When I think of Paris, I think of baguettes, the Eiffel Tower, pastries and most importantly, shopping. Let’s talk about what’s most important when traveling to Paris. Ladies, we all know our priorities, right? Just in case if you were unaware, Paris is not only the shopping destination of Europe, it’s also the center of the handbag universe. Seriously. Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Celine, Yves St Laurent…need I say more? I recently shared my experience traveling to Paris, but I didn’t share much about how Coco didn’t want me to leave the country until I stopped by her boutique. Well, maybe it wasn’t exactly like that. I wanted to follow up with you on my shopping experience as a foreigner. Shopping deserves a post of it’s own. Priorities first ladies! If you are interested in investing in one/two/three/maybe 10 designer handbags, you’ll want to keep on reading.
I heard stories that designer handbags are less costly in Paris than in the USA. Rumor has it that there is a pretty good price discount when purchasing overseas. However, when it comes to asking around and doing some Google searches, I couldn’t find a good article that breaks down the process from beginning to end.
In all honesty, I had no intentions in finding designer bags while in Paris. It was going to be my first time visiting and I just wanted to experience Paris in the short time I was there. I fell in love with the food, the sights, the friendly people, but then we walked past the massive Louis Vuitton store on the Champs Elyesse. I casually told Eric that I just wanted to take a peek inside. Secretly, I wanted to do more then just take a peek, if you know what I mean. The store was incredible. Hundreds of people milling about with a buzz of activity while attentive attendants ran around with armfuls of exquisite leather goods. I fell in love with a tote and a roller luggage that I was eyeing back in the states, but between the item price and sales tax, it was hard to justify. Out of curiosity, I had Eric calculate the Euro-Dollar conversion. Turns out the bags were about 15% off the US price, thanks to the strong dollar. After calculating the VAT refund, I would basically get the tote free with purchase of the roller luggage if compared to US prices. I was sold. Just to clarify, the VAT tax is a Value Added Tax that is only for EU citizens. As a foreign national, you can apply at the airport to get that refunded to you! Just make sure you set aside time to do that process, but more on that later. Walking out of the store, I realized that I did it. I checked off an item off my bucket list. Purchase a handbag in Paris! Between the price differences and VAT refund, we saved around $1000 for the two items we bought.
Life was good until we had to leave Paris to head to London. Things took a turn for the worse not only for my schedule, but for my wallet. If you watched my vlog (HERE ), you would note that I was kept in Paris for a few more days due to a misunderstanding at the border. I was stressed and in need of some serious retail therapy. WARNING: Do not shop while stressed! Besides, Coco knew exactly how to make me feel better. Seeing that I had some extra time in Paris, I wanted to visit the original OG of Chanels – Chanel on 33 Rue Cambon. This, this is the magic place where Coco started her empire. It is the first and original Chanel botique. Once you walk into the store, you will be greeted and then be overwhelmed with handbags on every wall and shelves displayed neatly with accessories, fragrances, scarves or accessorized with cute items. I remember grinning from cheek to cheek and being overwhelmed with excitement as I walked through each room. The scent of fresh leather and hints of perfume were intoxicating. The store itself wasn’t large, nothing like the scale of the Louis Vuitton store. It still has that boutique ambience, nothing over the top. Just a warning ladies, once you walk into the doors of Chanel, there’s no turning back. If you walk through, you’ll be walking out with a bag! Just saying. I wanted to see a medium sized handbag as I already owned a small cross body galuachet boy bag. Suddenly, I saw this really adorable little bag that screams CUTE! It was unique and fresh from the Spring 2016 runway. It’s a hard to find seasonal design which makes it a treasure. I tried it on and posed in every possible angle till I made a decisive decision. I couldn’t refuse it. To give me some time to make my decision, the attendant offered us sparking water and a seat. By then, the decision was made. Before giving the sales lady my card, I asked her about the price comparison in Paris and the US. She confirmed that it’s a few hundred dollars less in Paris than in America and on top of that you get part of your VAT (taxes) back. Eric double checked on his phone and nodded in agreement. Once I made my decision, I was gently escorted to a private desk to make my payment. The clerk asked for my passport, asked if I wanted to use their conversion or my banks, and then I waited. A few minutes later, my new baby was carefully wrapped and boxed in exclusive white Chanel boxes for me. So precious! We slowly made our way out of the boutique and back into reality.
Ok, now that I’ve shared my story, let me give you a few practical tips on how to shop overseas to make sure you are getting the best deal. First, I highly recommend to only purchase at factory stores for obvious reasons. Next, before traveling, besides making sure you have enough credit or money in your account, ask your bank if they offer special foreign conversion rates. This can save 2-4% on it’s own. Some premium cards offer this service. On a $3000 bag, that would save you upwards of $120. Also, before traveling, I recommend researching the bags you would like to purchase and make note of their prices in the USA. When shopping in a foreign country, I like to convert the US price into the local currency to compare pricing. When the dollar is strong, you will often get a deal. If the US dollar is weak, it may not be a bargain. When shopping for high end items, keep your passport in a safe and secured location on your person. The passport is important for clerks to fill out VAT refund paperwork. No passport, no VAT refund. That alone is 13-19% off depending on the country. Keep in mind that price you see is the price you pay, including the VAT. Keep in mind that to get the VAT refund, the bag must be checked in as brand new and unused at the airport. Enjoy it while on vacation but empty it out and put it back in it’s slipcover at the airport.
Ok, now that you have your handbag and paperwork, now what? As a foreigner you can request for a VAT refund at the airport or final port in the EU(most commonly the airport). Make sure you set aside an extra hour minimum to do this. The time spent is worth it. However there is a new rule at the EU airports for people buying designer bags. I had to go through a 3 step process. Normally, before checking in your bags, you would go to the VAT booth and show all your paperwork, receipts, show your items and get your money. However, a new rule only applies to handbags. You will need to go to the VAT booth before checking in, show your documents and then check in, pass security. After that, go to second VAT booth, get stamped and examined (your bags must look new and unused). Finally, go to the third VAT booth, show your stamps and then take your fist full of money. I recommend taking the cash option as opposed to the credit option. Anyhow, it’s ridiculous how they make it so difficult. I would think they would like us spending money in their countries to help the economy, but apparently the new rule doesn’t seem so buyer friendly.
I hope this buying guide and post helps you out. If you’re traveling in that direction and wants to find a cute designer handbag, Paris is the place to be!
Ann (3 bags heavier and many dollars lighter)