One of the best things about shopping in Ireland for American citizens and other non-EU visitors is that purchases can be tax-free. We stress can be because it is not automatic – it takes a little effort on your part. Here's how it works.
In Ireland, almost all consumer products are subject to Value Added Tax – VAT, for short. VAT is a "hidden tax” of 16% to 21% – already added into the purchase price of most goods. However, non-EU visitors are entitled to get a refund of VAT paid.
Ireland is one of the best places in Europe to shop and get VAT refunds. Unlike all other EU countries, Ireland requires no minimum purchase. The VAT rate in Ireland varies, but VAT refunds usually give you back around 17% of purchase price (after a small service fee has been deducted). Of course, you can avoid VAT altogether by mailing gifts home, making purchases at Shannon Airport’s Duty Free Shop, or by buying goods at Ireland's churches, abbeys, tourist offices, and other non-profit organizations that operate as charitable trusts.
Assuming that you shop in a variety of commercial shops and are carrying your purchases back home with you out of the EU, there are the four refund systems.
• Global Refund Tax Free Shopping — This is the largest and most reliable VAT-refund system. Simply make purchases either by cash or credit card, and then request a Global Refund form (blue and white in color) from the store clerk. He/she fills in the necessary store details; you fill in your name and home address, etc. Save all the forms till departure day. At Shannon Airport, hand in your forms to the Global Refund desk, and you will get a refund of cash (dollars, euros, or other currency of choice). Real money on the spot! You also get a printed receipt with complete details of your total purchases and VAT refund. If you prefer to have a credit applied to your credit card, that is another option. If you don't have time or forget to submit your VAT forms at the airport before departure, you have 90 days to mail the vouchers back. These tax-free vouchers must be stamped by a customs officer or a notary public at home before being mailed. More information: www.globalrefund.com
• Ireland Refund Tax Free— Make purchases by credit card or cash and receive a Tax Free form. Fill out the forms and keep till the end of your trip. When you get to the airport, go to the Tax Free desk and submit your receipts. This company will refund by sending you a check or crediting your credit card. They do not give cash into your hand on departure, although they hope to institute this option soon. More information: www.eurorefund.com/ireland
• Horizon/FeXco Tax Free Shopping – The red “Horizon” plastic card looks like a credit card, but instead it records the tax you are due when making a purchase. The motto is “swipe and save.” This system is fairly new (as of Fall, 2010). When departing Ireland from Dublin or Shannon, present your card to the FeXco Tax-Free desk – and your tax refund will automatically be transferred to your credit card. You can get the card before you leave home online or at any participating store. More information: www.shoptaxfree.com.
• In-Store Refunds – This refund method is operated by a number of the larger stores, directly or through Global Refund (see above). It is almost as easy as mailing your goods back home, but without postage costs. With this system, you are asked to pay by credit card. Stores take off the VAT at the time of purchase, and give you a form and a postage-free envelope. However, you must remember to hand in or mail your forms at departure from Ireland. Some forms require you to have the forms stamped by a customs officer before departure. If you don't mail/hand in your forms, then your credit card will be charged VAT plus a fee. If you don’t have a credit card, but still want to make a purchase, you pay the full price including VAT and the store sends you a check within six weeks.
Above all, always remember to get a VAT refund form each time you make a purchase (or, in the case of Horizon, present your card at participating stores to record your purchases on your plastic card). You can't get any refund (cash, check or credit card rebate) without a form or a card. It's always worth the effort - and, as they say on TV, it's your money.
A Final Note About Making Credit Card Purchases
– When you shop and choose to charge the amount of your purchases to a credit card, you will get a good exchange rate – since credit card companies make large transactions all at once, and you benefit in the process. However, be careful about one procedure. Sales clerks will often ask if you want to charge your purchases in euros or in dollars. Your first reaction may be to say “dollars,” but this is not correct. Always say: “charge in euros” because you will get a much better rate of exchange in the end.
For a detailed step-by-step guide to reclaiming your VAT refunds, get a copy Pat's book, The Smart Shopper's Guide to Ireland
"Guide to the ABCs of VAT"
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