I am visiting from another country. Can I get a refund of sales taxes paid?

Generally, no refund of sales tax is available if you took possession of the item from the vendor with a given state. In the United States, sales tax is imposed at the point of transfer of title or possession. Therefore, if a non-resident visitor to the United States purchases any taxable items and takes possession of the goods at the retailer’s location, sales tax is due and there is generally no refund of the sales tax paid simply because the goods will be removed from the United States. The United States is different from many other countries that have a VAT structure, where it is more common to get this type of refund.

If the retailer ships the goods out of the United States to the non-resident’s location in another country, then the sales tax is generally not due. However, the retailer must export the goods and the customer cannot take possession of the goods in the United States.

There is an exception to this rule in Louisiana and Washington.

The city of New Orleans offers a tax-free shopping program – the Louisiana Tax Free Shopping Program – for foreign visitors to the United States. Individuals travelling in the United States for 90 days or less with a foreign passport and/or a current US visitor’s visa and an international transportation ticket can apply for a refund of sales tax paid on qualifying items purchased from New Orleans retailers taking part in the program.

U.S. resident aliens residing in the U.S. and elsewhere, foreign students residing in the U.S., United States citizens living in another country, dual citizens (United States & another country), and visitors in the U.S. for more than 90 days are not eligible for the program.

Refunds are authorized for purchases of material movable property that is permanently removed from the state by the foreign visitor. Purchases of food and beverages that are consumed within the state are not eligible for sales tax refunds. For more information, visit the Louisiana Tax Free Shopping website.

In Washington state, sales tax does not apply to sales of tangible personal property, digital goods and digital codes to non-residents of the state when:

  • the property is for use outside of Washington;
  • the purchaser is a resident of a province or territory of Canada or a state, territory or possession of the United States (other than the state of Washington), and that state, possession, territory or province does not impose a sales tax, use tax, value added tax, gross receipts tax on retailing activities or similar generally applicable tax, of 3% or more or, if imposing such a tax, provides an exemption for sales to Washington residents by reason of their residence; and
  • the purchaser agrees, when requested, to grant the department of revenue access to such records and other forms of verification at his place of residence as to provide assurance that such purchases are not first used substantially in the state of Washington.

This exemption applies when a non-resident makes a purchase of a taxable good within Washington but the use of the good will occur outside of Washington. Nothing in the provision requires a retailer to make the tax-exempt sale to non-residents (Washington, Sec. 82.08.0273). Sales within designated free trade zones may have an exemption as long as the customer does not take possession of the goods and the retailer has responsibility for export of the goods. For more information, visit the Washington DOR’s webpage.

Washington State has provided guidance on the requirements for a sale to qualify as an export sale exempt from retail sales tax when a customs broker is involved. To qualify as an exempt export sale, a sale must meet one of the following requirements:

  • the goods must be delivered to the buyer in another country;
  • the goods must be delivered to a carrier who transfers the goods to another country; or
  • the goods must be delivered to the buyer at shipside or aboard the buyer’s vessel or other vehicle.

If goods are delivered to an out-of-state buyer’s customs broker in Washington for subsequent delivery to the out-of-state buyer in Washington, the sale is not an exempt export sale. The seller must collect retail sales tax and must pay retailing business and occupation (B&O) tax on the sale.