Deciphering the European VAT

Europe’s VAT—the Value-Added Tax—is essentially a sales tax, and can sometimes be refunded. That’s the good news. Every year, however, tourists leave behind millions of dollars’ worth of refundable tax.

The bad news is that getting a refund is a tricky proposition.

Tip: In order to secure a VAT refund, be sure to take your passport shopping with you and ask the retailer to complete the necessary paperwork. If they leave any portions of the paperwork blank, be sure you know how to fill them in.

In short, Value-Added Tax assessed on items such as wine, clothing, crystal, leather products, and other souvenirs of a European vacation can be refunded in a couple of ways:

1) Some retailers will provide a refund on site when the purchase is made. Ask at the time of purchase. If you are shipping your goods home, you may not have to pay the VAT at all. Ask the retailer to assist you. NOTE that not all retailers participate in the VAT refund program.

2) If the retailer is unable or unwilling to refund the VAT at the time of purchase, you’ll need your passport, receipt, the unused/unopened purchases and the documentation completed by the retailer. Arrive early to the airport or other departure point, and locate a customs official to stamp your paperwork. Next, find a refund office (often near the duty-free shops), and pay the small fee to get the refund in cash or made to your credit card right then and there. If you leave Europe without getting your stamp or your refund, it is still possible to do so through some embassies or by mailing in the paperwork, but it may not be worth the hassle and/or time.

Tip: If traveling from a European Union country to a non-EU country, get your paperwork stamped by a customs official before crossing the border.

The VAT averages around 20% across Europe and can change throughout the year, so ask the retailer to tell you the current rate. Additionally, most countries require a minimum purchase—such as £ 30 in Great Britain and € 155 in Italy—to be made in one shop on one day. That means you can’t accumulate the minimum over the course of time or from more than one retailer. You can, however, collect refunds on all of your qualifying purchases.

Tip:You have three months from the time of your purchase to collect a VAT refund.

You may decide not to bother with collecting a VAT refund, and that is your prerogative. But, as always, when traveling in Europe, it pays to do your research and make an informed decision. Your travel agent or websites specializing in information on tourist refunds of the VAT can be helpful in this process.

Contact me today to learn more about your European travel options.

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