The tourist refund scheme

The sun, the surf, the shopping! Australia has enough temptations on offer to keep the credit card running hot. But there’s no need to stress, because there is a little known scheme that might help take the bite out of the credit card bill. The tourist refund scheme

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 and then get certain amounts back (but not for consumables like wine or chocolates).

The scheme is open to all overseas visitors and Australian residents, with the exception of air and sea crew. And note that the refund only applies to goods you take with you as hand luggage or wear on to the aircraft or ship when you leave the country.

The tourist refund is subject to certain conditions. You need to:

  • spend $300 (GST inclusive) or more at the one retailer
  • buy goods no more than 60 days before departure
  • be sure the retailer will provide you with a tax invoice for each relevant purchase (all stores registered for GST will be able to give you a tax invoice, and a refund cannot be given without it — note that electronic invoices are acceptable)
  • wear or carry the goods on board the aircraft or ship (with regard to security-based limitations of course) and present them along with your original tax invoice, passport and international boarding pass to a Border Force 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 (but this has limited currencies)
  • credit to an Australian bank account
  • payment to a credit card.

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 therefore pay to check with your airline 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:

  • alcohol such as beer and spirits (wine and wine products are okay) and tobacco products (these goods can be purchased from 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. These include items such as gas cylinders, fireworks and aerosol sprays (all airlines provide information to passengers on prohibited items)
  • 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, subject to all TRS requirements being met)

How do I do it?
At the airport: Once you’ve cleared Immigration and Border Protection, TRS facilities can be found at the international airports at Darwin, Perth, Cairns, Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and the Gold Coast.

At seaports: Cruise liner terminals have TRS facilities at the seaports of Circular Quay and Darling Harbour in Sydney, Melbourne’s Station Pier and also Darwin, Brisbane, Cairns, Hobart and Fremantle. Contact Border Force to find out if you can, and where to make a claim.

You will need to have with you the items you are taking out of the country, the original tax invoices, your passport, and your international boarding pass or other proof of travel. Note that tax invoices of $A1,000 or more in value must contain your identity (name, address, email or passport number). Contact the retailer and request a new tax invoice if this information is missing, as the tax invoice will be rejected at the TRS facility without this information.

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 Border Protection, buy the duty-free perfume you promised your aunty, and queue-up to make your TRS claim.

To make processing your claim faster at your port of departure, you can pre-enter the details of your claim using the TRS app. For more information on this, visit the Tourist Refund Scheme application webpage.

As far as the amount of time you should allow; at the:

  • airport; it is recommended you arrive at least 90 minutes prior to the scheduled departure of your flight to make your claim
  • seaport; claims cannot be made earlier than four hours and 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.

More details are available at Immigration and Border Protection, but you can also call 1300 555 043 if you are within Australia, or +61 2 6246 5499 if you are outside Australia.