We’ve had a number of clients ask us recently for information about how to get a tax refund in Italy. VAT is the sales tax (called IVA in Italian) that is applied to most purchases—including consumer goods like clothing and accessories, perfume, and home décor. Italy’s VAT rate is 22%, so it makes sense that travelers would want to pursue a refund, especially those who plan on doing some serious shopping while visiting Italy.
That said, the process to claim a VAT refund is tedious and involves a number of complicated and time-consuming steps. Unless you’ve spent a hefty sum on Italian goods (keep in mind that you cannot claim refunds for lodging or meal costs), it may not be worth the extra effort. Here’s a breakdown of how to get a tax refund in Italy so you can decide whether it makes sense to file a claim.
You have to jump through a number of hoops to successfully claim a sales tax refund in Italy. If you skip any step or form (or complete them in the wrong order), your claim will probably be denied by the customs authorities at the airport.
First, be sure to bring a copy of your passport when you shop so you can fill out the VAT refund form required by customs to process your claim when you make your purchase. This form must be completed at the point of purchase, so if you can’t provide a copy of your US (or other non-EU) passport, you’re out of luck.
Second, look for a “Tax Free” sign in the shop window or near the cash register. Not all Italian shops know how to handle VAT refund forms, and artisan workshops and stores in small or untouristed towns will probably not have these forms on hand (or even know what they are). If a tax refund is a priority, limit your purchases to luxury boutiques in large cities like Rome or tourist hot spots like Capri where they are likely to be better informed about the tax refund process. Some of the more popular stores among foreign tourists will issue a voucher for the refund amount that you can present at the airport’s “Tax Free” booth, along with your stamped forms (see below), for instant payment.
Third, make sure that you spend enough to claim a tax refund. In Italy, the minimum purchase amount at a single shop is €154.94 if you want to claim VAT, so if you spend €150, you cannot request a refund. Keep in mind that this minimum is per shop, not your sum total of purchases during your trip. You also want to spend enough that it makes it worth the hassle to fill complete the entire lengthy process to claim a refund.
A note: Sales tax refunds in the EU are claimed at your point of departure, even if you’ve visited more than one country during your trip. If you are flying from Italy to France, you will claim VAT refunds upon leaving France for home, not at the Italian airport….and the same applies to trips that begin in another EU country and end in Italy.
The VAT refund form (the VAT 79) must be filled out at the moment you make your purchase, so let the store staff know that you intend on filing for a VAT refund BEFORE checking out (many stores cannot issue an invoice after a purchase has already been rung up on the register). You will need the cash register receipt, an invoice (“fattura”) that clearly lists the VAT (IVA) amount, and a VAT refund form (also known as a “tax free form”) that you will need to complete with the merchant
All VAT refund claims must be presented at the border upon leaving Italy, which generally means the airport customs office.
Keep in mind that you can only claim a VAT refund on purchased goods that have not been used while in the EU, so make sure that all items are unworn, unused, and/or in their original packaging. The items must be packed in your luggage, so if your purchases are inside bags you intend to check, be sure to go to the customs office before checking your bag.
Make sure you arrive at the airport early enough to find the customs office (which is often hidden in a remote corner of the airport) and to wait in line if there are other travelers also filing claims.
Once you’ve found the customs office, show the export officer all your receipts/invoices, completed forms, and items you’ve purchased. If it all adds up, the officer will stamp your documents and receipts BUT does not issue a refund.
You’re not done yet! The customs office does not issue refunds, so to receive cash or a credit on your credit card, you have to return to the store where you made your purchase with the stamped receipt and invoice.
Luckily there are refund services at the airport that partner with merchants (Global Blue and Premier Tax Free are Italy’s largest), so you can present your stamped receipt and invoice at their office or kiosk and they will issue your refund directly. They charge a rather stiff service fee (generally a percentage of the refund due), but will either give you cash on the spot or a credit on your credit card and you’re done.
If the store where you made your purchase does not work with a refund service, you must mail your stamped receipt and invoice directly back to the point of purchase for a refund. This can take weeks to months (if it comes at all…there is a risk that the merchant either never receives or never acknowledges the delivery) and will either come in the form of a bank wire (with banking fees taken out) or credit card credit.
As you can see from this overview of how to get a tax refund in Italy, it’s only worth the extra effort to complete the entire process if you’ve spent a significant amount during your trip!
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