VAT is short for Value Added Tax, and it's what most of the world outside of the US uses as sales tax. Unlike in the US, VAT is factored into the cost of items pre-checkout, so the price you see is the price you pay. Some people might not know, however, that as a tourist you don't have to pay this tax! Let me restate that: you must pay when you purchase an item, but you are eligible to have that money returned to you at the end of your trip. This article will show you how to recieve your VAT refund at the airport.
First, you should know that each country sets its own VAT rate (usually 15%-25%) and has a minimum purchase requirement ($0-$350), again depending upon which country you visit). When you make a purchase, be sure to inform the staff at the store that you will be applying for the VAT refund. They will give you all of the proper forms and reciepts (it's a good idea to carry a folder or envelope with you on your travels for easy storage and organization).
When your trip ends and it's time to fly back home, bring all of your documents and purchased items to the Customs office at the airport. You should do this before you check in for your flight; be sure to arrive at the airport early. The Customs official will inspect your documents, possibly inspect the items you purchased (but probably not), and give you a stamp, along with further instructions.
After passing through security and check in, find the VAT refund desk, where more wonderful paperwork awaits you! But don't give up, you are almost there. Furnish your documents one last time to the staff there, give them your John Hancock, and you're done. You could recieve your money back in a variety of ways: in local currency, in your home currency, as a credit on your credit card, or through snail mail in the form of a check. Whichever way you recieve your refund, it's all money back in your pocket!
VAT tax refunds can be confusing for some people, and it's not helped by the beaurocratic hoops you're made to jump through in order to claim in. Alternatively, try shopping at "tax-free" shops (look for the sticker in the window, or ask the staff), or ship your purchases directly from the shop. Please do note, also, that VAT is entirely unrelated to airport duty-free shops or a country's general Customs regulations.
I hope this article can help you figure out how to get your VAT refund at the airport. With just a bit of extra work on your part, you can save some serious cash! Good luck, happy travels, and thanks for reading!