If you're new to Holland and do not speak Dutch, your online shopping experience is likely to be…well, challenging. Unlike tourist websites here in the Netherlands, which almost always have an option for viewing them in English (and sometimes even German and French), you'll find Dutch retail websites are rarely offered in any language other than Dutch. In fact, it is unlikely that more than 2-3% of retailers in the Netherlands offer their websites in English. This of course makes for rather arduous online shopping for the typically non-Dutch speaking expat, of which there are estimated to be more than 500,000 in Holland.
How best to shop online in Holland when you don't understand Dutch…
The Netherlands is an independent country but is also a member state within a much larger entity called the European Union. In several ways, the union operates much like one large country, allowing for the free flow of goods across "state" lines. For a non-Dutch speaking resident living in the Netherlands who wants to shop online as easily as possible (meaning in English), envision that you are a resident in the state of California. You buy something online from a store located in New York. You don't concern yourself with "importing" the order to California, it just gets shipped to you. This is the same when living in the Netherlands. You can purchase from a store located in France or Italy or the U.K. and it gets delivered to you exactly the same way, because they are all states within the "country" umbrella of the European Union.
Here are some popular EU retailers which offer online shopping in English AND deliver right to your door whether you live in The Hague (Den Haag), Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Eindhoven, Leiden, Wassenaar, Delft, Maastricht, Dordrecht, Gouda and Utrecht.
Buying online from a store in a non-EU country…
If you live in the Netherlands and buy a product online from a retailer outside the EU, such as a store based in the United States or Canada, two fees will be added before it arrives to you: import duty and Value-Added-Tax (VAT). The import duty can be a little complicated, as it is not a flat amount nor a standard percent. At the bottom of this page you will find a duty calculator which tells you what the import duty is for the Netherlands by product category. More about the Duty Calculator company.
Both charges will increase the final total amount you pay for the merchandise. But here is what you should know about each:
- Import Duty: if the value of the goods (excluding shipping and insurance that were paid) is not higher than €150, NO import duty at all is charged by customs. Also, if the merchandise value IS over €150, but the duty amount would be less than €10, NO duty will be charged (an example would be if an item cost €250 and the import duty which applied to that merchandise category was 1%, which equals €2.50, NO import duty would be chaged).
- VAT Tax: most products fall into the 21% tax category here in the Netherlands, with only a few exceptions qualifying for the 6% category. This is no different from when you buy merchandise in the store here in Holland, you pay the same tax. HOWEVER, what you should know is that VAT which will be assessed on the total value of the shipment (merchandise + shipping cost + insurance cost). So for example, if you bought an item for €75, the shipping was €15 and insurance cost €8, the VAT which Dutch Customs will apply to the shipment is €20.58 (€98 x 21%). To avoid having the shipping cost substantially impact the final cost of the shipment, try to take advantage of Flat Shipping Cost specials you can sometimes find available from American retailers (for example, Saks Fifth Avenue).
At what point will you have to pay any additional charges for your shipment? When the courier comes to deliver it. They will have the package but will not give it to you until you pay them the amount due (this usually needs to be in cash).
There are exceptions to that because now there are third-party companies which can calculate the additional charges as you checkout on a store's website. The additional charges are then built into the final cost and you are charged that total amount. When the shipment gets to the Netherlands, the third party company has prepaid the additional charges and the package gets delivered to you with nothing more due to be paid.
Here are non-EU retailers which will accept international orders and ship to you in the Netherlands:
Buying from an American retailer which does not offer international shipping…
Of course, not all American retail companies will take orders from abroad or ship merchandise internationally. These retailers usually only offer delivery within the 50 states or the continental U.S. and Canada.
But nowadays, there are alternatives even in these situations. Several companies now offer an interesting service where you are provided with a U.S. address which the retailer then ships to. The company will then receive the shipment on your behalf and forward it on to you wherever you live in the world.
One example is MyUS.com, an American firm based in Sarasota, Florida. It operates huge warehouses which are segmented into cubicles (a cross between a post office box and a public storage unit). Each cubicle has its own street address which is registered with the U.S. Postal Service. Once you set up an account with MyUS.com, you are assigned a mailing address which is actually located within their warehouse facility. With your new US mailing address, you can go shopping online even at those American retailers who do not ship internationally. The retailer processes the order just like any other domestic shipment. It gets received by MyUS.com, which will either hold it to consolidate with other products you have ordered, or they repack it and ship it to you in the Netherlands or wherever else you may be living abroad, including any required customs documentation specific to the country you are living in. Be aware there are certain categories of goods which MyUS.com will not ship because either a) the products are not allowed to be exported by the U.S., or b) the products are not allowed to be imported by the Netherlands or the country you currently live. MyUS.com knows exactly which categories those are and will alert you if ever the situation arises, in case you want them to return the item to the retailer. Examples of retailers who work with MyUS.com are Kohls and Best Buy. This is also a handy way to continue receiving magazine subscriptions, since many publishers will not ship internationally.
And last but not least, you can try purchasing from a webshop based here in Holland even though it is in Dutch and you speak English. In that case, you may find this list of common Dutch shopping terms with English translations handy during the buying process.