Table of contents
What should you do if a product you want to buy is not for sale in Thailand but is for sale in another country? Here are your main 3 options from best to worst.
- Don’t buy that exact product but rather buy the best possible alternative that is available in Thailand.
- Buy from an overseas shop that offers global shipping and accepts your payment method.
- Buy from an overseas shop through a shipping forwarder.
I have done all of the above several times including importing everything from clothes, kitchen appliances and sporting goods from the USA and UK with shipping forward companies. Read this post for all the details in the case of bicycles in particular.
In brief it’s better to buy locally instead. Privately importing is doable if you must but it’s a slow, expensive pain in the ass; thanks to… the government of course! Here are the pros, cons and details of each option.
1. Buy the local alternative instead
There are many advantages to buying the local alternative instead of privately importing your desired product.
- It’s cheaper because there are no shipping costs or import duties. Even if the product you want is listed for less on an overseas website, it will turn out to be more expensive.
- It’s quicker. The quoted shipping time you see on the overseas website does not include Thai Customs processing time, which can take weeks.
- It’s more convenient. There are less steps, less people to deal with, less chance of a problem. Particularly because you don’t have to deal with Thai Customs.
- If there is a problem with the item you will get local support and you can return or exchange it.
- The item is less likely to be damaged in shipping. Even if the item is not made in Thailand, the Thai retailer probably had it shipped from China, where it was made, and checked its condition before selling it to you. If you privately import you usually buy from a shop in the USA. This means the item has been shipped;
- from where it was made, usually China,
- then to the USA,
- then from the USA to Thailand, probably passing through China again on the way back!
This increases the chances of damage in shipping and is bad for the environment.
- The locally available product will match the conditions and use in Thailand. For example
- An electronic item will work with the local electrical current and power points.
- Mold resistant materials will be used due to Thailand’s high humidity.
- Size and format will be compatible with other products that are used in Thailand. For example “standard” bed sizes are completely different from country to country and so are bed sheets. If your bed was purchased in Thailand and your sheets are from overseas, they won’t fit!
- Local payment processing. You may find the payment method at the overseas shop has fees, like
- Currency conversion fee.
- Overseas transaction fees on some payment cards.
- International transfer fees if you pay by bank transfer.
- You grow your local network and support your local community. You might make a contact who can help you in the future.
So buying the locally available alternative is the recommended option in almost all circumstances. Compared to these 8 advantages, there is 1 single disadvantage; you don’t get the exact product you want. So you had better be really sure the product you want is a lot better than any locally available alternative. If that is the case then read on.
2. Buy it from an overseas shop that ships to Thailand
Even if the online shop of the brand that makes the product you want to buy does not offer shipping to Thailand, there is probably another retailer who does. That might be on Amazon or a specialist online shop, just google “buy [name of product]”. There are 3 criteria the shop needs to meet;
- Has the product you want in stock at an acceptable price.
- Offers shipping to Thailand.
- Accepts your form of payment. Some shops only accept credit card payments with a billing address in their country.
Thai Customs and import broker
The main problem with this option is Thai Customs and import taxes. It does not matter that the item is for personal use, you are not considered a shopper, you are considered an importer and must be registered with Thai Customs and a licensed import broker!
To register with Thai Customs you have to give them your original passport, photocopies and a form with your personal details. You can go to the Customs office at Suvarnabhumi airport or your import broker can organize it for you through the mail; yes you have to mail in your original passport!
The shipping company who is sending the item can be your import broker for free, so you only have to deal with one company. But you do have to send them your personal details and details of the item you bought, including proof of payment.
You will have to do this with every shipping company that sends you items from overseas. If your first item is through DHL and your second item is through FedEx, then DHL will not act as your import broker for the item coming through FedEx. You will have to do another round of paperwork to register FedEx as your import broker. And so on for every shipping company you use, including sending in your original passport!
The import taxes will be higher than you think! Import taxes apply to the purchase price of the item AND the shipping cost. If you buy something big and heavy from the USA and you use express shipping, the shipping cost could be as much as the item itself, which doubles the amount of import tax you pay! For example
|Item cost + Shipping cost
|40% import tax
|Import tax as a % of the item cost
There are different rates for different categories of items and Thai Customs will assign the category with the highest rate they think they can get away with. For example I bought a bicycle and because it had electronic gears (not an electric motor) Customs classified it as an e-bike which has a higher import tax rate than a normal bike. I Fought that and got it reclassified but it was a pain in the ass which added about 2 weeks to the wait time. Thai Customs charged me for the 2 weeks of storage!
Yes you have to pay Thai Customs for storing the item while they take as long as they like to slowly process it!
It’s not an accident that buying things from overseas is slow, expensive and annoying. The government has made it that way on purpose to encourage people to buy locally made products or products made overseas but sold through local shops. This is better for Thai jobs and the Thai economy and it’s better for the government’s tax collections. For that reason don’t expect the private import process to improve.
3. Use a shipping forward company
You will have to use this option if there are no shops that will send the item to Thailand and accept your payment method.
In this case you buy the item from the overseas shop and have them send it to the overseas address of your shipping forward company. The shipping forward company then sends it to you in Thailand. That makes it sound easier than it is. While it works okay most of the time, it costs money and adding another party adds complexity and the opportunity for problems.
Sometimes the overseas shop tries to call the shipping forward address and gets no answer. Sometimes your item gets to the shipping forward company and nothing happens until you contact their support, then they reply 3 days later. Sometimes the shipping forward company makes a mistake on the import paperwork, like an incorrect amount or description and that causes problems when the item gets to Thai Customs.
If you are shopping in the USA try to get a shipping forward address where no sales tax applies. If not the shop will add 7% sales tax to the cost of your item.
Some shipping forward companies will also let you send them the money to buy the item and they will buy it for you, for a fee. This is useful if the overseas shop does not accept your payment methods. This is not a personal shopping concierge, although some of them pretend to be; they will not physically go to a shop to pick up an item for you, they will do what they can online. It’s possible you might send them the money, then they can not buy the item and they have to send the money back to you, which costs in time and bank fees.
Using a shipping forward company does nothing to reduce the Thai Customs and import tax pain points detailed above. In fact it can make them worse.
MyUS (and UK)
I use MyUS to receive items from both the USA and the UK. From the USA they are pretty good; they have lots of different shipping choices and options like auto shipping, taking photos of items and combining multiple packages into one. It’s not a luxury white glove service but it works well enough.
I have found them much worse for dealing with items through the UK, with all the potential complications I mentioned above happening. And they only have 1 expensive shipping option from the UK, DHL express.
I have found MyUS shopping service to be okay, its a buying assistant that works most of the time. However when it does not work you will have already sent them the funds so then you will have to wait for the funds to come back to you, minus any bank fees and loss on exchange rates.
MyUS say they have a special post code for which no sales tax applies, even though it is in Florida, which is a state that does have sales tax. I have seen sales tax applied to some items I have had sent there but not others.
You can calculate the cost of a shipping forward on their website. They make it look like if you ship with DHL and the cost is $70, then $70 is going to DHL, but actually the fee to MyUS is included in that $70. MyUS are an intermediary with bulk discounts, they make money in the difference between what they charge you and what DHL charges them.
They have a Thailand specific guide with some useful info. You can subscribe as a member for $10 a month but this is only worth it if you ship multiple items a month.