Shopping & Saving on Designer goods in Europe (& VAT refund tips)

paris designer luxury handbags shopping guide tips

Outfit from this post

Shopping is always a treat in Europe, but with the Euro (and GPB) at a continued low relative to the dollar, some of the price differences on designer goods can be quite significant! If you plan on traveling there and have a particular item or two on your wishlist, it could be well worth it to wait and purchase abroad. In this post I wanted to share some general shopping tips, and for an upcoming post I’ll have price comparisons on popular items (including what I got!), along with notes for shopping at specific stores like Hermes, Chanel, Celine, and such.

There’s a few factors that affect the potential savings on your European shopping spree: geographical price differences, the current exchange rate, and everyone’s favorite – VAT refunds. Making the most out of each requires just a little prep and research…

tips for buying designer handbags in europe

Some brands have minimized global price differences on items (after exchange rates are factored in), whereas others still have much lower pricing in certain countries. There’s a few ways to find out local pricing in advance of a trip:

– Visit the brand’s website and change the geographical location to that of your destination. If the brand does e-commerce (like Prada, Fendi, LV) this setting is easy to switch as the “shipping destination.” If it doesn’t (like Chanel, Celine), changing the language alone won’t give you prices in local currency, so it might take a little maneuvering to fake your browser’s geographical location.

where to buy designer handbags _louis vuitton cheaper in paris

*approx rates used: 6% US sales tax, 12% VAT refund

– Websites like Spotted Fashion or Brag My Bag have fairly current prices by region for popular designer goods. Here’s one for Chanel bags in Europe, for example. Notes these prices are updated by their website contributors or members, so might not be 100% up to date or accurate.
– You could also try calling or emailing a specific international boutique to ask.

saving on designer handbags in europe paris

There’s nothing like hefty fees hacking away at a favorable exchange rate! Many credit cards charge 3% on foreign currency transactions, and those currency exchange kiosks at the airport have terrible conversion rates (no surprise) plus a fee per exchange.

Use a credit card without foreign transaction fees. There are several credit card review websites out there with comparisons on the best cards without such fees!

Choose local instead of home currency on credit card purchases (of course, this only applies if your credit card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees). When using a US-based credit card, sometimes at checkout in a foreign country you get the choice of being charged in the local vs. your home currency. This may seem enticing, however I’ve calculated the implied conversion rate a few times for home currency and it’s always notably less favorable than the actual conversion rate.

Notify your credit card company of upcoming travels, to avoid finding your card frozen by the fraud monitoring department just as you’re trying to purchase that dream bag!

Designer Bag Shopping Europe VAT tax refund

Unlike in the US where tax is an additional amount charged at checkout, price tags on goods in the European Union countries already include a hefty tax (averaging around 20%) in the displayed price. Non-EU residents can get a portion of that tax (~ 12%) refunded on non-consumable merchandise. So for a purchase totaling 1000 EUR at checkout, you could receive 120 EUR back. Here’s how to make sure you get that refund!

1. Make a qualifying purchase at a participating retailer. In France, in order to qualify for a VAT refund you need to spend a minimum of 175 EUR at one store (minimum threshold differs from country to country, and France has the highest!). All the bigger and chain stores I went into were well-versed in the VAT refund process, but I wouldn’t be sure about smaller businesses – doesn’t hurt to just ask.

2. Prior to checkout, tell the store associate that you need VAT refund paperwork. You’ll need to show your passport to prove you’re a non-resident, then receive an envelope with the refund paperwork along with a receipt. You’ll receive a new envelope at every store you make a qualifying purchase.

3. Before leaving the European Union, show your purchases and get your paperwork stamped by customs at an airport tax refund counter. If you visit and shop at multiple EU countries, just make sure to have all your forms stamped prior to flying out of the last one. And if you’re leaving by another means of transit like train or car, it could get a little tricky finding an office.

Make sure to allocate enough time before your flight, as the refund counters could be crowded or hard to find. Some of my purchases were successfully “stamped” by a quick kiosk, whereas for others I had to show the agent. You might also need to show the agent proof that your purchases are leaving the country, so if you packed your items in luggage that will be checked, do this prior to checking in. I’ve also been told to avoid wearing the merchandise at the airport in order to show that it is new.

Heads up: The tax-free counter at Charles de Gaulle airport can be an absolute zoo. Prepare to futilely swim to the front through a sea of tour group grandmas wielding 3 LV bags each. We’ve also flown out of Orly in Paris and I was literally the only person at that counter, which is oddly located on the arrivals floor (but downside: no good shopping at Orly while waiting for your flight).

4. Choose to receive your refund either immediately at the counter in cash, or via your credit card which takes about 3 weeks. If you choose cash, the amount is less (10.8% cash versus 12% on a credit card) and it’s given to you in the local currency. On the plus side, you do get it immediately without risk of potentially never receiving it. Note most stores use a third party service (the main ones are Global Blue or Premier Tax Free) to facilitate the refund paperwork process. These intermediaries take a portion of the refund as a admin charge – the 10.8% cash and 12% credit card refund rates are what you’re supposed to receive net after admin charges.

5. Mail the stamped paperwork (I usually find a mailbox at the airport). The envelopes should already be pre-paid for postage and have mailing addresses printed on them for the third party service offices. Both Global Blue and Premier Tax Free allow you to track the status of your refund online (so jot down your paperwork numbers), though I’m not sure how responsive they’d be
to any inquiries of missing refunds.

paris outfit winter fashion navy coat extra petite

Ted Baker coat & Celine box bag ~ two of my VAT-free souvenirs!

how to buy and save on designer handbags in paris france

Compile a specific wish list and stick to it to avoid impulse purchases due to aimless browsing and VAT refund goggles (“oh…I know this $3,000 bag isn’t the size or color or style I wanted, but its so much cheaper here than in the US!!”), especially ones that can’t be returned. Most of my VAT-refund eligible purchases were stamped final sale.

Shop at department stores to more easily meet the VAT refund minimum. If you plan on buying an item that falls below the minimum purchase threshold, see if it’s also available at a department store where you can buy items from multiple other brands in one place.

Ask if you don’t see what you’re looking for. Designer boutiques often keep much of their stock in storage, not out on display, so ask if you’re looking for a specific color or material in something.

Use the store inventory system. If the store you’re at doesn’t have what you’re looking for, politely ask your SA to help check whether any other nearby location does. Some brands (like H of course) may not allow this, but Celine, G oyard, Prada, Louboutin and a few others were all happy to when I asked. One Chanel SA said they could not share info on stock between stores, but others still did.

Shop for wishlist items early on in your trip. This allows max time to get an item if it’s not in stock at the moment. For example, one store had an item I was looking for, but only at their warehouse outside of the city which would take a day to ship from. Or, if something is out of stock, sometimes SAs know of upcoming shipments arriving over the next few days. And last but not least, some stores offer complimentary alterations, adjustments, or monogramming on select products but the service might take a few days to complete.

Let me know if you have any questions on the above, and stay tuned for Part 2! I would also love to hear about your Europe shopping stories and tips, along with any great deals or memorable purchases from your trips!


83 thoughts on “Shopping & Saving on Designer goods in Europe (& VAT refund tips)

  • La Bijoux Bella | by mia January 3, 2017 at 11:42 pm

    Wonderful tips! 🙂
    Merci for sharing.

    ❤LA BIJOUX BELLA❤ | BY MIA | A Creative Lifestyle Blog

  • Sheila January 3, 2017 at 11:51 pm

    This was perfect! I plan on shopping in Europe when we go in a few months and this post helped a lot because I was kinda clueless on all the VAT refund ! ☺️


  • jh January 3, 2017 at 11:51 pm

    Thank you for this!

  • Charmaine Ng | Architecture and Lifestyle Blog January 4, 2017 at 12:02 am

    Super helpful, thank you!

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

  • MizEats January 4, 2017 at 1:45 am

    Here's a quick tip if shopping in Paris – Printemps and certain other department stores provide tourists with 10% discount cards, which are even valid on sale items.

    For Printemps, you can print the discount card from its website.

    For other department stores, you can just ask a sales associate if the tourist discount can apply to your purchase.

  • Anonymous January 4, 2017 at 3:11 am

    these tips are so cool, thank you for sharing!
    Fash 'n' fudge
    Fash 'n' fudge

  • Rachelle Pinksole January 4, 2017 at 5:49 am

    saving this for future reference.


  • Sophie Spiegelberger January 4, 2017 at 7:09 am

    Great tips, this was so informative!

  • Jaime T January 4, 2017 at 8:51 am

    This is so helpful, thank you for sharing! I've always wondered how to do the VAT, but the desk like you said, is always a zoo with huuge lines.

  • Comer Blogar Amar January 4, 2017 at 8:52 am

    love your tips

    Comer, Blogar & Amar | Meu Canal YT

  • Cheyanne Jordan January 4, 2017 at 9:05 am

    Very informative – I'm tucking this post away for use later! Thank you 🙂

  • MeliRey January 4, 2017 at 9:09 am

    Thanks or the tips! I'm going to Dubai this year and might do some shopping. I recently purchased the j brand white jeans you recommend, and was wondering if they seem somewhat see thru to you?

  • MizEats January 4, 2017 at 10:01 am

    One other note – as the SA will need to verify you're a tourist, be prepared to provide identification,

  • Julie Hiller January 4, 2017 at 11:31 am

    Totally bookmarking this for my next Euro trip. Thanks for all the great tips!

    Style by Joules

  • Alyssa January 4, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    This is great, thanks for the tips! I'm heading to Italy in the spring and plan to make a splurge purchase while I'm there!

    Alyssa | Feathers and Stripes

  • Jean January 4, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    That's a great tip! I completely forgot about that. Note to those who get the discount card – it can't be used on luxury and many mid-level brands or categories, but is still a good coupon to have.

  • Jean January 4, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    Hi! I think all white jeans are a little see through to some degree, but I've tried on no less than dozens of different pairs, and the J.Brands I have are one of the more opaque ones! Make sure you're wearing skin-toned undies though, like with all white bottoms.

  • Alice In Silicon Valley January 4, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Thank you for the information, love your Europe trip blog, we plan to go there in July. I am looking for the advise how do we use cell phone or date there, do you have any advise?

  • Sharmeen Khan January 4, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    You mention some stores offer complimentary alterations/adjustments etc., do you have a post about which brands do this? It would be good to have a fairly comprehensive list. I know that Burberry tailor and can also dry-clean macs, are you aware of others?

  • Ginger January 4, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    This was incredibly helpful, Jean! I'm definitely going to refer back to these tips the next time I travel internationally.

  • Rajal Patel January 4, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    This post is good. I wish I had it when I traveled to Paris this past May. The VAT refund is really nice and the minimum amount to be purchased is different in each country. Paris higher minimum than Milan which is where i got my Prada wallet i wanted. also, they ask for your passport to make sure you are a visitor and make them fill out all your forms so all you have to do is take it to the airport and give them the envelopes. it was super easy and i had my refund added back to my credit card. it appeared within the week. super fast!

  • Rajal Patel January 4, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    This post is good. I wish I had it when I traveled to Paris this past May. The VAT refund is really nice and the minimum amount to be purchased is different in each country. Paris higher minimum than Milan which is where i got my Prada wallet i wanted. also, they ask for your passport to make sure you are a visitor and make them fill out all your forms so all you have to do is take it to the airport and give them the envelopes. it was super easy and i had my refund added back to my credit card. it appeared within the week. super fast!

  • Unknown January 4, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    Great article! I'm going to Europe this spring and will keep this in mind when I shop. Thank you 🙂

  • UrbnDaze January 4, 2017 at 2:03 pm

    In Rome, my husband and I had to go through three different lines. We had to get our paperwork stamped in an area separate from the kiosks, and then we had to line up twice, once for Global Blue and a second time for Premier. The lines can be really long. Definitely give yourself ample time.

    A tip for currency exchange – open a Capital One checking account and use the debit card to pull money from the ATMs in Europe. They don't charge ATM fees even in foreign countries.

  • Jessica January 4, 2017 at 2:15 pm

    Having worked in retail, I can confirm that large department stores in the US, offer tourist discounts (generally 10%) on an on-demand basis. Of course, newer SAs may not know the policy so can ask for the manager to be sure.

  • Courtney January 4, 2017 at 2:30 pm

    Super helpful! I'm going on a solo trip to London/Paris end of September….on the LV site for example, how can I see what the VAT is as you have indicated in red above? Additionally, I was wondering if you could also provide some helpful packing tips? What basics to pack for a week? I want to look chic yet comfortable

  • Anonymous January 4, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    My tour guide in Europe said luxury shopping in Italy is the cheapest! Which was true at gucci, LV, longchamp, and chanel when I did price comparison with goods sold in France, netberlands, and London. Paris is one of the most expensive cities to shop in. The Venice and turkey airports also had great deals also duty free.

  • Unknown January 4, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    My friend purchased a Goyard in Paris for me at the end of September and she has yet to see the VAT refund on her credit card. I'm worried that it's been lost or won't be getting it back. Alas, I still got a great deal with the exchange rate but it would've been nice to get the added VAT refund.

  • Jean January 4, 2017 at 5:39 pm

    You could look into potential discounted international plans on your current mobile provider ahead of time (for AT&T; it was a $40 upfront fee and then data per mb was still fairly pricey), or purchase a Europe SIM card ahead of time if you have an unlocked phone. We buy unlocked iphones for this reason, but it is pricey to buy the phone upfront full price. You can also try to find free wifi at various locations.

    Any other advice would be appreciated, since this could be a costly issue for those without unlocked phones!

  • Jean January 4, 2017 at 5:39 pm

    Hi Sharmeen – unfortunately I don't have a list of brands, it was only something that I encountered by chance on this trip and only when I asked. For example I was shopping at Maje and they said they do complimentary alterations which takes 3 days – not sure if this is typical, or the norm of brands like that.

  • Jean January 4, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    Oh man, the three lines sound very tedious! And great tip about Capital One. What did you do about currency that you wanted to exchange back to USD?

  • Jean January 4, 2017 at 5:43 pm

    Hi Courtney – I believe LV uses one of the bigger third party companies Global Blue or Premier Tax Free, so if you're a US resident visiting Paris (London may not be in the EU anymore, so not sure how that'd work!) 12% is a reasonable approximate estimate if you choose to get you refund via credit card. It won't show up anywhere on the website. On your receipt when you check-out in stores, it does break down the components of your purchase price and the exact amount you should expect refunded.

    As for packing … I have a post from last year on packing different type outfits for travel. Have fun!

  • Jean January 4, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    I'm surprised by that! I looked into LV, Longchamp, and some other brands online and they had the same prices for all countries that use the Euro. I asked at Chanel and they said they price exactly the same in all EU countries including Italy and France. So the only potential difference I assumed would be the small difference in VAT refunds of 0.5% between those two countries. London yes there was variance due to the pound vs Euro. I jotted down a few prices on bags while in London and Paris, and Paris was marginally lower this time, but I know that fluctuates with the exchange rate.

  • Jean January 4, 2017 at 5:56 pm

    That's so nice of your friend to do, but a bummer about the refund. Did she note down the refund application number for online tracking purposes?

  • Bunny J January 4, 2017 at 6:43 pm

    Hi Jean! Thanks for your VAT tips. Do you worry that by getting your VAT back, when you pass through customs they will know you exceeded the allowable spend amount and you will get charged customs/duties when returning home? What was your experience or did you not declare your goods when returning home? I sometimes don't bother with VAT for that reason 🙁

  • Anonymous January 4, 2017 at 6:50 pm

    Hi Jean,

    You should include taking a photo of all the paperwork before mailing it.

    Thanks for writing this up! I have a trip coming up and although I've done the VAT once in the past, your post is really helpful!


  • affecionada January 4, 2017 at 8:04 pm

    This is such a helpful post! Bookmarking for future reference. x

    Jen | affecionada

  • Jean January 4, 2017 at 9:37 pm

    Hi Bunny – I don't know if VAT and US Customs systems are connected, but the max duty rate on items you declare is still less than the VAT refund (in the US, at least!). We declared our items but the officer just told us to go through. If anyone else has return customs experiences to share, that would be helpful!

  • Unknown January 4, 2017 at 9:44 pm

    I visited Europe in early Oct last year. I opted for the credit card VAT refund at the airport and got my refund in a few days. I also mailed in another VAT refund form from the US cause we didnt have time at the airport and got a credit card refund in a month. Be sure to get your purchase receipt custom stamp if you plan to mail it from home.

  • Maggie Zemanek January 4, 2017 at 9:47 pm

    This is incredibly helpful!! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  • Heather January 4, 2017 at 10:08 pm

    If you happen to have t-mobile you get unlimited international data and texting for free when traveling aboard. depending on the country your data speed will vary. For london they were having a promo so i got LTE data which was pretty good cuz normally it's only 2G data speed.

  • Jamie January 4, 2017 at 10:18 pm

    Back in October my husband was on a work trip in London. After researching post-Brexit luxury item shopping, I sent him for an LV Zippy Wallet – a LONG TIME wish list item. Your post reminded me to make sure to check that the VAT was refunded to our credit card. It was and I am the happy owner of this classic wallet for $320 less than in the US!

  • i.rene January 4, 2017 at 10:35 pm

    or you can see if your US phone provider can unlock your phone.

  • i.rene January 4, 2017 at 10:40 pm

    I love duty free luxury shopping because you get the entire ~20% back (no processing fee from Global Blue or Premier Tax Free). Inventory can be tricky though – you can try calling ahead and they usually will reserve items close to your transit date. LHR has Chanel, Hermes, etc.

  • i.rene January 4, 2017 at 10:53 pm

    I have Global Entry so I'm pretty honest in case I get searched — I don't want to risk losing that! Don't draw attention to yourself. Being super organized with receipts and gift boxes, etc. can work against you. Some people like to carry e.g. their new Chanel purchase in a Chanel bag — hide it. If you have a male CBP agent, they can be too lazy to actually charge you a customs tax and can be clueless about the cost of luxury bags. (Sorry, this has happened to me a few times, at a major airport no less.) If you tell them what you have, they will often use that and won't bother searching you. You can declare up to $800 for free. For the next $1000, the tax is 3% and anything after that is hefty for leather bags (maybe 9-10%+?). Many luxury bags are well past $1800. If you're traveling with a significant other, you can pool your allowances, i.e. $1600 (duty free), +$2000 at 3%, etc.

    Also, CDG has automated customs stamping machines now, but it won't work for any high-ticket items.

  • Natalie January 4, 2017 at 11:33 pm

    Just went through this process in November when I purchased a boy bag in Barcelona. Definitely a daunting process when you've never done it before, but your outline looks to cover everything and will be super helpful to people! Hope to see a detailed post soon of all the goodies you purchased, including that Celine box bag and whatever is in that Chanel bag!!

  • Anonymous January 4, 2017 at 11:55 pm

    I was in Italy a few weeks ago and purchased quite a few luxury goods. The VAT in Italy is on average 14%, while some luxury goods stores have VAT at 16%. Some of the department stores in Italy have kiosks in the store where you can directly submit your VAT there – it takes 3 days for your refund to appear on your credit card. I wrote down some of the prices on luxury handbags in Italy and there is a significant price difference in purchasing from Europe now (because of the currency exchange rate). Also, if you purchase a Chanel purse or anything similar don't forget to pack it in your carry on. The customs agent at the airport tax refund counter may ask to see it. The VAT refund via credit card takes approximately 3 weeks and it may be through a third party like Global Premiere. I hope this helps!

  • Confusedkits January 4, 2017 at 11:57 pm

    My personal experience in Paris is like this – I normally buy my bags from gallery Lafayette or Printemps reason being you can claim the VAT refund immediately in the store itself and buy some more things at the same place �� But you need to have some patience because the queues are really long but must also mention that they are really efficient. They take a copy of your credit card for reference. So once you get your money back you just need to show the stamp receipts at the airport to the customs for their entry or else they take away the entire VAT amount from your card at a later date.

  • Ewa Macherowska January 5, 2017 at 5:32 am

    Nice post dear! 😉

  • Leah January 5, 2017 at 9:01 am

    Hi Jean! Thanks, as always, for your great tips. I have a random-ish question. Back when you were a financial consultant, did you disclose to your co-workers that you ran a blog? I'm always on the fence about sharing that part of my life at work. What are you thoughts on this? Thank you!

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