Buying on a non- European website

Have you found a bargain at a British, American, Chinese or other web shop outside the EU? Comparing prices between European and non-European web shops is not straightforward. You may have to pay extra for VAT, customs duties and handling fees with non-European online sellers. Shipping costs may also be quite expensive.

Since 1 July 2021 new European customs rules will apply to online purchases outside the EU, irrespective of the purchase amount.

Good to know: If you are in dispute with a non-European seller, it might be quite tricky to enforce your rights concerning, for example, a warranty and/or the right of withdrawal. Always check the geographical address data of the online seller to establish whether or not they are based in Europe. Remember: a ‘.nl’ or ‘.de’ website does not necessarily mean that the seller is based in the Netherlands or Germany. 

Final price may be higher than displayed price

As of 1 July 2021 any orders placed with a web shop based outside the EU will incur VAT and customs duties, irrespective of the purchase amount.

The parcel service provider will collect any VAT and customs duties due upon delivery and will probably charge a handling fee for the completion of these customs formalities. As a result of these additional costs buying online outside the EU will prove less advantageous than you might have expected.

You will not have to pay additional charges to the transport company upon delivery providing:

  • the Belgian VAT is included in the price charged by the seller
  • the non-EU online seller has registered with the ‘One-Stop Shop’ system (IOSS).
  • and the retail price (excluding incidental costs for delivery, insurance, taxes) is 150 euro or less.

Remember: Consumers are not able to check whether or not a non-European seller is registered. Do they charge VAT? If so, this does not always mean that you are exempt from additional costs upon delivery.

For example


Registered web shop

Unregistered web shop

Purchase price
(including shipping costs)

10 euro

10 euro

Customs duties

0 euro

(paid by the web shop)

15 euro

VAT* (21%)

2.1 euro

(included in the amount paid to seller)

5.25 euro

Total cost
(excluding administration charges)

12.1 euro

30.25 euro

Administration charges

Not applicable

Dependent upon the transport company

* Calculated on the value of the shipment (purchase price + shipping costs) plus customs duties and carrier’s handling fee. Source: bpost 

You are buying from a European marketplace or drop shipper

If you are buying from an EU based marketplace or drop shipper, you will not have to pay VAT or customs duties. Unless the seller specifically notified you in advance that you will have to pay these costs upon delivery.

Drop shippers often send their parcels from a country outside the EU. In such cases you will have to pay customs duties and other charges.

Non-European sellers are entitled to market their products via European platforms. Always check, therefore, where the seller is located before placing an order. In principle, you should be able to find relevant geographical data on the online platform.

Tip: are you not sure where a seller is located or where their products are dispatched from? Just ask the seller before you place an order. A website with a URL ending in ‘.nl’ or ‘.fr’ does not always indicate that the seller is based in the Netherlands or France.

For sale online but prohibited!

In some cases the import of certain products into Europe or Belgium is controlled or even prohibited, e.g. narcotics, medication, weapons, counterfeit items, certain plants, protected animal species, etc. If you buy these products anyway, you are committing an offence that will have legal consequences. So remember to be vigilant.

The FPS Finance website provides more details concerning what you can and cannot buy on the internet.

ECC at your service

Do you suspect that the parcel service provider is charging too much? If so, contact the Ombudsman for the Postal Sector and ask whether the rates are correct.

Do you have a query regarding purchases you made in Europe? Contact our legal team.