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I've purchased a conference ticket online for 6500 SEK (including VAT). The conference will take place in Sweden.

As a non-EU resident, can I refund VAT from this purchase? Either online or visiting an office is fine.

According to the organizers, 'there is no VAT return for private citizens'.

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According to the organizers, 'there is no VAT return for private citizens'.

This is a conclusive answer. VAT refunds are intended for things which will be exported from a country. For example, if you were to make a large jewelry purchase to bring home, the jeweler would be able to give you documentation to claim a refund. Since you aren't "exporting" the conference from the country, you can't claim back the VAT.

On the other hand, in general, businesses are allowed to deduct VAT they pay from the VAT they charge back to the public when they sell their products or services. So if an EU business were sending you to the conference, they may be able to get some of the VAT they pay refunded. This is presumably what the organisers are referring to.

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    This is interesting, in the UK it would be illegal to refuse to issue a VAT invoice, for any transaction on which VAT was charged, and the the EU guidelines state exactly that: europa.eu/youreurope/business/taxation/vat/… the only exceptions being in suitations where the VAT is either already paid elsewhere in the value chain, or not charged at all. – james Mar 5 at 16:03
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    @james I don't think there's any suggestion that the organisers have refused to issue a VAT invoice. A VAT invoice by itself won't allow you to claim a VAT refund. – MJeffryes Mar 5 at 16:24
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    @james That is not strictly true. You don't need to issue an invoice at all, unless both the buyer and seller are registered for VAT. A "VAT invoice" has specific legal requirements about what data it shows, beyond the general requirements for a (non-VAT) invoice, or a simple receipt for payment. – alephzero Mar 5 at 17:55
  • Note that the VAT refund on exporting is typically accomanied by declaring "importing VAT" when importing said goods to another country. (just saying) – cbeleites Mar 5 at 17:55
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    Please, everyone, this discussion of VAT invoices is irrelevant. A VAT invoice is just a declaration that you've paid some VAT. If that VAT isn't refundable, having the invoice won't help you get it refunded. – David Richerby Mar 5 at 18:28
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The VAT location for the conference is Sweden, so this is in itself an "inner-Swedish" type of invoice (like buying a cinema ticket when you are in Sweden). (As opposed to, say, buying Swedish goods to be delivered outside Sweden - then the invoice would be of "export" type and would usually become your duty to pay your country's VAT on importing goods).

For a private person (and probably also small businesses that have VAT exemption for their sales), this is where the story ends: you are subject to Swedish VAT in that matter, and your nationality doesn't change anything about this.


However, if you were a business (including freelancer) within EU and do have a EU VAT-ID (in addition to your national VAT-ID), the EU VAT/tax treaties would allow you to file for a Swedish VAT return even though you do not have a Swedish VAT number.

This is basically a double-taxatation agreement: it avoids different taxes arising just because the conference is in a neighbour country.

Such double taxation agreements/tax treaties exist not only within the EU, but with some other countries as well

  • The process probably won't be as streamlined as it is within EU (where I can use a a web site in my language provided by my national tax office to request reimbursement from other EU countries)
  • But the main advantage within EU here is that as EU citizens we can just rely on this working mostly the same for all EU countries, so once I found out how this is done with a conference in Spain, I don't have to dig again as long if the conference is next in Sweden.
    For non-EU businesses, you'll probably have to find out for each other country separately whether there is a tax treaty and how to apply for refund.
  • Of course, you may be unlucky: there are countries with which no such tax treaty exists, and then you may not be able to get VAT refunds.
  • In any case, it is the Swedish tax office that you have to ask for reimbursement. They provide some information here and it may be worth while calling them for more information.
  • Academic conference organisers typically know that they have to charge VAT and that this is a particular type of service where the VAT doesn't go by reverse charge like for goods and "normal" services (and tell you the VAT law paragraph that says so), but they may not know if/how/where to apply for refund: the vast majority of their customers are from universities and governmental research institutions working on project money. Even if these entities do have VAT-IDs, the grants are usually not subject to VAT (i.e. the research institute doesn't write an invoice including VAT to the granting agency/government) and in consequence also are not eligible for VAT refunds.
  • The last paragraph makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the answer, love the cinema ticket analogy! – Pavlo Mar 6 at 12:07

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