If you want to shop internationally from stores that don’t deliver to South Africa, there are mail forwarding services you can sign up to. These companies make it possible to get your order to you, acting as the middle-man.
My provider of choice is Aramex Global Shopper (AGS), which I came across about four or five years ago. Back then, FNB customers qualified for free lifetime membership and when I took advantage of it. I think it was $35 or something.
Today, it’s a lot cheaper at R150 for a lifetime membership. And subsequently, a new tier has been introduced called “Flex” that costs R1500 a year with other benefits. I personally have not looked into it because there’s no way I’m paying that, whatever the offering.
WHAT IS AGS?
AGS provides you with 30 personalised addresses around the world (Australia, Canada, China, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Egypt, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, UK, and USA). This means you have a “local” address for all these countries.
You have to put the address down in a specific format so AGS knows the parcel coming to its warehouse for all its customers is tied to you specifically. It’s always the bit you add on Line 2 of the address field, mine is along the lines of “JNB 12345” with a 5 digit code. They also provide you with a local telephone number – handy.
Once your parcel gets to the warehouse, they create the transaction under your account and you have to upload the invoice for whatever you purchased. You have to pay the shipping fees as well, they will update it based on weight. If AGS has to pay customs for your parcel – they handle this on your behalf – you just pay them back.
WHAT DOES IT LET ME DO?
It lets you shop from any of those countries listed, or countries that ship to those countries. So example, if a site you want to buy from is in Portugal and they ship to Spain, you can use your Spain address.
You have to also remember, this is very NB, that some sites may not accept a South African credit card; an example of this is Apple.com. You cannot order a new iPhone when it launches in the US via Apple.com to ship to your Aramex address.
Always use PayPal where it is supported, I use this for all my international orders. It offers a buyers protection so if anything happens, I should easily be able to claim back. American companies don’t typically make it difficult for these kinds of things. I know of friends with certain banks in SA that take months and months to process refunds or settle disputes. Rather just use PayPal.
Most sites accept PayPal so it shouldn’t be an issue. When you are paying with PayPal, make sure the shipping address is tied to AGS that you will be using for the transaction.
WHAT CAN I BUY?
You can buy whatever you want, but know that it will go through SARS and they will charge you customs etc. You can buy make-up, clothings, specialised sport equipment, gadgets, etc. Someone asked me about buying sneakers – yes you can. I bought boots last year from EU in lockdown but only because they shipped to anywhere in the world.
This isn’t a straight-forward process and to be honest, I don’t really know how it all works and what makes them decide to charge you import duties etc. My previous international order were kept to around R500 and I didn’t get charged, but my sisters used to randomly get charged.
AGS has a list of what duties and VAT each category is subjected to, such as beauty, books, car accessories, cameras, laptops, etc (click here). Make sure you look at it before buying, however, I wouldn’t risk buying very expensive items such as electronics.
HOW DO I GET STARTED?
Go to the website and sign up, pay the fee. You will then get access to your new addresses around the world. Read everything carefully. You don’t really want to mess up this part, and put the wrong info in the shipping fields when you are shopping.
There is also an app but I find when they send you updates, it appears on the web first. But the app is useful to refer to your addresses.
HOW MUCH WILL MY PARCEL COST?
AGS charges by weight, not dimensions, thank goodness. I hate dimension costing. If you know the weight of the parcel, you can get a quote immediately on the website under the rate calculator. Just fill in the shipping from, and shipping to fields, weight in KGs and calculate!
My previous purchase with Shein was 0.48kgs, and if you calculate it from Hong Kong, the addy I used, it gave me my costing of R258, which I paid.
When the service first started, I paid R195 per parcel, then it went up slightly to about R205-R210, and now it seems to be done by weight, if memory serves me correct.
I also check if things can be shipped directly to SA, vs using my AGS address. I factor the cost from both and decide how I want to buy my stuff. Sometimes it works out cheaper to send to SA, but you have to weigh up if it’s worth going through the SA Post Office. I avoid SAPO.
I’ve been a customer for years, and use it primarily for unique stuff I absolutely must have. I know the costing isn’t “cheap” but I factor all of this for the product I want, vs. potential customs, etc to see if it’s worth buying. The PayPal payment gives me peace of mind for a refund if anything happens in transit, etc.
When I put this request out on IG stories on whether to blog about it, aside from an overwhelming 93% who asked me to blog it, I had people complain it has gotten expensive, and some their parcels were stuck somewhere with no help. These kinds of concerns are all relative. There is good and bad experiences everywhere.
But ultimately, it’s your choice if it works for what you want/need in the moment.
In case you missed my post about shopping with Shein using AGS:
Welcome to Wired to the Web. My name is Nafisa Akabor and I’m a technology journalist covering business and consumer tech for the last 14 years. I’m passionate about start-ups, smartphones, mobile payments, travel tech and electric cars. ✉️ firstname.lastname@example.org