How to Claim VAT Refund at London Heathrow and How Long Does it Take:
Claiming your VAT Refund at London Heathrow is an endurance test! It took us two hours from the time we joined the VAT Refund queue to when we actually got to the counter for our claim to be processed and paid. And according to the Travelex staff, this is the normal queueing time-frame. So if you intend claiming VAT refund 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 RefundThe 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.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.
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.