How to claim back VAT on gifts you purchased in Amsterdam

How to claim back VAT on gifts you purchased in Amsterdam

When you have been shopping in Amsterdam and have bought expensive items, you might want to hold off opening them during your stay in an Amsterdam Apartment accommodation. The reason is that in some circumstances you are eligible for a tax refund if you leave the items unopened until you head back home. Here is how it works.

The rebate applies to the Value Added Tax (VAT), for which the Dutch acronym is BTW. Really! VAT is now 21 percent in the Netherlands, so you can imagine that this could add up to quite a saving. One item of 1000 euros will qualify for a rebate of 210 euros.

Only visitors hailing from outside the EU, ie non-EU residents, can claim VAT back when they leave the country. There are a number of steps involved in VAT refunds, but from what I saw recently at Schiphol airport, the process is not all that customer unfriendly.

So I think the time is right for a small guide on how visitors can claim VAT back.

Purchases which qualify for a refund 
First things first. Without a receipt, you won’t get anywhere. So hold on to your receipts including debit/creditcard receipts. More is less.

Second – the small stuff doesn’t count. Only purchases worth 50 euros and more qualify for a potential refund. And before you ask, no you cannot staple five receipts for purchases of items worth 10 euro together and think you can claim a VAT refund.

Third –  You must have purchased the item for which you wish to claim back VAT from a retailer which participates in the VAT refund scheme. Not every Amsterdam shop does. Most participating stores however will have a sticker on their door indicating they do. Some display this iconic sticker on their till or on a shop window.

Fourth – the deadline to claim your refund expires three months after the purchase date. If you do not leave Amsterdam before that time, you might need to make your way to Schiphol airport and get the stamps (read on).

The forms
Even when you are still in the shop purchasing your luxury item of over 50 euros, you need to be clued up on things. Demand the tax-free application form which you know the retailer is hiding somewhere in the back of the shop. If they look hazy, try this phrase ‘I need the special tax-free purchase receipt’. If it so happens this strikes a chord, chances are you will come away with a little form on which the merchant has put down your name, the country you’re from and your passport number as well as the necessary descriptions of the item you have bought (what exactly it is, the price and the applicable VAT). Do not worry if the man/woman behind the counter gives you a hand written form; customs accepts that. In case you were given the tax-free form instead, the onus is on you to fill it out.

You need either one of the forms to qualify for a potential rebate on your VAT. If you have forgotten to ask for one, head straight back to the shop where you purchased your item and try to obtain the documentation. Some shops will be difficult about this, so be aware of this.

Claiming the refund
Next up is the hardest part. Once at Schiphol Airport you will need to head to the customs office in Departures Terminal 3 to get your tax-free forms plus receipts (or your special tax-free receipts) stamped. Next, you must be able to prove to the officer on duty that you have not used the items (wash the champaign stain out of that wedding dress!), and present your travel ticket along with your passport which needs to show that you are from a non-EU country. Once that’s done, start hunting around at Schiphol Airport for refund service assistance (or better, you will have already made inquiries with the retailer earlier on).

There are a number of desks around, but you need to find out if the retailer you have purchased your goods at participates in the networks of any of these Schiphol based communal refund services, or whether he has opted to stay independent. In the latter case you will need to be patient and mail your stamped forms back to the retailer and wait for your refund. The various desks at Schiphol airport all operate in different ways, and you need to use your wits to get up to speed. Many offer instant cash, which is why it is a good idea to pull your sox up and get the ball rolling.

One of the most well known VAT rebate service desks is Global Blue, with three desks at Schiphol all in Departures Terminal 3 (lounge 2 and lounge 3). Another one is GWK Travelex, located at Schiphol Plaza which runs the books for Easy Tax Free and Premier Tax Free. In case none of this is helpful yet to you, perhaps you need to look at the Vatfree site, which is a service acting on behalf of private visitors wishing to claim back VAT for a fee (either online or by post). They have a desk in Departures terminal 2.