I am busy implementing Paypal into a site that offers users the ability to subscribe to digital content. From what I have read, the payment status returned using Paypal's IPN will typically be Pending for foreign payments or if you are a new Paypal seller.

The bank account used for this site is not based in the US, and most subscribers will likely be from the US. So I presume that the payment status will always come back as Pending initially (correct me if that is wrong? Is there any way to avoid this or speed up the process?).

In this case, do I simply allow access to the subscribers once I receive a Pending payment status? It doesn't seem fair to make subscribers wait several days after they've subscribed until I receive a Completedstatus just to give them access to the site. Especially since from their perspective, they have paid.

My question comes down to, is this the way the above situation is typically handled? ie: Just give the user access once a payment status of either Pending or Completed is received.

Is it possible for a subscriber to cancel their payment from within their Paypal account before the payment changes from Pending to Complete? In other words, they get access to the site for free for a few days, then cancel their payment before the funds transfer is complete?

Im just trying to understand the process and what the earliest point in time is that I can give the users access to the site. Ideally I would give them access immediately, but this Pending status issue has me worried / confused.

  • I would suggest 3 solutions: check if payment status is completed, that's done and is fine, check is payment status is pending, that seems to happen quite often, and can hang around an annoying amount of time. Thirdly, check for all other instances as anything that is not completed or pending is a failure of some sort. (off hand I think payment status might also include values for chargebacks/refunds etc, which would be a fourth result action)
    – Martin
    Jan 6, 2017 at 12:24
  • Thanks, according to the below Answer by Yhorian a payment status of Pending doesn't happen much or doesn't happen for a long time. In your experience you mention it happens a lot and for a long time?
    – darkpool
    Jan 6, 2017 at 15:27
  • I have found that it happens in bunches, there's long periods where it doesn't occur and them one site I work on has had 12 pendings appear over just two days, none of them obvious why, just earlier this week. most of them have now been completed
    – Martin
    Jan 6, 2017 at 15:44

1 Answer 1


It's not common for a payment to be 'pending' for an extended period of time. I've not heard of the 'foreign' payment issue - but it doesn't matter what country a persons PayPal account is from, transactions should complete immediately unless there is an issue with the funding on their end.

Common issues with 'funding' can be:

  • Customer uses a suspicious card.
  • PayPal is receiving slow payment form like a bank transaction (5-7 days to clear)
  • There are details missing from the transaction (unconfirmed email, missing address, etc.)

Wait until the payment is confirmed. If it's not, the customer is almost certainly at fault. Make sure you have a system set up to handle some of the common issues such as missing details or suspicious cards.

Your main problem with subscriber content and PayPal will be charge backs. PayPal enforces these aggressively from the customer end. We keep logs of all actions and have still lost the majority of charge back requests due to the nature of our business - leaving us eating the transaction charge and having to cancel their order. I suspect you'll have similar issues fighting charge backs, take that into consideration and accept that you're going to get scammed a certain amount.

  • Thanks, that makes things simpler if I can just wait for payment_status=completed. You mention watching out for common issues like missing details etc. Is that still necessary if I just wait until payment_status=completed before giving them access?
    – darkpool
    Jan 6, 2017 at 10:44
  • If there's an error in the order, and details aren't going through complete, you'll want to have it flagged by your system immediately! Same with suspicious cards. The user might need to know their payment is pending.
    – L Martin
    Jan 6, 2017 at 13:18
  • 1
    I have found pending most often occurs where paypal is waiting to verify the payees email address. This is when a payee is using paypal but with card details rather than paypal credit.
    – Martin
    Jan 6, 2017 at 15:47
  • I guess if the status is pending for anything up to 24 hours it's easy enough to just inform the users and not give them access for that time. But after 24 hours further investigation must be done. I don't think this process can be automated in any way other than to keep the user informed of what's happening and why they haven't been given access to the site yet?
    – darkpool
    Jan 6, 2017 at 15:55

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.