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In the United Kingdom, Value Added Tax (VAT) is charged on many goods and services. If you are visiting from another country you may be entitled to a refund of the VAT on goods you buy from shops that offer Tax Free Shopping (also known as the Retail Export Scheme).
Tax Free Shopping allows travellers leaving the European Union (EU) to get a VAT refund on goods they buy here and take home. It cannot be used for services.
This guide explains when you are entitled to a VAT refund and what you have to do to get one.
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If you are leaving the EU, the information below will help you understand if you may be able to get your VAT back on personal exports of goods.
If you are an overseas visitor, to qualify for a VAT refund you must:
If you live in the EU, you may be able to obtain a VAT refund if you are planning to leave the EU for at least 12 months.
If you're working or studying in the UK, you may be able to obtain a VAT refund if you're planning to leave the EU for at least 12 months.
In all cases, you must be able to prove that you belong to one of the categories above by showing the customs official your passport, visa or other documents.
You can obtain VAT refunds for anything on which you pay VAT in the UK apart from the following:
There are special rules for VAT when you import or export a car for personal use.
First, you need to choose a shop that operates the VAT Retail Export Scheme. Look for a Tax Free Shopping sign. It's a voluntary scheme and not all shops operate it, so you need to check before you buy anything.
To obtain your VAT refund, you need one of the following documents. The shop will give you one of these:
You need to fill in the form when you make your purchases, in front of the retailer. The retailer will ask to see evidence that you are eligible to use the scheme, such as your passport.
You also need to agree with the retailer how your refund will be paid. Some retailers will pay you the refund directly, others will operate through a refund company, and some will have an arrangement with a refund booth at the point where you leave the UK.
You may not get all the VAT back. The retailer and/or the refund company may make a charge to cover the cost of handling your form. If they do, this will be deducted from your refund before you receive it.
If you're travelling outside the EU, you must show your goods, receipts and your refund form to UK customs staff at the airport you're leaving from. Make sure you arrive at the airport early so that you have plenty of time to deal with the customs staff before your departure.
If you're travelling to another country within the EU before you finally leave the EU, then you must show your goods and refund form to customs officials in that country when you leave it.
If you are leaving the EU by air and will change flights in another EU country before leaving the EU, then you have two options:
If there aren't any customs officials at the port or airport you're leaving from, there will be a telephone you can use to ring an official or a clearly marked customs post box in which you can leave your refund form. Customs officials will collect it from there and if they are satisfied that all requirements have been met, they will contact the retailer to arrange your VAT refund.
Once your form has been approved by customs officials, you can then obtain your refund in the way you agreed with the retailer when you made the purchase. You will use one of these methods:
There may be a charge to cover the cost of handling your refund. This charge will be shown on your refund form.