Tax-free sales to travellers in Finland

Date of issue
8/19/2015
Validity
In force until further notice
This is an unofficial translation. The official instruction is drafted in Finnish and Swedish languages.

Information on customer services at Customs offices has been added in point 6.1.

This guidance is intended for travellers from outside the EU who visit Finland and for Finns living outside the EU who buy goods in Finland and export the unused goods in their personal luggage outside the EU.

Amendments in the VAT legislation governing tax-free sales to travellers which came into force 1 July 2015 has been added. A new Act was passed in March 2015 governing cash refund business (palautusliikelaki 250/20.3.2015) and revisions were made to section 70 b, subsections 1 and 3 of the Value-Added Tax Act.   Similarly, revisions were made to section 8 of the Value-Added Tax Decree on VAT laying down the provisions on sufficient proof of an export transaction.  Moreover, a new passage has been added on shopping from a Finnish mail-order company.

1 Introduction

Value Added Tax (VAT) normally concerns the goods and services that are intended to be consumed in the country where they are bought. When you buy goods in Finland, their selling price usually includes the Finnish VAT. Under this general rule, selling goods to travellers is taxable.

When travellers living outside the EU purchase goods in Finland but intend to use them only outside the EU, they are entitled to a refund of the VAT included in the selling price (tax-free sales). In addition, those travelling to destinations outside the EU may purchase goods either VAT-exempt by using the normal export procedure, or at tax-free shops at airports. Special rules apply to travellers from Norway, these are explained in section Supplying goods to travellers who are permanent residents of Norway.

2 Exports procedure

In the most typical exports procedure, the retailer files an export declaration in their own name and transports the goods themselves (or an independent transport company transports them on the retailer’s or the buyer's request) outside the EU customs territory, where the buyer receives them. These kinds of exports are always VAT exempt. That is, the buyer does not take possession of the goods in Finland. The buyer’s nationality has no relevance as to the goods being tax-free or not. Since no tax is to be paid, the buyer only pays the price without VAT at the time of the purchase. The Value Added Tax Act, section 70 contains provisions on the export procedure in different situations.

3 Tax-free sales to travellers

Under international practice, goods can be sold to travellers without tax in the form of tax-free sales. This means that the buyer takes possession of the goods immediately and exports them in their personal luggage from the country where they were purchased. The buyer pays VAT at the time of the sale but receives a VAT refund later.

Selling tax-free to travellers is a voluntary service. The retailer is therefore not obligated to engage a licenced VAT refund company or to refund VAT themselves to travellers.

3.1 Requirements for tax-free sales to travellers

3.1.1 Requirements on the buyer

Tax-free sales to travellers require that the buyer must be a traveller who is not established within the EU or Norway. Not established means whose habitual residence or permanent address when it is different from the habitual residence is not located within the EU or Norway. The buyer is considered domiciled outside the EU or Norway if they are not living or staying continuously in an EU country or Norway. If the stay is for at least six months, it is in most cases considered continuous. Those having a residence permit in Finland are deemed to be living in Finland even if they are domiciled outside the EU.

A Finnish citizen living permanently outside the EU or Norway may, when visiting Finland, buy goods on which the provision on tax-free sales is applicable. The provision on tax-free sales to travellers may also be applied on purchases which a Finnish citizen makes during the last 14 days before moving, for at least six months, to a place outside the EU or Norway. The Finnish citizen must present the retailer a work or residence permit to prove that they are living in or moving to a country outside the EU.

In order to qualify for tax-free sales to travellers, the buyer must export the goods themselves outside the EU.

The procedure on tax-free sales to travellers does not have to do with the traveller’s nationality; it is rather based on their location of domicile or the place where they live on a permanent basis.  Example: it is regarded as a transaction on which the procedure may be applied when a citizen of Sweden permanently living in Switzerland buys goods in Finland and takes them to Switzerland in their personal luggage.  Similarly, it cannot be regarded as such a transaction when a citizen of Russia, who lives in Finland or Sweden permanently, buys goods in Finland and takes them to Russia in their personal luggage.

3.1.2 Value of sales

To be eligible as tax-free sales to travellers, the total value of the purchased goods must be at least 40 euros. It can include several items. The aggregate value of several goods may be used only if all those goods are included on the same sales receipt (invoice) issued by the same retailer supplying goods to the same customer. The sum includes VAT.

3.1.3 Export of unused goods within three months

The goods must be unused when they are exported from the EU territory in the buyer’s personal luggage. Exportation must take place within three months from the month in which they were purchased. Tax-free sales are not applicable if the goods have been taken into use, even partially, within the EU.

4 Refunds to buyer

Retail companies supplying goods to travellers can use different methods when refunding the VAT. They can refund the VAT themselves or use the services of authorised cash refund businesses or other refund businesses. While the methods are not different as to the legal requirements of tax-free selling, they are slightly different.

4.1 Procedure when the retailer refunds the VAT

Retailers may refund the VAT to the buyer themselves. To make refunds, no special authorisation is required. When a retail company sells goods to a foreign traveller, the sale is considered a normal VAT liable sale until the retailer is provided with a declaration showing that the goods have been exported from the EU territory.

The buyer sends e.g. by post the sales receipt stamped by the Customs to the retailer. When the retailer receives the proof e.g. the stamped sales receipt the goods have been transported from the EU he refunds the VAT to the buyer possibly deducting a service charge. The refund may be paid for example on the buyer’s bank account.

4.2. The retailer uses the services of a VAT refund business

Retailers supplying goods to travellers can use the services of a cash refund business that is authorised by the Tax Administration or other refund businesses.

4.2.1 Authorised cash refund business             

A VAT refund business that encompasses the responsibility of monitoring and proving that the travellers has transported the goods outside the EU needs an authorisation according to the Act governing the responsibilities of a business that pays VAT refunds in cash in Tax Free Sales to Travellers (palautusliikelaki) 250/2015. The authorising authority is the Tax Administration.

4.2.2. Other refund business

Retailers may also sign a contract with a service provider (other refund business) that does not monitor the exportation of the goods on the seller's behalf.  No authorisation is required of other refund businesses.  The exportation of goods from EU territory is proven by virtue of the presentation of receipts that are stamped by the Customs.

Travellers send the Customs-stamped sales receipt to the other refund business by post; and under this arrangement, the retailer has a contract with the refund business that it pays out the refund to the traveller on the seller's behalf.   Then the refund business can refund the VAT, net of a service charge.  It can e.g. be paid to the buyer’s bank account.

5 The seller’s obligations

5.1 Buyer’s domicile

For tax-free sales to travellers, the retailer must confirm the buyer’s domicile by checking the buyer’s passport or a separate residence permit; or by checking other documentation that give a reliable proof of their domicile or the place where they live on a permanent basis if the latter is not the same as the domicile.   Individuals who have a residence permit in Finland are deemed living in Finland even if they are domiciled outside the EU.  If the buyer is a Finnish citizen living in another country for longer than six months, he or she must show the retailer their residence permit or work permit for that country

5.2 Sales receipt              

The retailer sells the goods including VAT.

The retailer has to issue a sales receipt on the sale to the traveller. The receipt has to contain all information relevant to the supply as sales to travellers.

If the payment receipt that the retailer issues e.g. cash register receipt (till receipt) do not show all the required information a separate receipt that should be attached to it. The retailer enters the information lacking in the cash receipt in separate receipt. The cash receipt and the separate receipt should be firmly attached together. The separate receipt is a complement to the cash receipt. If the receipts are not firmly stapled together, the separate receipt must contain a transparent reference such as the cash receipt's date of issue and receipt number.

The details on the sales receipt must be given at least in Finnish or Swedish. If the details are insufficient or missing, the Customs will not stamp the receipt. A receipt which a Customs has stamped serves as documentation showing that the goods have left the EU territory, and the retailer may enter the supply under their tax-free sales in the bookkeeping.

The retailer must enter the following details in the invoice or other verification:

1. Buyer’s name, passport number and domicile and habitual residence if it is other than the domicile.

The buyer purchasing the goods to export them in their personal luggage outside the EU must show the retailer their passport at the time of the sale. The retailer must write the passport number on the receipt. The buyer must confirm their own details by signing the receipt.

2. Retailer’s name, postal address and Business ID
3. Quantity and quality of goods

The goods must be described in such detail that they can be identified and itemised.

“Clothes” is not a sufficient description. Instead, the goods must be itemised in the receipt as for example “coat, shoes or children’s wellington boots”.
“Sports gear” is not a sufficient description. Instead, the goods must be itemised in the receipt as for example “slalom skis, ice hockey stick or skateboard”.
“Jewellery” is not a sufficient description. Instead, the goods must be itemised in the receipt as for example “bracelet, ring, necklace”.
”Accessories” is not a sufficient description. Instead, the goods must be itemised in the receipt as for example “key ring, scarf, pendant, tie or wallet”.
“Electronics” is not a sufficient description. Instead, the goods must be itemised in the receipt as for example “mobile phone and its IMEI code, computer or system camera”.
“Tools” is not a sufficient description. Instead, the goods must be itemised in the receipt as for example “hand drill, hammer, axe, electric milling machine, or electric grinder”.
“Car parts” is not a sufficient description. Instead, the goods must be itemised in the receipt as for example “engine bonnet, brake pads or bumper”.

4. The paid price with the VAT included, and the tax basis (the consideration paid for the sale of goods without tax) by tax rate, the tax rate applied, or the amount of tax to be paid in euros.

At the time of the sale, debit the traveller the whole price including VAT. Then report the sale in your periodic tax return as tax from taxable sales.

5. The amount to be refunded to the buyer or if that cannot be ascertained, an indication of minimum and maximum refund levels.
6. Delivery date of goods

The delivery date of goods is the day when the retailer hands over the goods in the possession of the buyer. If the date of issue of the receipt is the same as the date of delivery, there is no need for a specific indication of the delivery date.

In the case of mail-order selling, the date regarded as the delivery date is when the buyer collects the goods e.g. at a post office or similar pick-up site located in Finland.

7. Number of packages.

What is meant by 'package' is a plastic bag, box or similar unit into which the retailer places the goods, used as a transport package.

Example: The till receipt from a retailer’s cash register contains the following details:

  • retailer’s name, address and Business ID
  • date of issue of the cash receipt
  • quantity and quality of goods
  • price paid
  • VAT to be paid in  euros

The retailer makes a separate receipt with the following details:

  • buyer’s name, domicile and passport number
  • because it cannot be ascertained what the refund to be paid later to the buyer is as an exact amount, the levels of minimum and maximum refund
  • number of packages

The retailer uses a stapler to attach the cash receipt to the enclosed separate receipt. This way, the receipt and its enclosure are the documentation that the traveller must, depending on the refund procedure chosen by the retailer, either show to the customs officer or to the cash refund business when leaving the EU.

The traveller may not enter or add any of the details mentioned above in sales receipt. Instead, all entries in the document must be made by the retailer at the time of the sale. The original receipt given to the buyer and the copy which remains in the retailer’s accounting must be identical.

5.3 The Retailer seals the goods

The retailer must, when before handing over the goods to the buyer, always seal the goods so that the customs or the cash refund business can ascertain their connection to the retailer and that they are intact at the time of exportation from the EU. Such seal may consist of for example adhesive tape which bears the cash refund business’s or the retailer's logo or name. If the retailer has no such tape, the goods must be packed in a plastic bag/package which bears the logo or name. The bag/package must then be closed by stapling so that it cannot be opened without stapler marks being left on the bag/package.  The sealing must be made carefully so that the Customs officer or an employee of an authorised cash refund business can ascertain that the goods are unused. This ensures that the buyer is entitled to a VAT refund.

6 The traveller departs from the EU territory

6.1 Stamping the sales receipts at Customs office

Upon leaving the EU territory from either Finland or via another EU country, the buyer has the sales receipt stamped in the customs office via which the buyer is leaving the EU. The Customs may then request that the unused goods be shown in their original packaging.

The buyer sends the sales receipt stamped by the Customs to the retailer or the other refund business. The retailer or the other refund business pays the refund to the buyer possibly deducting a service charge.

The retailer and the other refund business has if they charge a fee, pay VAT on it, because it is a compensation for a taxable service.

Even when a traveller must file an export declaration with the Customs, the sale is considered tax-free if the conditions laid down in section 70 b of the Value-Added Tax Act  concerning tax-free sales, and section 8 of the Value-Added Tax Decree are met. The confirmation of exit concerning export for commercial purposes issued by the Customs is not considered a proof under the VAT Decree of the goods being exported outside the EU. Instead, even in this case the customs official will stamp the tax-free receipt from the retailer to confirm that the goods are being exported from the EU territory. Customs customer release 31.8.2012: A traveller may also have to submit an export declaration (tulli.fi/en).

Customer service is not available at all Customs offices. Therefore we recommend that the traveller in advance makes sure that the Customs office where he leaves the EU has customer service to get the sales receipts stamped by the Customs. It is possible to book an appointment in advance. Information on the customer service at Customs offices see http://tulli.fi/en/about-us/contact-information/customer-service-at-the-customs-offices. More information on making an appointment and contact information see http://tulli.fi/en/about-us/contact-information/appointment-service.

When a traveller exits the EU territory and a Customs officer notices some defects in either goods or receipts, they may stamp the receipt with a “red stamp”. The print on the stamp describes the observations made by Customs. In a situation when from the red stamp can be concluded that the conditions for tax-free sales are not met the retailer cannot enter the receipt under tax-free sales in the bookkeeping.

The most common situations when the retailer may not enter the sale as tax-free are

  • goods are not presented at Customs when leaving the EU
  • goods were used in the EU
  • goods were sold VAT-exempt
  • goods are presented in Customs by another person than the one entered as buyer on the sales receipt and whose passport was referred to.

For example a stamp which states that there is a defect in the sealing of the goodsserves as guidance to the seller for future sales. However, in such a case the Customs did provide adequate proof of the exportation, and consequently the retailer may enter the sale under tax-free sales in their book-keeping.

6.2 Procedure when an authorised cash refund business refunds the VAT

When travellers leave Finland for a country outside the EU, they show their passport, the goods and the sales receipt at the cash refund company’s desk at the port or in the airport departure hall. The cash refund business ensures that the passport holder is the same person as the buyer on the sale receipt. It compares and checks that the goods are similar to the ones marked on the receipt and that the goods are unused at the time of exportation and that the seal is intact. The cash refund business will then refund the traveller the VAT amount net of a service charge.

If the place where the buyer exits the EU the cash refund business has no office or it is not open, the traveller must obtain an exit stamp on the sales receipt at the Customs office. The Customs will check the traveller’s passport, goods and the sales receipt.

7 The retailer is a mail-order company

The Tax-free sales to travellers procedure can only be applied on mail-order business in the Finnish mainland.

The mail-order company/e-commerce store/online shop must be registered for VAT in Finland. The seller has to know that the sale is tax-free sales to travellers. When the buyer places an order, for example, in an online store, the buyer shall submit the scanned image to the seller of his passport. The passport or other document shall indicate that the buyer is domiciled or habitually resident outside the EU or Norway and that they do not reside in an EU country or in Norway on a continuous basis.

The seller dispatches the sealed goods to an agreed pick-up point in Finland and attaches the sales receipt which contains the information required in the procedure for tax-free sales to travellers into the package. Package pick-up location may be, for example, an office of the transporting company or postal service point. When the traveller picks up the package, the pick-up site employee checks the identity of the person from the passport.

When the traveller leaves Finland to outside the EU the Finnish Customs authorities check that the goods are sealed and unused. At the same time the Customs verifies that the copy of passport and traveller’s passport correspond to each other.

8 Sales at airports

At airports, tax-free sales take place in tax-free shops. They are located at international flights departure halls. Tax-free shops are either customs warehouses under Article 240 of the Community Customs Code (952/2013) or warehouses under section 72 j of the Value-Added Tax Act. The goods are therefore placed under the customs warehousing procedure referred to in the said regulations.

  • Exempted from VAT are the sales of goods to travellers who take the goods in their luggage and whose flight destination is outside the EU tax territory.
  • Subject to VAT are the goods sold to travellers who take them in their luggage and travel within the EU tax territory to another EU country.

If the traveller is domiciled in Norway or living there on a permanent basis, the selection of tax-free goods is limited. These travellers may only buy VAT-free alcoholic beverages, tobacco, chocolate, sweets, perfumes, cosmetics and toiletries at shops located in a departure hall.

If the traveller presents a boarding pass for an international flight, it is regarded as sufficient proof of their exporting the goods from EU territory. It is also required that the retailer issues  a sales receipt for the sales transaction displaying the following details:

  1. Buyer's name, passport number, domicile and the location of their permanent home, if different from domicile.
  2. Flight number
  3. Retailer's name and Business ID
  4. Quantity and quality of the goods
  5. Date of delivery, if the date of issue of the receipt is not the same as the date of delivery, and
  6. The price paid for the goods.

9 Supplying goods to travellers who are permanent residents of Norway

Even though Norway is not an EU country, there are limitations as to what can be sold tax-free to travellers who are domiciled in Norway. Travellers domiciled in Norway may purchase tax-free goods only when they will be taking the goods immediately to Norway in their luggage and will pay the VAT when importing the goods there. The sale is taxable until the traveller has proved (by showing a Norwegian Customs import decision) that the VAT has been paid in Norway. After having received the proof the retailer may enter the supply as tax-free in the bookkeeping and refund the VAT to the traveller.  In addition, the selling price of the goods or a customary set of goods exclusive tax is at least 170 euros.