Non-EU residents are entitled to VAT refunds (la détaxe) on some purchases made in the EU, and since Brexit, this also applies to permanent British residents.
In France, VAT (taxe sur la valeur ajoutée, TVA) is applied at 20% on most items – but only 2.1% on newspapers, for example – and it is possible to get this money back as you leave the country.
Read more: Did you know?: VAT was invented in France
This only applies to people whose usual place of residence is outside the EU, and who are staying in France/the EU for no more than six months. You can show your passport as evidence of this.
Firstly, you must:
Ask the shop assistant if they provide a détaxe service, although there will often be a sign reading ‘tax-free’ or ‘VAT-free’ if it is offered.
Ask what the value of the purchase needs to be in order to apply for a refund, and whether all the goods you intend to buy are included. Ask if you will get 100% of the tax back or if there is a deduction for an administration fee.
Government website entreprendre.service-public.fr (which is aimed at informing businesses) states that as a national standard qualifying items must come to a total of €100 or more (including tax).
It states these qualifying purchases of €100 or more should be carried out over no more than a period of three consecutive days beginning on the first day of shopping and should be bought in shops of the same brand or the same group of brands, which are situated in a single town or shopping centre (this is so as to meet the threshold to obtain the détaxe; this would not stop you renewing the process several times during the same trip).
However, confusingly, the Douanes service advises that to qualify, purchases of €100 or more should be made on the same day, in the same shop. We would therefore recommend asking in the shop how much they expect you to spend.
What type of product is eligible?
Goods covered by the possibility of a tax refund are generally items that can fit in your luggage, so it would not apply to something like a car.
They will usually be ‘touristy’ items, such as clothes and sunglasses, souvenirs etc.You cannot buy more than 15 of the exact same item and benefit, and excluded items include tobacco as well as valuable art and antiques.
How do I go about getting the refund?
The shop assistant will ask for proof that you are a visitor to the EU, so you will need to carry your non-EU passport or ID card with you, and ideally proof of address as well.
You will be given a form to fill in, a section of which will be completed by the assistant.
If you cannot obtain the item tax-free directly in the shop, then you can obtain a refund as you leave the country at the airport or other travel terminal (the refund still ultimately comes via the retailer, not from the French state).
If the latter is the case, the shop will give you an invoice for your purchases, which you must show, along with the refund form and the goods to the customs officials at the desk, and they will give you a stamp. This must be obtained in order for the refund to be processed.
You will then be able to claim the refund immediately, or send off your form to an address given to you by the shop. Exact instructions on the procedure to follow should be provided by the shop.
Note that some airports, ports and international train stations also have automatic ‘Pablo’’ terminals where you can scan in a barcode in order to validate your refund forms. In which case VAT can be either reimbursed directly at a desk or in the form of a bank transfer.
It is possible to obtain the refund even if you leave via another EU country, not France.
Things to bear in mind
It should be noted that you should not use your purchases before you complete the VAT refund process: you should not be wearing a watch you have bought, for example.
You should also be aware that your goods must leave the EU by the end of the third month after you buy them in order to qualify for a VAT refund.
This process is really aimed at tourists, not, eg. people staying six months at their second home on a visa, though we have not identified any specific rule that would ban the latter from using it.
In the latter case, however, you would have to take care to stay less than six months in total and bear in mind the rule about the third month.
Note that some shops will take an administrative fee for having carried out the service, and this will be deducted from the refund amount you receive.
You can visit other EU countries with goods bought in France and continue to collect VAT refund forms, but they must all be stamped by a customs officer at the point of exit from the EU, rather than the border between member states.
Note that VAT can also also be an issue when bringing French-bought items back to the UK, in this case UK import VAT.
When returning to the UK, travellers have a personal allowance of £390 of goods purchased in France which is exempt from VAT, but if the goods you are bringing in are over that limit they may be subject to import VAT and (if they cannot be shown to have been made in the EU) customs duties.