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Claiming a VAT Refund When Leaving the UK

By: Louise Smith, barrister - Updated: 19 Mar 2020 | 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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I posted the for 407 in the special box at Leeds Bradford airport as no one mans that airport when it comes to duty refunds. I haven't heard from them nor received the refund. How long does it take and what should I do if I don't hear from them? Kind regards
Guds - 19-Mar-20 @ 11:57 AM
Can a person who is 14 years old claim VAT back? My nice is in the UK on holidays and doing some shopping. She came and will depart by herself and we would like to know if she can do the tax free by herself.
Isabela - 22-Jan-20 @ 2:43 PM
If I leave from Edingburge to Stockham, do I need to get my VAT in Edinburge airport or do it in Stockham?
Cindy - 26-Dec-19 @ 10:28 AM
Hi Iv lived abroad now for over 15 years and recently most of the stores in London say sorry we don’t do VAT return form (JD Sport) and some shops in Leeds say you can get the VAT form at the post office. Which we asked and the post office said no but many people get told the same. We feel that most stores just can’t be bothered with the form and some just say we don’t have the form in stock surly they must have the forms by Law.
Channi - 6-Dec-19 @ 5:06 PM
Hi , I lost my receipts and vat receipts in the taxi in London . I had picture of the receipt and went to the store to get a duplicate . They said they can issue the receipt but not the vat certificate . Which means I cannot claim my tax refund . Pls help.
Nandi - 5-Jul-19 @ 3:35 PM
Hi, my friend lost her passport in London and has applied a new passport now. she has all receipts, but can she make VAR refund with new passport ?
sa - 23-Apr-19 @ 5:03 PM
My brother exited the UK on route back to South Africa in May 2018, submitted his claim at Birmingham Airport on the way out and has still not had reimbursment nor contact regarding the claim.Who should he be chasing directly with in order to get the matter resolved.It is a resonable amount due (over £1500) and beggars belief that the process does not seem to function in any negotiable way.He has charged me with finding out what he can possibly do next.Any advise please?
Gerran - 16-Apr-19 @ 4:37 PM
There are a lot of people very angry at the changes made to the way you get a VAT refund at Heathrow. Instead of simply getting the form stamped by a customs officer and putting the form in the envelope and mailing it in the post box, somehow Travelex have muscled their way into the VAT Refund business. So we had to queue for an hour or more at the Travelex counter and ended up giving up and lost over $200 because we couldn't afford to miss our flight.
David - 19-Dec-18 @ 6:16 PM
Hello, I have some question about my case. I am one of the international student who currently studying in UK. On this December 2018, i am going to visit my family in Cambodia and back on January 2019. My mom she want me to buy handbag for her in London. I want to know that do i eligible to get the tax refund at the report? best regard, David
Li - 17-Nov-18 @ 11:43 AM
Where can I get VAT refund in Leeds? I ask at airport, they told me no vat refund office in Leeds airport!?
Kandari - 22-Oct-18 @ 2:57 PM
My brother visited the UK for a month and he bought some Electrical and Electronic goods and shipped through a shipping company by see freight . He left his VAT refund application with all Original receipts for me to submit toInland revenue department by post. what is the address that I have to post them please.
udeni - 25-Sep-18 @ 5:22 PM
I went to the UK in May and I returned in July, My trip was an official trip because I studied at Defence academy in shrivenham. I was entitled to a refund so gave the signed VAT forms to the office when I departed the country back to Colombia on 14th July back (Avianca flight) and told it would be deposited into my account within 4 weeks and I have still not seen the refund.When will the refund be done?
COMMANDO34 - 30-Aug-18 @ 1:35 AM
I went to the UK in May and was entitled to a refund so gave the signed VAT forms to the officewhen I departed the country back to Australia on 2nd June back (Qantas flight) and told it would be deposited into my account within 4 weeks and I have still not seen the refund.When will the refund be done?
Kim - 10-Aug-18 @ 2:33 AM
Hi We were in uk last week. We shopped from Bicester village n took refund of all d taxes, for which they swiped our credit card aa a security... next was to show those receipts to customs at heathrow n drop it in box. Upon reaching customs they asked us to show goods, which we passed to our check in baggage. Nobody told us at Bicester village that we have to carry goods too... so our refund was refused. Plz suggest what we can do now...as we r in India now.
Aks - 20-Jun-18 @ 8:14 PM
I went through the due process to get a refund at Heathrow after a 6-day stay in the U.K. I was given the option of either cash with a fee or crediting it to my card. I opted for the latter and was informed payment will reflect within 3 working days. Its been almost a month now and I have not received any indication of refund. How do I follow it up?
rodeii - 2-Jun-18 @ 5:59 PM
I have bills but i was not aware of vat form.so how can apply for refund
Sri - 13-May-18 @ 10:19 PM
I could not submit my VAT refund forms at the airport as I was in a hurry. Is there any other way i can do it?
Priya - 10-May-18 @ 6:54 PM
I will be on holiday in the UK for a week and plan to buy the iPhone X while I am in UK. After UK, I will be traveling to Amsterdam for 3 days before going back home. Will I be able to claim the VAT on leaving UK? If not, what is the process to get the VAT refund?
kst - 7-May-18 @ 11:17 PM
We have a 2 year Business/Visitor Visa for the UK We live in London 3 months of the year, home is Canada Can we collect VAT when we depart April 232018 after our 3 month stay.
kim - 17-Apr-18 @ 2:55 PM
We left Edinburgh airport on the 16th Jan at 4am in the morning. I was told to complete my vat forms and drop it in the mailbox provided and was told it would take 2 weeks before i would receive my refund, but have not heard anything. Kindly advise
Suki - 4-Feb-18 @ 7:53 PM
@Saltom - your'd have to contact HMRC. They're usually pretty quick on sending any amounts owing to you, unless they have a query to follow up.
JenN - 14-Dec-17 @ 10:12 AM
I came back from London 6 weeks ago where I submitted my tax form via the mailbox there. I have not received any VAT back as yet, how do I follow it up please?
Saltom - 13-Dec-17 @ 11:05 AM
I have not collected my VAT refund . Can i fill it online and what is the process . Please guide, Regards, Sanjay
SANJAY - 14-Nov-17 @ 4:17 PM
3.I did not collect vat refund slips during my shopping as I was not aware of the same. Will the bills/invoice that I have during my shopping suffice for vat refund claim?
Arr - 9-Nov-17 @ 2:29 AM
We had submitted our VAT refund forms overa month ago at the airport in Edinburgh. We have had no reply. How do we follow it up??
Tuna - 8-Nov-17 @ 11:55 AM
I bought my goods from UK I'm from China but I haven't finished my European tour. I'm planning to visit Budapest then go back to China. Howcan I claim my Uk shopping VAT back.
Aki - 24-Oct-17 @ 1:43 AM
I’ve submitted the VAT claim in Heathrow airport and they said I’ll get it in 2 to 3 weeks and I’m yet to get it. Not sure how to follow up either.
Vin Cee - 11-Oct-17 @ 8:25 AM
Hello, 1.Can I claim vat refund online ? 2.I forgot to claim vat refund during my trip that was last month.Can I claim that when I travel next to UK? If yes then then how long is the validity for same. 3.I did not collect vat refund slips during my shopping as I was not aware of the same. Will the bills/invoice that I have during my shopping suffice for vat refund claim? 4.Will the shops provide me the vat refund form for purchase that I made during my last visit in UK ? I have all the bills /invoice saved with me.
Shelly - 30-Sep-17 @ 4:43 PM
I came back from London more than 2 months, but I have yet to receive my VAT refund which I submitted in Heathrow airport when leaving London, how can I follow up this? Thanks
WCF - 7-Sep-17 @ 2:10 PM
Hi!! Am in a vacation with family in UK, holding Indian Passport and have visited various locations/cities, e.g. London, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Cardiff etc. Have made retail purchases from various outlets for which I have the invoices. Total spends amount to around 500 GBP. Please advise how can I get refund on vat, or if I am even entitled for the same.
Raj - 17-Aug-17 @ 2:48 PM
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