Claim VAT back on tax-free shopping in Northern Ireland

How to get the VAT back on goods you buy in Northern Ireland from shops that offer tax-free shopping (VAT Notice 704/1).


This notice applies to supplies made on or after 1 January 2021.

It applies to visitors from outside both Northern Ireland and the EU (overseas visitors) who make purchases from retailers in Northern Ireland.

The VAT Retail Export Scheme is no longer available in Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales).
You can only buy tax-free goods from shops in Great Britain if they’re delivered straight to an address outside the UK. Check with the retailer if they offer this service.

1. Overview

1.1 Information in this notice

This notice tells you how you can get the VAT back on goods you buy from shops in Northern Ireland that offer tax-free shopping (also known as the VAT Retail Export Scheme).

1.2 The changes in this notice

This notice has been updated to reflect changes to the VAT treatment of supplies of goods following the UK’s departure from the European Union and the end of the transition period.

1.3 Who should read this notice

You should read this notice if you are a visitor to Northern Ireland from outside Northern Ireland and the EU.

2. Tax-free shopping

In the UK, VAT is charged on many goods and services. If you are a visitor to Northern Ireland from outside the EU you may be able to get a VAT refund on goods you buy and take home in your luggage. There are special rules if you travel from Northern Ireland to Great Britain which are explained in section 6 of this notice.

It cannot be used for services.

In many cases, the shop or refund company will charge you a fee for using tax-free shopping. They’ll take the money out of your VAT refund. This is a commercial decision by the retailer and does not form part of the HMRC scheme.

3. Who can use the scheme

You can use the scheme if:

  • you’re an overseas visitor
  • your home, or the place you live, is outside both Northern Ireland and the EU
  • you plan to take the goods out of Northern Ireland and the EU by the last day of the third month after the month you bought them - for example, goods purchased on 1 June must be removed by 30 September (see section 7)

If you’re an overseas visitor studying or working in Northern Ireland, or a resident of Northern Ireland or the EU intending to emigrate you can use the scheme if you:

  • plan to take the goods out of Northern Ireland and the EU by the last day of the third month after the month you bought them (see section 6)
  • can show that you’ll be staying outside Northern Ireland and the EU for at least 12 months

If you belong to one of these categories, you must be able to prove this to the shop assistant and to customs when you leave Northern Ireland and the EU by showing your passport, visa or other documents.

If you cannot prove this when you leave, your claim will not be approved.

4. Using the scheme

You cannot use the scheme for everything you buy. Not all shops offer tax-free shopping. Check before you buy the goods.

You cannot use the scheme for:

  • goods (for example, perfume or chocolates) that you’ve used, or partly used, before you depart
  • any services, for example, hotel bills
  • certain goods that may be zero-rated under the normal export rules
  • goods that will be exported for business purposes (unless you do not have to make a customs declaration)
  • goods that will be exported as freight
  • goods that need an export licence (except antiques)
  • unmounted gemstones and bullion (over 125 grammes, 2.75 troy ounces or 10 tolas)
  • mail order goods including Internet sales
  • where other schemes should be used
  • motor vehicles (see notice 707) and boats (see notice 703/2)

5. How to shop tax-free

You must be in the shop yourself when you buy the goods (although somebody else can pay for them).

Make sure that you are allowed to shop tax-free (see section 3) and that you understand what you need to do.

Tell the shop assistant that you want to use tax-free shopping and show your passport or national ID card or other evidence to show you normally live outside Northern Ireland and the EU or evidence you are emigrating

Ask the shop assistant to explain the scheme to you. Discuss:

  • how the refund will be made
  • if needed, what evidence of destination will be acceptable

  • when you’ll get the refund
  • what the charge is, this should be written on your refund form

The shop assistant will give you the form VAT407. Fully complete and then sign the customer sections of the form in the presence of the shop assistant. You must sign the form yourself. The only exception to this rule is for people who cannot sign the form themselves for reasons directly related to disability.

The shop assistant will fill in and sign the shop’s part of the form while you’re in the shop. They may give you a reply-paid envelope so you can post the form back after you’ve had it stamped by a customs officer. Take the form (and the envelope) and the goods and all your receipts with you to show to customs when you leave Northern Ireland and the EU.

You will not get your VAT back if you only have till receipts.

6. Travelling to Great Britain

This section applies to all overseas visitors who leave Northern Ireland for Great Britain. Different rules apply depending on whether you travel directly from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, or indirectly.

You travel directly if your journey from Northern Ireland is:

  • straight to Great Britain
  • to Great Britain through any EU member state, including Ireland

You travel indirectly from Northern Ireland if you travel to Great Britain through any country other than an EU member state.

This applies regardless of whether you are a Great Britain resident or a resident of a non-EU country.

Overseas visitors who intend to visit Great Britain but then return to Northern Ireland should only lodge their claim when finally leaving for home from Northern Ireland or the EU.

6.1 Travelling directly to Great Britain

Goods brought to Great Britain are imports and VAT should be paid on import but, as UK VAT has already been charged by the Northern Ireland retailer no further action is normally required.

However, if you make a Retail Export Scheme claim you will need to also pay the import VAT on arriving into Great Britain. To simplify the process the original retailer, on receipt of your stamped VAT407 will account for your import VAT at the same time as processing your claim.

As both amounts will be the same no actual refund will be given.

For this reason, retailers may not offer the Retail Export Scheme to overseas visitors intending to travel to Great Britain.

6.2 Travelling indirectly to Great Britain

On arrival into Great Britain you will need to declare the goods if the value of those goods exceed your personal allowance. Only if the value is above the personal allowance will there be a liability to account for VAT; normally on the full value of the goods. This value may include goods bought in the other country.

This means that you may account for UK VAT twice on the same goods. However, when you return the VAT407 to the retailer with proof of your destination, the retailer should refund the VAT you paid at the time of purchase, less any charges (see section 5).

6.3 Transit passengers

Visitors travelling home on a connecting flight via a Great Britain hub will be considered to be removing the goods directly to their home destination if these are checked through as hold baggage.

7. When to export the goods

You must export the goods (that is, take them with you out of Northern Ireland and the EU) by the last day of the third month following the month you buy them in.

For example, if you bought the goods on 3 February, you would have to export them by 31 May.

8. What to do when you leave Northern Ireland and the EU

You must get your form checked and stamped by a Border Force or EU customs officer in before leaving, you cannot have this done when you get home.

You may have to show your goods, till receipts and refund form to the customs officer. If you’re going to put any of the goods in your hold baggage, you must be prepared to show those goods before you check your baggage in, see paragraph 8.2.

8.1 Submitting your claim

Your form must be fully completed. You must hold all receipts for any goods you’re exporting.

The arrangements for checking and stamping are likely to vary between countries and points of exit. Allow plenty of time at the port or airport. There can be long queues to get your VAT refund processed. Please check locally for instructions.

In Northern Ireland the arrangements for collecting, stamping and returning claim forms may vary from exit to exit.

If no officer is available, there’ll be a:

  • phone to ring the officer and you will be advised what to do
  • clearly marked customs post box

Post your form and proof of your destination (see section 5) – with its unsealed envelope – in the box.

When you show your refund form to the officer or place it in the customs post box, you’re declaring that you’re:

  • eligible to use the scheme
  • exporting all the goods to a destination outside Northern Ireland and the EU

If you cannot prove this, you may miss your flight (or sailing) and customs can take the goods away from you. It’s a serious offence to make a false declaration.

When the officer is satisfied that you’ve met all the conditions of the scheme, they’ll stamp your refund form.

So that they can pay your refund, put the checked and stamped form and proof of your destination (see section 5) in the post to either:

  • the shop
  • a commercial refund company

The address will be on the form. If you put your form and envelope in the customs post box, the Border Force officer will do this for you.

Once the shop has received the form back the refund will be made by the way you agreed with the shop (see section 5).

If you are making a claim in relation to an indirect movement from Northern Ireland to Great Britain (paragraph 6.2) you will also have to send the proof of destination. You should agree with the retailer what you need to send.

You may be offered a cash refund at the airport by a specialist company and they may charge you a fee, or use a below market exchange rate. This is not part of the HMRC scheme but is a cash advance which they will claim back from you if the stamped refund form VAT407 is not sent back to the shop.

If you do not get your refund within a reasonable time you should write to the shop. Do not write to HMRC or Border Force.

9. Problems and other circumstances

If you take the goods back to the shop for a full refund or exchange, then you must take your receipts and the VAT refund document with you.

The shop will either:

  • delete the entry for the returned goods
  • cancel the VAT refund document and issue a new one

If you decide to leave behind any of the things you bought under the scheme, you must cross those items off your refund form before you present it, with any remaining goods, to customs.

If you lose your refund form, ask the shop to provide a replacement document. If you find the original later, destroy it.

10. Important things to remember

You and the shop assistant must fully complete and sign the VAT refund form when you buy the goods (see section 5).

Give yourself plenty of time lodge your claim form at the port or airport (see section 8).

You must be prepared to show the goods, the till receipts and the VAT refund document to a Border Force or EU customs officer when you leave for home, or you will not get a refund (see paragraph 8.1 for what to do if you cannot find a customs officer)

Your refund will probably be reduced by an administration charge (see section 2), make sure you understand how much the charge will be before you buy the goods.

If you do not export the goods by the deadline, you will not get a refund (see section 7).

Your refund form must be checked and stamped before you leave Northern Ireland and the EU for your home country, you cannot have this done when you arrive home (see section 8).

Your rights and obligations

Read the HMRC Charter to find out what you can expect from HMRC and what we expect from you.

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If you need general help with this notice or have another VAT question you should phone our VAT helpline or make a VAT enquiry online.

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Published 31 December 2020
Last updated 20 August 2021 + show all updates
  1. More information has been added about who can use the VAT407 form to claim a refund of UK VAT.

  2. First published.