VAT Tax On International Bra Orders: Are You Paying It Twice?

   If you have been buying bras (or anything else) from abroad, you might want to know what VAT is, whether it's included in the price of your bras, and whether you have to pay it or not. You might even be accidentally paying it twice! Also, a tip for those of you with a mastectomy.

So, how does VAT work? 

   VAT a tax on the purchase price. It is a tax meant for residents of that country, (or the whole EU). You pay VAT to the government of the country that you live in, so you do not pay VAT for an item that you order from another country. You will, however, have to pay import tax.
    If you are travelling internationally, you can often get VAT refunded. You need to keep the bills of the items you purchased and find out where to get a refund. I once remember my aunt waking up very sleepy customs officials at the airport at midnight to get back 50€ VAT for us.

According to Wikipedia:

"Nearly all countries that use VAT use special rules for imported and exported goods:
* All imported goods are charged VAT tax for their full price when they are sold for the first time
* All exported goods are exempted from any VAT payments"  
 So, how does this work when buying bras? Prices on most websites include VAT, which may be anywhere from 5% to 22%, depending on the country. Here are two scenarios. EU is used here just as an example, the examples apply to most countries.

Scenario #1: 
  You are buying bras from the EU, and you live in the EU. The VAT is included in the price of the bra, and you have to pay that full price.

Scenario #2:
   You are buying bras from the EU but you live outside the EU. The VAT should be deducted from the price of the bras. This is indisputable.
   What happens when the package arrives to your country depends on the tax laws of your country. Probably you will have to pick up the package at the customs office and pay the VAT of your country + customs for the bras. Or not. The VAT of your country is probably different from the VAT of the country where your bras came from.

You should not be paying VAT twice

   This was brought to my attention by a lovely Swiss reader who also happens to be a lawyer. She lives outside the EU, and had ordered a bra from a store within  the EU. The price of the bras included the VAT tax (20%), which she normally should not be paying since she is not an EU citizen. However the seller did not deduct the VAT, even though the bras were being exported outside the EU. Once the bras were in Switzerland, she had to pay import tax, plus the Swiss VAT (8%). Not fair!

How to navigate the VAT issue

  Unfortunately not many online stores pay attention to the VAT issue when selling internationally. The correct way would be to change the prices to the untaxed price on checkout for non-EU customers. However, it looks like nobody does that, although I have seen an ad of a clothing store offering "21% off for non-EU buyers", which strikes me as a very simple and elegant solution.

  Most online stores that I researched did not even mention VAT. Here is what I found out so far:

Ewa Michalak: will subtract VAT if reminded. Maybe remind them before you actually pay?
Bravissimo stated that "Although goods sent to addresses outside the EU are not subject to VAT, our customers pay the same prices across the world as this helps us to cover some of the additional costs of providing a service to international customers."
Debenhams likewise doesn't refund VAT: "All total prices for goods and services at the checkout represent the total price payable by the customer for those items, regardless of the address for delivery. For deliveries to the EU, this price includes VAT (or VAT equivalent) at the current rate. Although this price is the same for deliveries outside the EU, where VAT (or VAT equivalent) may not be applicable, customers are not entitled to any discount or refund to account for the differences in tax treatment and will pay the same price for the item as a customer placing an order for delivery to the EU. " 

VAT for mastectomy: 

   Apparently if you have had a mastectomy, you don't have to pay VAT.

So what is my advice? 

   I'd suggest writing to bra stores that you want to order from and asking about VAT refunds. There is nothing like customer pressure to change the policies of businesses.

   If anyone of you knows of bra stores that refund VAT, or simply have more precise information about VAT, do share in the comments!

   Big thanks to R. and to the amazing Perfectly Fitted Bra Bloggers (especially the ladies behind FussyBusty, DressingCurves and WideCurves for material for this post!

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