One of the benefits of being a tourist is the 12% tax refund that is available to non EU-residents who plan on shopping while on vacation in Paris (and throughout most of Europe).
There is a minimum purchase and a bit of paperwork to fill out, plus you will need to leave extra time at the airport to have your goods verified by customs. But a 12% refund will help take the sting out of the weak dollar-to-euro exchange rate for those who plan to do some serious shopping and don’t want to rely on the limited selection in airport duty free shops, where spare time and boredom might lead you to impulse purchases you will later regret.
When in Doubt, Ask
Large department stores like Galeries Lafayette and many smaller retailers and boutiques offer a tourist tax refund (look for the word détaxe or Global Blue Tax Free Shopping on store windows or signs). But if you don’t see a détaxe sign, just ask, as shop keepers may be willing to do the paperwork if it means you will make a large purchase.
In France, you are required to make €175 of purchases on the same day in the same store in order to qualify for the refund. So if you’re planning to make a large purchase, or a number of small ones, be sure to shop smart and consolidate the damage to a single outing. (This minimum amount differs depending on the country. Check the minimum requirement on this interactive map.)
Be sure to bring your passport along to prove you are not a resident before paying. You will receive a receipt as well as tax forms to sign and present upon leaving the country.
Keep in mind that you have to take your goods out of the country less than three months after purchase to be eligible.
Your trip to Paris will have invariably given you some experience waiting in lines, which will come in handy as you wait your turn to have your tax forms verified and stamped by a customs officer. Be sure to have your passport as well as your boarding pass on you. And don’t forget to visit the customs office before checking your bags since depending on how lazy or suspicious the customs agent is, you may have to present your tax-free items as physical evidence before getting your form stamped.
At that point if you paid for your purchase in cash, you can get in another line to get your cash refund in euros. If you plan to travel to Europe again in the future, stash that money away to make your next landing a bit softer. Whatever you do, do not exchange your euros for dollars right there at the change office as the exchange rates are not in your favor.
If you used a credit card to make your purchase, skip the line and use a pre-stamped envelope that will be provided to you by the tax refund office to mail in your forms (look for special mailboxes near the tax office).
Just keep in mind that it may take a few months before you see the credit on your card statement. But when it comes it will feel like Christmas!