Save, save, save! What you need to know about tourist rebate schemes

Jun 29, 2019
Travellers could be making additional savings by taking advantage of tourist rebates for goods bought both overseas and back in Australia. Source: Getty

Did you know you can claim back tax paid on purchases made during an overseas trip, or on goods you bought in Australia?

That’s right, under the Tourist Refund Scheme (TRS), even Aussie travellers that have purchased something on home soil can claim the GST back when departing for an overseas trip (if you take the item overseas permanently, that is).

But each year, holidaymakers leave thousands behind in unclaimed refunds, simply because they’re unaware or don’t want the hassle.

Rod Attrill, the resident money expert at comparethemarket.com.au, says travellers could be making additional savings by taking advantage of tourist rebates for goods bought both overseas and back in Australia.

An estimated 11.1 million Aussies returned from short stays overseas last year, and I suspect a significant proportion made the most of duty-free shopping,” he says. 

“There are always rules and regulations that apply so it’s crucial for Aussie tourists to do their research into the specific tourist rebate schemes they want to claim under to ensure that they are getting the most bang for their buck.”

Luckily, leading financial comparison site comparethemarket.com.au has come up with an easy guide for Aussie travellers to follow if they want to successfully claim on tourist rebate schemes across the globe:

Understand the required minimum spend to be eligible for a tax rebate

Your purchases must be above a certain amount to be eligible for a tax rebate. As a general rule, purchases made in most countries in Europe must total 175 euros (AU$284) or more, while in Australia it’s $300. In the UK though, each store can impose different spend amounts for the VAT refund claim — the equivalent to the GST tax applicable in some countries

Know your limits

Overseas purchases that are brought back to Australia must not exceed $900 (your passenger concession) if you wish to claim a rebate. What happens if they do? You will need to repay the GST refund back on the goods you claimed under the TRS — however, this isn’t always the case.

If you’re travelling with other adults, you can combine each other’s concession limits to get your claim accepted. That way, if you purchase a laptop for $2,000 (for example) and are travelling with two others, your combined passenger concession is $2,700, so you would still be eligible for a rebate.

Know the goods you can’t claim against in your country of travel

In Australia, you can’t make claims on items such as alcohol, tobacco, gift cards, vouchers and consumed or partly consumed goods, such as perfume or chocolate, while in the UK, you can claim a 20 per cent VAT refund on a great deal of goods and services except for some things like books, children’s clothing, food and medicines.

Have you passport at the time of purchase

In some countries such as the UK and Japan, you’ll likely be asked to present your passport while you make your purchase to prove you’re a tourist.

Know where to claim in each country

This is something that can differ from country to country. In Japan, for example, the tax exemption application must be filed on the day of purchase to be eligible. In other countries (Thailand, Singapore and some others in Europe and South Africa), you can only make a claim at a major or international airport. Meanwhile in Australia, you will need to visit the TRS counter at the airport (usually located after departure immigration clearance) at least 30 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time.

Get your timing right

In some countries, you need to purchase an item within a particular time frame to be eligible for a tax rebate. A good example here is in Europe, you must leave the EU with the items you’re claiming a rebate on within three months of purchase, while in Australia, the items must be purchased within 60 days of your departure.

Know which stores offer rebates

Even if a country offers VAT refunds, you will still need to check with individual stores to ensure they participate in the scheme. In Thailand, you can only make claims from stores displaying the ‘VAT Refunds for Tourists’ signs, but in Europe and the UK, you need to ask each individual store about whether they offer this service.

Find out if you need to take your purchase out of the country

Comparethemarket.com.au recommends finding out if you need to take your purchase out of the country in order to claim the rebate. In Australia, if you buy a gift valued at over $1,000, you can get your GST (10 per cent) refunded if you take it overseas permanently.

You might be required to carry the goods in your hand luggage

It’s a good idea to pack the purchases you’ve bought in your hand luggage rather than your check-in as some airport officials require you to present the goods that you are claiming a rebate on. In Australia, you usually have to wear or carry the goods as hand luggage, unless they are oversized and the airline requires them to be checked in.

What are your thoughts on this? Have you claimed back tax paid on purchases made during an overseas trip?

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