If you are new to Holland and do not understand Dutch, your online shopping experience is likely to be…a challenge. Unlike tourism or hospitality businesses, which almost always offer an English option on their websites, the retail industry in the Netherlands lags way behind.
This can make online shopping in Holland difficult for a non-Dutch speaking expat, of which there are several hundred thousand such residents in the country.
How best to shop online in Holland when you don’t understand Dutch?
For expats coming to the Netherlands from the United States, Canada, Australia, South America, Asia and Africa, it’s important to remember that most independent European countries are also under the larger umbrella of the European Union. Being part of the union has lots of benefits, including the free flow of goods across in member’s borders (i.e. goods from one member country which are delivered to a customer in another member country are not subjected to important duties).
What does it mean for you?
You do not have to limit your online shopping to just Netherlands businesses. It opens up far more possibilities, not just for finding a website that is offered in English but the product assortment you will be able to choose from.
And because the Netherlands is centrally located between three of the EU’s biggest countries, Britain, Germany and France, you don’t have to worry about shipping charges causing a significant difference in price.
These are just some retailers from other countries in the EU which offer English-language websites and offer delivery throughout the Netherlands…
More English-language options for online shopping in Holland…
There are a number of well-known American retailers who offer international shipping and delivery to the Netherlands. But in this case, there are two additional charges that are incurred: import duty and Value-Added-Tax (VAT).
The ‘import duty’ can be rather complicated to figure out since it is not a set percent but rather varies according to the product category. One item in your order may have a 10% duty rate while another may be 25%. But the good news is that shipments which have a total value under €150 are not subject to import duties. Another reason not to worry is because many of the American retail chains that do offer international shipping, are partnered with an organization called Border-Free, who are experts in product category duty rates for all countries.
During the checkout process, the order automatically gets transferred to Border Free, which applies the appropriate duty rates and adds the Value Added Tax. When the purchase transaction is completed, those additional charges will have already been paid for your goods and it will get delivered to you with no C.O.D. charges.
Helpful advice when buying from an American retailer…
Something to consider when buying online from a company in the United States, Canada, Australia or any other country outside the European Union, is the shipping cost and the reason is two-fold…
a) Obviously the further away the country is, the higher the shipping cost will be. This is especially true if the order has to be shipped via air. And pay attention to the shape – an odd-sized product may be light in weight but if it requires a large box, that will increase the cost (i.e. air shipment costs are assessed by both weight AND cubic volume).
b) The Value Added Tax (sales tax), referred to here as BTW, is the same as would be charged if you purchased the same type of product here in the Netherlands, which is 21% (for most product categories). BUT…this isn’t an exact wash because the VAT you are charged for your incoming order is not just based on the product’s value, but rather the shipment’s value (i.e. product cost + shipping cost + any insurance costs). This is why shipping costs are an important consideration. For every $1 of shipping cost, you end up paying $1.21 in the end.
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 charged).
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 Kohl’s 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.