what should i buy while im in the usa that is much cheaper than in europe? Will i need to pay taxes too as a german citizen?
July 24, 2008 8:20 AM   Subscribe

what should i buy while im in the usa that is much cheaper than in europe? Will i need to pay taxes too as a german citizen?
posted by freddymetz to Shopping (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Outdoor / sports gear, clothes, electronics.

Sales tax differs from state-to-state (and locality-to-locality). You SHOULD do it like this: save your receipts and ask for a sales tax refund at the airport before you leave the US. Then, declare the goods and pay VAT on them at the airport when you arrive in Germany.

If you're a little daring, and your new purchases aren't too ostentatious / obvious, you can skip getting the tax refund in the US, and try to make it through customs in Germany without declaring your goods.

Germany's VAT will be higher than sales tax in most US localities, so you'll save a little extra money here (but you'll have to pay a fine plus VAT if you're caught).
posted by syzygy at 8:29 AM on July 24, 2008

Jeans: clothes in general are a lot cheaper (and easy to carry home), jeans almost unbelievably so.
posted by tallus at 8:32 AM on July 24, 2008

computers, cameras, watches, hifis, banks and manufacturing conglomerates.
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 8:37 AM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Camera lenses. The price difference can be astronomical.
posted by wackybrit at 8:53 AM on July 24, 2008

Electronics. At the well-known computer store I work at on 5th avenue (hint hint) we have European customers by the hundreds buying computers like candy. Join the club!
posted by stvspl at 8:53 AM on July 24, 2008

Electronics. But if you buy DVD players or game consoles, make sure you buy ones that can play media in your region - it would be a shame to get that new Xbox 360 home and find it's only Region 1-capable, when Europe is Region 2.

Also, watches.

But really, with the craptastic value of the dollar, EVERYTHING here will be cheaper than it is at home, so shop like crazy.
posted by pdb at 8:56 AM on July 24, 2008

With the exchange rate you can get everything much, much cheaper. Of course, the airline has a luggage and weight limit so stay under that to get the best value from your Euro. I'd stay away from electronics because of the voltage differences. Not to mention that you'll have to still buy a European cord.
posted by JJ86 at 9:09 AM on July 24, 2008

posted by buka at 9:31 AM on July 24, 2008

posted by nomad at 9:37 AM on July 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

Second the iPods.

I was in Turkey two weeks ago. An iPod shuffle that goes for $49 here sells for YTL 109 (~=$90) over there.

The trend was similar throughout the electronics/computer store (TechnoSA).

You can price specific items on http://www.amazon.de
posted by ebellicosa at 9:38 AM on July 24, 2008

Everything is cheaper. Syzygy outlined the tax situation. When I used to visit the US from the UK I generally bought clothes and electronics. Getting electronics though customs without claiming them is risky - its obvious. But if you just buy one or two small items then its probably safe - like an iPod or something, Clothes though - just rip the labels out, wear them once and you're good. Clothes are so much cheaper in the US, esp with the current exchange rate.
posted by Joh at 9:42 AM on July 24, 2008

I've never been to Germany, so my data points are Paris and London (c. 2003, before the big dollar crash). Cigarettes were insanely expensive in France as compared to the US, but it depends which state you're going to because each one has different taxes. Liquor also seemed much more expensive in France. Jewelry, shoes, and lingerie are cheaper in the US than in Paris. I didn't have any trouble finding reasonably priced regular clothes in Paris. I didn't really buy anything in London because it was at the end of my trip and everything seemed more expensive there except for CDs.
posted by desjardins at 9:54 AM on July 24, 2008

oh, and one odd note: Fetish/BDSM gear is much much less expensive in the US than Paris/London, though I've heard Germany has a plethora of it, so YMMV.
posted by desjardins at 9:55 AM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Textiles. Jeans, jackets, shirts, socks. Pack only one change of clothes, that way you have plenty of room to carry back what you buy. My German cousins/Aunt/Uncle always head home with a whole suitcase dedicated to Levis blue jeans for themselves, friends, and extended family.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 10:03 AM on July 24, 2008

Levi jeans are half the price or less - best bought from Mervyns as that store has the full Levis range without the markup of a trendy store. Walmart and Target don't stock proper Levis.

Where in the US are you going to be?
posted by w0mbat at 10:13 AM on July 24, 2008

Are you a girl? Makeup. I dream of going to the US even if for that purpose alone.
posted by neblina_matinal at 10:18 AM on July 24, 2008

Electronics. My wife and I are living with 3 europeans who are on a tight budget. All 3 have brand new MacBooks, it was like 50% off.

Another got a bike and saved about 1100 EUROS. Which is like 50 million bazillion dollars.
posted by GilloD at 10:31 AM on July 24, 2008

An Audi.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:34 AM on July 24, 2008

My girl buys tons of underwear and girly frilly things when she is in the US.
posted by chillmost at 10:48 AM on July 24, 2008

And microphones. Made in Germany/Austria. Shipped to the USA. Sells for 50% off.

I can only speak from my experience at Hamburg airport...If you pull multiple bags off of the Laufband at the baggage claim and they look really heavy, the Zollbeamten are gonna pull you aside and have a chat with you. A few mionths ago they were pulling people into their little room left and right and having them go through their luggage looking for undeclared goods. Pass auf! They are aware of the exchange rate all too well and they know people are bringing a lot of undeclared goods into the country. My advice is to pack lightly going over, buy a small suitcase case in America and fill it up for the trip back.
posted by chillmost at 10:59 AM on July 24, 2008

I'm American and I live in Europe. When I'm home, I buy:

- electronics: digital cameras, laptops, music players, as well as CDs and DVDs (if you've got an all-region player); even with the additional cost of making them work in Europe (extra cords, adapters, etc) it's worth it
- clothes: especially technical/outdoor clothes, quality shoes, and cheap but nice socks
- books: if you like reading in English or if you have friends who do, books here are way, way, way cheaper than they would be in a non-English-speaking country
- small housewares: though it seems like a waste, there are some items for the kitchen I can't find at a price I want to pay in Europe, and if you ever want to use an American food blog, cookbook or recipe, having a set of measuring cups/spoons/etc with American measurements makes things really easy

Sales tax, as mentioned above, can vary based on the city or state where you are, and ranges from nothing to around 10%. It's also good to remember that prices are posted BEFORE tax is added in, so if the price of something is posted as $1, you may pay $1.07 or something. For very expensive items, this might mean taking a little trip to another town can save you significant amounts of money: buying a $1000 laptop in a place with a 2% sales tax rate instead of a 6% rate will save you $40! Visit the websites of the states you're visiting here and see if they've got a special page for foreign visitors; Wikipedia pages for each state will probably tell you the sales tax rate as well.

I don't know where you'll be in the States, but if you're in any large city, you will find a number of massive chain stores in every category I've mentioned above (Bed Bath and Beyond, for example, is larger than a European supermarket and sells only housewares for bedrooms and bathrooms!), as well as shopping centers and malls with a big mix of shops for many different kinds of customers, from the very wealthy to teenagers. Some things are cheaper online, notably electronics; call your hotel in the US to see if they'll accept delivery from Amazon.com or another online store while you're staying there. If you do this, pay for the most secure/fastest shipping option so you leave after your item gets there!

Finally, while every city will have its share of local products and stores (which you should definitely explore!), here are some stores which are national chains you may want to explore for things which are hard to find inexpensively at home (also, note that I live in southern California, so these stores might not be everywhere):

- REI sells a lot of outdoor things like backpacks, camping gear, and clothes for sports/activities
- Trader Joe's sells relatively inexpensive, high-quality foods that travel well and make good gifts for friends back in Germany, like candy, nuts and chocolate
- Barnes and Noble and Borders are the country's largest bookstore chains, and also carry CDs and a huge selection of magazines
- For well-made, high-quality clothes and shoes and pretty great customer service, head to Nordstrom, a large department store; smaller stores like this are Banana Republic and (more cheaply) Express and Club Monaco

On preview, Levi's at Mervyns are a great idea. I don't know if Mervyns is a national chain, though.

Enjoy your trip!
posted by mdonley at 11:05 AM on July 24, 2008

If you're a musician, instruments are dirt cheap. I was in NY a year ago and the shops were selling everything about half the UK price. I could have bought cymbals from Manny's for less than the UK trade price, including sales tax. Unfortunately I was broke because I worked in a drum shop at the time.
posted by iamcrispy at 11:58 AM on July 24, 2008

Visit the websites of the states you're visiting here and see if they've got a special page for foreign visitors; Wikipedia pages for each state will probably tell you the sales tax rate as well.

Cities and counties often have their own sales tax tacked onto the state's, and to make it more confusing, it can vary within the county. In the City of Chicago, it's 10.25%, while in the rest of Cook County (which contains Chicago), it's 9%.

P.S. If you happen to be going to Chicago, take the train 90 minutes north to Milwaukee, where things are cheaper in general and the city has a familiar Germanic flavor.
posted by desjardins at 1:46 PM on July 24, 2008

My friends always want me to bring them Clinique skin products.
posted by Stewriffic at 5:09 PM on July 24, 2008

OK, here's an oddball suggestion in case you like to cook: All-Clad pots and pans (made in the US) are much cheaper here than in Europe. They are definitely not cheap, but the prices here are still much better, according to quite a few British tourists who visited a nice cookware store I worked at briefly. Dunno if you could fit much in your luggage, and you'd probably have to deal with the VAT, but let me tell you these are some awesome pots and pans. Plain stainless or copper core; skip the nonstick. I love my All-Clad so much I want to be buried with it.

posted by Quietgal at 6:34 PM on July 24, 2008

ask for a sales tax refund at the airport before you leave the US

You can't do this. You used to be able to do this in Canada, but you can't do it there anymore, either.

DO, however, check to see (especially if you are purchasing these things in high-tax locales like New York or Chicago) whether you can get the tax paid in the U.S. credited against the VAT you'd pay in Germany.
posted by oaf at 8:29 PM on July 24, 2008

Apple's stuff is about 30% cheaper in the US than in Germany.

If you have limited funds to shop, skip the English books - prices in brick and mortar stores in the US are in line with the prices Amazon.de for English Books, unless you go used book hunting.

And Levi's are dirt cheap.
posted by ye#ara at 6:59 AM on July 25, 2008

Careful on the Levi's. Last time I was in the US, I didn't have much luck with Levi's sold at normal department stores. The styles and cuts were different than what I find in European jeans shops, so try them on first to make sure you like them before you buy them. (Although, it looks like Levi's is planning to switch to a single cut for all markets soon, in a bid to save money).

Thanks for the correction, oaf. I'm really surprised to learn that you can't get a refund on the sales tax in the US. Uninformed assumption on my part.
posted by syzygy at 10:01 AM on July 25, 2008

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