During our last trip to Europe (more on that coming soon) I was able to purchase some souvenirs — Louis Vuitton souvenirs that is! I had always heard that shopping in Europe was great, especially with the perk of the VAT refund but it wasn’t until our second two-weeker in Europe that I took advantage of this. Not including what I saved from the VAT refund, I was saving over $300 USD on the sticker price! Read on for my shopping story, price breakdowns, and my experience with the VAT refund.
I had the intention of holding off from buying anything until we arrived in Paris, the last city on our itinerary. While in Brussels, our hotel was conveniently located near a luxury shopping district so we decided to explore our neighborhood and window shop. We stepped into Louis Vuitton Brussels and put my name down for assistance. It was before noon and the store was bustling with customers. Prior to our trip I had compiled a wishlist of items and their USD prices to make shopping easier. After browsing the store while we waited for a sales associate, our SA was ready for us and the first thing I asked her about was the monogram Toiletry 26 — this item is hard to come by in stores and online, so I figured I’d test my luck. She checked with inventory and disappeared for a minute but when she came back she had the Toiletry 26! I couldn’t believe how easy it was to get it, especially reading up on how high the current demand for it is.
Not wanting to deal with the multiple VAT forms at the end of our trip, I asked to see the Croisette in damier ebene. I had first come across this bag while visiting Las Vegas last year — the Fashion Show Mall location had the Pochette Metis in store and ended up not liking how it looked on me. Then in the corner my eye, I saw the Croisette and have since been in love with the style. After debating in-store over the Pochette Metis in empreinte and the Croisette, I decided to purchase the Croisette. Having my wishlist was helpful, it made me focus on what I wanted and not be swayed or overwhelmed by what the SAs suggest I buy.
I had USD prices (base price as well as price with NYC tax) noted on my wishlist so that it was easy to reference while shopping. Thanks to the husband, he converted prices from Euro to USD while we were making purchasing decisions so we would know exactly how much we’d be saving. I highly suggest you make yourself aware of US prices with/without tax if you plan on shopping with the intent on saving money while you’re in Europe. You can even do this prior to your trip — switch your location on the website to pull up international pricing.
Croisette in Damier Ebene
USA base price / with NY tax: $1650/ $1796
Brussels price / USD Conversion: €1190 / $1428
Savings (without refund): $368
Toiletry 26 in Monogram
USA base price/with NY Tax: $445 / $484
Brussels price / USD conversion: €300 / $360
Savings (without refund): $276
Total VAT Refund (Croisette + Toiletry): roughly $180 (converted to USD)
*Our only option for refund for this purchase was by cash, more under VAT Refund
The savings were significant, even without the VAT refund! If you’re planning on buying something from Louis Vuitton and think you may be traveling to Europe within the year, I’d hold off buying and waiting till you travel. If the piece you’re looking for is hard to come by in the states (like the monogram Pochette Metis), it’ll most likely be the same situation in Europe.
During check out, the SA will fill out your form with all the necessary information including your passport number. This is why they ask you to carry your passport when shopping but I’ve seen people just share a photo of their passport for the information. The agency that processes LV’s VAT refunds is Global Blue so while VAT is usually 20-22%, you’ll only receive about 10-12% refund since there are processing fees. You can choose to get your refund via credit card (about 2-3 weeks to process) or cash at the airport (instant).
Global Blue is a great site to reference as it clearly outlines the process and frequently asked questions. If you’re planning on purchasing in Europe, they have a refund calculator to help you get a sense as to how much you could potentially save. Shortly after purchasing at Louis Vuitton, I received an email from Global Blue reminding me of the steps I needed to complete to receive my refund. From there, you can locate the Global Blue kiosk in the airport you’re departing from, set reminders to file the refund, and even track the refund status.
To be safe, we arrived 3-4 hours before our departure out of Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and was able to locate the VAT Refunds center easily (there are many signs!). There were about eight automatic kiosks where you can scan your refund documents all together, each one producing a happy face or a sad face. If your document received a happy face, you seal up the envelope given with the document and place in the drop box. If it received a sad face, you move onto the line to meet with a customs agent.
The document from LV Brussels received a sad face 😔 We moved into the line to meet with a customs agent where they ask basic questions all while looking at your passport. They asked if I had my purchases on me but never asked to actually see them. After the brief meeting, they stamped my document and we moved into the line to receive a cash refund. LV Brussels didn’t include my credit card info, even though we had specified we wanted the refund to go back to our credit card. I believe that’s what triggered the sad face and with the advice of staff at the refund center, we decided it was best to just get the refund by cash. The cash center’s exchange rate was ridiculous, going at 1.04 vs 1.2. On top of a crazy exchange rate, they took a flat fee on top of that. If you’re looking at maximizing your savings, choose to get the refund on your credit card in euros. I wasn’t entirely bummed that we didn’t get nearly as much money back as possible since my base savings was already pretty significant.
Shopping in Europe was fun and I was able to get the pieces I’ve been eyeing for less than what they would’ve cost in the US. You’ll have to do a bit of research and compare prices to see if you’ll actually be saving as different brands regulate their global prices differently (ie. Chanel is pretty standard pricing regardless of where you shop). Keep in mind that upon returning to the US, every traveler has a $800 duty-free allowance and that anything above $800 could be taxable. If you have a household of two, the total duty-free allowance is $1600. Not sure how often they enforce this as we had no issues going through customs. If you have any questions, want to chat more about VAT refunds, or want to share your experience, put it in the comments!