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What's Your Experience On Getting Back the Sales Tax??

I've traveled several times to Europe and only once was I able to successfully get back my sales tax.

Since the sales tax in Germany is now 19% I'm trying really hard to get a refund this trip.

Does anyone know some 'insider' tips? I've read the page on this site that tells how it's 'supposed' to go, but how does it REALLY go? I read on the VAT site that you can take your items to Global Refund sites that are not at the airport. My problem with the airport is that I'm taking a connecting flight from Munich-Frankfurt and because of the early hour I won't be able to stop at the GR stand at Munich airport.

Any help is appreciated.

Posted by
22452 posts

Good luck -- we have never been successful. Too much paper work that has to be completed in a very precise way. Forget a period and your dead. No experience with Germany.

Posted by
3450 posts

I have gotten a refund several times, but it's true that the process is anything but straightforward. First of all, it varies from country to country; but there is almost always some minimum expenditure before a shop will fill out the forms. The refund papers must be processed at the airport from which you are leaving the EU, and you must have the items available to show that you are really taking them out (not in your checked luggage). Therefore, you couldn't do it in Munich anyway. Even if you opt for a refund to your credit card, I don't think you get the entire amount; and it takes a long time. Since the instant refund via GR has been available, we have gone that route. They slice off another bit for their trouble, leaving you less. I still do it when I can. If you are thinking of gift items, you might try to find out what will be available in the duty-free shops. I imagine that FRA being such a major hub will have a huge selection.

Posted by
11466 posts

I rarely buys lots of "stuff", so I never worry about it, I mean 100 bucks worth of fridge magnets, keychains and scarves ,, its not worth the hassle to me.

If one is a " serious shopper"( which I beleive to be a disease, LOL ) then I always assumed that the taxes were just the price one had to pay to get the goods they wanted..
I must say though , 19% is scary high. I just wouldn't buy anything then.. ( this is a very scary solution to present to a person afflicted with shoppingitis I know, LOL )

Good luck. I have heard it is not as hard in Paris if one shops at certain stores they are helpful with forms etc.. I imagine after one spends a few thousand on a pair of shoes they SHOULD be helpful,, LOL

Posted by
12040 posts

I once did all of my Chrismas shopping in Ireland. I followed the painfully byzantine instructions to the letter, and I think I got something like $8 back. NEVER AGAIN!

One option that Ireland (not sure about Germany, though) accepts is taking your un-opened items, with the receipts, to a local law enforcement official, within a certain number of days, to verify that you have imported the items into the US. The local police department looked at me like I was crazy, but it worked... for my whopping $8 VAT refund!

Posted by
1449 posts

If I've understood your post correctly you're flying Munich -> Frankfurt? Go to the GR stand in Frankfurt between flights.

Posted by
480 posts

I was going to try and wait until Frankfurt but if I remember from my last trip (same itinerary) we were rushing off of the Munich flight to catch the plane from Frankfurt to LA and didn't have time to go to GR.

Will any stores/retailers take off the sales tax right there at the store on a large purchase? I thought I read in one of Rick's books that some stores will do so if you ask them.

Posted by
2297 posts

I've never been able to get a refund right at the store at the moment of purchase. In theory, that would be possible if you ask the store to ship the item straight to your home address outside the EU.

I've only done the Global Refund route once as you loose half of the VAT ("MwSt" in Germany) to the organization providing you with this service. It is pretty easy though as in most airports the GR office is located right next to the customs office where you have to get your stamp. However, only very touristy places or larger stores/department stores would have those forms and fill them out for you. I did this at Karstadt and Saturn (both in Germany).

Check out the website of Frankfurt airport and see if you can find the location of customs and GR office in advance. That might help you in doing this quickly during a (shortish) layover. I did this a few months ago in Duesseldorf and it took me a total of 5-10 minutes including the time to find the office.

Since I have a European bank account I usually don't use GR. I get a bunch of those green customs forms (in Germany you can get them at larger office supply stores or at "Industrie und Handelskammer") and get them filled out at the store of the purchase. Those forms get stamped at the airport. Once home in Canada, I send those stamped forms via snail mail to the stores and they wire the refund to my the European bank account.

Posted by
17 posts


In Sept 2007 my wife and I purchased very expensive ski parkas in Munich. We were told we could get VAT refunds at the airport even if we shipped them from the store to our home in Colorado. Wrong!

When we got to the VAT refund stand in the Vienna airport we were told we needed a customs stamp from the Vienna Austria customs at this airport. When we presented our sales receipt and the shipping receipt they said they could not help. We needed to have the items with us.

When we got home I called the German consulate in LA. They told me if I went to the consulate office in Denver I could get a refund. This turned out to be correct. However, there was a $20 fee. We finally did get our refund direct deposited to our checking account.

I suggest you call the LA German consulate office. Go online to get the telephone number.


Posted by
1158 posts

I got a VAT refund only one time in Amsterdam airport. It was easy and I don't remember being asked to show the item. Well it was just an watch, maybe the rep just saw it. I am not sure about this.
They only charged me 3-4 EUR for the service.

Posted by
12074 posts

I'm like Pat. I don't buy enough stuff for use outside the country to make a refund worthwhile.

I have done it before but it was a long time ago and I can't remember if it was leaving Canada or the UK. I had shops give me the forms and kept the receipts handy, filled out a form and received money back in a few weeks.

Posted by
1405 posts

My understanding is that you are entitled to VAT free purchases that are not to be consumed in Europe. The easiest proof of this might be when the items are shipped directly to the states by the store that sells them. The tourist experts at Rothenburg ob der Tauber are experts at this. You pay shipping and they immediately ship the item to the states, and do not charge you VAT. Of course the shipping is even greater.

Regards, Gary

Posted by
9363 posts

My experience has mainly been in Ireland, but I have always gotten the VAT tax back. In some cases, they have not charged the tax and in order to avoid having it charged to my credit card I had to file the forms at the airport. In other cases, I paid the tax, but turned the forms in for a refund. I didn't feel that it was a difficult process at all. I've never had to produce any kind of proof that I took the goods out of the country. In fact, usually there has been no one at the desk, so I dropped the completed forms in the dropbox.

Posted by
480 posts

Well, I just returned from my trip and did NOT get any VAT refund. If you have a connecting flight (like we did from Munich to Frankfurt), forget it. You won't have to time to first get the customs stamp, and then go to Global Refund. Also, several people in our party complained that the refund office wasn't even open (at 8:00am). The only thing I did to save on the VAT was to shop at one store in Rothenburg (Annaliese Friese, as recommended in Rick Steve's book). They took the sales tax off when I purchased a cuckoo clock to have shipped home. The shipping was 35 Euros but I saved it was worth it. They also take off 10% right off the top of any purchase.