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Old 16.01.2012, 18:39
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Reclaiming EU VAT but no customs officials at a border?

I'm going to make a lot of purchases in Thonon-les-Bains in France, so the difference between the EU and the Swiss VATs will be substantial. According to the information from the French customs website, I need to find a customs official who will stamp the form when exiting France. The problem is that I have never seen customs officials aboard a boat from Thonon to Lausanne (nor in corresponding ports).

Here it says that if I cannot find customs officials, then I can leave the forms in a declaration box at the train station in Lausanne.

However, according to this article, while leaving the forms in a declaration box obliges me to pay the Swiss VAT it does not reclaims the French VAT. To reclaim the tax, it says, I have to go through a complicated and time consuming procedure of contacting regional Directorate of Customs and Excise and explaining my case why I wasn't able to get the forms stamped by French custom officials.

So, now I'm confused which source of information to trust. Does anyone has an experience of reclaiming the EU VAT through these declaration boxes without getting the forms stamped by a EU customs official?
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Old 16.01.2012, 22:52
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Re: Reclaiming EU VAT but no customs officials at a border?

You need to find an open French customs office when you leave France with the goods.
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Old 16.01.2012, 23:30
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Re: Reclaiming EU VAT but no customs officials at a border?

The problem is that in Thonon there is no customs office. The only customs control that is definitely going to be open is on the highway to geneva. But I'm not sure if I can access it without a car.
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Old 17.01.2012, 00:05
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Re: Reclaiming EU VAT but no customs officials at a border?

Regardless, that's what you have to do.

As was mentioned, the Swiss one is only for paying Swiss VAT (and avoiding fines), but NOT for getting back foreign VAT!

Tom
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Old 17.01.2012, 01:04
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Re: Reclaiming EU VAT but no customs officials at a border?

We have had this problem when leaving the UK.

You have a period of days before the stamp is required. You can then get the paperwork processed at another border control that is manned on a regular basis.

If the VAT refund is substantial get in a car and drive, but you will need to have the goods with you for inspection.

I recently bought a present for my Wife in London. Could not get the paperwork stamped in the UK, so I took it to the Ferney Voltaire customs, french side and they stamped it for me. The Next Time I flew back to the UK I went to the AMEX desk at Geneve airport and received my refund.
A little complicated but if you travel a lot it's no problem at all.

Remember you are allowed to bring in (I think) 300 euros of goods with out paying Swiss Tax whilst still claiming back the EEC tax.
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Old 17.01.2012, 01:29
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Re: Reclaiming EU VAT but no customs officials at a border?

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If the VAT refund is substantial get in a car and drive, but you will need to have the goods with you for inspection.
Yes, the refund is substantial. But I don't have a car. Is there a French customs control near Geneva which is manned on a regular basis and accessible by foot?
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Old 17.01.2012, 01:43
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Re: Reclaiming EU VAT but no customs officials at a border?

These days you just find manned controls at the major crossings and occasionally on the Swiss side in remote area's. Ferney Voltaire is accessable by foot, but you still need to get there.

I think your best bet is to ask a friend who does have a car for help.
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Old 17.01.2012, 09:46
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Re: Reclaiming EU VAT but no customs officials at a border?

And, you need to get it stamped BEFORE leaving France (or, more correctly, the EU), you cannot come back to Switzerland, and then return to France to get a stamp!

Tom
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Old 17.01.2012, 10:19
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Re: Reclaiming EU VAT but no customs officials at a border?

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And, you need to get it stamped BEFORE leaving France (or, more correctly, the EU), you cannot come back to Switzerland, and then return to France to get a stamp!

Tom
Not true.
We also shopped in Thonon-Les-bains from Lausanne and there is indeed no french border official to stamp the "détaxe" ticket. So we went home with our stuff (and thus left France!!).
We rented a car for a weekend a month later and went to Annecy. We stopped on the way back at the border on the french side to get the stamp on our 1 month-old "détaxe" ticket. The french border official asked us to show him the merchandise we had bought and then he stamped our ticket.

We asked how we should go about this next time, since there is no customs office in Thonon and he basically said, tough luck, that's the way it is. Airports and major roads are your best bet to find an official who can stamp your form.

Our shopping was more than 175euros* from one single shop in one day (otherwise you can't claim the tax) and less than 300 CHF** (otherwise you need to pay swiss tax). Note it's 300CHF, not euros. While we were at the border, we also paid a visit to the Swiss border official, who said that for less than 300CHF we did not need a Swiss border stamp. Overzealous as we were, we asked for one anyway

Also, FYI, the prestamped enveloppe to send back for the tax claim can be sent from Switzerland too, it's not just valid for France like I thought.

I got my refund just 2 weeks after sending the form.

Links:
* Official French source
** Official Swiss source
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Old 17.01.2012, 10:36
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Re: Reclaiming EU VAT but no customs officials at a border?

I know it's a bit of a distance for you, but there always seems to be officials at the crossing at St. Gingolph, going back into Switzerland. Difficult to get to though without a car, although I think the bus still goes from Thonon to St.Gingolph.....or there's always the ferry boat. If you took the bus to St.Gingolph you could then take the ferry all the way round the lake (stopping EVERYWHERE) back to Lausanne.
I suppose it all depends on how much VAT you'll be claiming back, whether it's worth all the hassle.
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Old 17.01.2012, 11:03
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Re: Reclaiming EU VAT but no customs officials at a border?

SOooo, I phoned the customs in both France (DR Léman, see phonebook) and Switzerland (Direction des douanes Genèves).

Short story: The French said you need to go to the french embassy or consulate with all your merchandise and get a french stamp. You can also go back to a border stop on the motorway but they have no obligation to stamp your ticket since this is not where you left France after your shopping.

The Swiss said: Fill in the declaration form in the declaration box in Lausanne-gare. attach your original "bordereau de détaxe" (what you got from the vendor at the shop). You do not need to attach copies of your permis de résidence nor CGN ferry ticket because the vendor supposedly already checked your permis de résidence and you have to write your swiss address on the declaration, hence you do live in Switzerland.

So you send the filled-in declaration form + bordereau to the Swiss officials via de "Boîte à Déclaration" in Lausanne-gare (I have never done it, but it should be clearly explained on the box).

The Swiss customs will then check that you do not need to pay import taxes (ie. your shopping is less than 300CHF) and will forward your bordereau to the French customs who will place their stamp then send it back to the Swiss customs.

(Should you have spent more than 300CHf, the Swiss customs will first send you a bill to pay import tax.)

The Swiss customs then send you back the bordereau with the french stamp (and maybe the swiss stamp depending on their mood, since it is not required for amounts of less than 300CHF) and then you can send it to the refund office in the prestamped enveloppe that you received from the shop.

I hope this is clear... And I'm very happy to learn myself that there is no need to trek to an embassy or border stop!!
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Old 17.01.2012, 11:17
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Re: Reclaiming EU VAT but no customs officials at a border?

I believe there is a also a (quite high) minimum purchase of some 175-200 Euros in one store under which they don't detax...
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Old 17.01.2012, 11:21
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Re: Reclaiming EU VAT but no customs officials at a border?

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I believe there is a also a (quite high) minimum purchase of some 175-200 Euros in one store under which they don't detax...
About EUR 153 in Italy.

Also, Italy has a max of EUR 600, after which you need to do a normal export (i.e. get in line with the trucks, after getting forms prepared by an expeditor for EUR 50 or so!).

Tom
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Old 18.01.2012, 00:22
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Re: Reclaiming EU VAT but no customs officials at a border?

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SOooo, I phoned the customs in both France (DR Léman, see phonebook) and Switzerland (Direction des douanes Genèves).
Thanks very much for your well-researched information!
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Old 02.05.2012, 23:14
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Re: Reclaiming EU VAT but no customs officials at a border?

Here is a follow up post based on my experience:

At the shop I asked for the VAT reclaim form. It turned out that the shop returns VAT through 'Global Blue' company which charges 6% of the original price, so the shop returns 14% instead of 20%. The vendor at the shop gave me two VAT reclaim forms and an envelop. I was told at the shop that I will have to have both of the forms stamped when leaving France, mail one of the forms to Global Blue, using the provided envelop, and keep another form to myself. Then I will have to come back to the shop with the form to receive VAT refund.

Of course there was no one at the French border (and the Swiss border too). So, I located a declaration box, filled in the customs declaration form, and dropped it together with the two VAT reclaim forms into the box. However I kept the envelop to myself thinking that I will receive back both of the forms.

About a week later I received a bill from the Swiss customs. Then after paying the Swiss VAT I received a mail from the customs office. However, the Swiss customs sent me only one VAT reclaim (the one which I was supposed to return to the shop). Moreover, the form was stamped only by Swiss customs, there wasn't any French customs stamp on the form.

This week I went to the shop with the form. When I gave the form to the vendor, she didn't say anything about a missing French customs stamp but made a phone call to some company. I don't know French so I couldn't follow their conversation, but I guess the vendor was calling to Global Blue to ask them if I sent them another form. Several minutes later I received my money back.

The bottom line is that Swiss customs didn't send the forms to French customs as was pointed out by Pernilleskokken and they sent only one of the two forms. But since I was able to receive VAT refund at the shop, it seems that Swiss customs sent one of the forms to Global Blue. But I'm still puzzled why did I receive it despite of the missing French customs stamp.
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Old 09.05.2012, 14:59
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Re: Reclaiming EU VAT but no customs officials at a border?

Quick follow up on this story:

My friend followed the advice I got from the Swiss on the phone and put the "bordereau de détaxe" he received from the shop with the shop's stamp but with none of the border stamps (neither french nor swiss) in the declaration box in Lausanne-gare and never heard back, never got his VAT refund. It's been a couple of months since he submitted it. So apparently this trick does not work. Sorry!

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SOooo, I phoned the customs in both France (DR Léman, see phonebook) and Switzerland (Direction des douanes Genèves).

Short story: The French said you need to go to the french embassy or consulate with all your merchandise and get a french stamp. You can also go back to a border stop on the motorway but they have no obligation to stamp your ticket since this is not where you left France after your shopping.

The Swiss said: Fill in the declaration form in the declaration box in Lausanne-gare. attach your original "bordereau de détaxe" (what you got from the vendor at the shop). You do not need to attach copies of your permis de résidence nor CGN ferry ticket because the vendor supposedly already checked your permis de résidence and you have to write your swiss address on the declaration, hence you do live in Switzerland.

So you send the filled-in declaration form + bordereau to the Swiss officials via de "Boîte à Déclaration" in Lausanne-gare (I have never done it, but it should be clearly explained on the box).

The Swiss customs will then check that you do not need to pay import taxes (ie. your shopping is less than 300CHF) and will forward your bordereau to the French customs who will place their stamp then send it back to the Swiss customs.

(Should you have spent more than 300CHf, the Swiss customs will first send you a bill to pay import tax.)

The Swiss customs then send you back the bordereau with the french stamp (and maybe the swiss stamp depending on their mood, since it is not required for amounts of less than 300CHF) and then you can send it to the refund office in the prestamped enveloppe that you received from the shop.

I hope this is clear... And I'm very happy to learn myself that there is no need to trek to an embassy or border stop!!
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Old 14.01.2015, 12:22
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Re: Reclaiming EU VAT but no customs officials at a border?

In case this helps anyone else arriving via a/ the search engine, I have found that the douane at Bardonnex is staffed 24 hours and that they have a PABLO electronic scanner for the VAT refund process (all participating merchants should now give you a receipt that has a scannable barcode on it). There are 2 others in Pontarlier and Vallard. Good overall summary here.

I was told yesterday that you have 3 months to detaxe, but of course, you still need to take the goods with you to show and also your Swiss ID card (which the retailers also often require to see at purchase to issue the form).
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Old 14.01.2015, 12:26
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Re: Reclaiming EU VAT but no customs officials at a border?

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Yes, the refund is substantial. But I don't have a car. Is there a French customs control near Geneva which is manned on a regular basis and accessible by foot?
Ferney Voltaire and Moillesulaz nearly always seem to have French officials there and both are accessible (Ferney by F bus, Moillesulaz by 12 tram).
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Old 18.01.2015, 15:24
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Re: Reclaiming EU VAT but no customs officials at a border?

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Ferney Voltaire and Moillesulaz nearly always seem to have French officials there and both are accessible (Ferney by F bus, Moillesulaz by 12 tram).
Moillesulaz doesn't have a customs office to do the détaxe. The closest one is Thonex-Vallard, which is accessible by car, or by bus nr.5 or 25
This one has a PABLO system and a Global Blue office.

By the way, anybody knows if both systems (FR-SW) are synch? Let's say that I get the VAT refund but I forget to pay the VAT in Switzerland customs. Do they know that I filled a VAT refund form in France?

Thanks!
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Old 18.01.2015, 23:10
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Re: Reclaiming EU VAT but no customs officials at a border?

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By the way, anybody knows if both systems (FR-SW) are synch? Let's say that I get the VAT refund but I forget to pay the VAT in Switzerland customs. Do they know that I filled a VAT refund form in France?
Don't know about France but at least the German border guards sometimes give their Swiss colleagues a call when someone has his/her forms stamped and made a big purchase.
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