If you’re traveling to Japan any time soon, you may be wondering if it’s best to buy your camera gear before your trip or wait until you’re abroad.
Japan is home to many camera companies. With Canon, Sony, Nikon, and many other well-known brands founded there, Japan houses the heavy hitters in the camera industry.
But does that mean their products are cheaper?
Camera prices in the US vs Japan
Unlike inexpensive Uniqlo clothes, just because these popular camera companies are based out of Japan doesn’t mean that their products are cheaper.
A quick search on Amazon, or even on the camera retailers themselves, will show that cameras are not necessarily cheaper in Japan than in the United States.
Whether or not a camera is cheaper in one country or the other will vary from company to company.
There is no hard and fast rule about camera prices.
Do you have to pay a VAT tax on gear bought in Japan?
If the camera you’re wanting to buy has a similar price in both the US and Japan, it’s a good idea to look at how much taxes will cost.
Depending on where you are buying from in the United States, you could be paying up to a 9% sales tax on the camera you’re buying. If you’re also buying additional camera equipment like a camera bag, camera strap, or lenses, there will also be a sales tax.
If you’re a short-term visitor in Japan, there is a chance you will not have to pay a sales tax, or a VAT tax, at all.
A VAT tax, short for Value-Added tax, is a tax that’s paid at every stage of a product’s production. A tax is collected at every point, from the sale of the raw materials used to make the product to its final purchase by the consumer.
Each new amount of tax collected is used to reimburse the previous buyer in the chain. The final consumer is the one that pays the tax.
There is a chance that visitors to Japan do not have to pay a VAT tax at all, or that it can be reimbursed.
If you meet these criteria, an 8% tax refund is available to Japanese visitors.
Here are the criteria to avoid the VAT tax:
- You have stayed in Japan for less than 6 months.
- You aren’t working in Japan.
- You aren’t a Japanese citizen, or your citizenship has been revoked.
- Your passport is stamped with the date of entry
Because your passport must be stamped, avoid automatic immigration options.
It is important to calculate all costs involved with buying a camera before making your decisions, so be sure to look at factors other than the sticker price, including the PayPal transaction fee in case you will use this as your mode of payment.
If a camera is more expensive in Japan but you don’t have to pay a VAT tax or shipping, it may be cheaper in total to purchase while on vacation.
Not all stores offer a VAT refund, so make sure the retailer participates in the tax refund program.
Many of the major retailers have a tax-free counter for visitors, especially in major cities like Tokyo or Osaka. Some stores may have a sticker on their windows saying they sell goods that are eligible for a tax refund.
If you’re unsure whether or not a store participates, check in with their customer service.
This may just save you money on all of your camera gear.