Can I claim a VAT refund if I leave the UK?

Updated on 20 November 2017

When people shop in the UK they pay VAT on most things they buy. But there is a ‘VAT Retail Export scheme’ that allows certain people to claim back the VAT they have been charged on most of the goods they take out of the EU. We explain what this scheme is and how it may apply to you.

What is VAT?

Value added tax (VAT) is charged on the supply of goods and services in the UK. VAT is charged at either the standard rate of 20%, the reduced rate of 5% (for things such as gas or electricity) or the zero rate (for things such as certain food). In addition, certain supplies are specifically exempt from VAT, such as postal services. When you shop in the UK, you pay VAT on most things you buy.

You can find out more about VAT on GOV.UK.

Can I get a VAT refund when I leave the European Union (EU)?

The ‘VAT Retail Export Scheme’ allows certain people to claim back the VAT they have paid on most of the goods they take out of the EU.

Although you may mainly associate this scheme with visitors to the UK, EU residents that are leaving the EU for twelve months or more can also get a VAT refund on goods they buy before they go and take with them. It cannot be used for services. 

The 'VAT Retail Export scheme' is normally advertised in UK shops as ‘Tax Free Shopping’. Not all shops operate the scheme – if you are interested in using the scheme, look for shops displaying a Tax Free Shopping sign or ask a shop assistant before you buy.

You can find a basic outline of the system on GOV.UK.

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) have also produced HMRC Notice 704/1 Tax free shopping in the UK to explain the scheme further, which you can find on the GOV.UK website.

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Do I qualify for the Tax Free Shopping scheme?

We recommend that you read HMRC Notice 704/1 Tax free shopping in the UK to find out whether or not you can use the scheme. You can find it on the GOV.UK website.

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What items are excluded from the Tax Free Shopping scheme?

The scheme does not include a number of items. We recommend that you read HMRC Notice 704/1 Tax free shopping in the UK to find out when you cannot use the scheme. You can find it on the GOV.UK website.

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How does the scheme operate?

HMRC Notice 704/1 Tax free shopping in the UK explains how the Tax Free Shopping scheme works. You can find it on the GOV.UK website.

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