Is the German law or the law of your own country applicable, when you shop online in Germany from abroad? The answer is given by Regulation (EC) No 593/2008 on the law applicable to contractual obligations (Rome I): Usually it is the law of the country in which you, as a consumer, have your habitual residence (mostly: your home country), provided that this is also a country to which the online trader’s activities are directed.
Of course, this condition is obviously fulfilled if an online trader clearly expresses his intention that he is willing to offer his goods or services to consumers from another country (or more), especially if the country is designated by name. For instance, if a German trader plainly addresses to a French clientele on his webshop, the French consumer can invoke the French law.
However - and this is important - an activity can also be considered as ‘directed’ to the country of the consumer’s residence in many other, less apparent cases: for instance, if the imprint of the web shop mentions a phone number with an international phone code (e.g.: +49 for Germany), if the top-level-domain is neutral like .com or .eu or refers to another country than the country in which the company is established (e.g. a German web shop uses .pl), if the website mentions international customers, etc.
Please note that the parties (the trader and the consumer) may also choose another law, but this is only possible as long as the chosen law provides at least the same level of protection for the consumer as the law of his country of residence.
You should also know that there are some exceptions to those principles:
- Denmark did not join the group of countries which are applying the Rome I Regulation.
- Some consumer contracts are excluded from those rules:
- Transport services (e.g. car rental, air transport etc.)
- Contracts concerning housing (e.g. real estate)
- For services supplied to the consumer in a country other than the one in which he has his residence, the law of the country where the service is provided applies (e.g. a booked skiing course).
An English version of Regulation (EC) No 593/2008 can be found here.