So here’s something neat that we came across out of pure chance. The first few days that we arrived in Lisbon, the temperatures were incredibly high! The mercury was touching 40C (104F) and places here are ill equipped for this kind of weather (no fans, air conditioning, etc.). So we decided to head down to El Corte Ingles in Lisbon, it’s an air conditioned shopping center with a huge selection of items, plus, there’s a cinema multiplex in the basement where you can catch the latest movies.
So how can you save 33% or more while shopping there? Well, you can get a tourist discount of 10% on eligible items (non Portuguese citizens) and then claim a VAT refund of 23% (non EU residents).
When we were in the store, we saw a notice saying that tourists can get a 10% discount on eligible purchases (eligible purchases include fashion items, clothes, perfumes – no electronics though). To get the discount, you have to go to the customer service agents and ask for a discount card. You’ll need to show a foreign ID (driver’s license, passport, etc.) and they’ll hand you a discount card with your name on it.
Once you have the card, you can apply it to any eligible purchase. What’s really cool is that the 10% tourist discount adds up over and above any existing discount. This means that if you see a pair of shoes with a 30% discount, with your tourist discount added, you’ll actually get 40% off the price! Pretty sweet!
The tourist discount can be claimed by any non-resident. So, if you are an EU citizen from Netherlands, Belgium, or another country, you could still claim the discount.
If you are a non-EU resident, then you can request a VAT refund receipt. You can get a VAT refund receipt from any store in the EU that has a VAT registration, however, the store should be able and willing to do this for you (bigger stores can do it..). I had done this in November 2011 at the Apple Store in Cardiff, UK and El Corte Ingles in Portugal and Spain will also give you a VAT refund receipt.
Portugal charges 23% tax on all the items. If you are a non-EU resident, you can get a refund on this amount. How this works is – you buy your items and keep the receipt with you. Once you’re done shopping, head down to customer service (-4 basement level in Lisbon, Portugal) and ask them to print a VAT refund receipt for you. Almost all purchases (including electronics, shoes, etc.) are eligible for VAT refunds, however, you cannot claim a refund for perishables such as food, etc. You will need to show your passport to get a VAT refund receipt.
They’ll print out VAT refund receipts for you which should get you about 23% back minus some processing charge. You have to keep these receipts safely as you will need to present them at the airport later.
When you are leaving the EU territory (at the end of your trip), after immigration, there is a VAT refund counter. You go there with your VAT refund receipts and they will give you the money in cash.*
I had previously done this for my iPhone 4S which I had bought in the UK in November 2011. I carried the VAT Refund receipt from the Apple store in the UK and eventually presented it in Spain. I was able to get the VAT Refund with no issues.
A VAT refund can save you quite a bit of money so make sure you avail this option. You need to claim the refund within 3 months of your initial purchase.
So there you have it! Get a 10% discount from El Corte Ingles and claim back your VAT. That’s 33% off over and above whatever discounts they already offer.
* You also have the option of claiming the money as a credit to your credit card. However, for this to work, you will need to give your credit card details to the store while claiming your VAT refund receipts. Personally I prefer the cash route as I know that I will get the money immediately and won’t need to keep checking my credit card statement to follow up.