How to claim your VAT refund in Europe (as a non-EU resident)

Every year, millions of Euro’s of refundable sales taxes are left unclaimed by tourists visiting Europe. Some may not be aware of the EU VAT regime and that they (as a non-EU resident) are eligible for VAT refund, others may think that it’s a hassle to get all the documentation done. As a tourist, you are entitled to refunds on the tax spend on goods (for example: laptop, clothes, shoes etc. but not on hotels and meals).

One of the requirements to be eligible for a VAT refund, is that you spend a minimum amount per shop (total purchase amount including VAT). You can’t add up your purchases from various shops to reach the required amount. The minimum amount differs in each EU-country. Below you can find a list of European Union countries with the minimum purchase amount threshold and the height of VAT (which is usually also stated on your purchase receipt) over the purchases. If you’ll be in Europe for a long time, shop near the end of your trip, since you need to collect your refund within three months of your purchase.

Country VAT in % Minimum purchase in local currency

1

Austria 20 € 75.01

2

Belgium 21 € 125.01

3

Bulgaria 20 200 lv

4

Croatia 25 500 Kuna

5

Cyprus 17 50 CYP

6

Czech Republic 21 2,001 CZK

7

Denmark 25 300 DDK

8

Estonia 20 € 38,00

9

Finland 24 € 40,00

10

France 20 € 175.01

11

Germany 19 € 25,00

12

Greece 23 € 120,00

13

Hungary 27 50000 HUF

14

Ireland 23 0 (none)

15

Italy 22 € 154.94

16

Latvia 21 30.26 LVL

17

Lithuania 21 200 LTL

18

Luxembourg 17 € 74,00

19

Malta 18 Not clear

20

Netherlands 21 € 50,00

21

Poland 23 PLN 200,00

22

Portugal 23 € 60,00

23

Romania 20 250 RON

24

Slovakia 20 € 175,00

25

Slovenia 22 € 50,00

26

Spain 21 € 90.50

27

Sweden 25 SEK 200,00

28

United Kingdom 20 30 pounds

How does it work?
Retailers choose whether to participate in the VAT-refund scheme. Most tourist-oriented stores do; you may see a sign in the window or by the cash register (if not, ask). When paying your goods at the cash register, ask for the Global Blue refund form or any other ‘tax free form’. The store has to fill in every required detail (including your passport details, so make sure you bring along your passport while shopping), otherwise no refunds will be processed with non-complete forms.

I have often experienced that the personnel at the store does not know how to fill in the Global Blue refunds form or that there are no more refund forms left in the shop. In that case, ask them for their head office contact details and ask them to make an invoice which includes their and your address. At the airport, get the original receipts / invoices stamped at customs. Once back home, send a letter to the head office of the retail store (finance department) requesting for a refund (include your bank account number of course and your contact details) and include the original stamped receipts. This has worked for me so far the best, since it has proven to be the most efficient way. Since there is no tax refund agency involved which charges service fees, I was able to get the full 21% back from purchases made in the Netherlands and received the refunds within three weeks on my bank account. Lean and clean. So wherever I can, I try to avoid the tax refund services agencies like Global Blue, Vatfree and Premier Tax Free. But some stores for example only deal with Global Blue when it comes to refunds and don’t accept direct requests from customers.

In case the store has filled in a tax free form, attach your receipt to the form and bring it along with the purchases to the airport. Please note that you’re not supposed to use your purchased goods before you leave Europe. Be ready to show it to the immigration officials (so think of how to pack your suitcase), as I have been asked to show my purchased items. Make sure you arrive early, I always take into account at least 1,5 hours for the long queue waiting for their refund stamps.

Once you get your receipts and forms stamped by customs, it takes one more step to get your money back. If your purchases were bought from a retailer who works with a refund service such as one of the three mentioned above, you may find their offices inside the airport. Present your completed tax free forms, stamped shop receipts from customs and your passport to receive your refund in cash or to your credit card. Please be informed that a handling fee may be charged per tax free form for cash refunds.

Otherwise next to the counter where your receipts and refund forms have been stamped, you will find the mailboxes of these refund agencies where you can drop in your forms in the pre-addressed envelope which you have received at the retail store. These services take a small cut of your refund (as mentioned above), but will handle everything for you and it saves you the hassle. When you want to use one of these refund agencies, you have to be patient, since it could take months before you get your cash back. But don’t count on it. Not all retail stores want to refund the taxes. So whenever you apply for a refund of taxes, only you can decide whether this is worth the trouble. But remember: it’s extra money which you could use for yourself, your family, your business or other people in the world who may need it :)

Sources: Global Blue, VatFree, Premier Tax Free