Guide to Getting Tax Refund on Your Shopping in Tokyo, Japan14 December, 2016
Claiming the Japan 8% sales/consumption tax or VAT refund for shopping in Japan is one of the most hassle-free experience. There is no need to show Japan Customs your products to obtain customs stamp and then claiming your tax refund via tax refund agents like Global Blue – this is a typical sales tax refund for most countries like South Korea. Instead, in Japan, you can get cash refund directly and immediately from the tax refund counters at the shopping centres/malls or shops where you shopped at. There are a few things you should take note of to facilitate your Japan 8% sales tax refund process. Let me share with you my experience below.
First, bring your passports everywhere you go especially if you are planning to shop that day. In fact, even if you don’t plan to shop on that day of the trip, you might still end up doing some shopping because there are just so many interesting things to buy in Tokyo, Japan. The key number to remember is 5000 Yen (about S$60 as of 14 Dec 2016) and the key word to note is Excluding Tax. In Tokyo, some shops label their pricetags as “Price + Tax” while bigger shopping malls like Takashimaya tend to label their pricetags as “Price (inclusive of tax)”. So if your final bills comes up to exactly 5000 Yen (inclusive of tax), you cannot claim the 8% tax refund. Inclusive of tax, your bill should add up to at least 5400 Yen so as to claim Japan sales tax refund. Don’t make the above mistake as that may mean you will need to re-queue at the usually long tax refund queues at the shop.
To summarise, you can only claim the Japan 8% sales tax refund if your spending is at least 5000 Yen (excluding tax) or 5400 Yen (including tax).
Second key thing to note is that you cannot combine your purchase of general items (shoes, clothings etc.) with consumables (cosmetics, snacks) for the 5000 Yen. See image below for examples. If you want to claim for general items, you should ensure your purchases of these general items add up to 5000 Yen (before tax). Likewise for consumables – the best part is that you can claim for 8% tax refund for all your delicious Japanese snack purchases.
1. Consumables (foods, drinks, medicines, cosmetics, etc.) must be purchased at the same store on the same day, and the total spending must be over 5,000 yen, but no greater than 500,000 yen.
2. General goods (electric appliances, clothing, accessories, etc.) EXCEPT FOR consumables are exempt from consumption tax if purchased at the same store on the same day, and the total spending must be over 5,000 yen. Note that there used to be a minimum spending of 10,000 yen but Japan has recently changed their policies on this to reduce it to 5,000 yen.
There are other conditions you need to fulfill to claim the Japan 8% consumption tax refund:
- Only foreign visitors who have temporarily stayed in Japan for less than 6 months since entering Japan.
- You must show your passport at the store where you purchased the goods for tax-free procedure.
- You have to claim your sales tax refund on the same day of purchase.
When you produce your passport at the tax refund counter, they will check your Japan entry permit stamp to confirm your eligibility. They will then staple a piece of paper with the tax refund information and your particulars on the page where the Japan entry permit stamp is. You will need to return this piece of paper (titled “Record of Purchase of Consumption Tax – Exempt for Export”) to the Japan customs at the airport just before you go to the immigration counters where your passport is checked.
There were comments on forums that the customs counter might not be manned or they couldn’t find the customs counter as the location was not very obvious. When I departed via Narita Airport, the customs counter was directly facing the immigration counters – look out for it as they can be easily missed if you are looking for it.
All your consumables that you are claiming your tax refund for will be sealed in a clear bag. You are not supposed to take them out of the bag. According to the official Japan customs website – “Articles purchased tax free will be checked with the card by a Customs officer, who will collect the card at the time of your departure from Japan.” However, in practice, this is not done (at least based on my experience and what many others at other travel forum say) so you can pack all your purchases in your bag and check in.
Summary: Claiming your Japan consumption/sales 8% tax refund process in 5 Steps
Step 1 – Ensure that you have spent at least 5400 Yen (inclusive of tax) or 5000 Yen (exclusive of tax) on your tax-exempted eligible item and you have not mixed the purchases for general items and consumable items.
Step 2 – Bring the following items to the tax refund service counter
(a) The items you purchased
(b) Your passport
(c) Receipts for the items you purchased (handwritten receipt are not accepted)
(d) Credit card used to purchase these items (where applicable) – some shops require this. If you paid in cash, ignore this.
Step 3 – Queue for your turn (expect long queues especially for big shopping malls) and wait for them to process your tax refunds
Step 4 – You will get back your tax refund in cash. Do note that at some shops, there is a processing fee which will be deducted from your tax refund. For example at Shinjuku Takashimaya, you will be charged a 1.1% duty free processing fee based on your purchased items. The tax refund counter staff will also staple a piece of tax refund paper in your passport.
Step 5 – Your purchased items will be sealed in bags – don’t open them. You can pack them in your checked-in bags and check them in at the airport. Pass the tax refund paper to the staff at the airport customs counter.
Do note that Steps 2 and 3 may differ for some shops as their pricetags are indicated as “Price + Tax” so all you have to do is show your passport and pay the “Price” (without the tax). This simplifies the process a lot.
And that’s it!
Look out for other promotions and discounts for your shopping
Besides tax-free shopping, look out for other “lobangs” (great deals and discounts) when you shop too e.g. at Takashimaya in Shinjuku, you can collect a tourist discount card from their service counter at Level 10. You will need to show your passport with the Japan entry permit (pasted onto your passport at the immigration counter).
This Takashimaya shoppers’ card entitles you to a 5% discount for a single purchase of over 3000 Yen before sales tax (i.e. 3240 Yen after tax).
There are lots of discounts for purchases using UnionPay credit card e.g. UnionPay Cardholders are eligible for 5% discount for purchases at Tokyu Hands with a UnionPay card (no minimum purchase required). You can also claim 8% tax refund at Tokyu Hands when you spend more than 5400 Yen at Tokyu Hands – meaning you save up to 13% off your purchases! Read this blog post for where you can find great bargains with your UnionPay credit/debit card.
If you want even more hassle-free tax refunds, just buy your Japanese snacks at the airport – the price are also tax-free or duty-free so all you have to do is pay the listed price and you are done. For Japanese snacks tax free shopping at Narita Airport, I recommend the Fa So La branches – there are at least 4 Fa So La tax-free shops selling Japanese snacks at the Narita Airport International Terminal – check all of them out if you have time as they offer samples of the snacks and some carry snacks that the other Fa So La do not have.