Can you claim your sales tax back at a USA airport after visiting the United States? The answer is actually yes and no at the same time.
Government in the United States is complex. While there obviously is a national government, the federal government, each individual state also has its own government. The United States affords a lot of freedom to states, so each state’s rules can be very different.
What this means for you is that sometimes it’s possible to claim your tax back, sometimes it’s not possible, and sometimes you can avoid the tax all together.
States where you can claim your tax back
There are only two states in the USA where you can claim your sales tax back. Sadly, they’re not California and New York. Not even Florida or Hawaii.
The only states that allow you to claim your tax back are Texas and Louisiana. Here’s what you need to do if you end up visiting one of these states.
We’ll start with Louisiana. The state only supports tax back policies when you shop at one of 1,500 shops. Fortunately, these shops are bundled together into some of the most tourist friendly shopping districts in the state, including the French Market and the Esplanade.
According to Louisianataxfree.com, the tax back program is available for material goods which are bought in one of the 1,500 participating stores, and the item must be set to depart from the United States.
To participate in the tax back program, simply make your purchase as normal, but be sure to show your foreign passport and tell the staff that you plan to refund the sales tax. The staff will then provide you with the receipt and a tax voucher.
Finally, when you’re ready to get your refund, get to one of the state’s refund centers. You’ll need to show them your foreign passport, the receipt, the voucher, and an international flight ticket in order to receive the refund. The flight ticket is to prove to them that the purchased item will in fact be taken out of the country.
The site says that refunds are available for up to $500 in cash, but they can offer refunds over $500 in check. Refunds are also available by mail.
Now let’s move on to getting tax back in Texas.
The Texas Tax Back program is also only available at participating stores, but fortunately there are a lot of stores that participate.
Getting your tax back in Texas works differently from Louisiana. In Texas, you’ll need to go to a Texas Tax Back office location in order to receive your tax refund.
At the store, you’ll need to present your receipt, the items that you purchased, and proof that you are an international visitor with intent to leave within 30 days of the purchase date. The site states an I-94, I-95, ESTA, foreign voting ID, or a boarding pass will suffice. I would recommend bringing as much evidence as you can.
As for the receipt, remember that only the original, official receipt will be accepted. That means no photocopies, scans, or pictures on your phone. Also, it will not be accepted if it shows an American address, so make sure you’re using a credit card with an address outside of the United States.
Also remember that the site says you should come to the office with the items you purchased. These items must be leaving with you out of the country, and you must not use the items while you are still in the United States.
The site says that usually they offer their tax back benefits in cash, though sometimes credit card refunds happen as well. The average service time is stated to be between thirty minutes and an hour.
Check the FAQ section for requirements if your departure transportation is a boat or car.
Avoiding Sales Tax in the USA
While there are only two states that allow you to refund your sales tax, there are other ways to avoid the sales tax altogether.
There are five states with no sales tax at all. These are Oregon, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Alaska.
Even within these categories, it’s not always cut and dry. Laws in the USA can get very complicated. Alaska, for example, has no statewide sales tax, but they do allow local areas to impose a sales tax. Depending on where you go in Alaska, this tax can range from 1% to 7%, though the average is definitely on the lower end of the spectrum.
Other states, like Hawaii, technically have no sales tax, but have a different name for a tax that essentially does the same thing. Hawaii has a General Excise Tax. The GET has the same purpose as a sales tax, in that it gives money back to the state, but charges a different party.
Instead of charging the customers, the GET charges businesses, and does so on all services instead of just on goods sold. However, in practice, it works out to be essentially the same because most businesses just push the GET forward to their customers.
Finally, you can avoid sales tax altogether by shopping online, but only sometimes. Again, the law is not simple. The US law says that states can charge sales tax for online purchases if both the business and purchaser are in the same state.
It gets even more complex because some states have taken a very liberal interpretation to that law, arguing that websites are by nature in the state. States where you must pay sales tax with online purchases are Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
Outside of those above listed states, there’s a good chance that, depending on the business, you may be able to purchase online and avoid sales tax all together.
If you’re travelling to the USA, it is possible to get a tax refund before you fly out at the airport, but there are a ton of conditions that apply. This article aimed to give you a look at your options, but the best conclusion to draw is that you should be sure to do your research if you’re concerned about sales tax, because every region has its own set of laws.