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HMRC internal manual

VAT Personal Exports: Retail Exports

Personal exports - retail exports: Controls at export - airports and ports: Export control procedures

Commercial exports

The scheme may be used for goods up to £600 (excluding VAT) per retailer, exported for commercial or business purposes. Providing the conditions for VAT retail export scheme are complied with, the VAT refund document may be certified but the customs officer should advise the traveller to use the normal commercial export documentation on any future occasion.

For commercial / business exports above £600 (excluding VAT), a C88 form should be used and a refund may not be made under VAT retail export scheme. See Merchandise In Baggage (MIB) procedures in VEXP, Notice 6 and Notice 703. Information on the customs control of commercial goods carried in passengers’ baggage is provided in Border Force Handbook.

Certification of VAT refund documents

Under EU law, UK Customs is required to certify the VAT refund documents to evidence exports by non-EU visitors and entitled EU travellers going directly from the UK to a final destination outside the EU. Those travellers departing the EU via another Member State must have their VAT refund documents certified in the Member State of final departure.

UK VAT refund documents will only be certified in the UK where this is the final point of exit from the EU or the goods are exported as hold baggage. Where departure from the EU is via another Member State the VAT refund document will be certified in that Member State.

Forms issued in other Member States

Since forms are only verified when the customer leaves the EU, there will be instances where UK customs officers are presented with forms originating from other member-states. Although the VAT retail export scheme is operated on a similar basis across the EU, details of procedures may differ in each country. VAT retail export scheme forms from other member- states should however be processed as far as possible in the same way as UK forms.

Verification and processing of VAT refund documents

Where customs officers are satisfied that all the goods are available and all the conditions have been met, the VAT refund document will be certified.

Travellers who are accorded special VIP facilities are treated separately at the place of departure (see VIP Procedures below), but such persons must still meet the conditions of the scheme.

Certified VAT refund documents should be returned to the traveller and (if a cash refund has not already been paid) he should be advised to post the form back to the retailer or refund company to arrange payment of the refund. (Most refund companies will provide a self addressed envelope for the traveller). Some travellers choose to post the certified document in the UK; others prefer to take a photocopy before posting it back from their final destination.

Drop boxes

At some exit points a drop box for VAT refund documents is provided. There may also be a facility to telephone and ask to see a Customs officer to certify the VAT refund document. Travellers with high value claims want assurance that their claim has been accepted. Refund documents left in drop boxes are posted back to the originating retailer or refund company by Customs in self addressed envelopes which should have been provided.

Forms left in drop boxes should be checked carefully to ensure they have been completed fully and accurately. Particular attention should be paid to high value purchases. If you have any doubts about the veracity of such claims, consider writing to the overseas passenger and requesting evidence that the goods have been imported into the traveller’s home country. Details from forms left in drop boxes should be recorded and the following information should be included:

  • date;
  • passenger name;
  • nationality;
  • retailer;
  • goods;
  • value (including VAT);
  • comments; and
  • officer’s name.

A short letter should be issued to the traveller explaining why any form has been rejected (see example at VATRES9300).

VIP procedures

People are treated as VIPs under diplomatic arrangements, or because of fame, wealth or notoriety by airport and port authorities. These travellers by-pass the usual check-in arrangements and do not leave from international departure lounges. Often an entourage accompanies VIPs.

Many VIPs purchase goods under the VAT retail export scheme and wish to claim a refund of VAT. Suitable arrangements for the certification of VAT refund documents by a customs officer should be agreed with the airport or port authorities. In the absence of suspicion, the customs officers may make selective checks in accordance with local schemes of control.

Normal VAT retail export scheme conditions apply but, depending on the VIP, the customs officer may authorise the production of the VAT refund document and such goods as may be required for examination to be produced by an aide or personal assistant. Normal rules apply to the aide / personal assistant’s purchases.

Incomplete and out of date documents

Documents that are not completed in full can be rejected. It is the responsibility of the retailer to ensure the customer section is fully completed and signed before the retailer’s declaration is signed.

However, at the time of departure, in the absence of suspicion the Customs officer may allow the customer to sign the customer’s declaration. Where the retailer has not signed, again in the absence of suspicion, the officer may certify the form and endorse it “retailer’s declaration not signed - document certified without prejudice”. The document will, under these circumstances, be returned to the customer.

If a traveller presents the wrong form or an out of date form (for example, a VAT 435 or pre- 2003 edition of a VAT 407) the Customs officer will certify it if satisfied that the traveller is entitled to use the scheme and the goods are eligible.

A letter should then be sent to the retailer drawing his attention to incorrect procedures or out of date forms used. VATRES8000 provides a standard letter to be sent to the retailer.

Forms rejected by Customs

Goods must be exported from the EU to qualify for zero-rating. Prior to export they must be made available to a customs officer for examination as required. Where the customs officer is not satisfied that:

  • the traveller is exporting the goods, or
  • the goods are being exported within the time limits, or
  • the goods are those described on the refund form, or
  • the traveller is entitled to use the scheme,

the officer should:

  • endorse the VAT refund document “Traveller not entitled [giving reason] - zero-rating not authorised”;
  • tell the traveller why the refund has been disallowed;
  • record the details of the claim and why it has been disallowed and, using best judgement, either


  • retain the document in case of future enquires; or
  • send the VAT refund document to the VAT officer for the retailer concerned using a form VAT 452 (Urgent verification of transaction) or VAT 453 (Verification of Transaction) – see VATRES6100; or
  • send a photocopy of the rejected document back to the retailer to provide instant education - see copy letters included in Section 8. If a photocopy of the receipt was included it could identify the staff member involved. Also, it would provide the trader with information to answer any future enquiry by the customer.

VAT not charged

When customs officers observe that goods have been sold at the tax-exclusive price and a refund of VAT is not appropriate because, for example, the passenger is a not an entitled person, the document should be forwarded immediately to the VAT officer controlling the retailer with a form VAT 452 or VAT 453, so that follow-up action can be considered.

Time limits for export

Travellers who wish to reclaim VAT must ensure the VAT refund documents are produced to EU customs for stamping and the goods are made available for examination if required by the last day of the 3rd month following the month of purchase e.g. goods purchased on 1 January must be exported by 30 April.

However, there will be rare occasions when this is not possible, for example where a traveller is too sick to present the VAT refund document. Where evidence such as a doctor’s certificate is produced to support such a claim, the Customs officer may specifically authorise the delayed certification on the form. The procedure is high risk and must be used exceptionally and with extreme caution.

Documents sent to Customs

Some travellers who have reached their destination may send invoices or receipts to customs at the port / airport of departure for certification under the scheme. This is not acceptable. You should report any case that you cannot deal with to the Retail UoE.

Alternative evidence of export

No form of overseas stamping is acceptable unless exceptional circumstances exist. You should report any case you cannot deal with to the RetailUoE.

Offence action

Under section 167 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979, Customs staff at departure points can take offence action against a traveller who has deliberately tried to misuse VAT retail export scheme.