I Just Got a Buyer from Timbuktu. What Do I Do Now?

Should You Sell Internationally?

Q: "Should I offer my eBay listings worldwide?"

A: Over 50 percent of eBay's total business is conducted outside the United States, and half of eBay's estimated 233 million registered users live in foreign countries. If you are selling only within the United States, you may be missing out on some incredible opportunities to build your business—there are sometimes huge markets overseas for items that you can't even give away here!

If you do decide to offer your eBay listings to a worldwide audience (rather than just the United States or certain regions of the world), there are several points to consider, according to eBay Certified Education Specialist and PowerSeller Jack Waddick of Chicago, Illinois (oakviewtraining.com), as follows:

• When setting up your eBay listings, selecting the "will ship worldwide" option means your listings will appear on all twenty-seven eBay websites around the world (at no additional charge). Your listing will appear in English unless you also provide a translated language.

• Every item you ship outside the United States must have customs papers attached.-You can print domestic and international shipping labels and customs papers through the PayPal Shipping Labels feature.

• PayPal is accepted in 190 countries and regions around the world covering sixteen currencies, and PayPal can easily convert the currency for you.

• PayPal's Seller Protection Policy covers shipments to the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada only.

• Sellers are required to maintain a United States bank account if they intend to use or accept PayPal, unless they are located in one of the few countries in which PayPal maintains a legal presence.

Q: "The auction on one of the items I was selling just ended, and the winning bidder is from the United Kingdom. I stated clearly in the auction that I would not ship internationally. Am I obligated to sell to this bidder or can I go right into a second chance offer to the next highest U.S. bidder?"

A: You are not obligated to sell to this bidder, since he clearly did not read your selling Terms and Conditions. You should list this person as an "unwelcome bidder" and either relist the item or offer the underbidders a second chance offer to buy the item.

Customs Duties and Paperwork—When You Export

Q: "Who is responsible for paying customs duties when I ship internationally to a buyer?"

A: Legally, it's the buyer's responsibility to make sure an imported item clears customs in his or her country. If you, as the seller, do not fill out the customs forms properly, however, the goods will be held up at the port of entry in the buyer's home country (which may be several hours' drive from where the buyer actually lives), and the buyer will have to deal with it at his or her own expense of time and money. The buyer won't like you for that and might leave negative feedback on eBay, even though you did everything else correctly.

Q: "I just sold an item on eBay to a Canadian buyer. The winning bid amount was over $500. I plan to ship the item via the U.S. Postal Service, but the buyer has asked me to check the 'gift' box on the form and state only a $50 value. When I asked him why, he replied that the Canadian customs duties would 'kill him' financially. He also suggested that I declare the item as a 'used light fixture' having a value of only $20. I am very nervous about doing this—is it legal?"

A: Absolutely not. What this buyer is asking you to do is commit customs fraud—a felony in the United States. Checking the "gift" box or declaring a minimal value for an item robs Canada of customs revenue. If you are caught, they will refer you to U.S. authorities for prosecution.

The rules are that you must declare an item's actual value when filling out customs forms—for an eBay seller this will almost always be the winning bid amount or Buy It Now! purchase price. The one legal exception is if the item sells on eBay for much more than its current fair market value—for example, a situation in which two or more bidders engage in a bidding war that drives the price up to astronomical levels (you should be so lucky!). In that case, you are allowed to declare the lower fair market value of the item to save the buyer some customs duties; just be sure you have documentation supporting your calculation of fair market value.

You can be sure that if the authorities in either the United States or Canada catch you understating an item's value—and, believe me, they will, as they are wise to the ways of wily eBay sellers by now—your buyer will disavow any knowledge of your intentions and claim that, of course, he would not encourage an overseas seller to engage in any sort of illegal or fraudulent transaction. Your buyer should have read your listing and, before he bid on your item, determined how much in customs duties and value-added tax he was willing to pay.

To learn the finer points of filling out customs and international shipping forms, check out the book Export/Import Procedures and Documentation, by Thomas Johnson. It costs around $75 but is well worth the price. Intended as a training manual for corporate employees involved in import-export activities, the book is chock-full of examples of how to fill out international shipping forms for each of the major United States-based carriers, as well as some foreign ones.

Q: "What are some dos and don'ts for eBay sellers when it comes to customs documents?"

A: You don't need to be specific on the declaration, when it comes to the contents. If you sell an antique mechanical bank, for example, it is sufficient to declare the contents as "coin bank" to deter or mislead thieves. The declared value is, however, very important.

You do not have to declare the value your item sold for on eBay if the winning bid is greater than the actual retail value. So, for example, if you bought something at retail for $20 and it sold on eBay for $90, you could declare $20 on the customs form. If the item sold below what you paid for it, it is okay to declare the winning bid amount on the customs form.

You should not, however, declare a value of zero for any item; that's a red flag for customs officials overseas, and they are then free to set a customs value themselves. In many cases, the buyer will end up having to pay more duty/ taxes than necessary. You should also exclude shipping and handling costs from the declared value.

If you include an invoice in the package to the buyer, the best invoice to supply is a copy of the auction listing or an invoice generated through the eBay system. Ensure that the value you indicate on the enclosed invoice matches the information on the customs form. The customs authorities at destinations do not really require an invoice, since they will go by the customs form. Customs will, however, request an invoice from the buyer if the value stated on the customs declaration seems unbelievable (for example, a laptop computer with a value of $10).

 
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