Now, the bad news: that tax is usually charged at a rate of 20%. It’s called VAT (Value-Added Tax), and it goes to enviable programs such as national health care, so that any British citizen who needs emergency care doesn’t have to go into debt to get it.
And more good news: tourists can often get a little of that back. As long as the store you’re patronizing participates in the VAT Retail Export Scheme (many don’t) and you get the paperwork from them while you’re there (stores have varying minimum-purchase requirements), you can apply for a refund, minus a dismaying chunk for administrative fees. The only purchases it doesn’t work for are vehicles, unmounted gemstones, and anything requiring an export license (except antiques). The system mostly benefits those who spend hundreds or thousands of pounds, not tourists with casual purchases.
To get money back:
* Be a non–European Community visitor to the U.K.
* Obtain stamped tax refund documents from each retailer. At big stores, you may have to wait in line with I.D. and receipts for as long as a half hour and the store may take a cut of several pounds as a processing fee.
* On the day you leave Britain, present that document to the VAT refund desk at the airport. The line may be extreme. You must also have the goods on hand, which means a) you must put them in your carry-on, or b) you pack the goods in your baggage but first check in at your airline to pick up your travel documents, then bring your yet-to-be checked baggage for inspection, and then re-submit your baggage at the airline counter once that is finished. This process can take up to 2 hours, and even then you may only get £7 back for every £100 spent, so decide if it’s really worth the hassle.
Britain maintains information via www.hmrc.gov.uk or tel. 029/2050-1261.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.