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The Skinny on VAT

By JEANA COLEMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 24, 2013

The European Union has a consumption tax called Value Added Tax similar to U.S. sales tax. The average VAT amount is 20 percent and is automatically included in the merchandise or service price, not added at the register. However, members of the U.S. military and Department of Defense civilians in Europe are granted exemption or relief from paying the VAT on many personal purchases in most European countries.

Participation by vendors in the VAT relief program is voluntary and they may establish their own minimum-purchase amounts, so check with vendors before you buy. Watch for “Tax Free” signs or decals in shop windows. Each participating country’s VAT relief program has its own rules, including minimum-purchase amounts, how to process the forms and what merchandise or services are VAT-exempt. The following tax relief rates may vary based on purchased items and may be subject to processing fees. Check with your local VAT office for more information.

Belgium

VAT rate: 21 percent

Those who qualify must be stationed at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. Tax relief is available for furniture, durable household appliances, bicycles, computers, curtains and rugs. It is not available for services, food, lodging, cars, clothing, decorations or personal items such as jewelry.

Purchases must be made at least six months prior to the date you will transfer from your duty station. Purchase item and pay VAT, then go to VAT office for VAT form, then return to vendor for refund.  The VAT office does not charge for forms; minimum purchase is 125.01 euros. The VAT office is run by the Belgian Ministry of Finance.

Contact: (+32) (0)65-32-6291 or DSN: 366-6191.

Italy

VAT rate: 22 percent

Those who qualify are personnel stationed in or on temporary duty to Italy. Although VAT is a national tax program, qualifying exemptions are determined by provincial fiscal authorities. Therefore, tax relief varies per installation. In Aviano, partial VAT relief may be available for auto repairs, but check with your legal office for information at (+39) 0434-307843 or DSN 632-7843. In Vicenza, VAT relief is available for many goods and services.

For more information, contact Tax Relief at (+39) 0444-71-7080 or DSN 634-7080.
 
Germany

VAT rate: 19 percent

Those who qualify must be stationed in, on temporary duty or on leave to Germany from another EU country. Tax relief is available for most products or services. VAT can also be used for some long-term contracts such as utilities (registration at VAT office required); Internet and phone service; and larger home repairs (with the exception of renovations). Ten blank VAT forms may be purchased at a time. The yellow copy is kept by the vendor, the white copy returned to the VAT office and pink copy kept for the customer’s records.

For purchases up to 2,499.99 euros, obtain blank VAT forms, go shopping and pay net price without tax. You can’t combine multiple VAT forms for purchases greater than 2,500 euros or use after merchandise has been purchased or ordered. For example: If you’re using a VAT form with a real estate agency who charges a finder’s fee with VAT, present a VAT form on the date or before signing the housing agreement or the form is invalid.

Some vendors allow use of a single VAT form for several purchases during a specified time. For this type of purchase, the customer must check with the vendor prior to the purchase and visit the office for a VAT form that is dated either before or on the date of the beginning of the purchase period.  Before making purchases of 2,500 euros or more, visit the VAT office to learn the proper procedures and obtain the correct VAT form to use. 

Also, check with your VAT office about ordering forms online and having them mailed to your APO box. Prior registration and use of the sponsor’s “.mil” email address are required.

The VAT office charges $3 per form. Contact: (+49) (0)6221-57-3727 or DSN: 370-3727.

The Netherlands

VAT rate: 21 percent

Make a purchase and pay the VAT with registered vendors. The vendor will provide a VAT form that you return to the VAT office for a stamp. Return to the vendor with the stamped form for your tax refund.

Vendor registration is required. A list of registered vendors is available at the Schinnen Tax Relief Office. Tax relief may not be used for kitchens, cars, boats, food, drink, tobacco products, items designed to be permanently affixed to dwellings, labor costs, car service or rentals. The VAT office charges 1 euro to 16 euros for forms; minimum purchase is 19 euros.

Contact: (+31)(0)46-443-7178 or DSN: 360-1780.

United Kingdom

VAT rate: 20 percent

Those who qualify must be stationed or on temporary duty in the U.K. Tax relief is available at participating vendors for most products and services (only one car for singles or two cars for married couples). Inquire if vendors will participate.

Prior to purchases, an invoice with the vendor's name, address, phone and itemization of goods must be obtained and taken with payment, processing fee, I.D. ration card and payment for goods in either Pound Sterling or Pound Sterling cashier’s cheque to the VAT office.  The office will issue VAT documents and issue a check to be given to the vendor.

Return signed yellow form to the VAT office within 10 days after purchase. The VAT office charges $8 to $10 for forms. Minimum purchase is 100 British pounds.

Contact the VAT office at (+44) 148-084-3803.

coleman.jeana@stripes.com

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Want more great articles and advice for living in Europe?
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