A VAT tax is called a “Value Added Tax”. You will be paying a VAT tax for your purchases when travelling to Europe and other countries. To simplify it and without getting into the detail of what makes up the VAT tax; it is sort of like a country’s sales tax. It might range from 15%-25% on top of the price of your purchases depending on what the country’s VAT tax is. When travelling to Europe it’s a good thing to know how you get the VAT tax back on the goods you purchase while there. Most people who do travel to Europe do not bother with the VAT tax refund because of the confusion on how to go about it. Or they may not know you can actually get this money back.
The way the VAT tax works is that you can get a refund of the tax if you spend a certain amount in a store i.e. 25 Euros. Most Vat taxes are applied to most everything except food. Non- Europeans are allowed to get a refund of this VAT tax if they take the goods out of Europe.
There are two ways of getting your refund. You can either get it from the last airport you visit before going home or send completed forms in to Global Refunds and a refund will be credited to you. Click “here” for information on Global Refunds.
Here are four tips that I found helpful in getting my refund before coming home from Germany.
Tip 1: Before entering a store, if there is no sign posted in the merchant’s window, asked the merchant if they participate in the VAT tax refund. Some of them told me they did not. If they do, ask them the question; what is the minimum amount you must spend? Let them fill out the form for you. However, make sure they stamp it. If they do not stamp it, then you will not get a refund.
Tip 2: Be organized with all your VAT tax receipts and coordinate them to the items you buy. When you pack your suit case, know where you are placing certain items you have bought and have those receipts ready. If possible put them all in one suitcase.
Tip 3: As mentioned above there are two ways of getting your refund, send it in when you get home or before you leave the country at the last airport you leave from. The best way, if you have time, is to get it before you leave. Then you know there is no way of it getting lost. When you get to your departure airport in Europe, ask the information desk where you are to get the refund. When my husband and I were returning from Frankfurt, Germany, we had the hardest time getting a simple question answered. It was almost like they never had anyone ask this before. They should tell you that you must first go to their custom’s check. This will be a place where they open your suitcase and look at your items and receipts to match them. Typically, they won’t look at each item. They will ask you questions. This is one reason why I say be organized in packing your purchases. If you have it all in one suitcase then it will be a quicker process and hopefully the custom’s officer won’t mess up your packing. After that, you will have to ask where the Global Tax Refund office is. It is in the airport and hopefully nearby. In Germany, we learned the hard way that it was in the “International” part of the airport. That meant we had to leave what was considered Germany in the airport and cross over through customs to get our refund.
Tip 4: Allow yourself plenty of time at the airport to know which custom booth and where the refund office is located. Airports can be big and confusing like it was for us at the Frankfurt, Germany Airport.
All in all it was not a hard process once you knew it. So prepare ahead of time because it could be a nice refund for you depending on how much you are spending overseas. For us, we received 18% of our purchases back. That does help a little to offset that higher Euro exchange.