How to Collect Your VAT (Detaxe) Refund
Demystifying the Detaxe
We hear from many people who are completely stumped by the process for getting your detaxe (VAT) refund. Moreover, if you’re one of those people who think that clipping coupons is too time consuming, then move on. That being said, the detaxe refund is not very confusing. We’re not saying it’s easy - it just requires a little organization and forethought while on your vacation.
So here it is, your 5-step guide to your detaxe refund.
1. Determine if You Qualify for the Detaxe. To qualify for the detaxe, you must meet the following requirements.
- You have to be at least 15 years old.
- You can’t live in the European Union (EU). l
- You have to be visiting the EU for less than 6 months.
2. Determine if Your Purchase Qualifies for the Detaxe.
If you spend a minimum of 175€ (about $215) in the same store on the same day on merchandise where the tax was charged, those purchases are eligible for the detaxe refund. This is what makes the Grand Magasins, (Galleries Lafayette and Printemps) such a great shopping destination. For a serious shopper, a family, or even several friends, pooling your purchases usually won’t make this a difficult limit to reach.
So you’ve determined you qualify for the detaxe and you went wild at the shops, easy enough so far…now what? Well, dealing with customs and the refund requires some planning on your part.
3. Get the Retail Export Form ("bordereau de détaxe) BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE STORE.
For Example, at the Galleries Lafayette Main Store, you will find the Export Form location on the main floor behind the Duty Free Shopping. You may need to wait in line for a store representative. The store rep will lead you to a cucicle for privacy, examine the receipts and your purchases, then stamp your form.
Don't be tempted to skip this step, because the hassle of having to get your documents after the fact just doesn’t bear writing. Hint: It involves international phone calls, letters, and finding your nearest French Embassy in the US if you want to “expedite matters”. You must sign this form and it must be endorsed by Customs when you leave the EU.
So you’ve had a great time and are now ready to go home. There are only a few more things you need to think about for your refund. The first is that sometimes Customs personnel will want to see your items before stamping your forms so…
4. Pack Properly Before You Leave for Home.
All of the items that you claim a refund for must be in your personal luggage when you leave - you cannot ship items home and still qualify for the refund. Also, Customs officers may want to check your purchases before stamping your forms. So make sure you any items you are claiming on your refund forms are a) not wrapped, b) together, c) on the top if your luggage and most importantly, d) NOT ALREADY CHECKED IN.
5. Get the Documents Stamped BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE EU.
This needs to be done in the last EU country where you are on the ground. This means that if your stop home from Paris is in an EU county, you need to have your form stamped in that country. At the airport, look for the Detaxe sign (see the picture below for a Detaxe sign at CDG).
You will need to provide your ticket, passport and the forms that you have collected during your shopping. After customs has reviewed everything, they will endorse the copies and tell you that you need to drop them in the mail.
Keep a copy of the form for yourself, and put the original in the provided envelope. Drop all the appropriate envelopes in the nearest mailbox (see picture below) and then you are on your way.
Make sure you allow enough time (at least an additional hour before the time required for checking-in at the airport) for Customs. At CDG and Orly airports, you may find long lines of other travelers at the customs counter, especially during the tourist season. (Pray that you are not in line behind a tour group).
A bit of a Catch 22 - You also want to make sure you don’t arrive too early. Customs at CDG will not process a claim more than 3 hours prior to your flight. Your flight must appear on the Departure board for customs to endorse your forms.
6. After the Forms are Filed, be Patient.
You just have to wait (and wait and wait and…) to receive your refund. If you don't receive your tax refund, you have to contact the store and not the French Customs.
7. If You've Skipped a Step, Read On.
Okay, now the bad. If you didn’t have time to get your form filled out before you left France, here are the steps needed to claim the refund.
You have to send a request for a tax refund within 6 months of your purchase to:
The French Customs Attaché
Embassy of France
4101 Reservoir Road NW
WASHINGTON D. C 20007
With this request, you MUST include:
- A copy of your passport
- A copy of your travel ticket or your boarding pass
- An "attestation de présentation des marchandises" issued by a French Consulate. In order to get this document you have to go to the Consulate with the your purchases, your passport and your plane ticket OR have the US Customs or Canadian Customs declaration you made for the purchases when you re-entered the country.
- A letter with lots of good excuses as to why you didn’t get your form stamped when you left France.
- The Retail Export Form
Your application will then be forwarded to ‘the competent authority’ in France. If your application is approved, you will be mailed an endorsed "customer" copy of the Retail Export Form. The Customs Department will mail the other copy to the store, which will refund you the VAT.
Author: Cheryl Montgomery