Beginners Guide: Tax-Free Shopping in Europe


One of the benefits of shopping when you’re on vacation is that in many cases you get some of the tax back! If you’ve never looked into tax-free shopping in Europe it can be a nightmare to get up to speed, there are many things to know and a lot of resources to find it. We’ve put together an easy beginners guide to tax-free shopping in Europe to get you started, please do your own research for best results.

Important To Know

Make sure you’re prepared, there’s nothing worse than plunking yourself down at the Louis Vuitton on Champs-Élysées only to find out you need your Passport number for the tax forms and you’ve left it in your luggage secured in the hotel room (trust us – this happened).

You will need to have your passport number and expiry date available, in my experience this does not mean you need to carry it with you, but simple be able to produce the number and expiry for the forms. We recommend using a program such as Global Blue, you create a profile online that stores your information and when you shop they can scan your card to acquire the information and have the forms auto-filled (if done electronically and printed).

The standard VAT rate for most European Union countries ranges from 19% to 21 % but don’t get too worried about adding that to a price you see. It’s common practice to include the VAT in the sticker price of almost everything you see. So if you’ve reached the threshold to receive tax back you can in most cases deduct some of that number from your purchase.

Germany – 19% – €25
France – 20% – €175.01
United Kingdom – 20% – £30/€37
Belgium – 21% – €125.01
Netherlands – 21% – €50
Italy – 22% – €154.94
Spain – 21% – €90.16
Portugal – 23% – €61.35

See a complete list here.

Get The Most Back

Some countries allow you to receive more back of the total VAT than others, if you plan on making a large purchase be sure to check and make sure you’re getting the best return, but also consider the base price of the product. Below is a breakdown of the amount you will get back based on the Refund Calculator on the Global Blue App (Android | iOS). The amount back is based on the purchase of €1000.

Germany – €114
France – €120
United Kingdom – £122/€153
Belgium – €126
Netherlands – €112
Italy – €124
Spain – €128.50
Portugal – €139

Claiming Your Refund

Once you’ve completed your trip and have obtained all the necessary forms from the various establishments you shopped at you must submit them at the airport in the last EU country you visit. This is typically the country that you board your flight in, however if you do some hoping around and have airline tickets that demonstrate such you may be able to obtain your refund in another city. For example you are flying from Zurich to London Heathrow and then returning to Canada via Heathrow and have connecting flights, you should be able to submit your papers in the Zurich airport.

It is important to note that you should carry your purchased goods as carry-on as you may be required to produce them to the person at the claims office within the airport, and you must have cleared security to reach the office in most cases. Make sure you find out where the claims office is at your departure airport to be sure.

Finding a Refund Office

Global Blue has a listing of their offices in airports around the world that you can visit upon arriving for departure. As mentioned above make sure you are able to produce the items you purchased to the person at the claims office, they may not ask to see them, but they may. Get ready to wait depending on how large the airport is and what time you arrive, lines can get long and given the international nature of the process some people will not speak the correct languages making the process even longer – keep this in mind if you are scheduling a layover anywhere or need to arrive early to the airport to get this done.

Your Refund Arrives

The easiest and quickest way to receive your refund is to have the amount deposited onto the credit card used for the transaction (the information is on the forms you submitted). This method usually takes 2-4 weeks and is free, if you opt for cash at the refund office there will be a flat fee and possibly a percentage taken from your refund, so go for the credit card option.

Wrap Up

That concludes our basic overview of tax-free shopping in Europe, the information in this page is by no means intended to be used for anything other than information purposes. VAT rates and procedures are changed and our report of things may not be accurate in all places. Please do your own due diligence when shopping overseas and ensure what you’re bringing back is allowed to come into your country and that you are following the required procedures regarding tax-free shopping.

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