Why Does DCA have a District Zip Code if it’s located in Virginia (tax implications)?

Photo by PoPville flickr user ep_jhu

“Dear PoPville,

I have been going round and round (now why I am not sure, it was only 18 bucks) with a company that charged me taxes for an online purchase, but they have no store in Washington DC (Very large brand name gadget store). They replied to tell me that they have a store at DCA and their address is Washington DC 20001. I see the airport on the VA side of the river and I see an Arlington VA address when I Google, but see a DC address listed on their location page. What gives? Is this airport in DC or VA? (and how can I get my 18 bucks back lol!)”

28 Comment

  • Can’t answer your question, but same thing goes for the Pentagon…it has a WDC address and zip even though it’s in VA.

  • And how come during press conferences at the Pentagon, the sign behind the podium says “The Pentagon, Washington, DC”? I wonder if they have a DC address too, even though they’re even more obviously in Virginia than DCA.

  • Both Airports are physically located in Virginia, but have Washington, D.C., mailing addresses. Where are the Airports located legally?
    Reagan National: Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is located in Virginia. Federal law and Virginia Code both state the airport is “situated within the Commonwealth of Virginia” (see 59 Stat. 552 (1945); 1950 Va. Code Sec 7.1-10 (1983)). There are also court decisions holding the airport is located in Virginia (see Pfister v. Director, Office of Workers Compensation, etc., 675 F.2d 1314, 1315-16 (D.C. Cir. 1982); and Bryan v. District of Columbia Unemployment Compensation Board, 342 A.2d 45 (D.C. Ct. App. 1975)).

    Dulles: Washington Dulles International Airport was built on Virginia land acquired by the federal government.

    When the federal government operated the Airports prior to 1987, both had a Washington, D.C. postal address. To help identify the service area more easily for travelers, the Authority did not change the addresses.

    • Dulles no longer has a DC mailing address. 1 Saarinen Cir, Dulles, VA 20166 (even though Dulles, Virginia is not a real jurisdiction).

  • I don’t know why DCA has a DC address and zip code, but it may not matter for your purposes. Having no brick and mortar store in the District simply means that a company is not obligated to collect taxes when is sells to you online. It doesn’t mean that they can’t collect taxes. Technically, you owe DC the sales tax on all online purchases, regardless of whether the merchant collects them. If they don’t collect them, you’re supposed to pay DC yourself. Of course no one does this. But, the point is that you don’t really have an argument that they can’t collect the taxes.

    • yup, exactly. Online sales tax purchases are charged based on the destination of the item (for example, every year Amazon tells me I should pay sales tax to the State in which my parents reside, for the gifts which have been bought and sent directly to them, even though I don’t live there and (to the best of my knowledge) Amazon doesn’t have a distribution center tere.

  • You’re supposed to pay sales taxes on your online purchases yourself, so I wouldn’t get too worked up about it. (Note I absolutely never do this myself, but I also wouldn’t feel entitled to get my money back if I were charged sales tax.)

  • ah

    This is an issue with their software, which they use to assess the proper tax for online purchases and likely purchased from a third-party vendor (because everyone does now). Presumably either someone ticked a box for a DC location, based on the DCA zipcode, or it was done automatically. You’ll need to get them to fix the software so that it recognizes the DCA store is not in DC for purposes of requiring charging sales tax. Good luck with that . . . and then take your refund and pay the DC OTR.

  • I don’t know the specifics of the case, but keep in mind that the entire river belongs to DC. For example the stretch of the GW Parkway/ Mount Vernon Trail near the Pentagon is part of DC even though you’re on the Virginia side of the river due to the fact that the river has a back channel around that piece of land. The airport is mostly on artificial land dredged up from the river bottom – so DC could have a claim to it. This was what the Supreme Court dealt with in the Ellis Island case between NY and NJ.

  • My understanding is that DCA is technically part of DC.

  • you may have uncovered something dodgy. if you paid them DC sales tax, but they don’t have an obligation to pass that on to the DC govt…. then technically you did not pay sales tax on the item, and the company will just keep it as an increased markup. on an individual basis this may be small, but across a larger sample size it might be a large amount

  • It’s so Congress can control it. They consider it THEIR airport.

    • It is their airport, or at least, it is owned by the federal government, not the District or Virginia. MWAA was created by the feds to manage the airports, with input from the jurisdictions.

  • When they renamed the airport to the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, the title of the bill was “A bill to rename the Washington National Airport located in the District of Columbia and Virginia as the “Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport””


    • The hyperlink that got created didn’t include the colon at the end for some reason. If you want to see the text of that bill, just put a colon at the end of the web address.

  • anonymouse_dianne

    Any number of gov’t agencies have DCA zip code. I work at Census which is in Suitland MD, but has a Washington, DC address and zip code (as well as a Suitland MD zip). As another example, the CDC office which is in Chamblee GA has an Atlanta GA address and zip. I think it is mostly to make it for folks to correspond without having to know the details of where the agency physically sits. It has absolutely nothing to do with tax liability, which is based on physical location.

  • I always wondered why, when landing at DCA, the pilot or flight attendant always welcomes you to the District of Columbia (and never Virginia). Apparently the issue is rather complicated…

  • I am the OP. I did actually contact the company to tell them they do NOT have a store in DC, and they replied that they USED to have a store at DCA, but it is currently closed, but their policy is to charge taxes for any location in which they have had a store in the past 3 years. They left it at that as the store’s address used the DC zip code even though it was in the air port.

    It is not so much the paying of taxes. IF they had a store in DC I would just drive there and buy the product and not waste money on shipping. I also seriously doubt they are going to pay those taxes TO DC, rather keep them for themselves since they have NO store in DC to pay taxes to. Shady and underhanded. is how it appears.

    (and PS I ain’t paying DC NO extra taxes : ) they choke enough out of me and try to add in crap all the time like the bag tax and the gym tax. DC has a 321 MILLION dollar tax surplus, they need to give ME some back)

  • This happened in Maryland as well. My mom grew up in Bethesda off of River Road and her mailing address as a child was Washington DC even though she clearly didn’t live in the city. It probably has to do with the post office using one central post office for the entire area.

  • I wonder if there was still some holdover from the ‘this would have been a part of DC” but that seems wrong somehow. I would have to double check the below but this is what someone wrote for Wikipedia.

    “The airport is southwest of Washington, D.C. The western part of the airport was once within a large Virginia plantation, a remnant of which is now inside a historic site located near the airport’s Metrorail station (see Abingdon (plantation) for history). The eastern part of the airport was constructed in the District of Columbia on and near mudflats that were within the tidal Potomac River near Gravelly Point, about 4 statute miles (6.4 km) from the United States Capitol, using landfill dredged from the Potomac.”

    It looks like the Pentagon was the 2nd complex built for the military complex during FDR’s tenure – the first was in Foggy Bottom. I wonder if they just decided to keep the address convention rather than change it so it just continued on. Interesting the Pentagon address list does still say
    2000 Defense Pentagon
    Washington, DC 20301-

    The Pentagon doesn’t go into it but the Post Office assigned DC zip codes so they have to use DC.

  • This is a big deal for at least some of the vendors at DCA:

    Several years ago, while I was still under the age of 25, I arranged to rent a car from one of the DCA vendors. Upon arriving, I was told that I could not do that in the District and instead needed to make my way to their car rental location in Clarendon. I protested, “We are in Virginia. See that river? Are you kidding me? Clarendon?” but to no avail. Under-25 rentals are all about insurance for such vendors so I imagine that the insurance people working at some very large car rental places have decided that DCA is in fact located in the District for their legal purposes.

    This is just one experience, but I’ll never forget it. I was in a hurry, and spent many breaths telling someone at the airport that they were standing in Virginia.

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