I travel, I shop, I buy. Then I come home and brace for the credit card bill.
After a recent trip to Rome, though, my credit card company noted a small reprieve. A portion of the taxes I paid on purchases had been refunded to the card; it was the value-added tax, or VAT, a kind of tax that can range from 15 to 27 percent in the European Union.
The restored funds felt like a gift. But they weren’t. It was my money all along; visitors are entitled to refunds of taxes paid on goods (though not hotels, services and meals). I just had to claim it with a minimal amount of paperwork and a visit to a desk at the Rome airport before departure.
The process was easy, yet many travelers skip it — and leave their money behind.
Here’s how to claim your own VAT.
Carry your passport when you shop. Stores that cater to tourists know the system. They launch the process by preparing a special form that requires your passport number. Not all stores will do this, so ask before you fall in love with that Italian leather purse.
Complete the form by filling in the blanks with your address and other basic information. Add your credit card number if you want direct reimbursement. You can also opt to have a check sent to you, or, in some cases, get the money immediately, though companies that provide this service take a cut.
Don’t use your purchase yet. Technically, you are allowed a refund on purchases intended for use only outside the country. Still, I wore a jacket I bought; I just kept the original tags in case a customs officer asked to see the item. No one did.
Head to the airport early and seek out the customs desk, where the forms will be stamped and sent on their way. (If you are traveling throughout the E.U., do this at your last stop before returning home.)
Finally, know that the process may not be perfect. I had two forms, and am still awaiting the second reimbursement.
Send your questions or tips to Travel Editor Kerri Westenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow her on Twitter: @kerriwestenberg.