The art of using VAT forms

by Shereece Spain
Stripes Europe

Thinking back to when I first found out about Value Added Tax (VAT) forms, the first thing that came to mind was, “Now I can buy more stuff!” It didn’t occur to me that it wasn’t the same at every store and that some stores wouldn’t accept them. Oh, the horror!

Here’s what I’ve learned to help fast track your learning curve.

Accruing receipts

Some stores allow you to save receipts for a month (either 30 days from when you turn in a form or a calendar month). A few stores I have found will hold your VAT form and all the receipts for the 30-day period. This keeps me from losing receipts! Surprisingly, even our off-installation veterinary clinic will do this as well. If the business does save them for you, take a picture of each receipt before turning it in, so you can make sure your refund is correct.

For stores that don’t hold onto the receipts for you, you’re usually required to get the receipt stamped or marked in some way by the store after check-out. Take your receipt to customer service to have it stamped. They will only stamp a receipt on the day of purchase. No later than the last day of the month, take all your receipts to customer service with your military ID and VAT form for reimbursement.

When to use a form

Many retailers accept VAT forms (e.g. IKEA, Toom, OBI, vehicle service garages, etc.). However, they don’t accept accrued receipts. Therefore, plan your purchases ahead. For example, when we moved into our new home, we made a list of all the things we wanted from each store. We coordinated purchases so we could get most, if not all, of those items at the same time. VAT forms cost 5 dollars each for purchases up to 2,500 euros. Also, you’re only allowed to have 10 forms at a time. To make our purchases worth it, we only use them on purchases totaling more than 50 euros. Yes, you could use it on a 25 euros’ purchase (depending on the exchange rate), which would be about the breakeven point. However, this doesn’t take into consideration the time and expense for turning in used forms and purchasing new ones.

Tip: When you take your vehicle for an oil change, be sure to take your own oil because it is more expensive (even with the VAT form) on the economy.

Don’t be afraid to ask

Not every store is the same. Even different locations of the same store can vary. Therefore, I highly recommend asking. The worst they can say is “no,” right? I admit I was a little intimidated when I first started shopping on the economy. However, shopping is where I get the most practice speaking German (yet another good reason to shop). If your German is nicht gut (not good), start by asking if they speak English (Sprechen Sie Englisch?). If they don’t, usually they will find someone who does to assist. For those who want to learn or speak German, you can ask, “Akzeptieren Sie das (Do you accept this)?” or “Akzeptieren Sie VAT formular (Do you accept VAT forms)?”

Sadly, there are stores that do not accept VAT forms (e.g. Aldi, Lidl and T€DI). Businesses do have the option to not accept them, but dry your eyes! T€DI (Germany’s version of a dollar store), Aldi and Lidl’s prices are often lower even with the tax.

For more information on obtaining and using VAT forms, contact your local VAT Office.

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