Littera Scripta

Selling Books Internationally

Selling books internationally can be a bit intimidating at first. However once you have some of the details figured out it's not terribly difficult.

The basic concerns are, how to handle payment, how to ship, and handling other languages.


Credit cards are the simplest way for you customer to pay. However, if you do not accept credit cards, or your customer doesn't have a credit card, there are a few options. Cheques (or checks to you Americans) are often not an option. Many Canadian customers have US dollar accounts, and these will be fine at most banks. Almost all banks worldwide will be able to issue a bank draft in most currencies. This can sometimes be rather expensive for your customer though, as there is usually a flat fee for the draft. In many countries you can purchase international postal money orders for a small fee. American Express travelers' cheques are available throughout most of the world, but are only available in $5.00 increments. Wire transfer is available, but is a bit expensive for small orders. You'll need to give the customer your bank routing and account numbers to receive a wire transfer.

If you need to convert currency, try the Xenon Personal Currency Assistant

One additional concern is avoiding credit card fraud. If you accept credit cards, you need to understand that your AVS (Address Verification) check will not work on foreign credit cards. You need to learn to look for the signs of fraud.

Here are a few of the things that should set off alarm bells:

  • Very large orders
  • Expensive shipping preferences
  • Free web-based email addresses
  • Former Soviet bloc countries (Estonia, Lithuania, Romania, etc.)
  • Peculiar shipping arrangements (Ship to my friend Joe in Poland etc.)
  • Strange addresses where the city and country don't match (Bucharest, Germany when it should be Bucharest, Romania)

While you should not use any of those things as evidence of criminal intent, you should certainly check with your credit card company before charging and shipping the order. Generally you can check directly with the issuing bank to verify the card information. An excellent article on the subject is available on the Scambusters site.


Shipping internationally is really not much more difficult than shipping domestically. You'll need to check with your post office to get the shipping regulations and rates. But generally the only additional requirement is a customs label. Do not ever overvalue an order on the customs label, as many countries charge a tax on incoming merchandise. They base the tax on the stated value on the customs label. So if you put $50.00 on a $6.00 order (as happened with a book I purchased from an American bookseller), your customer will pay tax on $50.00... much more than they were expecting to pay. And probably irritating the customer a good deal.

Shipping rates are generally available online. So there's really no reason to turn it into a big deal. Get yourself a good scale, and it'll be two minute job to quote postage.

As for languages, the good news is that most of the time you are selling books in your own language. And since the customer most likely will want to read the book, they can probably speak your language, or at least understand it. However, you will still occasionally end up staring at a page in complete incomprehension. When that happens try AltaVista's BabelFish below. Just cut and paste the incomprehensible text directly into the form, select the languages, and let it translate for you. It won't be pretty (computers aren't that smart yet) but it will give you some idea of the message.


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Copyright © 2000 by Deanna Ramsay