Retail Export Scheme (Tax-Free Shopping for Tourists)
This information notice replaces the leaflet on Tax Free Purchases for non-EU Tourists issued by Revenue in April 1998, which should now be treated as withdrawn. Any changes in this leaflet to previous practices should be regarded as coming into effect as and from 1 July 2008. This notice, 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 Act 1972 (as amended).
- Introduction – how the Scheme works
- Useful terms and definitions
- Documents required as proof that a person is a tourist/traveller
- Details that a retailer or agent must keep for each sale of goods
- VAT refund agents
- How to certify that goods have been exported from Ireland
- Fees charged for procuring a VAT refund
- Time limits for refunds of VAT to tourists / travellers
- Exchange rates used in calculating VAT refunds
- Supplies of goods at a zero per cent rate of VAT
- Legislation on which the Retail Export Scheme is based
- Enquiries from Irish traders
Introduction – how the Scheme works
The Retail Export Scheme allows certain people who purchase goods in Ireland to get a refund of the Value-Added Tax paid. Subject to the more detailed instructions contained in the rest of this leaflet, the Scheme works as follows:
- How can a person get a refund of VAT?
- People who qualify for refund of VAT
- People who do NOT qualify for refund of VAT under the scheme
- Purchases that are eligible for refund of VAT
- Monetary limits for refunds
- Refund paid by a retailer
- Refund paid by a VAT refund agent
- Who should be contacted with questions about the scheme
How can a person get a refund of VAT?
In order for a refund to apply, a person who qualifies under the Scheme (a tourist or other traveller) must purchase goods in Ireland, and then take them to a location outside the E.U. The scheme does not apply to all goods - See: Purchases that are eligible for refund of VAT. That such a transaction has taken place will be certified by Customs Officers at the last point of departure from the E.U. If a refund is due, it will be paid directly to the tourist/traveller by the retailer who made the supply, or by a VAT Refund agent. Irish Revenue does not make any refunds directly to tourists/travellers under this scheme. It is important to note that not all retailers participate in the scheme – For further details see: Supplies of goods at a zero per cent rate of VAT.
People who qualify for refund of VAT
Any person who comes within the definition of a traveller in the 'Useful terms and definitions' section of this leaflet – for practical purposes 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.
People who do NOT qualify for refund of VAT under the scheme
People normally resident in Ireland or other E.U. countries do not qualify, including
- Tourists from other E.U. countries.
- Tourists from outside the E.U. who are not leaving the E.U. directly from Ireland generally do not qualify, but see the section dealing with certification of exports for exceptions to this rule.
- 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).
Supplies of goods to the above categories of people may be zero-rated for VAT where they are dispatched by the supplier to an address outside the E.U. – see the section dealing with zero-rated supplies for more details.
Purchases that are eligible for refund of VAT
Any purchases that come within the definition of 'traveller's qualifying goods' – in effect, refunds can be obtained on purchases of goods, such as souvenirs, gifts etc., bought for non-business purposes, which the tourist/traveller brings with himself/herself when leaving the E.U. (and not later than three months from the month of purchase). No refund can be obtained for goods that remain in Ireland, or for services such as hotel accommodation, car-hire or restaurant meals.
Monetary limits for refunds
Unlike many other E.U. countries, 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. However, in respect of individual items whose value (including VAT) exceeds €635.00 the process of obtaining proof that the goods are being exported is more stringent, and any individual items whose value (including VAT) exceeds €2,000.00 must be presented to Customs for inspection (see the section dealing with certification of exports for details).
Refund paid by a retailer
If a retailer operates the scheme by way of a VAT refund agent, this will be indicated to the customer. If a retailer operates the scheme in its own name, then the tourist/traveller will need to provide documentary proof of his or her status, and in particular the tourist/traveller must sign the required declarations in that section. A receipt will be issued in respect of each purchase. The receipt for the goods should be presented to a Customs Officer at the airport, or placed into a mail slot or 'drop-box' designated for this purpose. Customs may then check to ensure that the goods are being exported – it is important that the goods are easily available for inspection if required. The receipt 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.
Not all retailers operate the Retail Export or Tax-Free Shopping Scheme. A tourist/traveller should check this before making purchases, as they may encounter practical difficulties in obtaining a refund of VAT where the Scheme is not operated. In any event, goods may be supplied free of VAT if the retailer dispatches them on behalf of the customer to a place outside the E.U.
Refund paid by a VAT refund agent
VAT refund agents are private companies that work on behalf of the tourist /traveller to get a refund of VAT. Where a VAT refund agent is used, the tourist/traveller should follow the specific procedures for obtaining a refund set out by the agent, which may differ form those used by retailers (see above). The tourist/traveller will need to provide specific information, and in particular, must sign the required declarations.
Who should be contacted with questions about the scheme
If you are a retailer, or a VAT refund agent, and you have any enquiries relating to the operation of the Retail Export Scheme or your tax affairs generally, you should contact your local Revenue District Office. Contact details for all Revenue Districts.
If you are a tourist or traveller and 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.
Any general enquiries, suggestions or observations concerning the operation of the Retail Export Scheme should be sent to the VAT Interpretation Branch, Revenue Commissioners, Stamping Building, Dublin Castle, Dublin 2; or by e-mail to email@example.com.
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 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 (see below).
Traveller (referred to in this leaflet 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 and for a period of at least 12 consecutive months.
Traveller’s qualifying goods: These are goods [other than goods transported by the traveller for the equipping, fuelling and provisioning of pleasure boats, private aircraft or other means of transport for private use] 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.
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 retails sale of the goods to the tourist/traveller. The voucher or similar agreement signed by the traveller can give evidence of a sale of the goods by the retailer to the refund agent, and an onward sale by the agent to the traveller.
Zero-rated: The application of a zero per cent rate of VAT to supplies of goods or services.
Any retailer or VAT refund agent who wants to refund VAT must keep a record of the details of documentary proof inspected by him/her confirming that the purchaser is a tourist/traveller. This documentary proof will typically include passports; flight tickets and evidence of the place of residence, and the details that the retailer will need to record consist of:
- The date of arrival of the traveller in the European Union.
- The intended date of departure of the traveller from the European Union.
- The number of the traveller’s passport.
- The permanent address of the traveller outside the European Union.
- A signed declaration that the traveller is not resident within the E.U. at the time of the purchase, or if resident, that he/she intends to take up residence outside the E.U. within the next three months, for a period of at least twelve consecutive months.
- A signed declaration that the traveller intends to take the goods outside of the E.U. when he/she departs from its territory.
If a tourist/traveller makes a purchase from a retailer and does not provide the required information to the retailer * then he/she may still obtain a refund provided that:
- The receipt was stamped by Customs on leaving Ireland.
- Full details as set out above, along with the stamped receipt, are provided to the retailer by the tourist/traveller.
- Copies of all relevant documents (flight tickets, passports etc.) are also provided.
The retailer in this situation should allow the refund, subject to the rules of the Scheme regarding time limits etc., and claim a corresponding credit in the VAT return for the period in question. If the retailer is in any doubt as to the validity of the claim, he/she should refer the matter to the local Revenue District Office.
Details that a retailer or agent must keep for each sale of goods
Once a retailer or VAT refund agent has confirmed that a person to whom he/she is supplying goods is a tourist/traveller, the retailer must issue an invoice, receipt or similar record (including electronic records, if appropriate) containing details of the transaction. These details consist of:
- The name, address and VAT number of the retailer
- 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
- 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 relation to each VAT-free transaction, the retailer must keep
- A copy of the above invoice, receipt or record issued to the traveller;
And a record of
- The net amount actually refunded to the traveller
- The actual exchange rate used
- The date and method of the repayment.
VAT refund agents
VAT refund agents will provide tourists/travellers with a refund of VAT incurred on purchases in accordance with the rules of the Scheme. These refund agents may act as principals in the supply of goods, or as agents of the tourist/traveller. Although the end result is the same, i.e. the tourist/traveller gets a refund of VAT; the process whereby the refund is provided may differ between agents. It is important that the full requirements necessary to obtain a refund are clearly set out by the agent in advance of any purchase of goods, and explained fully to the tourist/traveller.
VAT refund agents acting as retailers
In general, VAT refund agents will operate in the same manner as retailers, and the requirements of the Scheme will apply to them as if they were retailers. This is because VAT refund agents usually involve themselves in the supply of goods to tourists/travellers as principals, rather than as agents per se. That is, they actually buy the goods from the original retailer, and then resell them to the traveller. The voucher or similar document issued by the VAT refund agent and completed by the tourist/traveller and the retailer is retained as the record in respect of each such transaction.
VAT refund agents operating in accordance with Section 13(1A)(b)
Although this is less common, Irish legislation also provides for the operation of VAT refund agents, not as retailers, but as agents who will facilitate the traveller in getting a refund of VAT due to him/her. A person operating as a VAT refund agent in accordance with this legislation does not actually supply any goods to a traveller, but procures the repayment of VAT or the application of a zero percent rate of VAT in relation to the supply of goods to the traveller. Section 13(1A)(b) of the VAT Act provides for the zero rating of "the supply of services by a VAT refunding agent consisting of the service of repaying the tax claimed by a traveller in relation to the supply of a traveller’s qualifying goods or the procurement of the zero-rating of the supply of a traveller’s qualifying goods…". Section 13(1A)(b) also provides for the issuing of regulations requiring the approval or authorization of VAT refund agents by Revenue, and for allowing the agent to deduct VAT charged to the traveller. These regulations, however, have not been issued, so at present VAT refund agents cannot be formally approved by Revenue; and all claims for refunds of VAT must be made in the name of the traveller rather than the agent.
In order to obtain a refund of VAT for the traveller, a VAT refund agent acting in accordance with Section 13(1A)(b) must obtain proof from the traveller that the goods have been exported, provide that proof to the retailer, obtain the VAT refund from the retailer in the name of the traveller, and furnish the refund to the traveller. From the amount of the refund the agent will retain the fee for the transaction, which is also zero-rated provided that the fee charged for obtaining the refund is notified to the traveller in advance. This fee may be expressed as a percentage or fraction of the total refund due.
How to certify that goods have been exported from Ireland
Certification by Customs Officers
The role of Customs is to certify that goods have actually been exported in accordance with the terms of the Retail Export Scheme/Tax-free shopping. This certification may involve Officers stamping the voucher (from a VAT Refund Agent) or the receipt (from a retailer) relating to each purchase of goods. All such receipts or vouchers should be presented to Customs for stamping.
If no Customs Officers are available, the receipts or vouchers may be placed in a specially designated 'drop-box' or mail slot. All these vouchers and receipts will be examined before being stamped. If appropriate, Customs will then inspect the goods – tourists/travellers should be in a position to produce the goods to Customs, if requested to do so. Vouchers and receipts that have been stamped may be forwarded by Customs to the appropriate refund agent or retailer, who will then refund the VAT to the traveller. If Customs Officers are not satisfied regarding the validity of any voucher or receipt, it will be returned unstamped to the tourist/traveller.
Some refund agents may have an office or post at the departures area of an airport. Where this is the case, the agent will provide full details to tourists/travellers, who should then present the vouchers appropriate to these agents at the offices or posts, rather than to Customs Officers. The Refund agent will make the arrangements necessary to refund the VAT according to their own procedures.
It is important to note that procedures may vary between E.U. Member States. A traveller who intends departing the EU from another country should check the requirements of Customs regarding the Tourist VAT Refund Scheme in that country.
Certification at the final point of departure from the E.U.
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. This should be certified at the final point of departure from the E.U., which may not be the country where the goods were purchased. For example, a traveller who departs the E.U. on a flight from London should have any vouchers or receipts certified by UK Customs.
However, even if Ireland is not the last point of departure from the E.U., Irish Customs Officers will nevertheless certify a refund of VAT for goods purchased in Ireland 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, and the usual proof that the tourist/traveller is a qualifying person.
Certification by officials in the tourist/traveller’s country of residence
If a tourist/traveller is unable to get certification of export from Customs on leaving the State, he/she 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 then return the receipt or voucher to the retailer or VAT refund agent. 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. Any retailers or VAT refund agents who wish to operate the VAT free shopping scheme on the basis of documents stamped abroad must obtain the prior agreement of their local Revenue District Office.
In the case of individual goods costing €2,000.00 or more (including VAT), each item must be presented to Customs, along with the receipt/voucher, before any VAT refund will be approved. 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 at Customs with the item.
For individual items costing between €635.00 and €2,000.00 (including VAT), Customs Officers will certify that refund is due subject to the VAT Refund Agent or the retailer presenting each receipt or voucher to customs, along with the usual proofs that both the goods and the tourist/traveller qualify under the Retail Export Scheme.
Fees charged for procuring a VAT refund
All refunds are subject to a fee charged by either the VAT Refund Agent or the retailer, which will be deducted from the amount of VAT before the refund is made to the tourist/traveller. This fee may be expressed as a monetary amount, or as a percentage or fraction of the total refund due, and is at the discretion of the agent or retailer. The fee is zero-rated provided that it was notified to the tourist/traveller on or before the time at which the goods were originally supplied to him/her, i.e. the time of sale. If it can be clearly shown that the tourist/traveller was referred by the agent or retailer to an easily available document or website containing a scale of chargeable fees, then this will be considered as notification, and it will not be necessary to notify him/her of the specific fee for each transaction.
Time limits for refunds of VAT to tourists / travellers
The retailer or refund agent must refund any VAT to the tourist/traveller not later than the twenty-fifth working day following the receipt of a claim for repayment accompanied by proof that the goods were exported.
Exchange rates used in calculating VAT refunds
Where a refund is being made in a currency other than the Euro, then the question of exchange rates arises. The rate of exchange generally used on such transactions 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.
Supplies of goods at a zero per cent rate of VAT
Goods can be sold VAT-free (zero percent rate) if they are exported by or on behalf of the supplier - that is, where the retailer or VAT refund agent posts or dispatches the goods to an address outside the E.U. This is subject to proof in the form of postal or shipping documents showing that the goods have left the E.U.
If the goods are exported by or on behalf of the tourist/traveller, then the supplier does not have proof of export at the time of supply, and the supply should not be zero-rated. If the supplier nonetheless chooses to zero-rate a sale to a tourist/traveller (for example where payment is by credit card), the supplier must account for the VAT due on the sale in the VAT return for the period following the sale unless, at that stage, he/she is in possession of documentary proof that the goods have been exported.
A supplier who zero-rates a sale, and subsequently accounts for the VAT in the next return may claim an adjustment in the following VAT return to account for this if he/she subsequently receives proof that the goods were exported within the three months limit. It is important to note that the traveller has no liability to pay VAT following a zero rated sale, even if he/she fails to provide the necessary proofs of export. The liability to account for VAT on the sale remains with the supplier, whose entitlement to apply the zero rating to a particular sale is retracted if the conditions attached to the scheme are not complied with.
Legislation on which the Retail Export Scheme is based
Section 13 of the VAT Act 1972 (as amended) 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 33 of the 2006 VAT Regulations, which sets out details of the proofs required to be kept that a person is a traveller and that the goods have been exported; and also details of the time limits and fees relevant to the refund of VAT to travellers.
Paragraphs (i)(a)(I) and (i)(f) of the Second Schedule to the VAT Act provide that the supply of qualifying goods to a traveller will not be entitled to be zero rated unless made subject to Section 13 and the Regulations set out above.
The corresponding provisions of European legislation are contained in Article 147 of the VAT Directive 2006/112/EC.
Enquiries from Irish traders
Any queries regarding your tax affairs as a trader established in Ireland should be addressed to your local Revenue District.
Contact details for all Revenue Districts