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Tax-Free Shopping

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How much you'll save

VAT rates vary from country to country and, in some cases, according to the nature of the merchandise. (Luxury items may be taxed at a higher rate than food or books, for example.) Also, you're required to spend a minimum amount in a store to apply for a refund, and this minimum is different for each country.

The table below shows the most common VAT rates in selected European countries when we last checked. Rates can and do change, so this table should be used only as a general guide:

Country VAT %
Austria 9.09-16.67%
Belgium 21%
Denmark 25%
Finland 17-22%
France 5.21-19.6%
Germany 7-16%
Greece 11.5-15.25%
Ireland 17.36%
Italy 4-20%
Luxembourg 15%
Netherlands 15.97%
Norway 24%
Portugal 19% (13% in Madeira and Azores)
Spain 16%
Sweden 25%
Switzerland 7.6%
United Kingdom 17.5%

Notes and tips:

  • Refund percentages are slightly less than VAT percentages. (For example, 17.5% VAT added to the wholesale price translates into a 14.9% refund of the total retail price.)

  • Global Blue and other refund services take a modest commission on refunded VAT. For most purchases, the convenience makes the commission worth it, but you may want to obtain the refund directly from the store for extremely large purchases. (Department stores often have special refund arrangements for tourists.)

  • VAT refunds do not apply to services, or to food, film, and other goods that are used inside the country of purchase. (Business expenses may be eligible for VAT refunds in some cases, but such refunds are beyond the scope of this article.)

  • You cannot claim VAT refunds on items that you're shipping home. Refunds apply only to goods that you take with you.

  • When leaving the country or the European Union, have your purchases available for inspection when you present your Tax-Free Shopping Cheques or refund forms to be stamped.

  • If you're buying items that are too large to pack in your hand luggage, you can pack them in checked baggage, but you'll need to get your forms  stamped by customs before check-in.

  • Merchant participation in VAT refund schemes is voluntary, and smaller shops in non-tourist areas may feel that refunds aren't worth the hassle.

Eligibility for VAT refunds:

  • If you live outside the European Union, you're eligible for VAT refunds in all European countries that offer such refunds.

  • If you live within the European Union, you're normally eligible for VAT refunds only in non-EU countries that offer such refunds (such as Mexico and South Korea). However:

  • Residents of the Channel Islands, Andorra, San Marino, the Aland Islands, the Canary Islands, Gibraltar, Mount Athos, and Vatican City are allowed to claim VAT refunds on EU purchases beyond their own borders.

Important: For more information on tax-free shopping, visit the Web sites of the two major VAT refund companies, and direct any questions to them. (We're writers, not tax experts, and the refund companies have control over when, whether, and how you get your VAT refund. We have no connection to Global Blue or other refund companies.)

Next page: Related Web links

In this article:
Tax-free shopping - introduction
VAT savings by country
Related Web links

Money tools and tips at
Currency converter
The euro
ATMs and exchange machines
ATM conversion fees
Using credit cards in Europe
Credit-card surcharges
Visa TravelMoney, Amex Travelfunds, Post Office Travel Money Cards
Traveler's checks
Tax-free shopping (VAT refunds)
Travel-insurance articles