The retail export scheme allows a tourist or traveller resident outside the European Union (EU), to claim a refund of the Value-Added Tax (VAT) charged on goods purchased in the EU. The goods must be exported from the EU by the tourist or traveller within three months of purchase. The scheme requires proof of purchase and proof of export.
This section explains:
- who can claim a refund
- how to claim a refund
- what goods qualify under the scheme
- what is required to prove that the goods have left the EU
- certification of export of the goods by Customs
- certification of export of goods by officials in the tourist or traveller’s country of residence.
Who should you contact about refunds?
Enquiries from a tourist or traveller about specific claims for refunds of VAT must be addressed to the retailer or refund agent with whom you have been dealing. The Revenue Commissioners are not responsible for refunding tax under the Retail Export Scheme.
Retailers or refund agents can direct any enquiries to their Revenue office.
Who can use the scheme?
The following persons may use the scheme:
- tourists or travellers visiting the State from countries outside the European Union (EU)
- Irish or EU citizens who are leaving to take up residence outside the EU for at least 12 consecutive months.
Who cannot use the scheme?
The following persons may not use the scheme:
- any person normally resident in the State or in another EU State
- tourists or travellers from other EU States
- foreign nationals resident in this State who travel abroad, but intend to return to the State
- Irish or EU citizens who take up residence outside of the EU for less than 12 consecutive months
- Irish or EU citizens who, having taken up residence outside the EU for 12 consecutive months, return on a visit within those first 12 months. This includes return visits for holidays or business, within those first 12 months.
How do you get a refund of Value-Added Tax (VAT)?
Revenue does not make refunds to tourists or travellers under the retail export scheme. It is the retailer or VAT refund agent who will make the VAT refund to you, on receipt of proof of export.
Before making a purchase, you should confirm with the retailer that they operate the scheme as not all retailers do so. You should also clarify whether the retailer operates the scheme in its own right, or in conjunction with a VAT refund agent.
If you use a retailer who operates the scheme, you will receive an export voucher in respect of each purchase. Vouchers, other than vouchers for high value goods, should be left in the drop-box at the airport for certification. The certified voucher will then be returned to the retailer. The retailer will accept the certified voucher as proof of export and will then be in a position to issue the refund.
When making a purchase you must prove to the retailer that you are a tourist or traveller by providing:
- evidence of your place of residence
- your inbound and outbound flight dates
- a signed declaration confirming that you are a tourist or traveller and will export the goods within the terms of the scheme.
If you use a refund agent, you must follow their specific procedures at time of purchase. Other than in the case of high value goods, you should, as you exit the State, deposit your documentation for purchases with the agent. The refund agent will make the necessary refund to you within 25 working days once the documentation is complete.
Some VAT refund agents use a card to capture details of each purchase. Such cards are swiped at the point of sale each time a tourist or traveller makes a qualifying purchase. You should follow the specific procedures as set out by the agent.
Customs may check to ensure that the goods are being exported, so it is important that they are easily available for inspection, if required.
See section ‘On what purchases can you reclaim VAT?’ for information on high value goods.
On what purchases can you reclaim VAT?
Any purchases of goods that come within the definition of tourists or travellers qualifying goods, are allowable under the scheme.
These are goods carried in the personal luggage of a tourist or traveller which are supplied within the State to a tourist or traveller. The goods must be exported by, or on behalf of, that tourist or traveller by the last day of the third month following the month the supply occurs. Goods for the equipping, fuelling and provisioning of pleasure boats, private aircraft or other means of transport for private use are excluded from the scheme.
Refunds can be obtained on purchases of goods, such as souvenirs and gifts. These goods must be bought for non-business purposes, and carried in your personal luggage. You must export the goods by the last day of the third month following the month in which you purchased the goods.
What purchases are not allowable under the scheme?
The scheme only covers goods. No refund can be obtained for goods that remain in the State. Services, such as hotel accommodation, car-hire or restaurant meals are not within the scheme.
Value of the goods under the scheme
You are entitled to get the Value-Added Tax (VAT) back regardless of the value of the goods purchased. However, separate processing provisions apply to high value goods.
Special procedures for high value goods
For individual goods costing €2,000 or more (including VAT), each item must be presented to Customs, along with the export voucher. This is necessary before any VAT refund will be certified.
Receipts or vouchers for high value goods, left in the drop-box, or handed in to refund agents, will not be subsequently stamped by Customs. Tourists or travellers who wish to obtain VAT refunds on these items, should allow enough time, following check-in, to attend Customs with the item.
Where vouchers for such items are not stamped by Customs, it will not be possible for the retailer of refund agent to process your refund.
In the case of transit passengers departing the EU via another airport within 24 hours, Irish Customs will stamp the export vouchers for goods valued at €2,000 or more (including VAT). In all other instances involving high value goods, Customs may defer certification to the final point of departure from the EU.
What is the ‘VAT Off’ refund scheme?
Certain retailers or retail agents have been authorised by Revenue to operate a ‘VAT Off’ scheme. This allows you to receive the goods free of VAT at the point of purchase. The operation of the scheme is subject to certain requirements and conditions as advised to you by the individual retailer. It is the mutual responsibility of the retailer, the refund agent and the tourist or traveller to ensure that the full requirements and conditions are met.
How do refund agents operate the scheme?
A Value-Added Tax (VAT) refund agent provides a tourist or traveller with a refund of VAT incurred on purchases. Refunds are made only in accordance with the rules of the scheme.
The refund agent may act:
- as the principal in relation to the supply of goods to the tourist or traveller
- as an agent of the tourist or traveller.
The process by which the refund is provided will differ depending on whether the refund agent is a principal or an agent.
The VAT refund agent acting as principal
In such cases, the refund agent makes a purchase of the goods from the retailer and immediately sells those goods to the tourist or traveller. Such refund agents will enter into agreements with the retailers to facilitate them acting as principals in this manner. As the agent in this scenario, you will refund the VAT to the tourist or traveller. You will process the claim for a refund of VAT under the same terms as would apply to a retailer.
You should also advise the tourist or traveller of any fees you will charge. You should express your fees as a monetary amount, or as a percentage or a fraction of the total refund. This will include the fees that relate to procuring the refund on behalf of the tourist or traveller. The provision of this information as part of a sign-in process on your website fulfils this requirement.
You can issue a ‘card’ to the tourist or traveller for purchasing qualifying goods. The card should record the details required for the scheme. The card should be capable of producing details of all purchases for the purposes of certifying exports. However, any such card scheme must have prior approval from your Revenue office.
What information must you have to process a VAT refund?
You must have the following information before you can process a VAT refund:
- evidence that the applicant for the refund is a tourist or traveller
- complete documentation in relation to each supply of qualifying goods
- evidence that the tourist or traveller has left the European Union (EU) with the goods. Please see section on Certification of Exports.
You must make the refund to the tourist or traveller not later than 25 working days from the time you receive the information listed above.
Your entitlement to apply the zero-rating to a sale only applies where all the conditions of the scheme are met.
VAT refund agent as an agent of the tourist or traveller?
The VAT refund agent is an agent of the tourist or traveller where engaged to obtain a refund of VAT on qualifying purchases, from the retailer, on behalf of the tourist or traveller. The agent must set out the full requirements necessary for the tourist or traveller to obtain a refund.
What exchange rate should you use?
Where a refund is being made in a currency other than Euro, the rate of exchange you should use is either:
- the official rate of exchange as published by the Central Bank of Ireland for the date on which the refund is given
- the official monthly average rate of exchange as published by the Central Bank of Ireland for the month in which the refund was given.
You may use other internationally recognised exchange rate sources, subject to agreement with your Revenue office.