Visitors to Ireland from outside the European Union (EU) can buy goods in Ireland to take home with them and benefit from tax relief. Tax relief is not allowed on services, for example, hotel accommodation, meals or car hire. The visitor must provide proof that they are a visitor from outside the EU when making each purchase. The proof includes evidence of the place of residence, inbound and outbound flight dates and a signed declaration.
The tax relief is provided under the Retail Export Scheme which operates in two ways.
Before making a purchase, the tourist should confirm with the retailer that they operate the scheme. They should also clarify whether the retailer is operating the scheme in their own right or with a VAT-refunding agency.
If an agency is being used, the tourist should follow the agency’s specific procedures when making the purchase. When they are leaving Ireland, the tourist should deposit the documentation they were given for the purchase with the agency. (Some VAT-refunding agencies use a plastic card to record a tourist’s purchases by swiping the card when making a purchase.) If VAT was paid, the agency will make the necessary refund within 25 working days if the documentation is complete – see ‘VAT-refunding agencies’ below.
If the goods are being purchased without the involvement of an agency, the retailer should issue the tourist with an export voucher for the purchase. When leaving Ireland, the tourist should get the voucher certified by Customs at the airport. The certified voucher is returned to the retailer. If VAT has been paid the retailer refunds the VAT (less any processing fee).
Tax relief can also be given to EU residents who can provide evidence that they are going to live outside the EU for a period of at least one year.
In addition to the Retail Export Scheme, retailers can also send directly to the tourist's home (outside the EU only) goods ordered or purchased by them. Where this takes place, no tax is payable by the tourist.
Usually, proof of export is the export voucher stamped by Customs at the last point of departure from the EU. For example, you buy goods in Ireland and then travel to Great Britain before you leave the EU, you must have the relevant documentation stamped by British Customs authorities. Irish Customs authorities will only stamp the documentation if you have a ticket for a destination outside of the EU, valid not later than the end of the third month from the date on which the goods were purchased.
If you are unable to have the documentation stamped by the relevant Customs authorities at the point of departure or have not used the services of a VAT-refunding agency, you can still have the documentation stamped in your own country by a person of official status (for example, by Customs or the police) before returning it to the retailer in Ireland.
Many retailers operate the refund scheme using VAT-refunding agencies that arrange for the tourist or visitor to benefit from the tax concession. VAT-refunding agencies operate independently of the tax authorities:
There are three variations in how these agencies operate:
Some agencies use a card to record your purchases rather than forms. You swipe the card each time you make a purchase. You should register the card before leaving Ireland and return the card to the agency.
Individual tax-free forms for purchases of up to €2,000 (including VAT) may be lodged directly with the agency refund booths at the airport without a Customs stamp. Documentation for individual purchases of over €2,000 (including VAT) must always be presented by you to Customs for stamping.
It is important for you to retain your own copy of the documentation received from the retailer for future reference. If you are mailing the documentation back for a refund, it is advisable to keep a photocopy.
Where an individual item costs €2,000 or more (including VAT), it must be presented to Customs, along with the appropriate documentation, before any VAT refund will be approved.
The retailer or agency is obliged to make the refund within 25 working days of receiving your documentation. If a refund is not received, you should contact the retailer or agency concerned.
If you are having difficulty getting your refund, you can contact the Revenue Commissioners (see ‘Where to apply’ below). It should be noted, however, that the Revenue Commissioners do not administer the Retail Export Scheme OR make refunds directly to tourists under the scheme.
In order to cover administration costs, retailers and VAT-refunding agencies usually charge an administration fee. All retailers and VAT-refunding agencies are obliged to clearly indicate the level of this fee. Similarly, agencies making refunds in foreign currency are obliged to indicate the exchange rate used.
If you are having difficulty obtaining your refund, you can contact the Revenue Commissioners.
More information on the Retail Export Scheme is available on Revenue's website.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.