Claiming VAT Refund at London Heathrow is an Endurance Test

How to Claim VAT Refund at London Heathrow and How Long Does it Take:

Heathrow Terminal 3 Follow Me on Pinterest

Heathrow T3 VAT Refund

Claiming your VAT Refund at London Heathrow is an endurance test! From the time we joined the VAT Refund queue to when we actually wound our way to the counter for our claim to be processed and paid, it took us two hours. And according to the Travelex staff, this is the normal queueing timeframe. So if you’ve got VAT to claim at London Heathrow, be prepared to stand in queue and allow at least two hours of waiting time.

London Heathrow T3

We arrived at Terminal 3 at 4:00 pm and thought that we would have plenty of spare time as our flight to Singapore didn’t leave till 8:35 pm. Tony saw a large crowd outside the departure hall and thought that this was the crowd queueing for their departure procedures but on approach we saw the large VAT Refunds sign displayed. One of the Travelex staff confirmed that if we are claiming VAT, this is where we would have to queue up.

How to Claim your VAT Refund

London VAT Refund Follow Me on Pinterest

VAT Refund at London Heathrow

The VAT Refund procedure at London Heathrow is very different to that at the Rome, Amsterdam and Paris airports that we have experienced. Travelex handles the whole process and you do not have to check-in with your airline first or get a Customs stamp. Travelex is the one-stop shop for the Customs stamp and payment of your VAT claim.

If you have electronics, jewellery and watches over £250 you will need to have your VAT processed after Security.  The Travelex desk is just past the Security area – to the right.

If you have other items that you intend to hand carry, Travelex recommends that you process your VAT refund after clearing  Immigration and Security.

For all other VAT claims, you stand in queue at the Travelex office outside the Departure hall.

Vat Refund at London Heathrow Follow Me on Pinterest

Tax Free Forms

As you wait in queue, the Travelex staff will come around to check your VAT forms to make sure that you have valid VAT claims/receipts and that you have signed your form. Note: these days the larger shops have cash machines that generate the Tax Free Forms and they look like the strips of paper that this traveller (picture on the left) is checking. This form has on it the name of the tax-free handling agent, your passport number, address, purchase amount, refund amount, etc.
Remember: No Tax Free Form = No VAT Refund!

When you eventually get to the counter, your VAT claims will be processed and if you have substantial amounts of claims (as many of the Asian shoppers have),  you may be asked to show the goods that you purchased.

Once your documents have been checked, the Travelex staff can pay you cash or credit the VAT refund to your credit card account.

Whilst the Travelex procedure is very simple, please note that the process does take time. From the start of the queue to when you actually get to the Travelex counters, it takes about two hours. We asked if it is faster at Terminal 5 which is the base for British Airways flights, and the Travelex supervisor advised that the waiting time is about the same.

Note: If you want a cash refund, Travelex charges a fee for each invoice processed. For refunds to your credit card, no fees are charged.

London Heathrow VAT Refund Follow Me on Pinterest

VAT Refund Desk after Security

Double-Dipping by VAT Handling Agencies

We actually did all of our shopping in Paris, but as we were leaving the EU from London, we had to process our VAT refund at London Heathrow. When I was completing the Tax refund forms with the retailers in Paris, they asked if I intended to take my refund in cash or as a credit to my credit card. I asked one of the large stores what the significance of that question was and was told that for cash refund a fee of 10% is deducted.  In Paris, most of the shops use either the Global Blue or Premier Tax Free as the VAT processing agents.  I can understand that agencies like Global Blue and Premier Tax Free would want a fee for having to have cash reserves to pay to claimants like myself.

However, at London Heathrow, the VAT refund is not handled by Global Blue or Premier Tax Free, but by Travelex.  So, my VAT refund was charged a 10% fee for handling by Global Blue and Premier Tax Free and when I actually claimed the VAT refund in London, the Travelex people also took a cut for handling cash payments, i.e. I paid two lots of fees for cash refund.  To me, it seems like a bit of double-dipping here.

Still Better to have Cash in Hand

In spite of having been charged two lots of fees, I still prefer to receive a cash VAT refund as there is no possibility of the tax refund being reversed and a penalty applied, as many people have experienced when shopping in Rome. The Travelex staff are processing so many VAT claims each day and should any forms or information go astray, I should hate to receive a charge-back to my credit card, through no fault of mine.

Queueing for two hours to get your VAT refund processed is a negative experience and shoppers may look elsewhere to spend their money or avoid London Heathrow as the point of exit from the EU!  I for one will think twice about going through London again if I were planning a shopping trip.

Please take a moment to comment below.

Comments

    • avatar says

      Hi Bimal,
      As you are consuming the food in the UK, you’ll not be able to claim VAT refund – in any case, most foods are tax-free.

      As for purchases of gifts items, as long as they meet the minimum threshold, the article is not a tax-exempt item and the shop you’re buying from is a member of a tax-refund scheme, you should be able to get a VAT refund. As the shopkeeper before you make your purchase.

      Regards,
      Helen Page

  1. avatarBryan says

    Hi Helen,

    Do I have to show my flight ticket to verify that I am flying out of EU? I have a 4k and 0.8k watches to claim tax refund. The total claimable amount is around 240 pounds. Do I claim it after security or before security as I want to have the watches put into my checked-in luggage.

    Please kindly advise. Thank you.

    Regards,
    Bryan

    • avatar says

      Hi Bryan,
      At the Travellex office you’ll see a VAT Refunds poster, like the one above, and it says “Electronics, jewellery and watches over GBP 250.00 need to be refunded after security.” The VAT desk after security is very prominent (see photo above).

      Another point I would make is that you should not check in expensive items like a 4k watch into your checked-bag as bags can go missing and luggage looting by dishonest airport staff is not an uncommon problem. Small items are particularly easy to steal.

      Finally, you do have to show your passport and as you are going through security you will already have had to produce your passport and boarding pass.

      All the best,
      Helen Page

  2. avatarHelen says

    Hi Helen, for European VAT refund is it correct this can only be done at T3? My departure is at T2, so do I go to T3 first, do the VAT refund and subsequently return to T2 for departure?
    Also if I want to go to Chanel at T3, does this mean I will not be able to do so? Thanks!

    • avatar says

      Hi Helen,

      In the UK, Travellex acts as agents for the following tax refund agents: Global Blue, Premier, Tax Free Worldwide, GB and Innova. At Heathrow, Travellex has stores at the following terminals:

      Terminals 1 & 4: Landside & Airside Departures open daily from 5:00am–10:00pm

      Terminal 3: Landside & Airside Departures open daily from 6:30am- 10:00pm

      Terminal 5: Landside & Airside Departures open daily from 6:00am-10:00pm

      Unlike other European cities, the London tax refund process is a little different in that Travellex is the one-stop shop for the Customs stamp and payment of your VAT claim. You do not have to check-in with your airline first or get a Customs stamp. So in your case, you can go to Chanel at T3, do your VAT claim and then proceed to T2 for your departure.

      Please make sure you allow plenty of time for your VAT claim. As you can see from my post above, it took us 2 hours from the start of the queue to the VAT desk.

      Helen, VAT processes can change over time so when you reach the Travellex area at T3, check with the staff first before you join the queue.

      Happy shopping and all the best,
      Helen Page

  3. avatarHelen says

    Helen, thanks for your swift reply.

    I realize I was a bit dense and was not very specific.

    I need to claim 2 taxes, – Global Blue (for European VAT) and UK VAT. Can both of this be done at the same Travellex agent at T3, or do I have to queue at 2 different counters?

    Secondly Chanel at T3 is after Immigration, as my departure is from T2 does this mean I will not be able to frequent their shop?

    Again thanks for your help!
    Helen

    • avatar says

      Hi Helen,
      As mentioned above, Travellex acts as tax refund agents for Global Blue, Premier, Tax Free Worldwide, GB and Innova. If your UK VAT form is from one of the five that Travellex acts for, then you should be able to claim your European and UK VAT at the one counter.

      Re your query about shopping at Chanel – As Chanel at T3 is after Immigration you will not be able to enter the T3 secure area as your flight is departing from T2. However, Heathrow does have a Heathrow Boutique Shopping Service and if you have a particular Chanel product in mind, it would be worthwhile emailing them to make enquiries.

      The link below is their FAQ on what they can or cannot do for you. It seems that if the Chanel product you’re interested in is not available at the airport, they “may be” able to check with the high street to source it for you. Be sure to confirm prices before you place the order.

      http://boutique.heathrow.com/index.php/faqs

      I hope you’ll shoot them an email and see what they say. Even if they can’t help you in this instance, I think the FAQ is interesting reading for any future shopping at Heathrow.

      Let me know how you go.

      Kind regards,
      Helen

  4. avatarHelen says

    Dear Helen, thanks so much, this has been a great help!

    As an observation, strangely email addresses are hard to obtain, most organizations will provide telephone nos instead, but the time difference to my country it is not practical to call. I have been fortunate to stumble onto your site, and gotten answers.

    Thanks again, Helen

  5. avatarAli says

    Hi Helen!

    Thanks for putting this out there.
    Is there any way to check how busy the VAT queue at Terminal 3 is on a particular day?

    TiA,

    Ali

    • avatar says

      Hi Ali,
      Apologies for the late reply as we’ve been on the road, and with little access to the internet.
      Unfortunately, there’s no easy way of finding out how busy the VAT queue at T3 is on any particular day. When we asked a Travellex personnel if claiming VAT at the other terminals might be easier, her reply was that all the terminals are just as busy as T3 and that they are busy everyday.
      You might try calling Travellex at LHR and ask their views, but I wouldn’t be too hopeful on any meaningful response as they too can’t predict when visitors are likely to shop and claim VAT refund.

      Kind regards,
      Helen Page

  6. avatarLoulouah says

    Hi Helen,
    It’s been a month since we got our Tax Refund procedure done at the airport. We requested for the refund to be deposited in my debit card account which the official accepted. But there has been no transfer so far. Generally how long does it take and who should I inform if its long overdue?
    Thank you,
    Loulouah

    • avatar says

      Hi Loulouah,
      Apologies for the delay in responding as we have been on the road ourselves.
      The VAT refund can take anything from 2 to 6 weeks, depending on the refund handling company, i.e. Global Blue or Premiere Tax Free, etc. Both these companies have online tracking systems where you can find out the status of your tax refund, but to do this you’ll need to have your Tax Free Form Number – see Global Blue’s tracker as an example.

      https://secure.globalblue.com/secure/traveller-services/refundtracker/

      I always advise people to take a photo of their form before submitting it in case there are delays or paperwork goes missing. If you don’t have this information, then you could try emailing the refund company and see if they can help you.

      Good luck in tracing your refund.

      Kind regards,
      Helen Page

  7. avatarSanaa hajaij says

    My family was robbed of their vat refund at heathrow airport by the vat people although my mum and dad does not live in this country and showed their ids where they live .they have british overseas passport but was treated very bad at the vat refund.they will not comeback to London again.vat people are robbing tourist of their vat refund and keeping it to themself.very bad.

  8. avatarAlison says

    Hi I have a very important question. I bought a Chanel bag at the airport in Paris and they did not give me VAT tax back forms. I am flying from London back to the United States in April. Is there any way I can receive those forms even though I have already left Paris. Technically it was the sale associate’s fault since I did tell her I was an American citizen and asked her about tax forms, but she negligently forgot to provide me with the forms.

    • avatar says

      Hi Alison,
      Have a look at the receipt that you got for your Chanel bag. These days, the “Tax Free Form” is usually generated from the cash till machine and looks like a long strip of paper with the words Tax Refund Cheque or Tax Free Form at the top.
      If you don’t have this, then I suggest you phone Chanel at CDG Airport (Phone : +33 148160100) and ask if they could mail you the form or go to a Chanel shop in London and see if they can help you obtain it. Without this cheque/form, you’ll not be able to get your Customs stamp.
      Alison, also note that there is a time limit on having your VAT form stamped and it’s usually 3 months after the issue of your VAT form.

      All the best,
      Helen

  9. avatarYvonne C says

    Hi Helen,

    You mentioned that 10% fee will be deducted for cash refund. Do you mean 10% of the purchase price? For example the handbag cost $1000×10% = $100.

  10. avatarYoung says

    Hi helen!

    im traveling to italy,france and UK. but i will be in the UK for at least a month before heading home(non EU).
    would it be possible for me to make the refund by then? is it possible for me to make the refund at each stop before i head to another destination? Is there opening hours for the VAT refund?
    one last question, can i use my debit card to get my refund back?
    sorry to bombard you with so many question.
    hope you can enlighten me :)
    thank you!

    • avatar says

      Hi Young,

      1. You have three months from the date of purchase of goods to make your VAT refund claim. It doesn’t matter that you are staying in the UK for a month, as long as your Italy and France purchases are within that three-month timeframe.

      2. Refunds can only be claimed at your final point of exit from the EU which in your case is the UK. In the UK the VAT Refund is handled by Travelex. At T3, their VAT operating hours are 06:30 – 22:00.

      3. You can have your refund credited to your credit card. As regards debit cards, some don’t allow credits to be processed. Please check with your card company.

      Hope the above is enlightening!

      Kind regards,
      Helen

  11. avatarSad says

    Hi Helen,
    I am going back from london and want to get back my vat.i shopped many things but I didn’t get Vat form from any retailers.i asked 2 or 3 shops they told me our vat no is on receipt so you can claim it.is it necessary to get vat form or we can claim without forms?one more thing I bought iphone last year but i didnt used that i got receipt but don’t have form is it possible to get back vat.please tell procedure of vat claim.i will be very thankful if you help me.

    Regards

    • avatar says

      Hi Sad,
      I’ve included a new image (third picture down) in the above post which shows what a Tax Free Form looks like if it has been generated from the cash machine. The strip of paper will say “Tax Free Form” and it will have the name of the VAT handling company on the top (e.g. Global Blue or Premier Tax Free), your ID information on it, the purchase amount and the VAT to be refunded. The shop has to sign the declaration section at the bottom of the form. Just a VAT no. on a receipt is not sufficient.

      The smaller shops may still use the manual process, in which case you will be given a form that is manually completed and which will have all the information mentioned.

      Whichever form you receive, they usually give you a reply paid envelope so that you can send in your claim by mail if you don’t have time to queue at the airport.

      You must have either one of these forms. Without the tax free forms you will not be eligible to make a claim. I suggest that your check the ‘receipts’ that you have and see if they are actually the Tax Free Forms. If not, you’ll need to go back to the shops, with your passport, and ask them to provide you with the correct VAT documentation.

      As regards your iphone, you will not be able to claim VAT on this as it is past the 3 months time-frame allowed for making your claim. Again, without the Tax Free Form, you’ll not be able to make a claim.

      For future shopping in Europe, always ensure that you have the Tax Free Forms, if you intend to make VAT claims.

      Hope the above helps,

      Kind regards,
      Helen

  12. avatarHailey says

    Hi Helen!

    I’m heading to EU in June and will be leaving in July. While I’m in Paris I will be purchasing a chanel hand bag. We will be flying out of Heathrow airport terminal 1. Do you know what the vat tax rate is? Would it be best to get the refund in cash to be safe? Or silly that they charge you so much for it so just get it charged back to your credit card. Also in terminal 1 where would we stop before or after security and all that other fun stuff. :)

    Thanks,

    Hailey

    • avatar says

      Hi Hailey,

      The link below lets you calculate your VAT refund. This is Global Blue’s calculator, so if the shop that you’re buying from uses a different VAT handling company such as Premier Tax Free, you can look them up as well.

      http://www.globalblue.com/customer-services/tax-free-shopping/refund-calculator/

      My personal preference is to get cash in hand so that there can be no surprises such as reversal of payment to your credit card amount. In Australia, the banks charge us 3% for any foreign transaction so if I had a credit to my card account, I’d have to pay the 3%.

      Re your other question “where would we stop….”, I looked up Heathrow Terminal 1 and there is a notice that Terminal 1 will be closing on June 30th for renovations.

      http://www.heathrowairport.com/heathrow-airport-guide/terminal-1

      You may want to check with your airline again as to which terminal you’ll be flying out of in July.

      Kind regards,
      Helen

  13. avatarRam says

    Hi Helen,

    Nice to see your posts. Very informative.
    I had one question. I have electronic item with worth above 250 GBP. I wish to claim the VAT for that. I also have all the related VAT forms from seller.

    There is one statement in the VAT form is, I can claim these goods only end of 4th month from date of purchase . I did not understood that. I purchased goods in march and I am travelling in may 1st week. Still can I claim?

    Another question is, there is a statement mentioned that I can not claim the VAT if I return to UK / EU countries within 12 months. Because of my JOB, I don’t know I may visit europe in 12 months. Does it serious issue to claim my VAT?

    Please advice,

    Thanks alot in advance,
    Ram

    • avatar says

      Hi Ram,

      Q1 – There is a time limit for claiming your VAT refund and that is 3 months from the date of invoice.

      Q2 – The 12 months that you mention refer to :

      (i) EU residents who are usually not entitled to claim VAT. However, if they are leaving the EU for 12 months or more then they are eligible.

      (ii) non-EU resident who work or study in the UK and are leaving the EU for 12 months or more. If you are visiting the UK for work meetings, this does not apply to you. But if for instance you are transferred by your company to work in the UK for a period of time (for which you would have had to obtain a work visa) then you need to show that you are leaving the EU for 12 months or more to be eligible for claiming VAT.

      For more detailed information on your VAT entitlement, please see the link below

      https://www.gov.uk/tax-on-shopping/taxfree-shopping

      Kind regards,
      Helen

  14. avatarGan says

    Dear Helen,

    I actually travel to Paris in february and bought a handbag there. The tax refund was handled by travelex. I received the tax refund in the form of cash. They request me to leave a credit card number and mention if I did not leave European union in 21days I will receive a charged-back on my credit card.
    However, I left UK after 3 days from London Heathrow airport back to my country. But today I received a charged-back on my credit card. The charges was more expensive than the vat refund.
    I wonder how to solve this problem. This is so frustrating as the tax refund thing is time-consuming. Can you give me some advices? Thanks.
    Gan

    • avatar says

      Hi Gan,

      Can you clarify a few points for me please:

      (i) Where did you receive your Travelex cash tax refund – in Paris or London?
      (ii) Was it done at a Travelex office downtown or at the airport?
      (iii) Which VAT company did the handbag shop use, i.e. Global Blue, Premier Tax Free…?

      Usually tax refunds are processed at the point of your departure from the EU, but you seem to have yours done before leaving the UK, which suggests to me that it was at done at one of the downtown Travelex offices. In some cities you can get your refund processed downtown before leaving the EU, but you still need to have your documents stamped by Customs when you leave and the tax form has to be returned to the VAT refund company. If the documents are not received, they will reverse the VAT refund and charge a huge penalty as well. It sounds like this is what happened to you because when you get cash refunds, it is not necessary to provide your credit card details.

      Yes, when VAT refunds go wrong, it is frustrating, time-consuming and difficult to challenge. You can contact your credit card company and dispute the charge, but before doing that, I’d try and understand where the problem lies.

      Regards,
      Helen

  15. avatarJoan says

    Hi, if I am flying out of Heathrow to Singapore, but I also have a 23h stopover in Helsinki, where should I claim the refund?

    • avatar says

      If your bag is checked all the way to Singapore, they’ll let you claim your VAT in London. However if you are claiming your baggage in Helsinki and then checking in again for your flight to Singapore, i.e. separate ticket, then you’ll have to do your VAT claim in Helsinki as this is your last port of departure from EU.

      Regards,
      Helen

  16. avatarYvonne says

    Hi Helen,

    Do you know the rough estimate queuing time at terminal 4 Vat refund counter? I was thinking to contact personal shopper to get me to Chanel boutique at terminal 3. I worry I might not have enough time to do my VAT refund and to terminal 3. Need some advise. Thanks

    Regards,
    Yvonne

    • avatar says

      Hi Yvonne,
      It’s difficult to say what the queuing time will be at any of the Heathrow terminals as it all depends on how busy the airport is when you are due to travel. It took us two hours at T3 and the Travelex supervisor said that the queues are just as busy at the other terminals.

      At Heathrow you can do your VAT refund before checking in for your flight so there’s no reason why you can’t go really early and sort that out first.
      According to the Heathrow Personal Shopper information, you must have “more than three hours before your flight, we may be able to arrange to transfer you to another terminal to visit shops”. So, the question is what to do with your luggage before your airline desk is open for check-ins. You might want to find out from the Personal Shopper people as to how the process works.

      I wouldn’t mind knowing so if you can post a comment here, it would be helpful for others as well.

      Thanks and happy shopping,
      Helen

  17. avatarKamonwan says

    Hi Helen,

    I have a question, I went to travel in Paris and I bought handbags from Lafayette department store I did tax refund with Global Blue company on 6 April 2015 and got refund by cash on 7 April 2015 but the staff took my credit card for guarantee and the last country that I’m leaving from EU was England on 17 April and I went to vat refund department at Heathrow Airport (Terminal 3) to get the stamp and the staff stamped my refund form and she told me that she will send it back to the company. However, yesterday (6 May 2015) I got a message from the bank of my credit card that I will be charged from global blue with the same amount as credit card guarantee. So, What should I do? because I follow all steps of refund process. It not suppose to be charged.

    Please give me an advice.

    Best Regards,
    Kamonwan

    • avatar says

      Hi Kamonwan,

      When you take cash refunds in advance of your departure from the EU, there usually are conditions attached and I don’t know what could have gone wrong in your case.
      – I suggest you contact Global Blue and ask them what went wrong with your refund. http://www.globalblue.com/contact-us/
      – Talk to your credit card bank and get their advice on disputing the charge.

      When you eventually get this sorted out, I’d appreciate it if you could post a comment here so that others can be aware of things to watch out for when taking tax refunds in advance of your departure.

      Good luck,
      Helen

  18. avatarkimmy says

    Hi Helen

    can i ask you, i understand Global Blue Tax takes 30-40% of your VAT refund as handling fees. so if we take cash, our VAT refund is effectively 50% left given 40% of handling fees + 10% cash deduction fees?

    thanks
    kimmy

    • avatar says

      Hi Kimmy,

      Can I ask you where you got your information about the 30-40% handling fee from? As far as I’m aware, that’s not correct.

      Kind regards,
      Helen

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