Check shipping costs when buying online

April 14 2008 by Ellen Roseman

in my Saturday column, I talked about how winning an online auction at eBay can be bittersweet. What you save on the item’s purchase price can be offset — and more — by high shipping costs.

Using PayPal to cover your online purchase, as most eBay sellers prefer, means you’ll be zinged with a currency conversion charge. Forget the Canadian dollar being at par with the U.S. dollar. Either PayPal will hit you with a 2.5 per cent fee at the time of purchase or your credit card linked to PayPal will hit with you with a similar fee later.

That’s how a 1,000-page cookbook, which I won for $11 (U.S.) on eBay, ended up costing me $50 in Canadian dollars by the time it arrived at my door.

My readers had lots of advice about how to buy online and avoid excessive charges for getting merchandise to your home. Some complained about the brokerage fees that couriers impose (luckily, I avoided that trap). And some said they had given up on eBay and electronic commerce altogether.


  1. CT

    Apr 15 2008

    Just a reply to AB: I’m absolutely sure that PayPal management knows Canadians can have US dollar accounts at Canadian banks. It’s a pure money grab for conversion fees.

  2. Potato

    Apr 16 2008

    I have to add my voice to the many others here that the customs fees charged by couriers such as DHL and UPS is ridiculous. I can’t believe that it’s legal to charge a fee to collect tax.

    A few years ago, I ordered some novelty T-shirts from the States, and the seller shipped by USPS/Canada Post. The shipping rate was very reasonable, and he warned me in advance that I would have to pay tax to Canada Post on delivery. The tax was the expected rate (GST/PST) and it all went very smoothly. I had fairly decent luck with a few other orders all with USPS/Canada Post.

    Then I ordered some stuff from Disney (US), which only gave me DHL as an option for shipping. The shipping was $44 for 1-2 week service. No mention was ever made about having to pay taxes or any other fees beyond the $44 shipping and $60 for the merchandise itself (and I was speaking with a “Disney international” phone rep). Not when I placed the order, nor when it was delivered.

    Over a month later, I got an invoice for the taxes and a brokerage charge. By that point I didn’t even remember doing any business with DHL, and the invoice was extremely unprofessional. I nearly threw it away as a phishing attempt.

    I haven’t bought anything from the US since, and if I do, I’ll be sure to demand USPS/Canada Post shipping.

  3. Jamie

    Apr 22 2008

    I’ve done almost 2,000 transactions on ebay, buying and selling.

    If you want to save exchange rate and are buying from a Canadian, just ask if you can pay that way. It’s easy to do even with paypal and the listing was in US$.

    I never care about the shipping cost when I buy. I’m capable of adding up price &s hipping and deciding if it’s a deal or not.

    Most listings now make the S&H cost very visible. The few not on board with transparent costs are probably best avoided.

    That shipping tends to be high is usually not to rip off the buyers. It’s that the total ebay fees are so high – listing fee up to 9% on the sale, .30+ paypal transaction fee, 2.9% of total transaction paypal fee, 2.6% foreign exchange fee, 1% paypal fee if the sender is in a different country.

    The high shipping cuts a few cents off what is going to ebay. That can easily be 15%-20% or more of the sale, especially on lower priced items.

    Anyone who hasn’t shipped recently with Canada Post may be shocked by just how high retail shipping rates have risen over the past few years.

    The best way to avoid brokerage commission is to shop Canadian. Search on and hit the county column header to bring all the Canadian listings to the top.

  4. PP

    Dec 9 2009

    I bought us product from a us (phone and address) company; using paypal to pay with a linked US based credit card and find on my credit card I’ve been charged a 3% foreign currency fee because the company was not based in the US. This happened to me twice recently- the company hq appears to be in Canada but there is no mention of it online. This is not honest and both paypal and the bank point the finger at each other but will not take responsibility of where this charge is coming from. It’s not the amount – its the principle! Using a bank link with paypal would work but there’s also no security regarding returns or damaged goods.