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TAX FREE SHOPPING
If you buy something portable, ideally worth over 100, (cameras, laptops, radios, etc.) we recommend you only buy from a shop doing the 'VAT Retail Export Scheme'. (BEWARE - There is also a VAT Refund Scheme, which is a rip off, they charge up to 10% commission for getting YOUR 17.5% VAT back, it doesn't leave much over for you!)

Get an official Customs Form VAT 407 from the shop, get the shop to stamp it, you complete your details, (no you're not normally a resident of the UK, you have a passport full of stamps to prove it)

Then as you leave the EU, (for me that's either Schipol or CDG), get the nice customs man to stamp it, they usually have an office before you go through passport control, find out where before you start your check in, you can't go back.

Then get the leaflet back to the shop, (beware, some shops might forget to refund your money, presumably after claiming the refund from the Customs and Excise, I've met two Americans who say they've been done by Harrods..) I get the wife to post it recorded delivery from the UK and it works for me.

EXTRACTS FROM HM REVENUE AND CUSTOMS WEBSITE

How do I claim a VAT refund when I leave the UK?

Full information explaining the conditions for being able to claim a Value Added Tax (VAT) refund is available in Notice 704/1 VAT refunds for travellers departing from the European Community. Please read this before you buy any goods as you will not be able to get a refund if you do not follow the correct procedures.

Having consulted the relevant VAT Notice, you will now be familiar with the retail export scheme. Remember, when you see Customs:

  • you must have all your goods available for inspection, so please see Customs before you check-in your suitcases
  • you must ensure the tax refund document is fully completed by you and the retailer before you reach Customs
  • if you do not present your refund document and goods to Customs you will not get a tax refund.

HOW DO I FIND CUSTOMS ON DEPARTURE?

There are usually signs directing travellers to Customs. If you cannot find Customs, you should ask airport or port staff to direct you to the Customs VAT Reclaim Office. If you are a visitor leaving the European Community via another member state please see the special procedures explained in paragraph 8(b) and 8(c) of Notice 704/1.

VAT refunds for visitors to the UK

VAT refunds for travellers departing from the European Community (EC)
HM Revenue & Customs - Notice 704/1 September 2004
(Acrobat PDF, 120KB)

REV 15Jan05