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I am in Spain but I am not a resident of the European Union. I made an online order to a German seller who shipped the product to Spain. I got an invoice that includes Spanish sales taxes (21%).

I asked the German seller to provide me with a DIVA form so I can apply for a VAT refund. They told me they can't refund the sales taxes in such a way that it would be in conformity with German tax law.

I believe that Spanish sellers always have to provide a VAT refund (via DIVA form or invoice stamped at the airport). Is this optional for German sellers, even if they charge sales taxes of another country?

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EU distance sellers are required to charge VAT at the rate of the country that they are selling to. This is why you have been charged VAT at Spanish rates. This is to prevent sellers in another EU country from being able to easily undercut local sellers due to a lower tax rate.

VAT refund schemes are not harmonised across the EU. Each country operates them separately and may have different requirements. In some countries, the scheme may be optional for the retailer, whereas in others it may be mandatory.

One of the requirements in Germany, and many other countries, is that you must prove to the merchant that you are not resident in the EU. This is going to prove extremely difficult with an online order: You can’t present your original passport, they can’t check your Schengen entry stamp and they can’t compare the photo to your face. This may be why they believe they are unable to complete the refund forms in compliance with German law.

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  • Thanks. As I understand from the link, it should be possible to get the VAT refund from any German seller. Even if difficult, proving my identity for an online order should be possible. At least, I am sure that the Spanish Amazon.es refunds sales taxes after getting some documentation. – ChronoTrigger Feb 11 '20 at 16:48
  • That page is quite confusing and probably false. You cannot prove residence abroad with a passport or identity card. A german citizen residing outside of the EU would have a german passport, no Schengen entry or exit stamp, and probably no stamp whatsoever in their passport showing that. – jcaron Feb 11 '20 at 16:49
  • @jcaron Well, it's a webpage produced by the German customs authority. It could be false, but I doubt there is a more authoritative English language source. But anyway, I believe the list is not conclusive. It is giving examples of the sorts of documents you might need to provide. A German national could present their passport containing a foreign residence visa or a residence permit, for example. – MJeffryes Feb 11 '20 at 16:52
  • Note that the distance seller will not only charge VAT at the rate of the country they are selling to (above a given threshold), but they will actually pay that VAT (sometimes indirectly) to the destination country, and will use a VAT number from that destination country. So the tax refund form should be from the destination country, not the seller's country. But to be able to do so, they need to be registered with a local tax refund scheme (of the destination country), which is not necessarily the case. Participating in tax refund schemes is (as far as know) never an obligation. – jcaron Feb 11 '20 at 16:52
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    @ChronoTrigger Reading through the page linked, it seems that Germany has a system in place where there's a standard official form, and once you fill it in and have it stamped, you give that to the merchant, and they have to refund the VAT to you (as it's no longer due). This is different from the usual tax refund schemes (usually operated by private companies), which are optional. I don't think this "official" system exists in all EU countries, and I have no idea about Spain. I have no idea either whether using that German form would be appropriate here. – jcaron Feb 11 '20 at 18:08

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