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How to get Tax Refund in USA as Tourist, Resident for Shopping ? FAQs

America is one of the best places to buy clothes, electronics, etc. You get the best value for your money spent. If you are a tourist from Asia or Europe, you will see prices much cheaper in US, if you buy in outlet malls. Many are not aware that you may be able to get tax refunds as tourist, if you buy in some states like Texas in US. In this article, we will cover all the details on how to get tax refunds, what are the requirements and conditions, and address some commonly asked FAQs.

Do you get Tax Refund for Shopping in US at Malls or Online Stores  ?

It totally depends on the state you do shopping. If you shop in certain states like Texas, you are very likely to get tax refund for your purchases in US as a tourist. There is no published list by US Govt or US Tourism website that says that you get Tax Refund, if you buy things in a certain state.

It is not very clear, if you would get a tax refund, if you buy stuff online. You need to check with the online retailer on this as this totally depends on where you ship your goods and how the seller will charge you state tax. Also, even if you get the refund, there are way too many conditions to get a decent refund back to you. We will look at them in later sections.

Tax Refund :  State Sales Tax vs. Federal Sales Tax ?

In America, there is no Federal Sales Tax ( national level sales tax). When you buy goods in US, the respective State or Local Government charges you State Sales Tax. The federal govt, usually imposes customs duty or tariffs on federal level.

The sales tax you pay for shopping in US goes to the respective state govt. or local govt and does not go to the federal government.  So, you usually get the State Sales Tax or Local Govt. sales tax as refund, if you are exporting the goods outside of US. Below is an image that shows approximate State tax by state for your reference.

Sales Tax Rates in US for Refund as Tourist
US Map with State Tax Details by US State

As you would usually get the State Tax as refund, it is worth for you to review the respective tax you paid for you to get an estimates. You can see that in the purchase receipt. There will be a section that clearly tells as Sales Tax. That is nothing but the State Sales Tax. Below is sample purchase in Houston, Texas. You can see the Sales Tax highlighted to get an idea.

Sales Tax Receipt for Refund in US as Tourist Sample
Receipt with Sales Tax in US

Requirements to get Tax Refund in USA as Tourist or Resident

The requirements to get tax refund vary by state and are slightly tricky to get a decent refund, as they force you to purchase more at a single store. Most of the requirements or conditions are common for foreigners and US Citizens, only difference is where they can claim tax refund and when. Below are the requirements.

  • Minimum Amount : Depending on the state, there is a minimum amount of tax you need to have per receipt or purchase from a brand store or outlet store. In Texas, you need to have a minimum of $12 tax per receipt or combined receipts from the same brand stores. Technically, in Texas with 8.25%  sales tax, you need to purchase for at least for $150 USD in a single store or brand outlet to be eligible for the refund.
  • Original Receipts : You need to submit original receipts at the Tax refund counter. They do not accept duplicate, photo copy or reprint sales receipts. You need to submit the first original receipt that is printed. No digital or e-mail receipts are accepted, unless it is an online purchase item from a brand store and if the receipt has delivery address of the goods in that state. You need the packaging slip of delivery for online purchases.
  • 30 days : You need to have the purchase done within 30 days from the day of your international travel or departure date from US.
  • International Travel : You get refund only, if you are traveling outside of US and the items you are buying will be staying outside of US. Technically exporting it to other country, that’s why they ask for the original receipt and take it for refund. It means that the sale is final in US and there are no returns for your same goods you bought here in US.
  • Physical Inspection : You need to show your item purchased for physical inspection and it has to be in new and unused condition with all the tags.
  • Passport , I-94 / Entry Stamp : You need to show your Visa/ Passport, and I-94 with entry stamp on it, if holding foreign passport.
  • Departure Information / Flight Tickets : You need to show your international departure info or flight ticket itinerary and for US citizens, you need to show the boarding pass to get tax refund.
  • Item should Depart US & State : The items purchased must be taken with you and should depart the state you purchased in and USA as well.
  • Food or Services : No refund for food or services purchased.
  • Participating Stores : You get Tax Refund only if you purchase goods from the participating stores. They claim that it is a big list of 6,500+ stores…but watch out for the brands. I purchased from few brands, that were not eligible for refund such as Abercrombie & Fitch.
  • Processing Fee : There is a processing fee for your tax and it is crazy. Below are the options
    • Instant Cash : If you want instant cash it is 50% processing fee for tax refund.
    • Check / PayPal : If you want a check or can get refund to PayPal, then it is 35% of the tax refund. Also, you will also be charged $4 USD for every single store or brand purchases.
  • Refund Locations : Both US Citizens and non-US citizens can claim tax refund at all major international airport terminals, they would have a Tax refund desk. Check airport for the details on the terminal. Also, if you are a non-US citizen, then you can even claim tax refund at certain mall locations in the state. Check the state website for the exact locations in a   For Texas, here are the refund locations.
  • Tax Refund Policies : Tax refund policies can vary by state and there is no standard sales tax percentage set as well. You should check the Sales Tax and Tax Refund policies in that respective state before you shop to ensure you get tax refund. For instance, if you shop in Delaware, there is no sales tax, so no refund. For policies in Texas, check out Requirements for Sales Tax Refund in Texas

Tips for Tax Refund as Tourist or Resident in US

Overall, Tax refund is definitely a good thing, if you are doing a lot of shopping and taking it home. The only downside is that you have to give the original receipt of purchase. I bought for over $900 USD, but could not get a sizable tax refund as I did not know all of these facts and conditions. If you plan it ahead of time, you maybe able to get a decent tax refund. Below are some tips

  • Duplicate Receipt / re-prints : When you buy your item, request for duplicate receipt or re-print of receipt. This can be used by you for warranty at your home country or international location.
  • Take a Photo of Original Receipt : Take a picture of the original receipt and if requested by the warranty location outside of US, then you can use the photo and duplicate receipt.
  • Buy maximum at One Brand Store : Make sure you pick few brands and do shopping in those brands, so that you meet the minimum requirement of Tax refund. If not, you will not be eligible for tax refund as you will miss out on the minimum. I did not get anything as I bought in multiple brands and they were less than $150 purchase per store, so I was not meeting the minimum amount of tax refund in Texas.
  • Register for Warranty : If you are buying an electronic item and if there is an option to register online, register for warranty, when you have the original receipt.

Common FAQs

We have address some of the commonly asked questions below.

Is the Tax Refund paid by Federal Govt or State Govt ? IRS ?

The tax refunds, if given in a certain state, are paid by the respective State Govt. or local Govt. where you made the purchases in. It is a state tax refund and not a federal govt refund. Also, there is no IRS involved here.

I am a US Resident on H1B, L1, F1, or other Visas, am I eligible for Tax Refund ?

Yes, it does not matter. All visa types are eligible.  Anyone traveling outside of US are eligible for tax refund. All the tax refund conditions described in above article apply to everyone.

I am a US Citizen, will I get Tax Refund for shopping in US ?

Yes, US Citizens are also eligible for tax refund, provided they travel outside of US within 30 days. You can only claim it at airports on the day of your departure. All the conditions and requirements are described in above article

Do I get VAT or GST refund in US as a Tourist or Resident ?

When you shop in America, you are not subject to Value Added Tax (VAT) or Goods and Services Tax (GST). The concept of VAT and GST exist in many countries by US is different and you are only subject to Sales Tax, when you do shopping.

What are your experiences with Tax Refund as Tourist ? Did you get any tax refund as Resident  ? Share your thoughts in comments.

Image Credit : https://files.taxfoundation.org/20180212171639/LOST2018.png

   

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49 Comments

  1. Hello Kumar! Thank you so much posting this. I am very impressed with how much information you know (thank you for making my job easier haha). Since the U.S. Government does not charge a national sales tax, it is up to each state to be in charge of that. And so with 50 states comes with 50 different tax policies. Unfortunately, out of all the 50 states, only TWO states offers tax refund on purchases. And that is Louisiana and Texas. There are states that don’t charge sales tax at all (Alaska, Oregon, Montana, Delaware, and New Hampshire) but there are restrictions in some of them so I would suggest doing more research. Since I am involved in the Texas Tax Refund industry, I will only be speaking on behalf of Texas. Pretty much the experience you went through can only happen in Texas. All the requirements, process, and fees are only applied in the state of Texas ONLY. Louisiana has different requirements so I would suggest do research on that as well. Besides that, that’s all pretty much I have to say. Every else you said was SPOT ON! Thank you SO MUCH for posting this. It will help people a lot! Feel free to reply back if there are any questions!

    Reply
    • Texas Tax Refund Informer,
      Thanks for the kind words and sharing inputs. Would you mind sharing, how you were able to say only two states offer Tax refund ? Is there any official govt link or source, that can help clarify to users on this ? I will do research. many have asked how it works for other states and it is not fully clear and not credible online sources. As you are in that industry, would you mind giving any pointers on where to look or official sources ?

      Reply
      • Yes definitely!

        US:
        There is NO tax refund on the national level. Even U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it themselves. “The United States Government does not refund sales tax to foreign visitors. Sales tax charged in the U.S. is paid to individual states, not the Federal government – the same way that VAT is paid in many countries.”
        Link: https://help.cbp.gov/s/article/Article-373?language=en_US

        Louisiana:
        I am not familiar with how Louisiana operates, but I would recommend starting from Louisiana Tax Free Shopping (https://www.louisianataxfree.com/) and the Louisiana Department of Revenue (http://revenue.louisiana.gov/).

        Texas:
        To my best knowledge, there are currently three companies that process tax refunds. They are TaxFree Shopping (http://www.taxfreetexas.com/), Texas Tax Back (https://txtaxback.com/), and 4N Service (https://www.4nservice.com/). TaxFree Shopping is the biggest and the most well-known company among the three. Interesting fact, the requirements needed to process tax refund in all three companies are exactly the same because the requirements are actually state laws governed by the Texas Tax Code (https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/?link=TX) and the Texas Administrative Code (https://texreg.sos.state.tx.us/public/readtac$ext.TacPage?sl=R&app=9&p_dir=&p_rloc=&p_tloc=&p_ploc=&pg=1&p_tac=&ti=34&pt=1&ch=3&rl=360).

        The other 48 states and to answer your question in general:
        When it comes to finding out each state’s tax refund policies, I would first look into two things: Import-Export Laws and Customs Broker.
        Let me explain:
        On the national level (U.S. Government), we have the “Import-Export Clause” of the U.S. Constitution and we have what is called a customs broker. Customs brokers are kind of like the customs officials you see at EU airports that need to check your merchandise before finishing the tax refund process. However, customs brokers are NOT customs officials, they are private individuals (or companies) who were trained and certified by the U.S. Government to perform certain export and import duties on their behalf. And so with that, the Texas Government (on the state level) took both of those things and added in more rules. Texas took the “Import-Export Clause” and put in more laws, creating the “Texas Import-Export Laws,” and it expanded the role of customs broker, creating their own “Texas Customs Broker.” And so with the creation of both of those, that’s how the Texas Tax Refund Industry was founded. Those are definitely the topics that I would recommend looking into when it comes to researching other states.

        Reply
        • Texas Tax Refund Informer,
          Thank you so much for the details. Now, it is clear. I will try to write up an article highlighting your feedback. It is really important info that you shared and will help many. Appreciate you taking the time !

          Reply
    • Simon,
      I am not aware of Tax refund for tourists in San Francisco. I don’t recall seeing anything in airport as well. You may call the airport to double check.

      Reply
  2. It is the first time I know about this tax refund.I wonder why they add sale tax to the amount of purchase then they refund sale tax to you.If I buy some Iphones in US, get tax refund at the airport then bring back to US after vacation outside US. That means I can buy iphone without sale tax?

    Reply
    • It all varies by state, hard to say, there is no unified tax refund rules in US…In states like Texas, if you are tourist, you get the tax refund as explained above.

      Reply
  3. Thank for sharing!.

    I was in Florida for 2 weeks, I purchased an Iphone 11 Max Pro, 2 Airpods, and many electronic products from Best Buy at millenia store orlando. and I asked the people there, a staff at apple store how can i claim the tax back. He mention that I can claim either at the airport, but on the days of my departure, I was hurry to airport for 6hours earlier my departure. I asked the airport central information desk, she looks at me like i am a criminal and said ” we don’t do any tax refund this country of United State” once you buy it, you have to pay for the tax. and I was like, whatt!!! OKEY I’M DONE. and i am not able to claim them sale tax i bought during my stay in FL in last fall 2019.

    Reply
    • Tola,
      Every state is different, if the airport does not have an option, then very likely that state does not offer anything as such.

      Reply
  4. I buy goods from online stores like Amazon, ebay, Wayfair I ship to a post box in WA but live near the border in Canada. Then I go down and stay for a day or two and then I am allowed to take back $50. or $200. So since I ship to the US I am paying WA state tax am I allowed a refund of the sales tax on small item purchases? All items don’t come from WA but from other states but since shipped to WA. I pay the sales tax. I collected the on line receipts for one year but have no idea if I should bother trying to get the sales tax back? I do not have shipping labels but on the invoices there are tracking numbers and delivery dates clearly showing.

    Reply
    • Judy,
      I am not sure, how it would work for WA. You would need to check with WA state, some of these are state centric. Check with the state and then see, if you can use the receipts.

      Reply
  5. Hello I was in Ohio for two weeks and asked at the Outlet if they refunded our taxes and they looked at me like I was a crazy person. And I flew via Boston Airport ad I has asked in the past if the had a tax office but again got the crazy look. Then to top it off I was stopped by our local customs at the airport and treated like a criminal for over an hour and paid 96 euros. This is crazy there should e an easy process to receive our taxes. We shouldn’t have to pay taxes twice like I did.

    Reply
    • Rose,
      Sorry to hear about your situation. Taxes are paid only once. Duty free is not common in all US states and can vary..Now, what exactly happend at airport ? Why did you had to pay again, if you already paid taxes ? Please share the details for the community benefit.

      Reply
  6. Shocking!!! So many versions about Tax Refund but at the end of the day, they will try to discourage all tourists. I was in NYC two weeks ago and neither of the Airports has Tax refund offices.
    But in contrast, when they come to Europe, they expect to get all of it refunded, so is this FAIR????

    Reply
    • Ana,
      Unfortunately, it is not very consistent in US across the states. Many countries do tax refund as you said…Well, wish everyone did it…

      Reply
  7. Im from London and just came back from New York City after doing some Christmas shopping. I was shocked to discover JFK airport does NOT have a tax refund office. I would have thought it was a major airport?

    None of the major store workers knew anything about how to claim and no-one had forms available in store.

    Reply
    • Mandy,
      It varies by state. If they are not aware of it, then that state does not offer it. Let me write up an article on this by state.

      Reply
  8. I am an Australian visiting US. I have placed an online order with Lenova for a laptop to be delivered in LA, which I will collect. I will be leaving to Australia from New York on the 30th of December.
    Can I get a tax refund for this from the NY airport and what is the process. Any info will help. Thanks

    Reply
    • vas,
      You need to check with New York Airport. They had it in Houston Airport, not sure about NY. Write to them or search online. Do update here for community benefit after you research.

      Reply
      • Hi Guys, do you have any Update regarding New York Tax refund for tourists? im traveling soon and trying to find out more about this, but none of the airports (Laguardia or JFK) knew what I was talking about… Maybe in some malls or government offices?

        Reply
  9. Hi! I’m from Costa Rica, I’m planning a trip to Florida by the end of November, and I want to buy many goods to export them to my origin country.

    Do I have to do something on every shop when buying? Show my passport? Is there a specific office in the airport for ask this refund? Thanks!

    Reply
  10. I’m form Mexico, I bought a laptop in bestbuy online to pick up at the physical store, I went to the store from Monterrey, Mexico to McAllen, US in car, in other words, I didn’t went to the airport so how would I recover the taxes of the laptop? I’m in Mexico already and I picked up the laptop 3 days ago.

    Reply
    • Jorge,
      It is probably not possible now as you have already exited the country. They need to see the product and receipt before you exit the country.

      Reply
  11. I’m citizen of EU. I purchased some items on US internet pages while being in US. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any receipts or invoices with my delivered goods. Is there a way to get Tax Refund when I leave US?

    Reply
    • Konstantin,
      You need receipts or some purchase proof to claim the same in airport. If you have no proof, then you cannot claim anything…

      Reply
  12. I’m a Mexican citizen and resident, who plans to by a Mac at San Antonio. Yet, I need to use it during my 4-day visit. Does it mean I won’t get a refund, even if I show the case, ticket and wrapping? Best regards!

    Reply
    • Luis,
      In general, they look at the Receipt and the item that you are exporting out of the US. If you do it in a week and carry it, should be fine. You may use it, as it is computer, it does not matter…You just need to show the product that you bought at the airport, when they ask.

      Reply
  13. I’m a Canadian citizen travelling to Seattle by car. What if you’re not flying out from US but using a port of entry by a car? Are you still eligible for VAT refund at a Port of Entry?

    Reply
    • Dave,
      It totally varies by state, most of the times, they are at Airports…you need to check, if they have something on your way back to Canada…

      Reply
  14. I am from Texas! I am thinking to take an iphone which i want to take to my home country. I checked with stores of tax refund. They were asking for my passport and making some copies of my receipts. Will that affect any of my status here.

    Reply
  15. Hey planning to take the new iPhone from Indiana state USA to India. Will i be able to get a tax refund and if yes where can i avail that. tried to find the locations but couldnt find any. Can you please help me out on this?

    Reply
  16. I’m a US resident, flying to Australia in 2 weeks. I want to buy a new, expensive camera to bring to my extended family in Australia. I checked and Chicago Ohare doesn’t list a tax desk and neither does LA. Is it possible to get the tax back at all?

    Reply
    • angel,
      Everything varies by state. Some states like texas has it, I have not come across that for IL. You can try calling any of the outlets and inquiring, if there is such practice. The Outlet malls would tell, if there is any provision as such.

      Reply
  17. Thanks for sharing this information with us. This information is really interesting and good. Keep sharing this type of articles with us.

    Reply
  18. California does not provide Sales Tax Refund. See this Q-n-A on Quora
    https://www.quora.com/Can-overseas-visitors-get-a-refund-of-the-sales-tax-paid-in-California

    Reply

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