People don’t believe me when I say I take an empty suitcase with me when I go to the UK. UAE is not cheap or good for shopping. Back home there are constant sales and we also get our VAT back as non-residents #win.
Admittedly it took me a few years to realise that as a resident of the UAE, I could claim my VAT back in the UK and Europe. After several years of claiming back, I am now an expert at it and highly recommend doing it.
So if you live outside Europe this is what you do to claim your VAT back.
1. Go to the store. Buy loads.
2. At the till say “I want to claim my VAT back”.
Do it before they start scanning the items and most probably again 3 more times if you are in a high street store. Don’t both in Selfridges, and Marks and Spencer’s. See below.
3a. Classy Designer store – they will ask you to complete yours details on a form. They will take those details and print a VAT receipt for you with all your details completed on it, so all you need to do is sign the VAT receipt.
3b. Selfridges – you collect all the receipts you get around the store and then go to the VAT department (basement near kitchen department in Oxford Street). When your number is called, go to a desk, complete a form with your details and the lovely Selfridges people will print a VAT receipt for you with your details completed. You just need to sign the receipt. Selfridges keep your details, so you just need to show your passport when shopping there again.
3c. Normal high street store – most probably the sales person will be unhelpful and say either they don’t do it or you haven’t spent enough. Both reasons are normally rubbish and they just can’t be bothered to get the VAT receipt or don’t know how to do it. Ask them to check with their manager. Most tills now ask automatically if the sales person wants to print the VAT receipt (hence why you have to tell them several times before the end of the transaction). If not, they have to manually completed a long form with the details and will ask you to complete details as well. (Hence why they try to get out of giving you the receipt).
3d. Primark – You need to go to customer service or if in Marble Arch the specific VAT department to get the receipt. Just show them your receipts and they will print or manually complete the VAT receipt. It will be a manual receipt if you are in a small town Primarni.
3e. Marks and Spencer is the same as Selfridges – collect the receipts from all the stores (except food) and then go to one to get the receipt from the customer service department. Go to a big store like Marble Arch to get your VAT receipt as they have the automatic receipt printing machine. In some other stores they complete the form manually (so behind).
Note: In some stores such as House of Fraser, they will ask if you want your VAT back immediately in cash. If you say yes, you have to pay additional admin fees so the amount given back to you is far less. I would recommend saying no and filling in the forms to get the refund on your credit card.
4. Make sure that the sales person signs the VAT receipt and stamps it. You cannot get your money back if they don’t sign it.
5. Make sure you take your passport or ID showing you live outside UK/EU with you. A lot of shops ask for it as proof that you are not a resident in the UK and EU, and show them your current visa page (the sales people can get very confused and argumentative if they see you with an EU passport). Passport is therefore the best bet.
Apple will not give you a VAT receipt at all without the passport being shown. They are beyond difficult. And they forget to sign the form so be careful with them.
6. If it’s not a classy store, you need to complete the VAT receipts before you leave for the airport. Put in name, address in country of residence, date of birth, arrival and departure date, etc.
Make a note of the tax receipt number and tax company (Premier, Global Blue, etc).
7. Put in your credit card number, so you get the VAT refund straight to your card. It means your VAT return helps to part-pay the bills and also reduces the amount of admin fees you pay.
If you ask for cash you have to a) pay extra admin fees (you have to pay one set of admin fees) and b) claim cash at airport where there will most probably be a long queue.
8. To be organised, put all VAT receipts for Premier tax in one envelope, Global Blue in another, etc. There are about four tax companies.
9. Take your VAT receipts in their specific envelopes and your actual sales receipts (hold them separately) to the airport.
10. Before you check in, find the VAT office/counter. There will be signs for it. I repeat do it before you check in.
11. Give the the customs people your VAT receipts and passport. They will also ask where the goods are so have your luggage near you. They may ask for the sales receipts if they are on a jobs-worth mission.
The customs people will stamp the VAT receipts and then return them to you. You need to put the VAT receipts only in their specific envelope and then mail the envelopes (it’s free to mail). There are normally letterboxes in the departure area or give them to the family/friends to post them immediately for you.
12. You need to get to the airport earlier than you would normally, to do the VAT stamping.
It can take a while if it’s a busy time of the day and if you are flying from Heathrow.
If its Gatwick North Terminal (for Emirates) it takes 5 minutes.
Other airports maybe quick, but Heathrow is never quick (except during the Olympics when they just took the receipts without asking any questions at all!!).
13. Check in, do the duty free (might as well continue with your tax saving shopping).
14. Fly home (unfortunately not in Concorde) :(.
15. Check credit card bills after about a week and you will see the refunds. If you don’t get the refunds within 3 weeks contact the tax company to check the status of your refund. Global Blue are on twitter so you can tweet them.
16. If you go to different EU countries, make sure you go to the VAT counter at the airport/train station from the country you are leaving to get the stamp. You can mail the envelope from your final destination with the other receipts.
So for example, the other year I went to London, Copenhagen (for 4 amazing days), back to London and then to Dubai. I obtained VAT receipts in Copenhagen (they are very organised and helpful there) and had the receipts stamped at Copenhagen airport before I flew back to the UK. I stated my date of departure on the receipts as the date of when I would be leaving Europe (not Copenhagen). The receipt was included in the envelope with the other Global Blue ones from the UK and mailed.
Of course the procedures can change, stores might be become more tech savvy, etc. If there are changes, please let me know so I can update the above advice.
If you have had any experiences with claiming your VAT back let us know.
Hope this was helpful.
Update: You can also claim your VAT back when in Lebanon. Information on how to claim back can be found here. Remember to take a copy of your passport with you to include with your receipts sent to the tax refund company.