How To Get Past Amazon's Geoblocking

Image: Amazon

Amazon's decision to block access to amazon.com because of changes in GST rules for overseas purchases has produced a bunch of angry reactions. Some are unhappy at the government for kowtowing to the whims of a vocal minority of local retailers, while others are angry at Amazon for letting consumers down. But, if the internet has taught us anything, it's that geoblocks are made to be broken.

The new rules imposed by Amazon as a result of the that changes to how GST is collected on overseas purchases don't come into effect until 1 July 2018. So, the redirect from amazon.com to amazon.com.au isn't active yet.

But when it's in play, there are some things you can do to get around it.

Physical goods

Buying physical products should be reasonably easy although the extra effort and potential expense may make the process so onerous that it's not worth doing.

Unless Amazon gets really fancy, bypassing the redirect from amazon.com to amazon.com.au should be pretty easy. A VPN app will do the job nicely. These ones that let you access the US version of Netflix will definitely fit the bill

Then, it's a question of shipping. Amazon has said they will be blocking freight to Australian addresses. That means either getting a friend to order and on-ship to you or using a freight-forwarding service. There are lots to choose from and their pricing structures vary significantly. A few that have been recommended by Lifehacker readers are

These service offer different options and pricing structures depending on what you're buying and the value of the goods. So, it's important to factor in those costs when you make a decision on whether to buy locally or use an overseas store.

Then there's payment. It's not clear yet whether Amazon will also be blocking Australian-issued credit cards but if you use a freight-forwarding service then that won't be an issue. But, if you plan to make purchases using your own credit card, a US issued card will be useful.

Apple used to allow people to buy iTunes Store credit using Australian credit cards thorough third parties. For example, there was a time when I could buy iTunes credit from Best Buy using an Aussie credit card. But those loopholes are closed now and I'd expect Amazon to make it pretty hard to use an Australian card for purchases. So, either get one issued by a US bank using a US address from a friend or get a friend in the US to pay for the goods on your behalf.

What's the cost?

If you're determined to use amazon.com then you'll need to look at whether the extra cost and inconvenience is worth it.

VPN software prices can vary significantly. There are free services but I tend to avoid those as my trust radar wonders how the provider is making a buck without using my data.

I use NordVPN. It works well and the company has a good reputation for protecting their customers' data. Figure on adding about US$3.29 per month to your shopping costs.

However, given a VPN is useful for a lot more than overcoming geoblocking, I'd suggest that's almost a non-issue.

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Freight forwarders charge in different ways depending on the item. As an example, I looked at a pair of Nike Air Pegasus 35 running shoes.

The local price is $180 according to the local Nike store.

Amazon offers the same shoe for US$114. That's $149 in local money (using xe.com for the conversion.)

Shipping using MyUS.com adds another US$41.94 to that, making the total cost about AU$204. So, it's not really worth it. ShopMate is a little cheaper at AU$38 for shipping but it's still not worth it.

Of course, things will vary considerably depending on what goods you're buying. Most freight forwarding services base their shipping rates on the item's weight. So, a high-value but lighter item could be worth buying this way. In my case, the shoes don't make sense as the cost of shipping a 2kg package worth US$120 doesn't stack up. But for a $500 item the equation can shift significantly.

Digital goods

Using a VPN to overcome geoblocking will help with accessing digital products like music and books.

Amazon has been limiting access to Kindle books through amazon.com.au for some time. That's mainly due to arcane licensing and distribution agreements that were written at about the same time people shared content by carving on stone.

In any case, it seems that purchasing books from the Kindle store will still be possible if you use a VPN to get past the geoblock.

As far as payment goes, unless Amazon starts blocking local credit cards in the US version of the Kindle store then you should be OK. IF they do, then you'll need to get yourself a US credit card.

Existing content is unaffected, although if you get a new device and want to redownload all your electronic goods from Amazon, you'll most likely need to use a VPN to overcome Amazon's redirection to the Australian site.

Is beating the geoblocking worth it?

The decision on whether using a VPN and freight-forwarding to overcome the local geoblock will come down to doing your homework. Even when an item looks to be much cheaper at amazon.com, like my shoes, but the time you add the shipping cost from a US address, you could end up paying substantially more.

For books and music a VPN should suffice and, given you may already have one, it really boils down to local versus overseas pricing once you take into account exchange rates.

Getting around the geobloack by Amazon is not going to be difficult. But the cost of doing so, unless you're visiting the US or can cut the shipping cost back some other way, will depend on what you're buying and the exchange rate at that time.


Comments

    Reposted from a similar article a day or so ago:
    How does using a VPN help? I don't see how it would solve the problem because they still need to ship it to Australia, so that makes no sense. As for parcel forwarding sites, in my experience, they are still way too expensive and Australia Post's service, in particular, is one of the worst, both in price and customer support.

      You didn't read very far, did you?

        Actually, I did read it fully, my comments were directly aimed at products that need to be put in a box. Obviously, digital products are a different issue.

          You should definitely read it again...

          SEction labelled 'Physical Goods' deals entirely with products that, as you say, need to be put in a box.

            Buying physical products should be reasonably easy although the extra effort and potential expense may make the process so onerous that it's not worth doing--A VPN app will do the job nicely--Then, it's a question of shipping Someone needs to explain how a VPN allows you to use an Aussi address when it comes to payment, not to mention credit cards? Or are they just ignoring the destination and the card? As for using a parcel forwarding company, which is the only way I can see of doing it, They all charge like bulls and as mentioned Aus Post's "ShopMate", it is one of, if not the worst of them.

              When you sign up to one of the freight forwarding companies, they give you a US address. When goods are delivered to that address, they are repacked and sent to Australia.
              Once they get here, they are unpacked and delivered.

              Repacking gives discounts depending on weight and volume. A new laptop in protective foam is bigger and heavier than 3 pairs of jeans.

                I know how freight forwarding works. As for the rest of your comment-?

      1. Digital content.
      2. Buying gifts for overseas delivery
      3. Buying stuff when you are overseas. I remember being in the UK and needing to replace the HDD on my laptop. Amazon UK was the only online vendor I could find who would accept my non-EU VISA card to sell me a replacement that could be sent to where I was staying.

    Do NOT use ShopMate...

    I was thinking a big company like AusPost will be good at this kind of thing, but oh how wrong I was... Don't forget, big companies (like AusPost) have no idea how to innovate, hence their freight-forwarding service is rubbish...

    Go with a smaller player, one who knows how to innovate and do these things well.

      I second this comment. Shopmate are Sh*t mate..
      I could of walked to the USA and back before my package arrived..
      they have done the great Australian tradition of using a subcontractor.. The business isn't their own..

    Do NOT use ShopMate...

    I was thinking a big company like AusPost will be good at this kind of thing, but oh how wrong I was... Don't forget, big companies (like AusPost) have no idea how to innovate, hence their freight-forwarding service is rubbish...

    Go with a smaller player, one who knows how to innovate and do these things well.

    Welll... that's what happens when you hit submit twice really quickly!

    Last edited 05/06/18 1:55 pm

    Thanks for the feedback on ShopMate. I went to check my previous "go to" forwarder, PriceUSA, but, sadly, they're closing down.

      Foolishly I thought "lots of bad reviews, but it's only the bad reviews that get posted"

      They over promise, under deliver, and as everything has to go via AusPost, communication is terrible...

      Not worth the headache, even if they might be $10 cheaper than another provider.

      Secretly, smaller independent providers (i.e. not AusPost) will probably also not bother with the GST collection as a bonus.

    You haven't mentioned paying GST in any of this. The parcels still have to go through customs regardless of whether you get them directly from amazon or via a freight forwarded or a friend. I can't imagine customs blithely allowing every parcel to just go through without checking it.

    Take you Nike example. Even assuming the forwarding wasn't too expensive it's likely customs would see a brand new pair of nikes and say "right there needs to be GST paid on that". So what happens? You'll either get a bill for the GST cost (which they'll calculate and it may not be anything like reality) or they'll confiscate the package entirely and you'll never see it.

      I don't think most people care about the GST cost so much as the goods bought are either not available in Australia or the savings are so dramatic that GST makes little difference.

        I agree, but that's not the problem. The problem will be (a) customs even giving you the chance to pay GST in the first place, and (b) them assessing the value correctly. Lets take the Nike example again;

        If the shoes are $149 in a US shop and $180 in an AU shop which price do you reckon AUSTRALIAN customs will consider to be the valid one for taxation purposes?

        Bear in mind we're dealing with government bureaucracy not the real world where common sense applies.

        This will be an even bigger problem if you have a freight forwarder or friend who puts an obviously dodgy amount on a customs declaration form.

          I think that's already a problem. I've had overseas purchases for years where the vendor insisted on using Fedex which in my experience has *always* resulted in them requesting I pay duty prior to delivery, probably because of the admin fee they can they charge on top,

            I hadn't heard of people getting hit with duty already. I'm a little surprised at that. Did you argue with them over whether the duty was required or just bite the bullet and pay?

              The matter is not made available "for discussion". If the consignment is urgent, you pay up or lose it.

                Ahh that sucks. I thought it might be the case :(

                Hell, it'd possibly even cost more to argue the point. Sure you could call/mail for free initially but it's not likely to get a positive response. You'd probably need an accountant or solicitor backing up your argument to have a hope of getting a good one.

        Oh and I forgot to explain the first part more; at the moment all the "cheap" packages basically get looked at quickly to gauge legality and that's about it. The extra effort involved to actually apply GST to each package is going to do one of three things (maybe a combo).

        1. Make the process considerably slower since every package needs to now be assessed for value and a GST bill be sent out before release.

        2. Make the process more expensive because customs will charge an "administration fee" on top of the GST. So The $14.90 GST on the Nikes may become $14.90+$60* administration (* or whatever the hell they choose as a fee, not like we'll have any say over it).

        3. The government decides it's "too hard" and just blocks all imports where there isn't some form of valid GST paid information. Meaning you'll never get your package.

          lol gotta love being downvoted with no actual rebuttal. If you've got a problem with the post how about actually commenting *why*.

            There's a lot of it going around on these threads :-(

    Perhaps VPNs should start adding a forwarding service.

    Kindles are, according to Amazon, unaffected. I asked them and they said it's only physically shipped goods that will be affected - the ability to purchase Kindle books on a US account (and access them) will be unaffected.

    Moving your account to an Australian one may run into some problems, as their help pages say content "may" carry over if it's available in both markets. But if you want to keep using your Kindle with your US library? That's fine - or so their customer service people have been telling pretty much everyone who's asked about it on Twitter or FB.

    Have used MyUS for several years although current exchange rate makes it unrealistic for cheap items but still good for expensive items. They can shop on your behalf and also provide a US debit card

    Considering how other websites cope with international taxes of various rates without fuss or bother - Steam is an obvious example because we pay or 10% tax there - Amazon's protest is likely more about the way they were approached by our great Treasurer and the government, than about actually collecting the tax and forwarding it on, as its no great accounting hassle to do it. The only thing I have not yet worked out is how the government is going to collect the money from the thousands of overseas vendors on Ebay and Alibaba, because it may just break some arcane legislation to collect money on behalf of or send money to a foreign government. My money is not on ScoMo.

    What about New Zealand? My daughter lives in NZ and we often cross the Tasman to see each other.
    Could she purchase from Amazon US, pay with a NZ credit card and she or I bring the goods across the Tasman?

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