Hack 30 International Transactions Made Easier


Tools to help overcome the hurdles and gotchas associated with trading with members in other countries.

Everything gets a little more complicated when trading across international borders. Language barriers, currency confusion, payment hassles, and high shipping costs are all common problems. Here are some of the tools at your disposal to help simplify international transactions.

3.12.1 View Auctions on Your Native eBay

Although eBay has several international sites, all auctions are contained in the same global database. For example, if you're looking at an auction on the German eBay, like this one:


You can simply change the domain from ebay.de to ebay.com, for example, and you'll see the auction details in more familiar terms:


The currency used for the starting bid, current price, and minimum bid will all be automatically converted to your native currency. Additionally, the end time will be changed to your country's local time, and the payment and shipping terms will be translated into your native language. Almost every part of the auction page is changed ? except for the auction description.

3.12.2 Enter the Babel Fish

If the auction description is not in your native language, you'll have to translate it manually. The easiest way is to copy and paste the description (or auction URL) into an online translator, such as the following sites (all free):

  • AltaVista Babel Fish (babelfish.altavista.com)

  • FreeTranslation (www.freetranslation.com)

  • Dictionary.com Translator (dictionary.reference.com/translate)

The languages supported by these tools, collectively, include Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

Keep in mind that these automated translations are performed on the fly and are based primarily on strict definition conversions, and are therefore far from perfect. Still, they will help you get the gist of the description, and even translate your email messages to sellers (and buyers).

When emailing other eBay members in a language you don't speak fluently, be sure to include both your assisted translation and the original text in your native language. That way, the likelihood that your recipient will receive something like "bite the wax tadpole" will be somewhat more remote.

3.12.3 Paying and Shipping Over Great Distances

Sellers in other countries are typically less likely to accept the payment methods used in your own country. For example, fewer sellers outside of North America are able to accept PayPal or credit cards, and virtually nobody outside Europe uses electronic bank account transfers. With fewer choices, buyers often resort to less secure payment methods.

Compound the less secure shipping with the other risks inherent in sending money to other countries ? such as the fact that the language barrier and great distance makes it more difficult to get your money back if the seller doesn't ship ? and buying internationally becomes downright dangerous.

If the seller doesn't accept online payments or credit cards, your choices are pretty much restricted to the following:

International Postal Money Order

If you need to send a check or money order, probably the best choice is an international postal money order, as the recipient will be able to cash it without any additional fees (which you'd have to pay). Although there's no practical way to retrieve your money once the check is cashed, you can at least get your money back if the money order is lost in the mail.

Electronic Bank Account Transfer

When buying from Germany and some other European countries, a bank account transfer is the fastest way to pay. Although it's secure in terms of the money safely reaching the recipient, buyers have virtually no protection if the seller doesn't ship. If you must use an electronic transfer, the best choice is C2IT (www.c2it.com); see [Hack #29].


A fool and his money are soon parted, a process that is significantly accelerated if you send cash through the mail. That said, I have been forced to pay with cash a few times (never large amounts), and I've only been burned once; someone stole the money and the recipient received an empty envelope. If you must pay with cash, use an ordinary envelope ? not a package ? so that your payment will most likely not be opened by customs.

Finally, give some thought to the shipping options (if any) offered by the seller; don't just choose the cheapest one. For example, I purchased a $300 item from a seller in Japan, for which I paid with an international postal money order. The seller had good feedback, but I didn't want to take any chances. My shipping choices included surface shipping for about $50 and EMS (Express Mail) for $80, but rather than go for the cheaper method and risk the package arriving after I could leave feedback for the seller, I decided it was worth the extra $30 for the security of getting the package within a week.