The EU's VAT Refund Rip Off

By wasatch | Apr 9, 2020

Almost everything you buy in EU includes a 25% VAT (if you buy compact disks, visit the web site for UK's Presto Music to see how cheap you can buy CDs in EU without the VAT. Even paying for international air shipping usually leaves lower prices than in USA). In theory, you can sometimes get a refund for the VAT. Sounds good doesn't it? Sounds good in theory. Reality is something else. First, it is so complicated that the EU can't even explain it (see "Guide to VAT refund for visitors to the EU" on the web). Second, it is so complicated that in my experience it does not work and/or is rarely worth the time and effort it takes to try to do it. Maybe for really big bucks....

The one time I managed to pull it off, it was a farce. In theory, I got a $25 refund. The guilty party, I think it was Germany, eventually sent me check by snail mail. A check in Euros. The German Tax Office deducted a fee for processing. The German Bank that issued the check deducted a fee for processing. My bank deducted a fee for processing a foreign check, and so did converting Euros to dollars. I ended up with about $5.

A few years later I tried it again after the salesman in the store said, 'if you buy this trinket for your wife, we have a new program that makes it easy to get the VAT refund at the airport. I'll give you a form and all you have to do is show it to the airport customs agent who will give you the VAT refund in dollars.' Ha! My flight was at 6:40am. The airport customs office didn't open unlit 5:00am and there was a line at 4:30am. Nevertheless, I tried it, reaching the window at the last moment. I handed the agent, who spoke no English, the from from the the store. She studied it and studied it and studied it, handed it back to me, and said, "No."

She didn't speak English, I don't speak Italian and had a plane to catch--- no VAT refund.

Go ahead. Try it. Beat your head against the wall, or do what I now do for EU souvenir shopping-- stick to low priced stuff that is not eligible for the VAT refund and whose price in EU, including the VAT, is lower than in USA, like Bell's Scotch and Channel perfumes.

Europe VAT Refund

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Written by wasatch
1st international trip: 1965. ~57 EU vacations. Visited 6 continets. Extensive USA travel. You can email me at

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