Buying Electrical Goods From Off-shore E-Commerce Sites

This topic highlights some of the pitfalls of buying electrical products from off-shore e-commerce sites, and especially from the USA that has a more insular 110-120V electrical system and often only UL approvals. The initial posts have been moved from their original topic, linked for reference.

There is a related but dissimilar older topic focused more on domestic sourcing.

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There are safety regulations that the Australian importers and sellers of electrical goods need to comply with. It’s a state/territory responsibility to administer, however this example from NSW Fair Trading is typical.

When buying online from an overseas business, the protections afforded by purchasing ‘declared articles’ directly from an Australian business are not available. There are various shared opinions as to the extent of the personal safety and legal risks the Australian purchaser is taking. Therapy lamps are in the declared articles list.

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It’s also important to consider whether the electrical product purchased was a safe product. As stated in the OP it was intended for the US market and implied 110v AC operation. The Australian Electrical Safety requirements that need to be met are the same as would apply to a locally sourced 230/240v AC product. If the lamp failed electrically to an unsafe condition, what recourse would one have? Something else to consider and ask?


Yes The lamp was wired for 110 v I bought a step down transformer to use with it. I contacted them when the lamp was first delivered to ask about safety but they never replied


Do you know what the fault is? Is it as simple as a blown bulb and can it be replaced.

A tech friend checked it and said it’s a problem in the circuit board. I will enquire about fixing. Don’t really trust it if it’s failed so soon


Digressing slightly:

A lot of low wattage appliances will use an external AC/DC adapter and a lot of those adapters will be universal voltage (i.e. work seamlessly anywhere from about 110V AC to about 250V AC input). In that case, it should be all good apart from the plug.

If the socket on the mains side for the AC/DC adapter is a standard IEC one then you are all set (you just need to buy the required power cable, which will be easily sourced in Australia if you don’t have a spare). Alternatively, sometimes the adapter comes with a set of plug fittings (which is wasteful but works OK). Alternatively, you can use a plug adapter that you procure separately.

This is all generally acceptable to me.

On the other hand, if it has a direct mains lead into the appliance and expects 110V then I personally would not buy it.

However all of this is in addition to and separate from

As you say, you really don’t know what electrical safety standards it might comply with and whether those standards are more stringent, less stringent or only partially overlap with Australian standards.


Thank you that’s interesting. These lamps are not generally available in Australia. Would you not use a step down transformer which is what I used? Could that damage the appliance?

If your device requires 110-120V 60hz into the device a step down transformer is the only solution to use it on 230V 50hz BUT some products are sensitive to the differences between 50 and 60hz as well as the square, not sine, waves consumer quality step downs generate. Many US products are rated 110-120V 50-60hz, addressing one of the possible issues. Check the labelling.

It could be that what you bought will continually fail because of the transformer. You might ask the manufacturer about that citing details of your transformer. They may or may not reply and if they do since it is not something that occurs in their target market they may not by policy or by knowledge be able to provide any useful information.


In addition to the previous reply

  • It is extra cost !
  • It is an extra point of failure
  • It means you are using the device outside of its normal usage, which may affect support and/or warranty

Thanks. This is very helpful. I have to replace the light and it seems the US device and Aus transformer is risky. Could an electrician repair and modify the light for Australian use or could that fail too?

If the internal power supply itself is 110-120V anything is possible but unlikely by a sparky who knows about regulations and standards and connecting and disconnecting and repairing like for like.

It is possible you could find a 230V power supply that is suitable as a replacement but you are moving into $$$ territory as well as potential safety issues and if you could not find a ready made power board with the necessary output, changing the power supply would likely require an electronics or electrical engineer to design or specify or modify one, as well as a sparky or repair person to do it. Then you need to consider electrical standards whereby your lamp would become ‘experimental’ with wide ranging implications. For identifying a ready made power board there are also issues of form factor (size) mismatches as well as cooling problems.

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Unlikely for a number of reasons, obtaining spare pare that are 230V compatible and a licenced electrician is unlikely to work on a device which isn’t certified for use in Australia.

An electrician would also need to certify the modified device which is also unlikely.

It is also likely you will need a electronics expert to work out circuitry and what within circuit boards needs replacing.

The costs, if it was possible, would be prohibitive and it would he cheaper trying to find an Australian seller of such devices.

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An Australian seller would be ideal. I thought I had found one. Thanks for the advice
The light has the following inscription 120vAC 69 hz 0.43A 38w
Integrated LED panel
UL certified Security US CA E501133
There is no Australian safety number
Does this make it unsafe or illegal to sell in Australia?
The step down transformer has the following
Isolated and grounded
Breaker Protected
3.750V Hi-Potted
220V -240 V w/1A breaker& cord
110v - 120v .98 Rated @ .40-25’C w/outlet
Derating 20%@+45’C
Frequency 50-60Hz
Operation current Sine wave
AS approved
So the transformer should have been ok to use
I bought the light from what I thought was an Australian seller and so expected to receive a devise safe to use in Australia.
I no longer expect a refund but wonder if it is legal for NineLife to sell these devices here
Should I report ?

Ugh. This is low enough that it should have been an external AC/DC adapter and basically the whole problem goes away.

I guess there’s a difference between “safe” and “certified”. Getting something certified is time-consuming. They haven’t done that. Nor have they claimed that they have done that.

This Victorian regulatory site answers that.

We are an international market and a check of my adapters all have UL (American), CE (EU), and the RCM (Australian tick) as well as others. Many products from the USA show UL only. I identified 2 sold here by a major company that only show CE but have compliant plugs - Canadian products. I have seen widely available step down transformers sold in the USA without any certification on the products. Perhaps there is a register somewhere that enumerates every one that has been approved?

Note many thousands of tourists and business travellers come with their non-certified kit, no worries.

I’ll leave that for you to decide noting the pervasiveness of non-complaint products coming in (eg ebay, amazon, global ecommerce sites, etc) suggests they may not even keep a list and respond if and only when ‘something bad happens’.

I would always buy an electrical item that i have seen in store or that’s also in it’s online store.Way to risky buying stuff from elsewhere

Yes. That will be my practice in the future

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Unfortunately as you are based in Australia and you have bought from a foreign website - you are (effectively) the importer of the goods from overseas. The Australian legislation makes you responsible for ensuring that any imported goods meet Australian Electrical Equipment Safety System (EESS) requirements.

If you make a complaint, questions might be asked why you imported non-compliant electrical goods.

Many consumers are not aware of this and might think that since a product is advertised online and can be shipped to Australia, that it must meet Australian EESS requirements. The internet allows Australians to now buy from overseas sellers which didn’t occur in the past and exposes consumers to potentially buying risky products which may cause electrical shocks, electrocution or house fires.

A house fire raises another potential risk. If a insurer knew that a consumer imported and used a product which didn’t meet EESS requirements and it caused a house fire, would this be grounds to refuse a insurance claim. I would not want to be the person who ran a test case to see if insurance covered such scenario.


When purchasing from USA it should be born in mind that high current appliances like lights and heaters are made for 110-120V and consume twice the current for a given wattage to our 240V system. A step down transformer to provide the required current at 110V with it’s heavy windings can be quite costly and negate any savings on the purchase.