VAT, Duty Free, Gifts

Old Apr 17th, 2002, 07:54 PM
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VAT, Duty Free, Gifts

I'm looking for some specifics on what these things are.

What is the VAT, what does it apply to and is there anything in particular I should know about?

Should I buy anything duty free? If so (sorry if this is dumb) which side do I buy it on. Do I buy when leaving the US or when leaving the UK?

With respect to gifts and souveneirs is it advisable to ship them back to the US or to bring them back on my trip home? I'm not really clear on the whole customs thing and claiming things actually so this might factor in as well.
Old Apr 17th, 2002, 08:17 PM
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VAT, as best as I understand it, applies to just about everything in the UK and runs at 17.5%. You can get a refund on whatever goods you purchase and take out of the country, but the consensus is that it's not worth the hassle unless you buy something fairly expensive (over £100) since you and the store have to do some paperwork. check out

Duty-free can be a helluva bargain, especially on liquor and cigarettes, but check prices before you leave. a fifth of Bermudian rum cost roughly 50% less than what my local state-run liquor store charges.

You'll probably be better off buying it in the UK so you won't have to cart it around so much. It's usually set up so you can't buy unless you're hopping a plane immediately afterwards. Don't be surprised if they ask to see your ticket or boarding pass before letting you in the store.

Shipping stuff home, while great for getting around that pesky $400 duty-free allowance, can be frightfully expensive for most items. Unless you want to send a genuine Monet to granny or you're picking up your new BMW from the factory, just take it with you.
Old Apr 18th, 2002, 11:29 AM
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Another thing about VAT: not only is the refund thing not worth it except on big-ticket items, it simply isn't available unless you spend more than 40 pounds (I think that's right) in one store. And even then the shop has to be enrolled in the refund program (they'll have signs in their window and at the till). It isn't worth their while for little things because not only is there paperwork, but they (the retailer) also have to pay a service charge of about 3 pounds.

However, the good thing is that the VAT is included in the posted price of everything you see--it won't be added on after (like sales tax in Canada and the US), so you don't have to calculate anything.
Old Apr 18th, 2002, 11:31 AM
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Also, in terms of shipping things back -- you *may* end up paying duty on those too. It depends on how you label the package and the mood of the customs officer who checks it. So unless you run out of space in your suitcase, it's probably best to just carry it all.
Old Apr 18th, 2002, 11:44 AM
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VAT is included in almost everything you buy, but can only be refunded to non-EU residents on things that leave the country (so no dice getting it back on hotel or food costs). Most stores have a minimum purchase, usually around US$150, and many have the detaxe forms and expertise visible (especially easy in department stores).

Duty free doesn't mean EXEMPT from duty - if you are an American, you can't spend over $400 on goods you're bringing back without paying duty on that overage - so if you've got $370 worth of souvenirs, and spend $50 in duty free shops, you'll have to pay duty on $20. Buy in the duty free shop only if you know prices and know what you want (cigarettes, Longchamps handbag, Bushmills single malt, etc.) or to grab a last-minute gift for the folks at home (like a tin of cookies or box of taffy).

For specifics like how much and how often, as well as restrictions, go to the official u.s. customs site:
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