Foreign diplomats

Sales to foreign diplomats or missions

Ambassadors or foreign consuls are exempt from the sales tax with limitations. Diplomatic Tax Exemption Cards are issued by the U.S. Department of State. These cards use four distinct images on the cards (owl, buffalo, eagle, and deer) to indicate the level of tax exemption.

The exemption under this program may not apply to all types of purchases. See below for procedures for purchasing all motorized vehicles (including vessels) under this program.

Special Notice: Diplomatic Tax Exemption Program

Purchase of vessels under the Diplomatic Tax Exemption Program

The Office of Foreign Missions (OFM) enforces the exemption of eligible foreign missions and their members from payment of any taxes when purchasing, leasing, registering or titling a vessel. All official and personal vessel purchases by eligible foreign missions and their members must be authorized by OFM.

The purchaser must request that the vessel dealer contact either the “Tax and Customs Program Office” of the Department of OFM or the appropriate OFM Regional Office for a determination of the tax-exempt status of the purchaser. These requests will only be accepted during normal business hours.

Dealers can contact OFM by phone at (415) 744-2910 or by email at Emails must include:

  • Buyer's name
  • Type of purchase - official or personal
  • Buyer's driver’s license number, personal identification number or date of birth
  • Buyer’s mission or organization
  • The dealership's name, mailing address, and phone and fax numbers
  • The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of the vessel the mission or person is planning to purchase or lease.

OFM will determine the tax-exempt status of the purchaser and email or fax a letter to the vessel dealer stating whether the purchaser is eligible for a sales/use tax exemption. If the tax exemption is denied, the purchaser must pay sales tax on the purchase of the vessel.

These tax exemption procedures discussed above apply to all motorized vehicles purchased or leased by foreign missions or their members.

Vessel registration

Diplomatic missions and their members, including dependents, must register all motorized vehicles that they own or lease with the OFM Diplomatic Vehicle Office. At the time of purchase, all original ownership documents must be submitted to the Diplomatic Motor Vehicle Office for proper vessel registration.

Dealers should treat this transaction as an out-of-state registration. OFM will issue a registration card and federal license once proper documentation is received. A title will be sent to the lien holder.

Tax reporting

Retailing B&O tax is still due for these transactions. The sales tax deduction may be shown as "sales to nonresidents or other" and explained as "exempt foreign diplomat."

Documenting exempt sales

The seller must record proof of a valid exemption. Keep these records for five years for possible review by the Department of Revenue.

References: RCW 82.32.070, WAC 458-20-254