Quite a few countries across the world raise national revenue with a value-added tax on goods and services, including Spain and the rest of the European Union. The VAT ranges from 17 to 27 percent depending on the country (in Spain it’s 21 percent, and referred to as the IVA). This of course adds a hefty chunk to any purchase you make – but the good news for non-EU citizens – and not everyone is aware of this – is that they can apply to get at least some of the VAT refunded. And who wouldn’t want to take advantage of that? 😉
I’m going to tell you how to go about doing this with regard to Spain – and procedures in other EU countries are fairly similar.
At Points of Purchase
Keep in mind that not all shops offer tax-free purchasing; you need to look for signs and stickers on shop fronts and cash desks reading “Tax Free Shopping” or “Tax-Free for Tourists” (if you have any doubts, just ask!). Another catch is that your purchases must be greater than 90.15 euros.
When making your purchase, you need to present your passport, and the shop will provide you a receipt with an all-important stamp indicating your refund eligibility.
Parenthetically – and perhaps less importantly for most people – you’re eligible for refunds only on purchases made within the previous three months.
At the Airport, Train Station, or Cruise Port
Before checking baggage (in the case of airport or cruise port), locate the customs office (it may be indicated as VAT Return and/or Devolución de IVA) – and be sure to add a good chunk of time to arrive early, because there may be lines. There you must present the stamped documents you received when purchasing, along with receipts (and be prepared to have the purchases themselves available, though normally in most cases you won’t be required to show them). You will receive another stamped document which you will then exchange, once past security, at another Tax Free counter for your refund in your choice of major currencies or as credits on your credit card account.
If you don’t have time for this or any of the above offices are closed, you may also post your documents to the address indicated on your forms, to receive a refund to your credit card account.
Happy trails, happy shopping, and happy saving!