The Consummate Traveler – How I “Lost” 80 Euros at the Airport Last Week

March 12, 2015 Updated: March 12, 2015

No I didn’t lose my wallet, or a personal item worth 80 Euros. Actually, what I lost was an opportunity to claim two VAT tax reimbursements I was entitled to because of how I managed my trip home. Sometimes the best way to learn is the school of hard knocks, which in this case cost me a pretty penny. Allow me to share my experience so that none of you will repeat my mistake.

I was on a business trip in Athens, Greece where I unexpectedly bought a piece of jewelry that qualified me for a tax reimbursement because I spent over the required limit of about 150 Euros. However, since I was going to Rome for a few days after my job ended to visit a friend, I was not able to process my tax refund when leaving Greece. The reason is because one must be on a flight out of the EU to qualify. This worked to my advantage, however, since I made a second unexpected purchase in Italy that earned me yet another tax refund.

On the day of my departure from Rome back to New York, my flight route consisted of a connection in Frankfurt, Germany. In this case, the appropriate spot for me to handle the administrative paperwork necessary to get the VAT tax was Frankfurt, since I had the goods I bought in my carry-on luggage. So what was the issue you may ask? My connection was too short (about one hour due to a delay) to give me sufficient time to run around the airport to get the required customs stamps I needed. Sadly, I had to make a choice to run for the gate or get paid. I ran for my gate.

In hindsight, I had another option that I should have considered in order to get the tax refunds processed. This was to get the customs stamps in Rome and not Frankfurt. By luck, I had arrived early to the airport in Rome and had ample time on my hands to wait on the typically long lines at the customs stamp window. I could have then packed my purchases into my suitcase, which would have been checked all the way to New York. In this case, when your goods are in the checked baggage instead of in your hand luggage, you are allowed to claim your tax reimbursement in the first port of exit from the EU when you have a connection. Although this is usually not my first choice due to limited space in my bag, it certainly was an alternative.

If you are planning an international trip soon and anticipate making purchases of about $200 USD or more (think luxury goods) on one item to qualify you for possible tax reimbursement, take a moment to pause about your return flights and plan accordingly. A good rule of thumb is to schedule at least a three hour layover for connections to avoid any tax refund mishaps like mine.

As always, I wish you the happiest of travels!

*Image of a woman in the airport via Shutterstock