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. As a tourist from Asia, if you compare, buying a Ralph Lauren Polo shirt at an outlet mall in US with decent 30% discount vs. buying the same shirt in Asia, it is literally twice the price or more. Recently, I went on shopping spree on the day of my return in Houston, TX. I got to know at the mall that I may get Tax Refund. I was curious but was not sure as I never knew the process. I will share 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, Outlet Malls,  or Online Stores  ?

Yes, you do get tax refund for your purchases in US, if you are traveling outside of US. But, there are way too many conditions to get a decent refund back to you.

What Tax do you get as Refund ?  Does the Federal Govt pay you ?

You usually get Sales Tax as refund, if you are exporting the goods outside of US. The sales tax on shopping in US goes to the respective states. It does not go to the federal government and they do not give you the refund.  Below is an image that shows approximate State tax by state for your reference.

Sales Tax Rates in US for Refund as Tourist

 What Tax Refund do you get for shopping in US as Tourist or Resident ?

Depending on the state you purchase in, you will get the State Tax back to you as refund. See the sample receipt on taxes that are charged in Texas.Sales Tax Receipt for Refund in US as Tourist Sample

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

No, the tax refunds are paid by the respective states that you make your purchases in. So, it is a state tax refund to be more specific.

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 below conditions described apply to you.

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 below conditions described apply to you.

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 as tourist

What are the Requirements or Conditions to get Tax Refund in USA as Tourist or Resident ?

The requirements to get tax refund 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.

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.

What are your experiences with Tax Refund as Tourist ? Did you get any tax refund as Resident  ?

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