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Tips for buying abroad

Back in the city. If you were interested in sourcing a scooter not already residing on these shores your options as to how to go about it were fairly limited.




There were theoretically just two choices: do it yourself or pay someone to do it for you. This meant you could either:

  • Spend a substantial amount of time and cash in a country where you often had little more than a scant knowledge on either the language or the geography - the upshot of these ill-planned missions resulting in either an incredibly lucky find or more often than not a rather expensive and time consuming wild goose chase, or
  • Leave the leg work to the handful of British based scooter traders who made a couple of annual trips abroad, invariably to Italy (which by the way is no longer really  viable as regards baggin' yourself a bargain). On the whole most of the dealers knew the lie of the land they visited. Not only did they return with scores of mouth-watering machines, but usually with a great deal of hard to find spares and accessories as well. This service of course did, and indeed does, not come free of charge, but then we all have to make a living somehow, right?

These days all that's changed. the advent of the internet has turned planet Earth into a 'global village' and we can now view/order these saucy scoots and spares from abroad without leaving the comfort of our armchair. From Sicily to Saigon, Carlisle to Chicago, Bombay to Bangkok, and South America to Southampton, it's all just a mouse click away...

So why shop abroad?
During the mid-9O's readers of Scootering can't have failed to notice the influx of Teutonic scooter dealers. SIP, Scooter Center Köln and Stoffi's Garage in Australia were regular advertisers in the magazine and suppliers of parts to many rally-going scooterists. The reason for this was twofold. Firstly they offered some very innovative parts that simply were not available eslewhere, and secondly, their prices for many components across the board were very competitive thanks to currency exchange rates at the time. By sending your cash to Europe you could save a respectable amount on a Vespa tuning kit, gawp at a plethora of jaw-dropping trick-bits, or simply club together with your mates to purchase some decent tyres for a very reasonable amount. These adverts often included approximate postage costs to the UK and as they were in the European Community there was nothing to pay as regards to British tax and import duty.
As with all good business, it's a similar carrot that's dangled today but from people further afield. However, there are other things to contemplate when shopping outside the EC. There are numerous costs to consider other than the advertised price you see for the parts or scooter in question. Of course you'd expect there to be shipping costs to stump up for, but did you know that Customs & Excise, the taxman and the whole host of other people, all want to extract cash from you before you get your carrot?

What you pay really depends on what you are shipping and how you ship it, but as we've discovered it can all be a bit of a lottery. Of course everything referred to here relates to individuals obtaining parts and scooters from abroad and not businesses, which are completely different kettle of fish!
As an example here's what a UK customer had to pay, on top, for an order of new Lambretta reproduction parts and original reconditioned stuff totaling 14OOGBP from the Saigon Scooter Centre, sent by sea to Felixstowe.
Terminal handling - 33.95GBP
Delivery - 98.9OGBP (from Felixstowe to the North of England/Yorkshire
Documentation - 65GBP
Customs clearance and agency - 45GBP
Quay rent - 7OGBP (this charge was applied, as the consignee was on holiday when the goods docked in the UK)
Advance of duty - 1OGBP
Customs presentation - 12.5OGBP
Container security surcharge - 8.7OGBP
DTI fee - 5GBP
VAT - 41.58GBP

So what you see is not always what you pay with regards to the advertised price and what it will actually cost you to get your merchandise to your garage door.
New parts, second-hand parts and scrap are all treated differently, and the value of each order has a bearing on it too. Basically, you are charged according to what declaration is made to the relevant authorities.
If you goods are sent via airmail you will of course avoid the fees incurred at the docks. However should import duty (both air freight and sea freight are eligible for it) and VAT etc be payable, this will have to be paid to either the courier company or Royal Mail before they release the goods to you. You'll obviously get the parts or scooter to you quicker with a door-to-door service, although this may well carry a premium price so weigh up the pros and cons first.
Of course if the order undergoes a random customs check (again, this applies to both sea or airfreight) they may well deduce that, for example, 1O sets of disc brakes are not for personal use, so some discretion is needed.
So what about importing scooters? When we first started researching this article it appeared that there were few problems, and no duty was payable on pre-1971 scooters. This is of course presuming you are simply importing one for yourself. Any more than that and you run the risk of someone presuming you are going to flog at least one for a profit and as such they may want a slice. For post-1971 scoots  however you would need to pay 17 per cent VAT and 5 per cent Customs duty. You need a VAT receipt from Customs to later register is at DVLC. Receipts from the shipper are not acceptable, and please note that a dating certificate from a recognized owner's club and a visual inspection of the vehicle may still be necessary before you get a registration number.
However, this is where the lottery comes in. It seems that Customs and Excise are after more cash and so it appears that the rules are currently being restructured. What classifies as a rare historic vehicle is now up for debate with the figure of about 2O worldwide being banded around, and small print suggesting that if 75 per cent of them are already in this country it's not rare enough. The value of the vehicle will also have a bearing not only on what duty you pay but also as to what it's classified as. It goes without saying that a brand new vehicle will cop a heavy amount of duty, although a 'scrap' vehicle may not necessary be loaded with much at all...

As with anything connected with bureaucracy, paperwork is abundant. The more you can get sorted in advance the easier and cheaper the whole process should be. GoldenScoots based in Bangalore, South India deal in all types of API and SIL  Lambrettas and Bajaj Vespas. On purchase they say they'll provide you with a bill of sale and a 'bill of lading' (a 'bill of lading' is used when goods are exported by ship, an 'airway bill' if air freighted. Details included on the bill are the shipping company, port of loading and unloading, goods shipped, weight and size, and the exporter). They also provide a copy of the original documents of the scoot registered in India, original registration cancellation document after the scoot has been dispatched and original police report or certificate. Depending on how observant the clerk is, and how lucky you are on the day, Customs may well be free (as you are importing a single article for own use and the scooter is more than 25-years-old). this can be handled for you by the local clearing agent or you can do the Customs clearing yourself with ease by filling in the suitable forms and paying the necessary inspection charges. If there is any duty or VAT applicable try not to pay via a shipping agent. Although it may seem easier it'll be about half the price if you pay Customs directly at the port of entry, thus saving those hard earned sheckles. Golden Scoots has a forwarding agent in Bangalore who handles the shipping. Scoots are usually shipped by sea as LCL cargo. They can ship by air but though faster, it is three times more costly. It takes 3O-45days to most parts of the world by sea and between three and seven days by air for a scoot to reach you.
This is just an example of one company of course. There are others, but there are also horror stories of customers getting duped at this end by the shipping agent and paying another 4OOGBP for 'extras' such as delivery/shipper clearance, so do you research first. Another thing to remember is to make sure you have a 'pseudo turn' (a temporary VAT number which is required to pay the VAT on the scoot). this can be acquired from the Inland Revenue.
The rules state that goods brought into the UK from outside as 'commercial imports' by Customs and Excise. A commodity code is a serial number used to classify imports (and exports). this code (9-1Odigits) gives a full description of each item. Every item will have a code number whatever it is. Against each commodity code a duty rate is set. The majority of products being imported will attract duty. Classifying your product to a commodity code sets the duty rate and VAT (to classify your goods you should access ICN (Intrastat Classification Nomenclature) Online via which has a search facility to help you find the correct commodity code for your goods). So now you know!
I spoke to a customer who has dealt with Saigon Scooter Center, Lindsay Room. He bought a complete restored SX2OO, side panels, bodywork, exhausts, seats and many other bits and pieces. He told me that not only was the customer service and communication superb, the quality of the scoot, in his opinion, was excellent, not a 'concourse' restoration, but very nice indeed. He simply uncrated it and MoT'd it the next day. Saigon Scooter Centre (SSC) recommended the handling agents (Uniserve) and total costs, Customs, VAT handling etc; scoot delivered to the door for under 2OOGBP. So for around 22OOGBP (last year's price) Lindsay has a Lambretta  he is well proud of.
One downside was the delivery time, which was roughly six weeks on a very slow boat from Vietnam. However Lindsay's sold on the service and is now considering spending more money with SSC.
As we've said, there seems to be a little bit of 'luck' involved with the charges you pay, presumably down to someone somewhere being a little less vigilant than they should be. Some proprietors may claim to 'help' with your costs by, for instance, declaring the value of your scoot on the bill of lading at a fraction of the price you actually paid for it. This price is what is declared to Customs and as such what the charges are based upon. It doesn't take a genius either to work out that, whether by accident or not, this may well result in less duty and tax being paid. However, as with someone in the UK that declares their scooter is only worth 5OOGBP to get cheaper road insurance, you must be aware that if the paperwork is inaccurate then it could all get rather awkward and financially embarrassing should the ship sink or something else go wrong.

Payment and small print
As with any company you do business with, they are not going to send the goods without payment up front. Now while many of us are fairly happy sending a cheque to the opposite end of the country for a couple of hundred quid's worth of parts, sending cash halfway around the world is something else. Using a credit card is probably the safest method as there is sometime insurance for the customer. There are three credit card companies who have confirmed that consumer safeguards on credit card purchases will apply to purchases made abroad as well as in  the UK, HSBC, Bank of Scotland and Sainsbury's Bank have all assured that they will honour valid claims for purchases made abroad under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Section 75 sets out the concept of 'equal liability'. Basically the law says that card issuers are jointly liable with suppliers if the consumer has a valid claim for misrepresentation and/or breach of contract by the supplier, but only if the cash price of an item is between 1OOGBP and 3O,OOOGBP and the credit limit is no more than 25,OOOGBP. However Section 75 does not cover debit or charge cards and there is plenty of small print that you are advised to read before proceeding beyond this point. These three companies have confirmed that they will not differentiate between claims based on 'where' a purchase is made and that they will deal with claims consistently. Previously cardholders were told that Section 75 protection did not extend to overseas transactions so check with your individual credit card issuer whether you are covered before you hand out your details and you find your plastic melting in your hands!
You should also be careful when you give your credit or debit card details over the internet. Always find out whether the company has a 'secure' website and look for information about eh protection the company has put in place. The trader must give their name, address and telephone number, not just their email address. They must also fully describe the goods for sale and order must be confirmed in writing. As with any other type of purchase, shop around for the best deals and prices. In most cases you are entitled to a seven-day 'cooling off' period where you can change your mind, but this usually does not apply to 'auction' sites (such as Ebay). Read the small print!

Delivery and returns
Remember, goods being send from abroad may take some time to be delivered, so make sure this meets your requirements. Where no delivery date has been stated - ask, else you may be left waiting indefinitely even though payment has been taken in advance (UK law states that where no delivery dated is stated, delivery should be made within 3Odays but I don't reckon this'll stick when ordering from overseas).
Trading Standards publish a leaflet, 'Shopping from Home', concerning your rights under the 'Distance Selling' regulations that covers goods and services ordered from the UK and European countries. We couldn't find one that covered worldwide shopping.
Check what the company's policy is on returning goods that you don't like or have changed your mind about. If they have come from abroad you may be faced with a hefty postage bill  to return them and remember, if you have problems like faulty goods or non delivery, it might be very difficult to get your complaint dealt with from the other side of the world. Although your contract will probably be covered by UK law, allowing you to sue in your local court, getting money out of a company based abroad may be impractical. Most importantly, print out the order, and keep a copy of any terms and conditions that appear on the web site, just in case of any disputes or problems later on.
Robert Fernandez (a UK based customer of SSC) informed me that he has bought many parts from them now, mainly from their range of SS9O reproduction parts as well as various Lambretta seats and exhausts. He claims without hesitation that all were, in his opinion, 'fantastic quality'. Parts were all packed extremely  well and sent quickly. IN fact they forgot a seat on one order and the replacement was received five days later. No quibbles at all. He claims that he would definitely order again without a doubt.
With regards to 'returns' policies, as Pat at SSC explained, there are difficulties as they are on the other side of the world. He tells us that if the situation arises to a UK address for checking and then arrange a replacement by airmail from Saigon. Alternatively to save time they may be able to arrange a replacement from a UK dealer who they have a contract with.

Consider this
You should always read the terms and conditions carefully before buying anything and see if you can get personal recommendations for companies you have not done business with before. ScootRS is another Vietnamese based business that have received praise from British customers on various internet sites, but as with anyone, not just ScootRS, there are knockers too so our advice is try to find someone who has experience with the same transaction you are considering yourself. Remember that while some companies may be the only ones who have what you want so you have no choice but to shop there, while they may be good at one thing they may not be so hot with others. I mean go to Taffspeed for a fast reliable and reliable engine but not necessarily to get your GS restored, know what I mean? Another example could be out board hydraulic disc brakes for Lambrettas. While Stoffi's are know to use quality components such as those by Grimeca, some less prestigious outfits may utilize parts from unknown Taiwanese or Chinese brands of automatic scooter. Not really a problem when compared to a standard Innocenti brake, but certainly not as good as it could be. You pays your money etc etc...
Those of you with email and /or scooter related websites may well be aware that in recent times a number of people in India, Thailand and Vietnam are consistently 'spamming' scooterists with supposed bargains for anything from parts to engines to complete scooters. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't. Buyers beware of the unknown source. I've seen one website where the owner of a business has proudly displayed scooters they have 'restored' and sold, only to look closely at the front end of certain machines to discover missing cables and broken hubs. It makes you wonder what the rest of the scooter is like...
Wherever you go in the world you'll find good and bad; from Italy to India, Vietnam to Dagenham. One company can manufacture the same parts (e.g. Lammy kickstarters) for two different buyers and depending on the requirements specified they could be entirely different. There are pattern S2 and GP mudguards available for a tenner, some for fifty quid and some are even a hundred plus - it's a fairly safe bet which ones will look better, fit better and be of a higher standard all round.
As with a lot of things concerning scooters (such as finding a 'scooter friendly' MoT station), asking for recommendations from others is always a good start. You would also be well advised to visit web-based forums such as those at or which have members with experience in buying from overseas companies.
At the end of the day, whoever you are dealing with, you've got to be sure that you are happy paying a large amount of money up front for something you have never seen in the flesh.

(With thanks to all those that helped with the research for this article)
Scootering Edition 221 November 2OO4

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