How to Get a VAT Refund in Italy

by Jessica on September 28, 2009

by | September 28th, 2009  

shopping1If you’ve ever looked closely at a shopping receipt in Italy, you’ve probably seen the acronym “IVA” at the bottom and thought that Iva person really had her fingers in with lots of companies… Okay, you probably didn’t think that last part. But in case you’ve ever wondered just what that “IVA” thing was, I’m here to tell you – and also explain how keeping track of those receipts could save you money the next time you travel in Italy.

“IVA” is the Italian acronym for “VAT,” which frequent travelers may be more familiar with as the “value-added tax” that gets added onto many of the things you’ll spend money on while on vacation. All countries in the European Union have a VAT that they levy on purchases, although each country sets its own rate. The VAT rate in Italy is (at present) 20%, and the tax is applied to accommodation expenses, meals, and merchandise. Since those are some of the main expenses for tourists, and since 20% isn’t a small amount, this VAT thing can really add up.

The good news for those of you who aren’t EU residents is that you can, if you want to, get some of that VAT money back at the end of your trip.

Technically, as as tourist from outside the European Union, you don’t need to pay the VAT in the first place – but because it’s incorporated into the listed price of everything, and because not all merchants are prepared to just knock the VAT off at the cash register, you could end up leaving quite a bit of money behind in Italy that you don’t really need to.

(I should note that I’m one of the people who’s always just left that VAT money behind, because, as you’ll see, it’s kind of a huge pain in the you-know-what to get it back.)

What Expenses Qualify for a VAT Refund in Italy

shopping2While you’re likely to spend a pretty penny on accommodation in Italy and (if you’re me) food in Italy, sadly those are things that you won’t be able to get a VAT refund for. The only exception to this is if you’re traveling in Italy for business, but the rules for business travel are generally quite different than the rules for leisure travel. In other words, you’d best check with an accountant to get the most recent details on that.

Any other purchases you make in Italy where you see an “IVA” being added, however, are eligible for a VAT refund at the end of your vacation – including souvenirs, clothing, and even some services. Keep in mind that there’s a minimum amount required in order to claim a VAT refund which varies depending on the country, but as this is being written the minimum purchase amount to submit a VAT refund in Italy is €154.94 – and that’s money spent at one time, at one store. That means you’re better off finding one place where you can buy several of the things you were thinking of getting rather than spending €30-50 at each place, but of course this isn’t always possible.

There are additional rules about claiming a VAT refund, including that anything you bring back out of the EU is for personal use only, carried in your luggage, goes through customs, and leaves the EU within three months of the date of the purchase.

Ideally, the merchant from whom you’re buying that pair of Prada shoes or ceramic olive oil urn will remove the VAT from the purchase price before you even hand over your credit card, just because you showed your non-EU passport. But in reality, some merchants find this to be a hassle or have no earthly idea how to do it – so be prepared to keep track of all your receipts. Oh, and even if the merchant is willing to take the VAT amount off the purchase price, you’ll still need to get the receipt stamped at customs before you leave the country, so you’ll need to keep track of those receipts whether you get an immediate deduction or request a refund later on.

(And now you may be starting to realize why so many people just don’t even bother looking into a VAT refund.)

How to Get a VAT Refund in Italy

shopping5If you can’t get the VAT amount taken off the price before you pay for your goods, you still need to make sure you have a conversation about the VAT with the merchant before you leave the store. The merchant will need to give you a separate receipt, in addition to the one that comes out of the cash register – it’s called a “fattura,” and it should include your name (so keep that passport handy) and the amount of the IVA (VAT) tax for that purchase clearly marked. If there are blanks on the “fattura” for you to fill out, make sure you ask what information goes in what blank space. Keep all forms and receipts, including the additional “fattura” receipts, in a secure place.

When you’re getting ready to go home, collect all your receipts and forms – along with all the stuff you bought that’s listed on those receipts – and bring them to the local customs office in the airport from which you’re departing. You may get lucky and be able to easily find the customs office, not to mention the special VAT refund line, but if you’re intent on getting the refund then make sure you get to the airport even earlier than you’re accustomed to.

When it’s your turn at the front of the special customs line, you’ll present all your receipts (and your purchased goods for inspection, if that’s required) and they’ll stamp everything. But wait, you’re not done yet. You then need to get those stamped receipts back to the merchant where you initially purchased the items.

No, I’m not joking.

Many bigger merchants work with companies with branches at airports and other international gateways in Italy (Global Refund and Premier Tax Free are two of the most common), which means you’ll need to take your stamped receipts to the appropriate agency’s office in the airport in order to get a refund on the VAT. You’ll either get a refund in cash right then, or they’ll refund your credit card. They take a small cut of the total amount, but they usually make the process go infinitely more smoothly.

If, on the other hand, the merchant from whom you made your large-enough-to-qualify-for-a-VAT-refund purchase doesn’t work with one of those in-airport agencies, then you’ll need to mail your receipts back to them directly, either from the airport before you leave or from home. As you can imagine, this is a gamble, as you may never see a refund or hear from the merchant again. Even getting a refund from the merchant may not be ideal, as it could come as a check that’s in euros – which could require a fee from your local bank to convert it into dollars.

The bottom line is that even if you’ve done everything right, you may still end up with nothing at the end of it all. Well, nothing except a lovely pair of Prada shoes, that is.

Tax Free Shopping in Italy

shopping3taxfreelogoOne very easy way to avoid all this hassle is to shop in stores that display a “Tax Free Shopping” or “Euro Tax Free” sign in their window. To be sure, this won’t cover all the shopping you’re likely to do in Italy, but if you can make all or most of your big purchases in shops that are ready and willing to help you get your VAT refund easily at the airport before you go home.

In these “Tax Free Shopping” stores, you’ll need to show your passport when you make your purchase, and you’ll get a check for the VAT amount along with the receipt for the goods. When you get to the airport, you’ll still need to go through the rigamarole of finding that special line at the customs office and having the receipts stamped, but then you’ll take the receipts – and that check the merchant gave you – to the “Tax Free” booth in the airport where they’ll give you cash for that check. These booths are typically near the airport’s Duty-Free Shop.

>> For more information, check out the Italian customs department’s website. It’s detailed – almost too detailed – but after a read-through you’ll certainly understand how complicated the process is.

>> On a related note, make sure you know how much you can spend in Italy duty free before you do any shopping.

photos, top to bottom, by Stefano – Stark, amandabhslater, Marc from Borft, specialkrb

{ 22 comments }

Keith September 30, 2009 at 9:55 am
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This is an awesome post!! You really go through “line by line” (so to speak) on how to do this.

I agree with you that this is such a huge hassle that sometimes it’s not even worth the trouble, but I suppose if one buys a lot of expensive clothes, leather goods, food, etc. then this might be worth it in the end.

I always learn something new your posts! :)

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Jessica September 30, 2009 at 11:48 am
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Thanks, Keith!

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Peter October 3, 2009 at 11:00 am
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Wow… this was extremely well thought out and written. Even I learned a lot of new things!!

In the end, I’m with you, Jessica. I’m a VAT-Leaver-Behinder myself! Imagine trying to get refunds from all these little mom and pop shops down here in the south??? It’s tough enough just to get a receipt from them, much less a fattura! :-D

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eddie October 8, 2009 at 7:03 am
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Great article Jessica!

If i have a US green card will it also be valid to get a refund? Also, what percentage of the total purchase am i getting back?

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Jessica October 8, 2009 at 10:11 am
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Hi, Eddie:

I don’t know what a green card would change about this process, so I can’t help you with that question, but the amount you’re getting back is the VAT (IVA) percentage which is 20% at the moment.

Ciao,
Jessica

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dadida November 17, 2009 at 8:05 pm
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Deat Jessica,

Thank you very much for sharing this info! Going to spend xmas in Italy and planning to do lots of shopping. One question though, I heard that if you wish to claim for VAT you need to hand-carry the items through immigration. Since I’ll most likely end up with lots of stuff to bring home (much like the photo that you put up there!) I don’t think it’s gonna be possible for me to hand-carry everything.. worse, the flight attendants might not even let me board! Any idea how I can claim check-in the items yet still claim for VAT?

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Ashlyn February 2, 2013 at 1:35 am
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hi….i going to Italy soon. im malaysian. May i know Italy Vat is 20% for tourist?

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Jessica November 18, 2009 at 1:15 pm
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Hi, Dadida:

Thanks for your note. As I mentioned in this article, I’ve not tried to get a VAT refund myself, so I’m not sure if you can get a refund for stuff that’s in your checked bags. The way I read the information, you do have to have the stuff you’ve purchased with you in your carry-on bag “just in case” the officials at the airport want to look at it. They may not look at it, but if they ask and you don’t have it on you, that may well mean you won’t get the refund on it.

I do believe there are ways to get the VAT refund if you’re working with a merchant that’s set up to deal with it and you ship things home (from the merchant directly), so that might be your best option if you can’t carry it all on.

Good luck,
Jessica

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Meg May 23, 2011 at 9:34 am
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This is a great information on the VAT refund.
I will be departing from Milan Linate airport early in the morning (around 6 am). Are the VAT refund offices in open 24 hrs?
My question is can I go to the custom (and get the paperwork stamped) at the airport anytime or one or two days before leaving Italy? That way I can get the stamped paperwork back to the store myself without mailing the paper work?

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Jessica May 26, 2011 at 11:30 am
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In theory, that sounds like it would work – but I don’t know for sure. I don’t know where the VAT refund offices are in the airport (whether they’re before or after security – if they’re after security, you wouldn’t be able to get to them without a ticket valid for that day), and I don’t know their office hours. You may find more information about that on the link above to the Italian customs department.

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NaNa September 19, 2011 at 5:44 pm
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how long does it to get a refund, if no news, what to do? where to check? thanks,

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Jessica September 29, 2011 at 4:40 pm
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I haven’t tried to get a refund myself, so I don’t know how long it should take. All the information I had about the process is in the article above – including links to more information if you want to follow up.

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Xinyee January 30, 2012 at 4:22 am
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Can I claim my tax refund in ciampino airport??

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Jessica January 31, 2012 at 2:14 pm
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I’ve not flown in/out of Ciampino Airport, so I don’t know about the tax refund offices there, but my understanding is that these tax refund offices are going to be at any airport – you’ll need to ask when you get there to find out where it is.

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Callendulo April 12, 2012 at 12:21 am
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Be aware of the cheating practiced by the so called “New Tax Free” company that has the yellow form and is effective only in Italy. Namely, unlike the Global Refunding (the blue form) the “New Tax Free” refunds with a delay and charges more than 50% for their service!
Hence, I got 30 Euro refunding instead of 70! Complains are ignored.
You should check in the shop before buying valuable items if the provide Global Blue or the “New Tax Free” refunding service.

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Jessica April 18, 2012 at 5:13 pm
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Thanks for the warning!

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jose miranda July 27, 2012 at 8:40 am
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YO PEDIR EL REEMBOLSO DE UNAS COMPRAS REALIZADAS EN BURANO, CERCA DE VENECIA ME DIERON EL DINERO EN LAS OFICINAS DE GLOBAL EN VENECIA, Y ME DIJERON QUE DEPOSITARA EL CUPON FIRMADO CUANDO ABANDONARA LA UNION EUROPEA Y LO COLOCARA EN EL BUZON…

-HICE ESO EN ESPA√ĎA EL 11 DE JULIO DE 2012 , PERO PARA MI SORPRESA VAT-ITALIA ME CARGO A MI TARJETA DE CREDITO EL DIA 24 DE JULIO EL CUADRUPLE DE LO QUE ME HABIAN DADO EN VENECIA…LAMENTABLE…AHORA A QUIEN LE RECLAMO?

-CUIDADO..

-JOSE MIRANDA BUENOS AIRES ARGENTINA

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joelle safi August 21, 2012 at 12:20 am
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hello. i’m from lebanon and was in malpensa airport 2 days ago. i stamped all the receipts for tax refund but unfortunately i had no time to stay in the line to get my money back. is there any other way to get my refund from my country?
thank you

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Khai November 21, 2012 at 4:40 am
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Hi

Im not a european /uk origin. I’m intending to fly to florrence and depart italy fm venice. My question is: can you claim vat for purchases in italy from any airport in italy or i can only claim vat at the airport that i fly into.

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brendan January 6, 2013 at 3:23 pm
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after spendind a wonderful time in Italy came across vat custom man in milan airport,,, horrible experience we where refused vat even though we dont live in european union.
TOTALY RUDE RUDE RUDE for no reasion.
PLEASE dont buy in Italy.

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brendan January 6, 2013 at 3:30 pm
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My advice for more simple system is travel to Spain or even UK or even another airport in Italy forget
about Milan Rude Rude Rude.
I will travel to UK next week and will then clain my vat from Italy so either way I will get it.
Shame on Customs in Milan Shame.

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brendan January 6, 2013 at 3:38 pm
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Also I noticed so many Russians being treated spoken to with disrespect in this system of vat return not sure most understood what was being siad they shop spend alot of money in this country,,
why at the port of exit Italy has these unItaly personality people working,,,, dont buy in Italy.

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