Publication 127, Organized Camps

July 2018


As discussed here, “organized camps” refers to traditional camps that offer outdoor group living experiences such as camps operated by the YMCA and the Boy Scouts of America. This term is explained in more detail in the “Organized Camp” section on the “Student Meals” tab.

Organized camps are sellers of meals and other tangible personal property sold to campers, staff, and guests. This is true even though camps typically charge a single amount for tuition, meals, and housing. As sellers, camps are required to hold seller's permits and report tax to the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA).

Applications for seller’s permits and information about filing returns are available on our website. There is no fee for a seller’s permit; however, CDTFA may require a security deposit to cover any unpaid taxes your organization might owe if it stops operating. If you maintain a good record of filing and paying your taxes on time for three years, the deposit may be refunded.

In general, tax applies to sales of tangible personal property and meals served at camps. However, Sales and Use Tax Regulation 1506, subdivision (h) “Organized Camps” provides an exemption for sales of student meals when the camp is considered a school or educational institution. See the “Student Meals” tab for more information.

For More Information

Additional information and all CDTFA forms, publications and regulations are available from our website or by calling our Customer Service Center at 1-800-400-7115 (TTY:711).

If you need help filing your sales and use tax return electronically, please visit our website at and select the File a Return located on our home page. Also, for assistance, call our Customer Service Center at 1-800-400-7115 (TTY:711).

Note: This publication summarizes the law and applicable regulations in effect when the publication was written, as noted on the cover. However, changes in the law or in regulations may have occurred since that time. If there is a conflict between the text in this publication and the law, decisions will be based on the law and not on this publication.

Student Meals

Exemption for camps that are considered schools or educational institutions
When a camp qualifies as a school or educational institution, the camp’s sales of meals to students (campers) are not subject to tax. A camp must meet all of the following requirements to qualify as a school or educational institution:

  1. The camp conducts regularly scheduled classes,
  2. Students are required to attend the classes,
  3. Qualified instructors are in charge of the classes, and
  4. The camp is an "organized camp" as defined in California Health and Safety Code section 18897.

1. “Regularly scheduled classes”
To qualify as a school or educational institution the camp session must promote an educational program by conducting regularly scheduled classes. However, the CDTFA recognizes that camps typically provide this education outside a traditional classroom setting. For example, ropes course activities teach problem-solving, communication, and leadership skills. Ecology, conservation, and geology can all be taught during a guided nature hike. Educational classes also include classes in spiritual training or physical education, such as archery, marksmanship, swimming, boating, and arts and crafts. All of these types of classes will meet the first requirement if they are regularly scheduled.

“Regularly scheduled classes” also include situations where camps regularly schedule a variety of classes and allow campers to select the class they want to attend. For example, a camper working on a merit badge for archery may choose to attend classes on range safety and archery practice, and a camper working on a hiking badge may attend classes in first aid and wilderness survival.

In general, most traditional youth camps include activities that qualify as regularly scheduled classes. Adult and family camp sessions may also qualify if they have a curriculum of regularly scheduled classes. Conversely, camps or retreats where recreation is the primary goal may not meet the “regularly scheduled classes” requirement because focus of the camp session is rest and relaxation. For example, a “summer concert weekend” camp session that offers daily activities does not conduct regularly scheduled classes if the focus of the event is rest and recreation.

Camps should maintain copies of camp session class schedules and other curriculum materials to demonstrate that their camp classes meet the regularly scheduled class requirement.

2. “Required attendance”
Activities at most youth camps meet this requirement because campers are required to attend scheduled activities that qualify as classes. However, if class attendance is optional, the camp will not be considered a school or educational institution for that camp session. For example, a camp would not satisfy the “required attendance” requirement if it offered a variety of classes and recreational activities and required participants to attend a camp orientation on the first day, but otherwise allowed campers to choose to attend as many of the scheduled activities as they want, or choose not to attend any activities during the rest of the camp session.

To show that they meet the attendance requirement, camps should document that attendance is required in their camp brochures, registration materials, website information, camper rule agreements, or other camp materials.

3. “Qualified instructors”
An instructor is considered qualified when the instructor has the formal training or sufficient experience to adequately prepare the instructor to teach his or her subject. In other words, the level of training and experience needed to be a qualified instructor depends on the class being taught. For example, an instructor may need certification by the American Heart Association or Red Cross to be qualified to teach CPR and general first aid. A kayaking instructor may have years of experience in kayaking and water safety training.

CDTFA recognizes that organized camps interview, hire, and train staff to lead camp classes and activities. Often senior staff members guide and supervise less experienced instructors in order to ensure that the newer instructors are qualified. In general, if the camp determines that the instructor is qualified to lead a class, then CDTFA will consider the camp to have met this requirement of the regulation. Camps should maintain records that show their instructors’ level of training and/or experience related to the area they teach to show that the camp meets the requirement.

4. “Organized Camp”
The camp must be an “organized camp” as provided in section 18897 of the California Health and Safety Code. With regard to the exemption provided in Regulation 1506, “camps” refers to organizations that run traditional camp programs, not to resorts or other hotel and lodging establishments. Traditional camps such as those operated by the YMCA, YWCA, Girl Scouts, and Boy Scouts meet the definition of an “organized camp.” Camps accredited by, or affiliated with, the American Camp Association and camps that are approved members of the Christian Camp and Conference Association also meet the definition.

“Organized camp” excludes businesses that are not traditional camp organizations, such as tourist camps, trailer parks, resorts, hunting camps, and childcare institutions. In addition, businesses that provide all inclusive outdoor recreational packages outside a traditional organized camp are also not included in the term. For example, an adventure company that offers rock climbing packages at various state parks for an all inclusive price (lodging, meals, climbing gear, and instruction) is not an organized camp.

Subdivision (a) of section 18897, provides that an “organized camp” means a site with programs and facilities established for the primary purposes of providing an outdoor group living experience with social, spiritual, educational, or recreational objectives, for five days or more during one or more seasons of the year. CDTFA interprets this provision to mean that a camp organization meeting the 5-day requirement for one camp session continues to meet the requirement even if it also conducts other shorter camp sessions. That is, CDTFA would evaluate the camp year, rather than any one camp session. For example, a camp offers 5-day outdoor education camps for 6th graders and also provides 3-day outdoor education camps for 4th graders. Because the camp meets the 5-day requirement with the 6th grade camp sessions, it is still considered an “organized camp” during the 3-day camp sessions.

Other Meals

If a camp does not meet all of the requirements to qualify as a school or educational institution, the camp’s sales of meals are taxable. Even when the camp meets the requirements, sales of meals to non-students, such as staff and guests, are taxable.

With regard to sales of meals to employees, tax applies only if a specific charge is made for meals. A specific charge is made if the employee pays cash for meals consumed, the value of the meals is deducted from the employee's paycheck, the employee receives meals in lieu of cash to bring compensation up to legal minimum wage, or the employee has the option to receive cash for meals not consumed. An amount deducted for “room and board” from an employee’s wages is considered a specific charge. In the absence of any of these conditions, there is no specific charge when a value is placed on the meals as a means for reporting the fair market value of employees’ meals pursuant to state and federal laws or regulations. For more information see the section on employees’ meals in Regulation 1603, Taxable Sales of Food Products.

Meals provided free of charge
Camps are consumers of meals and nonfood products that are provided free of charge, such as meals given free to guests. If your staff prepares the meals, you do not owe any tax on food and noncarbonated beverages that are consumed or given away. You do owe tax, however, on the cost of nonfood items you give away (such as carbonated beverages) that you purchased for resale without payment of tax.

If you purchase meals from a food service company for resale without payment of tax, you will need to report tax on the cost of the meals that were given away (in addition to reporting tax on nonfood items purchased for resale and given away).

To report these purchases, include the purchase amount under “Purchases subject to use tax” on your sales and use tax return. “Use tax” applies to items that were purchased for resale in California, but were used or consumed by the purchaser instead of being resold. The use tax rate is the same as the sales tax rate. You must also keep records to support the amount you report on this line. You should track the cost of the consumed items on an actual basis, or establish a method for making a reasonable estimate and retain the estimated calculations in your records.

Meals sold to other camps
You may lease your facilities to another camp organization who will conduct their own classes and camp program using your facilities. If you sell meals to another camp organization, your sales of meals to the other organization are taxable unless you obtain a resale certificate. The camp organization that is leasing your facilities can provide you with a resale certificate for the meals they will resell to campers and others. Since the other organization is conducting the camp, they would be responsible for supporting the exemption for sales of nontaxable student meals (if applicable). The organization may issue a resale certificate only for the meals that they resell. Tax generally applies to sales of other meals, such as meals the organization provides free of charge to staff.

Other Sales

Your sales of other items such as photos, videos, t-shirts, and souvenir items are generally subject to tax. If you paid tax on these items when you purchased them, you can take a “cost of tax-paid purchases resold prior to use” deduction when you sell them.

Tax-paid purchases resold
If you paid California tax on an item when you purchased it and then resold the item before using it, you can claim a deduction on the “cost of tax-paid purchases resold prior to use” line on the sales and use tax return on which you reported the sale. For example, you paid tax on printed t-shirts you gave to camp staffers (your cost $10 each). Some staffers want an extra shirt and you sell them shirts for $12. You must report the $12 t-shirt sale, but can claim a $10 tax-paid purchases resold deduction on your return.


Tax does not ordinarily apply to your purchases of disposable serviceware such as paper plates, paper napkins, plastic utensils, straws, disposable to-go containers, and similar items that are of a non-reusable character which you furnish with the food and beverages you sell. These items are considered sold with meals even when your sales of meals are nontaxable sales of student meals. As a result, you can issue a resale certificate to purchase these items.

Camps are consumers of property used to serve meals such as reusable plates, silverware, glasses, table linens, etc. Camps are also consumers of other supplies and equipment used in the operation of the camp and tax applies to their purchases of these items. This includes sports equipment and classroom supplies. You cannot issue a resale certificate for the purchase of these items. If you purchased these items from California suppliers, you may be charged California tax on your purchase. However, if you purchase assets and consumable supplies from a vendor located outside California and you are not charged California tax, you must pay California use tax on your purchase. The use tax rate is the same as the sales tax rate and is intended to protect California merchants who otherwise would be at a competitive disadvantage when out-of-state sellers make sales to California customers without charging tax.

To report these purchases, include the purchase amount under “Purchases subject to use tax,” on your sales and use tax return for the reporting period that includes the date when you first used or stored the item in California.