How to get a VAT refund when shopping in Europe

Get that refund!

It’s the perfect time to go shopping in Europe. The value of the euro against the dollar is at its lowest in two decades, and many products made in the European Union can be bought cheaper across the pond than in the United States.

Goods sold in European Union countries have Value Added Tax (VAT) included in the displayed price. VAT varies from country to country, but in most EU member states non-residents are entitled to a refund of VAT paid on goods if they are exported and not consumed within the country. EU.

Since travelers must demonstrate that the goods will be exported, there are a few steps to take to qualify for the tax refund. The exact process varies by country, but here are some tips to make the process easier.

Look for the tax free sign

Most retailers that do significant business with non-EU residents offer tax refunds, usually through GlobalBlue or another tax refund provider. Retailers offering duty-free shopping often have a sign posted near the door or are listed on the rebate provider’s website or mobile app.

Take your passport

You will need to prove your residence outside the European Union at the time of purchase. There is a simple form to fill in with passport details and a home address. You will pay the full purchase price in advance. It is easier to pay with a credit card, as the processor will simply refund the fee to the card once the documents are received.

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Some department stores have dedicated duty-free shopping counters, so customers can shop at different departments and then fill out tax-free forms separately.

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How much does reimbursement cost?

The refund amount will usually be indicated on the documents printed by the retailer. VAT rates vary by country, as do minimum purchases. It should be noted that the minimum purchase is per transactionrather than an aggregated total, so you’ll need to complete the forms each time you make a qualifying purchase.

For example, the VAT rate in France is 20% on most goods, and the minimum purchase amount is 100 euros. In Germany, the VAT rate is 19%, but the minimum purchase is only 50 euros. The refund processor will also keep a portion of the refund to cover administrative costs, but the rebate is often worth it.

Do not use the goods

The possibility of obtaining a refund lies with unused goods exported from the European Union. In practice, customs officials rarely check this, but it’s a good idea to resist the temptation to put on those clothes or taste those treats. Keep purchases in their original packaging until you get home, just in case you get an overzealous inspector.

Check the paperwork

Be sure to check the reimbursement documents for accuracy and carefully read the instructions for requesting your reimbursement – ​​it is usually on a page opposite the self-addressed, stamped envelope for returning the forms to the processor. Most forms will contain detailed instructions for obtaining customs clearance at the major airports in that country. If you are going to another EU country, be sure to check in advance where the customs office is located at your departure airport.

The delicate part: the customs stamp

Travelers leaving directly for the United States from Paris have nothing easier. They simply bring their forms to the tax refund desk at the airport, scan the barcode(s) on their papers, and that’s it. Forms are electronically verified and don’t even need to be mailed. Refunds will appear on the credit card used. Travelers wanting a cash refund can do so at the same kiosk, although an additional commission is sometimes charged.

In some other countries, or for travelers on multi-country tours, this may be trickier.

The goods must be declared to customs at your last point of departure from the EU and it can sometimes be difficult to find the customs office. Customs offices can be located before security checkpoints, after security checkpoints or spread throughout the terminal.

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At some airports, such as Berlin Brandenburg, there are two separate customs points – one for travelers exporting goods in checked baggage (before security screening) and another for travelers exporting goods in hand luggage (after security check) – but only on direct departing flights EU travelers connecting at other EU airports will need to find the customs post-security checkpoints at their airport of entry.

Some countries, such as Germany and the Netherlands, still manually stamp all tax refund forms before submitting them. In France and Portugal, this is an electronic process, but only if all your goods were purchased in that country. If you have goods from other EU countries, you need a manual stamp.

If you need to deal with a customs officer, have your passport, boarding pass and forms ready. A boarding pass is necessary as it allows the agent to verify that you are leaving the EU, so check in for your flight first. You will also need to have the goods available to show the agent, although they will normally just ask you if the goods are in your possession and will rarely ask to inspect them, but that does not mean they will not .

Cash refunds

Cash transactions will be eligible for cash refunds. Refunds are either paid in Euros at airport kiosks (some offer payment in other currencies, usually at an unfavorable exchange rate) or via a paper check sent by the Refund Office once the documents have been posted received. Either way, the hassle of foreign currency or foreign checks must be considered when making large cash purchases.

Strange Situations

Most US travelers will leave the EU at an airport, where the process is simple. There are, however, a few exceptions. Travelers leaving the EU to non-EU states such as the UK, Norway or Switzerland can have their forms stamped at train stations, ferry terminals and border checkpoints. At any of these, be sure to look for duty free or customs signs.

Another consideration is that not all EU member states use the Euro as their currency, so if you are departing from a country that does not use the Euro (such as Sweden), cash purchases may be subject to conversion from euro to local currency. (or vice versa) in an unfavorable exchange. Either way, if you’re traveling with multiple purchases in different currencies, allow a little extra time.

All it takes is a little extra research and maybe a few extra steps, but duty-free shopping in Europe is a highlight for many travelers.