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Need help understanding customs, duties, & claiming items

Canton, MI
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194 posts
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Need help understanding customs, duties, & claiming items

I am new to international travel and have several ?'s about customs & duties:

1) Do I need to claim items such as cameras & camcorders when I leave USA or do I need to bring a receipt to claim ownership/purchase from USA to avoid problems when I come back from Paris?

2) How do I "claim" any items I might bring back from Paris (e.g., wine, cheese, souvenirs, etc.)?

3) How do duty-free shops work in Paris? How do I avoid or get reimbursed for duties/taxes?

I've got ~1 week to prepare & would appreciate any advice.

USA
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1. Re: Need help understanding customs, duties, & claiming items

Unless it is an expensive item and pretty much brand new, there's really no need to carry receipts. But if the item is both expensive and brand new, it might not be a bad idea to photocopy the receipts and carry them with you--just in case. Most US Customs inspectors can pick up even the least noticeable signs of wear 'n tear from items. While to pay the excess duty on a watch a few years ago, a veteran Customs inspector gave me 'short course' on what, where and how they look for things to initially determine whether some items are brand new or have been owned and used for a while.

You simply follow the instructions on the Declaration form. You might want to check with the Customs web site for their '..Know Before You Go..' brochure and other information-- www.customs.ustreas.gov/xp/cgov/travel/

You are now allowed up to $800 per person in Duty Free Allowance ($1,600 per couple). All 'DUTY FREE' shopping does is eliminate most of the local Customs duty/taxes on merchandise as if comes into the shop. This does not mean that it is necessarily '..Duty Free..' (beyond the $800/1,600 allowance) when you try to bring it into the US. As an example, if you purchase a half-dozen Hermes scarves at an airport departure area Duty Free shop at CDG for $200 each, you will have to pay US duty on the $400 value over your single allowance ($800)...but nothing if you're travelling with a spouse ($1,600) and you've purchased nothing else.

Calgary, Alberta
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2. Re: Need help understanding customs, duties, & claiming items

Call your local customs office and ask them if they do their own "leaving the country receipts". Canadian customs does. I will be taking a brand new camera with me, and I've already been told by my friend that is a customs agent here that I just need to make a quick detour when I go through security to board my flight & they'll do the paperwork for me with serial #s & everything. Then when I come home, it's already in their system that I left with the camera and there won't even be a question.

Have a great trip!

Charleston, South...
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3. Re: Need help understanding customs, duties, & claiming items

prbuddy,

thanks for asking these questions! I knew I was forgetting some important ones and these are pretty much them.

And thanks so much to the repliers and their indispensible knowledge and insight.

Given the HUGE (for me, at least) amount of $$ I'm spending on this trip, I want it to go as smoothly as possible!

Canton, MI
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194 posts
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4. Re: Need help understanding customs, duties, & claiming items

Thanks all for the very helpful advice. I will check the US Customs website to get a better understanding of duties.

Can someone help me understand whether I can avoid or be reimbursed for taxes for items I might purchase in France?

Calgary, Alberta
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5. Re: Need help understanding customs, duties, & claiming items

In order to receive a refund of the VAT you pay while shopping (I don't believe hotel payments count), you must spend 175 euros IN ONE STORE. Then, remember to get the paperwork from the store. Then, when you're leaving the EU is the point where you file said paperwork. (i.e. I leave from London, so I'll claim any refund there, not when I leave Paris.)

I did read somewhere that if you're shopping in a large department store and make several smaller purchases, they will usually combine them to meet the 175e threshold, but you definitely can't combine multiple stores. Oh, and the VAT refund is only on what the paperwork is for - it doesn't extend to everything just because you spent enough once. Apparently it takes forever to get the refund, especially if you ask for it by cheque. You'll probably also lose at least a bit on the exchange rate because of the time difference.

Personally, unless I find something fabulous that is over that $$ all on it's own, I'm not going to bother, simply because it's such a bother. I've spent more money than I care to admit in the past trying to get an extra discount or refund... and finally realized that it's just silly to spend $1 to get $0.20 back.

Have fun!

USA
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6. Re: Need help understanding customs, duties, & claiming items

>>>Can someone help me understand whether I can avoid or be reimbursed for taxes for items I might purchase in France?<<<

The tax you are referring to is the VAT (Value Added Tax) usually applied to most merchandise. For most consumer item the amount is 19.6% in France. There are a couple of way that you can get a full or partial refund...BUT...there's a '..catch..'. That 'catch' is that wou MUST SPEND AT LEAST 175 Euros, in the SAME store, (technically on the same day), Spend 174 Euro and you're outta' luck for the refund. Spend an aggregate of 175 in three different stores and you're outta' luck.

The way you reclaim the VAT IF you qualify is to fill out a VAT refund form at your DEPARTURE airport from the EU (if you made qualifying purchases in Rome first, then Paris and are flying home, after a visit in London, you would do this in the UK)/ You fillout the form and themn must take it to the French Customs desk to be verified and approved. Technically, this requires that you have both the receipts and the actual items purchased with you for inspection by Customs. In practice most times, the Customs people simply inspect your receipts and validate the form. You them must mail the VAT refund for to the address listed on the envelope that comes with it. Your VAT will be refunded in check-form through the mail (not a good idea since the check will be in Euros and a teller at your local bank at home may balk at cashing it) or credited to a major credit card.

Another way to get partial refund is to shop in large stores which have '..de Taxe..' sales desks--Galeries Lafayette, Printemp, Le Bon Marche, ectc. When you finish your shopping in the store (and if you have spent at least the required 175 Euro minimum), you simply go to the 'de Taxe' desk with your sales receipts and passport, fill out the forms and they will arrange for your to get an immediate (or nearly so) credit of 12% to your credit card. This is a third-party service so the difference is their commission.`Technically, the purchases are supposed to be all made on the same day---but we have accumulated sales in excess of the minimum in Galerie Lafayette over an extended period and had them process the total amount as a single days purchases (but I guess that technically, they don't have to).

If you plan to shop, this is one of those times when it pays to have a '..stategy..'. If you make several purchases in several stores which exceed the 175 Euro minimum, you get ZIP back in VAT refund. But, if you make those same or similar purchases in one large 'grand magazin' you can recover at least 12% on the total. t's sort of like a '..12%-Off Sale..'. If you're not really shopping but somehow manage to run your total amount of purchases up to 150 Euro or so (hardly difficult these days)...it sorta' makes sense to treat yourself to something else to get the aggregate amout up above 175 and then allow the VAT refund to pay for at least some portion of the extra.