WHAT IS A VAT (Sales Tax) REFUND?
When you travel to France or any other European country, the sales tax(they refer to it as “VAT” or in French, “TVA”) is included in the price of most goods you purchase. The sales tax can be as high as 18.9%. As a tourist you are not obligated to pay for such tax. You are entitled to a reimbursement and savings of 18.9%, but once you factor in the administrative fees you will end up with a refund of about 12%!
The question is how do you get it?
WHO QUALIFIES FOR A VAT REFUND?
In order to qualify for a refund, you must be a tourist, over 15 years of age. You must not be a resident of any other EU country. You must be in France (or any other EU country) for less than six consecutive months.
HOW DO YOU OBTAIN YOUR VAT REFUND?
First, you need to spend over 175 Euros in a single establishment, on a single day. You request a tax refund form from the establishment. It helps to get the form on the same day of your purchase as sometimes they will ask to see the merchandise, receipts, etc. Sometimes the store will ask to see a form of id that proves you are a tourist, so bring your passport with you.
Then you take the form that you got from the store and you bring it WITH THE UNUSED merchandise to the customs office at the airport. This can be tricky as most people want to go through check-in before going to the customs office. This leaves you with having to carry your NEW, UNUSED merchandise in your carry-on luggage!
If your merchandise is too bulky for your carry-on, make sure you give yourself enough time to go through the process before you check-in. The lines can be long and take as much as one hour. But don’t go to the airport too early! Customs officers may refuse to process your paperwork if you present yourself more than three hours before your flight.
Follow the instructions you will get from the customs officer and you will receive your refund: in cash at the airport (rare) or as a credit to your credit card. You may have to mail documents at the airport, or go to a different counter. The refund may take up to 18 months, so be patient.
If you travel to other EU countries after France, you must go through this procedure at the last exit from the EU.
ARE THERE ANY EXCEPTIONS?
Yes, certain goods are not eligible for sales tax refunds. Food, alcohol and tobacco items; firearms; pharmaceuticals; cultural goods
among others are not eligible for refunds. If the items purchased are for commercial use, they do not qualify.