Taxes in Washington DC: What Visitors Need to Know

Taxes may not seem like the most riveting subject in the world, but when you travel it’s important to understand how taxes in Washington, DC will affect you. In this post we’ll cover the taxes that tourists will pay in the course of their visit. So, here’s everything you need to know about taxes in Washington, DC.

Quick disclaimer: these numbers are accurate as of 2020 but be aware that tax rates could change in the future.

TAXES that DC Visitors Pay

Hotel Taxes in Washington, DC

The first tax that almost all Washington, DC visitors will experience is the Hotel/Transient Accommodations tax. It is currently 14.95%. Hotels in the U.S. do not include the tax in the advertised room rate. So if you find a hotel in DC listed for $150 per night, you will actually pay $172.43 per night. 

And I know what you’re thinking… but no, you can’t avoid this tax by staying in an Airbnb instead. A few years ago Airbnb was not subject to this tax, but those good old days are gone.

Relax—This Tax is Everywhere

It’s easy to get upset about hotel taxes, but remember that every city has high hotel taxes. Why? Well, it’s an easy political sell for the city council; the city gets to raise money but doesn’t have to tax its own residents.

There are actually a lot of cities with higher hotel taxes that we have. According to the HVS Lodging Tax Report, Washington, DC isn’t even in the top 50 U.S. cities for hotel taxes. For example:

  • In Philadelphia, the tax is 15.5%.
  • In Columbus, OH it’s 17.5%.
  • And in Omaha, NE it’s 20.5%. 

So comparatively, a trip to DC isn’t bad at all. 

Sales Tax in Washington, DC

Washington, DC has sales tax, just like you probably do back home. Sales tax in DC is a little complicated, because there are different tax rates depending on the category of items that you buy.

The general sales tax is 6%. This covers most merchandise that you’d buy at a regular store. In other words, if you walk into a gift shop and buy a souvenir t-shirt for $20, you’ll pay $21.20.

But there are exceptions. Groceries are not taxed, nor are medications. That means that if you go into a grocery store and buy bananas and bottle of ibuprofen, you won’t pay any tax on that. 

Food and Alcohol Have Their Own Taxes in Washington, DC

However, some sales taxes are higher than the general 6%. Alcohol is taxed at 10.25%. So if you go to a liquor store and buy a bottle of wine that’s marked $10, the total price will be $11.03. 

When you go to a restaurant, the tax on your meal is 10%. So if you spend $100 at a nice restaurant, the subtotal will be $110. I say subtotal because that doesn’t account for the tip; you can check out this article if you’d like to learn more about tipping etiquette in Washington, DC

Alcohol is also taxed at 10% when purchased at a bar or restaurant. That means it’s technically cheaper, tax-wise, to drink out. Then again, it’s really not because the drinks are marked up so much.

Taxes on Sporting Events and Merchandise

If you’re attending a game or event at Nationals Park or Capital One Arena, you will pay a 10.25% tax on tickets and anything you buy inside. Now this is one of the rare cases when the tax is usually folded into the listed price. So when you buy a baseball ticket for $20, the actual price is $18.14 plus tax.

The same goes for food and drinks. That $12 beer inside the ballpark is actually $10.88 plus tax. However, if you go to the team store to buy merchandise, the tax is usually not included in the price. So be prepared that a $100 jersey for your favorite player will ring up at $110.25.

Pro tip: You can save on taxes and overall price if you don’t buy merchandise inside the team stores. Instead you can use an authorized seller like Fanatics and have it shipped to your home. If you sign up for their email alerts you can find some good deals, too. 

Bar Taxes in Washington, DC

One more place where you sometimes see tax included in the price is at bars. This is becoming less and less common. It made more sense back when people paid with cash, because making change with bills is much easier for bartenders than with coins. These days so many people pay with credit cards that this isn’t as much of a concern.

And before you get too stressed out, here’s a little hack to make things a little easier: Whenever you go to buy something, calculate 10% of the value in your head and add that to the price. In many cases the tax will be less than 10% (or maybe a fraction more), but this will give you a good sense of roughly the maximum that you will pay for something. 

About Trip Hacks DC

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation's Capital.

Everyone wants to get the most out of travel experience; we know that planning a trip can be fun but sometimes stressful. The tips and travel hacks offered here will help you make the most of your trip and avoid missing out on the best things the city has to offer. Our trip planning e-book is the perfect resource for every first-time Washington, DC visitor.

If you're looking for a guided experience once you arrive, Trip Hacks DC specializes in private tours; but has public tours options as well. Visit the Guided Tours section to learn about some of the suggested tours and the trip planning resources section for help preparing for your trip. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions!

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