The New OTELLO System Aims to Ease Procedures for VAT Refund at Rome Fiumicino:
Getting the VAT refund at Rome Fiumicino Airport has not always been an easy or stress-free experience for many travellers. With long queues at Customs and at the VAT refund desks, along with confusion about the procedures, trying to get your VAT refund can be exasperating. It’s certainly the last thing that we need at the end of a holiday. The new OTELLO system aims to make the procedures for claiming VAT refund much easier, or so it seems.
So What Has Changed?
We have all had it drummed into us that an essential element for the validity of our VAT claim is that we must obtain Customs stamp on our VAT form.“No Customs Stamp = No VAT Refund” was the jingle. The new OTELLO system changes this in certain circumstances. It skips the manual “Customs stamp” step and allows us to go directly to the VAT Refund operators to have our VAT processed before checking in for our flight. The new process is intended for passengers who intend to check in their goods in their hold luggage, but it comes with certain conditions.
Otello – Streamlines Procedures for VAT Refunds
OTELLO stands for Online Tax Refund at Exit: Light Lane Optimization (quite a mouth full!). It is an electronic system which was designed to connect the participating stores with the VAT refund agencies and the Customs service. The system allows travellers at Rome Fiumicino Airport to request a VAT refund prior to baggage check-in at Terminal 3 (and Terminal 5) by applying directly to the VAT Refund operators. These companies are responsible for validating your VAT forms through a digital “Customs verification”. This process applies to purchases made in Italy and for which you have an “eTFS” form issued in Italy by any of the following three VAT refund companies:
- Global Blue
- Tax Refund for Tourists, and
- Premier Tax Free
The OTELLO system does not apply in the following situations:
- For goods that are being carried in your hand luggage: you will have to apply for your VAT refund in the transit area after security check.
- For goods that were bought outside of Italy and for which you do not have an “eTFS”, you will still need to get your manual Customs stamp.
VAT Refund locations
At Rome Fiumicino T3, the new VAT refund hall is clearly laid out. Looking straight down the hall, there is a bright sign for the Customs office or Agenzia delle Dogane. To the left are the counters for Global Blue and to the right are the counters for Premier Tax Free and Tax Refund.
The Customs desk for VAT refund at T5 is near the offices of the VAT Refund operators.
- Although the OTELLO system is intended to streamline the VAT Refund process by digitalizing the Customs stamp, the queues at the VAT refund desks are usually quite long. Make sure you allow yourself sufficient time and do your flight check-in online before arriving at the airport.
- If you have two types of VAT refund forms, OTELLO and non-OTELLO, it would be sensible to firstly obtain your Customs stamp for your non-OTELLO VAT claims, so that when you approach the VAT Refund desks, all your forms will have beeen validated for VAT refund.
- The VAT refund service through the OTELLO system will be available starting 4 hours before the scheduled timetable for departing flights.
- The opening hours of the three Vat Refund operators at Terminal 3 are from 7 am to 10 pm. Outside of these hours, you will need to get your forms stamped by Customs as in the manual process.
The new OTELLO system was only launched at Rome Fiumicino Airport Terminal 3 on June 26, 2016. As the system is still fairly new, some glitches can be expected.
VAT Refund Update – 2017
Having spent seven weeks in Italy, we managed to do quite a bit of shopping. By the time we got to Rome, we had a number of VAT refund claims to make. We arrived at Rome Fiumicino Airport T3 three hours before our flight thinking that we’ll have plenty of time. At 8:50 am there was already a huge queue in the VAT refund hall – it gave us a sinking feeling in the stomach.
Things can go wrong
The queue for the Customs desk was huge. As all our shopping were done in Italy, I thought we would be spared queuing in the Customs line. I went to the Premier Tax Free desk first as there was no queue there. Unfortunately, their electronic verification system was not working. I was told that I would need to get the Customs stamp before going to the VAT refund desk. As the Customs queue was huge, I got Tony to stand in line there while I did my Global Blue claims.
The Global Blue queue was rather busy and chaotic as there was a large mainland Chinese group there. Many of the Chinese women in that group were jumping queue, much to the annoyance of other people. Unfortunately, there’s no one to supervise the queues. Even when an American man went up to the counter to complain, nothing was done. The Chinese seemed to think that because they had queued in the Customs line, that they were entitled to push to the front of the queue for the VAT refund company. When I reached the front of the queue for Global Blue, five women pushed in front of me. I told them that they needed to get in the queue, but that fell on deaf ears. They went and pushed in front of people behind me.
When I finally got to the Global Blue desk, my receipts were checked to verify that they were all Italian purchases. The official then stamped them and asked if I wanted cash or credit card refund. He kindly told me how much the refund would be by cash and credit card so I could decide. As I chose credit card, he took my card, swiped it and gave me a receipt showing the refund amount. I expected to get the VAT forms back to send to Global Blue but he said that they will do it. He advised that my refund would be credited in a week or so.
When I had finished at Global Blue, I joined my husband in the Customs line. He had hardly made any progress in the line. The Customs officers were doing random checks, hence causing the delays. I felt for the couple of people who had to show all the goods that they were claiming VAT for. Luckily we didn’t have any problem when it came to our turn. After our forms were stamped, we went to Premier Tax Free to get our refund processed. In all it took us 1 hour 15 minutes.
My refund from Global Blue came through within a week as advised by their airport agents. Premier Tax Free however took its time in processing the credit. When I followed up with them, they said that it would take 6 to 8 weeks. This is a bit of a joke, since all the processing had already been done at the airport. Anyway, the money came through in 4 weeks.
If you have recent experience in claiming VAT at Rome Fiumicino, please feel free to share your experience here.