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I am a french citizen currently residing in the US as a non-resident alien. I will soon move back to France.

Before that, I am considering buying a laptop here in the US instead of buying it in France, as it is significantly cheaper. It seems that french tourists visiting the US are required to declare and pay 20% VAT on goods they bought during their stay (above a certain threshold, which would certainly be reached here).

Question: if I buy a laptop in the US while I am living in the US, and then go back to France permanently at the end of my visa, am I required to declare it and pay the 20% VAT at the customs?

This would seem slightly ridiculous, as I suspect people living in the US for 3-5 years would not and could not declare everything they bought in the US during their stay at the expiration of their visa...

Ps: I first asked this question at https://law.stackexchange.com/questions/11143/vat-going-from-the-us-to-france

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    douane.gouv.fr/articles/… so it depends on the value of the laptop. Notice that besides VAT, you might have other import taxes depending on the product. – audionuma Jun 23 '16 at 12:35
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    "This would seem slightly ridiculous, as I suspect people living in the US for 3-5 years would not and could not declare everything they bought in the US during their stay at the expiration of their visa" That isn't necessary--if I recall correctly you only have do declare things purchased within a certain time period (a few months). The law is specifically to assign a VAT in cases of people doing what you're doing, and not just purchasing goods for day to day use. If you buy it more than 6 months before returning you may not have to declare. But I am not an expert on this. – Iguananaut Jun 23 '16 at 13:39
  • (I don't have enough rep to reply with a comment) @Iguananaut: that is precisely my point. as I don't want to break the law, I'd like to know for sure if there is a time limit on this. – user9790 Jun 23 '16 at 15:00
  • People who stayed 3-5 years in the US don't need to pay VAT or duties on all their belongings but they do have to declare all their stuff to import it legally and benefit from the tax exemption. If you don't do the necessary paperwork, you would in fact be liable for all applicable taxes. – Gala Aug 23 '16 at 11:45
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The rules are described in the page Vous souhaitez transférer en France votre résidence principale from the French customs.

In a nutshell, you only qualify for an exemption if you stayed in the US for at least 12 months (whether you were considered a "resident alien" under US law - or more generally qualified as a resident for some purpose in any foreign country - need not impact the French definition of a foreign resident) and it only covers goods you acquired more than 6 months before moving.

In most other situations, the usual rules for French/EU residents returning from a visit abroad would apply.

There are a few special rules for alcohol, tobacco, cars, horses, boats, etc. and three important procedural rules:

  • You have 12 months from the date of the move to import goods under this exemption.
  • You don't need to import all your stuff at once but you must provide a full list to the customs with the first shipment.
  • You are not allowed to sell goods that benefited from this exemption in the first 12 months after you imported them.

You will need to fill in a special form and provide evidence that you resided in the US for long enough (I assume something like a US visa and utility bills would be enough for example).

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