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Guide to VAT refund for visitors to the EU

TAX Free Shopping for Visitors to the EU

If you're a visitor to the European Union (EU) and are preparing to leave EU territory to return home or travel to a destination outside the EU, you may have the opportunity to purchase goods without Value Added Tax (VAT).

Who Qualifies as a 'Visitor'?

A 'visitor' is defined as someone who permanently or habitually resides in a country outside the EU. Your permanent address, as indicated in your passport or other identity document, determines your visitor status. Example: Eduardo resides and works in Brazil but spends three months each summer in Portugal, where he has a time-share. Since his permanent address is in Brazil, he is considered a 'visitor' to the EU while in Portugal. In some instances, individuals living temporarily in an EU country for a specific purpose, with a permanent home outside the EU, may also qualify. EU citizens permanently residing in non-EU countries are eligible for VAT refunds. Example: Paul, a Belgian citizen residing permanently in Canada, visits Belgium annually. Although he is an EU citizen, he can apply for a VAT refund based on his Canadian residence.

How Does 'Tax-Free' Shopping Work?

You pay the full, VAT-inclusive price at the shop but can get the VAT refunded after complying with formalities and proving export. When in the shop, inquire if they offer VAT-free service and ask about the threshold for a refund. At the check-out, provide proof of being a non-EU visitor (passport or identity document) and fill in a form with necessary details. Understand the refund process and any administrative fees involved. Customs officers in the last EU country you leave must stamp the form as proof of export. Example: John, a US visitor in Europe, buys goods in different countries, gets refund forms, and leaves from Budapest. At the airport, customs officers stamp his forms, and some refunds are immediate, while others require mailing.

Will I Get a Full VAT Refund?

In most cases, an administrative charge applies. Confirm the charge at the shop.

Can Someone Else Claim the Refund?

No, the purchaser must be present, but they don't necessarily have to pay for the goods.

When Do I Receive the Refund?

Some larger ports and airports may offer immediate refunds after customs stamping.

Where to Complain if No Refund is Received?

Complain to the company where you bought the goods. The European Commission does not intervene in individual VAT refund cases.

VAT-Free Shops and Qualifying Goods

Not all shops offer VAT-free options; those that do must make arrangements with tax authorities. Look for a 'tax-free' or 'VAT-free' sign in the shop's window. Not all goods qualify; there may be exclusions like items meant for freight, cars, and yachts. Purchase Threshold and Timing

A minimum purchase value (e.g., EUR 175) is required for a VAT refund. Goods must leave the EU by the end of the third month after purchase. Example: Bruce, a Canadian, buys a suit in Italy on September 10; it must leave the EU by December 31.

Goods Must Accompany You

Goods must travel with you when leaving the EU, and you must show them to customs officers.

Leaving the EU and VAT-Free Purchases

You can leave from any EU country, not necessarily where you made the purchase. Be cautious if leaving by train; check the specific procedures for each country.

What If I Didn't Get a Customs Stamp?

The stamped VAT refund document is usually necessary, but check with the seller if other proofs of export are accepted.

Who to Contact for Refund Questions?

Contact the supplier/VAT refund agent mentioned in your documents for refund-related questions. For VAT refund rules and customs arrangements, contact national tax and customs authorities, respectively. The European Commission doesn't provide advice on specific situations.