Let's Kvetch About Sending Money Overseas

Originally posted April 21, 2017 on the Tiny Cables Medium publication.

Last night was the night. We had picked cable types, lengths, and inspected samples. We made a logo, built a marketing plan, negotiated fulfillment, and stood in a Walmart staring at packaging for an hour. We learned about the specification that governs power and data transmission in these magical little cables. We negotiated with factories overseas, negotiated some more, and negotiated a little more for good measure. We blogged a lot.

Finally, we were ready. It was time to place the order.

We received our invoice which detailed the order:

  • USB-A to Lightning
  • USB-A to Micro-USB
  • USB-A to USB-C
  • USB-C to Lightning
  • USB-C to Micro-USB
  • USB-C to USB-C

500 pieces of each. 8" in length (up from 6" based on feedback we received from people who used our samples). Black. We wanted to print our logo in a pattern on the cable but we didn’t hit the order minimum for that (which is a firm 3000 meters of cabling, about 40x what we were ordering).

Total: $3,048.00

Let’s pay these guys.


While choosing our website vendor (something we’ll detail in a post in the next few days), we decided to roll with PayPal as a payment gateway. Despite a generally-positive experience working with Stripe at Benja, we knew that the ability to pay by PayPal would give our customers peace of mind.

Plus: PayPal is the payment method of choice for our supplier in China. That means that we could treat PayPal as our defacto bank account, accepting payments and sending them out from one platform.

We registered for a PayPal Business account, verified all of the things that needed to be verified, and the two of us deposited $2,000 each.

Account balance: $4,000.00. Cool.


But PayPal doesn’t like new accounts moving a lot of money.

PayPal promptly froze about about a third of the account balance, saying it (and any subsequent deposited) would be available in about 30 days. Annoying but fine. We knew this risk going in.

That’s just one of those things that PayPal does. There’s no real way around it.

We certainly weren’t going to pay the supplier via Bitcoin (given its cash-like qualities and lack of protection), so we let the supplier know that we had to shrink the order. Despite our deposits, we didn’t have the available funds to pay for 500 units of each.

The supplier agreed to shrink the order to 300 units each and generously agreed to keep the same per-unit price as before. That’s a win.

New total: $1,944.15.


Okay, time to buy some cables for realsies.

I logged into PayPal, indicated I was buying a product, attached a note containing every detail of our invoice, entered $1,944.15 in the amount box, and hit send.

Oh, come on!

I Skyped our contact in China and explained the problem. They had seen this before. Their solution? They would send an invoice from their PayPal business account. The logic was that PayPal must have objected to our brand new account sending such a large amount overseas, but that an invoice sent by their account would be more in line with regular practice.

The e-mail arrived, I scanned it over, logged in with the Tiny Cables PayPal account, and hit send.

Oh, come on!

I Skyped the supplier in China and, since we were left with no other option, decided that we would call PayPal in the morning to see if they could lift the restriction.


There’s nothing like eggs and PayPal in the morning.

I called PayPal. I’m not sure if they only offer greater phone support for their business customers or if they’ve improved the experience in general but it was surprisingly easy to get a member of PayPal’s customer support team on the phone.

Unfortunately, the customer service representative was no help. Highlights:

  • They couldn’t tell me why my transaction was being blocked. All I could gather was a rather salesey line: “Our fraud protection algorithm considers more than 1,800 data points about each transaction! We would be here all day if I had to walk you through everything that could have blocked it.” Cute, probably true, but not helpful.
  • They couldn’t lift the restriction on this transaction.
  • They couldn’t tell me why they can lift restrictions on some and not others.
  • They said I could try initiating the transaction from the PayPal mobile app because they’ve seen transactions fail on desktop but pass on mobile. I asked why that was and they couldn’t tell me. I installed the mobile app, and attempted the transaction to no avail.
  • They told me that my options are to try again later or find another way to pay. Sad!

My assumption was that PayPal was blocking this transaction for two reasons: we have a young (days-old) account and we’re sending money to an international account. Lightbulb.

I could use my personal PayPal account, an account that I’ve had for more than ten years. Even better: this is the account that I used to order the samples from this supplier, so there’s at least one small transaction already completed between the two parties.

So the answer was simple: I would send $1,944.15 from Tiny Cables to my personal PayPal and complete the transaction that way. No mess, no fuss, no bank fees, no worries. I attempted the transfer and ran into a familiar friend:

I called PayPal to ask what happened. The conversation was nearly identical to the one I had earlier in the day.

Frustrated, I asked the customer service representative what the term “Available Balance” means if I’m unable to send money anywhere. They didn’t have an answer.

Sigh.


I figured that I could work out the reimbursement later — I just needed to get our supplier paid so we don’t fall off of our timeline.

I logged in to my personal account and attempted a $500 send backed by my debit card. It worked.

Looking to avoid card fees, I decided to send the rest of the balance ($1,444,15) via bank transfer. I entered the transaction details and the option to transfer via bank suddenly disappeared.

I figured there must be some round-number cap on the amount I could send that way. I typed in $1,000. The option to send via bank transfer suddenly re-appeared.

Confused, I typed in $1,100. The option was still there.

I typed in $1,200. The option was still there.

I typed in $1,300. The option was still there.

I typed in $1,400. The option disappeared.

I typed in $1,350. The option re-appeared.

So I sent $1,350 via bank transfer. It worked.

I returned to the dashboard and wondered how I would send the last $94.15. Bank transfer worked again. Cool.

So we paid for some cables.

It wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, but we figured it out. These restrictions were certainly frustrating — I wish that PayPal phone support had some better answers for me — but these are the kinds of protections that make PayPal such a good service.

In the end, the reason we’re going with PayPal as a payment gateway is that customers trust them, and these fraud prevention measures are a major reason why.

We found a way through it and the cables are being manufactured. That’s all that matters.