I’m noticing that everybardy’s headed to my motherland these days since I’m suddenly getting an influx of emails about Korea. From these mails, it seems like everyone’s only got one thang on their minds – shopping. It dawned on me that I’d never actually blogged about the tax refund process in Korea, and since I’m in a relatively yappy mood today, let the verbal diarrhea begin 😀 Here’s how I usually do my tax refunds in Korea (and they’re stated in chronological order).
AT THE STORE
- Most large department stores and normal stores should allow you to do a tax refund. I’m talking about the decent large corporations here, such as Lotte, Shinsegae, Laneige, Aritaum, Hanskin, etc. You won’t be able to do it at those street stores that sell KRW10,000 dresses. Sadly, services such as hair and CNP Skin Clinic also do not do tax refunds.
Look out for these logos if you’re not sure. There could be more, but so far, these are the most common ones that I’ve encountered.
- Most stores have a minimum KRW30,000 purchase level before you can do a tax refund, so consolidate your purchases. Don’t be buying 1 eyeliner from 1 store, and then 2 blushers from another store – look around, decide on what you want, and then buy it all at one shot in one store.
- Sometimes, you can try to consolidate with your friends if you can’t hit KRW30,000, but then you’ll have to decide who gets the tax refund. It’s quite paltry actually – for KRW30,000, I -think- the refund is only KRW1,500. It also doesn’t increase exponentially i.e. for KRW35,000 in purchase, I think your refund is still only KRW1,500. There are various levels you need to hit before you can get more tax refund (although I’m really not sure about the specific levels). For a clearer example, my guess would be -and don’t quote me on this- 30k, 45k, 70k, 100k, so on and so forth. You can try using the Refund Calculator.
- When making payment, always remember to request for a tax refund. The cashier will print out a receipt and a tax refund sheet, put it into an envelope and hand it to you. You can request for them to staple it together (some of them tape it together) for easy sorting later.
- Note: Do not take the receipts/tax forms out of the envelopes or throw away these envelopes yet! Go about your day shopping and accumulate all these envelopes.
- Note 2: If you’re shopping at Lotte Department Store at Myeongdong, collect all your various receipts and head to the tax refund counter behind Gucci on Level 1. They have also recently (in April) set up a tax refund cash counter instore (next to the tax refund counter), so you can instantly get your cash back.
- Note 3: Of course, if you’re feeling up to it, you can shop at the Tax-free area on Levels 9-12 of Lotte Department store (plenty of beauty brands there). However, note that they might not have the latest launches, and more importantly, it’s crowded. really, really crowded. It may save you the hassle of the entire tax refund process but in return, be prepared for a lot of angst caused by pushing and shoving, not-so-awesome service as well as a pittance of samples.
IN YOUR ROOM
So right, it’s the end of the day and your feet / shoulders are dying from the day’s activities. Now it’s time to relax in bed and sort out the tax refund envelopes. As mentioned, I recall there being 3 distinct types / companies that handle the tax refunds- Global Blue, Global Tax Free and KT Tourist Reward.
Their white envelopes usually come in different-coloured flaps. Global Blue is blue, Global Tax Free is orange, and KT Tourist Reward is white. For convenience sake, from this point onwards, I’m gonna refer to them by colours.
Global Blue (blue envelope)
Photo of Global Tax Free (orange) envelope taken from the original photographer (cos I’ve thrown away all of mine)
- Note that only the envelope will be coloured – the receipts/tax refund forms can come in a variety of colours. This is why I said not to take them out of the envelope during the day.
- For starters, sort all the receipts from the same coloured envelopes together i.e. gather all the papers from the orange envelopes and put them into one orange envelope. Same goes for the blue and white ones.
- During the sorting (hello Potter), try not to mess up the papers and ensure that the receipts are still taped/ stapled together with the tax refund forms. If not, just fold them together. This will expedite your process at the airport later on.
- Now you have 3 bulging envelopes of receipts/tax refund forms right?
- Going one envelope at a time, take out the receipts and fill in your particulars (usually your name, passport number, home country address and signature). Remember to put them back into the same envelope.
- You can choose to either do this every night (my roomie did this), or on the very last night before heading to the airport the next day (that’s what I do).
PACKING YOUR PURCHASES
Now, you can choose to either:
- Pack all of them into one bag (it’ll be easier if the customs officer wants to check). If you’ve bought skincare stuff, naturally this bag will have to be checked in (cos of the liquids).
- Pack them as per normal – I usually spread them equally into my main luggage bag, my duffel bag and my handcarry bag. This also means that if the customs officer wants to check, it’ll be like an exploratory journey to Narnia through my clothes.
AT THE AIRPORT
Here’s the important part, so pay attention.
- Instead of heading to the airport 2 hours before your flight time, I strongly advise that you go there 3 hours earlier instead.
- Go to your check-in counter as usual, and give your passport and e-ticket and all that jazz.
- Tell the staff that you have tax-free items packed into your luggage.
- The staff will then tag your luggage as usual, but she will return your luggage to you, instead of sending it along the travellator into the aircraft.
- Collect your boarding pass and luggage, and wheel it over to the Customs counter (ask the check-in staff where it is).
- Whilst you’re queueing (and there usually is a long queue), take the various receipts and tax free forms outta the envelopes, but still grouped by envelope colour. I usually just tuck them into the flaps of the respective envelopes.
- To expedite the process, I also smoothen out the receipts so that the Customs officer can view it more easily.
- Hand them over to the Customs officer and he will stamp every receipt and hand them back to you. He may sometimes ask to check your items – I usually just gesture to my luggages. I have seen people being asked to open their bags for checks before, but thankfully, I haven’t had it so far.
- Once everything is stamped, step aside from the counter, and if possible, try to regroup all your receipts immediately into the respective envelopes, and keep them with you (in your hand carry or handbag). You’ll still need them.
- Right next to the Customs counter is the Oversized Baggage counter. Wheel your luggages over and deposit them there. Your bags will now go to the aircraft.
- You can now go through immigration.
- Once you’re done, do not start your duty-free shopping. Head straight for Gate 28 instead. This is where the tax-free cash refund counters for Global Blue (blue) and Global Tax Free (orange) are located.
- So once you’re here, queue up. Both queues are always equally long, so just queue at whichever one is shorter.
- This is where the receipt grouping comes in handy. There will be some part-time staff on hand to help check your receipts, but somehow, I find that the queue is always held up by someone who hasn’t filled in the particulars, has the wrong receipts, are missing some papers etc.
- Simply pass the Orange envelope receipts to the orange counter staff, and get your moneh back.
- Repeat process for Blue counter.
- Now, if you’ve got the white ones, KT Tourist Reward, head over to Gate 27.
One thing I noted is that if your refund exceeds KRW20,000, if there’s a staff member there, they will have to take your passport away to some unseen office to verify your particulars. You may have to wait about 10-20 mins for them to return, so stay put.
And that’s it! You’re done! You can now proceed to either spend all your cash tax refunds (I usually just buy magazines like Ceci, Allure, and buy food), or keep it for your next trip. Alternatively, there are money changers around, so you can change it back to your home currency (not sure of the rates though).
Happy Shopping everyone! 😀