Many travel to different countries around the year but few take advantage of the sales tax refund policies that some countries provide. The most common reasons for not applying are:
- never knew tax refund are possible for visitors
- didn’t know how to get your tax refunds back
If you fall under any of the following, this article is for you.
Why Countries Allow Sales Tax Refunds for Visitors
The reason is simple – visitor attraction. Countries want you to spend, spend and spend when you are visiting, so offering a tax refund works the same way as someone putting a sign that says “Big Discount”. Whether this tactic works or not is a different debate because so many people never bother with this but if you care about your money and finances, there is no reason not to take advantage and leave money on the table.
How to Get Your Money Back
Most countries have different procedures of applying for tax refunds as well as which part of the sales tax can be refunded. However, the general procedure consists of:
- Filling out some type of form
- Bringing your passport
- Proof that you are a visitor – some form of boarding pass or itinerary etc
Easiest Way to Get Tax Refunds Back
Sometimes, shoppers can sweet talk the store into not charging the sales tax in the first place, but this method usually doesn’t work for larger retailers. Many department stores have a semi-convenient way to getting tax refunds back via their customer service section. Whenever you shop, the cashier can usually tell you where to go. For example, Holt Renfrew had a customer service department that will refund all applicable sales tax back if you show them your receipt, boarding pass as well as your passport. If all else fails, you can usually find a tax refund form by googling “country sales tax refund” and applying for it by mail. Just make sure to search as soon as possible as most countries will need some sort of approval via an official stamp from an authorized personnel (read – get it figured out before you leave the country).
There are hundreds of countries that have their own version of the sales tax refund program, here are a few in more detail.
- Canada – Visitors are allowed to get the provincial sales tax (PST) portion of the purchase back, with the tax being a minimum of $50 CDN per purchase.
- Japan – Visitors who spend more than 10,001 yen on any given day are allowed to get the 5% sales tax refunded.
- Taiwan – Receipts showing a spending of NT$3,000 on any single day.
- United Kingdom – European countries call it VAT (value added taxes). UK’s VAT is currently at 17.5% with the minimum amount £30 GBP to qualify.
Some Additional Tips for Getting Your Tax Refund
Many people give up on sales taxes because it could be rather complicated to get money back. To help you succeed, here are some more tips to remember.
- Shop at Stores that Embraces the Program – Not every store will know everything about tax refunds, so it makes sense to ask before you make a big purchase when traveling aboard. With taxes as high as 25% in some countries, it would be a shame to not being able to get the refund back.
- Get the Necessary Documents – Most stores that are familiar with tax refund programs have the necessary forms in-store. If possible, ask the customer service representative to help you fill out the form. Otherwise, fill it out as much as possible yourself and ask all questions you have.
- Give Yourself Ample Time – The official stamp (if needed) are usually given by customs at border crossings and can take time to line up and get processed. Don’t short change yourself by thinking that you can just get it done within 5 minutes.
- Bring the Product – Some countries require you to bring the purchased item to get the stamp, while others will tell you that it’s unnecessary. Some officers will even require the item to be unused and in brand new condition, so don’t wear it believing you can just show the officer. Since there are discrepancies from country to country on this rule and they are ever changing, bring the item with you unused.
- Getting the Refund – Once you get your stamp, it’s time to mail the form to the address provided. The process could sometimes take months with more variables so I always try to see if there’s a way to get the refund immediately. Some countries / stores allow you to get the refund right then and there, while others use a third party service where they will charge you a processing fee for servicing your refund.
- The Government is Involved After All – Even with all the procedures and documents, the refund might not come. There were reports that some people have all the documents ready but just couldn’t find the customs personnel at the airport, while others claim that they mailed the form but didn’t receive any reply. That’s why even if there’s a service fee to get the refund right away, it’s a good idea to always take advantage of it.
Is It Really Worth It
It’s complicated and worst of all, you might not even get any money back even if you follow all the rules. However, not even trying is like saying no to a company match in our 401k plans. If there’s even a slight chance of getting money returned, I strongly urge you to give this shot. At the very least, ask the cashier about it when you buy something while traveling. It might turn out that it’s as easy as going to the customer service representative and talking to them.