Sunday, July 28, 2019

VAT tax refund drama

"I wouldn't have bought the phones if you didn't promise a VAT tax refund!" I heard my niece speaking over the phone, with a shop she just bought the I-Phone from in UK.

My family came visit me early July, after attending my niece's graduation ceremony in UK. It took them some times to walk out of Nantes Airport, as they were looking or VAT tax refund counter/machine, as they didn't manage to get any tax refund when they left UK. An non EU visiter can claim a value added tax refund when he or she purchases over a certain amount of items when he or she leaves the EU country. In France, the VAT is at 20%, and one can get back around 12% after deducting the administration fees.

The drama started when they bought three I-Phone in a shop in UK. Not only the shop proposed to trade in their current phone, they also promised a tax refund. Apparently after taking into account all these incentives, the price was a lot cheaper than buying in Malaysia, so three of the group bought one. The did it the last day in England before heading to France.

When they were taking their flight in UK to France, they were told that since they had not left European Union (EU), they couldn't claim the tax refund. Beside, all tax refunds required a Retail Export Form ("bordereau de détaxe"), which the I-Phone shop didn't provide. As soon as they arrived in my place, my niece called the shop to ask for the form, only to be told that they needed to go to the shop as a passport is needed in order to process the form. Both nieces were in the room dealing with the shop, calling the support numbers, emailing...

They bought other items in UK too, so I assured them I would help them through the process since I was going with some of them to Switzerland. Switzerland is not in EU, and there was a tax refund machine in Nantes Airport, so I figured we could do the tax refund inside Nantes Airport. They believed me, and happily did more shopping in Nantes.

Except that I was wrong. 

The day we were flying to Geneva from Nantes, we went to the information counter and were told to use the tax refund machine in the reserved areas. We passed through the security control to arrive at the reserved areas, we were told the machine was just after the passport control. We headed towards the passport control, the officers told us it was not possible to use the machine without giving any explanation. And then I found out that our gate was before the passport control, I guessed even though Geneva is not in EU but it was still considered a domestic flight. I checked with a very nice airport security control officer, she told me to go back to the information counter then come back again.

"You may be able to do your tax refund in Geneva Aiport, or go to the Embassy of France in Geneva." The information counter officer told me. Ok I didn't know Embassy of France handles tax refund. We went through the security again, I walked to passport control, hoping that they would just let me use the machine. But all I got, was yelling and yelling from them as if I had committed a crime. I felt very sorry for my family as there was nothing I could do but to wait & see when we arrived in Geneva. 

It was almost mid-night when we arrived in Geneva. The information counter was closed. We went back there the second morning to pick up our rental car, and I finally managed to ask someone about the tax refund. She assured me that my family could do the tax refund the day they head back to Malaysia. The trick was they needed to go to the French side, get a stamp from the French custom, then come back in to the Switzerland side to do the tax refund. It sounded complicated for me.

After more shopping in Switzerland (where I discovered their VAT is only 7.7% vs 20% in France), it came finally the day when they needed to head back home. I got confirmation from the Global Blue counter about the process, then brought my family to the French side. They went inside, found the French custom, and via Whatsapp told me the French was not friendly, and was just being there without wanting to help. I probably didn't explain well, they thought they could get the tax refund there and were disappointed when the French custom just said no. However they managed to get a manual stamp on items purchased in UK, and electronic stamp on items purcharsed in France.

After they went through the security control in the Switzerland side, they finally told me they got the tax refund! Since they asked for cash, they got charged again some fees, so they didn't get the 12% as expected for the purchases made in France. Beside, in the note displayed in the French counter (photo above), it stated that if you got a manual stamp you need to mail it, but actually they got the cash refund right away with the counter.

So much drama and it sure had reduced their desire to do shopping during their trips here.

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