How to get VAT refund when you are traveling

If you travel to Europe especially Paris most likely you are going to purchase expensive branded stuff and wonder how you can make use of the VAT refund tourist is eligible to. Here’s some tips if you ever have the need to to do a VAT refund for your retail purchases.

What you need to know

You need to be qualified first
If your primary residence is outside the country you are visiting and in the case of France, you need to be a resident of non-EU country. And in general you must:
– Have been in the country you’re visiting for less than six months
– Be at least 16 years old

Your purchases have to be eligible for VAT refunds
In general Retail purchases of a tourist nature are eligible; those of a commercial nature are not. You need to know that not all retailers offer the VAT exemption service. Retailers that does usually put a sticker on their shop but you still need to ask and there is a treshold of amount.

At the time of purchase, you must be able to produce your passport
If you are going to shop don’t leave your passport in your Hotel room. The Retailer will fill in a VAT form and input your personal information. They will ask whether you want the refund in form of cash or credit card refund. I always ask for credit card refund because I don’t want to add additional process at the airport and cash refund also comes with additional service charge. Keep that form with you as you will need to produce it to Custom Officer at the point of departure.

You need to get your VAT form from the Retailer, validated by Custom at your point of departure
When you leave the country and after you check in to your flight (if you fly) you must present your purchases, the VAT refund form and your boarding pass to customs. If you are going to put your purchases inside the checked-in luggage, don’t check in your luggage yet and just get your boarding pass.
These days there will be self service kiosk to validate your VAT form. You just need to scan the passport and then scan the QR code in the form. Note that there is a treshold amount to use that service. Eg. If you buy a chanel bag most likely the machine will give you output that you need to proceed to Custom officer to have your form manually validated.

Self Service Tax Refund Machine

When you receive such output, proceed to the Custom Room. Sometimes the direction is not clear and you need to ask where it is. in Marseilles airport the Custom office door is closed but there is a telephone by the door. You need to pick up that phone and call the Custom Officer and ask to come in. Not all airport are VAT refund friendly. Some have clear instructions and some are not. In Incheon airport South Korea we have officer stand by at self service kiosk to help tourist who get confuse on how to use the machine. In Zurich airport, the direction is not clear and you need to locate where the Custom office is.

Custom Office at Marseilles Airport, just next to the self service machine. But you need to pick up the phone and request to come in

Last July when I processed my Tax refund at Marseilles airport I was pleasantly surprise to see the system has been automated. After I made purchases, I get email from Global Blue notifying my request and steps needed. I don’t need to put my validated form in the drop box anymore and worrying that they won’t reach Global Blue office. Once validated by the machine, it goes directly to Global Blue to be processed. And you will receive email with a link to check whether your refund has been processed. The same goes to the manual validation by the Custom Officer who submitted my validated form to the system.

If you are traveling within EU countries, validate your VAT form at the last EU country before you depart
This applies if you are travelling to more than 1 country in EU. For example if you are travelling to Italy, France and Spain and fly out from Spain then you need to have your purchases validated by Spain Custom.

Bear in mind that not all countries in Europe are part of EU even though you can enter to that country with Schengen Visa
The example is Switzerland. If you are coming to Italy and then leave from Switzerland, you need to get your purchases in Italy validated by Italian Custom before you leave for Switzerland.
At the time of writing, here is the list of EU countries:
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

If you leave the country via other means and not flying
– If you leave by TRAIN: Have your VAT refund forms stamped by customs, either during your journey or at the border crossing station (at the country exit point). Beware not all train stations have Custom Office. You might need to get off the train at the last station within the EU to get this stamp. Here’s example of train stations which have customs office are: Paris Gare du Nord, Lille Europe, Marne-la-Vallée (Disneyland Paris), Brussels-Midi/Zuid, Domodossola (the last Italian train stop before crossing border to Switzerland) and many others which you will need to research. Custom Office is usually located after passport check and luggage check in area.
– If you leave by SHIP or by ROAD: Have your VAT refund forms stamped by the customs office at the final port or road exit point in the country. You need to find out where will the Custom Office be located especially for the road journey.

If you shop in Factory Outlet, sometimes they have a VAT Refund Office
You can have your VAT refund in form of cash back right away but you still have to follow the process of validating your form by Custom officer. Failure to do so will get your credit card charged by that amount of refund you have received

I hope this article helps. Happy Shopping 😄 !!!

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