Customs Documents and Paperwork—When You Import

Q: "I just ordered $5,000 worth of merchandise from a supplier in China and received a notice last week that the goods are being held up in U.S. customs. What do I do?"

A: You need help. Generally, when you import goods into the United States in a single shipment having a total value of more than $2,000, you have to obtain a formal clearance from U.S. customs before the goods can legally enter the country. Find a customs broker (there are some good ones listed in eBay's Seller Resources section), or enlist the help of a U.S.-based product-sourcing company such as Worldwide Brands Inc. in Orlando, Florida (world widebrands.com).

Export Licenses

Q: "When do you need an export license to sell overseas?"

A: A U.S. export license is generally not necessary unless you are selling computers, software, marine systems, or other technology with potential military applications. You need an export license to sell anything to buyers in Cambodia, Cuba, Libya, Iran, or North Korea (although at the time this is being written, Libya is under reconsideration—check the U.S. Treasury's "sanctions" page at ustreas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/programs/index.shtml for more updated information).

If you are selling to an overseas business-to-business (B2B) customer, with the understanding that your buyer is buying for resale to third parties, you may need the buyer's written confirmation that it will not resell to a country with which the United States does not trade.

Import Licenses

Q: "When do you need an import license to bring stuff into the United States?"

A: Generally, if you need a state license to sell something in the United States (such as wine, beer, or tobacco), you need a federal license to import it from overseas. If imported goods are subject to quotas, you need a license from the country of origin for each shipment; once the quota from that country has been filled, you're out of luck until next year. A partial list of goods that are subject to U.S. import quotas appears in Joseph Sinclair's book eBay Global the Smart Way: Buying and Selling Internationally on the World's #1 Auction Site.

Shipping Overseas

Q: "A recently shipped package to Brussels, Belgium, was returned to me in the United States due to a failure of the local post office to successfully deliver it. According to the buyer, no one was home when the delivery attempt was made, and no notice was left. The buyer wants me to resend the item, but the U.S. Postal Service is requiring that I pay a second shipping fee. Can I insist that the buyer pay this second fee?"

A: Absolutely. As a seller on eBay based in the United States, you cannot be held responsible for the failure of a foreign post office to deliver an item or leave a notice of delivery. To preserve your good relations with this buyer, ask him if he has a preferred method of shipment he would like you to use. Find out what that service would charge, and then ask him to prepay the shipping before you ship again. That way the buyer will become part of the solution and will have a tougher time claiming a refund if the package isn't delivered a second time.

Selling in Different Currencies

Q: "When selling goods internationally on eBay, is there any advantage to listing the item price in U.S. dollars as opposed to an overseas currency?"

A: Currencies float in value over time. If you sell something on eBay to a foreign national in U.S. dollars, and the dollar declines in value between the time you list the item and the time you receive payment, you lose. But if the dollar increases in value between the time you list the item and the time you receive payment, you win.

Similarly, if you sell something on eBay to a foreign national in the buyer's local currency, and the U.S. dollar declines in value between the time you list the item and the time you receive payment, you win. But if the dollar increases in value between the time you list the item and the time you receive payment, you lose.

It isn't recommended to engage in currency speculation when selling on eBay. If you are listing the item on eBay's U.S. website, the item should be priced in U.S. dollars. Period. Also, if you list lots of items on one of eBay's overseas websites exclusively in the local currency, there's an argument that you are legally doing business in that country and should be subject to all the laws, taxes, and regulations that country imposes on its own domestic businesses.

 
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