San Antonio, sales tax refunds drawing more international shoppers

Texas Tax Back gives foreign tourists instant sales tax reimbursements

SAN ANTONIO – Diego Medina was stuffing his SUV Thursday at the Shops at La Cantera with bag after bag of purchases. He said he traveled here from Mexico for one reason: Shopping.

"I am here for shopping, especially clothes, shoes, fragrances, electronics,"  he said.

He was hardly alone. 

Miguel Macias was wrapping up a two-day shop-a-thon, spending what he estimated would be about $2,000.

"It's better to buy your Christmas merchandise here in Texas," he said.

Texas, and San Antonio in particular, are fast becoming magnets for international shoppers and quick, on-the-spot sales tax refunds are part of the attraction.

Federal law allows sales tax refunds for foreign tourists as long as they take their purchases back to their country. 

Texas makes it convenient.

Texas Tax Back, located just outside Dillards at the Shops at La Cantera, is a family business and U.S. Customs broker where foreign shoppers can walk in with their purchases, receipts, passport and other paperwork showing travel plans and walk out with a sales tax reimbursement.

"We provide the cash in our office right on the spot as long as we have an agreement with that retailer of where they they have done their purchases," said Diana DeWall, vice president of Texas Tax Back.

Texas Tax Back is one such business that provides the service at several shopping malls in major Texas cities.

"We're having one of the best holiday seasons we've had in several years," DeWall said.

While most of the international tourists are from Mexico, San Antonio is seeing more visitors from all over the world.

"We're seeing a variety of customer base, strong from China, Europe, Saudi Arabia," DeWall said.

She called the quick sales tax refunds an incentive for foreign shoppers and a marketing tool for state and local tourism industries.

While the state does give up millions of dollars every year in sales tax revenue, DeWall said much more than that is gained.

"It's incentive for commerce, economic development because they're taking that money back and spending it at retailers, in hotels, in restaurants, for entertainment all over San Antonio.

Fernanda Dorneles, a Brazilian visiting San Antonio for the first time, said she came to shop for Christmas gifts.

"In Brazil, stuff is really expensive," she said.

When she gets her sales tax back in her hand, she had a plan.

"Shop more," she said.

The amount of sales tax refunded to international shoppers in Texas for 2011 was $66,896,648; and for year to date in 2012 is $60,194,209.

For a list of recent stories Marilyn Moritz has done, click here.

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