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When sailing on your dream European river cruise, the chances are that you’re going to do some shopping. Maybe a lot of shopping. But when you do, you’ll discover a little thing called VAT which can be confusing if you’re not in the know. Let us help you become a savvy shopper and get the refunds you’re due. 

The Value Added Tax, or VAT, in the European Union is a general, broadly based consumption tax assessed on the value added to goods and services. It applies more or less to all goods and services that are bought and sold for use or consumption in the European Union. You’ll find that a standard VAT is about 15% to 25% depending on the specific country and it’s added to everything from a hotel bill or restaurant bill to a small purchase at a boutique or a ticket to a museum.

However, goods that are sold for export or services sold to customers abroad are normally not subject to VAT. That means that if you’re bringing goods back into the United States, you can often get a VAT refund. Getting a VAT refund is, quite frankly, a hassle. We’re not huge shoppers so we don’t find it worth the time and effort. But if you plan on buying thousands of dollars in jewelry or electronic equipment, it might be worth your while to seek a refund. The VAT you pay on hotels, meals or other services is not refundable. Only merchandise qualifies for a VAT refund, but the process can be rather complicated. So, what to do?

1 – Bring your passport with you when shopping. 

2 – Ask the merchant if they participate in VAT refunds. 

3 – If they do, ask the merchant to fill out the required tax-free form and then attach your receipt to the form as you leave .

4 – Some stores will work with you at the time of purchase to get you a refund by asking that once the forms are stamped at the border, you mail them back to them and they can then credit your charge card at a later date.

5 – If a store does not work with you on-site for a VAT refund, bring all your paperwork and receipts of your major purchases (in most cases, each individual purchase must exceed a set amount ranging as high as $300 depending on the specific country) to the airport or border crossing.

6 – For purchases made in the European Union, you can’t collect a VAT refund until you depart the last country in the European Union.

7 – Get your documents stamped at customs as you leave Europe but be prepared for long lines of others doing the same thing.

8 – Be prepared to show the goods you’ve purchased if you are asked to do so by the customs officer; if your purchases are not in your carry-on luggage, don’t check your bags until you’ve completed this step.

9 – If the merchant belongs to a refund service, you’ll need to find the desk for that service at the airport or border crossing; Global Blue and Premier Tax Free are the most common.

10 – You may get a cash refund right then and there from a refund service or you might have to then mail the documents to the refund service.

11 – Be patient, because it can take several weeks or even months before a VAT refund shows up on your credit card or a check arrives in the mail.

12 – Remember that your refund will be paid in the same currency used for the purchase, such as the Euro, which means you will pay a currency exchange fee in order to convert the payment to US dollars.

Hopefully this information helps shed light on this process. Select Waterways will be glad to provide more details when you travel on a European river cruise.

Select Waterways are your river and small ship cruise insiders, specializing in European river cruises, including Danube River cruises, Rhine River cruises, wine cruises, Seine River cruises, as well as China river cruises with Yangtze river cruises, Vietnam river cruises with Mekong River cruises, Russia river cruises with Volga river cruises, Nile river cruises, Africa river cruises and Amazon river cruises. Naturally, we have American river cruises with Mississippi River cruises, Ohio River Cruises, Columbia River cruises, Illinois River cruises and Tennessee River cruises. We also offer expedition cruises and small ship cruises throughout the world, with polar cruises such as Arctic cruises and Antarctica cruises among the most popular. Whether it’s luxury river cruising, premium river cruising, expedition cruising or small ship cruising, we’ve got you covered. Visit our website at www.selectwaterways.com or give us a call at 1.844.SWCRUISE (1.844.792.7847). Be sure to join our Insider Club by clicking here and Like our Facebook page by clicking here.


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