Each year, travelers visiting Europe let millions of dollars of refundable sales taxes go unclaimed. With Europe’s summer sales season right around the corner, it’s important to understand how you can take back your hard-earned money and claim your Value Added Tax (VAT) in just a few simple steps.
In order to qualify for a VAT refund in Paris, for example, you must spend at least $212 on the same day in the same store, and your goods must be exported from France within three months of the purchase date. Consumers must also be at least 15 years old and reside outside of the European Union. If you’re planning on doing extensive shopping while traveling in Europe (if you’ll be traveling during the summer sales season, we expect you will be), consider this VAT refund to be extra money in your pocket- free and relatively easy to claim.
Take your passport with you when you shop. While many travel experts will tell you to keep your passport under lock and key for the duration of your trip (to avoid losing it or having it stolen), you’ll need it when you shop. In order to begin the refund process, travelers are usually asked to show their passport to a sales clerk when they make their purchases. As always, use extra caution when carrying your passport and make sure your belongings are secured at all times.
Be mindful of where you’re shopping. Retailers choose whether or not to participate in the VAT-refund scheme, and you’ll find that many stores catering to tourists typically do. They’ll usually promote this using a sign in their window or by the cash register (if you’re unsure, it never hurts to ask). This will help you avoid the hassle of spending large sums of money in an establishment where there’s no chance of getting a refund. The great thing with shopping in Paris is that there are numerous “duty-free” stores throughout the city, most of which are located around Opera and Palais Royal. These merchants will sell you luxury products like perfumes and leather goods, with the tax already deducted.
Get all of the proper paperwork. Once you’ve made your purchases, have your cashier fill out the proper refund document (in Paris it’s called a Retail Export Form [“Bordereau de Detaxe”]). It’s crucial to make sure this paperwork is completed before you leave the store to ensure that nothing important is missing, and if the cashier leaves any blanks for you to fill out, be sure you understand what you’re supposed to include. Attach your receipt to the paperwork and keep these documents in a safe place. If you’re purchasing larger items, like furniture, and will be having the store ship them, you can still collect a refund. In some cases, travelers are able to avoid having to pay VAT for larger items in the first place, but this is not always the case. Keep in mind that shipping fees are usually very high, and will likely negate most (or all) of what you would have saved in VAT, so you shouldn’t mail articles home just to avoid paying the VAT. But if you must have merchandise shipped, ask for the refund at the store.
Bring unused purchases & paperwork to the airport to get stamped. If you’ve bought merchandise in several EU countries, process your VAT documents at your last stop in the EU, regardless of where your purchases were made. Arrive at the airport early with the mindset that you’ll be standing in line at the customs office for a while. An export officer will stamp your paperwork and may ask to see your unused goods to make sure you are, in fact, exporting your purchases. If you arrive at the airport wearing your new outfit, carrying your new handbag, or sporting your new shoes, there is a chance you may be denied your stamp, as refunds are only honored for unused exports. Some agents are more lenient with this rule, but it’s always best to err on the side of caution and make sure your purchases remain in mint condition until you’ve returned home.
Find the refund service office inside the airport to collect your cash. If you bought your purchases from a retailer that works with a refund service like Global Blue Refund or Premier Tax Free, you’ll need to seek out the company’s office inside the airport once your documents have been stamped. For quick reference, the Global Blue office in Charles de Gaulle is located in Terminal 2E and is open seven days a week from 6:30 am until 10:30 pm. These services take a small percentage of your refund, but are able to give you your refund on the spot (usually in Euros). We’ve found that this is the easiest way to get your money, and highly advice you go with this option. If you would prefer to have your refund credited to a card, the refund office is able to do that as well, but it may take up to 90 days for you to see your money transferred to your credit card. There are a few refund services that will require travelers to mail in their paperwork, either from home or from the airport before they depart, but this method could take months to see a refund in the mail or appear on your credit card statement. If you have mailed in your paperwork and do not receive your refund, you should contact the retailer where you purchased your products, not customs.
Although the process associated with claiming your VAT refund certainly won’t be the highlight of your trip, it could be a necessary undertaking in order to offset some of the funds you used when taking advantage of Europe’s incredible summer sales. Unfortunately, this isn’t an exact science, so even the most prepared travelers are apt to miss out on their refund due to a small inaccuracy that was probably completely out of their control. Regardless, we think shoppers should at least try to claim their VAT refund, and if it doesn’t work out, you haven’t wasted too much time and you’ve got some fantastic souvenirs to show for your troubles! Rely on Auto Europe to help you get the best deals on an array of affordable travel services in France. For more advice, visit our travel tips section, or call us toll-free 24/7 at 1-888-223-5555.