Did you know that there is a 22% value-added tax (IVA) tax on all goods purchased in Italy?
And, as a non-EU citizen you can get some of this back!
The process can be confusing and involves a lot of rules, paperwork and patience, so for small purchases it might not be worth your time. But if you find yourself loading up on souvenirs or going on a shopping spree at an outlet mall (like I did during my last trip), all the hassle might be worth it.
Below I’ll go over the rules and list some tips. These should only be taken as guidelines as they are based on my own recent experience and your personal experiences may vary.
AT THE STORE
Shop in stores that know the program.
Not every store will know about or participate in the tax refund program. Small shops in rural areas are much less likely to know about refund processing compared to high-end stores and those in tourist areas. Look for stores that have a “Tax Free” sticker in the window or by the register. Their workers will most likely be knowledgeable about the program and may even handle all the paperwork for you! At the least they will give you all of the appropriate paperwork to submit later.
Bring your passport.
The tax refund program is only available to non-EU citizens, and you are required to show your passport in order to file a claim. I did not have my passport on me one day and was able to use my driver’s license from the USA at most places. One cashier refused this form of ID but luckily I found a photo of my passport on my phone that she accepted.
Meet the minimum purchase amount.
You must spend at least 154.94€ at one time in one store in order to collect the tax refund. So, it’s best to choose stores where you can buy several items on your list instead of spending 30-50€ in different stores.
Organize and check documents.
At the cash register ask the cashier for the tax free form, present your ID and have the cashier fill out the necessary information. MAKE SURE TO CHECK YOUR PAPERWORK BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE STORE! I had trouble collecting a refund from one store because the cashier made a bad copy of the refund paperwork. She copied the receipt on top of the form and covered up most of the useful information. I did not notice this until I was at the airport and had to plead my case with the customs officer and the money exchange clerk, both of whom did not want to accept it.
I’ve read some reports of cashiers offering to handle the rest of the process for you on the spot and processing the refund back to your credit card. I did not experience this level of customer service during my last shopping trip. In most cases you will have to take the completed forms and your receipt and present them at the customs office at the airport (more on that below). Make sure to keep your paperwork in order and don’t lose anything.
AT THE AIRPORT
Just finding the customs office can be a challenge at an Italian airport, and even when you do find it there might be a long line or the officer might be on break. Budget time for this.
Once you find the customs office and an officer, you will present all of your paperwork and receipts to be stamped. You need the stamps to collect your refund(s). If you’ve purchased goods in other EU countries (taxes and refund amounts vary by country), you can get those documents stamped as well. All of your documents must be processed at your last stop in the EU. Documents must be processed within three months of the purchase date.
Follow the rules.
At the customs office, the officer is supposed to inspect your purchased goods. All items for which you are seeking a refund must be leaving the EU with you, must be for personal use, and should not have been used or worn before your departure. It’s best to arrive with all items packed in your luggage During my last trip the officer did not check my luggage and I was not questioned about anything I was wearing or carrying, so you might take your chances. The rules seem to be applied on a discretionary basis.
To get your refund, you need to get your stamped receipts and paperwork back to the merchant where you purchased the items. At each store, along with your paperwork and receipt you are given an envelope to mail back your processed paperwork. If this sounds too risky or like it will take too long, you might be able to use one of the refund services at the airport. Take your stamped paperwork and stamps to the kiosk and they can give you a refund on the spot, minus a commission. I have read reports that these kiosks only give money back in the local currency, but I had the opposite experience and was told they needed to give me back USD.
Of the four sets of paperwork I had, two of them were able to be processed right away. The other two had to be mailed back to the merchants (one because of the refund company used and the other because of the copy mistake made by a cashier- see above). I had been told by a cashier in one of the stores that it was best to get the cash refund right away because the other way (mailing in the documents and waiting for a refund to my credit card) could take weeks…or even months! When I found out that I would have to mail away for half of my refunds I was convinced they would never arrive, but they did. That brings us to my last point.
I received one refund five weeks after mailing it in from the airport, and the second refund three weeks after that. The best part was that the full refund amounts were returned to me, since I did not have to pay a commission. In the future I will opt to mail in the paperwork and receive the refund back to my credit card. I have read stories of people claiming to never have received their refunds, but so far my experiences have been positive. Maybe these people have not waited long enough. I am willing to take the chance, and as is best with all bureaucratic experiences in Italy, I will be patient.
Do you have your own IVA refund success/horror story to share? Post a comment to let us know your experience.