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I'm a non-EU citizen, leaving London from Luton airport. I'm trying to understand how to get a VAT refund on my way out. All I was able to find is this very sparse description at the airport website:

You need to bring your VAT receipts and contact details to the Airport in a sealed envelope. Once you have passed through the security search area, before you go through to the Departures Lounge, there is a blue HM Customs post box mounted on the wall. Post the envelope in the box. The box is emptied by HM Customs on a daily basis and the contents are taken away for processing. If you cannot see the box, please ask any member of staff to direct you to it.

It doesn't say which products are eligible, or if I need any specific forms, or anything like that. Does anyone have experience they can share about VAT refund from the UK in general, and at Luton in particular?

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Note that your citizenship is not relevant; where you live is. –  Andrew Ferrier Jul 27 '13 at 10:50
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2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

You need to get a VAT refund from the merchant when you make the purchase. The refund form is filled by the seller, at the time of the purchase. Not all sellers participate (look for "Tax Free" or "VAT Refund" stickers), and not all purchases are eligible (there's certain limit, IIRC 50 GBP or something like that, per purchase).

Drop-off box for later processing means they're going to send you a check to your home address. It will take a couple of months, and the check will be in GBP, so keep in mind what you're going to do with it back home.

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And they'll charge you an admin fee that they might as well label as extortion. But no-one complains because you're still getting money back. –  Ray Feb 13 '12 at 9:43
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Also, according to this page under some circumstances you won't need to have the goods sighted. I assume the following applies at Luton:

"If there aren't any customs officials at the port or airport you're leaving from, there will be a telephone you can use to ring an official or a clearly marked customs post box in which you can leave your refund form. Customs officials will collect it from there and if they are satisfied that all requirements have been met, they will contact the retailer to arrange your VAT refund."

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