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Consumer rights

What you should know before buying

Wherever you buy a product or service in the EU the trader must provide you with clear, correct and understandable information about the product or service before you buy.

This contract information should include:

  • the main product characteristics
  • the total price inclusive of taxes and all charges
  • delivery costs, (if applicable) - and any other additional charges
  • arrangements for payment, delivery or performance
  • the trader's identity, address and telephone number
  • the duration of the contract (if applicable)

Some of this information may not have to be provided explicitly, if it is clear from the context - such as the characteristics of a product which is displayed on a shelf in the shop.

If you buy online, by telephone, by mail order catalogue or from a door-to-door salesperson, the following more detailed information must also be provided before you buy anything:

  • e-mail address of the trader
  • any delivery restrictions in certain countries
  • the right to cancel your order within 14 days
  • available after-sales services
  • dispute resolution mechanisms
  • trade register number of the trader
  • professional title and VAT details of the trader (if applicable)
  • professional association to which the trader belongs (if applicable)

For these purchases, you should bear in mind that you do not have to pay any delivery costs or other charges which you weren't informed about in advance.

Contracts must be written in plain and understandable language and cannot contain unfair contract terms.

In some EU countries, the right to receive confirmation for your order, to cancel it and other legal requirements do not apply to door-to-door purchases of less than EUR 50.

Purchase confirmation

When you have purchased something elsewhere than an actual shop – for example, online, by phone or by catalogue – you must receive written confirmation of your transaction. The confirmation must be on paper or in a durable format such as e-mail or a message to your personal account on the trader's website – provided it is something you can store and which the trader cannot unilaterally change.

Digital content

Specific information requirements apply when you buy digital content online, for example when you download or stream music or video. Before you make your purchase, you must also be informed how the content operates with relevant hardware/software (interoperability) and about its functionalities, including whether any geographical restrictions apply to the use of the content and if private copies are allowed.

After-sales communication by telephone

Traders who provide after-sales telephone lines for consumers must make sure that calls are charged at the basic rate. It is forbidden for traders to require consumers to use premium-rate telephone lines to make enquiries or complaints about their purchase or contract.

Buying from non-EU online traders

Your consumer rights under EU rules normally also apply to purchases from non-EU online traders targeting consumers in the EU. However, you may have difficulties in asserting your rights with traders based outside the EU.


Pricing and payments

UK decision to invoke Article 50 of the TEU: More information

When you buy goods or services in the EU, you have to be clearly informed about the total price, including all taxes and additional charges.

For online purchases, you should explicitly acknowledge – for example by pressing a button – that you are aware that placing your order implies an obligation to pay.

If you want to make an online payment for more than €30, you will need to use a combination of at least two authentication elements, such as:

  • something you have (such as your  mobile phone or card reader) AND something you know (a PIN or a password)
  • something you have (mobile phone or card reader) AND something you are (your fingerprint)
  • something you know (a PIN or a password) AND something you are (your fingerprint)

This makes your payments safer and more secure.

Surcharges: fees for the use of cards

Traders in the EU are not allowed to charge you extra for using your credit or debit card. The only exceptions to this rule are American Express/Diners Club cards and business or corporate credit cards, where your employer is billed instead of you. If you use these cards, you may still be charged a fee but the fee can't be more than what it actually costs the trader to process your payment.

You should be aware that if you're paying in EU currencies other than euros, you may still be charged a currency conversion fee by your card provider when you use your card in another EU country.

Charges for additional services

You must give your consent to any additional payment requested by the trader, for example express delivery, gift wrapping or travel insurance.

A trader is not allowed to charge you for these services unless you explicitly selected them. Using a pre-ticked box on the trader's website does not constitute consent, so you would be entitled to have any payment reimbursed which has been collected in that way.

Sample story

Traders must tell you the full price (including taxes and charges) before you pay

Ewa from Poland bought some books from an online trader. However, her credit card was charged more than the final amount displayed at the point of sale on the trader's website. Ewa realised the company had not included delivery costs, and had only added this on after she had completed her purchase.

As EU rules oblige traders to display correct and complete pricing information before a customer makes a purchase online, Ewa reported this matter to both the company and the Polish authorities. After intervention by the authorities, she was refunded the difference.

Price discrimination

As an EU national(In this case, the 28 EU member states + Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) or resident you can't be charged a higher price when buying products or services in the EU just because of your nationality or country of residence.

When you buy goods online in the EU, prices may vary from country to country or across different versions of the same website, for example due to differences in delivery costs. However, if you buy goods online without cross-border delivery – such as when you buy something online which you intend to collect from a trader or shop yourself – you should have access to the same prices and special offers as buyers living in that EU country. You cannot be charged more or prevented from buying something just because you live in another country.

The same rules apply when you buy services provided at the trader's premises, for example when you buy entry tickets for an amusement park, book a hotel, rent a car, or when you buy electronically supplied services (such as cloud services or website hosting), you are entitled to have access to the same prices as local buyers.

Copyright protected media, such as films, ebooks and music, are often covered by different licensing agreements in different countries. Therefore you may not always have access to the same products at the same price in all EU countries.

Sample story

You can't be charged more just because of your country of residence

Hilda from Denmark wanted to book a hire car in Spain for her summer holidays. She chose the car she wanted to book on the website of a Spanish car rental company. However, when she entered her address to finalise the reservation, she saw that the total price for her car rental increased by EUR 140.

Hilda contacted her local European Consumer Centre to complain about this price discrimination. They helped her introduce a formal complaint, highlighting the discriminatory pricing on the car rental company's website. As the car company failed to comply with EU rules, they may be fined by the competent national authority.

Pricing rules for travel tickets

EU rules on pricing also apply when you buy travel tickets, such as flights or train tickets, either online or in person. This means that when you buy your tickets, all taxes, fees and charges must be included and appear in the total price from the beginning of the booking process. This makes it easier for you to compare prices with other travel operators. 

Any optional supplements (such as travel insurance) must be clearly indicated as such and suggested only on an opt-in basis.

For the purchase of airline tickets, if you discover unclear online pricing when booking a flight, you can report it to the national authorities in your EU country of residence.

Automatic redirection on a website

Where several versions of a traders' website exist, you cannot be automatically redirected, unless you give your permission. For example, if you live in France and you choose directly to go to a .be website (Belgium), the trader can suggest that you might want to consult the .fr version of their website. However, unless you give your explicit permission for this redirection, you should have access to the .be website you originally selected.

You should also be able to change your choice at any time – for example, via a "choose country" box. This allows you to see the prices and promotions for products and services offered by the trader in other countries. However, you should always check a trader's terms and conditions to understand the delivery options and charges for your country.


Pay VAT in the country where you shop

As a private individual shopping in the EU(In this case, the 28 EU member states + Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), you should only pay VAT once, in the country where you make your purchase.

You can bring home anything you buy in another EU country, without stopping at the border or making a customs declaration. The only condition is that your purchases must be for your own or your family's personal use, and not intended for resale.

VAT refunds

If you are visiting from outside the EU you are entitled to a VAT refund on goods you have bought during your stay in the EU if the goods are shown to customs on departure within 3 months of their purchase together with the VAT refund documents. These are normally prepared by the seller although, as the scheme is voluntary, not all merchants participate. Some countries set a minimum value of purchases to qualify for a refund.

Buying online from another EU country

Special rules may apply when you buy goods from another EU country for delivery to your country of residence. If the company you buy from sells goods over a certain value to your country, where the goods are delivered, they cannot charge VAT in the country where you make your purchase.

Instead, they have to apply VAT in the country where the goods are delivered – VAT of destination. The maximum amount for these cross-border sales is set by each EU country at either €35,000 or €100,000. This means that most major online retailers delivering within the EU will have to apply the VAT of destination rule.

Sample story

Sometimes you may pay a higher VAT rate

Katrin, from the Netherlands, ordered a book from a large online retailer in Ireland. When she paid for the order and entered her address, she noticed that the price had suddenly gone up. She checked the reason and discovered that the company had charged her Dutch VAT at 9% instead of Irish VAT at 0%.

In the Netherlands, the maximum limit to be able to deliver goods without paying Dutch VAT is €100,000. This means that a company which sold more than €100,000 in goods to the Netherlands during the previous financial year must apply the VAT rate of the country of destination. The company Katrin has ordered from delivers frequently to the Netherlands and therefore has to charge her Dutch VAT, even though her order is being shipped from Ireland.

This rule does not apply to second-hand goods, works of art, collectors' items or antiques.

Excise duty

If you buy tobacco products or alcoholic drinks online from another EU country, the price will include excise duties, regardless of the quantity and even if the goods are a gift.

The trader is responsible for paying the excise duty due in the EU country of destination.

You should therefore expect the price for these types of goods to reflect the cost of excise duty. If the price is very low, make sure you check with the seller if the duty has been paid before you make your purchase.  If the seller hasn't paid the excise duty, your goods can be seized by customs on arrival or you may be required to pay the excise duty yourself.  You should always make sure that the seller will pay the necessary excise duty in the EU country of destination.

If you buy goods online from outside the EU, VAT, customs and excise duty is always due.

Exception for telecommunications, broadcasting and electronic services

VAT on telecommunications, broadcasting and electronic services is charged in the country where you live (the country where you are established, have your permanent address or usually live), and not in the country from where you purchase the service. These rules apply to services puchased both within and from outside the EU.

Sample story

VAT on digital content is from the country of residence

Senta, lives in Sweden and often purchases eBooks from a Finnish online book seller. The Finnish supplier must charge her Swedish and not Finnish VAT.

Exceptions for other services bought online

When you buy services online from a trader established in the EU, you pay the VAT rate of the country where the trader is established. This rule also applies if you live in a different EU country from the trader.

Sample story

Paying VAT in the country where the trader is established

Joao runs a consultancy company which is based in Lisbon. He provides consulting services to a private individual living in Copenhagen. As Joao's company is registered in Portugal, he has to charge his Danish customer Portuguese VAT.

However, there are many exceptions to this rule. Some of the most common exceptions are:

  • Services provided by an intermediary: VAT is charged in the country where the main transaction with the intermediary takes place. For example,if the owner of a summer cottage in France wants to move some furniture to her home in Sweden and asks an intermediary to find a company that will take care of the removal. French VAT will be due on the intermediary's commission fee because the main supply (i.e. the transportation of goods between 2 EU countries) takes place at the point of departure.
  • Services linked to immovable property are taxed where the property is located. For example, if an architect based in France is hired to design a house in Spain. The architect's fee will be subject to Spanish VAT.
  • Passenger transport is taxed according to the distance covered. For example,if the price of a bus ticket for a journey from Poland to France via Germany will include Polish, German and French VAT, in proportion to the distance covered in each country. If the bus also travels via Switzerland, there will be no EU VAT on that part of the journey, as Switzerland is not an EU country.
  • Restaurant and catering services (other than those on board ships, aircraft or trains) are taxed at the place where the services are physically carried out. For example, if a company based in Luxembourg supplies the food and drinks for an event in Florence. The company must charge Italian VAT.

Please note that this list is not exhaustive.

Exception for cars

For new cars bought in another EU country, VAT is paid in the country where you import and register your car (your country of residence). This VAT scheme also applies to other new means of transport, such as large motorbikes, boats and aircraft.