One of the truly wonderful things about shopping in Thailand is claiming a VAT refund, something I have done many times when I am in the country on a tourist visa. Currently a 7% addition onto most things you buy, getting a refund of that amount can really add up.
Before you rush off to claim your VAT refund though, there are certain things you should know.
Who can claim a VAT refund on shopping in Thailand, how do you get all the relevant paperwork and where do you go to get it?
Who Can Get a VAT Refund in Thailand? – Thailand is actually quite lenient with their qualifications for a VAT refund. You must be a tourist, visiting business person, or other non-Thai visitor, you cannot be a member of an airline crew (any airline, not just Thai) and you must be leaving Thailand via an international airport within 60 days of purchasing the items. You also cannot be legally living in the country on any non-immigrant visa.
Plus, the items must be leaving with you, (ie: you cannot buy them as gifts for someone in Thailand, they must be going home with you).
On top of that, you must have spent a total of at least 5,000 baht during your stay, (currently $166), at stores that display the ‘VAT Refund For Tourists’ sign.
If you fit into all these parameters, then getting a VAT refund is easy.
What Types of Things Qualify For VAT Refunds? – When you shop in Thailand, most things do qualify for a refund, but with some parameters.
a) You must spend at least 2,000 baht (currently $67) at any shop you apply for refund paperwork through. That means, if you get to the checkout, your purchase is 1,800 baht and you know you’re likely to spend the minimum 5,000 baht on your entire trip in Thailand, then it’s worth grabbing something else for 200 baht, to get to your 2,000 baht minimum. Don’t forget, 7% of 2,000 baht is 140 baht ($3.75) and is more than half of the 200 baht purchase price of the additional item you just grabbed.
b) Purchases at stores that display the ‘VAT Refund for Tourists’ sign are the only ones where you can get refund application paperwork. So, if you are planning on doing shopping at local markets like Chatuchak Weekend Market, make sure you choose the larger stores, as some of them are able to process the VAT refund.
But, before you start thinking there must be a catch, stores that are able to offer the refund service include just about every store in every one of Bangkok’s more than 100 shopping malls. They also include jewelry shops, electronics shops, perfume stores, Thai silk stores, larger handicraft shops and on and on.
In fact, when I have been shopping specifically to get the VAT refund, more than 80% of the shops I normally shop at already give it.
c) Items that do not qualify for refunds include anything illegal – so pirated software, computer games, DVDs, fake designer t shirts and Louis Vuitton bags etc – obviously, none of these qualify for a refund.
Also, if you buy diamonds or other gem stones, these also don’t qualify. Finally, if you’re a gun fanatic and want to buy some cool Asian weaponry (firearms) on your trip, you cannot get a refund on those either.
You may also find the VAT officials are sometimes contrary on allowing applications on certain items. I met someone who couldn’t get a refund on a 200-year-old sword (legally bought at a high-end antiques shop in Chiang Mai), as he was told it came under the ‘fire arms’ section and not ‘antiques’.
But, only a couple of months later, another acquaintance got a full refund for a similar item. No questions asked.
This is Thailand and where consistency may occur in most western countries, it doesn’t always happen here. Not much you can do about it either.
What Must You Do Before Leaving the Shop? – Some tourists get confused about applying for the refund and think just showing up at the VAT Refund counter at the airport with valid receipts is good enough to get their money back. It’s not.
Once you have paid for your purchases, before you leave any store that displays the ‘VAT Refund’ sign, you must make sure the store gives you all the necessary paperwork and you must get this at every store you shop at.
Don’t worry though, it’s easy. All you need is your passport (or a photocopy, if you prefer to leave yours at your hotel) and the store will do all the rest.
Once finished, they will hand you a completed and certified form (the P.P.10 form) with your receipts attached. Do not lose it, as without this, you cannot apply for the refund.
Where Do You Go to Get It? – Getting it couldn’t be easier. Simply show your receipts to the VAT Information Office before checking in (the airline desk can show you where to go). You will then be sent to the Customs Inspection for VAT Refund office. Here, they will check your P.P.10 form for every item you bought, your passport and the items you are requesting a VAT refund on.
If everything is in order, your P.P. 10 form will be stamped, and you will be sent to check in and go through Immigration.
**Make sure your P.P. 10 form gets stamped, as you will not be given a tax refund without that.
Do be aware, on some of the higher end items, if the Customs officer inspects them and discovers they are not the same items you supposedly bought (ie: don’t try to substitute other lower value items after returning the higher priced ones, as some people apparently do), you will not receive a refund.
As it is also against the law, you could end up not on your flight but in a Thai jail.
Go through passport control/Immigration and, once through, ask an airport employee where the VAT Refund Officenis. Give them the stamped P.P. 10 form, along with your passport and airline ticket. If your refund is less than 30,000 baht (approximately $1,000), they will give you the cash in Thai baht on the spot.
If however the amount is more than 30,000 baht, don’t expect to be given the money there and then. The VAT Refund Office will ask for your bank details, and they will send you your refund via bank transfer.
You may also find, if you are claiming a large amount of money, officials at the VAT Refund Office may ask to look at any of the items you’re carrying in your hand luggage.
I have never had that done, but I do know someone who had and they said it took less than 10 days to arrive in their bank account, minus a 103 baht fee (about $3.25) for the service plus the bank transfer fee every bank charges.
(So, for instance, on their refund amount of around $1,500, they received $1,478 in their account – they just paid a $22 fee).
For step-by-step information on exactly what to do for a VAT refund in Thailand at Don Mueang Airport, watch the extremely well done video from YouTuber Bangkok 112 below.
You can also find more information on the official government website for VAT refunds in Thailand.