Question about VAT refund

I'm going to Europe and then flying back from London - which means I will be shopping with both Euros and GBPs. Regarding tax refund I have two questions: 1. Since I'm flying out from Heathrow, does that mean that I should get all my tax refund done in the UK at the airport? 2. My flight leaves early in the morning (9am). To avoid having to get up early and wait in line, can I just go to the airport the previous night (without going through security) and get my VAT refund? If not , what other options would I have? Thanks in advance!

Posted by Rosalyn
Berkeley
1007 posts

1. Yes. 2, I'm pretty sure the answer to this one is no, you can't do it the night before. They want to be sure the items are not used before leaving the EU. Theoretically, if you did the refund the night before, you could use them or pass them on to a resident. If the refund booth (where you can get it immediately, in the currency of your choice) is not open, I'm pretty sure there is a drop box for your paper work. You'll then get your refund as a credit on a charge card. Be sure you have your items available for the official to inspect. Sometimes, in some places, they don't; but it could be required. I'd check a map on the Heathrow website to find the locations you need. Expect a long wait if you have to go the cc route - - 6 weeks or more.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7976 posts

The above response is incorrect. VAT refunds must be obtained from the authority which imposed the tax. Thus, you must get the EU refund as you leave the EU and the British refund as you leave the UK. You must have a boarding pass (or ferry ticket as applicaple) to obtain the refund, thus you can't do it the night before. Be aware that Heathrow has two refund points: low value prior to secuirty and high value after. I've forgotten what the divinding line is. If you have your forms all filled out, you can drop the whole wad down the slot and not have to wait in any lines.

Posted by Monte
Genesee, ID
1376 posts

I would like to offer another aspect on VAT refunds. This is our own practice and I do not offer it as something anyone else should do. We do not, nor have we ever gotten a VAT refund. Our thinking is that the taxes we pay in another country are benefitting us when we go to a subsidized museum, sit in a nice park, use the infrastructure, drink from a water fountain, take a leak in a public (free)toilet, or otherwise avail ourselves of the graciousness of country the country we are visiting. I realise that a VAT is sometimes pretty hefty but we pay it and don't expect a refund. We have found that in Great Britain, at least, if you make a purchase with a credit card and have the store mail your item(s) to your home in U.S. there is no VAT charged. The last time we did this the postal cost and the VAT were just about the same.

Posted by Jeff
Bend, OR, United States
1145 posts

You may also be required to show the purchases to the agent in order to get the refund. I found that out the hard way.

Posted by Keith
United Kingdom
683 posts

" VAT refunds must be obtained from the authority which imposed the tax. Thus, you must get the EU refund as you leave the EU and the British refund as you leave the UK." But, Ed, since Britain is part of the EU, surely that means the final EU departure point is London, so the answer to question 1 is "yes" for all EU purchases.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7976 posts

In the future please disregard anything I say about anything. I was wrong.

Posted by Joanne
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
16 posts

Similar question here. I'm confused about how to get the VAT from one country when you're not actually heading 'home' but to another country. We're from Canada. We'll be in Switzerland for a month. During that time, we'll visit France and Germany (both trips less than a week). I understand that to get the VAT from Switzerland, we have to get customs to stamp it at teh airport prior to departure. But what about teh VAT we paid in France and Germany. As Switzerland is not part of EU, our purchases from France and Germany cannot be claimed at Zurich airport prior to departure. But also, when we leave France and leave Germany, we'll be returning to Switzerland, not Canada, and won't have a boarding pass... we'll be travelling by train. Can anyone help me understand if we can claim the VAT from France and Germany and if so, how we can do that? Thank you!

Posted by Marco
Oxford, United Kingdom
780 posts

If there are French or German customs on the train they may stamp your forms; otherwise it should be able to be done by customs at the station closest to the Swiss border, presuming that there is one, which would require getting off the train and continuing by a later service. Some train services have specific arrangements, but you haven't specified your journey details, which trains, destinations etc. The public information leaflet for France is at: http://www.douane.gouv.fr/data/file/1268.pdf

Posted by Joanne
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
16 posts

Thank you. I'll have a look at the leaflet. As for details, we'll be based in Basel. We'll do one or two day trips to the Black Forest in Germany and we're planning a few day trips to the Alsace region as well as a four day trip to Paris. All routes will be taking train from Basel and returning to Basel. It means we'll be leaving Switzerland and returning with possible souvenirs and gifts for family four or five times during the month. As I have no idea of the value right now, I'd like to have an idea as to how to claim the VAT. As we're right on the border, is there a place I can go in the EU at the Basel border(either France or Germany) and get a stamp a few days before we leave Switzerland? That would certainly be easiest for us as we could combine all good purchased ... the problem being, I'd have to bring it with me I guess and I'm brining it from Switzeralnd, back to EU for stamp. I'm not even sure I can do that... Should I get a stamp each trip if the goods purchased have sufficient value to warrant the inconvenience?

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7682 posts

You cannot do it "a few days ahead" of leaving the EU. The whole point is that the goods must be unused, and must be leaving the EU. Therefore, you claim the refund at the airport just before you leave with the goods (basically, on the way to the gate).

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4764 posts

I don't know what it is like in some airports, but every time I walk by the VAT line in the Frankfurt airport there is usually about 100 people waiting. Personally, I would rather use my time for sightseeing or having a nice lunch than stand in line to get a bit of tax money back. What are you planning to buy that is worth all the hassle of getting the VAT back? Why not have the merchants do it? You don't get quite as much back, but you also don't have to waste time waiting in a line.

Posted by Marco
Oxford, United Kingdom
780 posts

There is a German customs point in the Basel Badischer Bahnhof - most of the station is considered to be part of Germany. Similarly there is a French part of Basel main station called Bâle SNCF. There used to be a French customs point there - have seen something that implies this is no longer open, but I don't know if this is really the case or not. Remember for VAT refund scheme your purchases normally have to be above a particular value - and that if you bring in items to Switzerland above 300 SF each you will need to pay Swiss taxes on them at entry.