Buying overseas goods has become much easier and we can take advantage of that during our RV conversion. The inherent risks are manageable and the savings substantial.
As the start of the cargo van conversion comes closer, it’s time to get the first mods. Lots of materials will have a local supplier, such as your DIY Super Store and only require a short trip to buy what you need.
Yet many items have to be ordered and delivered by mail or shipping company and as the world gets smaller, that resource doesn’t have to be in your state or even in the US.
An example is when I recently researched some front and rear parking sensors for the new van. Being frugal by choice and cheap by necessity, I scanned the offerings on eBay and Amazon and found the same sensors, virtually anywhere. Clearly mass produced, with identical components and even the same part number.
As always, prices varied widely, with the best deals coming directly from mainland China. I never considered buying directly from Asia and had great reservations regarding payment security, import duties, long delivery times and in general the risk of not receiving anything at all. But with prices 1/3 to 1/2 off, I thought it was worthwhile to take a risk on a small item, to check out the process and discover the pitfalls.
Some well-known sources are Alibaba.com, AliExpress.com, Amazon.com and Ebay.com, with the last two offering more security during the buying process. Many sellers offer payments through Paypal which resolved one of my main worries: payment security. In addition, by buying overseas, one is confronted with import duties, for which the amount is never specified, but always has to be paid by the buyer. A little research showed, that anything under $200.00 would likely be free of duties or not taxed. It’s not a guarantee, but worth the risk.
Then most sellers warn about long delivery times of 1-2 months; not an immediate problem if you buy well in advance. Warranties are more difficult. They are offered, but returning these low-priced items, paying shipping cost and communicating by email in bad English is unlikely to satisfy me. Being fair, I probably would forego on the warranties of these small items bought in the US too. It’s way easier to buy a new $10.00 replacement! Finally, I’m expecting badly written manuals, which require me to learn Mandarin.
To find all this out, I ordered 2 sets of parking sensors with a $20.00 value thru eBay on September 3rd, with an expected delivery between Sep. 22nd and Oct. 28th.
Paid safely via Paypal and got a USPS tracking number the next day. Now the waiting game was on!
As you can see on the tracking record, the order took as much time to get to New York as it did to get to Florida. In less than 10 days, I had it in my mailbox, well-packaged and undamaged.
The whole process is the same as with local orders and even delivery time is similar (compared to regular shipping). Warranty issues may remain and it is not a guaranty that every transaction goes as smoothly.
I may have been lucky, but would do it again. It was a good experience, I saved about a third and import duties weren’t levied. And best of all, I received a short, but well-written installation manual!
Now I’m on my way out, to get some Chinese take-out!