Buying on Amazon from a foreign country? 6 things to make your life easier

04.04.18
14 minute read
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Amazon is huge. Vast, even. And it’s active in even more countries than the river it’s named after runs through. So it’s only natural that you might be tempted to look at an international Amazon store if your local one doesn’t have what you’re after - or if your country doesn’t have a local one at all. If you’re in the UK, for instance, and you’re trying to get hold of a book that’s only been released in the USA, you might find yourself ditching your local site for amazon.com. Or if you’re in Portugal, for instance, if you want to use Amazon you might have to use the Spanish version, amazon.es - Portugal doesn’t have its own.

There are other reasons you might want to use a different country’s Amazon, too. If you’re buying a gift for someone living abroad, it could be far more convenient to use their local site, rather than getting costly, slow international shipping from your country to theirs. Or perhaps you’re currently country-hopping and simply find yourself in the wrong place. You might even have discovered that something is cheaper in another country’s Amazon store than in your own - although don’t forget to factor in shipping costs when you make this calculation.

This article will go over a lot of what you’re hopefully looking for.

  • Amazons in different countries, and buying from them
  • Creating an Amazon account for a country you don’t live in
  • Tips for cross-border Amazon shopping
  • Fees you’ll want to watch out for when buying internationally
  • Paying Amazon from a different nation
  • International shipping tips

Whatever the reason, take a look at this guide before you make your payment.

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Now, back to what you came here to read.


all the different amazons

Can I buy from an Amazon in one country if I live in a different country?

The short answer is yes. You can. But that doesn’t mean that every item can go anywhere in the world - there’s no guarantee the item you want is available for shipping to your location. The best thing to do is to check the item itself: on its page, there will be a note next to where it says ‘In Stock’ or ‘Out of Stock’ saying whether or not it ships to your location. Make sure you’re signed in first, so that Amazon knows where you are.

Amazon sites in each country and their languages

It can be confusing to try to navigate an Amazon site - any Amazon site - in a foreign language. Here’s a list of each national Amazon site, and the languages in which it’s available. If there’s more than one language offered, you can toggle between them towards the right-hand side of the top of the page: there’s a little picture of a globe, and a 2-letter language code. Hover over it to see your options.

Country or region Language(s) URL
Australia English amazon.com.au
Austria German, English amazon.at
Brazil Portuguese amazon.com.br
Canada English, French amazon.ca
China Standard Chinese amazon.cn
Czech Republic Czech amazon.cz
Europe English amazon.eu
Egypt English, Arabic egypt.souq.com
France French amazon.fr
Germany German, English amazon.de
Global English, Spanish amazon.com/global
India English amazon.in
Italy Italian amazon.it
Japan Japanese, English, Chinese amazon.co.jp
Kuwait English, Arabic uae.souq.com/kw-en/
Mexico Spanish amazon.com.mx
Netherlands Dutch amazon.nl
Poland Polish amazon.pl (amazon.de)
Saudi Arabia English, Arabic saudi.souq.com
Singapore English Amazon.com.sg (prime only)
Spain Spanish amazon.es
Turkey Turkish amazon.de/tr
UAE English, Arabic uae.souq.com
United Kingdom English amazon.co.uk
United States English, Spanish amazon.com

Souq, in case you’re wondering, is a subsidiary of Amazon often called ‘the Amazon of the Middle East’. Amazon Global is really a part of the US Amazon, but with the emphasis on shipping abroad.

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create an account

How to create an account and login to an Amazon site if you don’t live in that country

If you’re already registered with Amazon in one country, you should be able to use the same login details for other countries’ Amazons as well¹ - for example, if you’re registered in the US but go to amazon.co.uk, you’ll be able to use your .com details to log in. Even for Souq, you can use Amazon logins from a different country - just select ‘Login with Amazon’. There are two exceptions at the moment, which are the Japanese and Chinese sites: you’ll need to register again to use those¹.

So, you’ll only need to create a new account if you don’t have an Amazon account at all, or if you’re trying to use Amazon Japan or China¹. If that applies to you, here’s what to do:

Step 1: Head to the Amazon site you need

Type the URL straight into your browser’s address bar at the top of the screen, using the appropriate country code: amazon.com, amazon.cn and so on.

Step 2: Find a language you can understand and switch to that one

amazon switch language
If you don’t have any idea what’s going on, find the little globe symbol and switch to an easier language to understand, if one’s available.

Step 3: Sign in so you can sign up

amazon sign in
Along the top of Amazon’s homepage - next to the language globe, if there is one - there’ll be a ‘Sign in’ button. Select this, and you’ll then see an option to create your own account.

Just as a general note, though it may appear that you’ll be creating a new account, if you use the same email and password as your other Amazon account, your account info will transfer to the new Amazon account. Pretty nifty. The only exception is for Japan and China. For those, even your old email and password will create an all-new account from scratch.

Step 4: Give your details

Fill out the information Amazon asks for - it’s just basic info like your email address and a password - and then your account will be created.

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amazon international shopping tips

Amazon cross-border shopping tips

Here are a few pointers on how to navigate the muddy waters of the multiple international Amazons.

Shopping tip 1: Try Amazon Global

As mentioned above, Amazon Global is a convenient way to filter the US version of Amazon so that it only displays items that ship internationally. Be careful, though, because Amazon Global might not quite be smart enough only to show items that can ship to you - you’ll probably be looking at a big list of everything with international shipping options, but not necessarily international shipping options to your particular country. For example, you can set your location to Germany, but not all the products listed on Amazon Global will necessarily ship to Germany.

Shopping tip 2: Pay attention to region codes for DVDs and Blu-rays

This is always a risk when buying DVDs and Blu-rays internationally, regardless of which seller you use.

There are numerous types of DVD, indicated by ‘region codes’, which affect the territory in which they’re meant to be played. So, DVDs in the US usually have region code 1, and are therefore intended for US DVD players which play discs with the same code. In Europe, on the other hand, the region code is 2 - so European DVD players might not be able to play American DVDs².

You need to know the region code of both your DVD player and the DVD you want to buy - otherwise you might not be able to play it at all. Similarly, there are 3 Blu-ray region codes, so the same issue applies.

Here’s a quick table to show you the different regions for both DVDs and Blu-rays².

Country or Region DVD region code
USA and Canada Region 1
Europe and Japan Region 2
Southeast Asia Region 3
Latin America and Australia Region 4
Russia, rest of Asia, and Africa Region 5
China Region 6
International venues, cruise ships, planes, etc. Region 8
Country or Region Blu-ray region code
North America, South America, East and Southeast Asia Code A
Europe, Africa, Oceania, the Middle East, French territories, and Greenland Code B
Central Asia, South Asia, Mongolia, Russia, and China Code C

Shopping tip 3: Check electronics for voltage and types of plugs

There are also a couple of things to bear in mind if you want to buy electronics from abroad. There are many different types of plugs around the world. Which means if you buy anything with a plug from abroad, you might also need to get hold of an adaptor, so that it can actually fit into a foreign socket.

Sadly, the problems don’t stop just by purchasing an adaptor. You’ll also need to check the voltage and frequency, to ensure that your adaptor will be able to cope with your device, in your country³. If the voltages don’t match, you run the risk of frying your new electronics long before they normally die.

Here’s a sampling of various countries and regions and what types of plugs and voltages are used:

Country/region Plug Types Voltage Frequency
Australia
  • Type I
  • 230 V
  • 50 Hz
Bahamas
  • Type A
  • Type B
  • 120 V
  • 120 V
  • 60 Hz
  • 60 Hz
Brazil
  • Type C
  • Type N
  • 120 or 230 V
  • 120 or 230 V
  • 60 Hz
  • 60 Hz
Canada
  • Type A
  • Type B
  • 120 V
  • 120 V
  • 60 Hz
  • 60 Hz
Europe
  • Type C
  • Type F
  • 230 V
  • 230 V
  • 50 Hz
  • 50 Hz
India
  • Type C
  • Type D
  • Type M
  • 230 V
  • 230 V
  • 230 V
  • 50 Hz
  • 50 Hz
  • 50 Hz
Japan
  • Type A
  • Type B
  • 100 V
  • 100 V
  • 50 or 60 Hz
  • 50 or 60 Hz
Mexico
  • Type A
  • Type B
  • 127 V
  • 127 V
  • 60 Hz
  • 60 Hz
United States
  • Type A
  • Type B
  • 120 V
  • 120 V
  • 60 Hz
  • 60 Hz
United Kingdom
  • Type G
  • 230 V
  • 50 Hz

amazon fees for international purchases

Fees when you buy from Amazon.com in a different country

You won’t be surprised to learn that shopping internationally sometimes comes with strings attached. While you might have been drawn towards an international version of Amazon to try and get a decent deal, when you factor in shipping costs you might not end up saving after all. So don’t just check the price of the item. You’ll want to also pay attention to:

  • Amazon currency conversion rates
  • Shipping costs (displayed in a smaller font just below the item price)
  • Customs and import taxes

Fee 1: Amazon currency conversion rates

Exchange rates may not be the first cost that comes to mind when buying internationally, but it may quickly be where you might end up paying the most for the privilege of buying cross borders.

If you’re buying from the US and use your debit card from your UK bank account, it’s likely that you only have pounds sterling in your UK bank account. And, in that case, if you pay for your Amazon goods using your UK bank card, Amazon will need to convert those pounds to dollars.

Which means, when Amazon converts your money you’ll probably lose⁷. A lot.

Amazon itself even notes that you don’t get the same exchange rate that you find on Google - the same rate that providers like TransferWise offer.

The exchange rate Amazon displays may not match those listed in newspapers or other financial databases. Those exchange rates are generally inter-bank rates that are for wholesale amounts and are not available for retail consumers.

Amazon says that those exchange rates you find online aren’t available to everyday consumers. But with TransferWise, they are.

How can you get around that?

transferwise borderless account

Companies like TransferWise offer borderless multi-currency accounts that let you hold dozens of different currencies in one account. In whatever country you’re living in. And, in select regions and nations, you can also order a TransferWise Mastercard borderless debit card to use all over the world. Meaning you can load up your TransferWise debit card with US dollars and then pay for your items on Amazon. Without losing on poor exchange rates.

The same goes, if you pay for your Amazon purchase with a bank transfer, you can use your TransferWise borderless account to pay in US dollars to Amazon just like a local in the US. And without losing out with bad exchange rates and expensive international bank transfer fees.

Fee 2: Shipping costs

You’ll want to remember that when you order from Amazon.com, that there might be a range of shipping options depending on how fast you want it - that can affect the cost, too. Depending on the item, you may feel a bit of sticker shock when you see how much Amazon wants to charge you for shipping.

Fee 3: Sales and import taxes

When goods are imported into a country, they are sometimes subjected to extra charges. These might be customs duties, taxes or fees, but collectively Amazon calls them ‘Import Fees’.

Amazon usually collects an ‘Import Fees Deposit’ from you if you order abroad.⁴ It’s an estimate of what it’ll cost to get the order into the country.

If it ends up costing less, you’ll be refunded, and if it costs more, you won’t be charged extra - Amazon covers the extra cost. If you do end up eligible for a refund, hold tight, because Amazon says it takes 60 days to come through.

You’ll probably want to check local forums for local users in your nation to see what their experience has been with ordering items from Amazon. It may be that the item you’ve ordered requires additional scrutiny or may be banned depending on your local customs regulations. Amazon notes clearly that you’re responsible for making sure the item you’re ordering is allowed in your country.⁵

Also, don’t be surprised if you end up having to pay a bit more, too. Amazon does its best to ensure taxes are paid up for your particular country, but you may find it may still not be enough and, in that case, you might have to pay a bit more to be able to collect your item.⁶


paying on amazon from a different country

Paying for your foreign Amazon purchase

If you’ve already read the section on fees above and you’re ready to go ahead and buy, this is what to do:

  1. Select ‘Add to Cart’ on the item’s page and it will go into your shopping cart.
  2. Repeat this for every item you want to buy.
  3. Go to your cart via the ‘Cart’ icon in the top right of the screen.
  4. Check through the list of items you’ve added, and the price of each of them. Make adjustments to your cart as necessary.
  5. Hit the ‘Proceed to checkout’ button to start the payment. You might be prompted to log in at that point, to confirm your identity.
  6. Select a shipping address - you can use an existing one or add a new one.
  7. You may then have a choice of delivery options - for example, ‘Standard’, ‘Expedited’ or ‘Priority’ - which will affect how long it’ll take to arrive. Of course, each of these will cost something different. Don’t be surprised if Amazon doesn’t show you the cost upfront.
  8. Next, choose your payment option - likely a credit or debit card, or potentially you can link Amazon to your bank account directly. As noted in the fees section above, it can be expensive to use your card abroad unless you’re using a card like the TransferWise borderless debit card. Otherwise, if you double check, usage fees and possibly bad exchange rates end up costing you even more than you realize. So if you’re using an international card, try to find one that exchanges money at the mid-market rate and keeps fees at a minimum. Don’t forget to select your preferred payment currency too - it might well be better to use the destination currency, because otherwise you might have your money converted via Amazon’s own currency converter - more on that below.
  9. On the next page, you should see a full breakdown of costs, including the shipping cost. If you’d rather explore different shipping options, you should still be able to change it at this point, and see what each costs. Watch out for how it affects the Import Fee Deposit, too.
  10. If you’re happy, place your order and wait for confirmation. You’re all set.

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amazon international shipping tips

International shipping tips

Here are a few pieces of advice about how to get the most out of international shipping on Amazon.

Shipping tip 1: Order as early as possible to cut down on the cost

It’s common for Amazon to offer you multiple shipping options, with expensive fees for fast delivery times. So if you can manage to place your order a while earlier - 2 to 3 weeks, say - than you’d been planning, you could end up saving a lot of money.

Shipping tip 2: Know what affects shipping rates

Amazon writes that shipping rates can be affected by a range of factors: the number of items, how heavy they are, how much they weigh, and how much space they take up. The type of item affects the cost, too.⁸

For example, books cost more to ship to Europe per item than Blu-ray discs. But if you group multiple items together, the cost is the same whether you buy a couple books or a few Blu-rays or a combination of both.

So if there are any ways for you to reduce any of these factors, you could end up with a lower delivery cost.

Shipping tip 3: Make as few separate orders as possible

Naturally, Amazon cuts down on both cost and waste where it can by packing your items up together. So don’t get too click-happy! Wait before placing your order until you’re confident there’s nothing else you’ll want. Ordering a single item every few days is costly, inefficient and not exactly environmentally friendly either.

Shipping tip 4: Consider international mail forwarding / freight forwarders

If Amazon doesn’t offer shipping of a particular item to your country - or even if it does, but the shipping cost is too high - there might be another way. ‘Forwarding services’ offer what could be an easy solution. A company like that, probably based in the US, can make Amazon orders on your behalf, ship the items to their address in the US, and then forward your purchases on to your home with international shipping.

There are number of companies offering this service - one of the better known ones is Flycrates, and various others are discussed on the Parcel Forward website. Of course, using a ‘third party’ like this complicates the process a little bit. It will likely mean the package takes longer to arrive to you, and naturally you’ll have to check the cost carefully and make sure it’s good value for money. And Amazon itself is careful to explain that using a ‘freight forwarder’ does affect your ability to return items if they’re damaged or defective. But, depending on your location, this could be your only option to get stuff via Amazon.⁹

How long does shipping take?

International shipping times vary a great deal. Some items can get from the US to Germany, for instance, in a couple of days - but that’s with priority shipping. With standard shipping, the same item can take weeks to arrive. If you’re in a hurry and don’t mind paying a premium, choose the fastest shipping. If you can plan in advance and would rather save the money, choose standard shipping and plan on the item arriving sometime inside of a month.

And of course, the route has a big effect on how long it takes, too - the further the item has to travel, the longer it might take. So don’t imagine that ordering from Amazon US and Amazon Australia is exactly the same deal.

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amazon good luck

Good luck looking for your international purchase from Amazon - just make sure to keep an eye on the total cost.

Sources
  1. https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201248840 (4 April 2018)
  2. http://www.codefreedvd.com/region-free-dvd-questions.html (4 April 2018)
  3. http://www.iec.ch/worldplugs/list_bylocation.htm (4 April 2018)
  4. https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201910710 (4 April 2018)
  5. https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=hp_left_v4_sib?ie=UTF8&nodeId=201910420 (4 April 2018)
  6. https://www.amazon.de/gp/help/customer/display.html/?nodeId=200198570 (4 April 2018)
  7. https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201894930 (4 April 2018)
  8. https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=596194 (4 April 2018)
  9. https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201117950 (4 April 2018)
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