Shopping in Europe is one of my favourite activities. Fortunately, I often visit Europe in early summer, and this is the sale period in many shops. Shopping during the sale seasons isn’t the only way to save money when you shop in Europe. Did you know that tourists in Europe pay a value-added tax (VAT) on purchases that can be as high as 27%? The good news is that you can get the VAT refunded, provided that you reach the spending threshold and follow the correct procedure. These tips will help ensure you receive a refund and save money when you shop in the European Union (EU).
Bring Your Passport When You Shop
Be sure to carry your passport or at least a photocopy of your passport with you when you shop. You may be required to provide proof of citizenship. Residents are not eligible for the tax refund.
Request the Tax-Free Form
If you want to save money when you shop in Europe, request the ‘tax-free’ form before you begin the payment process. Regardless of the language barrier, most clerks understand the term ‘tax-free’. The store clerk will need to complete part of the VAT refund form when you purchase the item(s).
Keep the Receipts and Forms Accessible
Keep all documents and receipts accessible — you need to get all of the forms stamped by a Customs official at your point of departure (airport, train, ship, etc.) from the EU. For example, if you buy shoes in Italy, sweaters in France, and return home after spending a few days in Spain, you must get the documents stamped in Spain. Once the documents are stamped, you can submit the forms for a refund. You often have three months to complete the process.
Carry the New Items with You
You must have the goods in your possession when you stop at the Customs office. I keep the items in my carry-on bag for easy access. Another option is to stop at Customs before you check your bag with the airline. Regardless, allow lots of time – the Customs office can be busy and difficult to find.
Travel Tips – Save Money When You Shop in Europe
- Each country has specific VAT rules and spending thresholds. Check the Global Blue website or Global Blue Shop Tax Free app for more information on the country or countries you plan to visit. Global Blue offer a Shop Tax Free Card that allows you to claim the VAT savings without the hassle of filling out the forms. The Global Blue Shop Tax Free app includes a Shop Tax Free Card. I just downloaded the app and will let you know how it works.
- If you purchase items from a store that works with a refund service like Global Blue, you may be able to receive the VAT refund before you leave Europe. Global Blue and similar companies operate kiosks at many of the large airports. Check the company website (or Global Blue Shop Tax Free app) to determine the location of the refund office.
- To maximize savings, consider purchasing all of your smaller items at one shop e.g., a department store, so you reach the spending threshold.
- If you plan to visit non-EU countries e.g., Switzerland, Norway, and Turkey, be sure to get your documents stamped before you leave the EU.
This article was initially published in April 2017 and updated in October 2019.
If you like to shop in Europe, you might be interested in learning more about Milan, Italy, recognized as one of Europe’s fashion capitals.
24 thoughts on “How to Save Money When You Shop in Europe”
Great information. The Tax Free Card advertised through Global Blue sounds like a perfect way to avoid the paperwork and wait period❤️
Thank you! Excited to try out the Shop Tax Free Card.
Really great tips, thanks for these. I also found that as a student it helped to have obtained an International Student ID before having traveled overseas – sought huge discounts on shops, tickets, admission prices, though I was most surprised that shopping honored the card in a lot of places too. Usually 25% off 🙂
That is an excellent tip – thanks, Meg!
I did shop a bit in Paris but didn’t know I could get tax returns on them. Do you know what is the spending threshold though?I know I didn’t spend all too much.
The spending limit varies – it is currently 175.01 EUR in France.
As a European I can’t get the VA back 🙁 I’m glad that you like shopping on Europe. There are so many nice options!
There sure are – I enjoy shopping in Europe.
Ohhh this is interesting – I already knew that you could get tax back but had no idea how to do it! Very useful 🙂
Happy to help, Sam!
Great information. It’s always helpful to have these little tips and tricks along the way.
I’m glad you found it helpful, Jean!
Shopping in Europe is one the activities that even I like a lot!! And the tips to save money in shopping is something I would love to know about!! The tips mentioned in the article were pretty agreeable as well as I think will be really useful…Will definitely save a lot of money next time, I think!!??
I hope so, Sandy – happy shopping!
Amazingly, I never taken advantage of this, even though there have been plenty of times where I spent more than the threshold. I always think about the VAT refund around the time I am walking by the VAT refund office at the airport. Oh well, there is always next time!
Absolutely – I hope you can claim a refund in the future.
Great tip on having your passport handy while shopping in Europe. That’s something I would not have thought of. Your shopping tips are great and sure to save some people some added agony.
Thank you so much, Sara.
Thanks for the great tip! I knew you could do this, but I never knew the process or gave it much thought. Will definitely have to use this on our next trip to Europe–Global Blue sounds like a really helpful way to get the tax refund!
I’m glad you found it helpful! Happy shopping 🙂
Excellent tips. I often am unsure exactly of the process for duty free shopping and what you have to do with the receipts and your passport, so thanks for helping clear that up for me! Do the goods need to be in their original packaging when returning?
Thank you, Juliette. I have only had to provide the items to Customs Officials, but I’ve read that you are not supposed to use the goods before you leave Europe.
Really great travel tips, Very valuable article.Thanks for sharing with us.
Thank you – it’s my pleasure!