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An acquaintance of mine looks into purchasing a laptop while on a tourist trip to the EU. Naturally, they would like to benefit from VAT tax refund (the shop they want to buy the laptop from works with Global Blue). According to what I have seen, tax refunds only apply to unused goods:

Can I use the purchased goods before export?

No. Purchased goods must be available for Customs Authorities in original package. Otherwise they can refuse to provide you with customs stamp.

What does it mean in case of a laptop? Does the person have to keep the box sealed until they go trough customs, or do they simply have to keep the original box and put the laptop in it before presenting it?

I suspect it's the former (don't open the box), but this raises several concerns:

  • the person will only discover that their purchase is defective / incomplete / fake once they are several thousand miles from the shop (technically, not the customs' problem).
  • some laptops are sold in boxes which simply won't fit in the hand luggage, and transporting a laptop checked-in is forbidden (again, not the customs' problem).
  • more importantly, this contradicts the basic safety rules ("pack your own luggage yourself"). Legally this seems to be no different than accepting a bag from a fellow passenger: if the box is found to be filled with heroin, telling that you got it from a computer shop will be quite a weak defence.

Practically, what could be done to reduce the risks stated above, yet in a way that the laptop is considered unused by the customs?

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    The requirement says that the goods must be unused and presented in its original package. Why do you believe that the box must be sealed? – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Oct 26 '18 at 8:45
  • @Tor-EinarJarnbjo That's what my question is about: can a traveller apply for VAT refund if they open the box? – Dmitry Grigoryev Oct 26 '18 at 8:53
  • Of course. It says nowhere that the packaging can't be opened, nor that it is not allowed to verify that the purchased item is working. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Oct 26 '18 at 9:55
  • That's reassuring. I'll have a near-firsthand experience in a couple of weeks. – Dmitry Grigoryev Oct 26 '18 at 10:07
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    BTW, it seems that at least as far as consumables are concerned, it's actually forbidden to open the package before going through the border. – Dmitry Grigoryev Oct 26 '18 at 11:04
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From my discussion with an export certification clerk it appears that only consumables have to be unopened. Durable goods like laptops or clothes have to be presented in the original package, undamaged, and in case of a set all items have to be present (e.g. a laptop sold with a charger and a dock station).

In the case above, the laptop in question was used for a couple of weeks, then put back in its original package (box). The box was then carefully closed, but it was still obvious that the original adhesive film was cut. The export certification went smoothly.

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