Taxes & Tipping In Paris – Including The French Sales Tax

In this article we explain the VAT in France and how you can get a refund when you depart. (VAT is the Value Added Tax, the French sales tax. Since the VAT rate is up to 20%, a refund can amount to a significant sum if you've made numerous purchases.) We'll also look at a few other need-to-know Paris facts for visitors to help you be prepared, feel more at ease on your travels, and maybe save a little money!

First fact — you do not need a visa for travel to France from the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and all European Union countries. Of course, it's important to check the expiration dates on your passport before you book your air travel. It's also a good idea to make a copy of your passport and carry it with you in a separate place from your wallet or purse. The best way to do this is to scan your passport and other documents and store the photos in your mobile phone and other devices.

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VAT – The French Sales Tax

VAT Tax Refund

In France, the Value Added Tax for most goods and services you are likely to buy is 20%. That's the amount automatically added to most purchases including restaurants, hotels, and consumer goods. The good news is you can get back the VAT with the proper paperwork and some advance planning. The whole process used to be a bit of a pain, so some additional good news is that it is now much, much easier to claim a refund.

As a tourist, you can't get refunds on hotels and meals (business travelers might qualify) but you can redeem the tax on clothing, linens, jewelry and other purchases you carry back with you. If you are a big shopper, that 20% can add up fast! You need a minimum purchase to qualify for a tax refund. (As we write this the minimum is €175.)

How to Get Your VAT Tax Refund

Step 1 – At The Store

VAT Tax Refund

First point — have your passport on hand when you shop because you'll need to present it at the store to get the necessary VAT refund paperwork. Ask about the VAT tax before you make your purchases. Most Paris retailers participate in the VAT tax refund program, but it's best to check beforehand.

After your purchase, the merchant will fill out the necessary paperwork, called the cheque. Be sure the paperwork is completed before you leave the store, with no empty blanks. These days that's not usually a worry since the paperwork is normally a printed cash register-like receipt with a bar code printed on it. (The bar code will be important at the airport.) Attach your receipts to the paperwork and keep it with your other travel documents.

Some Paris retailers have a Tax Free Shopping Network sticker in the window and can handle the whole redemption process for you. If you're lucky, the retailer will even mail your documents for you. You're more likely to find this service at high-end stores, where the amount of VAT on your purchases can be significant.

Step 2 – At The Airport

VAT Tax Refund

For Goods Purchased in France

When it's time to leave Paris, have your paperwork ready and arrive a bit earlier at the airport. Find the French Customs tax refund office (Détaxe) before you check in, while you still have your luggage with you. In or near the tax office you'll find some self-service terminals (the system is called PABLO) that are clearly labelled Détaxe and Tax Refund. At one of these you can enter your info, scan that bar code on the purchase receipts we mentioned above, and choose to have your refund reimbursed to your bank card.

That's about all there is to it; it really couldn't be easier. You should see your VAT refund appear on your credit card statement in a month or two or three. Our experience with this new self-serve system has been wonderful — not having to stand in long line-ups to apply for our refund is a real plus. (As you know we hate waiting in long lines.)

For Goods Purchased in Other EU Countries

If you've also shopped in another EU country (say you bought a lovely, perfectly-cut jacket in Rome at a price so stratospheric it would cause you to simply faint back home — this is a completely random example, although we do remember feeling dizzy)… if you've made purchases elsewhere in the EU you'll need to present those documents to an agent in the Détaxe.

An export officer will ask a question or two and stamp the documents. The officer can ask to see your unused goods (which is why you need your luggage with you). But that's a pretty rare request, they normally simply ask if you have the items with you. (The items are supposed to unused, so it's best not to be wearing them!) In our most recent experience, the officer was quick, stamped our paperwork, and we were then able to put the stamped documents (in a provided envelope) into a deposit box in the same Détaxe office. Simple, easy, and the refund appeared on our credit card statement a couple of months later.

Tipping and Gratuities in Paris

Tipping and Gratuities in Paris

More often than not, North Americans over-tip when they are in Paris. In fact, it is not necessary to tip your server in restaurants since the amount already includes a tip for the server — it's French law. It you look, you'll see Service Compris printed on your restaurant bill — Service Included. If you were really impressed with the server, you can leave a few Euros on the table. Don't bother to add a tip by credit card, the server will never see it.

By the same token, don't tip your taxi driver or other standard service provider.

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