If you are a visitor to Germany from a third country (non-EC country), you can purchase goods in Germany free of sales tax.
The following information was drawn up on the basis of the "Merkblatt zur Umsatzsteuerbefreiung für Ausfuhrlieferungen im nichtkommerziellen Reiseverkehr" (Brochure on Sales-Tax Exemption for Exports in Non-Commercial Travel dated May 2004) by the German Federal Ministry of Finance.
The purchase of goods in the retail trade is free of sales tax under the following presuppositions: You
- are resident in a third country and can prove this to the seller with personal identity documentation;
(Citizenship is irrelevant; only the place of residence is decisive. Thus, a Swiss citizen who is resident in Germany, for example, cannot purchase goods here tax free.)
- do not have a residence permit authorising you to reside in this country for more than 3 months; and
- export the goods within 3 months (that is, before the end of the third month following the purchase) yourself in your personal travel luggage. Your personal travel luggage includes those objects that you have with you on crossing a border, for example hand luggage or the objects in a vehicle used by you as well as the luggage checked in connection with your travel. Hence, baggage sent beforehand or afterwards by post or forwarder does not fulfil the condition.
Exceptions to the tax exemption in travel:
- services provided in Germany,
(Thus, you must pay for bus or train trips, restaurant meals and hotel stays including German sales tax.)
- goods used as equipment for private vehicles of any kind (for example bumpers, outside mirrors, tow ropes and first-aid kits), and
- goods as vehicle supplies such as fuel, motor oil and care products.
How does your tax-free purchase work in practice?
Even if you take advantage of the tax exemption, you initially pay the complete purchase price including sales tax. The seller will refund the sales tax to you as soon as he or she receives proof that the goods have been exported properly.
The proof of export is the form "Ausfuhr- und Abnehmerbescheinigung für Umsatzsteuerzwecke bei Ausfuhren im nicht kommerziellen Reiseverkehr (§ 6 Abs. 3a UstG)" (export and customer certificate for sales-tax purposes in export in non-commercial travel (section 6 paragraph 3a of the German law on sales tax: Umsatzsteuergesetz)). If you intend to purchase goods tax free in Germany, you should print the form and take it along with you. Not every store has it.
In part A of the form, the seller gives information on the transaction. In part B of the document, the German frontier customs office certifies that the goods have been exported. This presupposes that the items to be exported are presented at the frontier customs office.
It is no longer possible to present the goods to Customs if the purchased goods are in your main luggage and you have already checked it in.
If you are travelling by plane, you should have the objects that are in your main luggage confirmed by the customs office at the first airport before you hand it in at the check-in desk. Export confirmation of objects that are in your hand luggage, by contrast, is given at the last EC airport of departure.
For example, if you begin a trip to the U.S. at Frankfurt Airport and change planes in London, you must already get export confirmation of articles in your main luggage at a customs office in Frankfurt. The export of the articles in your hand luggage is confirmed in London.
In case of certain exceptions, the export certification can be issued by an official body of the Federal Republic of Germany abroad, for example an embassy (in part C of the form) instead of a German frontier customs office. Therefore goods must be presented. A substitute confirmation by customs offices of the third country will not be accepted as proof of export.
There are various possibilities for the reimbursement of the sales tax to the foreign purchaser. The seller will often remit the amount by bank transfer to the purchaser on receipt of proof of export.
The seller can also make use of a service company operating at the border crossing or airports. On receipt of the export documentation confirmed by the customs authorities, this company will pay the amount of the tax less a service charge. The service company will then have the amount of the tax payments refunded by the domestic seller.
A direct tax refund by tax offices or customs authorities to the purchaser is not possible.