If you’re travelling to Ireland from outside the EU, you may be entitled to a VAT refund/VAT tax refund.
In a nutshell, you can claim money back on some (not all – see below) of the purchases that you make in Ireland (and in other countries across the EU).
Now, plenty of people visit Ireland without ever realising that this is a thing. In the guide below, we’re going to show you how to get a VAT refund after leaving Ireland and how to know what purchases entitle you to one.
What is this VAT refund thing all about?
If you’re not familiar with VAT, it’s a tax that’s included in the price of your purchase of goods and services in Ireland. Now, while the % of VAT charged will differ depending on the goods or service that you’re purchasing, the standard VAT rate is 23%.
People visiting Ireland who live outside of the EU (there are some exceptions – see below) are entitled to VAT refunds on eligible purchases made during their time in Ireland.
Note that this tax rax relief doesn’t apply to services. According to the Citizens Information Centre, ‘Tax relief is not allowed on services, for example, hotel accommodation, meals or car hire.’
A quick warning
The deductible VAT scheme is intended to only apply to goods that you can carry with you in your hand luggage. Now, you might be thinking, ‘Sure, I’ll pop it in my check-in case and it’ll all be grand’.
If you do this, you won’t be able to get the refund. As you’ll read later in this guide, you need to be able to present your purchased goods to customs as you’re leaving Ireland.
This customs desk is located after you go through security, so you’ll only have your carry-on luggage with you at that point.
According to the official EU website, ‘The facility is intended for goods that could in principle be carried in personal luggage. Goods that have to be exported as freight, for example, and cars and yachts are excluded. Some countries may also exclude other categories of goods’.
So, who’s eligible for a refund of VAT?
Not everyone is eligible for a Value Added Tax refund after visiting Ireland/the EU – you must be a ‘visitor’. ‘Visitors’ to the EU qualify for the refund (there are exceptions – see below).
A ‘visitor’ is a person who lives in a country outside of the European Union. Example one: A family from the US who spend 2 months in a holiday home in Kenmare every summer are visitors. Example two: someone from Canada visiting for a week-long holiday is also a visitor.
Who isn’t eligible for a VAT refund?
There are a number of situations where a VAT refund doesn’t apply. It’s worth taking note of the below to ensure that you don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re due a refund when you aren’t.
Let’s say that you’re a student from outside of the EU and you’re studying in Ireland. You decide to head home for a month at Christmas. In this situation, you don’t qualify as you’re going to be returning to Ireland.
Now, if you’re leaving Ireland for good, you’ll be able to pick up a Value Added Tax refund. However, it only applies to qualifying purchases that you made in the 90 days before you leave.
2. Non-EU workers
Let’s say you’re from Brazil and you’re working in Dublin as an accountant. The summer arrives and you decide that you want to head home to see your family.
Similar to the student example above, you don’t qualify for a Value Added Tax refund. Now, again, similar to the student example, you can claim an EU VAT refund when you leave Ireland, but only on the qualifying goods that you bought in the 90 days before your departure.
3. Embassy workers
Working in an Embassy in Ireland? You don’t qualify for a European Union VAT refund via the process outlined above. However, you can claim VAT back via your protocol officer.
4. Other situations that don’t qualify for VAT refunds
There are several other random situations where you can’t claim VAT back. One applies to military personnel. If you’re working in the army and you’re from outside of the EU, you can’t claim the VAT refund.
Another is if you’re from Ireland or from anywhere else in the EU and you’ve lived outside of the EU for less than a year.
If you visit Ireland on a trip (leisure or business) you won’t qualify for a refund. Oh, it probably goes without saying that if you’re an EU resident you can’t claim a refund.
How to claim a VAT refund after visiting Ireland
Now, if you’re thinking, ‘Happy days, I’ll just tell them at the till/cash register that I’d like to pay for the item minus the VAT’, you’re going to be disappointed – you need to pay the full price with VAT when you’re in the shop.
There are several things that you need to do to ensure that you qualify to obtain a VAT refund after leaving Ireland. Take note of these as each is necessary to ensure that you qualify.
Note: there are other services (e.g. the FEXCO Horizon Card) that make this process a little easier. You’ll find info on these at the end of this guide.
Step 1. When making your purchase
If you’re planning on heading out shopping, bring your passport with you and make sure that you keep it nice and safe (I’ve heard that some places will accept a photo of your passport instead).
When you visit a shop, ask one of the people working if they take part in the VAT refund scheme. Many shops that operate within the tourist industry/that get good business from tourists will.
With that being said, many non-tourist orientated shops do, also. For example, I worked in a men’s clothing store while I was in college and we participated in the scheme.
You also need to understand what threshold applies to the purchase in order for you to be eligible to get a tax VAT refund.
Things you need to bring with you: passport/photo of passport. Proof that you’re a visitor to the EU (your ticket home – printed or on a travel app – will suffice here).
Step 2. Getting the appropriate documents
OK, so you know that the shop you’re buying from takes part in the scheme and you know how much you have to spend in order to qualify. Now it’s time to ensure that you leave with the right documentation.
After you’ve made your purchase, ask the shop assistant/the person manning the till/cash register to fill out the VAT refund form – here’s where you need to be savvy.
There are several things that you need to query at this point:
- Ask the person what exactly needs to be done to get the refund: In some stores, they’ll organise a third-party to sort out the refund for them. In some cases, the store will issue the refund themselves
- Ask about admin fees: many stores will take an admin fee for processing the refund. Find out there and then how much it is
When they hand the form to you, have a quick scan of it to ensure that all the necessary sections are filled in. Usually, you’ll be given the document with an envelope. Pop your receipt in with the envelope and keep it safe as you’ll need it later.
Step 3. When you arrive at the airport
So, it’s time to head home. If you’re planning on claiming VAT back, ensure that you arrive at the airport early, as there can be a queue and you don’t want to risk missing your flight.
Now, it’s here that you’ll need to get the VAT refund fully processed before you leave Ireland. The VAT refund points in Dublin Airport and Shannon Airport are located past security and before the customs office.
You’ll need to present them with the invoice you received from your purchases along with the filled in refund form. Now, the painful part here is that you’ll also need to show the thing you bought, which isn’t ideal.
You’ll need to pack it in your hand luggage so you have easy access to it. The customs officer will stamp the form as proof of export.
Note: if you’re flying to somewhere else in Europe before heading home, DON’T processes your refund yet. Wait until you’re leaving your final EU destination before making the claim.
Step 4: Getting the refund
According to the EU website, ‘In some larger ports and airports, you may be able to obtain a refund straight away once the customs officers have stamped your form, provided the shop in which you bought the goods uses this facility.’
Using third-party services
Now, another way to do get your sales tax refund is to claim a FEXCO Horizon Tax Free Card. You can order one of these for free online or you can get one from many stores that take part in the tax free shopping scheme.
With the card, you simply register it online and then swipe it every time you make a qualifying purchase. Then, when you’re in the airport, you simply give the card to the person working at the FEXCO tax free refund desk, which can be found in both Dublin and Shannon airport.
There are also self-service kiosks for those of you that visit when the main desk is closed. You can also claim the tax refunds online. Refunds can take 4 to 6 weeks to hit your account.
Now, just to clarify, I’m in no way affiliated with FEXCO. There are a number of other providers that offer similar services but, from research, the FEXCO card is the most convenient.
If you found this useful, you’ll find our tourist information hub very handy! It contains info on everything from renting a car in Ireland (without being scammed) to how to plan the perfect Ireland itinerary.