Retail Export Scheme (Tax-Free Shopping for Tourists)

This leaflet, which sets out the current practice at the date of its issue, is intended for guidance only and does not purport to be a definitive legal interpretation of the provisions of the Value-Added Tax Consolidation Act 2010. Legislation relevant to the Scheme is set out in Appendix 1.

This document is set out in 4 parts.The first part "I am a Tourist/Traveller" contains an overview of the Scheme designed for tourists/ travellers. The remaining three parts deal with Retailers, Refund Agents and Certification of Exports and contain specific information that supplements that in the introductory part. Referenced terms are defined in Appendix 2.

1. I am a Tourist/Traveller

Overview

The Retail Export Scheme allows persons who are resident outside the EU and who make purchases of goods in the EU to a refund of the Value-Added Tax charged on these goods where the goods are exported from the EU by the traveller within 3 months of purchase. The scheme requires proof of purchase and proof of export.

It is important to note the Retail Export Scheme is not operated by all retailers in Ireland. You should confirm with the retailer before making purchases that they operate the scheme.
It is also important to clarify at time of purchase whether the retailer is operating the scheme in its own right or with a VAT Refund Agent as this is highly relevant for any future enquiries you may have with regard to your refund application. It is the retailer or VAT refund agent who will make the refund of VAT to the tourist/traveller when proof of export is obtained.
N.B. Revenue do not make refunds to tourists/travellers under this scheme.

Who can use the Scheme

Any person who comes within the definition of a traveller. This generally means tourists visiting Ireland from countries outside the European Union (E.U.), other non-resident travellers, and also Irish or E.U. citizens who are leaving to take up residence outside the E.U. for at least 12 consecutive months.

Who cannot use the Scheme

Any person normally resident in Ireland or other E.U. countries, including

  • Tourists from other E.U. countries.
  • Foreign nationals resident in Ireland going home (e.g. for holidays) who intend to return to Ireland.
  • Irish (or E.U.) citizens taking up residence abroad for less than 12 consecutive months.
  • Irish (or E.U.) citizens who, having taken up residence outside the E.U. for 12 consecutive months, return on a visit (e.g. for holidays or business within those first twelve months).

What purchases come within the Scheme

Any purchases of goods that come within the definition of 'traveller's qualifying goods'. Refunds can be obtained on purchases of goods, such as souvenirs and gifts, bought for non-business purposes which the tourist/traveller carries in his/her personal luggage. No refund can be obtained for goods that remain in Ireland. The scheme only covers goods. Services such as hotel accommodation, car-hire or restaurant meals are not within the Scheme. A traveller must provide proof to the retailer that he is a traveller when making each purchase. The proof includes evidence of the place of residence, inbound and outbound flight dates and a signed declaration.

Are there monetary limits on purchases

Ireland does not apply a lower limit for VAT refunds. A tourist/traveller is entitled to get the VAT back regardless of the value of the goods purchased.

How do I get the refund

This depends on whether you use the services of a VAT Refund Agent or if you deal directly with the retailer. If you use a refund agent you will follow their specific procedures at time of purchase. As you exit Ireland you will deposit your documentation for purchases with the agent and the agent will make the necessary refund to you within 25 working days once the documentation is complete.

If you use a retailer that operates the Scheme, s/he will issue an export voucher in respect of each purchase. This voucher should be presented to a Customs Officer or left in the ‘drop-box’ at the airport for certification. The certified voucher will be returned to the retailer, who will then issue the refund.

Revenue do not make refunds of VAT to tourists/travellers under this scheme.

Where do I present the export vouchers when exiting the E.U

The export voucher for the goods and other documentation should be presented to the Refund Agent at the airport, or placed into a mail slot or 'drop-box' designated for this purpose. Customs may check to ensure that the goods are being exported so it is important that the goods are easily available for inspection, if required. The export voucher when stamped will be returned by Customs to the retailer (or to the VAT refund agent, where appropriate), who will then refund the VAT (less any fee charged for processing the refund) directly to the tourist/traveller.

Are there different procedures for high-value goods

A tourist/traveller that acquires a good whose value exceeds €2,000.00 or more (including VAT) must present that good along with the export voucher to Customs for inspection on departure from the State. (See Certification of Exports)

Are there other ways VAT Refund agents implement the scheme

Some VAT refund agents use a ‘card’ to capture details of each purchase. Such cards are swiped at point of sale each time a tourist/traveller makes a qualifying purchase. The tourist/traveller should follow the specific procedures as set out by the agent.

What is"VAT Off"

Some retailers/refund agents operate a VAT Off Refund Scheme which involves the retailer supplying qualifying goods to a tourist/traveller and the tourist/traveller paying a VAT amount that is less than the full VAT amount that should relate to the supply. The difference is referred to as the refundable VAT. In effect, the tourist/traveller has received the VAT refund from the retailer at the time of purchase. However, the retailer, the tourist/traveller and the refund agent must ensure that the full requirements and conditions of the scheme are met in the case of each VAT Off purchase where the full requirements and conditions are not met in relation to a purchase Revenue will reverse the VAT off position and impose the correct VAT liability on the retailer.

Who do I contact if I have a problem

If you have any enquiries with regard to specific refunds of VAT, you should address these directly to the retailer or VAT refund agent with whom you have been dealing.

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2. I am a Retailer

How do I operate the Scheme

There are two ways in which you operate the Scheme. The first is where you make the retail sale directly to the tourist/traveller and retain the necessary documentation to evidence the sale. You will charge VAT on the sale and return VAT as normal in your VAT return. When proof is received that the goods have been exported and all conditions of the Scheme have been met, you will then refund the VAT to the tourist/traveller and take a credit in your VAT return.

The second way is that you enter into an agreement with a Refund Agent whereby you make a concurrent sale to the tourist/traveller and the Refund Agent. You complete and retain the necessary documentation to evidence the sale and return the VAT as normal in your VAT return.

What proof do I require to evidence a tourist/traveller

You must confirm that the purchaser is a tourist/traveller by recording and retaining records, in relation to the tourist/traveller as follows :

  • The date of arrival of the tourist/traveller in the European Union.
  • The intended date of departure of the tourist/traveller from the European Union.
  • The number of the tourist/traveller’s passport.
  • The permanent address of the tourist/traveller outside the European Union.
  • A signed declaration that the tourist/traveller is not resident within the E.U. at the time of the purchase, or if resident, that s/he intends to take up residence outside the E.U., for a period of at least twelve consecutive months and intends to take the goods outside of the E.U. when s/he departs from its territory.

What do I issue in relation to each sale

You must issue and retain a copy of the above export voucher issued to the tourist/traveller. You must also retain the following information in relation to each sale:

  • The name and permanent address of the traveller
  • The date of the transaction
  • A description of the goods supplied
  • The amount of the purchase, and the amount of the VAT charged or VAT-off if this applies.
  • The signature of the traveller
  • The rate of exchange, or the method to be used to determine the rate, if the refund is to be made in a currency other than the Euro.

In no circumstances, should blank Retail Export Scheme documentation be given to a tourist/traveller for subsequent completion.

Where you do not use a Refund Agent and you make a refund to the tourist/traveller you must retain details of:

  • The net amount actually refunded to the traveller
  • The actual exchange rate used
  • The date and method of the repayment.

Can I rely on certification of export from the tourist/traveller’s country of residence

You must obtain the prior agreement from your local Revenue District Office

What do I do if a sale is voided or reversed

Where a sale is voided, for example where goods are returned, you must obtain the original copies of any documentation, including original receipts, that you issued to the tourist/traveller.

Are there other circumstances in which a sale to a tourist/traveller may be at the Zero rate

Yes. Goods may be supplied at the Zero Rate if you dispatch the goods on behalf of the customer to a place outside the E.U.

Who should I contact about the Scheme

You should contact your local Revenue District with enquiries relating to the operation of the Retail Export Scheme or your tax affairs generally.

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3. I am a VAT Refund agent

What is a Refund Agent

A VAT refund agent provides a tourist/traveller with a refund of VAT incurred on purchases in accordance with the rules of the Scheme. The Refund Agent may act as Principal in relation to the the supply of goods to the tourist/traveller by making a purchase of the goods concurrent with their supply by the retailer to the tourist/traveller. Such Refund Agents will enter into agreements with the retailers to facilitate them acting as principals. Alternatively, the Refund Agent may simply act as an agent of the tourist/traveller in obtaining for the tourist/traveller a refund of VAT paid on purchases of goods in the State. Although the end result is the same, that is, the tourist/traveller gets a refund of VAT; the process whereby the refund is provided may differ depending on whether the Refund Agent is a principal or an agent.

What is my role in relation to the tourist/traveller

You are an agent of the tourist/traveller engaged to obtain a refund of VAT on qualifying purchases. You set out clearly for the tourist/traveller the full requirements necessary to obtain a refund in advance of any purchase of goods by the tourist/traveller. You should also advise the tourist/traveller of any fees you will charge, expressed as a monetary amount or as a percentage or fraction of the total refund. This will include the fees that relate to procuring the refund on behalf of the tourist/traveller. Provision of this information as part of a sign-in process on your web-site fulfills this requirement.

Your entitlement to apply the zero rating to a particular sale only applies where all the conditions attached to the scheme are met : where conditions are not met Revenue will deny the zero rating to the refund agent.

What information must I have before I can process a VAT refund

You must have:

Can I rely on certification of export from the tourist/traveller’s country of residence

You must obtain the prior agreement from your local Revenue District Office.

When must I make the Refund

You must make the refund to the tourist/traveller not later than 25 working days from the time you receive the information listed above.

What rate of VAT applies to the fee I receive

The fee for procuring a refund for a tourist/traveller is zero-rated provided the requirements set out above are met. The zero rating does not apply to any fees charged to a tourist/traveller where the requirements set out above have not been met.

Can I issue a ‘Card’ to a tourist/traveller for use when purchasing qualifying goods.

Yes. The card should record the details required for the Scheme, as set out above, and should be capable of producing details of all purchases for the purposes of the Certification of Exports. However any such ‘card’ scheme has to have prior approval from your local Revenue District.

Do I require approval from Revenue to operate a VAT Off Scheme

Yes. Advance approval must be obtained from your Revenue District.

What exchange rate should I use

Where a refund is being made in a currency other than the 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, or the official monthly average rate of exchange as published by the Central Bank of Ireland for the month in which the refund was given. Other internationally recognised exchange rate sources may also be used, subject to the agreement of the local Revenue District.

Who should I contact about the Scheme

You should contact your local Revenue District with enquiries relating to the operation of the Retail Export Scheme or your tax affairs generally.

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4. Certification of Exports

What is certification

The purpose of certification is to provide evidence that the goods have left the EU. This certification can be provided by Customs in Ireland or at the last point of departure from the EU. In certain circumstances certification can be provided from the country of residence of the tourist/traveller. It is important to note that the certification or stamping of the document is the basis for allowing the remission of VAT both on the supply of goods and on any fees charged in respect of the supply.

Certification by Irish Customs

The role of Customs is to certify that qualifying goods have actually been exported in accordance with the terms of the Retail Export Scheme by stamping documentation provided by either the Refund Agent or the tourist/traveller. A refund agent will present for stamping, documentation provided to them for the tourist/traveller for whom they act as agent. Where a tourist/traveller does not engage a Refund Agent the tourist/traveller should present the relevant documentation to Customs on departure or place the documentation in the Customs box at departures if there is no physical Customs presence at the time of departure. The certification involves Customs stamping export vouchers relating to each purchase of qualifying goods. All such export vouchers should be presented to Customs for stamping.

Irish Customs will provide the necessary certification for goods purchased in Ireland even if Ireland is not the last point of departure from the E.U., subject to evidence that the tourist/traveller has a ticket for a destination outside of the E.U. valid not later than the end of the third month from the date on which the goods were purchased.

Customs may inspect the goods as part of certification. A tourist/traveller should be in a position to produce the goods to Customs, if requested to do so. If Customs Officers are not satisfied regarding the validity of any voucher or receipt, it will be returned unstamped to the tourist/traveller.

Special procedures for high-value goods

In the case of individual goods costing €2,000 or more (including VAT), each item must be presented to Customs, along with the export voucher, before any VAT refund will be certified. Receipts or vouchers for such items that are left in the 'drop-box', or handed in to Refund Agents, will not be subsequently stamped by Customs. It is important that travellers who wish to obtain refunds in respect of these items, allow enough time following check-in, to attend Customs with the item.

In the case of transit passengers departing the E.U via another airport within 24 hours Irish Customs will stamp the export vouchers for goods valued at €2,000.00 or more (including VAT).

Certification by Customs at the final point of departure from the E.U.

A tourist/traveller, especially a person on a multi-stop vacation in the EU, may choose to have certification carried out at their final point of departure from the EU rather than the Member State in which the purchase was made. In order for a refund of VAT to be allowed, Customs must be satisfied that the tourist/traveller has complied with the conditions of the Retail Export Scheme with regard to the export of goods from the E.U.

It is important to note that procedures may vary between E.U. Member States. A traveller who intends to have certification carried out in another EU Member State should check the requirements of that Customs administration regarding the Tourist VAT Refund Scheme.

Certification by officials in the tourist/traveller’s country of residence

In certain circumstances where a tourist/traveller is unable to get certification of export from Customs on leaving the State, the tourist/traveller may still obtain a refund by getting a person of similar standing in his/her own country to certify (by means of an official stamp or otherwise) that the goods have been transported to that country. Such persons include a Customs official, a law-enforcement officer, a Notary Public and a Commissioner for Oaths. The tourist/traveller should return this certification together with the receipt or voucher to their VAT refund agent or Irish retailer. A Refund Agent or Retailer requires prior agreement from their local Revenue District to use certification from the tourist/traveller’s country of residence.

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5. General Enquiries

Any general enquiries, suggestions or observations concerning the operation of the Retail Export Scheme should be sent to:

VAT Interpretation Branch,
Indirect Taxes Division,
Stamping Building,
Dublin Castle,
or by e-mail to vat@revenue.ie.

March 2014

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Appendix 1: Legislation

Section 58 of the VAT Consolidation Act 2010 provides that the zero rating is appropriate to the supply of a traveller’s qualifying goods, and to the supply of the services of a VAT refund agent, subject to the conditions which are set out in this leaflet.

The Regulations which put this into effect are contained in Regulation 15 of the 2010 VAT Regulations, which sets out details of the proofs required to be kept: that a person is a traveller, that the goods have been exported and also details of the time limits and fees relevant to the refund of VAT to travellers.

Sub sections 3(1) and 3(5) of Schedule 2 to the VAT Consolidation Act 2010 provide that the supply of qualifying goods to a traveller will not be entitled to be zero rated unless made subject to Section 58 and the Regulations set out above.

The corresponding provisions of European legislation are contained in Article 147 of the VAT Directive 2006/112/EC.

Appendix 2: Useful terms and definitions

There are certain words and phrases that have a particular meaning in the context of the Scheme. These are:

Export: An export of goods takes place where the goods are transported directly to a place outside the VAT territory of the European Union, by or on behalf of either the seller or the purchaser.

Retail sales: Any sales of goods by a supplier directly to a customer, which are not intended for subsequent re-sale by that customer in the course of business.

Retailer: Any person who makes supplies of goods directly to non-business customers. This includes sales of goods through the Internet or any similar means as long as the customer takes delivery of the goods in the State. In practice, most VAT refund agents are treated as retailers for the operation of VAT free shopping.

Traveller (also referred to as tourist/traveller): A traveller is a person whose domicile or habitual residence is not situated within the E.U. and includes a person who is normally resident in the E.U. but who, at the time of the supply of the goods intends to take up residence outside the E.U. in the near future for a period of at least 12 consecutive months.

Traveller’s qualifying goods: These are goods carried in the personal luggage of a traveller which are supplied within the State to a traveller and which are exported by or on behalf of that traveller by the last day of the third month following the month in which the supply takes place. Goods transported by a traveller for the equipping, fuelling and provisioning of pleasure boats, private aircraft or other means of transport for private use are excluded.

VAT refunding/refund agent: A person who supplies services which consist of the procurement of a zero rating or repayment of tax in relation to supplies of a traveller’s qualifying goods, in return for a fee charged to the traveller. Although referred to as agents, they themselves are usually part of the supply chain, and actually purchase the goods from the retailer, and make a simultaneous retail sale of the goods to the tourist/traveller. The voucher or similar agreement signed by the traveller normally evidences sale of the goods by the retailer to the refund agent, and an onward sale by the refund agent to the traveller.

Zero-rating: The application of a zero per cent rate of VAT to supplies of traveller’s qualifying goods and to the VAT refund agent’s service of repaying the VAT claimed by the traveller.

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