Alibaba ships to your door

Deliveries from China: Shipping tips for Gearbest and Aliexpress

In 2016, China was Germany's largest trading partner for the first time, replacing the USA. Online orders already account for around 10 percent of total Chinese foreign trade.

Because more and more Germans are discovering shopping in China for themselves, Paketda summarizes important tips for online shopping in China. The focus is on the major platforms AliExpress and Gearbest.

Table of Contents

  1. This is why Chinese online shops are so cheap
  2. Advice & shipping information on Aliexpress
    1. How safe is shipping on Aliexpress?
    2. Shipping methods on Aliexpress
  3. Advice & shipping information about Gearbest
    1. How safe is it to shop at Gearbest?
    2. How do returns to Gearbest work?
    3. Shipping methods at Gearbest
    4. Customs for packages from Gearbest
  4. EMS (Express Mail Service) and GdSK customs clearance
  5. Sending a return to China

This is why Chinese online shops are so cheap

Products from China often have the image of being "cheap products" not only in terms of price but also of quality. However, this is hardly the case anymore, because many products are at European level. Tip: Before buying a product from a Chinese supplier, read the reviews of other customers and don't just rely on product photos.

Speaking of the European level: Electronic items imported from non-EU countries and also children's toys must comply with European safety regulations and, for example, bear the CE mark. With bad luck it could happen that products without this marking are not allowed into the country by German customs. The same applies to foreign cosmetics. It must comply with the German Cosmetics Ordinance and, for example, must not contain any prohibited ingredients.

At Paketda, we generally advise against ordering cosmetics and pharmaceuticals from countries outside the EU. Never buy branded products that are suspiciously cheap (e.g. Swarovski smartphone covers). It could be illegal counterfeit.

The fact that Chinese products are offered so cheaply is due, on the one hand, to low manufacturing costs and wages in China. On the other hand, Chinese e-commerce benefits from government subsidies and extremely low postage costs. Source: blog.afterbuy.de

International postal traffic is regulated by the Universal Postal Union (UPU), of which the state postal companies of all countries are members. Developing countries receive more favorable conditions for international shipping than industrially strong countries. Source: upu.int.

Put simply: a letter with China Post to Germany costs less postage than a letter with Deutsche Post to China. This means that, for example, dealers from China can offer iPhone charging cables for 1 euro on eBay - with free shipping. You shouldn't be attracted by such extremely low prices. There is a high risk that it is of poor quality and that the smartphone will be damaged when it is being charged.

The cheap competition from China is a serious problem for dealers in Europe. With reference to the Handelsblatt, stern.de reported that only a fraction of Chinese dealers in Germany pay sales tax. Source: stern.de

The favorable shipping conditions also meet with resentment outside of China. In an article in the conservative US magazine National Review, it is reported that the state-run China Post receives as favorable shipping conditions as the post in Gabon and Botswana, even though China is the second largest economy in the world. The postal company in the recipient's country (e.g. USPS in the USA) makes a loss with every shipment imported from China. Source: nationalreview.com

Conclusion: Before placing an order in China, consider whether the price advantage justifies the longer delivery time and the uncertainty about product quality. You can't go wrong with small items such as cable ties, USB sticks or screen protectors. With higher-priced products such as drones or smartphones, the risk is greater because you cannot enforce German consumer law in China in the event of a problem.

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Advice & shipping information on Aliexpress

Aliexpress (operated by Alibaba.com) is very similar to the eBay marketplace. All products are sold there by independent dealers in their own name. In the event of a problem, as a customer, you have to deal with the retailer and not with Aliexpress.

However, there is buyer protection, in which Aliexpress initially manages the purchase price paid in trust. The seller is only paid out if the customer has received the goods in full and as described. If the delivery is lost en route or the product deviates significantly from the item description, the customer should first contact the dealer. If there is no agreement, buyer protection can be requested. Aliexpress will examine the case and refund the purchase price in whole or in part. More information on how it works here on aliexpress.com.

PayPal payments have been possible on Aliexpress since July 2017. Customers benefit from PayPal buyer protection. You can also choose between credit card, instant transfer, Giropay, WesternUnion and classic bank transfer. There are also other payment methods available that are rather unknown in Germany.


How safe is shipping on Aliexpress?

Each retailer organizes the shipping of their products themselves. Therefore, there are different shipping methods and different return conditions depending on the provider. Be sure to read the "fine print" in the item description. Serious dealers explain in detail which shipping methods are available and under which conditions a return is possible.

Aliexpress also shows at the bottom of each item page when and how often the product was purchased by other customers. Together with the retailer's ratings, this provides a good starting point for assessing the reliability of the provider. Do not buy from retailers who have few reviews. Aliexpress does have good protection mechanisms for the benefit of customers. But there are always fraudsters who want to defeat the system (e.g. by using foreign tracking numbers to simulate the shipment of goods to Germany).

Important to know: The dealer is also responsible for the correct customs declaration of the package. The more experienced a retailer is, the easier it is for you to receive the package in Germany. If the customs declaration and / or accompanying invoice are not attached to the outside of the package or are completely missing, you may have to pick up the delivery at a customs office or, alternatively, use postal customs clearance (costs 28.50 euros as of 4/2017). Only if the German customs have no queries and all customs documents are complete will you have the package delivered directly to your door and pay the import duties to the postman.

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Shipping methods on Aliexpress

As a rule of thumb, it can be said that small-format products are delivered by Deutsche Post and can be tracked at www.deutschepost.de/briefstatus. In Germany, larger products are usually delivered with DHL and can be tracked at www.dhl.de.

The previous rule of thumb does not apply if you choose another parcel service such as UPS, Fedex or DHL Express during the ordering process. The Paketda editors strongly advise against this, because these private parcel services charge additional, expensive fees for customs clearance. These fees are not displayed during the ordering process and are only known to the buyer in Germany when the parcel delivery company is on the doorstep.

Note: DHL Express is not to be confused with the standard shipping of Deutsche Post DHL. DHL Express has its own transport network in China. The dealer hands over the product to DHL Express directly in China. With standard shipping, on the other hand, the product is first handed over to a local parcel service (e.g. China Post or Singapore Post) and then transported onward by Deutsche Post DHL after arrival in Germany. With standard shipping, Deutsche Post DHL charges 6 euros in addition to the statutory import duties. Unless the shipment falls below the duty-free limit of 22 euros. Details on the 6 euro customs fee here.

China Post Ordinary Small Packet Plus
This shipping method is often offered free of charge, but it is also very slow. The delivery time is officially stated as 28 to 56 days. According to the experience of the Paketda editorial team, a delivery time of 2 to 4 weeks should be expected. The shipment can only be tracked in China.

China Post Air Mail / China Post Registered Air Mail
This shipping method should offer the advantage of better tracking. However, in our experience, Deutsche Post does not proceed uniformly. In Germany, all items are sent as registered mail or normal registered mail, but sometimes the registered mail cannot be tracked despite the tracking number. The delivery time varies between 2 and 4 weeks.

AliExpress Standard Shipping
If a retailer offers this shipping method, he uses the so-called AliExpress Shipping Center for international parcel shipping. Aliexpress selects a parcel service at its own discretion with which the goods are sent to Germany. In this country, delivery is usually made with Deutsche Post DHL. The delivery time is 15 to 45 working days. In some cases, shipment tracking is only offered on the Aliexpress website.

AliExpress Premium Shipping
With a delivery time of 7 to 15 working days, this shipping method is pleasantly fast. The disadvantage, however, is the tracking, which, as with standard shipping, is sometimes only available via the Aliexpress website. You can see an example tracking on this help page.

Hong Kong Post
Some merchants are based in Hong Kong and use Hong Kong Post to send their products. The Paketda editors rate the Hong Kong Post as extremely slow. Please note in the item description whether the shipment is from China or Hong Kong. If Hong Kong is specified, it is better not to choose Hong Kong Post as the shipping method.

Domestic Delivery (Seller's Shipping Method - DE)
Only a few dealers offer this shipping method. For customers, however, it is very advantageous because the product is sent directly from Germany. It is therefore a domestic package for which no import duties are due (or the dealer has already paid the duties in advance). Another advantage is that if the product is returned, it can be sent back to a delivery address in Germany. So there are no expensive postage costs for shipping back to China.

In the opinion of the Paketda editorial team, this shipping method is only worthwhile for products above the duty-free limit. In any case, there are no import duties for cheaper products.

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Advice & shipping information about Gearbest

Gearbest is an "everything retailer" and, like Amazon, offers a huge range of clothing, electronics, household items and stationery. On the positive side, Gearbest is always the seller of the goods and no marketplace dealers are involved. In the event of a problem, Gearbest is the sole point of contact for the customer and the responsibility cannot be shifted to strangers.

Gearbest offers the following payment options: PayPal, iDEAL and credit card. Gearbest takes photos of each package before shipping. The customer can see the picture and can therefore be certain that the goods have actually been sent.

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How safe is it to shop at Gearbest?

On this website Gearbest provides information about guarantees and return conditions. If a product is delivered damaged, does not work ("Dead on Arrival") or is missing in the delivery, Gearbest will refund the purchase price or provide a replacement.

Note: Gearbest does not disclose what happens in the event of a lost package. In the Paketda forum there are some customer complaints about undelivered parcels from China. Sometimes an incorrect delivery address is to blame, but sometimes shipments disappear for no reason. If you have chosen a shipping method at Gearbest that does not include tracking, Gearbest will not reimburse the purchase price in our estimation. Unless you have booked optional shipping insurance, which is offered during the ordering process.

Even when shipping with a tracking number, problems can occur in rare cases. Your parcel may end up with a neighbor who cannot be found in the neighborhood. Or the package is put in the mailbox and stolen from it. In our opinion, resolving such problems with Gearbest's customer service is difficult or even impossible. As soon as there is a proof of delivery for the package, Gearbest should consider the delivery as successful - even if the package has not even landed with you personally. Under German consumer law, you would be protected in such cases, but this only applies to EU orders and not to China orders.

The PayPal buyer protection may not work either, because Gearbest can prove correct shipping by means of a tracking number and a photo of the package. In order to minimize delivery risks for expensive products, Gearbest shipping insurance is recommended according to the Parcelda editorial team.

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How do returns to Gearbest work?

If a product has to be returned to Gearbest, the customer in Germany first pays the postage costs. Gearbest will reimburse postage after the customer has emailed the postage receipt to Gearbest. However, postage is only reimbursed in cases in which Gearbest is responsible for the return (e.g. defective product). If the customer sends back goods for his own reasons (e.g. because clothes do not fit), Gearbest does not reimburse postage.

Gearbest will not refund the purchase price for returned products until they have arrived in China. If the goods are lost en route, Gearbest will reimburse half of the purchase price as a goodwill gesture (to the customer account; not as a cash payment). Paketda recommends using an insured shipping method.

However, Gearbest asks its customers not to send returns with DHL Express, UPS, Fedex or a similar express parcel service. This is because Gearbest incurs high costs for customs clearance, which will probably be passed on to the customer. You should therefore only use standard shipping with Deutsche Post (letter) or DHL (small parcel or parcel for large products).

Enclose a completed RMA return form with the package (see figure below). You will receive the "RETURN MERCHANDISE AUTHORIZATION" form from Gearbest customer service after you have communicated your return request there. Gearbest's return address is also given on the form.

To send a return package back to Gearbest at a low cost, read this section on shipping back to China.

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Shipping methods at Gearbest

Gearbestblog.de reported in February 2017 that all Gearbest parcels in Germany are being delivered by Hermes. However, this can be a test phase so that DHL and DPD Gearbest deliveries may also be made.

Import by Gearbest ("Priority Line", "Germany Express")
This service costs a small surcharge, but is almost always free for products over 100 euros. This is why this shipping method is worthwhile for cheap products (below the duty-free limit of 22 euros), but for more expensive products customers benefit from the fact that Gearbest takes over the complete customs clearance.

For the shipping methods "Priority Line" / "Germany Express" Gearbest already sticks a German parcel label on the parcel in China (usually from Hermes). The Gearbest packages for customers in Germany are collected in China and flown to Great Britain in a container. This is done by the transport company Sky56 (Tracking: http://sky56.cn/english/track/index)

In Great Britain, the bulk container from China is cleared and the import duties are paid by Gearbest. Customers in Germany do not need to worry about additional costs and do not have to pick up their parcel at the customs office. Instead, the Gearbest parcels are transported from Great Britain to Cologne and handed over to Hermes in this country (rarely also to DHL or DPD). They are treated like parcels within Germany. Overall, a delivery time of 7 to 15 working days can be expected.

Lomeway E-Commerce in Cologne is the sender information on the parcels. You should never return parcels to Lomeway on your own. Instead, returns usually have to be sent to the retailer's return address in China. See section Returns to China.

Unregistered Air Mail
This is the slowest shipping method; it takes 15 to 30 working days. In some cases, customers even report even longer delivery times. Because there is no shipment tracking, the "Unregistered Air Mail" method of dispatch is always associated with hope and fear.

Registered Air Mail
This type of dispatch is comparable to registered mail. The transit time is 10 to 25 working days and the shipment is trackable. In the Gearbest ordering process you can choose the carrier: China Post, Switzerland Post, Netherland Post, HongKong Post, Malaysia Post, Singapore Post or Sweden Post.

According to the experience of the Paketda editorial team, Chinapost is the slowest transport route. Belgium Post (bpost) is recommended because shipping is relatively quick with it. The tracking of bpost is available at track.bpostchina.com.

Hong Kong Post
Some merchants are based in Hong Kong and use Hong Kong Post to send their products. In the experience of the Paketda editorial team, the Hong Kong Post is very slow. Please note in the item description whether the shipment is from China or Hong Kong. If Hong Kong is listed, use a different shipping method than Hong Kong Post.

Expedited Shipping
Expedited Shipping means express shipping and is therefore the fastest shipping method (takes approx. 3 to 8 working days). In addition to the shipping costs that customers pay to Gearbest, this type of shipping sometimes incurs extremely high costs for customs clearance in Germany.

Background: Express shipping takes place with private parcel services such as UPS, Fedex or DHL Express. Private parcel services can set their own fees for customs clearance "as they please". As a recipient in Germany, for example, you pay 19% import sales tax for the import of a product costing 100 euros. In addition, the parcel service charges a surcharge for doing the paperwork with German customs. It is known from DHL Express that a so-called Capital provision commission is charged because DHL Express initially disbursed the import taxes and only collects them from the customer a few days later. The capital provision fee is at least 14.88 euros. For comparison: For normal non-express parcels from Deutsche Post DHL, the fee for customs clearance is "only" 6 euros. All information without guarantee as of 3/2018.

The Paketda editorial team advises against using Expedited Shipping due to the high customs costs.

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Customs for packages from Gearbest

Have you chosen a shipping method without customs clearance (i.e. not Priority Line, Germany Express), Gearbest sticks a customs declaration on the package. The products and their value are then declared. German Customs calculate the import duties based on the value of the goods. Our customs calculator offers you a rough guide to the amount of duty due.

Documents available to the Paketda editorial team allow the conclusion that Gearbest does not issue correct customs declarations in all cases. It can happen that customers order goods from Gearbest with a value of more than 100 euros, and the customs declaration only states a value of 20 dollars.

Because the official Gearbest invoice does not show the actual value of the goods but a lower fantasy value, the discrepancy is hardly noticeable for German customs.

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EMS (Express Mail Service) and GdSK customs clearance

The abbreviation EMS (Express Mail Service) describes a network of international postal companies that have set up a transport network for the particularly fast dispatch of goods and documents.

On the official EMS website, Deutsche Post is listed as the designated operator for Germany. However, Deutsche Post DHL does not offer any EMS shipping methods that German customers could use. Instead, the EMS offer is probably limited to the import of foreign parcels that were sent abroad as EMS.

If you want to send an express package from Germany to another country, you can do so with DHL Express. DHL Express has its own transport network in almost every country and rarely hands over parcels to other postal companies. That is why we cannot speak of EMS shipping with DHL Express.

What is also irritating about EMS shipping is that DPD and GLS are also responsible for delivering EMS parcels from Asia in Germany. Although DPD and GLS are not members of the EMS association. There are many Internet forums where customers of Gearbest, Aliexpress and other Chinese online shops complain that their EMS parcels are not delivered the traditional way with Deutsche Post DHL. Because when importing, the so-called "GdSK - Gesellschaft der Schnellkurier" intervenes. Some online shoppers compare the image of the GdSK with the image of the GEZ.

Reason: the GdSK carries out customs clearance of foreign shipments for a fee. This service costs more than 20 euros in fees, which the customer has to shell out in addition to the shipping costs already paid.

An inexpensive alternative to GdSK customs clearance could be the so-called self-clearance, the process of which is explained on this website. The recipient does the paperwork for importing the goods himself and submits the documents directly to customs in Frankfurt so that GdSK is bypassed.

Disadvantage: If a customer in Germany applies for the self-declaration of a package, the German customs could question the information given in it. Example: A customer orders a drone from Aliexpress for 30 euros and registers this product with German customs for import. If the customs do not believe the information (e.g. because 30 euros is too cheap for a drone or because the size of the package suggests a different item), a customs inspection can be ordered. During a customs inspection, either the customer or a person authorized by him must be present. And if you don't happen to live near the customs in Frankfurt, you will probably use the GdSK's (chargeable) service to be present at the customs inspection. More about this procedure at blog.teekeramik.com.

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Sending a return to China

We have published a detailed, separate guide on this topic: ► Send a return to China.

Tip: PayPal will reimburse return costs

If you have paid for an order at Gearbest or Aliexpress with Paypal, you can have the postage costs reimbursed by Paypal up to a maximum of 25 euros in the case of a return. The prerequisite is that you activate the free service on this PayPal website. In addition, the posting receipt and the postage receipt (invoice from the parcel service) must be uploaded to PayPal.

The refund service works for all physical products that you have bought domestically or abroad and have paid for in full with PayPal. Refunds are excluded for products that cannot be returned according to the retailer's conditions (e.g. individual custom-made products). As of 4/2017, a maximum of 12 postage reimbursements per customer are possible per year. But that should be sufficient even for frequent customers.

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Collaboration: Maximilian Koch



Customer questions and opinions about shipping from China