The VAT reclaim procedure at Lisbon airport is a little confusing, so with this post, I hope to help people get back some of their VAT payments. For those readers who are unaware of the VAT reclaim option, several EU countries let you reclaim VAT that you have paid on your shopping if you are not a resident of an EU country. In such cases, you must request a VAT reclaim invoice when buying your products and then when you finally leave the European Union, you can claim your VAT back.
The simplest way to get a VAT refund is to have your purchased items with you in your hand baggage. I could not do this since my items were heavy and had to be checked in. The procedure for checked in items differs quite a bit and is more complicated.
The key considerations are that you should be a non-EU resident, and you should be taking your purchased products with you outside the EU within 90 days of purchase.
I would highly recommend that if you want to do a VAT reclaim, carry your items in your hand luggage. The process is faster and simpler!
I will describe below the procedure for both cases since sometimes it is difficult to carry bulky items in your hand luggage.
SCENARIO #1 – Your items are in your checked in luggage:
You should process your VAT refund, including getting the stamp from customs, in the country you are in right before you leave the EU.
Here are some examples to help you out:
If you are flying:
Lisbon -> London (just a transit, bags are checked through) -> New Delhi – Do it in Lisbon
Lisbon -> Zurich (bags are checked through) -> New Delhi – Do it in Lisbon
Lisbon -> Zurich (two night stay, bags are not checked through) -> New Delhi – Do it in Zurich
Basically, do it at the last point in the EU that you have your bags with you.
In Lisbon, there is a long queue for customs inspection depending on the time of day. It would be advisable to arrive at the airport with an extra hour or two.
If your items are in your checked-in luggage, you will need to go to a separate customs inspection area to check your baggage in after a customs agent inspects your luggage. First, go to your airline’s counter and ask for your boarding pass. Mention that you would like to get a customs stamp for your checked in luggage and therefore will check in your bag after the inspection. Your airline will give you a baggage tag and your boarding pass. With this, you have to go to the customs inspection area for VAT reclaim, ask the check-in agent for directions.
Over here, a customs agent will look at your receipts and may ask to inspect your baggage to verify that the products are indeed being exported by you outside the EU. Once the inspection is complete, the agent will stamp your VAT receipt and your bags will be tagged and checked in at the same time. The queues for this counter can be very long. It can take between one or two hours to get through this queue depending on how busy the airport is at the time (mornings are very bad). It’s definitely much easier if you have your items with you in your hand baggage!
However, once you’ve made it and your VAT receipt is stamped, you can process your VAT refund after you go through security.
I had been (incorrectly) advised that I must process my refund in the UK since that is my last port of call inside the EU. However, since I was simply transiting at the airport in London, I never really entered the UK, so I should have processed my refund in Portugal, right after I had my bag inspected, got my receipt stamped, and went through security.
I still managed to get my refund because the VAT agent at Heathrow airport gave me a postage paid envelope that I could mail out from there to Slovenia with my VAT refund form. I had to fill out my credit card number on the receipt and I received the refund to my credit card in about 40 days. If you don’t manage to get your refund after security in Portugal (perhaps you ran out of time?) and are transiting through another EU country, you may ask for pre-paid envelopes to send in your claim at any VAT refund or Global Blue booth!
SCENARIO #2 – Your purchases are in your hand baggage:
This is fairly easy. You must get your receipt stamped by customs. You can do this after security screening and there is never a big queue here. Since your items are with you, you can show them if requested. After this, you can ask them to accept your refund request right there. Your refund should show up on your credit card in a few weeks. In some cases you may also request a cash refund and you will be paid in euros on the spot.
I hope it’s clear that if possible, always carry your purchases in your hand baggage. The process is much easier and you will not need to arrive at the airport 3 hours in advance.
Millions of tourists purchase items in the EU every year and leave behind the excess taxes they’ve paid. VAT in Portugal is 23% (and averages about 20% in most EU countries) and you get back about 15-18%. That’s quite a big part of your purchase!
Don’t leave your hard earned money behind… do a VAT reclaim!