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Local banks usually offer better rates of exchange than hotels, restaurants, or stores. Rates are often posted in windows. Above all, avoid private currency transactions. In some countries, you risk more than being swindled or stuck with counterfeit currency--you risk arrest. Avoid the black market--learn and obey the local currency laws wherever you go.
When you purchase small items, it is a good idea to mail them personally to your home or to carry them in your luggage. This will help prevent misdirected packages, nonreceipt of merchandise, or receipt of wrong merchandise. When you mail purchases, be sure to ask about insurance.
American embassies and consulates abroad cannot serve as post offices. They cannot accept, hold, or forward mail for U.S. citizens abroad.
Some European countries levy a value added tax (VAT) on the items you buy. In some places, if you ship your purchases home, the VAT can be waived. Other places may require you to pay the VAT, but have a system to refund it to you by mail. Ask the store clerk for an application to apply for a refund. The VAT refund is only for items you can ship or carry with you. It does not apply to food, hotel bills, or other services. Because the rules for VAT refunds vary from country to country, check with the country's tourist office to learn the local requirements.
Excerpted from:U. S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs. U. S. State Department Publication 9926. February, 1992. pg. 25.
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