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Paris - Duty free shopping

Many stores have a small blue and white sticker on the window saying "duty-free shopping" or "tax-free shopping". Department stores might not display any signs but quite often they do offer the service (take also the time to verify at the visitors’ desk if there are any special discounts for foreign visitors).
What does it means and how can you take advantage of this option?
Duty-free or Tax-free refers to an exemption from paying the French value added tax (VAT), or sales tax available to foreigner who meet the requirements set up by the government. 
TTC (toute taxe comprise) means all taxes included, where HT (hors taxe) means tax not included.

The TVA authorities are serious and severe so make sure to follow all correct steps to ensure you receive your refund.
Take your passport with you if you are on a shopping spree, because stores will usually not give you the duty free form (bordereau) unless you have it. You might be lucky and sometimes, they will accept your driving license or, rarely, they will let you fill in the information yourself later.

To benefit from the duty-free allowance, ask the shop assistant at the cashier to give you a bordereau (a three-slip export sales invoice) and an addressed, stamped envelope. The detaxed purchases have then to be presented together with the three slips and the stamped envelope provided by the shop to the French Customs agents at the airport, border crossings or train crossings.

Be careful when filling in the form and select the right option for your refund.
Our suggestion is to have the refund credited directly on the credit card, unless you have paid cash for your purchases. If you fill in your credit card information then you have to put one copy of the stamped form you obtained from the customs officer in the envelope provided by the retail stores (crucial, make sure there is a stamp if one is required) and then mail it (finding a mailbox  at the airport should not be a problem)
Your refund will appear on the credit card statement in 2 or 3 months.

Who is entitled to a VAT refund?

You must be resident in a third country (*) that is not part of the EU at the date of purchase, and visiting France for less than six months.
You must be able to provide proof of this at the time of purchase (identity papers if you are a foreign national; a consulate registration card or any other documentary proof if you are French and resident outside the European Union).

Are NOT entitled to VAT refund

  • Residents of a European Union Member State;
  • Residents of French overseas départements (French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Réunion);
  • Persons leaving to take up a post in a third country or territory treated as such (2);
  • Members of diplomatic or consular missions and international organisations who are stationed in France;
  • Students and trainees residing over six months of the year in France;
  • Immigrant workers (even if returning permanently to their country of origin);
  • Residents of Monaco;
  • Children under the age of sixteen.

(*) Third countries are all countries that are not members of the European Union, and also are considered third countries the following, since they do not form part of the Community Customs territory:
- French overseas territories (French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, French Southern and Antarctic Territories);
- The territories of Saint-Pierre-and-Miquelon and Mayotte;
- The Channel Islands, Andorra, the Faeroe Islands, the Canary Islands, Ceuta and Melilla, San Marino and Vatican City;
- Gibraltar and the Netherlands part of St Martin;
- Büsingen and the Isle of Heligoland, Livigno, Campione d’Italia, Mount Athos and the Åland Islands.

Which goods are eligible for a VAT refund?

The goods that you buy must be retail purchases made as a visitor and must not be for business purposes.
Reminder: Because of their specific nature, some goods are not eligible for a VAT refund. They include manufactured tobaccos, unmounted gemstones, postage stamps, firearms, cultural goods, private means of transport, including their accessories and provisioning (supplies, fuel, etc.).

There are specific exceptions for which VAT refunds are possible, but you have to contact Customs service for further information at:

Direction générale des douanes et droits indirects
23 bis rue de l’Université
75700 PARIS 07 SP (France)

How to obtain a VAT refund?

The total value of your purchases (including VAT) in a single shop on the same day must be over euros 175.
When you make your purchase the retailer will give you a VAT refund form consisting of two sheets to be signed by the retailer and yourself, if you decide to use the VAT refund scheme. By signing them, you are undertaking to complete certain formalities.
You must present the goods and the form together for certification by Customs when you finally leave the European Union. This formality must be completed before the end of the third month following that in which you made your purchase.

If you are travelling by international train
you must have the VAT refund form stamped by Customs either during the journey or at the border station (on leaving the European Union).
French customs will retain two copies and send them in the envelope directly to the point of purchase, who will then reimburse you via check or credit card (better ask for credit card refund as it will save you huge fees for changing your refund check into local currency); keep  one copy for your files in case of a dispute.
Sometimes you will be reimbursed at the time of purchase, however, you still must undergo the above process.

If you are leaving the European Union from France
After inspecting and stamping them, French Customs will give you back both sheets of your form.
You must post the pink sheet stamped by Customs to the retailer;
You must keep the green sheet in the event of any dispute.

If you are leaving the European Union through Orly or Roissy (Charles de Gaulle) Airport
Ask the Customs service in the airport’s public area how to get the refund forms stamped (this will depend on which terminal you are leaving from) or search for the sign DETAXE

: The goods MUST be available for Customs inspection when the forms are stamped. Failure to present them will result in cancellation of the forms and a possible fine.

So, before queeing make sure you have the following:

  • your passport and boarding pass (if you have got time, it may be worth a try to ask if the ticket is sufficient, this might give you a chance to check in all you shopping and not having to carry it with you, if not make sure you have it in a separate bag and you can check it in after passport control) where you may be asked to show your purchases. Make sure not to pack your duty free items in your checked baggage before presenting them to customs in that you risk being denied the tax refund.
  • purchased items that fit the description of the bordereau
  • a stamp if needed to mail the form

Make sure you allow enough time to go through the process, so be at the airport at least 3 hours prior your flight schedule.

If you are leaving the European Union via a Member State other than France
After inspecting them, the Customs service of this Member State will give you back both sheets stamped.
You must send the pink sheet back to the retailer yourself once you arrive in your country of residence.
You must keep the green sheet in the event of any dispute.
In all cases the retailer will pay you, following your instructions, the sum entered on the form (Box D/2) as the VAT refund.
The retailer may alternatively grant you the VAT refund at the time of purchase (Box D/1 of the form), which does not exempt you from the above formalities.
Reminder: The retailer must receive his sheet, stamped by Customs, within six months of the sale.
Regularisation of VAT refund forms
If your form was not stamped by Customs upon your departure from the European Union, you must send a request for regularisation, before expiry of the six-month period beginning on the date of purchase, to the General Directorate of Customs and Excise at the following address:
Direction générale des douanes et droits indirects (Bureau F/1)
23 bis rue de l’Université
75700 Paris SP.

You must state:

  • The reasons that prevented you from completing the Customs formalities for export;
  • The name of the Customs office at your point of departure and the date of your departure from the European Union.
You must enclose with your request:
  • Any official paper proving that you are habitually resident outside the European Union and that you visited France for a period of under six months (photocopy of passport, identity card, consular card, residence permit, etc.);
  • Proof of export of the goods: either through stamping of Box C2 of the VAT refund form by Customs in your country of residence or a Customs receipt, or through issue of a certificate or the stamping of Box C2 of the VAT refund form by an accredited authority in the French embassy or consulate;
  • The second sheet of the original VAT refund form;
  • A photocopy of your travel ticket.

For any further information you can call the Customs information centre on 0825 30 82 63 (euros 0.15/min.)


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