The Catholic Travel Guide
The Value Added Tax (VAT): Money back on your purchases
The Value Added Tax, or VAT, is a tax levied on most items that you purchase in countries in Europe, South America and elsewhere. This tax is added on to purchases (somewhere between 10-20%) and very often is refundable to travelers from other countries.
This does not apply to hotels, restaurants, etc. but rather to items actually purchased such as souvenirs, clothing, and many others. And if you plan to do much shopping on your trip then don't leave this money behind. You can claim it and get a refund before leaving the country.
You should check with each country to determine their policies, but in general there are a few basic stipulations:
1. Purchases must be a certain minimum amount (anywhere from $30 on up as a rule.
2. You cannot combine amounts from different stores or shops, so try to buy as many things at one store if you are planning to cash in on the VAT.
3. Don't plan on using items you purchased before leaving the country or you may be denied a refund. For example, that nice Irish sweater you bought will have to stay in the bag until you get back home.
4. Be sure to show your passport when making your purchases to get the VAT credit.
Here's how you get your refund:
1. When leaving the country, go to the customs desk at the airport, train station or port. If you are in the European Union and have bought items in several countries, there is no need to do this each time you leave a country. You can do so at the end of your trip in whatever country you leave from. However, not all countries in Europe belong to the EU, so be sure you know which ones do.
2. You will have to show your receipt and usually the goods you purchased. If you don't get the stamped receipt from the customs officials you will not be able to get a refund.
3. Then either mail in the receipt to the merchant or if the merchant participates in Global Blue or Premier Tax Refund located near the check-in area. They will give you an instant refund in cash (taking a commission for their services). If the refund is in the local currency then cash it in at the airport or save it for a future trip.
If you need to send it in to the merchant be sure you have kept the address and be prepared to wait a month or two. If you receive a check it will probably be in the local currency of the shop and you will need to pay a fee to have it converted into your currency at your local bank. And on rare occasions it never arrives at all.
This may sound like a lot of work and not worth it...and often that is the case.
Our feeling is that if you are going on vacation then you ought to enjoy yourself rather than worrying about getting a refund that may or may not happen anyway. But it is up to you, and of course depends upon how much you have spent on your trip.