Take an overseas jaunt, and get a tax refund

If you’re keen to escape the winter chills and head off to warmer climes overseas, there is a scheme available that may take some bite out of your travelling costs. The Tourist Refund Scheme (TRS) lets you claim a refund on the goods and services tax (GST) and wine equalisation tax (WET) on goods you have bought in Australia.

It is not “duty-free” shopping, which is where you need to actually leave the country before you use the goods you have bought. The TRS allows you to use the items you buy, such as clothing or cameras, before leaving Australia, but then get certain amounts back (but not for consumables like wine or chocolates).

There are certain conditions. You need to:

  • spend $300 (GST inclusive) or more at one retailer
  • buy goods within 60 days of departure
  • be sure the retailer provides you with a tax invoice (a refund cannot be given without it)
  • wear or carry the goods on board the aircraft or ship and present them along with your original tax invoice, passport and international boarding pass to a Customs officer at a TRS facility within the air or sea port.

You can buy several items from one retailer (that is, one Australian Business Number holder, which means there could be several outlets) over a number of occasions in the 60-day period, as long as the total purchase adds up to $300 GST inclusive or more. You may buy goods from several stores, and claim the GST for each of those, as long as each store’s tax invoice totals at least $300 (GST inclusive).

How much will I get back?

The GST refund: Divide the total amount of the purchase by 11. The WET refund: 14.5% of the price paid for the wine. You can collect your refund through one of the following methods:

  • cheque (posted within 15 business days)
  • credit to an Australian bank account
  • payment to a credit card (this and above, both issued within five business days subject to issuer).

What can I buy?

Unlike “duty-free” shopping – where you are unable to use the goods within Australia – most goods under the TRS such as clothing, cameras and electrical equipment can be used in Australia prior to departure.

The refund only applies to goods you can take with you as hand luggage or wear on to the aircraft or ship when you leave Australia (subject to aviation security measures regarding liquids, aerosols and gels). It may pay to find out what you can and cannot take on-board as hand luggage before going to the airport.

The following goods are excluded from the TRS:

  • Beer and spirits (wine is okay) and tobacco (these can be bought at duty-free shops)
  • GST-free goods — no refund can be claimed if no GST was paid
  • consumables wholly or partially consumed in Australia
  • goods that are prohibited on aircraft or ships for safety reasons.
  • goods that fail to meet airline cabin-size or ship hand luggage restrictions
  • unaccompanied goods (including freighted or posted goods)
  • services such as accommodation, tours and car rental and labour charges
  • goods bought online and imported into Australia
  • gift cards/vouchers (although goods purchased with these are eligible)

How do I do it?

Airport: Once clear of Customs and Immigration, TRS facilities can be found at the international airports at Darwin, Perth, Cairns, Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and Gold Coast.
Seaports: Cruise liner terminals have TRS facilities at Circular Quay and Darling Harbour in Sydney, Melbourne’s Station Pier and also Darwin, Brisbane, Cairns, Hobart and Fremantle. Contact Customs to find out where to claim.

It should only take a relatively short time to process the claim, but no-one likes holding up their flights (or worse yet, missing it altogether), so make sure you leave plenty of time to get to the airport, check-in, clear Customs, buy the duty-free perfume you promised your aunty, and queue-up to make your TRS claim.

Time wise, at the airport you have up to 30 minutes before departure. By sea, no later than one hour prior to the scheduled departure time of the vessel.

It is a legal requirement that the person who purchases the goods must be the person who makes the claim for a refund of GST.

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