How to get your tax back overseas

Carolyn is travelling to the UK and wonders if she can claim the VAT tax back

How to get your tax back overseas

Q. Carolyn
My sister and I will be travelling to the United Kingdom early in the new year to visit relatives. We are both planning to indulge in a bit of ‘retail therapy’ while we are there and are wondering if we will be able to claim the VAT tax back?

A. The VAT is a tax you pay on goods and services in every country of the European Union (EU), including the United Kingdom (UK). Sound familiar? It’s a lot like our very own GST and, much like visitors to Australia claiming their GST back, you can claim the VAT back on your European purchases.

VAT is included in the prices you see on European shelves. Every European country has its own VAT rate, and the UK has three different rates. You can find out what the VAT rate is in the country you’re visiting with this handy guide on Wikipedia.

When visiting the EU, you can claim the VAT back on any shopping you do, provided you spend the minimum amount. Again, this is different in every country, but you can find a guide to the minimum spend necessary to claim your tax back at the European Commission website. 

To claim your tax back, you need to:

  1. Have spent the minimum required amount
  2. Kept your receipts
  3. Have the items in your hand luggage when you exit the EU

You can claim your tax back at the airport when you are leaving Europe for good. You must be able to show a boarding pass with a final destination outside the EU to claim your tax back. There will be desks in the airport, usually after you have passed through security, where you can claim your tax back. To do so you will need your receipts, the goods themselves and, in many countries, a special form filled out by the store in which you purchased the goods. This is important, as, if you don’t request the form at the time of purchase, you may not be able to get your money back. You will also need the credit card you used to make the purchases and your passport.

It might seem like a bit of a hassle, but getting up to 20 per cent back on your purchases can make a huge difference at the end of an overseas trip. You can find out all the legal details of the VAT at the European Customs website. 


    To make a comment, please register or login
    18th Sep 2013
    There is an administration charge in the UK for processing this payment so depending upon how much you've actually spent and the level of the VAT you might only get 10-15% back but that's still better than nothing.
    18th Sep 2013
    NOTHING is what we got - after purchasing a full length camel coat and other stuff, 'cos it was so cold in the UK one time we went back. Sent in all the relevant receipts etc., but guess they all must have got lost in the office, as no monies came forth, and after 2 enquiries we gave up - it wasn't worth the hassle.
    18th Sep 2013
    Not as easy as article suggests, just did a 2 month trip to Europe, bought camera in France, took ages to complete paperwork at the store, then travelled to Poland. Can't claim this tax until leaving Europe EU, so left Poland but could not claim tax there as we had a 2 hour stop over at Prague, after locating the appropriate counter at Prague, getting the customs officer to sign the documentation, lined up at the one open counter to process the claim...couldn't be done there because the French store had apparently incorrectly coded the claim...told to put the form in a box on wall and refund old then be processed and mailed to us here in Australia...that was 2nd September, not holding out much hope given the comedy of errors that occurred in Prague that night. Such is life.
    19th Sep 2013
    A friend and I tried to claim back our VAT when leaving Dublin by air. After finding the correct office hidden away in the airport, we could not get service. The staff were in a back office and would not answer the bell we were ringing or even look at us. Fortunately, we had arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare - so just kept ringing the bell and waving to them. Eventually, they realised we were not going away, and one of them reluctantly came out and gave us the paper work to fill in. We lodged the required papers and were told we would receive payment after we returned to Australia. We never did receive anything, and I am pretty sure the papers were binned when we were out of sight.
    19th Sep 2013
    Forgot to mention - this was back in 1990.
    19th Sep 2013
    Is there some similar arrangement if you are leaving Oz - I bought some gear and the store told me that if I came back then they would combine purchases so that tax could be reclaimed here in Oz ?
    21st Sep 2013
    If you are a visitor to Australia and do not pay tax in Australia, you would be able to claim back the Australian GST (Goods and Services Tax) (which is included in the price of most things here in Australia).

    If you are an Australian, you might be able to buy one lot of Duty Free goods here in Australia when you are going overseas and add extras later through the same Duty Free store. You would need to check out the rules with the Australian Taxation Department.
    28th Dec 2013
    hey aquatrek, If you are leaving Austrlaia for a holiday and have made purchases of more than $300 in the one shop/transaction then you can claim the GST back as you are leaving. The desk is at the international terminal. There is minimum paperwork and fuss, but leave yourself half an hour I case of queues. The purchase has to have been made within 30(?) days of flight and receipt must enumerate the GST paid. I did this a coupler of years back with an ipad and a wedding ring (that I intended to use at my wedding overseas)
    20th Sep 2013
    my roommate's sister makes $69/hour on the computer. She has been out of work for 9 months but last month her income was $15381 just working on the computer for a few hours. navigate here >>>>>> w­w­w.M­A­X­52.c­o­m
    20th Sep 2013
    quigman: that is spam !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! why did you post this ?
    21st Sep 2013
    reported - but maybe the forum moderators are asleep ? they should remove it
    21st Sep 2013
    People like that give me the pip,,,,,, I wonder if we will get an answer as to why they posted it???????

    Get a life!
    21st Sep 2013
    You won't get a reason, but we all know what it is. They are trying to "suck in" desperate, stupid, greedy, or naive people. Go to their website at your peril!
    28th Dec 2013
    This link will take you to the appropriate Customs site about claiming back the VAT paid in the UK but personally I wouldn't bother:
    fish head
    28th Dec 2013
    They don't make it easy. I've tried twice coming out through Manchester. First find the office, usually tucked away in a corner that cannot be used commercially (1 hour quartering the area and asking staff when I could corner one.) Then getting anyone's attention in the office (no bell just escalating "Hello"s to glass shattering volume - I can be heard clearly the length of a football field, a professional talent.) Ran out of time 3 hours so filled out the scattered paper work , enclosed receipts and popped in indicated box. You can guess the results. The second time I went straight to staff and found the office in 15 minutes (in a totally different position) and a visible minder who was actually helpful. When I remarked on change of position I was told they had had 6 moves in 12 months. Haven't tried again. It is just not worth the escalating blood pressure at the beginning of a very long journey.Let 'em play cat-and-mouse with other suckers.
    30th Dec 2013
    This obviously common practice definitely does not encourage visitors or tourists to buy products from a country they are visiting - and leaves a sour taste in the mouth at being cheated. Please tell everyone who is planning to travel of your experiences - personally, on-line, or in magazines, newspapers and the like. Only when their tourism industry suffers is there a chance that this organized rip-off will cease.

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