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.