Collect Your Value-Added Tax Refund When Souvenir Shopping In Europe

Collect Your Value-Added Tax Refund When Souvenir Shopping In Europe

If you’re holidaying in Europe, you can apply for a value-added tax refund on your souvenir purchases there. It’s fast and free, and most travellers leave that money on the table. There are certain restrictions, but the paperwork can be worth it.

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To qualify, your purchase has to be above a certain amount, ranging from around $30 to several hundred dollars, depending on the country (except in Ireland, there’s no minimum there). You also have to shop in one place for each refund request: you can’t add up multiple items from different places to meet the minimum, or submit them all together.

To get your refund, you’ll need to bring your passport when you go shopping, and request the retailer fill out a “tax-free” form. Retailers that participate usually have “tax free” stickers in the window, and almost any shop that caters to tourists will know how this works. That means it’s great if you’re shopping in touristy spots, but not a great idea if you’re striking it out on your own or visiting smaller destinations. Then you’ll need to bring your paperwork and purchases to your next border crossing, present them to customs for a stamp, and either submit your documents at the airport or mail them in for your refund check.

It can definitely be a hassle, but it’s worth it if you’re making big purchases abroad, like leather goods, artwork, furniture, wine or other luxury (or just expensive) items. Be careful, you can’t use your goods before claiming the refund (technically the refund is for exported goods), so don’t wear that leather jacket just yet! The minimum and claim period vary by country, so do your research before your trip (check out the European Commission’s site). For a step-by-step walkthrough, check out Rick Steves’ full guide below.

How to Claim VAT Refunds [Rick Steves]


  • Does that apply if you’re British (on a UK passport) but have move to Australia and paying tax here…if not, does it still work the other way round. i.e. A holiday to the UK could allow me to claim back tax on Australia goods on the way out?

  • A couple of points:

    (1) when filling out the paperwork, make sure you retain your original receipt for the goods. We got trapped in Salzburg where the person doing the paperwork returned a photocopy of the receipt to us. The Italian officer signing off on the purchase at the airport refused the photocopy. Ergo, no tax refund.

    (2) The system at the airport is a nightmare (at least it was at Milan). The queues are long, so ensure you turn up in plenty of time. At Milan you can either avail your self of the service before or after immigration/customs. If before, have all your paperwork ready and see if you have to fill out any specific paperwork at the airport. Complete it before lining up, otherwise they will just send you away to complete it. If you use the before customs service, then they take your baggage at that time, so have your flight info with you. We arrived on a day of strikes, so we thought it would be better to actually deposit our luggage with Singapore Airlines rather than submit it with a lot of other luggage going to many different places. We used the after customs service and to do so you need to have the item with you. Obviously they are making sure you are taking the item with you when you leave the country. Again, paperwork per-completion is king here too.

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