VAT – or Value Added Tax – is a tax payable on many goods and services in the UK. The rate at which VAT is charged depends on the category of goods or services. VAT is usually included in the advertised price of an item or service.
The Rates of VAT Charged in the UK
There are three different VAT rates in the UK:
The Standard Rate – most goods and services fall into this category. The standard rate is currently 20%. The Reduced Rate – some goods and services carry a lower rate of VAT, these include domestic fuel and the installation of energy-saving measures such as insulation. The reduced VAT rate is 5%. The Zero Rate – children’s clothes and many types of foods are amongst the products on which no VAT is charged.
Who May be Entitled to a Refund on UK VAT?
In general, foreign visitors will only be entitled to claim a VAT refund when they leave the UK if they live outside the European Union (EU) and if they are travelling to a country outside the EU with the goods. Residents of EU countries may also be entitled to a VAT refund if they are travelling from the UK to a country outside the EU and will remain outside of the EU for at least 12 months.
Goods and Services Purchased in the UK by Businesses
Foreign nationals who have bought items in the UK as a business may also be entitled to claim back VAT. In order to be eligible to claim back VAT a business must be registered outside the EU. VAT can only be claimed back on certain goods and services, and other eligibility criteria also apply.
Types of Goods on Which VAT May Not be Refunded
If an individual is entitled to claim back VAT they can generally claim it on most goods purchased in the UK. However, there are some exceptions. These include VAT charged on:
Goods which have been partly used or consumed whilst in the EU;
Goods which are being exported from the UK as freight;
Cars, whether new or second-hand. Different rules apply to the import and export of motor vehicles for personal use and a vehicle may be bought without paying VAT at all if it is to be taken out of the EU.
How to Claim a Refund on VAT When Leaving the UK
Claiming a refund on VAT is a multi-step process. It should be noted that retailers may not refund all of the VAT – some may be retained as an administration charge.
Firstly, any goods on which VAT is to be reclaimed must have been bought from a shop or retailer which takes part in the VAT Retail Export Scheme. A form must be filled in when the goods are purchased – this will either be Form VAT 407 or the shop’s own equivalent of this form. Alternatively the shop may provide a special VAT sales invoice. The purchaser will have to provide the shop with evidence that they are entitled to a VAT refund.
Secondly, the visitor will have to agree with the shop the method by which the VAT will be refunded. There are three options – not all of which may be available in every instance.
Some shops will refund the visitor directly upon receipt of the VAT form once it has been approved by a customs official.
Some shops will provide refunds via a dedicated refunds company.
Some retailers may have a kiosk at the airport where refunds can be obtained as soon as the VAT refund form has been approved.
Finally, when the visitor leaves the UK they must show the completed VAT refund form, as well as the goods purchased, to the relevant customs official at their UK departure port. If leaving the EU via another EU country the goods and VAT form may have to be presented to a customs official in that country rather than the UK. The form must then be posted back to the shop or to the refund company, or taken to the refund booth at the airport according to the refund method being used.
If there is no customs official at the departure port there should be a telephone on which customs officials can be contacted or a special box where the refund form can be posted for consideration. In the latter case, a customs official should send the refund form to the shop or refunds company once it has been approved.
I am a South African citizen and visited the UK for 5 weeks in August and September. I left the country on 25 September via Manchester airport and had a total of about £90 of VAT refund I was supposed to get. On the airport I used the phone at the VAT refund box and asked someone to come and sign the forms for me. They said no and told me to put the forms in the envelope in the box. They said it will be signed and paid within 6 weeks. This is now 3 months later and I received no refund. I contacted the shop in Manchester where I spent the most money and asked them if they have received the signed forms from the airport to pay my VAT back and they said no. I do not have those papers anymore since I had no choice but to leave it on the airport. When will the VAT refund office finally get their act together to sign my papers so I can get my refund? And what can I do to speed up the process?
Maretha - 23-Dec-16 @ 1:04 PM
I have dual nationality i.e. Japanese and UK. I would like to purchase a gift in the UK and claim the VAT when departing back to Japan. Do I need a stamp in my Japanese passport to show that I entered UK as I naturally use my UK passport.
Marky - 11-Dec-16 @ 10:37 AM
I was in the UK more than a month ago and filed in my VAT refunds before taking off form Heathrow 4, still haven't had any credit yet, how to follow up.
sufi - 6-Dec-16 @ 4:22 PM
Hi, I'm travelling to U.K. for one week, then will leave from Bristol airport to Geneva and a few other EU countries ( 2 weeks) before I return home to Hong Kong.
Please advice, can I claim the vat refund while purchasing goods in U.K. In Bristol airport?
BL - 1-Dec-16 @ 8:01 PM
I have dropped the the VAT refund form in the special box at Cardiff airport a month ago and I haven't got any refund would you please advise how we can follow up to get our VAT refund?
Narjes - 4-Nov-16 @ 1:13 PM
I am a UK resident and travelling to Africa for few months with an apple phone fr an african resident.can i claim VAT?
fatz - 10-Oct-16 @ 6:29 PM
Hi, I am a tier 5 worker and planned to visit my home country for 2 weeks in November, and then I will come back to UK. in this care can I get the VAT refund? Thanks
Lesya - 7-Oct-16 @ 12:10 PM
I would like to buy a sofa in the UK and transport to Australia . How do I claim the VAT on this sofa ? Thanks
jasper - 23-Sep-16 @ 1:16 PM
Hi I m flying from UK to my country on 2nd Oct as my project is finished here but my work permit visa is eligible till June 2017. There may be chances I am coming back to UK. Am I eligible for VAT refund for the all shopping I have done in last 3 months? As Its written in policy I can only get my VAT refund if I am not coming back UK within next 12 months. What will happen to me if I will come back but will not again ask for my VAT refund? Please advice.
Pummy - 19-Sep-16 @ 3:46 PM
I've been traveling in Paris and Brussel and will be leaving for home to Malaysia where Ifly out of London in September. With Britain leaving the EU, will I still be able to file my VAT refund forms from Paris and Brussel receipts in the airport in London or I need to go through the refund process twice, once in Paris and once in London, to get my VAT money back from my entire trip?Thanks!
Michelle - 8-Sep-16 @ 5:32 AM
I am a British Citizen.I have been working overseas for past 5 years.I have bought a laptop for £1200.Am I eligible to recoup the VAT since I am stationed overseas for more than 12 months?
Baker - 10-Aug-16 @ 12:18 PM
Hi, I am a US citizen currently reside in the UK, but will be returning to the US to live in October. I will be starting an online college course with a company based in the UK during this time October. Is the VAT I'm paying on the tuition refundable? If so how do I get it refunded?
Carolyn - 30-Jun-16 @ 2:33 PM
I've been traveling in Spain and Italy and will be leaving for home in the US out of London in July.With Britain leaving the EU, will I still be able to file my VAT refund forms from my Spain and Italy receipts in the airport in London or will I need to go through the refund process twice, once in Italy and once in London, to get my VAT money back from my entire trip?Thanks!
cg - 25-Jun-16 @ 6:07 PM
Hi Heidrun7, i will flying out from Bristol airport and i want to claim the vat. May I know the location of the custom post box in Bristol airport which i can drop in my VAT receipt? Thank you
Eli - 10-Jun-16 @ 12:11 AM
I'm coming to the UK to Ghana to buy a lot of computer equipment. How do I claim the VAT back? Do I need to do this in shop or at the airport? Also, I read somewhere that the goods will have to be inspected at the airport. I'm checking sending them by courier so won't have them at the airport with me. What do I do? It's a lot of tax I don't want to lose. Thank you.
Rouky - 5-Jun-16 @ 12:52 PM
if I am exporting used domestic appliances in bulk to my offshore company out of EU would I be able to claim VAT?
Dam - 14-Apr-16 @ 1:29 PM
Refering to the comment by Cindy, 30.12.15 Your son was lucky to even SEE a customs offical at Bristol Airport, There is a box that vat forms are just left in, the person who generally sits near this box is nothing to do with HM Customs he is from security. To be told that to get vat form stamped you must leave via gatwick is just rubbish and was most likely the security who told your son this. I am still waiting for refunds from january this year, the box at bristol did have lots of vat forms inside as it is a clear plastic box.
Heidrun7 - 8-Apr-16 @ 12:59 PM
Am I able to claim the VAT paid on our hire car last year and if so what steps do I need to take.I am from Australia.
Suzy - 12-Feb-16 @ 11:31 PM
A friend transported a horse from Bulgaria to the UK. His lorry broke down in the UK and he had it repaired. He paid VAT on the repair. Can his Bulgarian company, which has a VAT number, get the VAT refunded? If so, how?
tina - 20-Jan-16 @ 10:36 AM
I am non EU and live in Pakistan. I am research scholar in UK for five months. Please tell me how can I claim VAT. I shall leave UK at the end of March, 2016.
Moona - 15-Jan-16 @ 12:07 AM
Our son was told by customs, when flying out from Bristol Airport, that to get the form stamped he should have flown via Gatwick.Is there somebody he can mail the form to in order to get it stamped?
Cindy - 30-Dec-15 @ 9:08 AM
I' purchased an iPhone 6s from Brest, France in November 2015, I'm planning to return to my country India in the month of January. As mentioned above I don't possess any VAT form however shopkeeper gave me invoice stating that this would help in claiming tax refund.
Since I work on ship and due to random port of calls its quite possible that I may not sign off from France but somewhere in Europe. Also I'm using the phone. Am I still eligible fr tax exemption.
Thanks in advance
Kush - 19-Dec-15 @ 8:50 PM
I live in israel and was visiting my parents in cardiff. I got the appropriate vat forms from the ahops (about 100gbp worth) and when i got to bristol airport there was no one who knew anythibg about tax reclaim. I was just told by some security staff to post it in this box for tax reclaim. However, upon further investigation at brussels sirport ( my transfer airport) i was told i should have claimed it at my final destination in europe and that i needed a stamp on it it, in order to reclaim my money. Now i have no idea what to do. It's a lot of money im owed and my tax forms arevstuck in some box in Bristol airport....
Bamba - 19-Dec-15 @ 5:04 AM
Hi anton you would be able to claim the vat back on the car you purchased but it would have to be done via the shipping company
Jjjbb - 1-Dec-15 @ 11:38 PM
Hey I used to work for vat refunds and whilst you still have a valid working visa you are unable to claim back the VAT only when it expires and you are going back for good that's when you are able to claim, remember to do your shopping within the last 2/3 months of you going back otherwise your forms will expire
Jjjb - 1-Dec-15 @ 11:35 PM
We are now permanent residents of Canada but are having to use a Financial Services Advisor in the UK to transfer UK pension funds.Are we able to claim a VAT refund for their fees?
Jan - 25-Nov-15 @ 9:07 PM
Hi, I'm an Indian national on a work permit in London until next year June. I'll be going to India for a vacation this week for 10 days. Can I claim vat refund on my iPhone 6s while going to India this week
PC - 22-Nov-15 @ 7:18 PM
if i buy a used car from adealer in UK on behalf of my company in Malta with VAT registartion number and the car which is to be exported to Malta is a VAT qualifying vehicle , am I able to re-claim back the VAT payable and how `s process?
anton - 16-Nov-15 @ 10:49 AM
I bought my wedding dress from a store in the UK. I moved back home to NZ and they sent it over once it was made. I had to pay more tax when I collected it from NZ customs. Am I able to claim back the UK VAT that I paid? And how do I go about doing this? Thanks heaps.