Travellers can often claim back local sales tax on high-value goods you’ll be ‘exporting’. Whenever you make a purchase overseas it’s worth asking whether you can seek a refund of sales tax – it is possible throughout most of Europe but not for GST paid in New Zealand, for instance. Local regulations vary but this often involves having the goods and reciept stamped by customs before you depart. You may be paid on the spot, but more frequently you need to mail the stamped form back to the place of purchase for a refund check or electronic credit.
Two services Global Tax Refund Tax Free Shopping and Premier Tax Free promise to simplify the process of reimbursement in many (overwealmingly European) countries, although whether you’re interested in the services or not the websites are useful for a guide to European sales tax rates and restrictions (e.g. time limit for export or refund claims).
Both services are designed to simplify and streamline the process and allow you to be reimbursed immediately at their airport kiosk for purchases previously made at participating merchants who display relevant logo. If you forget or don’t have a chance to claim at the airport you will often be able to access the refund by mailing the documents from home, but check this in advance. Global Tax Free is the larger with some 230,000 participating merchants in 35 countries, Premier claims around of 75,000 ‘retail partners’ across 15 countries. Both websites offer shopping guides containing a list of participating merchants and specific details of the claims process for each country.
Both of these systems charge a percentage commission (around 4%) for the service, which may or may not be a fair price for avoiding dealings with the local beuracracy.
For a good guide to tax refunds for travellers in Europe see Rick Steves’ guide.
[Image by Jahat]