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.