You have heard of duty-free shopping in airports but did you know that following Brexit, British residents can now claim back VAT paid on purchases at high street shops in France during their holidays?
This VAT refund is available to non-EU residents over the age of 16, and so since the UK left the European Union on 1 January 2021, UK residents in England, Wales and Scotland (excluding Northern Ireland) can opt to claim back the tax spent on purchases in France.
Whether you are stocking up on French wine, picking up a few nice gifts or souvenirs to give your friends back home, or there’s something that has caught your eye in a department store window while ambling down a Parisian boulevard, you may be able to enjoy a discount on your items. To do this, it is vital that you ask for the right form or invoice at the time of purchase so it can be processed at the airport or train station on your way home. There are a couple of methods of getting your VAT refund, one is the traditional paper method and another is via a digital refund app. Read on for your full guide to tax-free shopping in France.
Which items are eligible for tax-free shopping?
Items that you will be able to get a tax refund on include clothing, make-up, jewellery, perfume, some electronic items such as headphones or tablets, and food and drink items. Goods are only eligible if they are unused and in their original packaging as you reach your departure point, where they may be inspected, so you must resist the urge to open those macarons until you get home, no matter how good they look!
Some shops and department stores in France work with traditional tax refund companies and will be able to provide you with a form to fill in that you will need to send off to the refund company to process, this company will also take a higher commission from your refund. The use of a VAT refund app such as Wevat means that you are not limited to shopping in certain partner stores, you can shop either popular touristy shops or some local boutiques, and also means that a higher percentage of the refund will be returned to your pocket…
How much can I claim?
The amount that you can claim back will depend on the type of item you have bought and the refund method you choose. The standard VAT (or TVA) rate in France is 20% of the original product price (which then works out as 16.67% of the total sale price), while food and books and some other products will have a lower VAT rate. Commissions and, in some cases, currency exchange fees will also be deducted from your refund.
There’s no “do-it-yourself” when it comes to VAT refunds, so you’ll always have to go through a VAT operator. A traditional refund company will refund you around 8%-12% of the purchase price. Wevat, however, will only charge a single flat fee of 20% of your refund and can therefore refund you 13.34% of your original spend (for example if you spend €600, Wevat will refund you €80).
Top tip: Use the Wevat app to keep an eye on how much your refund will be – their refund breakdown screen keeps track of your invoice value the VAT amount, their transparent fee and your refund.
The minimum amount you must spend in order to claim back VAT varies in each EU country. In France you must spend at least €100.01 to qualify. If you use the traditional refund companies you will need to reach this threshold within each single transaction. However, if you use the Wevat app you will only need to have spent more than 100.01 on purchases across your whole trip.
How do I claim back the VAT?
Digital refund app: The digitally savvy can take advantage of the Wevat app to process their VAT refund and to receive the biggest refund. Please download the app before shopping for compliance. To do this you must ask shop staff to issue an invoice (facture in French) addressed to Wevat – the app has a handy screen with the request and Wevat address in French that you can show to the shop assistant. Do this for each purchase you make, then take a photo of each invoice and upload it to the app. Generate the digital tax refund form in the app after finishing all of your shopping. At the airport on your way home, find a tax refund kiosk at the airport or train station and scan the barcode that the app will generate for you – this is your digital tax refund form. You can choose the currency you are refunded in and Wevat will use the exact market exchange rate at the time, so you can purchase in euros and get a refund in pounds without paying any exchange fees! You should receive your refund within seven days via your choice of bank transfer or credit card refund. You can also track the refund status in the app one day after departure. Download Wevat here.
Top tip: If you find yourself confused by the process during your trip you can chat to the Wevat customer service team at any time through the app – they are multilingual!
FAQ: Can every shop issue an invoice?
A: The good news is the majority of the shops can issue an invoice easily. Stores also have a legal obligation to issue invoices upon request. You do not have to provide any justification when you request an invoice, this is supported by a statement on the French authority’s official website which you can find here.
We would suggest checking with the store staff before shopping. If they can issue an invoice addressed to Wevat, go ahead with the Wevat app for higher refunds and more convenience. Alternatively, you can still use the traditional method offered.
Traditional method: Alternatively, there is a more traditional paperwork method you can use. When you are shopping in a participating store, ask the staff for a paper tax refund form for your purchase. At the airport on your way home find a PABLO terminal and scan the barcode for each form. Gather your forms and receipts into an envelope and drop it into a post-box at the departure point. You won’t be able to track the refund unless you send an email to their Customer support team. You should receive your refund after a week to two months.