The answer is a resounding yes. The savings on my last handbag was significant so I’ll run through the numbers with you and give you my best tips for navigating the crowds.
Update: I’ve since returned to Paris several times since the initial publish date of this post so have included some further information including a Galeries Lafayette promotion that I have access to.
Louis Vuitton Paris Stores
I purchase handbags and wallets during trips when I can take advantage of savings like this. My first entry into the Louis Vuitton store on the Champs Elysees was about 17 years ago.
My husband was so intrigued by the lines of people waiting to get into the store (they were mostly from Japan, at the time) that he started to take video and was immediately busted by LV staff.
Today, there are still lines snaking outside of this particular location because it’s the flagship store. However, the less hectic but still quite large Avenue Montaigne location (near Four Seasons Hotel George V where we stay) is only a few blocks away. On my last trip, I walked right in and bought a handbag within minutes, something that would have taken much, much longer at the Champs Elysees store.
I have also had a similar relatively-crowd-free experience at the Galleries Lafayette Louis Vuitton location. Speaking of Galeries Lafayette, I have a great opportunity for a VIP experience and a complimentary Longchamp handbag if you spend €1000 (including Louis Vuitton).
The bottom line is that unless stepping inside the Champs Elysees store is on your life bucket list, give it a skip if there’s a line.
Tips for Buying Louis Vuitton in Paris
Because of the savings, the Louis Vuitton stores in Paris are very, very busy. And, we’re talking busy with people from all over the world buying as many handbags as quotas will allow. The amount of cash per day spent in these stores must be absolutely staggering.
Because the staff is extraordinarily busy, try to know in advance which Louis Vuitton handbag, wallet, and accessories you intend to buy. There isn’t really time or staff bandwidth for you to labor over a decision. You will feel rushed and there is nothing worse than buyer’s remorse on a big purchase.
I would highly recommend calling a Louis Vuitton store in Paris to get stock and pricing information to help expedite your decision. I had my Louis Vuitton wallet stolen in Venice (by a pickpocket on the ferry, no less) on my most recent Europe trip.
When I arrived in Paris, I was able to access the Louis Vuitton’s U.S. site to see pricing in USD. I called the Avenue Montaigne store to ask if they had the Zippy Wallet. A staff member answered the phone right away, checked stock, and happily gave me a price within minutes. It was an easy phone call to make so do not hesitate to call one of the stores. This way, you can estimate what your savings will be (in my case, it was about 30% on the wallet).
Bring your passport to the store. Otherwise, you will not be eligible for the VAT (value-added tax) refund.
Factors that Determine Your Savings
Savings on an overseas purchase is determined by the following ever-changing factors:
- The item’s retail price, including applicable tax, in your home country
- The item’s retail price, including applicable tax, in the country of purchase
- Currency exchange rate
- Foreign exchange fees (on credit cards or any fees paid to convert cash)
- Amount of VAT refund
How the VAT Refund Works
VAT is a consumption tax that already included in the price of items purchased in France (as well as many other countries abroad).
The rate of VAT varies depending on what you’re purchasing, but the standard rate in France is 20%. However, you will not receive a full 20% VAT refund as a processing fee is deducted from your refund.
If visiting a Louis Vuitton store, at the time of the transaction, they’ll fill out the VAT refund paperwork and have you sign it in the correct spots right there in-store. This is incredibly helpful.
This document needs to be processed at the airport prior to departure. Kiosks at the airport can digitally stamp the forms or you may wait in line for a customs officer to issue a manual stamp (a number of people were doing the latter as the kiosk wasn’t recognizing their forms).
Either way, after receiving a digital or manual stamp, seal the form in the provided envelope and drop it in the designated box. Await your refund. Mine usually takes several weeks.
Apparently, you can wait in line to have the refund processed right then and there at the airport but I’ve never had time to try this.
If shopping at Galeries Lafayette (who carries Louis Vuitton among other designer brands), it’s possible to have a VAT refund processed in the store which is incredibly convenient.
Louis Vuitton Twinset Handbag by the Numbers
(The calculations below are from summer of 2015 when I bought my Louis Vuitton Twinset and originally wrote this post.)
The price of my bag in France was €1080 (€900 + 20% VAT of €180) compared to USD $1555.20 USD ($1440 retail price plus 8% California sales tax of $115.20).
The amount claimed on the VAT refund is €180 but due to the processing fee, I received €129.60 as a refund.
€1080 (retail price in France) – €129.60 (actual VAT refund) = €950.40 (true price in euros) or $1064.45 USD (at the time the exchange rate was 1.12 dollars to the euro).
$1555.20 (price in US) – $1064.45 (price in France converted from euros to USD) = $490.85 savings.
This means that I saved 31% by buying the handbag in Paris. Not bad.
Exclusive Galleries Lafayette Promotion (Applies to Louis Vuitton)
If you are visiting Paris before the end of 2020 and intend to buy a Louis Vuitton handbag (or other designer goods), I have a great offer for you.
- A VIP welcome at the 2nd-floor Concierge, main building
- A complimentary gift of a foldable Longchamp handbag (with a minimum purchase of €1000)
- Complimentary transportation to your hotel or apartment in Paris (with a minimum purchase of €500) for two people from Galeries Lafayette
You will simply present the voucher to the Concierge desk.
Virtuoso hotels also include value-added amenities that you would not be able to secure on your own, which may include complimentary breakfast for two, hotel credits, room upgrades and more.
Some hotels will not display pricing so submit your email I’ll get it for you.
Good to Know
The amount of money you save is largely dependent on the exchange rate. As of the time of this post update in August 2019, the euro is at 1.10 dollars which means my savings would have been slightly more. Timing is everything.
If you want to check what price the Louis Vuitton items you’re considering retail for at home, make sure you are looking at the Louis Vuitton site in your home country. To save time while in the store, consider preloading your home country’s Louis Vuitton site on your phone before entering the store.
You may have to pay a customs duty upon returning home if what you purchased abroad exceeds what you are allowed to bring back in. For example, U.S. residents are allowed $800 per person, per month if they travel outside of the U.S. for 48 hours. From what I understand, per the IATA (it is very hard to find this information on the U.S. Customs website but if you know the link, I’d love to post it), a family of three can group their allowance for a single purchase of $2400, for example. Don’t take my word for it, always check before you go as things change anyway.
Make sure that your credit card doesn’t charge you an excessive foreign exchange rate fee that will cut into your savings. My American AAdvantage Executive Platinum card doesn’t have a foreign exchange fee, but my business card charges 3%, for example.
Happy shopping! If you have tips to share for buying Louis Vuitton in France or anywhere else abroad, please share.
(Sightseeing in Paris? Use Paris Pass promo code JAN2020 to save 5% on 3, 4 and 6 day passes on the Paris Pass.)