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Claiming a VAT Refund When Leaving the UK

By: Louise Smith, barrister - Updated: 26 Jul 2017 | comments*Discuss
Claiming A Vat Refund When Leaving The Uk

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:
  • Hotel bills;
  • 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.

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Hello, I visited the UK during June, I left on the 28th June, processed my VAT entitlements at Terminal 2, was told that I would receive my payment in 4 weeks but have heard nothing.How long does the procedure take!!I previously was over there 2 years ago and received my VAT entitlements within 2 weeks of leaving.
ally - 26-Jul-17 @ 6:56 AM
Hello. I m here in UK on student visa for one year and will be leaving UK permanently in September 2017. I m non EU national. AM I entitled to VAT refund?
Iffi - 25-Jul-17 @ 3:49 PM
Hi we are planning a wedding party in an EU country. My fiance is UK resident. Can we claim VAT back on purchased services, wedding reception and EU based agency fees? Thank you
Kristina - 15-May-17 @ 11:55 AM
I am a UK resident. I have bought a wedding present for a relative who is resident in Norway. When I bought it the shop filled in a VAT reclaim form. I am travelling to Norway crossing from Dover to Calais by ferry very soon. There is no VAT reclaim office at Dover. How can I reclaim the VAT.
Ann Pittman - 13-May-17 @ 11:30 AM
I am an Egyptian citizen and I visited the UK for 9 days in March 2017. I left the country on 30 march 2017 via Heathrow Airport London and i had a total of about £250 of VAT refund I was supposed to get. On the airport I gavethe signed VAT forms to the VAT refund Office in the Airport to be refunded to my account and They said it will be paid within max. 30 days. This is now 42 days later and I received no refund. When will I can get my refund? And what can I do to speed up the process.
zawra - 11-May-17 @ 9:59 AM
andrew - 2-May-17 @ 9:41 AM
Dear Recently I visited UK, and had been staying in one of the hotels in the Canary Wharf area. I do have the VAT invoice from the hotel. I did unfortunately forgot to present this invoice at the Heathrow Airport upon my departure. Now I am outside the UK, is there any way the that I can claim this VAT. Best Regards
nemat - 23-Apr-17 @ 7:13 AM
Hi Team, Do we have VAT claim office in Leeds Bradford airport. Please update i need to apply for claim. Thanks, Vijay
Vijay - 4-Apr-17 @ 12:41 PM
I have the very same situation as Maretha - 23 Dec 16 - having posted my forms into the Customs postbox at London City Airport in early December, Premier Tax Free claim it has not been received so therefore no refund and I am told by them that there is nothing I can do about it.
Mrs Angry - 16-Mar-17 @ 12:19 PM
I have purchased two iPhone7 while on a business trip to UK. I am leaving in two weeks from London to Zurich (transit only) and then to Mumbai, India. How can I claim VAT refund for those two iPhones?
Sumit - 11-Mar-17 @ 4:28 PM
Greetings. I am purchasing an Apple laptop online, from Ireland. The VAT is considerable. How do I reclaim the VAT before leaving the UK from Heathrow for Asia, where I live? Thank you.
Jen - 10-Mar-17 @ 2:29 PM
I am UK citizen living in USA, my husband is US citizen. We are having our wedding party in London in September, can we claim VAT back for it?
Jane - 6-Feb-17 @ 3:57 PM
I am a tier 2 ict long-term visa holder and leaving UK after staying 5 years in london. Can I claim VAT while leaving? What is the process?
Sucha - 31-Jan-17 @ 9:44 AM
I plan to leave UK from Leeds airport and transit in London for a flight direct to Kuala Lumpur. I am not able to access any details on how or where should I drop off my Vat Claim forms at Leeds Bradford airport. In the past years, I did not encounter any issues when leaving UK from Manchester or Heathrow as there were clear guide lines provided. I am totally baffled with regards to Leeds Bradford. Appreciate your kind response
Confused - 24-Jan-17 @ 11:55 AM
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
HI, 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? Thanks
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
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
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