Cross-Border Internet Shopping: Not So Easy

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Online shopping restrictions for a Canadian wintering in the United States

I’ve read articles that talk about our world becoming an increasingly integrated global economy with goods flowing freely across country borders. The Internet has brought the world into our homes and appears to make geographic boundaries disappear.

I am a Canadian wintering in the United States and discovering that the economy is not as global as I expected. The Internet has borders.

The first lesson came when attempting to buy a phone through Google play. Because I now have a U.S. IP address, only U.S. billing and shipping addresses were allowed. This meant I could not use my credit card to purchase the phone. The address associated with the card is Canadian. I’ve encountered a similar situation in the past and addressed it by paying with PayPal. In the case of Google Play, PayPal was not an accepted form of payment.

An option I haven’t pursued yet is asking my bank to associate my temporary U.S. address with my credit card. My husband did this last year to make gassing up the car more convenient. In Arizona, you prepay for your gas. You can do this at the pump with your credit card. In order to validate the card, you enter your zip code. If the zip code does not batch the card’s billing address, it won’t be accepted and you need to go inside to prepay. This involves guessing the dollar amount needed to fill the tank. If you guess too high, it’s best you walk back inside to get a refund. Some stations automatically bill your credit card company the lower amount, others do not.

The next lesson involved my husband and iTunes. While in the U.S., he received an iTunes U.S. gift card. He cannot apply it to his account because the account is Canadian.

In both these cases, nothing critical to our daily lives was at stake. But the Internet cross-border shopping restrictions were an annoyance. And a surprise.

I don’t know the reasons for the restrictions or what the implications would be of loosening them. I can go into a brick-and-mortar store in the U.S., buy something, and pay with my Canadian credit card. I wonder if the country-specific Internet restrictions will diminish or increase in the future.

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