Getting Your VAT Tax Back
All prices include VAT, so getting your VAT tax back is like getting a 20% discount! If you drop over 175€ in one store, you can ask to get the 20% VAT tax refunded. It’s a great incentive to buy a little more: hit that limit and you essentially get 20% off! You will need your passport, and will have to ask the shopkeeper to do the forms (it’s not automatic and they won’t mention it if you don’t). The shopkeeper will fill out a form with a prepaid envelope for you to take to the airport when you leave.
You file the forms at the VAT Refund Bureau at the airport, your last European airport, so if you are flying to the US via Paris, that is where you would file all your VAT refund forms from Nice, Italy, and wherever else you’ve been. Be sure to get to the airport early to allow extra time for this, as there can be lines.
The VAT desk has the right to ask to see the merchandise mentioned on the form, so if you are leaving on a direct US flight from Nice, go to the VAT desk before you check-in for your flight, so then you can stuff the stuff in your suitcase and won’t have to schlep it with you on the plane. But if you are flying via another European city (ie CDG in Paris), it’s best to have all the merchandise in your carry-on (not easy, I know…), just in case they ask to see it. If they ask to see it and you can’t produce it, they won’t stamp your form and you don’t get your VAT tax back. You then mail the customs-stamped form from the airport in the pre-paid envelope, and when the store receives it they will refund the tax to your credit card.
Customs Limits for Merchandise in your Luggage
Americans can bring back $800 worth of goods in their luggage duty-free, but only one (that’s right, one) bottle of wine.
All the purchases that you make over the limit can be mailed home, except wine: US customs will not let you send any kind of alcoholic beverage to the US… so drink up while you’re here…!
UK Customs Limits Brits can bring back up to 390£ worth of goods duty-free, and 4 litres of wine which works out to just over 5 bottles (lucky blokes).
Sending Stuff Home
You don’t get your VAT tax back if you ship, but then you don’t get dinged with overweight luggage fees either!
Shipping stuff home is expensive any way you look at it, but the best deal by far for shipping from France is to use the fixed-price prepaid Colissimo box that you buy at the post office.
The sturdy XL box is about the size of a large computer briefcase, and you can stuff in up to 7 kilos/15.5 lbs. A big advantage is that you don’t have to worry about packaging, tape, etc., and the box can be tracked on the La Poste site (albeit in French).
The cost to the UK or anywhere in Europe is 39€, and to anywhere else, including the US and Australia, it’s 57€. This is a great deal because if you use your own box and then pay the postal fee based on weight, the same size/pounds to the US would cost around 100€.
Another option, expensive but with high comfort factor, is FedEx: fast, reliable, they come to you (which saves time), and you can charge it to your FedEx account. The only hitch here is that if you are sending outside of Europe, you need an extra form called a proforma invoice where all the contents and their prices are listed, and you have to somehow print it out. Here’s the FedEx number in France: 0820 123 800. DHL is less used here, but still available.
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