Tax free shopping in the UK

HMRC Reference:Notice 704/1 (January 2012) View Change History
 

Contents

Foreword

1.Introduction

2.What is Tax Free Shopping?

3.Can I use the scheme?

4.Can I use the scheme for everything I buy?

5.How do I shop tax free?

6.When do I have to export the goods?

7.What do I have to do when I leave the EU?

7.2 Submitting your claim

8.Problems and other circumstances

9.Important things to remember

Your rights and obligations

Do you have any comments or suggestions?

If you have a complaint

How we use your information

 

Foreword

This notice cancels and replaces Notice 704/1 (January 2012).

1.Introduction

This Notice tells you how you can get the VAT back on goods you buy in the United Kingdom (UK) from shops that offer Tax Free Shopping (also known as the VAT Retail Export Scheme).

2.What is Tax Free Shopping?

In the UK, Value Added Tax (VAT) is charged on many goods and services. 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.

In most cases, the shop or refund company will charge you a fee for using Tax Free Shopping. They will take the money out of your VAT refund.

3.Can I use the scheme?

If you are


You can use the scheme if


an overseas visitor


  • your home, or the place you live, is outside the EU and
  • you plan to take the goods out of the EU by the last day of the third month after the one in which you bought them (see section 6)
  • an overseas resident studying or working in the UK, or
  • a resident of the EU
  • you plan to take the goods out of the EU by the last day of the third month after the one in which you bought them (see section 6) and
  • you can show that you will be staying outside the EU for at least 12 months

If you belong to one of these categories, you must be able to prove this to the shop assistant and to customs when you leave the EU by showing your passport, visa or other documents. If you cannot prove this when you leave, your claim will not be approved.

4.Can I use the scheme for everything I buy?

No. Not all shops offer Tax Free Shopping - check before you buy the goods.

You can use Tax Free Shopping for any goods on which you have paid VAT except:

  • goods (for example, perfume or chocolates) which you have used, or partly used, in the EU
  • motor vehicles and boats
  • goods over £600 in value that will be exported for business purposes (you have to use a form C88 for these)
  • goods that will be exported as freight and goods that need an export licence (except antiques)
  • unmounted gemstones and bullion (over 125g, 2.75 troy ounces or 10 Tolas)
  • mail order goods including Internet sales
  • any services, for example, hotel bills.

5.How do I shop tax free?

Step


Details


1


Find a shop that offers Tax Free Shopping. You have to be in the shop yourself when you buy the goods (although somebody else can pay for them).


2


Tell the shop assistant that you want to use Tax Free Shopping and show your passport or national ID card.


3


Ask the shop assistant to explain the scheme to you.


Discuss:


  • how the refund will be made
  • when you will get it
  • what the charge is – this should be written on your refund form.

Make sure that you are allowed to shop tax free (see section 3) and that you understand what you need to do.


4.


The shop assistant will give you the form.


Fill in and sign the customer sections of the VAT refund form in the presence of the shop assistant.


You must sign the form yourself. The only exception to this rule is for people who are not able to sign the form themselves for reasons directly related to disability.


5.


The shop assistant must also fill in and sign the form while you are in the shop. They may give you a reply paid envelope so you can post the form back after you have had it stamped by a customs officer.


6.


Take:


  • the form (and the envelope)
  • the goods and
  • all your receipts

with you to show to customs when you leave the EU.


You will not get your VAT back if you only have till receipts.


6.When do I have to export the goods?

You must export the goods (that is, take them out of the EU with you) by the last day of the third month after the one in which you buy them.

For example, if you bought the goods on the 3rd of February, you would have to export them by the 31st of May.

7.What do I have to do when I leave the EU?

You must get your form checked and stamped by a customs officer in the EU: you can't have this done when you get home.

7.1.1 I'm leaving the UK for a destination outside the EU:

Show your goods, till receipts and refund form to a UK customs officer. If you're going to carry any of the goods in your hold baggage, you must be prepared to show those goods to a customs officer before you check your baggage in. See paragraph 7.2.

7.1.2 I'm leaving the UK for another EU country:

Show your goods, till receipts and refund form to customs in the last EU country you visit. The deadline for exporting the goods stays the same regardless of how many countries you visit.

7.1.3 I'm leaving the UK by air and will change flights in another EU country before leaving the EU:

Show your goods, refund form and till receipts:

  • to a UK customs officer before you check in if the goods are in your hold baggage. See paragraph 7.2.
  • to a customs officer in the last EU country you pass through if the goods are in your hand baggage.

7.2 Submitting your claim

Step


Details


1.


Allow plenty of time at the port or airport. There can be long queues to get your VAT refund processed.


At Heathrow airport, to save time, you can get your form checked at a VAT refunds desk before it is stamped by a customs officer.


2.


Take your goods with the form and receipts to a VAT refunds desk at the airport or port. Remember, your form must be fully completed. You must hold all receipts for any goods you are exporting.


If no officer is available, there will be:


  • a phone to ring the officer and you will be advised what to do, or
  • a clearly marked customs post box. Post your form (with its unsealed envelope) in the box.

NOTE:


When you show your refund form to the officer, you are declaring that:


  • you are eligible to use the scheme
  • you are exporting all the goods out of the EU.

If you cannot prove this, you may miss your flight (or sailing) and customs can take the goods away from you.


It is a serious offence to make a false declaration.


3.


When the officer is satisfied that you have met all the conditions of the scheme, they will stamp your refund form.


4.


Put the checked and stamped form in the post to:


  • the shop, or
  • a commercial refund company

so that they can pay your refund. The address will be on the form.


(If you posted your form in the customs post box, the customs officer will do this for you.)


The refund will be made by the method agreed between you and the shop (see Section 5).


Some companies offer an immediate cash refund. They will check your form, keep it and give you a cash refund before you leave the UK. There is a charge for this service.


5.


If you do not get your refund within a reasonable time you should write to the shop.


Please do not write to HM Revenue & Customs or UK Border Agency (UKBA).


8.Problems and other circumstances

If


Then


you take the goods back to the shop for a full refund or exchange


you must take your receipts and the VAT refund document with you.


The shop will:


  • delete the entry for the returned goods or
  • cancel the VAT refund document and issue a new one.

you decide to leave behind any of the things you bought under the scheme


you must cross those items off your refund form before you present it, with any remaining goods, to customs.


you lose your refund form


ask the shop to provide a replacement document


If you find the original later, destroy it.


9.Important things to remember

  • You and the shop assistant must fill in and sign the VAT refund form when you buy the goods (see Section 5)
  • Give yourself plenty of time when you leave the EU (see Section 7)
  • You must be prepared to show the goods, the till receipts and the VAT refund document to a customs officer when you leave the EU, or you won't get a refund (see step 2 in section 7.2 for what to do if you can't find a customs officer)
  • Your refund will probably be reduced by an administration charge (see Section 2). Make sure you understand how much the charge will be before you buy the goods
  • If you don't export the goods by the deadline, you won't get a refund (see Section 6)
  • Your refund form must be checked and stamped in the EU: you can't have this done in the country you're travelling to (see Section 7).

Your rights and obligations

Your Charter explains what you can expect from us and what we expect from you. For more information go to Your Charter.

Do you have any comments or suggestions?

If you have any comments or suggestions to make about this notice, please write to:

HM Revenue & Customs
VAT APPS Compliance Policy
1NW
Queens Dock
Liverpool
L74 4AA

Please note this address is not for general enquiries.

For your general enquiries please phone our Helpline 0300 200 3700.

If you have a complaint

If you are unhappy with the way HMRC or UKBA has handled your case (because of delays or mistakes, for example), please tell the person or office you have been dealing with. If they are unable to sort things out, ask for your case to be referred to the Complaints Team.

Other HMRC and UKBA information you may find useful is:

HMRC factsheet ‘Complaints’ available online

UKBA Notice – ‘How to Complain’ available online

How we use your information

HM Revenue & Customs is a Data Controller under the Data Protection Act 1998. We hold information for the purposes specified in our notification to the Information Commissioner, including the assessment and collection of tax and duties, the payment of benefits and the prevention and detection of crime, and may use this information for any of them.

We may get information about you from others, or we may give information to them. If we do, it will only be as the law permits to:

  • check the accuracy of information
  • prevent or detect crime
  • protect public funds.

We may check information we receive about you with what is already in our records. This can include information provided by you, as well as by others, such as other government departments or agencies and overseas tax and customs authorities. We will not give information to anyone outside HM Revenue & Customs unless the law permits us to do so. For more information go to hmrc.gov.uk and look for Data Protection Act within the Search facility.

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