Saving Money in Austria: Get VAT reimbursed!
In my article about how to save some money on your trip to Austria, I have briefly stated that if you are a resident of some non-EU country, you get your value added tax (VAT) reimbursed. Now, since VAT is an impressive 20 percent on most goods in Austria, this sounds like a pretty significant amount of money. In this article, I proudly present a practical step-by-step guide on how to claim your money back from the Austrian ministry of finance.
Who can do Tax-Free Shopping in Austria?
Everybody who visits Austria as a tourist and who is not a resident of an EU country is eligible for the VAT reimbursement. Note that value added tax in Austria is almost always included in the price that is indicated in shops. Bills have to state this - usually as "20% Mwst. inklusive" ("20 percent VAT included"). There is a minimum value of 75 Euros of the purchased item for the reimbursement - this means that your acquisition must have cost at least 75.01 Euros in order to get your cash back.
How to get a reimbursement of Austrian VAT
There are two organizations in charge with the administrative business concerning the reimbursement: "Global Refund" and "Austria Refund". For the consumer - you - it doesn′t really matter which one you choose. In the shop where you purchased your precious souvenir (remember the 75.01 Euros minimum cost!), you have to ask for a cheque of one of the two organisations.
It has to be filled out in part by the shop assistant - this includes your name and home address. A so-called "refund envelope" comes with the cheque, which also contains a directory of all reimbursement bodies worldwide - more than 700 altogether. Note that the bill has to be stapled to the cheque.
Once you leave the European Union, you have to declare the item and the reimbursement forms at the customs office. Here you will receive a stamp on the refund cheque - this is obligatory for the reimbursement. Once you got the stamp as a piece of evidence that you have actually taken the item out of the EU, you can claim your money back - usually at the airport of your departure, or at one of the 700 reimbursement offices (see the list on your refund envelope). Most tourists get their money at Austrian airports.
Alternatively, you can travel back home and then mail the stamped forms to either Global Refund or Austrian Refund (make sure you get the one that matches with your forms). The will transfer the money to you. On most airports (such as the one in Schwechat near Vienna), the reimbursement office is in the duty free shopping area and the whole procedure is a lot less elaborate than it sounds in this admittedly rather detailed article.
How much money you will get reimbursed
Now, finally, here comes the hook: Because we Austrians are a bunch of bastards that has evolved to rip off tourists wherever possible, there is of course an administrative charge for the reimbursement. That means that you never get the entire 20 percent VAT back in cash. The average reimbursement is a mere 13 percent of the purchase. Still, a good reason to do it especially with pricey souvenirs.
Note that (theoretically) you often have to declare items that you buy in Austria again if you enter your home country - here you might be taxed for it. Life can be bad.
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Money, Currency & Finance in Austria