The Ultimate Guide to Tax Free Shopping in Europe!
Every day tourists visiting Europe leave behind millions of dollars of refundable sales tax. Some are unaware, some forget in the heat of those brand new shoes sitting on the register, and some find the headache of filing the forms to much for the return they’re getting. In all those cases, the government is laughing as you’ve paid the upwards of 15-27% tax in a country where you don’t even reside in!! You wont get the full VAT back, but the majority will be returned to you if you take a little extra time to fill out a form.
What is VAT (Value Added tax) or also GST (General Sales Tax):
In it’s simplest form, VAT or GST is a sales tax collected by the government that is applied to goods and/or services bought by a consumer. The standard European-Union value added taxes range from 17-27%. Here are the exact %’s per country. (*Center for Retail research )
27% – Hungary
25% – Denmark/Sweden/Norway
24% – Finland
23% – Greece, Ireland, Poland, Portugal
22% – Italy
21% – Belgium, Czech Republic, Spain, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands
20% – Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Austria, UK
19% – Germany
17% – Luxembourg
Bring along your passport – You will likely be asked to present your passport to indicate that you live in a foreign country outside of the EU.
Check for minimums – Each country has a minimum amount that needs to be spent before retailers are able to issue you a tax free form. These vary between countries and it’s best to ask at the store. They usually range from a minimum of 25-75 Euro spent.
What stores can you shop in..
In store windows and on cash registers you will be able to find signs for “tax free shopping” or the Global Blue label. Most larger retailers take part in the VAT refund program as it draws in tourists dollars. When paying for your purchase, ask the staff for a Tax Free form. They will print out the necessary receipt, possibly ask for your passport, and fill out the needed information on the form. Hold onto this form until you leave the country.
Redeem: At the Airport
Before you check in for your flight, go to the customs desk and present your completed Tax Free Form, passport, receipts and purchases. These are often little offices that are tucked away. They sometimes need a little extra time to find, so account this into your pre-arrival timing. The customs agent there will ensure your forms are completed properly and will then put a stamp on your form. Please ensure all forms are filled out correctly BEFORE seeing the agent… they aren’t the happiest when you pull out 20 receipts and they are all done incorrectly. Forms from multiple countries are accepted. Make sure the goods you purchased are unused and don’t pack them away in your check-in luggage as you may be asked to show the Customs Officers some of your purchases.
Once you have your forms stamped, check in for your flight, head through security, and find the tax free booth, or global Blue kiosk. There you will hand in your forms and they will issue you your refund right there in either cash (you can choose the currency), or back onto your visa.
Redeem: At the city Refund Point
Present all forms, receipts, ID and Visa to agent. They will issue your refund here. *this is the best option if travelling between countries by driving or train.
Redeem: From Home
If you’re in a rush you can send in the receipts once you get back to your home country, however forms will still need to be stamped by a customs agent in the country where you purchased them. This is a good option if once you get through airport security the refund line is to long and you might miss you flight. If it’s already all stamped, you can simply mail everything in once you’re home. (You will have to wait for the refund via mail if doing so this way). Photocopy the forms and receipts before mailing so you have a backup in case anything happens to them.
Seems like a bit of a hassle, but as someone who shops almost exclusively while overseas (why shop at home when you can find unique pieces at great prices worldwide!), I’ve never had any issues or felt like it took to much time to organize. An extra 2 minutes at the register saving you 15% of your purchase… YES PLEASE!
Need more resources?
– Premier Tax Free – http://premiertaxfree.com/
– Global Blue – http://www.globalblue.com/