Friday, March 5, 2010

Buying English Language books abroad

Just a note, the tips I give in this post can serve as a reference point for expats in many countries, but in this case is specific to expats in Germany looking to purchase English language books.

Now my number one source of books is online, but before talking about that I want to talk about the other options available locally. 

1. Libraries- if you are in a bigger city you will have the most luck, but even smaller cities tend to have at least a small english book section. Now the libraries in Germany are not free. They appear to have various rates for membership in my area it is 10.00

so some pros and cons for libraries:
* One time fee then unlimited check outs, online renewals
* Available locally
* Ability to request from other libraries (note this has a fee per book)

* Membership fees
* Limited selection in smaller locations
* Membership is specific , ie can only be used at one library you can not go to another nearby city unless you pay the fee their too (Maybe different in bigger cities if they have multiple locations)
* Fees to reserve and request books
* The selection can be limited. This is best for people who have a wide range of literary interests and are not looking for specific titles

2. Flea markets and book sales
Many areas have local flea markets. In addition the libraries and many schools and other organizations have yearly sales.

* You can find cheap books
* locally
* you can actually handle and flip through books

* English books can be had to find, you have to rummage and hope to come across some
* Generally is once a year (exception flea markets dates vary per area)

3. Local book swapping groups ( via friends)
There really are no cons to this method, only to say it is better for people with broad interests and not helpful when looking for specific titles

4. Local book stores:
* local

*Very high prices
* Very limited selection if any

Now lets take a look at online options. Here I will do a brief overview and then a description of how I go about finding books online.

1. Book swapping websites (such as
* No fees
* Wide selection of books to choose from

* trading based on tokens, they cannot be bought, only earned through trading your own books, so if no one wants the books you have, you cannot swap for new ones
* Better for people with broad interested, unlikely to find a specific titles unless it is a best seller

note- you pay 88 cents bookrate to send the books when requested, in turn when you request a book the other person from which it comes covers the shipping costs.

2. Amazon. de and 
*  find specific titles
* choose from amazon direct or used from private sellers

* Shipping costs

Note: Amazon de- shipping is free when ordering direct from amazon on all books, but selection is limited must pay international shipping rates, and the shipping rates vary between private sellers, also purchasing is done in pounds, only visa card is accepted- no german bank cards, also shipping is up to 3 weeks

3. Ebay
* find book cheaper
* find book lots

* very limited selection in Germany
* shipping rates

4. German websites
* fast delivery
* find specific titles

* Shipping fees
* Book prices much higher
* Titles usually limited to international best sellers
(note some websites charge membership or club fees watch out for this, I recommend

5. Buying from American book websites, such as
Find any titles
Book costs lower

Shipping is very high sometimes up to 10x more then the cost of the book

Now I just wanted to talk about my process of looking for a book online. Of course you can look locally first but generally those options are not goof for specific titles. So right now I really want to read the book the Time Travelers wife.

I begin by checking my book swapping site and ebay.

I then go to and uk
I compare all prices:
Direct german amazon : shipping free but higher book price 9 euro
German private amazon: shipping 3 euro, but book 2,26
Amazon direct UK: Shipping international  3,99 pounds + 3,88 book pounds (thats 7, 80 euro)
Amazon private: book ,46 cents, shipping 3,99 pounds (thats 4.92 euro)

So you can see the best option are uk and de private in this case

I will order from the german site and here is why. Yes the UK book is about 50 cents cheaper, but they do not accept german bank cards. In order to pay I must transfer via paypal to my us account, risk fees there, and wait 7-10 days before I can even order the book. Then wait 3 weeks for the book to come. So for 50 cents it is easier to just order from Germany.

Now of course if the price difference is significant I will wait and order from the UK.

Now enjoy your book,  post it up on your book swapper site when done, and hope someone else wants to read it too. If they do, you get a point and order your next book. 2 for the price of 1 not bad right. And hey just keep swapping and as long as people want your books you get more and more for the price of just the original book :)

I hope this gave you some new ideas

Does something else work for you? Let me know.

Happy reading


Afterthought: While use of craigs list and freecylce are very limited here, there is more in bigger cities. Also you ca look into similar German services and just watch our for Englisch Buecher.

Also check out local forums such as, many times people post things for sale, and you may find someone things there once in a while.


Sonya said...

I get my books from wich is for the netherlands only but has an enlgish section. It's so hard to find books to read though without paying an arm and a leg. Im going to London again and Im going to hit the thrift stores and stock up on books and cookbooks. Im going in december so if there is something you'd like for me to look for let me know!

lytha said...

holy crap they have LIBRARIES IN GERMANY!?!??!

wait, WHERE!??!?!

i've been looking for a library for three years.


i bitch and bitch and no avail, no library.

that just goes along with my sentiment that nothing in germany is FREE.


p.s. where are you in germany!? i'm near cologne.

Lost in Translation said...

Yeah, they have libraries in "most" cities lol. We live in a little town about 15 minutes north from Heilbronn. Our little city, pop. 5000 or so, does not have a library. But I have two options. There is a library in the next city over, which is still pretty small, or the bigger one in Heilbronn.

Try searching for Stadtbibliothek
The big ones like in Heilbronn and bigger cities are pretty well publicized, the smaller city or village ones not so much. If you have a tourist info office in the near, I would stop by and ask them. But they do exist :)

But don't set your hopes too high, ours had only 2 shelves of english books lol.


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