VAT refunds for visitors to the UK

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.

On this page:

VAT refunds for international travellers leaving the UK

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 live outside the EU

If you are an overseas visitor, to qualify for a VAT refund you must:

  • live outside the EU
  • leave the UK for a destination outside the EU with the goods you have bought by the end of the third month after the month when you bought them
  • show customs officials the goods, your receipts for them and a completed VAT refund document when you leave the EU

If you live in the EU

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.

You must:

  • leave the UK for a destination outside the EU - with the goods you have bought - by the end of the third month after the month when you bought them (for example, goods purchased on 3 February would have to be exported by 31 May)
  • stay outside the EU for at least 12 months
  • show customs officials the goods, your receipts for them and a completed VAT refund document when you leave the EU

If you live outside the EU and are working or studying in the UK

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.

You must:

  • leave the UK for a destination outside the EU - with the goods you have bought - by the end of the third month after the month when you bought them
  • stay outside the EU for at least 12 months
  • show customs officials the goods, your receipts for them and a completed VAT refund document when you leave the EU

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.

Goods you can claim refunds for

You can obtain VAT refunds for anything on which you pay VAT in the UK apart from the following:

  • new or used cars
  • a boat you plan to sail to a destination outside the EU
  • goods worth more than £600 exported for business purposes
  • goods to be exported as freight
  • goods that need an export licence - except antiques
  • unmounted gemstones
  • bullion over 125g, 2.75 troy ounces or ten Tolas
  • mail order goods, including Internet sales
  • goods used or partly used in the EU, such as perfume
  • service charges, such as hotel expenses

More about tax free shopping in the UK in VAT Notice 704

Motor vehicles

There are special rules for VAT when you import or export a car for personal use.

Get information about how VAT applies to imports and exports of personal vehicles

Top

How to get your VAT refund

When you purchase the goods

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:

  • a VAT 407 form
  • a shop or refund company's own version of form VAT 407
  • a VAT Retail Export Scheme sales invoice

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.

When you leave the country

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 you're taking your goods as hand baggage, then you must show them to customs officials along with your refund form in the last EU country you stop in before leaving the EU
  • if you're checking your goods in as hold baggage, then you must show your goods and your refund form to UK customs officials before checking in

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:

  • post the form back to the retailer to arrange payment of the refund
  • post the form back to a commercial refund company to arrange payment of the refund
  • hand your form to a refund booth to get paid immediately

There may be a charge to cover the cost of handling your refund. This charge will be shown on your refund form.

Find advice on Tax Free shopping in the UK in VAT Notice 704/1 Easy Read

Top

Advice in Arabic, Japanese and Spanish and Chinese

Find advice in Arabic on VAT refunds for visitors to the UK in VAT Notice 704/1 Arabic

Find advice in Japanese on VAT refunds for visitors to the UK in VAT Notice 704/1 Japanese

Find advice in Spanish on VAT refunds for visitors to the UK in VAT Notice 704/1 Spanish

Find advice in Chinese on VAT refunds for visitors to the UK in VAT Notice 704/1 Chinese

Top