Planning a bike tour in Europe? Hold off on buying a bike and all the gear until you get here. It could save you hundreds of dollars.
As long as you don’t normally live in Europe, you can claim back the sales tax (commonly called VAT) on purchases you take home with you. That sales tax can be as high as 25% – a big savings, especially if you’re just getting started in bike touring and have a lot of things to buy.
The money you save on a bike and accessories can be enough to pay for your flight. Plus, you won’t have to worry about airline fees for bikes or extra luggage on the way to Europe.
What can you save? Here are some examples that compare U.S. prices on REI with prices from local shops in Holland.
Let’s take the Ortlieb Frontroller Plus Panniers as an example. They go for about $140 U.S. in America, plus state taxes. In Holland, they sell for around €95 euros or roughly $130 U.S., including tax. Already you’ve saved a bit but if you adjust the price for a VAT rebate, you can expect to save another $20-30 U.S., depending on the country where you make your purchase.
Now that you have your panniers, you need something to hang them on. The Tubus Cargo Rack costs about $120 from REI, plus state taxes. In Europe, it costs €80 or about $105 U.S., with all taxes included. If you take the tax rebate into account, the European price will come down another $15-25 U.S., saving you as much as $40 U.S. from REI’s list price. Bargain!
Koga-Miyata Randonneur Bicycle
This is where things get really interesting. Koga’s steel-framed Randonneur bike goes for about €1,800 in Europe and from that you can deduct about 20% tax (again, depending on which country you buy it in), making the price about €1,450. Now, let’s compare that to the situation in North America or Australia. This Canadian bike shop lists a Koga Randonneur at $3,299 Canadian dollars or about €2,400 at current exchange rates, before tax. We found similar prices online from Australian retailers. So, just by flying to Europe to buy your Koga, you’ve saved a cool €1,000 – easily enough to pay for your flight, with change leftover.
And remember, the tax back scheme doesn’t just apply to bikes and bike gear. It also goes for other things you might buy on tour, like a new digital camera or souvenirs. Keep your receipts!
If you like this idea, keep a few things in mind:
- Allow 1-2 days at the beginning of your holiday to shop for the things you need.
- Identify good bike touring shops in the area where you plan to start your tour and get in touch at least a month before you arrive, to make sure they have the items you need in stock.
- There are minimum purchase amounts that vary by country. In Holland, you must spend at least €50.
- The savings you make will depend on exchange rates and may vary from the time this article was published.
- Always check before you buy to see if the item comes with an international warranty.
Helpful websites for VAT-free shopping include:
- De VakantieFietser – A bike touring shop in Amsterdam that specialises in direct tax refunds when you buy a bicycle. See their information on VAT refunds.
- VAT Free and Global Refund – If the shop you buy from doesn’t offer a direct refund (usually the best value option), you can go through refund companies but they charge a commission so you won’t get all the tax back.
- Wiggle – You don’t have to come to Europe to save the VAT. This UK-based retailer will ship bicycle equipment all over the world and VAT is taken off the price for items shipped outside of the EU. However, you may have to pay customs charges in your own country. We really like Wiggle because they don’t charge for shipping, as long as you reach a modest minimum order level (about $75 U.S.).
- Rick Steves has a good primer on claiming the tax back and rates of VAT in different countries