Traveling abroad is not only about exploring new cultures, savoring different cuisines, or indulging in breathtaking landscapes; it’s also a fantastic opportunity to snag some great bargains that you might not find back home. If you are from the USA and planning a trip to Europe, you may be surprised to find certain things cheaper there. Here’s a guide to help you discover what treasures to bring back from your European adventure.
Public Transportation If you’re looking to navigate your way around European cities, public transportation is not only efficient and reliable but also cheaper than in many American cities. Whether it’s the London Underground, Berlin’s U-Bahn, or Paris’s Metro, public transit in Europe is affordable and often includes discounts for multi-day or weeklong passes.
Wine Europe is the birthplace of some of the world’s best wines, and as a result, the cost of a good bottle is considerably less than in the US. You can find high-quality wines in France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal at a fraction of the cost you’d pay back home. Also, visiting local vineyards provides an unforgettable experience and the opportunity to buy directly from the source.
Cheese Like wine, Europe is a cheese lover’s paradise. The sheer variety of cheeses available in places like France, Italy, Switzerland, and the Netherlands is astounding, and the prices, especially for local varieties, can be very reasonable compared to the US.
Fashion While high-end European fashion can be pricey, Europe is home to several affordable fast-fashion chains such as Zara, H&M, and Mango, where prices tend to be lower than their American counterparts. Additionally, seasonal sales in January and July can provide significant savings.
Pharmaceuticals Over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, from painkillers to skincare products, are generally cheaper in Europe than in the US, particularly in France and Italy. Additionally, European pharmacies are renowned for their high-quality skincare and beauty products, so it’s worth checking out what’s on the shelves.
Chocolates and Sweets If you have a sweet tooth, you’re in for a treat in Europe. From Swiss chocolates to Italian gelato and French pastries, Europe is a haven for dessert enthusiasts. Prices for these indulgences are generally lower than in the US, making it hard to resist bringing home a selection.
Artisanal Products From Italian leather goods to handmade Hungarian pottery and Spanish espadrilles, Europe is teeming with artisanal products that can be surprisingly affordable. Local markets are the best places to find these unique, handmade items, and you’re also supporting local craftspeople.
Understanding Value-Added Tax (VAT) Refunds
If you’re a non-European Union (EU) resident, you’re entitled to a VAT refund on goods you purchase during your visit to Europe. VAT is a type of sales tax that’s included in the price of goods and services in the EU, and it can range anywhere from 15% to 27% depending on the country. Many travelers overlook this opportunity to save money, but with a bit of knowledge and planning, you can take advantage of this tax refund.
How Does it Work?
When shopping, look for stores that have a “Tax-Free Shopping” sign, which means they participate in the VAT refund scheme. At the checkout, you’ll need to request a VAT refund form. Be sure to have your passport with you, as the store will likely need it for the form.
Keep in mind, not all purchases qualify for a VAT refund. Most countries have a minimum purchase amount to qualify for the refund. Also, the refund only applies to goods that you’re exporting, not services.
Getting Your Refund
After making your purchase, you’ll need to get your VAT refund form stamped by customs before leaving the EU. Make sure the goods are easily accessible, as the customs officer may ask to see them.
Once you have your stamped form, you can either mail it in or, in some cases, process the refund immediately at a refund booth located in the airport. Be aware though, immediate refunds may involve service fees which can slightly reduce the amount of your refund.
Remember that the refund process can take time and requires keeping track of paperwork, so it’s best to plan accordingly. In some cases, you can get assistance from tax-free shopping companies who can help streamline the process, though they often charge a fee for the service.
Understanding Duty-Free Shopping
When you travel internationally, you’re entitled to bring a certain amount of goods back home without having to pay duty—this is known as your duty-free exemption. For U.S. travelers returning from any country other than a U.S. insular possession (like Guam or the U.S. Virgin Islands), the duty-free exemption is $800. This means you can bring back $800 worth of goods for your personal use or as gifts without having to pay any duty.
Exemptions and Restrictions
Do note that this exemption only applies if you’ve been out of the country for at least 48 hours; for trips shorter than 48 hours, the exemption is $200. You’re allowed to use your exemption once every 30 days. Also, be aware that certain products have restrictions on the amount you can bring back tax-free. For instance, you’re typically allowed up to one liter of alcohol and 200 cigarettes or 100 cigars as part of your exemption.
If you’re traveling as a family, you can combine your exemptions, which could potentially allow you to bring back more goods duty-free. For example, if you’re traveling as a family of four, your combined duty-free exemption would be $3,200.
Over the Exemption Limit
If you exceed your duty-free exemption, you’ll be required to pay duty on the additional goods. The rate varies depending on the type of item, but expect to pay anywhere from 3% to 25% of the item’s value. However, these fees are typically less than what you’d pay for the same goods in the U.S., so even with duty, you may still find it cheaper to purchase certain items abroad.
Keeping Track and Declaring
To make the customs process smoother, keep receipts for all your purchases and consider packing the items you’ve purchased abroad separately. You must declare all items you’ve acquired abroad on your U.S. Customs and Border Protection declaration form. Failing to declare items could result in penalties, including seizure of the items.
Remember, the aim is not just to save money, but also to enjoy your trip and make the most out of the unique shopping experiences that Europe offers. So keep these tips in mind, but don’t let the pursuit of bargains overshadow the joy of exploring new places.
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