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The Euro

 

Since 1 January 2002 Europe's new currency, the euro, has been legal tender – but not in all European countries .

While Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Greece and the new EU countries have not yet joined, the other 11 EU countries (Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Slovenia from January 2007) have one common currency, the euro.

The euro has the same value in all member countries of the EU; the €5 note in France is the same €5 note you will use in Italy and Portugal.

There are seven euro notes (5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 euros), and eight euro coins (one and two euros, then one, two, five, 10, 20 and 50 cents). Each country is permitted to design coins with one side standard for all euro coins and the other bearing a national emblem.


Taxes & Refunds

A kind of sales tax called value-added tax (VAT) applies to most goods and services in many European countries; it's 20.6% in France, 20% in Italy and Slovenia, 18% in Greece and 16% in Spain. In most countries, visitors can claim back the VAT on purchases that are being taken out of the country. Those actually residing in one EU country are not entitled to a refund on VAT paid on goods bought in another EU country. Thus an American citizen living in London is not entitled to a VAT rebate on items bought in Paris while an EU passport holder residing in New York is.

The procedure for making the claim is fairly straightforward, though it may vary somewhat from country to country, and there are minimum-purchase amounts imposed. First of all make sure the shop offers duty-free sales (often identified with a sign reading 'Tax-Free for Tourists'). When making your purchase, ask the shop attendant for a VAT-refund voucher (sometimes called a Tax-Free Shopping Cheque) filled in with the correct amount and the date. This can either be refunded directly at international airports on departure or stamped at ferry ports or border crossings and mailed back for refund.

Customs

Duty-free goods are no longer sold to those traveling from one EU country to another. For goods purchased at airports or on ferries outside the EU, the usual allowances apply for tobacco (200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250g of loose tobacco), alcohol (1L of spirits or 2L of liquor with less than 22% alcohol by volume; 2L of wine) and perfume (50g of perfume and 0.25L of toilet water).

Do not confuse these with duty-paid items (including alcohol and tobacco) bought at normal shops and supermarkets in another EU country, where certain goods might be more expensive. (Cigarettes in France, for example, are half the price they are in the UK.) Then the allowances are more than generous: 800 cigarettes, 200 cigars or 1kg of loose tobacco; 10L of spirits (more than 22% alcohol by volume), 20L of fortified wine or aperitif, 90L of wine or 110L of beer; unlimited quantities of perfume.

 
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