, eBay, Banggood and other online merchants that can’t be beat even if you figure in shipping time. Since I’ve been ordering so much stuff from overseas lately to the point of fiscal irresponsibility, I’m going to be sharing some of the things I learned while grabbing the best deals online:

1. Use a debit card to control your spending

As impossible as it sounds, I don’t have a credit card – I pay for everything with cash, which is a little problematic when you want to buy stuff online. Not having a credit card isn’t a unique problem in the Philippines – credit card adoption is still pretty low for our country, and is one of the biggest hurdles when it comes to online shopping for many. Since I have pretty poor impulse control, I’ve gone with debit cards which work pretty much the same way as credit cards, with a big difference – they only work if you put money in them. There’s plenty of companies and banks that offer debit cards, and if your ATM card has a CVC number in the back as well as an 16-digit credit card number in the front, it means you can use the money in your ATM account to pay for purchases online.

But as convenient as that is, it’s always a good idea to keep a separate debit card from your ATM card to minimize the impact of card fraud. We’ve used PayMaya before and really can’t recommend it enough. You can read our experience with PayMaya here.

Photo courtesy of Philstar

2. Know your rights, insist on the 10K De Minimis

We mentioned earlier that customs has now set a higher threshold for the value of a product before it needs to be taxed. While we all know about it now, many customs officials at the last mile (i.e., postal workers at municipalities and cities) either don’t know or are willfully ignorant of the new ruling, insisting on taxing packages that falls under the 10K value threshold. The best thing here is to stubbornly insist that they honor the order by either showing them the official site of the BOC, or even showing them the printed PDF of the ruling here.

On our part, we need to be good citizens and not abuse the new 10K below ruling from customs by not under-declaring the value of products that arrive. That being said, it’s also important to get a working estimate on the potential tax that you’ll be paying when you order something online, and while we can’t give you a tax and duties calculator that you can use, we’ve already done the legwork for you in terms of calculating the value of electronic goods, which you can read here.

3. Never, ever use EMS

Believe us when we say that you should always insist on regular airmail for most packages that you order overseas. While Express Mail Service is generally faster for other countries, it’s the complete opposite here in the Philippines. We’ve ordered packages via EMS before, and the experience is rarely pleasant.

You’re usually asked to come fetch your package in EMS Pasay, and the wait time is atrocious. As for customs fees and other payables, well, let’s just say that the viral video of the Australian man is pretty much what you can expect when you go there.

4. It takes around 2-3 weeks for your package to arrive via Regular Mail

One big thing you’ll have to understand when ordering packages online is that you have to be extremely patient. For me, most of my packages arrive around 2 weeks after it’s shipped by the vendor. The fastest I’ve gotten a package via regular mail is around a week after ordering, and that came from Canada. The longest I’ve waited was around 3 weeks, but that was in January right after the holidays.

That mail time varies depending on your location though, and I’ve found that in cities and other places where there’s a lot of people in Metro Manila (Q.C., Pasig) mail is generally slower. I live in one of the smaller municipalities in Rizal, and because of that I tend to get claim stubs (paper that your postman gives you to tell you that you have a package) in two weeks.

Once you get that stub, you’ll have to go to your local post office to claim your package. That’s usually where they ascertain the value of your package and if needs to be taxed. Remember, you’re only required to pay 112 pesos for the postal handling fee if your package is below the 10K de minimis threshold, no more, no less.

5. Shop around because shipping is expensive

One thing that I’ve learned buying stuff overseas is that shipping adds up. For some sites like Aliexpress, most of the items there have free shipping calculated in their pricing (even ridiculously small things like cases and screen protectors). Don’t be afraid to shop around – most popular items are stocked in multiple stores, so it pays to shop around first before pulling the trigger.

For eBay, I’ve discovered that many stores in the US have jacked up their shipping prices thanks to the Global Shipping Program. Stuff like 25$ shirts have shipping costs that’s sometimes greater than the price of the item that you’re buying, which is obviously not worth the trouble unless it’s something that you really, really want. I’ve found that searching for the same item in eBay.uk tends to give you significantly lower costs for shipping and handling even if there’s a slight price increase.

Also, if you’re shopping via Aliexpress, if the seller gives you an option for the Aliexpress Premium Delivery, take it – it’s only a few bucks more but it ensures your package will arrive in a mere six days, direct to your door via DHL. It’s an awesome shipping option that you should always take if it’s available.

Buying stuff online is daunting, especially with our less than ideal mail and customs system, but it is possible. Hopefully these tips that we gave you will help you with your online shopping experience.



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